- Friday, December 22 2006 -
Massachusetts - 68 (Head Coach: Travis Ford) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 82 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 39, Massachusetts 27
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|Santa Clara 74 - 60|||||Eastern Kentucky 78 - 65|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Holiday Cheer: Cats dispatch of UMass
Facing a dangerous Massachusetts squad and the prospect of a miserable Christmas should it lose Kentucky produced it's most complete effort of the season, ensuring it would be a very Merry Christmas indeed.
The Cats were so impressive in dispatching of UMass 82-68 in front of a vocal crowd of 24,307 fans at Rupp Arena even UK coach Tubby Smith was feeling the holiday love. Smith, who is notorious for putting the brakes on celebrating victories, told his players to "enjoy" the impressive triumph while at home for the holidays.
Needless to say, that doesn't happen all too often.
"That's the first time he's said that all year," junior guard Ramel Bradley said. "I guess he was feeling the Christmas spirit. We thought he was going to rip our butts but he just told us to go home and have fun."
"It surprised me," junior center Randolph Morris added. "He probably asked Santa for a win."
The Cats could afford to joke at their coach's expense after rewarding him with a satisfying victory against a team that had already won at Louisville under coach -- and former UK player -- Travis Ford. Despite presenting a more fearsome challenge than UK typically likes to play just before Christmas, UMass fell victim to a UK team that was locked in from the outset of the contest.
Although the Minutemen jumped out to a 19-16 lead on the strength of torrid shooting, UK never panicked and eventually found it's footing with a continuation of the lockdown defense it has been playing for the better part of a month. The Cats punished UMass with a 23-3 run that turned the deficit into a 39-22 advantage as the Minutemen went 10:18 without making a field goal.
"We got off to a fairly good start," Smith said. "We've been defending really well and I thought we had one of our better defensive efforts of the year. We really challenged shots."
While UMass struggled to make shots -- it also started the second half with a 4-of-20 stretch -- the Cats finally found their offensive rhythm. With deft drives from Bradley and Derrick Jasper, plus the strength of Morris in the post, UK turned in a season-high 58.8 percent shooting percentage and placed four players in double figures. Morris, Bradley and Joe Crawford all contributed 14 points while freshman Jodie Meeks added 10.
The offensive outburst was a surprise to most given the problems the Cats had faced in scoring most of the season. Although the defense had been sensational -- UMass was the seventh straight opponent UK held under 38 percent -- the offensive attack had been inconsistent at best. Hoping to find a cure Smith cut back on the number of sets and plays he was calling and focused on a pared down game plan that took advantage of the ones his team executed best.
"I've said it before, if we play defense the way we have been and are making shots there are not a lot of teams that can beat us," Bradley said. "We made shots. We came out ready and we weren't thinking too much, we were ready to shoot."
Jasper had a major hand in that, slicing through the UMass defense early and often on his way to a career-high eight assists. The freshman from California also chipped in nine points, five rebounds and two steals.
"He really looked to move the ball," Smith said. "I know I expect a lot out of guys and he delivered. It was just an all-around good game."
While the offense will certainly get the lion's share of the headlines UK also completely disintegrated what the Minutemen wanted to do on their end of the floor by neutralizing star center Rashaun Freeman. Freeman was averaging 18.2 points a game coming to Rupp and had seven quick points before being held scoreless over final 34:14 of the game.
"They are one of the best defensive teams I've seen," Ford said. "When they are shooting like that and with the consistency of the defense there are not five better teams in the country. When they put it together like that they are a good basketball team, very good."
Good enough for even Smith to enjoy this one.
TUBBY, BRADLEY DUST UP
There were very few bad moments for UK on this night but situation drew the attention of nearly everyone and sent a shocked murmur through the Rupp crowd.
After attempting to drive past three people on his way to the basket and throwing up a wild shot, Ramel Bradley was not in Smith's good graces. The coach went tearing down the bench and sent Derrick Jasper into the game with 15 minutes remaining. As Bradley came to the bench he swiped at a towel that was tossed to him, missing the catch and knocking it to the floor. Smith immediately lit into Bradley, shoving the towel into his chest and then later coming back for more when he moved assistant coach David Hobbs out of the way to berate Bradley even further.
The situation seemed to ease minutes later when Bradley was sent back into the game but Smith did not want to discuss the incident afterwards.
"You don't have to ask me because I don't have to answer," Smith snapped at a reporter who inquired about it.
Bradley, who is always one to talk, explained what happened when he was asked a few minutes later.
"It was a little heated moment," Bradley said. "In the heat of the battle I was coming out of the game and the towel fell on the floor. I was talking to one of the assistants asking him to let me know what to do differently. It was no big deal. I not sure what (Smith) thought it was."
Lukasz Obrzut blocks a shot
As does Randolph Morris
Ramon Harris scores his first basket as a Wildcat