Kentucky pushed but pulls out win

Top-seeded Wildcats get past Wisconsin, 63-57

Estill scores 28 points

Midwest Regional

March 28, 2003|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- It seemed that every seat was filled by someone wearing red, rooting for Wisconsin in its bid to upset top-seeded Kentucky in last night's NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal.

Unfortunately for the fifth-seeded Badgers, having a big home-court advantage in the stands is not the same thing as having a big man on the court as the Wildcats had in Marquis Estill.

Estill, a low-profile member of the Kentucky cast, scored a career-high 28 points during a 63-57 victory as the Wildcats advanced past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1998, when they won the national championship.

It's the second straight year in which Estill's career high came in the NCAAs -- he scored 22 points against Iowa last year.

Kentucky, the top-ranked team in the nation, has won 26 games in a row.

"This is the time of the year that you have to do things to make the team win," said Estill, a 6-foot-9 junior who shot 12-for-18 from the field.

The effort allowed the Wildcats (32-3) to prevail in a game in which Wisconsin (24-8) led for much of the first half and didn't go away until the final minute of play.

"When you have a chance, you want to take care of your opportunities," said Badgers coach Bo Ryan, whose team won the Big Ten regular-season title. "And when you don't, it stinks."

Kentucky shot only 44 percent in the first half and played the second half without star guard Keith Bogans, who suffered a high left ankle sprain late in the first half and is questionable for tomorrow's regional final against Marquette.

Yet the Wildcats shrugged off a rough first half to shoot 54.4 percent in the second, a half in which they held Badgers star guard Kirk Penney to three points after he scored 17 in the first half.

"It was a gutsy, gritty effort on our players' part," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "We kept our composure and we found a way to win, and that's what a great team does."

In retrospect, a big performance from Estill isn't terribly surprising, given Wisconsin's reluctance to double-team him and the Badgers' lack of anyone to deal with the forward.

There have been other instances of command performances of Estill -- like a game against North Carolina -- where the opponent's lack of inside defense demands getting the ball inside.

"We know [the Badgers] like to front the post, and they did a great job of getting me the ball," Estill said.

But if one aspect didn't go the way Wisconsin had planned, the pace of the game was another matter entirely. The Badgers, 20-2 when limiting foes to 62 points or fewer, were locked in a contest consisting of just 12 points over the game's first 6:59.

Penney had raced all over the court up to that point to get open, mostly for naught. Then, the New Zealander found the fruits of his labor when he knocked down two straight three-pointers to spark an 11-2 run that gave Wisconsin a 15-8 lead at the 11:20 mark.

Estill's production in the paint was the lone constant for the Wildcats. They thrive on turnovers to take fast-break opportunities, but didn't see one come their way until 8:02 remained in the first half. Given the payoff -- an ugly three-point attempt by Kelenna Azubuike -- they probably could have waited some more.

Bogans' three-pointer at the 4:41 mark gave the team the lead at 21-20.

Two free throws by Penney put the Badgers ahead again, 25-24, with 1:43 left, but two free throws by Erik Daniels reversed the lead and it didn't change back, with Kentucky leading 32-28 at halftime on an Estill tip-in.

"He's a big body," said Wisconsin forward Mike Wilkinson, who guarded Estill. "He does a great job of holding us off. All we could do is try to wear him out."

Without Bogans, Kentucky's top scorer and floor leader, the Wildcats still led for most of the second half, yielding only for two brief instances in the opening five minutes. Jules Camara's jump hook capped a 10-0 run that ultimately put Kentucky ahead 48-40, an edge it would keep for the rest of the contest.

Smith finally settled on Chuck Hayes to lock down Penney, who attempted only three shots in the second half.

"The looks he got were wide open, and we needed to get a hand in his face," Hayes said. "If you're going to let him get the ball, you have to keep your hand in there, so he can't be as aggressive."

WISCONSIN -- Harris 6-9 2-3 15, Tucker 1-4 2-2 4, Wilkinson 4-11 4-7 13, Penney 6-12 3-4 20, Owens 1-8 0-0 2, Wade 1-1 0-0 3, Helmigk 0-0 0-0 0, Mader 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-45 11-16 57.

KENTUCKY -- Daniels 2-3 5-6 9, Estill 12-18 4-10 28, Hayes 2-5 0-0 4, Fitch 3-7 1-2 7, Bogans 2-6 0-0 5, Hawkins 1-4 2-2 4, Azubuike 0-2 0-0 0, Barbour 0-2 2-2 2, Camara 2-2 0-2 4. Totals 24-49 14-24 63.

Half --Kentucky, 32-28. 3-Point Goals--Wisconsin 8-21 (Penney 5-7, Wade 1-1, Harris 1-2, Wilkinson 1-5, Tucker 0-1, Owens 0-5), Kentucky 1-5 (Bogans 1-2, Azubuike 0-1, Fitch 0-1, Hawkins 0-1). Fouled out--Wilkinson. Rebounds--Wisconsin 28 (Tucker 7), Kentucky 33 (Hayes 7). Assists--Wisconsin 9 (Harris 4), Kentucky 9 (Bogans, Daniels 2). Total fouls--Wisconsin 20, Kentucky 17. A--28,168.

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