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CATS CAVE IN CLUTCH

Date story published: Sunday, February 1, 2004

NASHVILLE -- Kentucky and Vanderbilt played basketball here yesterday. Kentucky and Vanderbilt also played role reversal.

Kentucky, which repeatedly extracted itself from Perils-of-Pauline situations this season, couldn't get untied and off the tracks before the train arrived this time.Vanderbilt, on "life support" according to Coach Kevin Stallings after losing four its last five games, outperformed Kentucky when a wildly seesaw game reached its decisive moments.

Vandy won 66-60 by scoring the game's final 10 points and by not committing a turnover in the final 13 minutes.

Kentucky lost because it scored only seven points in the final 13:03. In that span, the Cats made only three of 19 shots and committed eight turnovers.

Those telling numbers reflected a game decided by clutch plays. The surprise was that Vandy made them.

"We just made some winning plays," Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings said. "That's what we've not been doing in the other games."

Something Kentucky has done again and again -- lose leads -- set up the test of clutch playmaking. After surmounting their largest deficit of the season (23-11) in the first half, the Cats established their largest lead of the day: 53-43 with 13:03 left.

Vandy, 14-4 overall and 3-4 in the Southeastern Conference, wasn't worried.

"Coach told us they jump out to leads, but don't ever hang your head," senior Scott Hundley said. "They'll give it right back to you if you just play good defense. That's what we did."

Advised of Hundley's comment, Stallings softened his appraisal of UK's inability to hold leads. "They let you come back to the front door, but they won't let you in."

As UK wobbled, the Commodores slowly reduced the lead to 60-58 with 2:51 left.

Hundley, the former Kentucky Mr. Basketball out of Scott County, stole a Cliff Hawkins feed to Erik Daniels in the low post to begin the role reversal.

Vandy sped downcourt and took the lead when freshman Dan Cage swished a three-pointer from the left side with Chuck Hayes in his face.

"We ran our break to perfection," Hundley said. "He set a great screen, I think for (Matt) Freije, then popped out wide open. One of those, 'Is he really that wide open?' "

Hayes fouled trying to rebound Kelenna Azubuike's missed three-point shot, part of UK's 0-for-10 second-half shooting from beyond the arc (3-for-19 for the game.). Freije's free throw put Vandy ahead 62-60 with 1:40 left.

Kentucky, 14-3 overall and 4-2 in the SEC, squandered two chances to counter. First Hawkins stumbled on a drive, pivoted awkwardly and lost the ball. After Vandy missed, Hawkins stopped dribbling near the sideline. Vandy's Russell Lakey leaped and caught Hawkins' attempt to pass to Daniels again in the low post. Daniels tied cold-shooting Gerald Fitch for team scoring honors with 13 points each.

"It seemed like a tough place to pick up your dribble," Lakey said.

Hawkins immediately fouled Lakey, sending the Vandy guard to the foul line with 17.7 seconds left. The Cats got a break when Lakey missed, but Freije rose between Hayes and Azubuike to tap the rebound to Jason Holwerda.

"That's something we practice," said Freije, who led Vandy with 20 points and 11 rebounds. "On our free throws, we don't try to grab a rebound. It just bounced to me and I tapped it out."

"I got a good box out on him," Hayes said. "I went up with two hands. With his length, he was able to get a hand on it."

With the bonus possession, Vandy got two Hundley free throws that extended the lead to 64-60 with 14.3 seconds left.

"If you know the guy's taller, it's not enough to step in and box him out," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "You have to move him back and you might get an over-the-back call. And you've got to have your hands up. You can't have your hands down."

The play typified how Vandy executed better than Kentucky at clutch time.

"We got lucky on a couple situations," Smith said of UK's last-second victories over Mississippi State and Tennessee this month. "We were able to pull a rabbit out of the hat. But you just have to be sounder fundamentally."

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