Braves finish non-conference schedule with loss at Kentucky

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 2, 2003

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) &045; Kentucky coach Tubby Smith focused on defense in practices this week, and the move produced the Wildcats’ most lopsided win of the season.

Chuck Hayes scored 15 points and No. 20 Kentucky forced a season-high 28 turnovers in a 94-63 victory over Alcorn State on Thursday night.

Smith was much happier than he was after Tennessee State shot 52 percent in a 115-87 loss to Kentucky on Monday night.

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The Wildcats had two practices this week devoted entirely to defensive fundamentals.

”We went back to basics, like active hands, getting feet in the right position and challenging the ball,” Smith said. ”We did a much better job defensively, as far as pressing the ball and forcing turnovers. We had kind of gotten away from that the last few games.”

Erik Daniels had 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists for the Wildcats (8-3), who shot 52 percent (34-of-65) and won easily despite getting outrebounded 40-36.

The Wildcats dominated from the opening tip, taking a 7-0 lead before Alcorn State even attempted a shot.

”I think we got intimidated,&uot; Alcorn head coach Davey Whitney said. &uot;When we walked through the front door, there was about 4,000 people already there. But we went out there and played hard. We’re not happy about it, but we’re not discouraged about it. We’ll be fine.&uot;

Kentucky hit nine of its first 12 shots, most inside, and led 21-7 after Cliff Hawkins’ 3-pointer with 13:51 left in the first half.

By the midpoint of the half, the Wildcats led 30-14 and Smith had used every player on his bench except freshman Brandon Stockton and walk-ons Matt Heissenbuttel, Preston LeMaster and Ravi Moss.

”We had good play off the bench,” Smith said. ”Everybody got in and had good minutes.”

Kentucky went cold after its hot shooting start, missing 12 of its next 16 shots.

The Braves got within nine points, but sophomore reserve Josh Carrier hit consecutive 3-pointers to restore Kentucky’s double-digit lead.

The Wildcats led 44-28 at halftime as Alcorn State finished the first half with more turnovers (12) than field goals (11).

”We had just been playing lackadaisical,” said Carrier, a seldom-used sophomore. ”Coach got our attention in practice and I don’t think defensive intensity is going to be a problem the rest of the season.”

Kentucky built the lead to 33 points by the 10-minute mark of the second half. Smith had put Stockton, Heissenbuttel, LeMaster and Moss in the game by the four-minute mark, with the Cats leading 83-46.

”These are the kinds of games we can build on,” said senior center Jules Camara, who blocked four shots. ”We haven’t been playing great at the defensive end.&uot;

Teams have been shooting too high a percentage.”

Smith was pleased that his team carried its defensive effort to the end of the game. Hayes said that was part of the message from this week’s practices.

”Coach isn’t going to let us take it easy on defense anymore,” Hayes said. ”If he sees guys dogging it, they’re going to be sitting next to him on the bench.”

The Wildcats play Ohio on Saturday, before starting their Southeastern Conference schedule next week.

Smith doesn’t want his players settling into roles. He wants them more focused on playing with effort when they get into games.

”I don’t want them comfortable, I want them ready to play,” Smith said. ”I just want them playing with intensity, every minute they’re out on the floor. You need to have interchangeable parts.”