Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mercer, Defense Help Make Depleted 'Cats Best in West

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mercer, Defense Help Make Depleted 'Cats Best in West

Article excerpt

Eight was more than enough for the Kentucky Wildcats.

Depleted by injuries and missing most of last season's national championship team, Kentucky used a smothering press and Ron Mercer's 21 points to return to the Final Four with a 72-59 win over Utah on Saturday.

The Wildcats suited up just eight players for the West Regional final. But that didn't prevent Kentucky from maintaining enough defensive pressure to throttle All-American forward Keith Van Horn and the Utes. "I'd hate to see what they'd be like at full strength," marveled Utah guard Ben Caton. Mercer hit 10 of 17 shots, including two successive baskets to repel a second-half Utah rally, as the Wildcats advanced to a matchup Saturday against Minnesota in the national semifinals. Mercer, a sophomore All-American, already has announced he'll make himself eligible for this June's National Basketball Association draft. "He is a pro shooter," said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. "He comes off the screen, elevates and shoots as well as anybody in the game, and that's why I think he'll have tremendous success at the next level." Anthony Epps had 15 points and Wayne Turner added 12 for Kentucky (34-4), which will be making its 12th Final Four appearance. The Kentucky full-court press forced 17 turnovers and often led to fast-break baskets for the Wildcats. Kentucky kept up relentless pressure, even though injuries to guards Derek Anderson and Allen Edwards reduced the squad to eight players. "Kentucky gets you out of sync with their press," Utah coach Rick Majerus said. "And we try hard, but we're not a team of great ball-handlers and passers." Only five of those Kentucky players were on last season's NCAA championship team, which sent four players to the NBA. "That is what makes this year so much more special," Kentucky guard Cameron Mills said. "Look at the talent we lost to the NBA. Look at the talent we lost in Allen, and look at the talent we lost in Derek." Van Horn scored 15 points, but made only five of 12 shots from the field. He often was triple-teamed by Kentucky's collapsing defense. "I've never been switched on like I was," Van Horn said. …

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