- Wednesday, November 15 2006 -
Miami (OH) - 46 (Head Coach: Charlie Coles) - [Unranked]
|Monty St. Clair||24||2||3||1||2||0||0||1||2||3||5||2||0||0||1||5|
Kentucky - 57 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 22nd by AP and 22nd by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 31, Miami (OH) 27
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Connecticut 83 - 87|||||Mississippi Valley State 79 - 56|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Defense Bails Out Cats in Opener
For the better part of two exhibition victories Kentucky looked like a team fit to sprint as early and often as possible. The Cats got out in transition, created easy opportunities and rushed past two overmatched opponents.
UK's regular season opener proved it's a bit of fool's gold to judge a team on its work in those practice outings. The Cats looked disjointed for much of the night against a game Miami (Ohio) squad, but used stingy defense in creeping to a 57-46 victory in front of 20,444 fans at Rupp Arena.
"It was a real nail-biter," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "We knew Miami would come in ready to play. They've got a really scrappy bunch, a very experienced team and it showed."
UK (1-0) survived because of a superior defensive effort sparked by freshman Perry Stevenson's seven blocked shots. Clinging to a one-point lead the Cats held Miami scoreless over the final 4:49, closing the game on a 10-0 run that masked what was a much tighter contest. The Red Hawks converted just one field goal in the game's final 9:52 after Tyler Dierkers scored on a lay-up to cut the UK lead to 43-41.
Like their second exhibition victory UK flourished with Stevenson's shot blocking presence. The lanky 6-foot-9 forward's seven rejections were the most in school history for a player in his first game and the most since Andre Riddick also had seven against Arkansas in the 1994 Southeastern Conference Tournament.
"The stats speak for themselves," junior center Randolph Morris said of Stevenson's effort. "If we got beat he was there to reject (the shot). A couple of them were crazy. They looked like sure baskets and he just came and erased it."
Stevenson's defensive prowess rescued a UK team that was already thin in the post with the unavailability of Jared Carter and Sheray Thomas, plus a hobbled Lukasz Obrzut. When Morris got into his customary foul trouble, Stevenson was the only real threat the Cats had inside and he made every one of his surprising 35 minutes count.
The shutdown defense -- Miami shot just 16 percent in the second half and 31.3 percent for the game – bailed out an offense that was mostly stagnant and painfully out of sync all night. More than 12 minutes into the game UK had just eight points and trailed by double digits before closing the final 3:13 of the first half on a 16-3 spurt that gave it a 31-27 halftime edge.
The Cats extended the lead to 39-30 before the first media timeout of the second half when Morris dunked off a nice pass from Joe Crawford, but that's when the scoring stopped. UK managed just a single field goal, a Crawford putback, over the next 9:11 as Miami closed the gap to within one possession.
"We just didn't screen well," senior forward Bobby Perry said. "We stayed stagnant and didn't get into any flow. We settled for too many jump shots, especially at the start. We have to find some kind of way to get easy buckets."
Despite the rough patches on offense, like point guard Ramel Bradley's six turnovers, the Cats did put three players in double figures. Crawford rode a hot first half to a game-high 18 points, while Morris added 12 points and 10 rebounds in just 22 minutes. Freshman Jodie Meeks added seven points and four rebounds in an impressive first outing.
"I thought the freshmen played fearlessly," Smith said.
That's the one thing that carried over from the exhibitions.
Joe Crawford challenges a shot
As does Perry Stevenson, who swatted seven