Date story published: Thursday, January 1, 2004
LOUISVILLE -- If actions truly speak louder than words, then Coach Tubby Smith eloquently summed up Kentucky's play yesterday during the final television timeout.
Apparently still hung over from last weekend's home loss to archrival Louisville, UK led Austin Peay by only four points. Worst, the Cats seemed ready to stay on autopilot rather than fight to avoid a shocking upset.
As the players reached the UK bench, Smith slammed his clipboard to the court and walked away from his huddled players. Message: You got us into this mess, you get us out.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"I was frustrated," Smith said after UK's 61-53 victory. "We kind of let them back in the game. Missing easy shots. It looked like we lost our concentration."
Smith's actions did not make much difference. After the television timeout with 3:58 left, Austin Peay threw long over the press for a layup that reduced Kentucky's lead to 53-51.
That marked a second rapid-fire uninspired moment for UK after a timeout with the game on the line. Twenty-three seconds before his show of disgust, Smith called a 30-second timeout. The Cats then stumbled through -- what? A play? -- that resulted in a 30-foot three-point heave by Erik Daniels that missed the rim and sounded a 35-second shot clock violation. The call stopped play, prompting the television timeout.
It was during this break in the action that Smith left his team.
"That tells you a lot," Fitch said. "He was just letting us know how we were playing. It was obvious how we were playing. No energy. Just going through the motions. No disrespect to (Austin Peay), but just playing to their level. Coach got tired of it and let us know."
Kentucky held Austin Peay to two free throws in the final 3:55. Leading 56-53, the Cats won by making five of six free throws in the final 44.3 seconds.
Not that the victory pleased UK fans here. The crowd was small enough -- 11,526 -- to make many comments easily heard. After Daniels made one of two free throws with 16.8 seconds left to set the final score, a fan could be heard shouting, "Daniels, you better get it back together, pal."
The Cats weren't pleased either.
When asked to appraise Kentucky's performance, Fitch was blunt. "We had a hangover, man," he said.
Although UK scored the game's first nine points and never trailed, it quickly became obvious the game did not hold the players' interest.
For instance, Daniels babied a putback that missed rather than follow Smith's pre-game request to go strong to the basket.
"That was disappointing," Smith said of UK's lack of aggression inside. "That's why we missed a lot of easy shots in the first half."
Although the Cats led 9-2, Smith called time with 12:41 left to jump-start his team.
"That's right, Tubby," yelled a fan who approved of the timeout. "You look like a train wreck."
That became an insult to railroad mishaps as UK badly missed shots and Smith nearly cleared his bench looking for a spark. Freshman Shagari Alleyne caused a stir by rebounding Fitch's miss in the final seconds of the half and dunked.
Kentucky, which limited Austin Peay to 5-for-24 shooting in the first half, extended a 14-point halftime lead to 41-24 six minutes into the second half.
Then the Cats nearly squandered their good fortune by making only four shots in the game's final 14 minutes. Bad shots. Ugly turnovers. And hot shooting by Austin Peay's Anthony Davis (4-for-7 overall and 4-for-6 from three-point range) brought an upset into view.
"Any time you're coming off a tough loss like Louisville, it's going to be draining," Smith said. "Emotionally, you're still thinking of the loss. You're thinking of a lot of different things: 'Coach is on my ass.' Because I was mad. Because we didn't play as well as we could. And they knew I was mad."
Smith recognized UK's ability to hold on, but ...
"We expect a lot better," he said, "and a lot better effort."