- Friday, March 11 2005 -
SEC Tournament (at Atlanta, GA)
Kentucky - 76 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 4th by AP and 4th by ESPN/USA Today]
Tennessee - 62 (Head Coach: Buzz Peterson) - [Unranked]
|Chris Lofton (*)||33||4||13||2||8||0||0||1||3||4||1||1||0||0||3||10|
Halftime Score: Kentucky 47, Tennessee 29
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Florida 52 - 53|||||Louisiana State 79 - 78 OT|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Mad Cats trash Vols
ATLANTA -- The Kentucky basketball team rarely needs anything to get it going in March, but Tennessee made sure the Cats wouldn't overlook their SEC Tournament quarterfinal match. In fact, all the Volunteers did was make things harder on themselves.
Thanks to pregame trash talking that nearly led to a brawl between the two teams, the Cats cold-cocked Tennessee from the opening tip and cruised to a 76-62 victory at the Georgia Dome. The win was UK's third of the season over Tennessee and eighth straight in the series between border rivals.
"We were in the tunnel getting ready to go out and they walked by and made some sly comments," sophomore Bobby Perry said. "A guy said, 'Who is Kentucky?' We took that personally. We deserve their respect."
If they didn't have it before tip-off, the Cats certainly made sure they had Tennessee's full attention just moments in. UK sprinted out to a 24-9 lead on the strength of 10 points by Kelenna Azubuike, including a posterizing one-handed dunk over Dane Bradshaw on a fast break. Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson had to call two timeouts before the first media timeout, as UK dominated the pace of the game.
"There was a little trash talk," junior Ravi Moss said. "It motivated us even more. It was just motivation and it made us focus even more."
By the time the pro-UK crowd at the Georgia Dome stopped to catch their breath, the Cats were strutting back to the huddle after yet another Tennessee timeout. The lead had just ballooned to 36-14 when Patrick Sparks led a three-on-one break and bounced a pass between his legs to Rajon Rondo for a dunk. Moments later, UK was in the locker room with a 47-29 edge on the strength of 17 points off 12 Volunteer turnovers.
The party didn't exactly continue in the second half, as UK watched Tennessee hit five three-pointers in less than six minutes to slice the deficit to 57-48. During the run, C.J. Watson splashed three triples on his way to 13 of his career-high 26 points on the night. Chuck Hayes stopped the bleeding with back-to-back baskets to push the lead back to 13 with 12:22 remaining and the Cats were never seriously threatened after that point.
Still, all the players wanted to talk about after the game was the confrontation that occurred in the tunnel outside the locker rooms. Fueled by reserve forward Jemere Hendrix, the Vols tried to rattle UK by spoken word.
It didn't work.
"There were some hard fouls and trash talk on Senior Night," Hayes said of UK's 73-61 win on Mar. 2 in Rupp Arena. "We were trying to figure (Hendrix) out on Senior Night. I don't know what's wrong with that guy. Before the game a lot of words were exchanged, so the last time we walked out I decided to speak back. Both sides were at each others' faces."
The emotion was evident on the faces of the Cats. The team celebrated more than usual as the lead continued to balloon. Freshman point guard Rajon Rondo was involved in several stare downs and was even quietly talked to by lead official Tom Lopes. Hayes flexed for the cameras after a tough lay-in and foul that led to a three-point play. Even the young Cats didn't take too kindly to Tennessee's ploy.
"There was a lot of trash talking," freshman Ramel Bradley said. "I'm from Brooklyn. I don't deal with that.
"We play better when we are mad and (Tennessee) made it even worse (on themselves)."
UK doesn't need motivation, but it certainly didn't hurt on this night.
ALL ABOUT HAYES
The senior forward had one of his best games of the season after he went toe-to-toe with several Tennessee players before the game. Hayes scored 14 points, hauled in 11 rebounds, handed out three assists, stole four passes and blocked two shots, including a late drive by Chris Lofton as the Vols were trying to rally.
Kentucky fans dominated the crowd at the Georgia Dome, turning the contest into a home game for the Cats. The passion wasn't lost on the players after the game.
"We have such a great crowd here," Perry said. "It was a sea of blue. They say that the tickets are evenly split between the teams, but...obviously that wasn't the case."
Lukasz Obrzut shoots
Patrick Sparks sneaks in front of UT's Major Wingate