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RALLY CATS STRIKE AGAIN

Date story published: Thursday, January 20, 2005

Whether Chuck Hayes becomes an All-American, the voters will decide.

But Kentucky's campaign slogan on his behalf -- "All He Does is Win" -- came to life here last night.

"He just refused to let us lose," UK Coach Tubby Smith said after a come-from-behind 53-50 victory at Mississippi. Hayes should send this game tape to All-America voters. Time and again, he made big plays down the stretch as Kentucky rallied from a game-long deficit.

None were bigger than two offensive rebounds when the Cats trailed by six with barely five minutes remaining. Each time, UK took questionable three-point attempts only to have Hayes salvage the possessions on the boards.

Hayes then fed teammates Randolph Morris and Ravi Moss for layups that began Kentucky's 13-4 finishing kick in the final 5:04.

"He just kind of willed us to a win," associate coach David Hobbs said of Hayes. "He took it upon himself to do everything he could. Anytime the shot was questionable or not, he got the rebound. He was huge.

"Plus, he had to guard Tommie Eddie (Ole Miss' low-post threat, whose 14 points (12 in the second half) nearly enabled the Rebels to hold on for an upset victory.

"He's a winner," Ole Miss Coach Rod Barnes said of Hayes. "He did what great players do. I think he's a great player who's under-rated.

"I'm just glad he's gone (Hayes is a senior). Hopefully this is the last time we'll play him."

With UK falling behind by as much as 15 in the first half and 13 at intermission, Hayes vowed to give the Rebels the full measure of his devotion. Before the second half began, he told Director of Player Development Cameron Hill that he wanted to play the final 20 minutes.

"Let me get my air during timeouts," he said he told Hill.

The Cats needed a lot from everyone after a dreadful first half that only Lemony Snicket would love.

For UK, it was a series of unfortunate events, mainly poor shot selection and slow to non-existent defensive rotations.

"I thought ugly shot selection reared its head again," Smith said.

Not so coincidentally, the Cats made only five of 24 first-half shots, matching the horrid shooting that created a 16-point halftime deficit at Louisville last month.

"They were scared," Eddie said of the Cats. "The whole game. They play like us, but we bring more pressure, really."

Kentucky turned it up in the second half. With freshman Rajon Rondo much more aggressive, the Cats methodically closed the gap.

They took their first lead with 3:02 left when Rondo drove to a three-point play.

Fittingly, a rebound put-back, this time by Rondo, expanded the lead to 51-48 with 2:08 left.

UK outrebounded Ole Miss 34-25, thanks in large part to a 19-6 second-half advantage. Unbelievably, the Cats grabbed the game's final 16 rebounds. Of that total, Hayes had four offensive boards.

"Chuck was huge," fellow senior Josh Carrier said. "He practically saved the game for us himself."

Hayes, who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds (his seventh double-double of the season), said no secret strategy motivated him. "We needed the ball," he said.

Hayes repeatedly got it. "He's s smart player," Eddie said. "He's a good player. He's like a sneaky player. He'll get you where you'll turn your back a little. Then he gets the rebound."

UK needed another Hayes contribution to secure its 13th victory in 15 games (4-0 in the Southeastern Conference).

Trailing 51-50, Ole Miss called time with 36.7 seconds. The Rebels' Kendrick Fox, a 43.3 percent three-point shooter, got an open shot from beyond the arc on the left side.

"You get a look like that from a guy who shoots threes, hey, you can't ask for anything else," Barnes said. "Obviously, I'd like something going to the basket and maybe draw a foul. But you settle for an open Kendrick Fox shot; I'll take it."

Said a relieved Carrier, "Fox went for the kill. If he hit that, it would have been tough to come back. It would have been a dagger."

Fox missed.

After Patrick Sparks made two free throws with 16.9 seconds left to make it 53-50, Ole Miss got one more chance. Junior-college transfer Londrick Nolen got off a three-pointer heavily contested by -- who else? -- Hayes.

"I felt like I had the aim," said Nolen, who scored 12 points. "I didn't have the aim."

By contrast, Hayes' aim -- to get Kentucky a victory -- was true.

"I was telling myself: Don't foul and I hope he doesn't make it," Hayes said.

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