"Our bench was just great tonight," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said, "that was our goal to wear them down. You aren't going to wear them down unless you utilize your bench. You keep giving them the body shots and pretty soon they get winded. You cut of the head and the body will die."
Kentucky's bench scored 26 points but he scoring stats did not tell the real story about the bench tonight. Utah would get just six points from their bench.
Heading into the game, the Cats' primary concern was keeping Utah's all-American center, Andrew Bogut, in check. Within the first two minutes of the game, it appeared the Cats may have a long night against Bogut when starting center, freshman Randolph Morris, picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench.
Kentucky's first bench hero would emerge right away. Little-used reserve center Lucasz "Woo" Obrzut entered the game at the 18:30 mark of the first half and quickly scored Kentucky's first basket. Moments later, Woo took a pass and stuffed it home to give Kentucky its first lead at 8-7.
7-foot-3 Shagari Alleyne would also make valuable contributions blocking two of Bogut's shots and altering several others. With Kentucky holding a slim 10-9 lead, reserve forward Bobby Perry hit a tough shot to extend UK's lead to three. Kelenna Azibuike followed with a basket to take the lead to five. Ravi Moss, Ramel Bradley, and freshman Rajon Rondo would score buckets in an 8-minute stretch where the Utes would fail to score a field goal. The Cats would head into the locker room ahead by five points, 29-24.
Kentucky wasted little time extending its lead to nine points 33-24 early, but Utah would prove to be resilient. A Bogut basket would draw the Utes to within three points, 40-37. But Joe Crawford and Ravi Moss would come off the bench to hit consecutive three pointers to extend the lead back to nine points at the 9:04 mark. From that point on, Utah would never get closer than six points.
Though Bogut would lead Utah with 20 points, the Wildcats centers did the job on the Utes' big man. Bogut missed eight of his first 10 shots and his first two free throws.
Smith let his big men go at Bogut alone, having them stay between Bogut and the basket rather than deny him passes. When Bogut got the ball, the Cats converged on him. Wildcat pressure caused Bogut to miss many shots that the big man would normall hit.
Bogut finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, but it those stats came with a lot of pain. He was 8-of-19 from the field matching his career high for misses. Bogut also showed showed scars from some of the pressure at the free throw line, where he was a career-worst 4-of-11. He had just three rebounds in the second half. And, unlike Oklahoma, where Bogut distributed a career-high seven assists, he failed to pick up a single assist tonight.
The Wildcats, now 28-5, advance to play the Michigan State Spartans for the right to advance to the final four. The Spartans beat Duke earlier in the evening. The Cats and Spartans square off on Sunday at 5:05 PM EST.