- Friday, March 10 2006 -
SEC Tournament (at Nashville, TN)
Kentucky - 68 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Alabama - 61 (Head Coach: Mark Gottfried) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 23, Alabama 22
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|Mississippi 71 - 57|||||South Carolina 61 - 65|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats rally for heart-stopping win
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There is still a good deal of basketball to play but if this Kentucky team makes a spirited run in the NCAA Tournament, you can look back to the Cats' wildly entertaining 68-61 victory over Alabama in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals as the impetus for future success.
Drawing upon the lessons learned from a season full of mistakes and tough losses, UK rallied from an 11-point deficit with 6:17 to play, outscoring Alabama 21-3 from that point on to produce a rousing triumph in front of a packed Gaylord Entertainment Center.
The Cats (21-11) totally shut down Alabama down the stretch, holding the Crimson Tide without a field goal after Ronald Steele buried a three-pointer with 4:15 left to put 'Bama up 61-54. From there it was all UK and more on the defensive end than anything else.
"No doubt about it," senior guard Patrick Sparks said. "This was our best defensive effort. We needed stop and we got them. There have been a lot of games where we didn't do that, but we did tonight.
"That's what it takes to win these kinds of championships. It looks like we have learned from our mistakes."
Those miscues have been plentiful this year. The Cats let chances slip away down the stretch in five of their seven Southeastern Conference losses, including a 68-64 defeat when they hooked up with Alabama on Jan. 14. But this time, with postseason title dreams on the line, UK looked like the program of the last few years when stingy defense and clutch plays were commonplace.
"Our determination was good," senior guard Ravi Moss said. "We played with a sense of urgency. We didn't want to lose. I was confidant and never thought we were going to lose."
There were moments UK looked dead in the water against Alabama despite the more focused demeanor. The Cats started the game connecting on just 4-of-25 shots while falling behind 20-10, putting themselves in the position of having to rally from a big first half deficit for the second straight game. Searching for answers, UK coach Tubby Smith inserted seldom-used frontcourt players Rekalin Sims and Shagari Alleyne.
Both came through in a pinch, with Sims draining a triple and converting a nice slashing lay-in, while Alleyne immediately blocked two shots, got an old-fashioned three-point play and then dunked off an inbound pass with 0.3 seconds on the clock to give UK a 23-22 lead at the break.
"They gave us a huge lift," Moss said. "Shagari blocked like three or four shots and got a big bucket. Rekalin knocked down some big shots. That's what it's all about."
"It seemed like everyone contributed in this game," Sims said. "When that happens we are really tough to beat. This was huge for us."
Carrying over the momentum from the 13-2 spurt to end the first half, the Cats extended their lead to 29-24 in the opening moments of the second half. But Alabama steadied itself and responded with a 17-2 run fueled by freshman Alonzo Gee's 10 points. Each time UK tried to answer Gee responded, culminating in a three (his third of the game) that pushed the Tide's lead to 55-45 with 7:15 left.
That's when UK started to lock down defensively. Although Steele hit two threes from that point on, UK forced Alabama into missing its last nine shots, including two blocks by Randolph Morris on help defense. At the same time UK converted its last seven field goal attempts and 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
"We were frustrated at times," Sparks said. "We weren't getting out on their shooters. We'd cut the lead and they'd hit a shot. We wanted to fix those things."
With Rajon Rondo hounding Steele in a showdown of two of the league's top point guards, the Cats were able to take Alabama out of their rhythm and force Steele into missing 12 of his 15 shots from the field, including seven from deep.
"I knew they were going to Steele," Morris said. "They ran a 1-4 down set trying to take Rajon off the dribble. I just saw it and got the blocks."
On the other end it was a surprising face that came up with clutch shots. Bobby Perry Ð who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds Ð got a lay-in, a huge three from the win and a runout dunk in the final 5:22, but none was bigger than the leaner he hit in the lane with 1:15 left that put UK ahead for good.
"We were trying to get it down low," Perry said. "I saw the lane open and made a dribble move. I was still going to pass (to Morris) but I was up in the air and just thought to put it up as soft as I could and hope it goes in."
Alabama's ensuing possession saw freshman Richard Hendrix miss a hook shot in the lane and then Steele had his drive blocked off the backboard by Morris, ricocheting the ball to Sparks, who was fouled and sealed the deal with two free throws. That's when the Cats started celebrating, a sign that maybe this team is finally turning the corner when it matters most.
"As hard as we played defensively, I think this was a turning point," Morris said.
Shagari Alleyne stuffs Alabama
Bobby Perry shoots the go-ahead shot