4:00 PM ET, January 4, 2003
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Erik Daniels saved (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) Kentucky from an embarrassment in his hometown.Daniels repeatedly made clutch baskets down the stretch after Ohio rallied from a 19-point deficit Saturday, helping the Wildcats hold on for an 83-75 victory. Daniels, who grew up in Cincinnati and had about 60 relatives and friends in the stands, had two dunks, a layup and a putback that helped Kentucky (9-3) hold off a late charge. "I think we just let up a little bit,'' said Daniels, who had 14 points. "Sometimes with a big lead, we get too comfortable.'' An arena full of Kentucky fans was extremely uncomfortable when Ohio (3-6) cut the 19-point deficit to 78-75 on Brandon Hunter's inside basket with 55 seconds left. Daniels then missed a shot, got a rebound and put it in, ending the Bobcats' comeback. Keith Bogans' three-point play with nine seconds left finished it off, leaving him with 21 points. Coach Tubby Smith wasn't happy with Kentucky's second-half performance. The Wildcats were outrebounded 26-12 and gave up 14 offensive rebounds. "He was disappointed that we lost the lead, and he let us know about it,'' said Cliff Hawkins, who made two free throws in the closing minutes. Smith was more diplomatic with reporters, attributing the second-half lapse to Kentucky's busy week. "After playing four games in eight days, we were pretty worn down,'' Smith said. "You could see some fatigue on some of our guys in the second half.'' Sonny Johnson led Ohio with 24 points, and Hunter and Steve Esterkamp -- two more Cincinnati prep players -- each had 18 points in their homecomings. Kentucky got its annual win in Cincinnati, a hotbed for Wildcats basketball. More than 12,000 alumni live in the northern Kentucky-southern Ohio region, and the game drew 14,506 fans. The Wildcats are 7-1 at Cincinnati's downtown arena, which has had three different names but remains a comfortable home court on the banks of the Ohio River. The green-clad contingent of several hundred Ohio fans stood out in the predominantly blue arena, and grew quiet as the Wildcats built a double-digit lead in the first half. Kentucky closed with a 27-13 run for a 16-point lead at halftime. Bogans hit his first three 3-point shots, including one from the left wing that made it 37-19, the Wildcats' biggest lead of the half. That took the spirit out of the Bobcats, who began walking down the court without making eye contact or saying a word to each other. Hunter, Ohio's top player, missed all five of his first-half shots. "We were still saying that we're going to pull this one out,'' Johnson said. "I don't think anybody in our huddle thought we were going to lose.'' Hunter got the Bobcats back into the game by repeatedly driving to the basket in the opening minutes of the second half. He scored 10 points in a spurt that cut the deficit to 55-45. "He's a big, strong guy,'' Hawkins said. "He didn't hurt us in the first half, but in the second half he came alive.'' So did Daniels, who had a dunk off an inbounds pass and a fastbreak dunk as Kentucky pushed the lead back to 15 points. Hunter scored and Esterkamp hit a 3-pointer that started Ohio's late surge, which finally ended with another basket by Daniels. The finish was a lot more exciting than anyone expected. "That's why we get a big check for coming in here,'' Ohio coach Tim O'Shea joked. "We're supposed to keep the bus running.'' Ohio was 16-of-31 on 3-point shots during a 104-101 win over St. Bonaventure on Tuesday, so Kentucky made sure not to leave the perimeter open. Kentucky's full-court press left Ohio disjointed -- the Bobcats were only 7-of-19 from behind the arc. Since an 81-63 loss to Louisville on Dec. 28, Smith has made his team spend a lot of practice time on its full-court pressure. The Bobcats shot 36.8 percent from the field and had 19 turnovers, dooming their comeback. Kentucky has won 13 of its 14 games against Ohio, the only loss coming in the 1964 NCAA Tournament.
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