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UK lives through

Clutch shooting helps Wildcats recover from a late collapse and overcome pesky St. Bonaventure.

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2000


CLEVELAND -- Sitting in his locker stall, Kentucky sophomore forward Tayshaun Prince massaged his thighs as he alternately extended and then pulled his lean, tired legs toward his chest.

But his left arm, and his spirits, were feeling just fine, thank you.

Prince scored a career-high 28, including a three-pointer that forced the first of two overtimes, to help the Wildcats escape with a 85-80 win against St. Bonaventure in the NCAA Midwest Region men's basketball opener Thursday at the Goodman Arena.

"Oh, I feel it," Prince said of the fatigue that comes from playing 48 of a possible 50 minutes for his short-handed team.

Fortunately for the No. 5-seeded Wildcats (23-9), Prince also was feeling it as a shooter.

The No. 12-seeded Bonnies (21-10), who squandered a 10-point first-half lead and fell behind 44-31 early in the second half, parlayed the perimeter shooting of freshman J.R. Bremer and Patricio Prato into a surprising 63-60 lead with less than a minute left.

"We work on situations daily, down three, up three; we work on overtime situations in practice, so they're really prepared," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "We've got a tough-minded group of kids that can make big plays."

Peeling around a double screen set by freshman guard Keith Bogans and sophomore forward Jules Camara, Prince shook free of St. Bonaventure senior guard David Capers for the tying shot with seven seconds left.

"We had run the play a couple times before and his man kept sagging off of him," Bogans said. "My main thing was to get my body on him, slow him up a little bit, and then Jules got him. I saw how wide open he (Prince) was and I kind of figured the ball was going in."

"They were great screens; I had time to concentrate and follow through on the shot," said Prince, who scored his team's last nine points in regulation.

St. Bonaventure coach Jim Baron, who had guided his alma mater to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1978, said he never considered ordering his players to foul the Wildcats before they could attempt a three.

The Wildcats, once renowned for their perimeter touch, entered the game shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc. In the second half, they were 1 of 9 before Prince calmly converted the shot that prevented the upset.

"It doesn't look like he's playing hard; he's a cool, cool operator," Smith said of Prince. "But he's probably as big a clutch player as there is in the country."

Despite missing 5 of 10 free throws in the final moments of overtime, the Wildcats built a seemingly comfortable 74-70 lead with 13.4 seconds left. But dynamic senior point guard Tim Winn hit a circus, reverse scoop and drew a foul that allowed the Bonnies to climb within 74-73 with 8.7 seconds to go.

Kentucky center Jamaal Magloire was fouled before an inbounds pass and hit both shots before the improbable occurred. Again. Capers was fouled on a three-point attempt by backup forward Marvin Stone with .4 seconds left.

Capers, a 55.6 percent free-throw shooter who hadn't attempted one in his past three games, ignored the Kentucky chatter and two Kentucky timeouts between his second and third tries and confidently tied the score.

"The guys came over before the free throw and told me, "Whatever happens, if you make them or you miss them, we still love you,' " he said. "I knew I had messed up in regulation giving up the three and I had told my team I was going to give them another chance. I was given a chance to put it into overtime, so I didn't want to let my team down."

Though they were down to seven players (Camara and point guard Saul Smith had fouled out), the Wildcats looked stronger. Their defense shut down the Bonnies, Bogans had a ball bounce right into his hands for a layup in the final seconds, and then Prince, appropriately enough, followed with two clinching free throws.

"It was relief, but it was exciting," Bogans said. "It was a war, but it was a lot of fun. After a game like that, you take a deep breath and go home and get some rest."

SYRACUSE 79, SAMFORD 65: With his team clinging to a three-point lead and star center Etan Thomas going to the bench with his third foul, Orangeman senior guard Jason Hart realized he had to do more.

Hart scored six of his 17 points, then had one of his game-high six assists to spark a decisive 16-8 run midway through the second half for the No. 4-seeded Orangemen (25-5).

"I knew they felt we were at a disadvantage, but I just got into a rhythm and tried to get some easy opportunities for my teammates," he said. "Fortunately, they left me open and I took advantage. I became much more aggressive when he went out because I knew we needed more offense."

The unheralded Samford Bulldogs (21-11), the Trans America Athletic Conference tournament champions and the No. 13 seed, led the nation in shooting at 50.3 percent but uncharacteristically lacked the composure of the team that upset St. John's earlier this season.

They hit just 41.2 percent.

"Hart, time and time again, made great plays," senior point guard Mario Lopez said. "They're a great team and we had trouble stopping them, that was the difference in the game. We couldn't put back-to-back stops together.."

MICHIGAN ST. 65, VALPARAISO 38: The top-ranked Spartans' stifling defense has been their signature all season, and it left quite an impression on the overmatched No. 16 seed.

Valparaiso (19-13) had one field goal in the opening 13 minutes and shot 13-for-52 for a season-low 25 percent. Not only were the 38 points a season low for the Crusaders, they were an all-time Midwest Region low.

"It was truly like Murphy's Law; if anything could go wrong, it really did," said coach Homer Drew, who led Valpo from the obscurity of the Mid-Continent Conference to the Sweet 16 in 1998. "We're much better than you guys had a chance to observe. ... It was a bad day."

The Spartans (27-7) have a way of doing that to teams.

They were 11th nationally in scoring defense (59.4 points) and have held 25 consecutive opponents below 50 percent shooting. They needed that on this night. They struggled hitting shots, especially at the outset.

* * *

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