- Saturday, January 21 2006 -
South Carolina - 78 (Head Coach: Dave Odom) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 80 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 40, South Carolina 38
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|Georgia 69 - 55|||||Auburn 71 - 62|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Mr. Game Winner: Rondo saves Cats
Rajon Rondo had never connected on a game-winning shot in his entire basketball career. Now he's done it twice in 18 days.
Rondo buried a long three over the outstretched arm of 6-foot-7 Tarence Kinsey to push Kentucky to an 80-78 victory over South Carolina. The see-saw game featured three lead changes in the final 31.1 seconds, but it was the player some experts call the best point guard in the nation who made the final play.
"I knew coming out of the timeout I wanted to take the shot," Rondo said. "Not to be selfish, but I knew I could create a shot. I just made a play and luckily it went in."
Rondo's game-winner was an improbable end to a fantastic contest. Everyone in the arena knew the quicksilver guard was going to get the ball, but when he turned the ball back out to perimeter instead of going to the basket, Rupp Arena held its collective breath.
"No question in my mind Rondo would get the ball," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "We wanted to get two guys to him and make him give it up, but we couldn't get to him and we didn't make him give it up and then he hit the shot.
"I thought we defended well on that play. We chased him around like a yard dog. He just hit the shot."
Rondo's triple was the last of 12 the Cats made in the game and 23 the two teams combined for on the afternoon. It certainly wasn't what UK drew up in the huddle though.
"I told him no one could guard him," senior guard Ravi Moss said. "I was talking about going to the rack. I guess he thought I meant anywhere.
"I was like, 'Oh, OK, we're gonna take that?' It's cool. It was nothing but celebration after that."
The chances of UK celebrating much of anything seemed remote just a shade over 12 minutes left in the game. After a first half shootout that saw the Cats take a 40-38 lead into the break, South Carolina came out on fire and made eight consecutive field goals during a 15-0 run that gave the Gamecocks a 58-46 lead.
Given the Cats' emotional state for most of this season, there might have been concern about a collapse, but UK responded immediately by making eight of its next nine shots during a 20-4 spurt that turned the 12-point deficit into a 66-62 edge with 6:27 remaining. During the run, reserves Ravi Moss and Bobby Perry combined for 13 critical points.
"We dug ourselves a hole, but I give the kids credit for not giving up. It showed a lot of toughness and courage."
South Carolina didn't go quietly. The Gamecocks recovered to take a 74-70 lead with 2:47 left, setting up the frantic final minutes. UK's Ramel Bradley scored on a fast break lay-up to cut the lead to two, then Joe Crawford attacked the rim with a drive and foul, but missed the free throw, leaving the score tied at 74 with 1:13 on the clock. After two Kinsey free throws put South Carolina ahead 76-74 with 39.1 second left, the Patrick Sparks renaissance continued with the latest in a long line of huge jump shots.
Sparks took a pass near the midcourt logo, saw South Carolina was in zone defense and launched a shot with his heel on the "K" of UK's midcourt logo. The shot Ð officially measured at 29 feet - splashed down, giving UK a 77-76 lead with 31.1 seconds showing.
"Sparks shot the ball from the Rupp museum or somewhere," Odom said. "That was a key shot. It had to be about 35 feet."
Shaken but not beaten, South Carolina called timeout and then eventually got the ball to forward Antoine Tisby on the block. Tisby turned to face up Randolph Morris, stumbled and appeared to travel, but was awarded two free throws when Morris was whistled for a foul. Tisby, a 56 percent free throw shooter, made both to give South Carolina a 78-77 lead and put them 9.9 seconds away from a victory.
That's when Rondo took over. Not known for his three-point shooting Ð he was 2-of-23 in his last 11 games Ð the sophomore dribbled the length of the floor, out to the three-point line, faked a hand off to Crawford and then let fly with the step back three.
"It wasn't really lucky," Rondo said.
Luck or not, Rondo has another shining moment to add to his career highlight reel.
Bobby Perry and Ramel Bradley trap a South Carolina player
Joe Crawford (#32) slides in for a layup
Rajon Rondo (#4) shoots over Tarence Kinsey (#21)