- Saturday, December 6 2003 -
John Wooden Classic (at Anaheim, CA)
Kentucky - 52 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 9th by AP and 3rd by ESPN/USA Today]
UCLA - 50 (Head Coach: Ben Howland) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 27, UCLA 17
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Marshall 89 - 76|||||Michigan State 79 - 74|
Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
UK shoots blanks, but still wins
ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Kentucky basketball team spent its weekend just miles from the Pacific Ocean, but the Cats couldn't have thrown a shot into it from the beach in the John Wooden Classic at the Arrowhead Pond.
Still, despite shooting a sickly 27.1 percent from the field, UK (4-0) held off an equally deficient UCLA squad long enough to claim a 52-50 victory. In the Cats' four losses a year ago, they never shot worse than 37 percent, making the triumph over the Bruins (2-1) even more shocking.
"We are pleased to get the win," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "It wasn't one of our better games, but it was a win. If we had made shots, we'd feel a lot better, but it's a win."
The game didn't start off poorly for UK, as the Cats jumped out to leads of 7-0 and 23-6 as the Bruins made just two of their first 15 shot attempts. During that stretch, UK got both of UCLA's seven footers in serious foul trouble and it looked like the Cats were on their way to a blowout.
"At the beginning of the game, falling down 23-6, that's a tough hold to dig out of," UCLA coach Ben Howland said.
But UCLA did climb out of the hole, albeit little by little. The Bruins closed to within 27-17 at the break by holding UK to one field goal over the final eight minutes of the half. The Cats' cold spell continued well into the second half and UCLA began clawing its way back into the game.
The Bruins used an 8-0 run midway through the final 20 minutes to pull within 36-33 on a Dijon Thompson free throw with 7:45 remaining. UK responded with an Erik Daniels' lay-in after the television timeout, then made several stops before Gerald Fitch made his only shot of the game, an uncontested three-pointer from the left wing to make it 41-33. Fitch, who entered the game averaging 24 points a contest, scored just five and made only one of his 10 shot attempts.
"Gerald twisted his knee in practice (Friday)," Smith admitted afterwards. "It shows you the guts he has and how tough he is. It did show up in his shooting."
After Fitch's big three, UCLA called timeout, then Brian Morrison responded with a three of his own before Chuck Hayes muscled his way for a lay-in. The Bruins got to within 45-42 after Thompson's third tip-in attempt finally went down with 2:15 left.
From there, it was the Cliff Hawkins show for UK. Hawkins, who was kept away from his teammates on the trip after coming down with the flu, drilled two free throws at 1:50 and then buried a pull-up jumper in the lane as the shot clock ticked down to give the Cats a 49-44 lead with 51.5 seconds on the board.
Leading by three, Fitch stepped to the free throw line for a one-and-one with 29.7 left, but he missed the first attempt. UCLA's Michael Fey controlled the rebound, but Antwain Barbour snuck around from behind, stripped the ball and saved it to Hawkins while falling out of bounds. Hawkins drilled the two free throws and added one more with 13.6 seconds left, as the Cats held on at the end.
"I've been (out west) before," Smith said. "When you travel across country, you have a tendency to hit a wall in the second half. That little short jumper (Cliff) hit was huge. The free throw were huge."
And for UK, on a night when it shot 27 percent, any kind of a victory was huge as well.