- Monday, November 20 2006 -
Maui Classic Invitational (at Lahaina, HI)
Kentucky - 87 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 20th by AP and 22nd by ESPN/USA Today]
DePaul - 81 (Head Coach: Jerry Wainwright) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 43, DePaul 38
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Mississippi Valley State 79 - 56|||||UCLA 68 - 73|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats Survive Wild Opener in Maui
LAHAINA, Hawaii -- Kentucky's basketball team spent to bulk of the preseason talking about having a rehabilitated team psyche and dedication to restoring the pride in their performance.
The Cats had their first chance to back up their words with action in a hotly contested opener at the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Needing all the traits it lacked a year ago, UK lost a huge early lead and then rallied down the stretch to knock off a feisty DePaul team 87-81 and advance to the semifinals of the tournament.
Showing the toughness and togetherness that was missing in tight games during a underwhelming 2005-06 season, the Cats (3-0) held the Blue Demons at bay every time they made a run in the second half, even when an 11-point lead with 2:50 left was sliced to 82-77 with 1:22 remaining.
"You have to tip your hat to DePaul for the run they made but we showed tremendous poise and resolve to stick it out," UK senior forward Bobby Perry said. "We discussed during dead balls and timeouts that we needed to get one stop and we responded the right way."
Feeding off the energy of 2,400 fans at the Lahaina Civic Center -- most of whom were decked out in UK blue and chanting 'Go Big Blue' -- the Cats scored the first 10 points of the game in three minutes' time and pushed the explosion to 16-4 just five minutes into the contest. On the verge of being blown back to the Windy City, DePaul collected itself and began whittling away at the Cats' lead by taking to ball right at UK's defenders off the dribble. A quick rush got the Blue Demons within 18-14 before the Cats moved the lead back out to 12, but DePaul closed with 43-38 by the break.
"I thought our kids really hung in there," DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. "I always felt like we were in a position but the last couple minutes we couldn't make a basket and it got away from us."
DePaul silenced the partisan UK crowd with a fast start after the break, taking its first lead at 48-47 with 15:40 remaining on two Marcus Heard free throws. The teams traded baskets the next two possessions before the Cats regained the lead for good when Randolph Morris rebounded a Joe Crawford miss, was fouled, and buried both free throws. The play kicked off a 13-5 UK run that pushed the lead out to 62-54 with 10:38 left and commenced on a Crawford dagger from three-point range.
Crawford, who was 3-of-16 shooting in the previous three halves of basketball, added two tough shots in the lane down the stretch and two critical free throws with 53.2 seconds left to short- circuit DePaul's last run.
"Joe stepped up big," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "He took over. We needed a basket and called his number and he delivered."
Still, the game was in doubt in the final two minutes when DePaul began slicing into UK's seemingly insurmountable 82-71 lead. The Blue Demons sued a three-point play by Sammy Mejia, two free throws by Will Walker and a charity shot by Karron Clarke to get within 82-77. UK cleared the miss on Clarke's second free throw attempt but Ramel Bradley was called for an offensive foul trying to come back to get the ball from Morris.
That's when UK's new faith was tested. The Cats answered.
UK drew consecutive charges on Mejia - one by Bradley and one by Perry - and hit 5-of-6 free throws in the final minute to close out the fiercely competitive game.
"I can't say enough about these kids," Smith said. "We kept our composure after losing the lead. We made some clutch plays down the stretch."
UK will take on the winner of UCLA and host Chaminade at 4:30 Hawaiian time (9:30 eastern) on Tuesday.
Randolph Morris and Sheray Thomas prepare for a rebound
Lukasz Obrzut gets tangled up