- Tuesday, January 3 2006 -
Central Florida - 57 (Head Coach: Kirk Speraw) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 59 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 19th by AP and 21st by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 33, Central Florida 26
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|Ohio 71 - 63|||||Kansas 46 - 73|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Rondo's fade away rescues Cats at buzzer
Rajon Rondo had already made himself a fan favorite in Rupp Arena before Central Florida came to town to kick off 2006, but the sophomore guard might have begun his legend against the Golden Knights.
Rondo buried a fade away jumper from the left elbow with 1.5 seconds remaining to save Kentucky from an embarrassing home defeat. The 59-57 victory kicked off the New Year in grand style, but also left numerous questions about the Cats after they blew an 11-point second half lead.
"I just knew I wanted to take the last shot," Rondo said. "I didn't want it to end like it did against Michigan State last year (when UK didn't get a shot off). I wasn't going to pass at all unless they ran two or three people at me. I spun right, then left.
"I never doubted it."
The sophomore's jumper came in response to the three-pointer he allowed on the other end to Central Florida's Mike O'Donnell, who tied the game with 24.5 seconds on a wide open look after Rondo got caught on a screen near the top of the key. O'Donnell's jumper capped the Knights' comeback from 45-34 deficit with 13:38 remaining.
During the timeout after O'Donnell's shot, Central Florida coach Kirk Speraw made the decision to guard Rondo with 6-foot-3 guard Justin Rose, the Knights' best defender. Rose forced a tough shot, but Rondo proved his worth as one of the nation's top players.
"It came down to a situation where the best point guard in the nation had the ball in his hands," Speraw said. "He's pretty tough to defend. We had our best defender on him, but he made a great shot. We knew it'd be in his hands. If I was Coach (Tubby) Smith, I would do the same thing."
Rondo's shot will be the lasting memory of UK's 10th victory of the year, but the Cats had to work to get it after once again coming out of the gate stuck in neutral.
The Cats fell behind 9-1 and 18-7 in the game's first 11 minutes after beginning the game 2-of-13 from the field before reserve guard Ramel Bradley sparked the Cats with 14 points in the final 7:04 of the half to turn the 11-point deficit into a 33-26 lead at the break. The sophomore's shooting was about the only bright spot until Rondo's late heroics.
"It would have been ugly (if Bradley hadn't shown up)," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "He was unconscious there making shots in the first half. He gave us some momentum."
"I felt good," Bradley said. "I haven't felt that (hot) in awhile. I was real hot, so hot that it came to a point where I was steaming in the locker room at halftime. Really, I was steaming."
Bradley's performance earned him the starting nod in the second half over a slumping Patrick Sparks, but didn't last long. Although UK went ahead by 11 on Bradley's run out with 13:38 left Ð his only two points of the second half Ð Central Florida began chipping away at the lead with a 16-4 run of its own.
"Even though we got the win, it shouldn't have come to a last shot," Bradley said. "We should have finished them off."
The Golden Knights took a 52-51 lead with 4:51 remaining, but UK's Joe Crawford scored on a baseline drive, Rekalin Sims drew a charging call on Josh Peppers and then Sims fought off two Central Florida players for an offensive rebound and putback to put UK up 55-52 with 2:17 remaining. The Knights pulled back within one when Rose tipped in a miss at 1:21, then Crawford hit two free throws after UK got the benefit of a shaky loose ball foul call on the Knights.
After O'Donnell's three-pointer Ð off a play UCF ran for the first time all year Ð Smith called timeout and then let Rondo go to work. The last of Rondo's 13 points allowed UK to escape with a win, but it also left the Cats immeasurably unhappy.
"We didn't play with the energy we needed to," Smith said. "When you aren't ready mentally, this is what can happen. If you don't respect your opponent, anything can happen.
"We got the win, but we want to play to the level of our ability. I know we are a better team. We want to be a championship team, but we've got to play better as a team before we can even think about that."
Shagari Alleyne (#21) shoots a hook
Rajon Rondo (#4) with the game winner