Date story published: Thursday, December 23, 2004
In a 92-47 victory over outmanned William & Mary last night, Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith not only saw a benefit from this week's no-dribble drills.
He heard a benefit.
"You could hear us saying pass it, pass it ... " Smith said. "We need to share the ball more. I think we're starting to get better flow and a smoother transition to our offense. The guys are starting to understand where the shots are going to come from and how we're going to score."
Kentucky's largest margin of victory since the 106-44 humiliation of Vanderbilt in March of 2003 was a true David-and-Goliath affair. As always, UK fans -- and 18,059 braved the winter storm warning to attend -- enjoyed Goliath's domination.
"A fun game," Smith called this well-timed breather after the emotional wringer at Louisville last weekend.
Never mind the inevitability of victory, it was the way Kentucky won for the eighth time in nine games that pleased Smith. The Cats played hard, kept the highlight-film nominations to a minimum and often passed with a purpose.
"I thought the guys played the right way," the UK coach said. "Distributing the ball, moving the ball."
Perhaps to spur more passing, Smith gave the Cats more control.
"Coach just let us direct the game, we were calling out plays, setting the defense," forward Chuck Hayes said. "That was good for us and what we can do. So it was a fun game. He just wanted to see our maturity come, see if we soaked in the stuff they've been teaching us."
Much of the season, Smith has noted the need, then requested and finally ordered more passing and team play. In practice this week, the Cats ran no-dribble drills, which required the players to pass and screen to create scoring opportunities. Dribbles were turnovers.
As if on cue, UK had 27 assists, well above the previous season high of 19 at North Carolina.
"I think those drills helped us out a lot," said Hayes, who led the Cats with 18 points. "It makes you set screens and use screens better. You don't have to use athleticism and one-on-one moves to score."
The passing was on display from the game's first basket: Freshman big man Randolph Morris fed a pass from the low post that a cutting Kelenna Azubuike converted into a dunk.
Since the official scorer credited an assist to all but four of UK's 19 first-half baskets, there were plenty of passes for the crowd to appraise.
The 15 first-half assists were more than UK had had in four of its previous eight games.
William & Mary Coach Tony Shaver, a product of the North Carolina basketball system, termed passing a critical element for any team.
"The key to being successful offensively," he said. "It's something we stress. You wouldn't believe it tonight because we had 32 turnovers, but we work on passing and catching."
Patrick Sparks, the hero of UK's victory Saturday at Louisville but scoreless against William & Mary, led the way with seven assists. Most memorable were a lob that Hayes dunked and another pass that reaped a dunk by Azubuike, who chipped in 17 points.
Josh Carrier penetrated and pitched to freshman Joe Crawford for a three-pointer.
UK surpassed its 12 assists against Louisville with 5:09 left in the first half. Ravi Moss did the honors by throwing a pass across the lane that Hayes took and drove to a dunk.
Amid all the passing and alert play, Kentucky almost made the game a no-rebound drill for William & Mary. The Cats held a 12-1 rebound edge in the first seven minutes and settled for a 45-28 final margin.
Shaver attributed the one-sided rebounding to "the physical nature of the game.
"Quite honestly, in the first four or five minutes, we defended about as well as we can. We forced tough shots. But they outrebounded us 7-0. Part of that was physical strength."
Kentucky outscored William & Mary 54-8 in the paint. William & Mary did not attempt a two-point shot until the 8:29 mark of the first half and didn't make a two-pointer until freshman Edwin Ofori Attah hit a pull-up baseline jumper with 7:12 left in the half.
No wonder Smith tempered his reaction to the rebounding domination.
"We had superior size inside," the UK coach said, "so we should have rebounded better than in the past."
Superior passing was an elective the Cats chose to exploit.