Kentucky 62, Utah 52
AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—Andrew Bogut cussed at himself, punched the air and crinkled his nose. None of it could get him going.
Stymied by a pair of 7-foot backups and pestered by smaller guys, Utah’s All-America center had his worst game of the season and the Kentucky Wildcats shot a season-best 62 percent in beating the Utes 62-52 Friday night in an Austin Regional semifinal.
“They banged me around,” said Bogut, who missed eight of his first 10 shots, more than he missed in the first two rounds combined. “It wasn’t my day shooting the basketball.”
The Wildcats (28-5) are headed to the regional finals for the second time in three years, and they’ll certainly be fresh when they play Michigan State on Sunday. Showing off their superb depth, no player went more than 27 minutes.
It’s also pretty impressive that their most pivotal defenders were 7-foot-3 Shagari Alleyne and 7-foot Lukasz Obrzut, a duo that coach Tubby Smith didn’t turn to in a total of 11 games this season.
They were forced into action this time when starting center Randolph Morris got his second foul just 90 seconds in. They ended up doing such a good job of staying between Bogut and the basket, with teammates helping making life miserable when he did get the ball, that the Utes (29-6) were playing catch-up once the game was 5 minutes old.
“We needed them,” Smith said. “They were fired up, looking forward to it.”
Bogut finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t as good as it sounded. He made just 8 of 19 shots—matching the most misses of his career— and went a career-worst 4-of-11 from the line, opening with two misses and seeing another rim out when he could’ve put Utah within two with 12:28 left.
While he shot better in the second half, his rebounding fell off. And, unlike the previous game when he offset 10 points with a career-high seven assists, he didn’t have any this time.
“It was a great advantage having three 7-footers who can run the floor, defend and block shots,” said Alleyne, who blocked the first shot Bogut tried against him and appeared to bother Bogut the most with his massive wingspan. “I’m 7-3. I’m not going to be intimidated by a guy who’s 7-foot.”
The disappointment goes deep for Bogut. The sophomore is widely expected to turn pro, so this probably was his last college game—and it was his first with his mom, Anne, in the stands. She arrived from Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday and waved a small Aussie flag, the green and gold standing out amid the red across the Utah section.
Bogut declined to say whether he’s decided about going to the NBA, but coach Ray Giacoletti said he’d tell him to if he’ll be a top-three pick, which is likely.
“Bogut is definitely gone, you can see it in his eyes,” teammate Bryant Markson said. “He’s pretty upset with this game.”
Marc Jackson added 10 points for the Utes. They hurt themselves by going 14-of-28 from the line, which Giacoletti said was his fault for having worn out his players. Lacking Kentucky’s depth, he relied mostly on his starters all three games in the tournament.
Smith’s game plan was to let his big men go at Bogut alone and force him to catch the ball far from the basket. Once Bogut got the ball, another defender or two rushed over to prevent him for getting to his favorite spots. Many of his early misses looked like flicks he hoped might bounce in.
He tried firing himself up with a mouthful of expletives directed at himself following his easiest shot, a dunk when Alleyne’s long legs got stuck in traffic. There were other gestures and even a double technical foul along with Kentucky’s Ramel Bradley after exchanging words following a foul.
Yet nothing could get him going.
“It was pretty simple—we just wanted to wear him down and trap him whenever we could,” Orbzut said. “I thought we did pretty good.”
Chuck Hayes led Kentucky with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and Rojon Rondo was 4-of-5 for 10 points. Kelenna Azubuike had nine and his 2-for-5 performance seemed stone cold compared to his teammates. The Wildcats missed just 15 shots and nine of those were 3-pointers.
The Utes—whose title hopes have now been ended by Kentucky six times since 1993—actually started strong. They were up 9-8 when Kentucky took over, going on a 13-2 run and holding Utah without a field goal for more than eight minutes.
The Wildcats led by only five at halftime, then stretched it to 10 early in the second half. They only had to hold off one run—a 9-2 spurt that could’ve gotten Utah within two had Bogut made a free throw to cap a three-point play.
Instead, Azubuike hit an 8-foot jumper to get the lead back to five and the Wildcats weren’t threatened again.
Kentucky’s victory gives the Bluegrass state two of the eight teams remaining in the field. Louisville plays West Virginia on Saturday for a trip to St. Louis. The neighbors couldn’t meet until the title game. … Kentucky’s lone negative was foul shooting. The Wildcats didn’t take their first until 3:01 before halftime and went 10-of-19. Hayes was 2-of-5 after making all 14 he tried the first two rounds. … Markson typified Utah’s lousy night by airballing a free throw with 2:10 left and the Utes down eight. A 71-percent foul shooter coming in, he bounced the next one off the front rim. “My hands got sweaty and it just slipped out,” he said.