- Saturday, February 18 2006 -
Kentucky - 79 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
South Carolina - 66 (Head Coach: Dave Odom) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: South Carolina 28, Kentucky 25
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|Georgia 68 - 61|||||Mississippi 80 - 40|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Back to the Future: Cats rediscover magic
COLUMBIA, S.C. Ð It's gotta be the socks.
Sporting threads reminiscent of the uniforms Kentucky's 1978 championship squad donned as part of the Southeastern Conference's 'Throwback week', the current Cats played like title contenders. UK (17-9, 7-5 SEC) sprinted away from a torrid South Carolina team in the second half on its way to an impressive 79-66 victory in front of 17,188 fans at the Colonial Center.
For a UK team that has been searching for any spark it could muster to rouse the vast potential it keeps talking about is hidden underneath the surface, a 54-point explosion after trailing at halftime could be just the impetus the Cats need to vault in the season's final weeks.
Or maybe it was just as simple as equipment manager Bill Keightley taking the retro theme a little further and packing white, knee-high tube socks in each players' travel bag.
"Maybe that's what it was, the jerseys and the socks," junior forward Bobby Perry said. "Mr. Keightley put them in our gym bags and it kind of gave us a lift as a team.
"I walked into the equipment room (the other day) to see what the jerseys looked like and he said, 'Now you need to go out and play like (those champions).' He was right."
It would be hard to argue with what the Cats did in the eye-catching duds. Despite playing tough defense the Cats fell behind 28-25 at the break behind a barrage of missed shots the team normally connects on, including clanking all eight of their three-point attempts.
Nothing could have been more different in the second half, as UK shot 66.7 percent and made 8-of-9 from deep to pull away. Much of that was due to resident streak shooter Patrick Sparks, who scored 24 of his 26 points after the break, including splashing down all six of his triples in the final 20 minutes.
"I've seen it before so it shouldn't be a surprise," senior Ravi Moss said of Sparks' nearly flawless second half. "He's one of the best shooters in the country. When he starts feeling it he starts shaking his head and he's hunchbacked, but he starts moving a little bit.
"I love watching guys get off like that because you are just so excited to see a teammate get going. He was such a big part of the victory."
Sparks was hardly alone in his effort. The Cats got perhaps the best game of sophomore center Randolph Morris' career when they desperately needed it. Despite not starting for the second consecutive game Morris dominated the glass, pulling down 11 rebounds while helping hold Carolina's Renaldo Balkman Ð who had 16 boards earlier in the week against Alabama Ð to just two rebounds.
"Randolph was a man child, " Perry said. "He got every rebound. When he grabs rebounds like that, it's unbelievable."
Morris said a pregame talk with CBS announcer Clark Kellogg, himself a big man who starred in college, helped convince him he needed to be more active. It showed from the outset as Morris stayed out of foul trouble and played 29 minutes, allowing him to put up 13 points in addition to the rebounds.
"I made more of a conscious effort than I have before," Morris said. "If I get in there and rebound more, we can really control the boards."
UK did just about everything right after halftime, looking more like the team most experts had picked near the Top 10 in the preseason than at any point this year. Facing possible NCAA Tournament extinction with a loss, the Cats turned back a Gamecocks' team that had won three straight, including wins over Florida and Alabama.
"We put together one of our best games and we needed to," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "We had to (play like that) to compete.
"It was a world of difference. Like night and day, the second half especially."
The game-changing run started innocently enough when Moss swished a three from the top of the key on the Cats' first possession of the second half. By the time the 24-6 spurt had concluded, Sparks had stuck three triples, Joe Crawford had added another and Perry capped the run with an old-fashioned three-point play. Every time Carolina tried to get close after that Ð the lead never dropped below eight after the run Ð Sparks plunged another dagger in the 'Cocks heart.
"I was feeling good out there," Sparks said. "The first one felt good and I got another one real quick. Once I got two in a row I was ready."
Maybe it was the socks. Maybe it wasn't. Either way, UK came closer to being a tournament threat than ever before. Now the trick is to carry it over.
"We can be even better," Moss said. "We can't save the season with one game, but this can get it going in the right direction."
Sheray Thomas gets stuck between South Carolina's Rocky Trice (#10) and Brandon Wallace (#33)
Rajon Rondo gets caged by South Carolina's Tre Kelley