Originally created 03/20/01

Kentucky holds a lot in reserve in NCAAs



LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Opponents don't study film of his moves. Coaches don't design defenses to stop him.

Anonymity just might be Marquis Estill's best weapon. And that's just fine with him.

"They probably didn't know too much about me," he says. "A lot of teams don't. That's why I wanted to come out and do things I did."

The third-string center for Kentucky did plenty Saturday night, igniting a spark in the first half that helped carry the Wildcats to a 92-79 victory over Iowa for a spot in the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament.

Estill went scoreless in the first round against Holy Cross but responded against Iowa with a career-high 22 points and six rebounds. He also helped shut down power forward Reggie Evans, the Big Ten tournament's outstanding player.

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith regards his bench as an unquestioned asset. And he will be counting on his reserves again Thursday night when the Wildcats play Southern California in the East Regional semifinal in Philadelphia.

The Trojans' mustered just nine points from their reserves in a 74-71 win over Boston College. Kentucky's reserves, led by Estill, scored 29 points against Iowa.

"We needed Marquis to step up and do what he did as far as being an offensive presence and a defensive presence inside," Smith said Monday during a conference call.

Estill scored Kentucky's last six points of the first half on a 3-point shot, a rebound putback and a free throw. The 3-pointer from the top of the circle was Estill's first since an 88-74 victory over Indiana on Dec. 22.

For Smith, this was yet another success in a seasonlong process of maturation.

With seven newcomers, the Wildcats lost five of their first eight games and dropped from the national rankings for a long stretch. Early in Southeastern Conference play, they lost road games at Mississippi and Alabama.

But the youngsters learned. And now they have become key parts on a team led by junior Tayshaun Prince and sophomore Keith Bogans, the two top scorers.

"We developed that in them during the course of the year, by playing them in tough situations so they could mature," Smith said.

The Wildcats have three solid inside players in freshman starter Jason Parker, sophomore backups Marvin Stone and Estill.

Freshmen Cliff Hawkins and Erik Daniels, along with junior J.P. Blevins, give the Wildcats perimeter depth.

With just one senior, point guard Saul Smith, the Wildcats are one of the least experienced teams in the NCAA tournament.

Smith says the trick is getting his players, all high school stars, to accept secondary roles and believe in Kentucky's system.

"If you are willing to sacrifice your own glory and your own playing time, if you are willing to understand why we are doing certain things, then we can be a championship program and a championship team," he says.

The coach points to Stone as an example. Stone became a backup when freshman Gerald Fitch entered the starting lineup to provide quickness early in the season.

"He's accepted his role," Smith said. "That's not to say he's always going to accept it, but he has to this point because he understands."

The juggled lineup also diminished Estill's playing time. Estill did have several big games, including a 19-point, 11-rebound performance off the bench in Kentucky's 93-76 win at North Carolina on Dec. 2.

Bad knees also limited him in the last half of the season and in the SEC tournament. For the season, Estill is averaging 7.5 points and 3.9 rebounds a game.

That probably won't catch USC's attention, but his performance against Iowa will.

"I think he'll be in USC's scouting report," Blevins said.