Date story published: Sunday, January 8, 2006
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith offered a simple and sweeping assessment after Kansas beat his team 73-46 yesterday.
"We're just not very good," Smith said.
No one argued.
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Allen Fieldhouse, a house of horror for Kentucky in its last stop here, was the setting for another new low for UK. Besides matching the largest margin of defeat for Smith as a coach, it was Kentucky's worse loss since the infamous 150-95 debacle here in 1989.
"This was very bad because it's the new year," Ravi Moss said when asked to compare this loss to the 79-53 setback to Indiana a month ago. "I thought we'd be off to a different start. Obviously, we haven't figured out how to play basketball yet."
Kentucky (10-4) was Old Testament bad. In this plague of a game, the Cats did not have an assist until the 14:20 mark of the second half. "Horrible," said Moss, who took a pass from Rajon Rondo and hit the first of UK's three three-pointers on the play. "Basketball is a team sport. You're supposed to have assists."
Not so coincidentally, UK made only 15 baskets, 24.2 percent of its shots and dissolved into pointless -- literally and figuratively -- one-on-one forays.
"You saw what I saw," Smith said when asked about a first half without an assist. "Nobody was screening. No one was passing. Dribble, dribble, dribble. They pushed us out of our offense. You can't win at all like that. You have no chance of competing if you don't pass the ball."
And that was only half the story. The Cats did not distinguish themselves defensively either. Kansas became only the third UK opponent in the last 80 games to make at least 50 percent of its shots.
"It disappoints me that we did not defend very well," Smith said. "Not scoring is one thing. When you don't defend at the other end (his voice trailed off).
"So many easy baskets. Layups. Dunks. It wasn't just Kansas today. It's been happening all season long.
"So it's a whole smorgasbord of things."
Freshman Brandon Rush reaped the most benefit, getting career highs with 24 points and 12 rebounds.
Although never ahead, Kentucky got off to an encouraging start. The Cats deflected passes on three of Kansas's first four possessions, which suggested a team fully engaged.
Then Kansas center C.J. Giles rocked Rondo, who made two of the deflections, with a screen. Rondo crumpled to the court.
Smith dismissed the play as a turning point. Although the UK coach did grumble, "We're like a magnet. We try to find screens. We run into every screen possible."
But the play did set a tone of Kansas as physically dominant.
"I think we were just manhandled," Smith said. "By that I mean they were physically stronger than we were. We talked of being more aggressive, more physical this year. That was our whole challenge to our team."
Kansas (9-4) took a double-digit lead at the 10:40 mark of the first half and led by as much as 23 before settling for a 41-19 margin at halftime. That matched the 19 points Kentucky scored against Indiana last month and, more disquieting, represented a larger halftime deficit than in the 150-95 game. The Cats trailed 80-61 at intermission that day.
Kansas directed its defense at Rondo. The Jayhawks followed a plan of keeping Rondo out of the lane. UK's best player finished with nine points, his second-lowest total since getting five against Iowa. His three assists were his second fewest of the season (he had two against Indiana).
"We did a great job of cutting off the head," Kansas guard Russell Robinson said of defending Rondo. "He's the guy who gets them going. When the head's cut off, the body kind of runs wildly."
Late in the first half, Moss pointed to the scoreboard as his teammates gathered in a huddle for a timeout.
"I was trying to say, 'We've got a long time left,' " he said. "I was trying to encourage the guys to get (the deficit) down to something we could manage: 14 or 12 or something."
Kentucky got no closer than 20 in the second half, and trailed by as much as 32.
Trailing 66-34 with less than eight minutes left, UK mounted what constituted a comeback on this day. The Cats made two straight shots for the first and only time. Joe Crawford's leaner and another Moss three-pointer reduced the Kansas lead to 66-39.
"I was surprised Kentucky didn't get a run going," Rush said. "Maybe they gave up a little."