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Top-seeded Wildcats extend streak to 24 games

3/21/2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- When Kentucky got to the locker room
after another dominating performance, a message awaited them on the
board: "5 More.''

The top-seeded Wildcats extended their winning streak to 24,
routing tourney newcomer IUPUI 95-64 on Friday in the opening round of
the Midwest Regional.

Clearly, Kentucky (30-3) won't be satisfied unless the streak
lasts another five games -- the amount required to win the school's
eighth national championship.

"There's no celebrating,'' said Gerald Fitch, who equaled his
career high with 25 points. "It's all business right now.''

The Wildcats haven't lost since Dec. 28, and they weren't about
to slip against a team with an eye chart of a name. Kentucky shot a
staggering 62 percent, hitting 40 of 65 attempts from the field,
and will play the Utah-Oregon winner in the second round Sunday.

Memo to the next team: Don't talk so much about beating the
Wildcats.

The Jaguars (20-14) and their animated coach, Ron Hunter, went
on and on about becoming the first No. 16 seed to knock off a top
seed. Hunter showed his players the movie "Hoosiers,'' compared
the matchup to David and Goliath and called the Jaguars the best
No. 16 seed in at least a decade.

"It definitely bothered us,'' Fitch said. "They made it seem
like we were some typical team and they were going to make
history.''

Fitch, who has overcome several run-ins with coach Tubby Smith,
set a new career high by going 5-of-7 from 3-point range. But there
was plenty to go around; 10 players scored at least a basket.

"We were able to get some penetration,'' Marquis Estill said.
"Everyone was finding guys open at the basket.''

IUPUI made only 37 percent from the field. Josh Murray led the
Jaguars with 15 points, but Odell Bradley's airball on the final
shot of the game was more indicative of the way things went.

"Kentucky is the truth,'' Murray said. "I take my hat and
headband off to them.''

IUPUI earned its first NCAA appearance by winning the
Mid-Continent Conference tournament. Kentucky, which breezed
through the brutal Southeastern Conference with a perfect record,
was playing its 128th tournament game.

In a symbol of the teams' very different traditions, the
Wildcats already had won four national championships when IUPUI --
that's Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis --
opened in 1969.

"My guys are the feel-good story of college basketball,''
Hunter said. "When you heard all that negative stuff going on at
Georgia and St. Bonaventure, along came a school no one had heard
of.''

The Jaguars didn't last long. Kentucky built a 48-28 lead at
halftime and was on cruise control the rest of the way, their
adoring fans turning the Gaylord Entertainment Center into a sea of
blue.

Chants of "Go Big Blue!'' shook the place when the Wildcats
dominated the final minute of the first half. Estill dunked off a
pass from Fitch. Cliff Hawkins stole the ball cleanly from Josh
Mullins and passed ahead to Fitch for a layup. Finally, Hawkins
pulled up for a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, sending Kentucky
to the locker room with its biggest lead of the half.

Hunter stomped up and down the sideline in a resplendent, $3,000
brown suit that was made for him after he tore his Sunday-best
outfit with a belly flop to celebrate the Jaguars' Mid-Continent
championship. He had no reason to mess up his new suit.

Kentucky rarely has been tested during the nation's longest
winning streak, which began after a bitter 18-point loss to rival
Louisville and former coach Rick Pitino.

Only six of those 24 victories have been decided by fewer than
10 points. Kentucky's average margin of victory during the run is
an astonishing 17.2 points.

"Early in the season, we were focused more on offense,'' Keith
Bogans said. "Coach went back to square one and showed what
defense can do for us.''