Cats win in OT, play for Tourney Championship

Chuck Hayes took matters into his own hands toward the end of the overtime period, and the 6-foot-6 senior made three big plays down the stretch as the Wildcats escaped with a win over LSU by the narrowest of margins, 79-78.

Chuck Hayes took matters into his own hands toward the end of the overtime period, and the 6-foot-6 senior made three big plays down the stretch as the Wildcats escaped with a win over LSU by the narrowest of margins, 79-78.

With less than 30 seconds to play in overtime and the Wildcats down by two points, Kelenna Azubuike was fouled, giving the junior the opportunity to tie the game. Kelenna would make the first, drawing the Cats to within one. The second shot would be off the mark but bounce high off the rim. In the ensuing struggle who --Chuck Hayes-- would come away with the ball?

With time winding down, the Cats would get the ball into Hayes in the low post. Hayes spun around LSU's Glen Davis for a left handed layup that would put the Cats ahead with less than 15 seconds remaining. LSU's Tack Minor drove the length of the floor. Hayes altered the shot then claimed the rebound as time expired, allowing Kentucky to move onto the SEC Tournament final Sunday against Florida.

"Ironically, that final play (Chuck scoring the winning basket) was the same play we tried to run in the final moments in Florida," associate coach David Hobbs said, "it is gratifying to see us execute it so well this time."

The game was tight from the opening tip. For Kentucky, Kelenna Azibuike and Patrick Sparks provided the scoring punch. For LSU Antonio Hudson had the hot hand from the field and SEC Player of the Year Brandon Bass cleaned up on the glass, and LSU went into the locker holding a slim 32-31 lead.

LSU opened the second period with two quick baskets. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, upset with the lack of movement of his players, pulled all five starters from the lineup.

The moved turned out to be a good one. Led by freshman Joe Crawford, the Wildcats bench went on an 11-2 run to turn a five point deficit into a four point lead, 42-38. Crawford had nine of those points. "Tubby is not afraid to play anyone on the bench," Hobbs said, "and it showed tonight."

Hobbs added, "Essentially the game was won on the bench."

Crawford ended the game with a career high 14 points. Azibuike led the Wildcats with 19 points and Patrick Sparks chipped in 17.

"He had been practicing much better," Hobbs said of Crawford, "I am sure he felt better but he has come on in the last few weeks. What a great game for him to step up. He defended well too."

When the starters returned, the Wildcats would extend the lead to eight 60-52, but that is when Brandon Bass would take charge for LSU. Bass would score six of LSU's next eight points, pulling the Tigers to within two, 62-60, with 3:28 remaining. The game would remain nip and tuck and at the end of regulation, with LSU down by two, it was Brandon Bass to hit an off-balance jumper to send the game into overtime.

"It was an emotional downer when Bass hit that shot," Hobbs said, "but fortunately we were able to recover and execute."

The Wildcats missed several opportunities to put the game away at the end of regulation but failed to convert at the free throw line.

In the overtime period, LSU took charge early and when Glen Davis hit two free throws with 1:45 remaining to give the Tigers a 78-73 lead, things were looking a little scarey for Kentucky.

But Patrick Sparks would step out and hit a huge three-pointer from the corner to cut the lead by two, setting up the heroic effort by Hayes.

Looking ahead to Florida, Hobbs said Kentucky would stay the course, "There is not a whole lot we will change," he said, "we will have to clean up a few things, but we are ready to go.


Be sure to check out our SEC Tournament "blog" with Matt   Jones.


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