- Sunday, January 29 2006 -
Arkansas - 76 (Head Coach: Stan Heath) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 78 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Arkansas 35, Kentucky 23
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|Auburn 71 - 62|||||Mississippi State 81 - 66|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats rally for critical home victory
Staring down the barrel of an 18-point deficit and potential fourth loss at Rupp Arena this season, Kentucky got its act together and rallied for a crucial 78-76 victory over Arkansas in front of 23,741 spirited fans.
The Cats (14-6, 4-2 SEC) sliced the 18-point hole to 12 by halftime, then hung around long enough in the second before using a late 17-3 spurt that turned a 57-51 Arkansas lead into a 68-60 UK edge with 2:24 remaining.
The lead reached nine with 1:43 remaining before Arkansas scared the daylights out of the Cats with a final-minute scoring barrage that was helped by UK making just 6-of-12 free throws in the final 60 seconds.
"In the beginning of the game I didn't think we were going to have much of a chance to get back into the game," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "I thought we showed a lot of grit, a lot of moxie and a lot of heart to get back into it."
Smith's concern over UK's ability to come from behind after Arkansas' blistering start was shared by most everyone else in Rupp. After scoring the game's first two points, the Cats went into a funk and found themselves on the wrong end of a 23-7 score before they knew what hit them.
Knowing full well that their chances of winning the Southeastern Conference regular season title likely weighed in the balance, the Cats righted the ship enough to get back within a dozen on the strength of an 8-2 mini-spurt to end the half.
"I felt okay when we got back within 12 at halftime because we didn't play at all (in the first half)," senior guard Ravi Moss said. "I never felt like we were going to lose the game. I always felt like we were going to come back.
"We had to wake up. We put that half behind us and took from playing well the last five minutes of the first half. We wanted to come back out (after half) and get after it."
There were an ear-splitting tirades during those 15 minutes of break time but rather a singular focus to come out and play with much more urgency than UK had showed in the first half. Whatever was said or done, the Cats regrouped and returned to the floor a new team, as evidenced by the season-high 55 points they scored after intermission.
"I don't know what Tubby told them at the half but they were certainly a different team (afterward) and they were certainly playing a totally different game."
The second half didn't start out looking like UK was going to make a legitimate run at overtaking the Razorbacks. Smith juggled his lineup and started Ravi Moss and Ramel Bradley in place of Patrick Sparks and Joe Crawford, but Bradley responded by turning the ball over on each of UK's first two possessions, both leading to Arkansas baskets that pushed the lead back to 16.
Sparks returned to the lineup at the next dead ball and the Cats immediately settled down and ran off an 11-2 run that closed the gap to 42-36 by the first media timeout. UK continued the pressure on the offensive end but Arkansas was responding in kind, scoring on seven of its next eight possessions to hold the lead steady at 57-51 with 8:19 remaining.
That's when the Cats took off for good, sparked by a Moss lay-in and Rajon Rondo drive. When Randolph Morris Ð who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds Ð spun and reverse dunked on Steven Hill, UK had tied the game for the first time since it was 2-2. Moments later Morris converted an old-fashioned three-point play to take the lead for good, it's first since the opening basket of the game.
"We knew we'd get a great shot from them," Heath said.
The game followed the script of UK's blowout losses to Kansas and Indiana early, but unlike those two embarrassing defeats, the Cats were able to get themselves back into the game and in position to make the incredible comeback.
"Refuse to lose," Moss said. "You've got to find ways to win no matter how far down you are.
"We fought a lot harder (than in those games). We didn't fold up the tent. We are a tough team and we knew we were better than we showed in the first half, but we had to show it."
Morris wasn't the only guy who played a huge role in the Cats' comeback. Sparks had a UK career-high eight assists, Rondo added 12 of his 14 points after halftime, Bobby Perry contributed seven rebounds and Sheray Thomas had several important plays on his way to nine points and four rebounds.
Rajon Rondo (#4) shoots in front of Arkansas' Ronnie Brewer (#10)
Ramel Bradley (#3) shoots over Darian Townes (#5)
Rajon Rondo is jammed by Charles Thomas (left) and Dontell Jefferson (right)