Kentucky Makes First Two Rounds Look Easy
March 24, 2003
By CHRIS DUNCAN
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Not long ago, Kentucky guard Keith Bogans said his team's practices are harder than its games.
That hasn't changed in the NCAA tournament.
Kentucky won its first two games by 51 total points heading into Thursday's Midwest Regional semifinal against Wisconsin (24-7) at the Metrodome.
The Wildcats (31-3), who have won 25 straight, return to practice Tuesday. Coach Tubby Smith will stick to a season-long routine of having his players forget about their previous victories by plunging into preparations for the next game.
"We get that last game out of their minds immediately. That's been a big key," Smith said. "They know their mind-set is on the upcoming (game). They don't have time to reflect back."
If they did, it would be hard to find something to nitpick from the Cats' 74-54 win over Utah on Sunday.
The victory fit neatly into Kentucky's formula for success this season - smothering defense, dominant rebounding and unspectacular, but efficient, offense.
The Wildcats outrebounded the Utes 35-22 and held Utah to 39.6 percent shooting. It was Kentucky's 10th double-digit rebound margin and the seventh time in eight games it has held an opponent under 40 percent.
Kentucky shot 47 percent from the field against Utah - its worst shooting effort in five games. But the Wildcats went 18-for-18 from the free-throw line, only the second time this season they haven't missed a foul shot in a game.
"Mentally, we couldn't have been better focused," Smith said of his team's tournament play so far. "I'm really proud of the maturity they've shown and how well they're playing together, how well they're digesting the game plan and executing the game plan."
The Wildcats have had that success because of their intense practices. Bogans said before Kentucky played Tennessee on Feb. 26 that "guys get after each other" during practice, making it tougher than playing in games.
Kentucky will have to another challenge against Wisconsin, which is known for its deliberate offensive style.
LSU and South Carolina tried milking the clock on Kentucky during its perfect run through the Southeastern Conference regular season. Both lost to the Wildcats by double digits.
That may not be the Badgers' game plan, anyway. Coach Bo Ryan said his team won't simply try to eat up the shot clock on every possession.
"We've never held the ball yet," Ryan said. "It's just what you have to do to get a good shot. Nobody that knows us, that has seen us play, says anything about us holding the ball."
Shutting down offenses has been Kentucky's specialty all season.
The Wildcats harassed Notre Dame point guard Chris Thomas into nine turnovers on Jan. 18. Four days later, they held Auburn to 2-for-14 shooting from 3-point range. They forced then-No. 1 Florida into 19 turnovers on Feb. 4.
Kentucky won all three games by double digits.
"We've always been a good defensive team," Smith said. "Most teams that compete for championships year in and year our, whether it's in the Big Ten or the Big East or the SEC, are going to have to defend people."
Kentucky's defense usually leads to offense, and Smith said that will be a key in Thursday's game against the careful Badgers, who lead the Big Ten in turnover margin (+3.45).
Ryan said his team must counter Kentucky's defense with patience.
"We're going to probe, we're going to try to get good cuts, look for a shot
after three passes," Ryan said. "But if it takes us seven or eight, we'll