- Wednesday, February 15 2006 -
Georgia - 61 (Head Coach: Dennis Felton) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 68 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 28, Georgia 25
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|Vanderbilt 81 - 84|||||South Carolina 79 - 66|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
New lineup helps Cats end losing skid
Tubby Smith wanted his Kentucky basketball team to rediscover its fundamentals and winning edge, so he instituted a grading system in practice that led to a surprising starting lineup.
What Smith got from his Cats was a much-needed victory, but he certainly won't be happy with the sloppy play UK had down the stretch. UK will take the 68-61 win over scrappy Georgia that pushed the Cats' record back over .500 in the Southeastern Conference, but the 27 turnovers UK gave away certainly left observers with another puzzling performance.
Just days after informing his team that he was "wiping the slate clean" in an effort to jump start the Cats out of their three-game losing streak, Smith stayed true to his word and ran three new starters out for the opening tip-off. Joining regulars Patrick Sparks and Bobby Perry were Ravi Moss, Lukasz Obrzut and Brandon Stockton, who was making his first career start for the Cats.
"It was a good idea," Sparks said. "It makes everyone focus in practice, concentrate and do the fundamental things. When the camera is on you and you are fighting for minutes, that makes you practice a little harder. It made people respond."
The new starters didn't exactly set the world on fire, jumping out to a 5-1 lead before falling behind 10-7 less than five minutes into the game. That's when Smith made his first substitution Ð center Randolph Morris Ð and the Cats immediately began to take off. Less than a minute later three more former starters joined Morris and sparked UK to a 15-0 run that gave the Cats a 22-10 lead.
Smith has talked all year about the Cats' inability to stay focused for long stretches and it showed yet again, as Georgia responded to UK's 15-0 run with an identical 15-0 spurt of its own to pull ahead 25-24 in the closing minutes of the first half. UK recovered and took a 28-25 halftime edge, then pushed the lead out to 42-31 early in the second half.
"There were times I felt like we had the game under control but you with this team, that never seems to be the case," Smith said. "We don't finish games. We got very tentative and started mishandling the ball.
"From Day One I've said that about our toughness, consistency and persistence. All those things that lead to not sustaining focus. Make the easy play, make shorter passes, come meet the pass."
The Cats put one more run on Georgia, turning on a 12-2 jaunt that pushed the Cats' lead to a game-high 14 at 57-43 with 6:34 remaining. But the Cats tried to spread the floor and drain the clock, but ended up allowing Georgia to use its press to cause seven turnovers in the final four minutes and get as close as 59-54 before UK held on with a couple of run outs against the pressure.
Maybe most important in the win was the Cats return to a stifling defense. Although Georgia missed numerous shots from point blank range, UK had a much more active pressure defense than anytime in the past few weeks. It showed in holding Georgia to 34.9 percent shooting for the game and by hounding leading scorer Levi Stukes into just 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Stukes was so flustered he made just 1-of-9 from long range after hitting at a 65 percent clip the last four games.
"We played great team defense," Morris said. "I don't know what the catalyst was, but we played as a unit.
"There is so much tradition and pride here. They aren't used to losing and we had to dig down and show our guts. We have to do it for the fans, for us and for all the players who were here before us."
Randolph Morris and Brandon Stockton fight UGa's Steve Newman for the rebound
Ravi Moss secures the rebound as Sheray Thomas and Randolph Morris look on
Rajon Rondo flies in for a steal