Date story published: Thursday, December 30, 2004
Beating outmanned Campbell by more than 30 points last night should have made Kentucky feel mm, mmm good.
But a poor second half turned this unavoidable victory into a thin gruel that UK Coach Tubby Smith found most distasteful. "They didn't stop playing; they didn't give up," Smith said of the aptly named, if also humorously named, Fighting Camels of Campbell. "I think our players thought the game was over at halftime."
In a sense, it was. The Cats dominated at both ends, rolling to a 24-4 lead inside the first nine minutes, holding Campbell to six points in the game's first 14 minutes and leading 45-11 at halftime.
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It was the fewest first-half points scored by a UK opponent since the pre-shot-clock season of 1983-84, when the Final Four-bound Cats led Cincinnati 11-7 at halftime of a stalled game.
Campbell seemed, as expected, the perfect opponent to ease Kentucky out of any post-Christmas blahs. Look out Southeastern Conference, here we come!
Then UK and Campbell played the second half.
"In defense of his players, when you're ahead 45-11, it's match-set-point, whatever that phrase is," Campbell Coach Robbie Laing said. "How do you get ready for the second half?"
Whatever the method, Kentucky clearly did not find it. Campbell, which came into the game with a road record of 82-281 (29.1 percent) since joining Division I in 1977-78, outscored Kentucky 39-37 and outrebounded UK 25-20 in the second half.
"A total lack of concentration," a downcast Chuck Hayes called it.
For Smith, the second half represented the same-old, same-old. The same lack of consistency, inability to finish plays at the basket, lack of toughness in the lane.
"A lack of focus and concentration showed up in the free-throw shooting (seven of 16 in the second half) and missed shots, layups, guys trying to avoid contact," the UK coach said. "You talk about it. You preach about it at halftime: Respect the opponent, respect the game, play it the right way every second.
"It's the sign of a team that hasn't grown up all the way yet."
Only the day before, Smith spoke of the need for UK's players to become more serious-minded, more business-like in their approach.
When asked if the victory over Campbell illustrated the continuing need for seamless effort and efficiency, Smith answered quickly. "Absolutely, absolutely," he said. "You're going along, then that inconsistency shows up. That's a perfect example of it tonight."
There were positive signs. Freshman center Randolph Morris scored a career-high 25 points, showing the Cats met Smith's repeated request to focus UK's offense on its big men.
"Randolph had a great game," Smith said. "I thought he played extremely well. We had a size advantage, and I thought we took advantage of it."
UK smothered Campbell, which made three of its first 27 shots.
"Kentucky's defense didn't allow us any kind of look at the basket," Laing said of Campbell's 16.7 percent first-half shooting. "It seemed all night long we were moving sideways."
But Kentucky got sidetracked in the second half. With all its overwhelming superiority, the Cats scored only one basket in the first nine minutes of the second half. In one stretch, Sheray Thomas missed a point-blank layup off an inbounds pass.
"I was too far under the rim," he said. "I thought I was a little farther out."
A moment later, Hayes and Morris somehow missed putbacks at the rim.
"We haven't shot well all year," Smith said. "You can't shoot well when you're missing layups."
The UK coach cited a lack of "physicality" as the problem. Although Morris powered to the hoop more than once, the Cats need to be more aggressive and assertive, Smith said.
Those qualities, he added, can really help when Kentucky begins to drift from the task at hand. Smith made no secret of whom he expects to set the tone.
"Our leadership needs to step up," Smith said, mentioning seniors Josh Carrier and Hayes by name. "They've been through the wars. They have to step up and say, 'You shut up and get ready for the game.' It's as simple as that. And we need that."