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Updated: Thursday, March 17, 2005 5:55 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(2) Kentucky 72, (15) Eastern Ky 64

INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Chuck Hayes helped Kentucky add to its impressive NCAA Tournament resume despite a surprising challenge from an intrastate rival.

Hayes scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half as the fifth-ranked Wildcats claimed their record 94th NCAA Tournament victory with a 72-64 first-round triumph over Eastern Kentucky.

"We're pleased to be advancing on," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "It's tough to get the first game under your belt. It's even tougher when its against a school right down the road."

Seeded second in the Austin Region, Kentucky (26-5) will face seventh-seeded Cincinnati in Saturday's second round here.

The 6-6 Hayes also grabbed nine rebounds, including a clutch board following Randolph Morris' missed second free throw with 3:11 left before converting a layup to give the Wildcats a 67-59 lead.

"With three minutes left, you cherish the ball," Hayes said. "You need it to win. I just stayed in position, tried to keep my hands on the ball, and we were able to waste some clock and then get the score."

The play took momentum away from the Colonels (22-9), who used a 23-12 run to close within five points with 4:16 left.

"We needed energy and a spark," Hayes said. "I tried to bring back the intensity. I challenged myself to get every rebound and then things started to go well."

Matt Witt, who scored 21 points, hit a pair of 3-pointers during a run which began after Kentucky took its biggest lead of 52-36 with 13:40 to go.

Led by Witt and Ben Rushing, who scored nine points on 3-of-3 3-pointers, Eastern Kentucky used its outside shooting in an attempt to compensate for Kentucky's inside dominance. The Wildcats blocked four shots and held a 42-24 scoring advantage in the paint.

"We've done that a lot this year," Witt said. "We've got some great shooters on our team. Tonight, I took a couple that probably wouldn't normally go in, but they did. Ben Rushing does that all the time. When he hits threes from 35 feet out, it doesn't surprise me."

Alonzo Hird had 11 points and 14 rebounds for Eastern Kentucky, which could not capitalize on a 35-31 rebounding edge.

"Our objective was to play physical and rebound the ball," said Eastern Kentucky coach Travis Ford, who was a point guard at Kentucky in the mid 1990s under coach Rick Pitino. "Chuck Hayes was a presence underneath, and we weren't able to counter that. When the points in the paint are 42-24 in their favor, it's tough for us to win the ballgame."

Hayes and Ravi Moss combined for three free throws in the final minute as the Wildcats extended their streak to 15 straight wins in the first round of the tournament. Kentucky improved to 20-1 this season when Hayes scores in double figures.

Kelenna Azubuike scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half for Kentucky, which was coming off a 70-53 loss to Florida in the Southeastern Conference final Sunday. He triggered a 12-2 run with a 3-pointer 6:15 into the game and converted a three-point play that yielded a 35-20 lead 8:04 later.

Freshman Rajon Rondo scored 12 points and came up with a steal in the final minute to seal the victory for the Wildcats, who are seeking their eighth NCAA title. Rondo's fifth and final steal gave him 80 for the season, breaking Wayne Turner's school record of 79, set in 1996-97.

"He did a tremendous job," Hayes said of Rondo. "There were a few times that I was emotionally down out there and he picked me up. That shows you how far he's matured and progressed."

Kentucky, which is in its 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament, improved to 9-0 against Eastern Kentucky.


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