- Friday, December 30 2005 -
(at Cincinnati, OH)
Kentucky - 71 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 18th by AP and 19th by ESPN/USA Today]
Ohio - 63 (Head Coach: Tim O'Shea) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Ohio 40, Kentucky 37
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Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Defense clamps down, saves Cats in Cincy
CINCINNATI Ð Kentucky was in serious trouble and the Cats knew it. An upstart Ohio team had taken the fight to UK all night long and pushed its lead out to nine points on a disheveled UK squad.
Then the lights came on, US Bank Arena came alive and UK locked Ohio down defensively to rally for a 71-63 victory before a sellout crowd of 16,043 rowdy fans.
After watching Ohio light up the Cats' vaunted defense for 65 percent shooting in the first half, UK put the clamps on the Bobcats over the game's final 12 minutes and allowed just two field goals the rest of the way until a meaningless three-pointer with six seconds. The defense that was so poor in the first half ended up being the savior down the stretch.
"We never gave up," junior forward Bobby Perry said. "For a second there things were looking really bad though. We were walking the ball up the floor, not contesting shots.
"We got in each other's faces and said we need to play ball like we know we can. We knew we had to look deep within ourselves and put a stop down."
The Cats' defense returned just in time to save their New Year's. After Ohio's Jeremy Fears picked off an errant Patrick Sparks pass at the top of the key and finished with an uncontested dunk at the other end to put the Bobcats up 54-45, UK manned up and put the vice on Ohio.
Over the next seven possessions, Ohio did not score a point. The Cats failed on several opportunities to take control of the game by claiming the lead, but still Ohio looked tight as UK began matching the Bobcats' intensity. Ohio did push the lead back out to 59-55 with 3:56 remaining after a spinning drive by Whitney Davis, but the Bobcats wouldn't score again until 14 seconds remained.
"We really had to earn this," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "Our defense really stiffened in the second half once we settled down and made some adjustments."
Even with the improved defense, UK still found itself on the wrong end of the score when the final media timeout hit. The Cats came out of the break and closed to within 59-57 when Rekalin Sims tipped in a missed shot. Ohio's Johnnie Jackson missed a jumper on the other end and then Sims gave UK the lead for good Ð it's first in nearly 29 minutes Ð when he scored on a lay-up and was fouled. Of course, Sims had missed eight of his previous nine free throw attempts, so nothing was certain. Once the ball caught the flat part behind the rim and plopped in, the Cats were in control.
"I felt good about it," Sims said with a wry smile. "When it went through, it looked good. It broke my O-fer streak."
UK pushed the lead to three when Joe Crawford sliced between two Ohio defenders off a Sims' screen and laid the ball in with one second on the shot clock. It was the signature play of Crawford's career-night on which he scored 23 points and added four rebounds.
"Joe was awesome," Perry said. "We had been waiting for that breakout game. His threes in the first half kept us in the game."
"I'm finally coming into my own," Crawford said.
He wasn't alone. Joining Crawford on the career-night train was fellow sophomore and close friend Ramel Bradley. The New York City native broke out for a career-high 18 points and banked in a huge three-pointer late in the game with UK trailing by four.
"I called it," Bradley said of the bank. "I meant to do it. This is US Bank Arena isn't it? I had to do it.
"I've been waiting for a chance to show that I can step up. I hope I can build off this. I prayed before the game and asked God to help me have a breakout game and I was just really focused."
Crawford and Bradley's efforts were absolutely necessary for the Cats. UK allowed Ohio to hit shots from all over the floor in the first half, yet still found a way to hold on and trailed just 40-37 despite Mychal Green's 16 points.
"We weren't even near them," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "We weren't playing much defense. We had so many breakdowns in the first half."
That all changed in the second half, as UK locked up Green Ð he had zero points and only two shots over the final 27 minutes Ð and crashed the offensive glass to help survive a tough test.
"We found a lot of heart and toughness," Bradley said. "We found that mean streak we've been looking for."
On a night when UK was in clear danger, that toughness came at just the right time.
Joe Crawford defends the goal
Ramel Bradley looks to pass