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Wildcats Leap Over Miami(OH)

Kentucky didn't need to stop Wally Szczerbiak to close down Wally World.

Szczerbiak scored 23 points in his final college game, but got almost zero help from his teammates as the defending national champion eliminated Miami of Ohio 58-43 before a record crowd of 42,440 in the Midwest Regional semifinals Friday night.

"You're not going to stop Wally Szczerbiak from scoring, he's too good a player," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "What you want to do is make sure the other guys don't beat you. It's just an unbelievable performance by our team."

Scott Padgett got all but three of his 17 points in the second half for Kentucky (28-8), the No. 3 seed. The Wildcats also had a dominating 37-18 rebounding advantage to move a game away from their fourth straight trip to the Final Four. The Wildcats will take on No. 1 seed Michigan State, which held Oklahoma to 33.3 percent shooting in a 54-46 victory in the first semifinal.

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  • This will be the first meeting between the teams since 1978, when Kentucky beat Miami and Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament en route to a championship in St. Louis.

    Kentucky has won 20 of its last 21 NCAA games, has played for the title the last three years and is in a regional final for the fifth straight year.

    "Our veteran players are very poised and very focused," Smith said.

    Wally Szczerbiak was hounded all game by Kentucky's defense.>
    Wally Szczerbiak was hounded all game by Kentucky's defense. (AP)

    Szczerbiak was 8-for-16 and broke Ron Harper's school record for points in a seaso with 774. He concluded his wondrous three-game tourney run with 90 points before leaving with 1:32 left -- his only bench time.

    "It's been a fun ride," Szczerbiak said. "I'm going to leave with my head held high, because we accomplished something few Miami teams have."

    Everybody else was a collective 6-for-28 for an overall 31.8 percent shooting percentage to make the RedHawks' first appearance in round of 16 since 1978 a big letdown. Miami (24-8), the No. 10 seed and tournament darling after upsets of No. 7 Washington and No. 2 Utah, tied its season low for points and set new lows for shooting percentage (31.8) and baskets (14).

    Miami also scored 43 points in a loss to Kent on March 3 in the Mid-American Tournament final, and shot 32.7 percent in that game with 16 baskets.

    Kentucky's zone defense made Szczerbiak work a lot harder than usual for his shots. It turned his teammates into a non-factor since Szczerbiak is basically Miami's lone 3-point threat.

    "They did a great job of knowing what our weakness was," Miami coach Charlie Coles said. "When I saw that zone, I said, 'Uh-oh, we'll never solve that."

    Padgett hit both of his 3-pointers and had eight points in a 10-0 second-half run that put Kentucky in control at 45-28 with 8:03 to go. He had only three points at the break.

    "I was talking to myself sitting on the bench," Padgett said. "I was happy to finally do something to contribute to the team because I hadn't helped it much to that point."

    Szczerbiak knew the significance of that run: "That was all she wrote."

    Heshimu Evans added 11 points and seven rebounds for Kentucky, which has beaten Miami 18 straight times since its last loss in 1927.

    Miami, or more accurately Szczerbiak, went scoreless for nearly 8½ minutes in the first half yet somehow kept it close. Szczerbiak had 15 of Miami's 19 points and the RedHawks shot only 28.6 percent (6-for-21), but 10 Kentucky turnovers kept it close as the Wildcats led 26-19 at the break.

    Szczerbiak was the only Miami player to score until Anthony Taylor made two free throws with 6:22 to go in the first half to cut the gap to 17-10. He was the only Miami player with a basket until Rob Mestas hit a fast-break layup after a Kentucky turnover with 2:49 to go, but Miami trailed by only four at the time.

    Kentucky led by as much as 17-5 during Miami's dry stretch, which began with 17:21 left and ended when Szczerbiak hit a 3-pointer at the 8:55 mark to make it 17-8.

    ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed