Date story published: Tuesday, December 2, 2003
CINCINNATI -- Although fans openly drank beer at courtside in U.S. Bank Arena, Kentucky had a sobering experience here last night.
The Cats made only seven shots outside the shadow of the basket, and nearly abandoned the pretense of a perimeter attack for much of the second half.
Combined with a porous interior defense and poor attention to denying the three-point shot, UK strained to hold off a Marshall team that lost at home to UNC-Wilmington in its opener.
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Timely defense and superior inside play carried the Cats past Marshall 89-76 in a game that had two redeeming values: It gave UK a gut-check experience before beginning a difficult stretch of games Saturday against UCLA and, despite its flaws, it undeniably was a victory.
In summing up his post-game remarks, UK Coach Tubby Smith emphasized that bottom-line reality.
"Half the teams won games tonight," he said. "Half the teams lost. We won."
Poor shooting made victory strenuous, but not unattainable for Kentucky, now 3-0.
Other than Gerald Fitch, who made all but one of UK's outside shots and led the team with 24 points, UK failed to threaten Marshall from outside. With its freshman 7-footers no factor (Shagari Alleyne never got off the bench), Kentucky's undersized front liners, Chuck Hayes and Erik Daniels, got little relief.
"We need to stretch the defense and make them come out and guard you," Smith said of the need for better perimeter shooting.
But always thinking defense first, the UK coach sounded more concerned with Marshall's ability to score inside and out.
"We haven't played post defense yet," Smith said. "A lot of it has to do with giving up a lot of size. But even when we go down and trap, we're not getting there quick enough and not rotating out like we should."
As for the perimeter, Kentuckian Ronny Dawn hit a career-high seven three-pointers to keep Marshall close. The Newport native made seven of nine three-point shots, or two more than UK's team total. He finished with a career-high 23 points.
"I just want guys to do a better job defending," said Smith, who noted how he alternated several defenders on Dawn with little effect. "That's our biggest disappointment."
Dawn's bombing was no surprise. He made four of nine three-point shots in Marshall's victory over Morehead State on Saturday. All but one of his 12 shots this season had been from three-point range.
"Apparently, we didn't study the scouting report well," Hayes said. "Coach preached to us about him. I guess we underestimated him."
Despite a lack of a credible outside shooting threat to counter Dawn, Kentucky led 47-34 at halftime. The Cats made only three shots outside the paint in the half.
Kentucky took the lead for good on its first three-pointer (by Brandon Stockton at the 12:09 mark) and steadily expanded the margin the rest of the half. The fast break and superiority inside gave UK its lead. The Cats made 10 layups in the half, most in transition.
In laboring to dispatch its opponent efficiently, Kentucky abandoned the perimeter shot (three-point and mid-range) and went inside exclusively in the second half.
Still, Marshall closed within 55-48 on Dawn's sixth three-pointer. That prompted a UK timeout with 14:31 left.
UK attempted its first three-pointer of the half with 12:38 left. Fitch made it. Still Marshall kept coming. By the television timeout at the 11:18 mark, the Herd closed to 64-60 on forward David Anderson's three-point play.
UK regained control mid-way through the half. After Marshall threw away an inbounds pass, Antwain Barbour faked a mid-range shot and fed Kelenna Azubuike for a dunk.
Cliff Hawkins then stripped A.W. Hamilton of the ball and drove to a layup that put the Cats ahead 68-60. That prompted a Marshall timeout with 10:10 left.
Marvin Black's rebound-dunk got Marshall within six, 82-76. Almost five minutes remained.
After UK called time, the Cats tried to post Hayes. He missed a heavily contested shot. A moment later, Marshall guard Hamilton, a Georgetown, Ky., native, found himself wide open for a three-point shot. He missed Marshall's last best opportunity to squeeze past UK.
"You can't do things like that against Kentucky," Hamilton said.
Even for a work-in-progress Kentucky in early December, that held true.