Kentucky can't find the magic in overtime
AUSTIN, Texas -- Tubby Smith nearly found the magic he's been looking for since Kentucky won the NCAA title in 1998.
A dramatic 3-pointer forced overtime, and a burst that gave the Wildcats the lead made it seem possible that they and their head coach were headed back to the Final Four for the first time in seven years.
Then the shots, and the magic, ran out.
The Wildcats couldn't muster a shot in the final half-minute of the first overtime, then watched as Michigan State built a lead in the second. The Spartans eventually pulled away for a 94-88 victory that sent them to the Final Four in St. Louis instead.
"I really don't want to take off my jersey," said senior forward Chuck Hayes, who scored 16 points in his final game and cried after watching the Spartans celebrate. "You figure if you give everything you have, you get what you want. But sometimes you don't."
Kentucky seemed to have grabbed all the momentum when referee James Burr ruled that Patrick Sparks' last-second shot in regulation was, in fact, a 3-pointer that tied it at 75.
"It seemed like fate after he hit that shot. I felt like the game was ours to win," freshman guard Joe Crawford said. "I felt like we deserved to win. This is the type of game you want to be a part of, but you wish you were on the other side."
The Wildcats were up by four in the first overtime when Kelenna Azubuike hit two free throws before momentum starting shifting the other way. Ravi Moss missed a jumper. Sparks missed a 3-pointer.
With Hayes on the bench with four fouls, Michigan State grabbed five offensive rebounds before Shannon Brown hit a 3-pointer to get within one.
"We had all the momentum, we just knew they were going to break," Hayes said. "But they got the offensive rebounds and 3-point shot they had to get."
Smith called it "demoralizing."
"Those are critical plays that just take the wind out of your sails," he said.
Tied at 81, Kentucky had possession with 25 seconds left. Smith put the ball in the hands of freshman point guard Rajon Rondo.
"We wanted Rajon to try to beat his man off the dribble and penetrate," Smith said. "I hoped he would take it all in. We were looking to get a foul."
Dribbling near midcourt, Rondo let the clock run down to about eight seconds before trying to penetrate. Swarmed by the Spartans, he handed it to Kelenna Azubuike, who dribbled into the right corner and couldn't get off a shot before time ran out.
"As soon as I got it, I should have shot it," Azubuike said. "I tried to create space with my dribble, and time ran out."
The Wildcats never got a chance for a winning shot in the second overtime. The Spartans hit just one field goal over the final five minutes but the Wildcats could only watch as Michigan State made 11 of 12 free throws to close it out.
After briefly holding the lead at 81-80 with 1:24 left in the first overtime, Kentucky didn't score again for another 4:32.
By the time the Spartans' Kelvin Torbert was at the line for the last two with less than a second remaining, many of the Wildcats fans started heading for the exits.
Actress Ashley Judd, a die-hard Kentucky fan who waved a blue-and-white pompom throughout most of the game, stood with her arms crossed.
Those who stayed gave Hayes a standing ovation as he left the court.
"I'm just numb. I've cried all the tears I can," he said. "I can't get another one out."
Smith was a champion his first season in Lexington but since then he's lost three times in the regional final, twice to the Spartans.
He might have another chance to conjure up some magic with this lineup next season. The Wildcats lose Hayes, but return four starters.
"I thought we had a chance to move on to the Final Four," Smith said. "The future is very bright. Knowing that, I am not going to dwell on it."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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