- Saturday, March 19 2005 -
NCAA Austin Regional Second Round (at Indianapolis, IN)
Kentucky - 69 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Final Rank 7th by AP and 5th by ESPN/USA Today]
Cincinnati - 60 (Head Coach: Bob Huggins) - [Final Rank 23rd by AP]
Halftime Score: Cincinnati 35, Kentucky 33
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Eastern Kentucky 72 - 64|||||Utah 62 - 52|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats answer the bell
INDIANAPOLIS -- Rajon Rondo dribbled around in a circle, then handed the basketball to an official as the final seconds ticked off the RCA Dome clock. Fourteen years of ill will between Kentucky and Cincinnati had just manifested itself out in the form of a 40-minute classic, culminating in the familiar result of UK as kingpin.
UK tossed aside recent shaky performance and returned to days when the Cats were the toughest hombres on the court, holding a rugged Cincinnati squad to three points in the game's final six minutes to gut out a 69-60 victory. The game provided all the drama you'd expect between the Ohio River rivals who hadn't played since 1991, leaving the NCAA Tournament second round record crowd of 40,331 fans pulsating with energy.
For the Cats, it was emotional cauldron that brought out their best game. After pregame talk that UK couldn't possible match the manhood and toughness Cincinnati brings to the table, the UK proved to be the heartier cat down the stretch.
"This means a lot," senior Chuck Hayes said. "We definitely put our words into action. I can't say enough about this team, especially after the way we played in the first round and the SEC Tournament. We never gave up."
The Cats earned this one the hard way, battling Cincinnati on the glass and shutting them down defensively. The effort showed in Randolph Morris' first career double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds), Kelenna Azubuike's game-high 19 points and Rondo's 38 minutes.
"We came out and showed what we were made of," sophomore Bobby Perry said. "We showed toughness and a will to win.
"Out on the court, it was a war. Both teams knew it. If you lose, you go home so you do what you do and get out (with a win)."
UK looked like it wanted to stay around for a while from the opening tip, rushing out to an 11-0 lead behind a sea of emotion. The lead held strong at 25-14 just more than 10 minutes into the game, as Azubuike, Rondo and Patrick Sparks scored 23 of those points.
"That was huge from a mental standpoint," Hayes said. "They started the game in a hole and it took a lot out of them."
But Cincinnati wasn't going to let its first crack at UK in 14 years go without a fight. The Bearcats put together a methodical 20-6 run over the next nine minutes, grabbing a 34-31 lead when Nick Williams hit this third three-pointer of the first half with 59.6 seconds remaining. Despite playing catch up for most of the half, Cincinnati held a 35-33 edge at halftime, setting up a wild final 20 minutes.
UK didn't waste much time reclaiming the lead after the break, scoring four quick points that forced Cincy coach Bob Huggins to call a timeout just 1:18 into the half. The lead moved to five before the early run was over, a lead the Cats would never relinquish. Still, the outcome was in doubt most of the rest of the way, as UK could never push the lead any further.
"We lingered around the five-point mark for awhile," Perry said. "It seemed like a lid was on the basket. Brandon (Stockton) kept saying that if we could get (the lead) up a little bit, the game would bust open."
The Cats had their chances to put the game on ice, but watched Azubuike miss a breakaway dunk at one point, then turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions. Hayes turned in two tough buckets in the paint with the lead at one, then Morris corralled a Rondo pass that hit the front off the rim and caromed straight into the air into a lay-in that pushed the lead to 64-59 with 3:56 remaining.
Cincinnati seemed to run out of gas in the closing minutes, as UK forced the Bearcats into missing 14 of their final 16 field goal attempts. The lone point Cincy scored in the final 4:44 was a free throw by Eric Hicks, while UK hauled in rebound after rebound on Cincinnati's errant three-pointers.
"That's what we are all about - getting stops," junior Ravi Moss said. "Stopping the other team from scoring is what this team is built on."
Meanwhile, the Cats sliced up Cincinnati's top-rated defense like a cheese grater, shooting 51 percent for the game on a team that allowed just 36 percent on the season. On the other end, UK held the Bearcats to 32.8 percent for the game and just 24 percent in the second half.
"It shows what kind of defense we can play," Perry said. "They were the best defensive team in the country, but we proved we are an elite defensive team too. The key was defensive stops."
The Cats came up with every one of those when it mattered most, thus ensuring it will be doing a Texas Two-step with an old friend - Utah - this week.
Rajon Rondo (#4) glides in for an open-court dunk
Shagari Alleyne (#21) blocks the shot of Eric Hicks (#14)
Sheray Thomas (#23) battles UC's Armein Kirkland (#33) for the ball