- Saturday, March 11 2006 -
SEC Tournament (at Nashville, TN)
Kentucky - 61 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
South Carolina - 65 (Head Coach: Dave Odom) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: South Carolina 30, Kentucky 27
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Alabama 68 - 61|||||Alabama-Birmingham 69 - 64|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Music stops for UK in semifinals
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Kentucky had arrived in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals 18 times since 1979, advancing to the championship game every time.
There will be no 19th appearance in 19 tries.
South Carolina buried four consecutive three-pointers during a game-turning 14-3 second half run, then held off the Cats to continue its Cinderella run with a 65-61 victory at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The loss was just the second for UK in the semifinal round in 36 trips and first since 1936 when Tennessee knocked off the Cats.
"It's all about making plays and (South Carolina) made those down the stretch," senior guard Ravi Moss said. "We didn't do a good job of taking shots away. We let their shooters get in their comfort zones.
"They made great shots. We did that (in Columbia), but today was a little different."
It was a strange day for the Cats, who were trying to erase the memories of an up and down season by earning a berth in the title game. Despite the feeling that UK was in control throughout, South Carolina hung around long enough to catch a hot streak midway through the second half and push past the Cats.
Trailing 50-45 after Moss swished a three-pointer from the corner with 10:21 remaining, the Gamecocks caught fire from long range. Renaldo Balkman drove past UK's Sheray Thomas for a dunk to kick-start the spurt, then Bryce Sheldon and Tarence Kinsey traded threes over the next four possessions to turn the five-point deficit into a 59-53 edge with 5:15 on the game clock.
"It was a weird game," junior forward Bobby Perry said. "When they hit shots like that to go up, it was like what we did at South Carolina. They returned the favor on us. We didn't respond back."
A month ago UK traveled to Columbia and found itself trailing by three at the half before busting the game open with a 21-4 run to start the second half, most of which was fueled by long range shots, including six triples by Patrick Sparks. The script looked like it would play out that way again as the Cats turned another three-point deficit into a quick 42-37 lead before the first media timeout.
Sensing his team was on the verge of falling apart like it did in that home loss to UK, South Carolina coach Dave Odom delivered a stern message during that break in the action.
"In the second half in Columbia we were like punch-drunk fighters," Odom said. "We just stuck our head out and took it. I made reference to that - do we want to just take it? That was probably the turning point. If we had taken it we would have lost."
Instead, South Carolina rallied behind Sheldon, a reserve who had scored in double figures just twice all season. Having connected on 27 three-pointers for the year, Sheldon cashed in four against the Cats, including the two backbreaking triples during the Gamecocks' big run.
"We knew he was D.O.C. - dead on catch," Perry said. "You don't let him get his shot off. He was able to knock them down."
Still, this is UK and the SEC Tournament, so funny things happen. One day after erasing a seven-point deficit in the final five minutes against Alabama the Cats faced a six-point comeback attempt in three minutes. A Randolph Morris dunk off an inbound pass and a Joe Crawford free throw drew UK back within 61-58, then a missed Tre' Kelley jumper gave the Cats a chance to tie. Joe Crawford got a solid look from the top of the key off a screen, but the ball rattled in and out with 1:10 to play.
"It was down," Moss said. "I was ready to explode on the sideline but it popped back out. It happens like that sometimes."
"I got a great look," Crawford said. "I hit two threes like that early in the game. It felt good, it just went in and out."
Needing to get the ball back, UK started fouling South Carolina to try and get the Gamecocks into the bonus instead of just playing defense and trying to get a stop since there was a 32-second difference between the game and shot clocks. The Cats got to six fouls and then inexplicably didn't foul a seventh time as South Carolina's Brandon Wallace dunked after being left unguarded to put the Gamecocks up 63-58 with 33.9 seconds remaining.
"Once we got to the sixth foul we were trying to get the right guy the ball so they would miss free throws," sophomore guard Ramel Bradley said. "We wanted to wait it out and see if they would swing it."
Instead, South Carolina finished off the Cats and got revenge for two earlier losses to UK. In the process, UK's semifinal dominance was undone, much like everything else this season.
Bobby Perry (#13) grabs the ball in front of USC's Keving Palacios (#20)