New point guard for Kentucky. Same old story for Utah.
Starting his second game as the Wildcats' point guard, Saul Smith made a key steal and basket, lifting the 14th-ranked Wildcats over No. 16 Utah 56-48 in Preseason NIT quarterfinal action Friday night.
"I don't keep track of losses. A loss is a loss," said Utah coach Rick Majerus, who was unhappy about having to play the second-round game on the road, saying he had been promised two home games by NIT officials. "We could lose to Transylvania and I'd feel terrible. I don't ever feel good losing."
The Utes rallied from a nine-point deficit early in the second half to pull even with nine minutes to go. But they never got the lead, as Kentucky's defense clamped down.
Jamaal Magloire led the Wildcats with 15 points. Tayshaun Prince had 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Jeremy Killion scored 15 points for Utah, including 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range, while Alex Jensen had nine rebounds.
While Kentucky's offense sputtered (22 of 51 from the floor; 1 of 10 from 3-point range; 11 of 21 on free throws), the Wildcat defense starred.
Kentucky held Utah to 40.9 percen shooting for the game and forced 18 turnovers that led to 22 points.
After giving up six first-half 3-pointers, the Wildcats tightened their perimeter defense and the Utes were 0-for-8 from beyond the arc in the second half.
And after Desmond Allison's 12-foot baseline jumper put Kentucky ahead 52-48 with 1:07 left, the Wildcats denied Utah on three straight possessions to close the game.
"That goes to show you that if you can go out there and play defense for 40 minutes, however long it takes you to win the game, then you can come out victorious, no matter how bad you shoot, no matter what else goes on," Smith said. "Defense is going to win games."
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith made halftime adjustments designed to cut down on the Utes' 3-pointers.
"We pressed more and were able to force 18 turnovers, even if we didn't always capitalize on them," he said. "We just didn't want to give up any easy baskets."
For Majerus, it was another case of close, but not quite against the Wildcats.
"The tempo favored us," he said. "We ground it out and wanted to be there at the end to win the game and we lost."
"We had some turnovers where we tried to make some plays, and those were inexperienced turnovers," Majerus said. "We met the enemy and the enemy was us on five of the turnovers. We had spacing difficulties, alignment difficulties and we had Kentucky difficulties."
Saul Smith, the coach's son who is following Wayne Turner at point guard for the Wildcats, finished with an impressive line 35 minutes, seven points, three assists, four steals and only one turnover.
No steal or basket was more important than the sequence Smith initiated with just over two minutes left. With Kentucky leading 48-46, he stripped Tony Harvey as the Utah guard drove right, racing the length of the floor and pulling up on the left baseline.
After a moment's hesitation, Smith launched a high-arcing 6-footer that found the basket for a 50-46 Kentucky lead with 1:58 left.
"I just wanted to try to get over the top of the defender," Smith said. "He was 6-7 and I just kind of tried to throw it over him."
Less than a minute later, after a putback by Utah's Nate Althoff, Allison hit his own baseline shot to put the Wildcats in control.
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