- Tuesday, November 22 2005 -
Guardians Classic (at Kansas City, MO)
Kentucky - 80 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 7th by AP and 7th by ESPN/USA Today]
West Virginia - 66 (Head Coach: John Beilein) - [Ranked 13th by AP and 13th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 33, West Virginia 26
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Iowa 63 - 67|||||Liberty 81 - 51|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats Zone in to Bounce West Virginia
KANSAS CITY, Mo. Ð Kentucky returned to the basketball court less than 24 hours after losing a game that left serious questions about the Cats' heart, toughness and smarts. Although far from perfect, UK responded with a superior effort against West Virginia, throttling the Mountaineers for an 80-66 victory in the Guardians Classic consolation game.
Utilizing an active 2-3 zone on defense to slow West Virginia's drive and pitch out offense, the Cats frustrated the Mountaineers into shooting 37 three-pointers. Clearly thrown for a loop, West Virginia made just 10, while the Cats buried 12 in a much better offensive performance.
The victory was a much-needed elixir for the loss to Iowa, a game that left the UK coach Tubby Smith shaking his head at his team's performance. It also allowed the Cats to escape Kansas City with a split, a far more soothing feeling than had UK headed into the Thanksgiving holiday on the heels of consecutive losses.
"We might actually have some thanks for Thanksgiving," senior guard Ravi Moss joked.
The Cats were not in a joking mood heading into the game. They made countless mistakes down the stretch against Iowa and played a very un-Kentucky like basketball game. Despite falling behind 9-2 as West Virginia hit its first four shots, the Cats were a noticeably different team from the outset.
After watching West Virginia execute it's weave and cutting offense to near perfection in an upset bid against Texas the night before, Smith and his coaching staff elected to do what UK rarely does Ð play a zone defense that would eliminate the back cuts to the basket and kick outs for long threes. The strategy flustered West Virginia as the Mountaineers missed 13 consecutive shots Ð 12 of which were triples Ð during a 20-0 UK run that turned the 9-2 deficit into a 22-9 edge for the Cats.
"We knew we'd have problems defending (their offense), so I thought the best way to help our guys was to zone them," Smith said. "You still use man-to-man principles and they found some soft spots. When you face shooters like that, you have to be careful in a zone."
Although not their staple defense, the Cats said the zone was effective because it confused West Virginia and got them taking questionable shots.
"They are a good three-point shooting team," junior forward Rekalin Sims said. "They live and die by the three. We caught them on a night when they weren't going down."
Meanwhile, everything UK Ð particularly Patrick Sparks Ð put up seemed to be falling. Having made just five three-pointers in UK's first three games, Sparks caught fire early and never cooled off. The senior, who had scored just 18 points all year, made 7-of-11 three-pointers and tallied 25 points to go along with six assists. He repeatedly cut inside the West Virginia defense to set up teammates or found a soft spot in the Mountaineers' defense for open looks.
"We played together better," Sparks said. "Everybody was moving the ball and making smart plays. I just happened to be in the right spot.
"We don't have it all connected yet (offensively), but we made a big step forward tonight in passing the ball and getting everybody involved in the game."
Sparks wasn't the only Cat to knock down clutch shots. A night after UK failed to make nearly every play down the stretch against Iowa, the Cats turned back every West Virginia attempt at a comeback with daggers on offense. Twice when the Mountaineers closed the gap to five points, Sparks buried triples, while Moss calmly drained a three from the right wing with 7:45 remaining after West Virginia pulled to within 56-53 on the strength of a 9-0 run.
"They went to a 2-3 and Pat penetrated into the defense then pitched it out," Moss, who scored 11 points, said. "I practice that shot all the time."
UK would never let it get closer than four again before pulling away by hitting 7-of-8 free throws in the final 2:14. Although early, the Cats were thrilled to return home with at least one win.
"We didn't play well at all (against Iowa)," Moss said. "We didn't play Kentucky basketball. It was good for us. You can learn after a win and a loss, but sometimes you learn more from a loss."
"We had to (win)," Smith said. "I know we are never as bad as you look, although we were pretty bad (against Iowa). We've got a lot of pride and character."
For the first time in this young season, that shined through when it was most needed.
Ravi Moss dives for a loose ball
UK's Patrick Sparks tries to elude WVU's Johannes Herber
Bobby Perry and Ravis Moss defend WVU's Kevin Pittsnogle (#34)