Date story published: Sunday, December 12, 2004
LOUISVILLE -- The sight of his undersized, under-experienced big men trying to score over the tallest player in Kentucky's basketball history yesterday moved Indiana Coach Mike Davis to a metaphorical high.
"He's like the Empire State Building," Davis said of Shagari Alleyne. "You can't shoot over him. ... It's suicide."
If Alleyne was the Empire State Building, he merely stood tallest in UK's impressive skyline. The Cats dominated around the basket in beating Indiana 73-58.
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Kentucky (6-1) outscored Indiana 38-10 from the paint. Perhaps more encouraging for UK fans, the players said the domination signaled a new-found identity upon which to build a successful season.
"Definitely," said Bobby Perry, who noted Alleyne at 7-foot-3, freshman Randolph Morris at 6-10 and rock-solid Chuck Hayes at 6-6 as an imposing force. "We're going to have the size advantage and be able to pound (opponents)."
Earlier this season, Kentucky experimented with lineups and approaches. Against Indiana, once a most formidable rival but now barely more than another opponent, the Cats thought short-term and long-term. On this day, UK looked to mine a mismatch inside. For the future, the Cats sought to establish a signature strategy.
To foster inside play, UK Coach Tubby Smith adjusted the offensive alignment. He had the big men positioned closer to the basket.
"I think that made a difference," Smith said as Hayes (14 points), Morris (11) and Alleyne (10) all scored in double figures.
UK exploited Indiana's decision to double-team either post player. So when the Hoosiers were tardy rotating from one double team to another, the Cats pounced.
This was never better illustrated than on back-to-back possessions early in the second half. On the first, Hayes found Morris for a dunk. Then, as if to return the favor, Morris fed Hayes a pass for a dunk the next trip downcourt.
"That was just a read," Hayes said. "Real fundamental basketball. Basic stuff. When there's a double team, somebody's open. Just plain-and-simple basketball."
And lethally effective, Hayes could have added. UK was outscoring Indiana 36-6 from the lane until the Hoosiers got two meaningless dunks in the final two minutes. Otherwise, IU's only inside baskets were two transition layups and a disputed three-point play by freshman forward D.J. White. (Josh Carrier seemed in position for the charge but was called for blocking.)
Nearly half of Indiana's shots (23 of 50) were three-point attempts. Star guard Bracey Wright made six en route to a season-high 31 points. But no other Hoosier reached double digits.
"Their inside play was just too strong for us," Davis said. "They overwhelmed us, even on our double teams."
The well-positioned big men had another aid. Patrick Sparks, much the better perimeter shooter, played the bulk of his minutes at point guard. The threat of a Sparks three-pointer extended the defense and created a bit more space.
Although Kentucky enjoyed an 18-4 advantage in first-half points from the paint, it was not a seamless domination. Indiana mimicked North Carolina's fast start against UK last weekend. The poor-shooting Hoosiers (34.8 percent) made five of their first seven shots and zipped to a 13-4 lead.
"North Carolina jumped on us early, and we kind of panicked," Hayes said. "Against Indiana, we kept our composure."
A Sparks three-pointer gave UK the lead for good at 22-19. Thereafter, the Cats steadily pulled away with a heavy dose of inside power mixed with timely perimeter shots.
Voila! An identity.
"Tubby's philosophy has always been to get the ball inside," said Associate Coach David Hobbs, who noted the importance of stretching and contorting a defense. "You always have to guard a guy at the basket. At the three-point line, you don't have to guard every guy. Force them to defend (inside), then go from there."
Smith lauded the Cats for how well they followed the plan. "We played with a lot more poise and a lot more patience than we have in the past," he said. "We played a lot smarter."
If this is Kentucky's identity, the Cats will continue to pound inside. "I would suppose so," Hobbs said with a deadpan expression.
When a reporter suggested Kentucky's inside power would mesh nicely with arch-rival Louisville's undersized front line next weekend, Hobbs said with a poker face: "You may see it again."