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Wildcats Find Strength in Numbers

Kentucky Empties Bench To Get Past Utah, Bogut: Kentucky 62, Utah 52

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 26, 2005; Page D07

AUSTIN, March 25 -- How many college basketball players does it take to negate one 7-foot Australian seasoned with Croatian descent and Olympic-squad experience?

The answer: as many as it takes, at least in the playbook of Kentucky's Tubby Smith.

Utah's Andrew Bogut is swarmed by Kentucky's Chuck Hayes, left, Patrick Sparks and Randolph Morris. (Marc Serota -- Reuters)

Smith emptied his bench for Friday's NCAA region semifinal against Andrew Bogut and his Utah Utes, the one-man tournament team that stood between the Wildcats and a spot in the Austin Region final of the NCAA tournament.

By countering Bogut with a pair of 7-footers of its own, as well as a parade of sharp-shooting guards, Kentucky (28-5) rolled to a 62-52 victory before 16,239 at Erwin Center and a date with fifth-seeded Michigan State (25-6) in Sunday's final for the right to advance to the Final Four in St. Louis.

Smith deployed 13 Wildcats to Utah's seven in the first half alone, and eight of them scored in the period. Despite the presence of 7-3 Shagari Alleyne and 7-0 Lukasz Obrzut, Kentucky still managed to get outrebounded by Utah 15-12.

Bogut, regarded by many as the best player in the college game, accounted for 10 of those rebounds in the 20-minute span, as well as nine points -- more than one-third of the Utes' scoring output.

But down the stretch, Kentucky simply had more -- more post players with hulking frames; more guards with sure hands and speedy feet; and more defenders to rack up fouls.

"Our team defense was just great out there," Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes said. "Our 7-footers did everything they could to stop Bogut and make it hard for him. It just shows signs of a great team when you've got guys coming off the bench and contributing the way they did. Tonight it was definitely a team win; everybody contributed in some kind of way."

Bogut, a sophomore, finished what likely will be his last college game with a team-high 20 points and 12 rebounds; the NBA awaits, eager to make him a high first-round pick, if not first overall.

Said Smith: "Our interior people did a fairly good job against Andrew, but you never hold a great player down, and he's a great player. We're just happy to get the win."

Only two Kentucky players scored in double figures: Hayes finished with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, and guard Rajon Rondo contributed 10. With so many shooters rotating on and off the court, there was no need for any Wildcats to have a career night. By the end, 10 Kentucky players had scored.

The fact that the Utes (29-6) advanced to the round of 16 represented an enormous achievement for first-year coach Ray Giacoletti. The first coup of Giacoletti's young tenure was persuading Bogut to return for his sophomore season. Then he lured back point guard Marc Jackson, who had sat out the previous season after growing disillusioned with Utah's previous coach, Rick Majerus.

Few expected Giacoletti's Utes, or any Mountain West team, to advance to the region finals. But by the time they took the floor at Erwin Center on Friday night, the Mountain West had as many teams left in the NCAA tournament as the vaunted ACC: one.

Against Kentucky, Utah's dominance was brief. Trailing 9-8, the Wildcats went on a 13-2 run to make it 21-11.

Jackson, the Utes' senior guard, hit a three-pointer to narrow the deficit to 29-25 at halftime. But Kentucky's depth and defense wore the Utes down over time. Utah shot 41.2 percent; Kentucky, 59 percent.

Still Utah hung in, paring Kentucky's lead to 38-35 early in the second half.

Blowouts haven't been Kentucky's style late this season. Only once since Feb. 23 have they beaten a team by double figures. It was much the same against Utah; the Wildcats would eke out a 10-point lead, then let Utah back in.

A foul sent Bogut to the line with 1 minute 21 seconds remaining, but he missed both shots. With time dwindling and a 10-point deficit to erase, it was a free throw shooting contest from there.

Bogut dropped in one easy shot to make it 58-49. But the outcome was clear.

"It wore 'em down in some kind of way [with] the way we just kept throwing new bodies at them," Hayes said.

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