Archive for Thursday, March 14, 2002

Kentucky 83, Valparaiso 68

March 14, 2002

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— Even Kentucky's recent troubles on and off the court couldn't derail its first-round roll.

Keith Bogans had 21 points, and Tayshaun Prince made up for poor shooting with strong defense, leading the Wildcats to their 12th straight opening victory in the NCAA tournament, 83-68 over Valparaiso on Thursday.

Kentucky, seeded fourth in the East Regional, came into the tournament having dropped four of its last nine games. In addition, two players were suspended this season, and the school's athletic director was fired. Coach Tubby Smith called this probably his toughest year ever.

But the Wildcats (21-9) played Thursday as though they didn't have a care in the world.

Kentucky put the game away with an 18-3 run over a span of about six minutes late in the first half. Six players scored during the spurt, which gave the Wildcats a 38-19 lead with 2:15 to go.

Kentucky led by as many as 20 points in the first half, held a 41-23 edge at the break, and the advantage never dropped below 10 the rest of the way.

The Wildcats haven't lost a first-round NCAA tournament game since dropping a 91-77 decision to Ohio State in 1987.

Valparaiso, which had won 14 of 15 games coming in, was unable to recover after shooting 36 percent in the first half and finishing with more turnovers (11) than baskets (nine).

Prince finished with 13 points, but had an uncharacteristically tough time. He went 5-for-14 from the field, including 0-for-6 on 3-point attempts.

But, importantly, Prince helped neutralize Valparaiso's top scorer, Lubos Barton. The Mid-Continent Conference player of the year rarely got the ball inside the 3-point line and had only one point in the first half _ a free throw in the final minute. Barton reached 10 points with a 3-pointer in the final minute of the game.

Bogans' production has slipped since he averaged 17.5 points as a sophomore and considered jumping to the NBA. He averaged only 10 this year as a junior, his lowest in three seasons with the Wildcats. But against Valparaiso, he was 4-for-5 from 3-point range, had six rebounds and three assists.

Marquis Estill had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting for Kentucky.

Raitis Grafs led Valparaiso with 21 points and eight rebounds, while Jared Stovall had 10 points and six rebounds, and Stalin Ortiz scored 10.

Valparaiso (25-8) was in the NCAAs for the sixth time in seven seasons. The Crusaders won the Mid-Continent Conference tournament with three victories by an average of 25.7 points and set a school record for victories.

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