C-J vault: Elite Eight 2003

While we count down the last few hours to the University of Kentucky’s appearance in the 2010 Elite Eight against West Virginia in Syracuse, N.Y., I’m taking a look back at some Elite Eight eves past in The Courier-Journal archives with both UK and the University of Louisville.

UK season may hinge on Bogans’ injury

BY RICK BOZICH, March 29, 2003, Page E-1

MINNEAPOLIS — For four seasons Keith Bogans has been Cal Ripken in sneakers for the University of Kentucky’s basketball program. If there has been one UK player Lou Gehrig would have applauded, it is Bogans.

His jump shot hasn’t always been dependable, but his presence has been. Rawlings wishes it could make basketballs as durable as Keith Bogans.

He has been the original Iron Cat, the guy in the corner office who arrives early, stays late and never takes a second of vacation. Over four seasons Bogans has played in 134 of a possible 134 games for coach Tubby Smith’s teams.

It’s the 135th game that has the Wildcats’ locker room, the UK coaching staff and Planet Wildcat engaged in one prolonged held breath.

This afternoon in the Metrodome, Kentucky will play Marquette for the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Regional championship. The winner will proceed to the Final Four next Saturday in New Orleans. The loser will start planning its postseason banquet.

ANYBODY who tells you that they know whether Bogans will play on his badly sprained left ankle is guessing. Anybody who tells you how effectively Bogans will perform if he does play is reading tea leaves.

“If it’s up to me, I’m going to get out there and play,” he said confidently. “I’m not going to sit it out. But it’s going to be a game-time decision.”

It’s a game-time decision – and more. It’s a season-deciding decision.

Thursday against Wisconsin, the world saw what happened to Kentucky without Bogans. Its offense became all Marquis Estill all the time. Nobody could make an outside shot. The Wildcats dispatched the Badgers with Estill and defense.

NOW COMES Marquette, which has two large and rugged players – Scott Merritt and Robert Jackson – it can use to defend Estill. UK will need Bogans, or somebody else, to soften the interior defense with drives and perimeter shooting.

Now comes Marquette with Dwyane Wade, a player of creativity and daring who can dominate a game in eight-minute bursts. Bogans would be the ideal blend of size and quickness to control Wade if Bogans were healthy. But he’s not healthy.

This is not the way the plot was supposed to develop. Bogans is a senior. He has shaken off criticism, a benching, an uncooperative jumper and an aborted jump to the pros to become UK’s most mature and dependable player.

And Keith Bogans always has been there. Always.

IF INJURIES through the years have sent Estill, Jules Camara, Antwain Barbour and Cliff Hawkins to the bench, Smith knew he always could write one name into his lineup.

Have you ever been hurt?

“First time,” Bogans said.

Including high school?

“First time,” Bogans said.

And grade school?

“First time,” Bogans said.

What an awful time for the first time. Bogans carries 213 pounds on his broad and powerful 6-foot-5 body. Usually it’s the guy he guards who reports for treatment. But he collided with Wisconsin’s Kirk Penney late in the first half and injured that left ankle – twice.

BOGANS tried to play. He wanted to play. But he couldn’t play. He was limited to 15 minutes. He had not played fewer minutes in a game since Nov. 19, 1999, against Utah. That was the second game of his UK career.

Yesterday he did not practice, making a slow and deliberate walk up the stairs from the Metrodome floor to the UK locker room several minutes after his teammates bounced up those same stairs.

Now Bogans, a Cal Ripken in sneakers, ices and waits, waits and ices, hoping for that 135th game.

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