- Saturday, January 6 2007 -
Kentucky - 68 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Mississippi - 58 (Head Coach: Andy Kennedy) - [Unranked]
|Brian Smith (*)||8||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0|
Halftime Score: Mississippi 37, Kentucky 35
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Houston 77 - 70|||||Auburn 84 - 57|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Late surge helps Cats escape Rebs
OXFORD, Miss. -Ð A new era dawned at Ole Miss this season with the introduction of a new head coach, a refurbished Tad Smith Coliseum and a vibe of relevance on the stately campus.
Perhaps Kentucky's Joe Crawford caught the bug too, as the junior guard played at a different level after riding a roller coaster for most of the year. Crawford broke out in a major way, scoring a game-high 23 points, including 15 after halftime, as UK rallied past Ole Miss in the final nine minutes to post a 68-58 victory in front of 8,754 fans at The Tad.
The Rebels played the part of invigorated and worthy foes for 30 minutes but that's when UK, the Southeastern Conference's flagship program, played like a team who expects to win conference championships. The Cats ripped off a 13-2 run late in the game to turn a two-point deficit into a 64-55 lead and then held Ole Miss scoreless over the final 3:38 to win their SEC opener at for the 18th time in the last 20 seasons.
"This shows the kind of team we are," junior center Randolph Morris said. "We never give up. We play hard until the last minute. We never felt like we were going to lose the game at any point. We won't go down without a fight."
A little more fight is exactly what UK coach Tubby Smith and his staff had been looking for from Crawford. The sometimes-passive guard got it going early for the Cats by scoring eight points before the first media timeout but failed to score again before halftime. Despite shooting better than 55 percent and holding Ole Miss to just 43 percent, the Cats found themselves trailing by a deuce.
Crawford came out firing in the second half, canning his third and fourth triples of the game in the first five minutes to push UK to a 46-43 lead. When he grabbed a loose ball in traffic and went to coast-to-coast for a three-point play, the Cats led 51-45 with 13:57 left and appeared poised to put the Rebels away.
"I wasn't looking to score, I was just looking to push it," Crawford said of the play. "I took it all the way. They weren't guarding me."
Not so fast. Ole Miss rallied with eight unanswered points in a two-minute stretch to take a 53-51 lead and leave the home crowd roaring with anticipation of a shocking upset.
Enter Crawford yet again, with an assist from running mate Ramel Bradley. Crawford scored on a tough lay-in in traffic off a pass from Lukasz Obrzut with 9:26 to tie the score at 53 and then freshman Jodie Meeks swished a three from the left win to give UK the lead for good just 25 seconds later. Crawford followed that triple up with a driving floater with 8:17 left.
"He was aggressive and finally played his game," Morris said. "When he's not distracted for whatever reason you see what he's capable of. I haven't seen him shoot 80 percent (from the floor) in I don't know how long."
With the Cats feeding off Crawford's energy on the offensive end they locked down on Ole Miss' shooters in the closing minutes and allowed just five points over the final 12:06 of the game. Bradley buried consecutive NBA-length threes from the top of the key to give UK a 64-55 lead with 4:13 left and then sealed the win when he pump faked Clarence Sanders into the air and drew a three-shot foul that pushed the lead to 66-58 with 1:44 remaining.
"He played good defense but I pulled out the old high school trick," Bradley said. "When you're older and wiser you know how to use it."
The Cats also reverted back to the their old standby Ð suffocating defense. Ole Miss made just two of its final 13 shots as the Cats rushed past for the victory.
"That was Kentucky defense," Bradley said. "We needed it. That's what wins ball games. We closed the game out."
And maybe rediscovered a vital weapon in the process.
Derrick Jasper tries to stay in front of Ole Miss guard Todd Abernethy
Mississippi's Kenny Williams and Dwayne Curtis look on along with Randolph Morris as the ball sails away