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NO SWEAT, THIS TIME

Date story published: Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Last night, you could say, Kentucky visited the Barbour-y coast.

Thanks in large part to Antwain Barbour, Kentucky broke its habit of winning or losing in the final minute.

This time the Cats shook off a lackadaisical start to beat Alabama 66-55.For a team that had won three times by a single point and seven times by five or fewer points, a lead of nine or more points over the final 12-plus minutes qualified as a Big Blue blowout.

"Whew!" Coach Tubby Smith said. "It was a relief. A lot less stressful, that's for sure."

Barbour's career-high 23 points lit the fuse. He certainly ignited the crowd, whose cheers helped slap the Cats out of their doldrums and toward a 17th victory in 20 games.

"He was just about the only one to come mentally ready to play the whole 40 minutes," teammate Chuck Hayes said of Barbour.

Barbour was the only UK player to score until Erik Daniels hit a 15-footer with 8:09 left in the first half.

Barbour went on to make nine of his first 11 shots (two of three from three-point range). And to that point, the rest of the Cats had made 10 of 29 shots (one of eight from beyond the arc).

"What can I say?" Hayes said. "The guy was hot. He was carrying us."

The Cats, who improved to 7-2 in the Southeastern Conference, were a heavy load. Smith benched Kelenna Azubuike twice inside the first eight minutes. At the first television timeout, he substituted five players.

"We were pretty ashamed of ourselves," Hayes said.

What Smith saw was more eye of the dairy cow than eye of the tiger.

"I want to see the look 'We're going to shut you down,'" the UK coach said. "I saw the look 'We're just going to show up tonight.' "

Barbour, who started in place of the injured Gerald Fitch for a second straight game, changed all that. Left alone, he swished a three-pointer from the right side to start UK's rally from a 13-4 deficit. Barbour's shot began an 11-2 run that got Kentucky even.

"Something like that, on our homecourt, was like an insult to our crowd," Barbour said of the early deficit.

Led by Barbour, Kentucky broke open the game early in the second half. Well, an 11-point lead barely eight minutes into the second half looked like a landslide by UK standards. And Barbour set the pace by scoring eight of UK's first 18 points. All came on drives to the basket.

Fittingly, Barbour sparked the biggest cheer by committing a foul. Between his third and fourth layups, Barbour tracked down Earnest Shelton driving for a transition layup. Barbour crashed into Shelton to prevent the layup as the crowd roared its approval.

The collision capped a telling stretch of defense. Earlier in the second half, Alabama's leading scorer, Kennedy Winston, shoved Cliff Hawkins, seemingly out of frustration. And from the 16-minute mark till 6:38 remained, UK limited Alabama to one basket.

"We've played a great schedule," Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said. "Kentucky's defense was better than we've been defended. I mean from a physical standpoint and from a quickness standpoint."

Smith credited that defense as the difference. The Cats limited Winston, who averaged 18.1 points in SEC play, to three of 13 shooting and 12 points.

UK was visibly more aggressive in the second half.

"When we first came out, everything was slow, slow reacting," Barbour said. "We just needed intensity."

Barbour's scoring and defense (he guarded Winston for long stretches) helped turn on the Cats. So did his turnover-free 32-minute stint.

Whether by habit or not, Kentucky flirted with letting Alabama back in the game. The Cats led 56-39 with 7:12 left. Alabama, which lost a fifth straight to fall to 11-9 overall and 3-6 in the SEC, closed within 62-53 over the next six minutes.

That prompted Smith to call a timeout with 1:29 left. The UK coach said he wanted to remind the Cats to stop fouling and stop, as he put it, "jacking up shots."

"I don't know what that's a sign of," he said, "But I'm not impressed by it."

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