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CATS HANG ON TO BEAT HOGS AS SOPHOMORE KEY IN CLUTCH

Date story published: Sunday, January 30, 2005

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- For the second straight game, Chuck Hayes' broken nose unmasked Bobby Perry as a clutch player for Kentucky.

Perry, who helped UK win at Tennessee earlier in the week when an elbow fractured Hayes' nose, made several clutch plays down the stretch in a 68-67 victory at Arkansas yesterday.

With the outcome resting on what UK Coach Tubby Smith termed "making clutch plays at the end," Perry provided several. The sophomore from Durham, N.C., made his first three-pointer in three weeks. He maneuvered decisively to swish a fadeway from the post. He twice executed a pick-and-roll with Patrick Sparks: scoring a layup on the first when the defense shifted to Sparks, then drawing the defense on his roll to the hoop and leaving Sparks wide open for a 12-footer.

"It's probably the first time I was in there at clutch time," said Perry, who scored all nine of his points inside the final nine minutes. "I just think I'm coming into my own."

Kentucky, which improved to 16-2 overall and a league-best 7-0 in the Southeastern Conference, needed Perry -- or someone -- to come to the rescue. Hayes, the team leader, was limited to four points and a season-low two rebounds because of foul trouble and the adjustment to wearing a protective mask.

"I felt the mask wasn't going to bother me," he said. "I'd be aggressive. I was probably too aggressive and that got me in foul trouble."

Arkansas, which leads the league in holding the opposition to 38.6-percent shooting overall and 28.8-percent accuracy from three-point range, also blanketed Sparks (2-for-8 overall, 1-for-5 from beyond the arc).

"If someone had told me, 'Hey, you're going to do a great job on Sparks and Hayes and shut those guys down,' I would have said, 'We're going to win,' " Arkansas Coach Stan Heath said. "But they've got X-factor guys, too, that you don't count on all the time.

"You know Kentucky isn't just going to sign guys that aren't very good, but you don't count on those guys being the guys that beat you."

Kelenna Azubuike, who scored a team-high 13 points, put the Cats ahead for good with his only three-point basket. The deep three gave UK a 53-50 lead with nine minutes left.

With Kentucky ahead 55-53, Sparks penetrated and passed back out to Perry at the top of the key. Though shooting just 26.3 percent from beyond the arc this season, Perry hit the shot.

"I know I'm a good shooter," he said. "I knew I'd knock it down. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing."

On UK's next possession, Perry hit a pretty fadeaway from the low post.

"A great sign for us," Sparks said of Perry's emergence. "He stepped right in there. He wasn't scared."

Arkansas kept charging at No. 7 Kentucky. Three times down the stretch, UK established seven-point leads. Yet, the Razorbacks closed to 64-61 with 90 seconds left.

Perry and Sparks answered with a pick-and-roll play. Perry rolled to the basket, got inside position on freshman Darian Townes and took Sparks' pass for a layup with 1:03 left. Townes, who had four fouls, conceded the layup.

"I was thinking of playing 'D,' but he kind of got me," Townes said of Perry. "I didn't want to pick up that foul, so he got the layup."

After Jonathon Modica's driving three-point play (Perry was called for blocking as he tried to take a charge), the pick-and-roll worked again. This time Arkansas defenders followed Perry to the basket, leaving Sparks a relatively easy 12-footer from the right side.

"Everybody went with me and Pat saw that," Perry said. "We just played basketball. That play has been great for us the last couple months."

Smith saw no reason for surprise that Perry kept his wits in the high-pressured moments. The UK coach cited "maturity" as the reason Perry played well. "Growing up," he said. "We expect them to grow up at some point in time and become veteran players. That's why we recruit them."

Though Sparks' shot made the lead 68-64 with 20 seconds left, the Cats weren't home free.

Eric Ferguson's three-pointer brought Arkansas within one at the 10-second mark.

After Hayes put the first of a one-and-one off the front of the rim with 5.5 seconds to go, Arkansas had a chance to win.

Ferguson raced upcourt and got off an open 22-footer from the top of the key.

"I was going to pass the ball, but when I looked at the clock, there was only one second to go," he said. "So I had to shoot the ball. I thought it was a good look. When it left my hand, I thought it was going in."

The shot bounced off the back of the rim.

"It looked good," Hayes said. "But, hey, too long. We got a win on the road and let's go home."

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