Date story published: Thursday, February 26, 2004
Kentucky's 92-60 victory over Tennessee last night breathed life in a bluegrass state daydream: How would UK look if it ever added perimeter shooting to a creative inside game and steady defense?
"Pretty good," Coach Tubby Smith said, "because we're pretty solid in most other areas, especially defense. If we can make shots early on, it puts a lot of pressure on the opposition and gives us a burst of energy.
"Kentucky made shots early and often against the Southeastern Conference's most generous defense. The Cats shot a season's best 57.9 percent from three-point range and matched the season high 11 threes made against Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 23.
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Not so coincidentally, the Cats scored more than 75 points for the first time since the 101-72 victory over EKU.
Kentucky, which ranked 11th among 12 Southeastern Conference teams in three-point accuracy (30.2 percent in league games), clinched its 49th season with at least 20 victories. The Cats improved to 20-4 overall and 10-3 in the SEC.
Tennessee, which fell to 0-7 on the road in league play (average margin of defeat, 22 points), slipped to 13-11 overall and 5-8 in the SEC.
"It was bad defense," Tennessee point guard C.J. Watson said. "We just didn't play defense like we wanted to. Then after a while, we really gave up on defense."
Tennessee came into the game ranked last among 12 SEC teams in points allowed (74.5 per game), opponents' shooting (46.9 percent) and opponents' three-point accuracy (38.7 percent).
"I didn't think we brought the toughness we needed," UT Coach Buzz Peterson said.
All five Kentucky players scored in double digits. Kelenna Azubuike led the way with 17 points.
When asked about directing a balanced attack that scored around the basket and from the perimeter, UK point guard Cliff Hawkins said, "It's fun. It's fun. You get comfortable and relaxed when everything is going your way."
Kentucky made a season-high 15 shots from outside the paint, or one more than it managed in the past two games (against Arkansas and Auburn) combined.
In the first half, UK made seven three-pointers -- more than it had in 16 of 23 games this season -- in 11 shots. When the smoke cleared, the Cats led 44-29 at halftime. It was the most points UK had scored in a first half since leading Eastern Kentucky 48-32 at the break on Dec. 23.
To add to the surprise, Gerald Fitch did not contribute a point. Fitch, UK's best perimeter shooter, picked up two fouls 22 seconds after entering the game and returned to the bench.
The unusual suspects hitting three-pointers for UK included:
* Brandon Stockton, who hit his first trey since the Louisville game on Dec. 27. He had been 3-for-10 from beyond the arc this season and played only 13 minutes in the last month.
* Erik Daniels, who hit his first three-pointer since the overtime period at Tennessee on Jan. 20. He had been 3-for-17 from beyond the arc this season.
* Bobby Perry, who had made only one of 10 three-point shots. He rattled in a trey to give Kentucky its largest lead of the first half, 42-24.
Antwain Barbour, who played five scoreless minutes at Auburn last weekend, got the Cats off to a good start. His three-pointer at the 17:11 mark erased Tennessee's last lead. He hit another three-pointer at the 15:07 mark.
Kentucky did more than score from the perimeter. Daniels and Hawkins combined on a pretty play. Daniels pivoted right, then left in the lane before slipping a pass to Hawkins for layup.
A moment later, Hayes tipped the ball from Tennessee's Jemere Hendrix at one end and sped to a fast-break dunk and three-point play.
The fun continued in the second half. One of Daniels' quick post-up shots extended the lead to 58-39 with 14:46 left.
UK's cushion reached 66-46 when Hawkins banked in a 12-footer from the right side with 11:33 left.
On a night when walk-on Matt Heissenbuttel made his first shot of the season and freshman Shagari Alleyne made his first basket in SEC play, a three-pointer by Ravi Moss stood out in Peterson's mind.
"When Moss hit that three (with 3:39 left), I said, 'Maybe it's one of those nights,'" the Tennessee coach said.