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UK'S DISMAL SHOOTING TURNS EARLY ROUT INTO NAIL-BITER

Date story published: Sunday, December 7, 2003

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Wildcats did not make many shots. But they did make a bit of basketball history yesterday.

Kentucky hit only 27.1 percent of its shots, yet beat UCLA 52-50 in the John R. Wooden, uh, Classic.

Even with UCLA's 7-foot tandem hampered almost immediately by foul trouble, UK repeatedly misfired in the school's worst-shooting performance since the loss to Georgetown in the 1984 Final Four (24.5 percent).As the misses mounted, the Cats teetered on the brink of an embarrassing defeat after squandering much of an early 17-point lead.

The Cats did not secure the victory until Antwain Barbour came from behind to steal the ball from one of UCLA's 7-footers. The play came with less than 30 seconds remaining and Kentucky clinging to a three-point lead.

Positive thinkers will note that defense, the supposed antidote for poor shooting, reliably rode to Kentucky's rescue. With a noticeable lack of enthusiasm, Chuck Hayes went to that harbor after this storm of missed shots.

"That shows you that if you don't play good defense, a game can be ugly," he said. "Even if we do play defense, the game can be ugly. ... But we came out with the win."

Shorthanded with two regulars sidelined, UCLA (2-1) took satisfaction from refusing to wilt when Kentucky connected with an early haymaker -- a 23-6 lead barely 12 minutes into the game. The resilience took the sting out of UCLA's own dismal shooting (34 percent) and wretched assist-to-turnover ratio (six to 15).

"We defended," first-year UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We didn't do much else."

Kentucky (4-0) more or less said the same thing, albeit without the hint of moral victory that UCLA claimed. The Cats glumly settled for the real thing.

"It wasn't one of our better games," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "But it was a win. If we made shots, we'd feel a lot better."

The game hardly could have begun better for Kentucky. Already missing T.J. Cummings (academic ineligibility) and Trevor Ariza (collapsed lung), UCLA saw 7-footers Michael Fey and Ryan Hollins each pick up two fouls inside the first four minutes.

UK scored the game's first seven points and quickly got into blowout mode. Freshman Lukasz Obrzut broke his scoring maiden with a left-handed hook. Erik Daniels stole a pass and dribbled the length of the court to an unimpeded one-man fast-break dunk. He followed that up with a three-pointer from the top of the key. Then, Chuck Hayes took a turn dribbling down the lane to a layup.

When a Cliff Hawkins pass gave Daniels a layup, UK led 23-6 with 7:46 left. UCLA had made two of 14 shots, been called for charging twice and violated the 35-second shot clock.

"You can't think of that," UCLA guard Brian Morrison said of the deficit. "You have to think of playing every possession hard. Defend, get a stop and then get a bucket."

UCLA felt lucky to trail 27-17 at halftime.

For more than 10 minutes in the middle of the game, Kentucky did not score a basket. From the 4:18 mark of the first half to 7:31 of the second, the Cats' generated two field goals: both tip-ins.

"We were kind of rushing our shots a little bit," Hayes said. "With the 7-footers, they're pretty big. We had to rush it up there and hope to get a roll."

Smith acknowledged being puzzled by his team's fast start that was followed by near meltdown. "I just don't know," the UK coach said. "No reason. We were trying to wear them down. But it looked like we were running out of gas."

Asked about Kentucky's ball movement, Smith said, "It was awful. You could see we were stagnant. Guys were holding the ball."

Morrison, a transfer from North Carolina, helped trigger UCLA's comeback. His bodacious block of a Gerald Fitch jumper led to his fast-break three-point play that reduced UK's lead to 36-30 with 9:52 left.

"That was a big play," Hollins said. "That brought the team a lot of energy and we tried to lift off from there."

Thanks to Barbour, UCLA did not reach orbit.

With UK ahead 49-46 and 29.7 seconds left, Fitch missed the front end of a one-and-one and Fey grabbed the rebound. "He came from behind," the UCLA 7-foot sophomore said of Barbour. "I didn't see him at all."

Barbour, whose steal led to two Hawkins free throws with 25.5 seconds left, deflected credit.

"It's just playing basketball," he said. "When they don't box you out, you should go get the ball. That's what I did."

It wasn't a game for bows.

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