- Thursday, March 9 2006 -
SEC Tournament (at Nashville, TN)
Kentucky - 71 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Mississippi - 57 (Head Coach: Roderick Barnes) - [Unranked]
|Brian Smith (*)||12||1||4||0||3||0||1||0||3||3||0||3||0||0||1||2|
Halftime Score: Mississippi 29, Kentucky 26
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Florida 64 - 79|||||Alabama 68 - 61|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats claim 20th win; clip Ole Miss 71-57
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Survive and advance is the mantra of postseason play and Kentucky took the idea literally in its Southeastern Conference Tournament opener, trudging past Ole Miss and into the quarterfinals.
Despite falling behind by as many as nine points in the first half, the Cats (20-11) rallied after halftime and used a late 13-2 run to post a 71-57 victory in front of 15,454 mostly-blue fans at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
"It doesn't matter if you win by one or 51 as long as you are playing the next day," senior guard Ravi Moss said. "Survive and advance, that's what it's all about."
Playing on the first day of the tournament for the first time since the league expanded and split into two divisions, UK came out of the gate sluggishly despite a return to the starting lineup by sophomores Rajon Rondo, Joe Crawford and Randolph Morris. Bolstered by the presence of stud interior presence Dwayne Curtis Ð who missed the 40-point blowout in Lexington two weeks ago Ð the Rebels had their way in the paint during the first half in pushing out to a 24-15 lead.
UK closed to within 29-26 at the break, but it was clear the Cats weren't emotionally invested in a game that certainly would have dealt their NCAA Tournament chances a mortal wound had they lost. At the half, Moss took control and challenged his teammates.
"Ravi was hyped at halftime in the tunnel and really told us to pick it up," junior forward Bobby Perry said. "We came out laid back and (Ole Miss) didn't back down. They were ready to play and had a lot of confidence with Curtis back. At the half we said we had to pick it up and we did."
Asked how in the world a team fighting for its NCAA Tournament life could possibly look disinterested in a game it should win handily, Moss shook his head in disbelief, but admitted it took some emotional recharging to get to the 20-win mark.
"We weren't playing very well," Moss said. "We weren't playing well at all. I wasn't expecting us to come out flat. We weren't playing with any passion."
That all changed in the second half as UK turned up the defensive pressure on Ole Miss and started dictating style of play instead of allowing the Rebels to slow the tempo and pound the basketball inside to Curtis and fellow giant Jeremy Parnell. UK guard Patrick Sparks converted a spinning drive to the basket and then picked off a pass at the top of the key and sped for a transition lay-up on consecutive possessions to set the tone, although the scoreboard didn't exactly reflect the newfound effort.
Sitting tied with Ole Miss at 37, sophomore guard Ramel Bradley kicked off a 7-0 spurt with a three-pointer from the wing to give UK a 40-37 edge and watched as Morris converted a strong post up move to end the spurt with the Cats leading 44-37 with 10:31 remaining on the clock.
"A team like (Ole Miss) that is playing for the coach and for pride, they are dangerous," Sparks said. "We knew we had to play well in the second half.
"(Defense) is how we are going to win games. We were playing hard on defense and making big shots at key times."
UK coach Tubby Smith came into the game worried about the Cats' mental preparedness for Ole Miss given his Cats had doubled up the Rebels in Lexington two weeks ago and also were nursing bruised egos from a blowout loss to Florida last weekend. In the first 20 minutes his fears were realized.
"We needed to play harder," Smith said. "We didn't come with any intensity. We wanted to challenge (the kids) at halftimes and let the players know how critical this game was."
Although the return to a more sensible starting lineup didn't do the trick, the Cats finally got the message in the final six minutes. After Ole Miss fought back to tie the score at 46 on Bam Doyne's baseline jumper, UK took off on a 13-2 spurt that put the game on ice. Once again it was Bradley Ð who was playing his first game after missing four games with a broken hand Ð who ignited the run when he buried a three. Moments later, Rondo hit a long triple as the shot clock went off and Morris added a dunk off a brilliant feed from Moss to put the Rebels away.
"Anytime I come off the bench I try to provide a spark and pick up the intensity," Bradley said. "It's been tough to be out and watch my teammates go through ups and downs.
"(The hand) hurts a little but it never hurts when you get up shots and they go down."
For UK, any little bit helps this time of year. It doesn't matter how it wins, just that it does. Survive and advance.
The Cats will tip-off against Alabama at 3:15 p.m. on Friday.
Randolph Morris (#33) blocks Dwayne Curtis' attempt
Rajon Rondo (#4) drives by Bam Doyne