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CATS SKATE OVER THIN ICE

Date story published: Wednesday, January 21, 2004

KNOXVILLE -- To quote Tubby Smith, Kentucky continued "skating on the edge" last night at Tennessee.

That razor edge couldn't have gotten much finer as the Cats prevailed 69-68 in overtime.

UK, 12-2 overall and 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference, made only three of 24 three-pointers. But the Cats made up in quality what they lacked in quantity. A trey by Cliff Hawkins with 16.3 seconds left sent the game into overtime.

Then Erik Daniels hit a three-pointer to start Kentucky's overtime scoring.

UK took the lead for good when Chuck Hayes tipped in his own missed layup with 3:49 left in overtime.

Both teams struggled in vain the rest of the way to score. UK missed its final five shots, two being airballs.

But Tennessee, which lost at home for the first time, scored just four points in overtime. The first when Scooter McFadgon hit a pull-up with 4:40 left to give the Vols their last lead, 66-64.

Gerald Fitch tapped the ball from McFadgon and out of bounds as the Vols' star tried to score inside the final 10 seconds. Freshman Dane Bradshaw wiggled into the lane for one final attempt. But his awkward leaner never came close.

Tennessee fell to 10-4 overall and 2-3 in the SEC.

Kentucky, which shot 40.7 percent from the field, led 61-58 with 3:52 left. But the Cats didn't score again until the final seconds.

Tennessee struggled, too. The Vols finally regained the lead with 55.3 seconds left. Fitch got caught in the air with the shot clock running down. UT tipped away his desperation feed toward Hayes. That fueled a fast break that C.J. Watson converted with a layup, his first basket of the game.

Watson's two free throws with 22.2 seconds left gave the Vols a 64-61 lead.

Hawkins came to UK's rescue. He swished a three-pointer with 16.3 seconds left to tie it. It was only his second three-point basket since the Louisville game on Dec. 27.

McFadgon, who led all scorers with 33 points, missed a contested floater in the final seconds, which sent the game into overtime.

The first half saw a different Kentucky team than the one that merely showed up against Georgia last weekend. This UK team was a departure from this season's norm.

The Cats, who had 23 turnovers, got plenty of contributions from the bench. The highlight was a fast-break exchange that saw Antwain Barbour fire a pass to Josh Carrier, who hit a three-pointer.

UK also showed, if not toughness, then a competitive zeal. No statistic showed that more than rebounding. After being outrebounded by double-digit margins in the last two games, Kentucky owned the boards 27-13 in the first half and 47-35 for the game.

The customary fast start gave Kentucky a lead it never relinquished in the first half. With Hayes and Daniels accounting for the first eight points, UK zipped to a 10-0 lead inside the first three minutes.

Thanks to McFadgon's sharpshooting, Tennessee stayed close for a while. McFadgon scored 19 of Tennessee's first 24 points. He made five of his first six shots (four of five from three-point range).

Unfortunately for Tennessee, no one else scored much. The rest of the Vols made only one of their first 15 shots. As a result, UK limited Tennessee to 30.8-percent shooting in the first half and 30.9 for the game.

The sole reliance on McFadgon, a transfer from Memphis, caught up to Tennessee down the stretch of the first half. With the lead at 24-21, the Cats outscored UT 14-1 in barely more than three minutes to break open the game.

Significantly, substitutes played a role in the breakout. Barbour's assertive drive to the basket put the Cats ahead 35-22 and prompted a Tennessee timeout with 3:26 left.

After McFadgon missed a three-point shot, Kentucky applied a seeming clincher. Barbour rebounded the miss, dribbled a time or two and then whipped a cross-court pass to Carrier. Carrier rose immediately and rattled in a three-pointer, his second of the season and the Cats' first of the game. It pushed the lead to 38-22.

Kentucky led 41-28 at halftime.

If Tennessee was going to make a second-half comeback, it didn't happen early.

An eye-opening play by Hawkins prevented the Vols from getting the deficit in single digits. The UK point guard leaped and blocked a fast-break leaner by Jemere Hendrix. If blocking a shot by a player seven inches taller wasn't enough, Hawkins one-handed the save downcourt to Daniels, whose fast-break layup at the other end put Kentucky ahead 43-30 with 18:14 left.

Kentucky led 45-30 with 17:47 left. Then the seemingly inevitable period of struggle ensued. UK turned over the ball on five of the next six possessions (the last being the rarely called palming, on Barbour). That enabled Tennessee to close within 45-39.

After a television timeout at 11:23, Kentucky broke a scoreless streak that lasted 6 1/2 minutes. A Hawkins lob allowed Azubuike to dunk with 11:17 left.

Thanks to its rebounding, Tennessee kept charging. The Vols took their first lead on a second-chance opportunity. Freshman Major Wingate hit two free throws with 7:37 left to put UT ahead 52-51.

That set the stage for the finish.

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