- Sunday, February 25 2007 -
Kentucky - 65 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Vanderbilt - 67 (Head Coach: Kevin Stallings) - [Ranked 19th by AP]
|Ross Neltner (*)||31||3||4||0||1||2||2||2||4||6||3||1||2||1||0||8|
Halftime Score: Kentucky 32, Vanderbilt 23
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Louisiana State 70 - 63|||||Georgia 82 - 70|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats can't close Dores... again
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - For 39 minutes and 35 seconds Kentucky looked like a basketball team intent on telling its critics to take a hike. All of those questions about the Cats' toughness, heart, basketball I.Q. and ability to avoid undermining themselves would be washed away.
Like so many times before UK failed when it mattered most, losing the lead for the first time with 25.5 seconds remaining and dropping a critical 67-65 contest to host Vanderbilt. It was the Cats' fourth straight loss to the Commodores, all of which have featured UK unraveling in the closing minutes.
"This is a tough, tough, tough loss," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "This is a tough one to take. Basketball is about finding a way to get it done. You've got to make plays when you don't you get beat.
"If you don't have the heart and toughness to stick it out you are going to get beat."
UK (19-9, 8-6) showed once again it is a team lacking the fortitude to make winning plays down the stretch of tight games. The Cats led by as many as 10 points in the second half before the Derrick Byars and Shan Foster show whittled the lead to nothing with 4:37 remaining.
When Ramel Bradley - a repeat offender in the lack of late game heroics – sandwiched a four-point play around two gift-wrapped turnovers to give the Cats a 63-59 lead it looked like UK would finally secure the confidence-inspiring victory it has searched for the past two seasons.
Not so fast. There was plenty of clock left for the Cats to find a new (or was it the same?) way to crumble under the pressure.
Vanderbilt tied the game at 63 on two Ross Neltner free throws with 2:39 remaining before the Cats' Joe Crawford dribbled out the shot clock 30-feet from the basket for a shot clock violation. It was the third such violation of the second half for the Cats and gave Vandy a chance to take the lead, which it failed to do when Foster's open three from the corner rattled out. Bobby Perry hit a short jumper in the lane after rebounding a Randolph Morris' missed lay-in to give UK the lead before the wheels fell off.
Byars, who scored 21 of his game-high 26 points after halftime, was fouled on a drive and made his first throw before missing the second. Somehow 6-foot-4 Vanderbilt guard Dan Cage out-jumper 6-foot-8 Sheray Thomas and tipped the rebound to Byars, who made a floater over Morris to give the 'Dores their first lead of the game.
"It's a very tough loss," Perry, who led UK with 18 points, said. "I don't know…we had it the whole game and then lose it on a free throw rebound. That's a hard blow."
"I don't know, we didn't box out," Smith said. "Somebody didn't get the shooter (Byars). Someone didn't do what they were supposed to do, that's pretty obvious."
UK could have rendered the blown rebound pointless had it executed either of two possessions in the closing seconds but it once again left Big Blue Nation – and Smith – scratching its collective heads. Thomas threw away a pass when Crawford slipped near the free throw line with 9.7 seconds left and Foster made one free throw to put Vandy up two. After a Commodores' timeout, UK put the ball in Bradley's hands (again) and watched him work his way into a heavily contested fadeaway jumper in the lane that bounced harmlessly off the rim (again).
"We were trying to get the ball inside, take it to the basket and get a foul," Smith said. "You try to attack the rim and get it up as quick as you can but you have to get it up a lot quicker than we did."
Bradley cried foul after the game, motioning to referees for a whistle as Vanderbilt celebrated behind him.
"I thought I got bumped twice but they didn't call it," Bradley said. "I put the shot up. I thought the ref under the basket blew his whistle and I guess the other ref said (the game) was over and waved it off."
Regardless, UK can look in the mirror for this one. The Cats shot 58 percent from the field, the highest ever in a loss under Smith (eclipsing the 56 percent they shot in a loss to Tennessee two weeks ago), and got 42 points from Perry, Jodie Meeks and Lukasz Obrzut yet still lost. That's what 22 turnovers (14 in the second half) and 16 offensive rebounds allowed will do to a team.
"The turnovers are just uncalled for," Smith said. "The second shots killed us. We didn't make plays down the stretch. Taking care of the ball is imperative in winning close games down the stretch.
"There is nothing you can say. For Ramel…well, it wasn't just one (guy). It's something we've talked about all year and it's happening with veteran players."
Smith wasn't done throwing his players under the bus, citing the individuals rather than the system.
"We've won this way before," Smith said. "It's a matter of personnel."
And with that, the (Vanderbilt) 'Dore slammed shut.
Lukasz Obrzut and Ramel Bradley can only watch as Alex Gordon regains his footing en route to the hoop
Bobby Perry blocks a shot by Vandy's Alan Metcalfe
Joe Crawford shoots over Shan Foster