- Saturday, December 18 2004 -
Kentucky - 60 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 9th by AP and 11th by ESPN/USA Today]
Louisville - 58 (Head Coach: Rick Pitino) - [Ranked 13th by AP and 14th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Louisville 32, Kentucky 16
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Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
Historic rally leads UK past Louisville, 60-58
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It was an ending fitting for one of college basketball's most heated rivalries.
The largest crowd to see a basketball game in Freedom Hall history saw one of the premier games in the storied rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville, with Kentucky native Patrick Sparks finishing off a furious second half rally by the Cats to give UK an improbable 60-58 victory in front of 20,088 fans.
Sparks, playing his first season in UK blue after transferring from Western Kentucky, had the game of his life, scoring 25 points and turning in a last-second play fans on both sides of the rivalry will remember for generations.
Trailing by one point with just a shade under five seconds remaining, Sparks inbounded the ball to Kelenna Azubuike, who was immediately trapped by two Cardinals. Azubuike spun from the left corner back out towards the wing, with both defenders following. As Azubuike rose up for what looked like it would be the game's deciding shot, he changed course and dropped a pass off to Sparks in the corner. What transpired from there will be etched in the minds of Cat fans forever.
Sparks, who already had scored 15 second half points, saw Louisville frontcourt behemoths Ellis Myles and Otis George flying at him at breakneck speed. Sensing he would not be able to get a clean shot, Sparks pump-faked Myles into the air, leaned into the burly power forward and drew a foul as the buzzer sounded. As Freedom Hall buzzed, the officiating crew reviewed the play on replay and ruled that Sparks was fouled with six tenths of a second on the game clock.
"It was designed for me to throw the ball inbounds to Kelenna and then follow him out," Sparks said. "It worked to perfection. Kelenna jumped to shoot but found me at the perfect time. I was going to shoot it, but saw two guys flying at me so I just shot-faked and (Myles) fouled me."
Needing to make at least one of three free throws to send the game into overtime, Sparks calmly swished all three charity tosses, then began a wild celebration with his teammates when Larry O'Bannon's desperation heave was nowhere close.
"I knew he'd make them," senior Chuck Hayes said of Sparks' pressure free throws. "There is no other guy we'd rather have on the line."
The fantastic ending capped off the biggest halftime deficit UK had ever overcome to win a game in its legendary history, tying the 16-point comeback the Cats had against LSU in 1994. It was the first time since 1998 UK had rallied to win after being down double-digits at the half.
"It was a tale of two halves," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "We did things that championship teams do. I thought our guys didn't panic, they kept their poise and we did the things we needed to do to win."
It was a far cry from the first half, when UK was positively awful in falling behind 32-16 to the Cards. The 16 points were the lowest point total for a half since the memorable 3-for-33 debacle in the 1984 Final Four against Georgetown. It was not a pretty sight for UK as the Cardinals dominated the paint, challenged UK's guards and hounding the Cats into a 5-of-24 shooting clip.
"It was disheartening," senior Josh Carrier said. "We had to get better effort. Coach let it be known and challenged us to take pride in ourselves.
"This was a total team effort. I can't say enough (about the team). Coach put in a smaller lineup with more experience and it showed."
UK was noticeably more active in the second half, but still found themselves on the wrong end of a sizable lead with 11 minutes to play. The Cats rallied with a 14-2 run that closed the gap to 48-44 with 6:48 remaining, leading to a Louisville timeout.
The outcome looked grim when the Cardinals' Taquan Dean swished back-to-back three-pointers out of the timeout to push the lead back to 10 with just over five minutes left. But that's when Sparks took over for UK.
Sparks buried a three from the corner and then completed a three-point play to pull the Cats within 54-50. Walk-on Ravi Moss, who didn't play against Indiana or in the first half of this game, nailed a three from the wing and then Azubuike made two free throws at 1:27 to give UK its first lead since 5-4. The two teams then traded the lead three times before Sparks' game-winning free throws.
"You just have to step up there and knock them down," Sparks said.
The gym rat from Central City, Ky. did just that, finishing off a game the Commonwealth won't soon forget.
Chuck Hayes gets upended while trying to catch the ball
UK's Josh Carrier (#5) has nowhere to go as Francisco Garcia defends
U of L's Otis George (#52) can only watch as Patrick Sparks (#22) seals the victory