- Friday, March 16 2007 -
NCAA West Regional First Round (at Chicago, IL)
Kentucky - 67 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Final Unranked by AP]
Villanova - 58 (Head Coach: Jay Wright) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 30, Villanova 28
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Mississippi State 82 - 84 OT|||||Kansas 76 - 88|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Defense, rebounding push UK to win
CHICAGO - Maybe Jay Wright knew what he was talking about after all. While most of Kentucky's ardent fan base was fretting about the Cats' trying season the Villanova coach was touting their defense as one of the best he'd seen all year.
UK made Wright's worst fears come true, physically punishing Villanova on the defensive end of its way to an impressive 67-58 First Round NCAA Tournament victory in front of 19,274 fans at the United Center. The Cats (22-11) held Villanova to 32.7 percent shooting and controlled the tempo by attacking the glass in avoiding their first loss in the opening round since 1987.
"We played great defense," junior guard Joe Crawford said. "Our guards played great and our centers came up and really helped us out a lot.
"We wanted to be physical with their guards and make them take as tough of shots as possible. They still made some but they earned it."
Knowing Villanova planned on attacking them with dribble penetration because of superior guard play the Cats devised a game plan that would chase Nova guards Scottie Reynolds and Mike Nardi through every screen and force them to make contested shots. Reynolds, who was averaging more than 24 points in Nova's last seven outings, got his points but never seemed to get into rhythm throughout.
By the time Reynolds missed a three-pointer in the final 12 seconds he had gone 1-of-9 from the field in the second half on his way to a game-high 23 points. Nardi made just 2-of-6 from long range and missed two wide open triples in the final 1:30 that could have made the ending much more interesting.
"(Reynolds) is a dynamic point guard," senior forward Bobby Perry said. "He can score, pass, shoot. It's tough to guard and in the first half he really got it going, but he made some tough shots. In the second half we really communicated much better."
UK also took advantage of its obvious strength by feeding Randolph Morris in the post early and often. The 6-foot-10 junior center had two inches on the biggest Villanova player and controlled the paint by drawing fouls and wiping the glass clean on his way to 19 points and 11 rebounds, his third straight double double effort.
"We passed up some open shots to get better ones," Crawford said. "We made a conscious effort to pass up on the threes and find (Morris)."
Morris took note, getting to the free throw line 15 times after battling for position and taking entry passes from teammates.
"(Villanova) had to know the game plan," Morris said. "They knew we were going to go inside all the time. They just didn't have an answer for it."
Playing the final game of the day in the Windy City, UK looked out of sorts early when seldom used sub Dwight Perry was accidentally scribbled in the official scorebook as a starter by associate head coach David Hobbs. After taking a foul just three seconds into the game so his cousin, Bobby, could enter the lineup the Cats struggled to get going as Nova jumped out to an 18-13 edge.
The Cats found their footing and battled back, taking a 30-28 lead into the break but came out flat after halftime and fell behind 34-30 in the first 1:33. The Villanova advantage didn't last long as UK ripped off a 19-5 spurt during a stretch of 10:31 where it held Nova to just one field goal, a Curtis Sumpter putback.
"I felt like we controlled the tempo really well," Perry said. "That all started with rebounding and then we were able to get out on the break. Randolph opened it up for us inside and established himself and everybody followed from there."
Still, UK didn't put the game on ice until Nardi missed those back-to-back open three-pointers in the closing 90 seconds and the Cats cashed in free throws on the other end. UK finished 19-of-24 from the charity stripe after halftime, including 8-of-10 down the stretch.
It was a much happier ending at the line than the Cats' loss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament seven days earlier.
"Even with 51 seconds left we weren't celebrating because of what happened in the Mississippi State game," freshman guard Jodie Meeks said.
As for Villanova, well, Jay Wright had it right all along.
Bobby Perry challenges Villanova's Will Sheridan(#50) while Randolph Morris (#33) looks on
Sheray Thomas (#23) fights inside for a basket
Ramel Bradley makes a point with Joe Crawford