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'The Basket Was So Wide Open'

Date story published: Sunday, December 16, 2007

LOUISVILLE -- Robert Vaden, a native of Indianapolis and a former Indiana player, counted more than 35 relatives, friends, high school teammates and coaches in Freedom Hall yesterday.

"I wanted to play well for them," he said.

Here's an understatement: Vaden succeeded.

He scored 28 of his career-high 33 points in the second half to propel UAB to a come-from-behind 79-76 victory over Kentucky.

"I was pretty hot," Vaden said in a soft-spoken voice. "The basket was so wide open."

Vaden made eight of 10 shots, including six of seven from three-point range, in the second half. None was bigger than a three-pointer with 1:18 left that broke a 74-74 tie. He didn't square his shoulders to the basket. Instead he launched a shot that almost looked like a touch-pass, and it swished through the basket.

"I was just feeling it," he said. "We needed a basket, so I just threw it up there, and it went in."

Sophomore guard Michael Porter, who drew praise from UK Coach Billy Gillispie for a "fantastic" defensive job, tried mightily to contain Vaden. But the game's most decisive shot caught him by surprise.

"I didn't even think he was going to shoot it," Porter said. "He never brought it down. I don't know what to say."

Kentucky, which lost a third straight game to fall to 4-4, led much of the game. Despite 14 straight points by Vaden in one second-half flurry, the Cats matched their largest lead of the day at 64-50 with 10:54 left.

Back-to-back three-pointers by Vaden fueled a 16-0 run that put UAB ahead 66-64 with 5:26 left.

The second trey pulled the Blazers within 64-63. A television timeout seconds later allowed a UK fan to yell at Vaden, "You should have stayed at Indiana. You would have beat us," a reference to the Hoosiers' victory over Kentucky last weekend.

"It ain't over yet," Vaden told the fan.

Neither team took control down the stretch until Vaden hit the improbable three over Porter.

Despite the onslaught, Gillispie blamed poor defense by other defenders, not Porter, for the defeat. "That's not what beat us," the UK coach said of Vaden's scoring. "What we wanted to do was guard him. I thought Mike did a fantastic job of doing that the entire game.

"What we didn't do, we didn't want to give them easy baskets. ... They didn't have to earn four, five, six baskets there."

UAB (8-4) made 69.6 percent of its second-half shots (16-for-23). That meant the other Blazers made eight of 13 shots to complement Vaden.

Gillispie also lamented Kentucky's 18 turnovers, which UAB converted into a 25-11 advantage in points off giveaways. UAB, which committed 27 turnovers against Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 27, had a season-low nine yesterday. The Blazers' 20 assists were one shy of a season-high 21.

"You can't be as lackadaisical as we were on defense," Gillispie said. "We didn't pressure the ball much. That made it easy on Vaden. It made it easier on all of them."

Porter played hard in contesting Vaden's shots. "I didn't feel helpless," he said. "The job was tough because he's such a great shooter (41.7-percent on three-pointers coming into the game).

"You can't hope he misses. Against a lot of players, you think he can't make 10 in a row. ... He's a rhythm shooter. When he gets going, he's going to keep making them. We let him get going, which is a bad thing."

Although Porter competed (the quality Gillispie seems to prize highest of all), Vaden welcomed a defender who is 3 inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter. "It was easy to look over him and to shoot over him," said Vaden, who scored the most points against a UK team since South Carolina's Tre Kelley had 36 last Feb. 7.

When asked whether he considered putting another defender on Vaden, if only to give the sharpshooter something to think about, Gillispie said he tried Joe Crawford and Ramon Harris briefly. Neither defended as well as Porter, the UK coach said.

Late in the game, UK got Vaden to pass by trapping him aggressively. "We should have done that a lot earlier," Ramel Bradley said. "You just don't think a guy can continue to make shots like that. You have to give him credit."

UAB Coach Mike Davis said he talked to Vaden before the game about relaxing and not trying too hard. Although Vaden was the Blazers' leading scorer (18.5 ppg), Davis wondered whether he'd put too much pressure on the junior guard who followed him from Indiana to UAB.

"He had to feel the same jitters I felt coming back to the Blue," Davis said before adding a moment later, "UAB fans got a chance to see the real Robert Vaden. He's had some real good games for us this year. None like this. He was special."