- Saturday, December 9 2006 -
Indiana - 54 (Head Coach: Kelvin Sampson) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 59 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 28, Indiana 26
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|Tenn-Chattanooga 79 - 63|||||Louisville 61 - 49|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Steel Tough: UK stifles IU down stretchDecember 9, 2006
Kentucky had been craving a victory over a respected name for longer than it cared to remember and although it was far from a thing of beauty, the Cats finally quenched their hunger.
The Cats (6-3) fended off Indiana with hard-nosed defense down the stretch, beating the Hoosiers 59-54 in front of 24,253 fans at Rupp Arena to avenge last season's 26-point loss. In a brutally physical game it was the Cats who held firm in the final minutes, holding Indiana to just one field goal over the final four minutes.
"We've been defending really well lately," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "It was a hard-fought game. It took everything we had to get the win."
With the scene shifted from the neutral venues UK and Indiana had met in since 1990 to the lion's den of Rupp, the game was hotly contested and not for the faint of heart from the opening tip. Both teams challenged shots in the paint, defended like were on a crusade and even took bloody shots (just ask Bobby Perry about his 12 stitches to the eye) while scrapping for the basketball. It was a throwback to the days when the Hoosiers and Cats stood as oak trees on the college basketball landscape.
Although this year's edition didn't pit two Top 25 teams against each other and was rarely pleasing on the eyes it still had it charms, most notable UK's return to a suffocating defensive effort. The Cats held Indiana to just 30.6 percent shooting, harassed it into making just 4-of-25 from three-point range and shut the Crimson and Cream down the final four minutes of the game.
"You can't win games without defense," junior guard Ramel Bradley said. "We played it well. Regardless of whether you're making shot or not you can always play defense."
"We were exposed defensively in Maui," junior center Randolph Morris said. "We had to play better defense."
Never was the Cats' renewed faith in their defense more critical than in the closing minutes. Indiana closed within 52-50 on a tip-in of a missed free throw by D.J. White with 4:16 remaining but managed just one field goal -- a Joey Shaw lay-in off a steal - on eight shots the rest of the game. Four of those attempts came on a possession that began when Indiana's Earl Calloway stripped Derrick Jasper clean and had what appeared to be a wide-open lay-up that would have cut the lead to 57-56 but saw Jasper rush back down the floor and block Calloway's lay-up attempt. On the ensuing inbounds UK forced two misses in the lane by Shaw and an errant three-pointer by Roderick Wilmont, the final shot being corralled by UK's Sheray Thomas, who had entered just seconds before when Perry was bloodied in a collision with Shaw.
"I told him to get a rebound," Smith said of his instructions to Thomas during the animated substitution. "I said, 'Can you get us a rebound? That's what you do best. Use your toughness.' He went through two guys to get it."
"I saw the ball in the air and just went and got it," Thomas said.
After freshman Jodie Meeks missed a three-pointer with six second on the shot clock on UK's next possession, Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson called a timeout with 28.7 seconds remaining to set up a final play. Trailing by three, the Hoosiers eschewed White, who had 23 points and nine rebounds, inside and tried to find an open three. Wilmont passed on one as Joe Crawford closed out on him and tried a hand-off play to Lance Stemler, who missed an off-balance, leaning three badly. Meeks then cashed two free throws to ice the game with 5.8 seconds left.
"I thought Tubby's kids really guarded well," Sampson said. "The key play for us was get a shot at the lay-up and don't finish it. We get it inbounds and miss a shot then had two or three opportunities right at the rim. If we make any of those we cut it to one."
Instead it was UK celebrating a clutch victory against a name opponent, something it hadn't done since vanquishing Alabama in last year's SEC Tournament.
"We needed a win like this," Bradley said. "They were talking a lot of smack. I even heard one of their guys say they were going to come in here and get a win. It's hard to do that in Rupp."
Perry Stevenson (#21) and Jodie Meeks attack the offensive glass for a put-back
Derrick Jasper (#5) blocks a breakaway layup attempt
Jodie Meeks (#20) shoots