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DAZED BUT UNFAZED

Date story published: Wednesday, January 26, 2005

KNOXVILLE -- A television timeout set up a made-for-TV moment that punctuated Kentucky's 84-62 victory at Tennessee last night.

As Bobby Perry headed for the bench, UK Coach Tubby Smith intercepted the reserve forward and offered a high-five salute. Perry happily slapped his coach's palm. "Just a thrill," Perry called it.

Smith, ever exhorting more from his players, acknowledged the rarity of an in-game congratulations. "He needed that," the UK coach said. "I wanted to make sure he knew 'Coach Smith believes in me.' "

It was a game for exceptional play and exceptional gestures. The Cats won, almost handily, despite losing the team's driving force, senior Chuck Hayes, to a broken nose late in the first half.

"Our spiritual leader," another reserve forward, Sheray Thomas, said of Hayes. "He makes us run."

By beating Tennessee, albeit a Vols team without starting center Brandon Crump, the Cats showed they could win without Hayes, who only a week earlier "willed" UK to victory at Ole Miss, as Associate Coach David Hobbs put it.

Patrick Sparks, who led UK with 19 points, anointed Perry and Thomas "definite MVPs of the game." Perry equaled a career-high seven rebounds and scored eight points (six the result of putbacks). Thomas grabbed a career-high seven rebounds and scored seven points (or two less than his season total coming to Tennessee).

Kentucky led 29-24 when an inadvertent elbow by UT's Andre Patterson broke Hayes' nose at the 6:30 mark. Yet UK extended its lead to 44-33 by halftime and, after repelling a Tennessee rally, steadily pulled away.

"I like the way our players responded ...," Smith said. "They showed a lot of heart, a lot of determination, a lot of grit."

Hayes was taken to Fort Sanders hospital, a medical facility next to the UT campus, for x-rays. As the team left Thompson-Boling Arena, UK officials said they did not expect to know the extent of the injury until today.

"If anybody can recover and play with a broken nose, Chuck Hayes can," Smith said. "It'll be uncomfortable. I hope it's not more than that."

Kentucky, which matched the best 17-game start to a season in the Smith era, improved to 15-2 overall and a league-best 6-0 in the Southeastern Conference. To do it, the Cats had to overcome the stunning sight of Hayes staggered and then led off the floor.

The Patterson elbow, which TV replays showed was a glancing blow, left Hayes crouched near the lane. He stayed in that position for about a minute. Then he slowly rose while holding the fingers of his right hand on his nose.

"I'm not a big rah-rah guy," Smith said of any win-for-Chuck words he might have imparted. "They've never seen Chuck hurt before. I'll be honest, I've never seen him hurt. He's never missed a practice or a game. He's just an iron man."

Hayes went to the bench and when Tennessee called time at the 4:21 mark, he and trainer David Kindy walked to the locker room.

The injury happened as players jockeyed to rebound a missed three-point shot by UT's Scooter McFadgon.

"I didn't even know what happened," Patterson said. "I'm sorry he got hurt. It's unfortunate."

Before he departed, Hayes set a tone with six rebounds. That pointed Kentucky toward a 41-29 advantage on the boards.

The Cats matched a season high of 21 offensive rebounds, five of which Perry grabbed.

"Sheray and I, we tried to emulate Chuck," Perry said. "We tried to take it to another level."

Tennessee got as close as 49-43 in the second half. Then after Sparks missed a three-pointer, freshman Ramel Bradley wrested the rebound from UT point guard C.J. Watson's grasp. Bradley hit a 15-footer that started an 18-5 run that assured Kentucky of victory.

Perry's putbacks accounted for six of those points. Three times in a stretch of five possessions, he rebounded missed shots and scored. A television timeout with 7:21 left followed Perry's third putback. That's when he received the high five.

Chris Lofton, a former Mason County standout, led the Vols with 17 points.

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