- Sunday, January 28 2007 -
Tennessee - 57 (Head Coach: Bruce Pearl) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 76 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Tennessee 32, Kentucky 31
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Georgia 69 - 78 OT|||||Arkansas 82 - 74|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
UK runs past Lofton-less Vols
Kentucky's players needed something to erase the nightmarish memories of two games it let get away, one in sensational fashion, or it was fully aware of just how miserable the next week would be for them.
Chris Lofton or not, the Cats had to find a way to convince not only themselves but their fans they were capable of much more than they showed in losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia. Although it took more than 30 minutes before their argument began, UK righted itself with a 76-57 victory over Tennessee in front of 24,311 fans at Rupp Arena.
Coming on the heels of the potentially devastating loss at Georgia four nights earlier, it was critical that UK squelched some of the hyperventilating of the Big Blue faithful.
"Any time you lose it's the worst feeling in the world," junior guard Ramel Bradley said. "You almost don't even want to live. If we had another week (without a win) it would have been a week to commit suicide. We had to win this game."
The Cats took care of business by reversing a recent trend and dominating the second half of play against a Tennessee team that had thrived on outlasting opponents this season. Unfortunately for the Volunteers they were without the services – and scoring prowess – of Lofton, a potential All-American whose exploits in Rupp are the stuff of legend in the Commonwealth. Lofton missed his second straight game after severely spraining an ankle against South Carolina on Jan. 20.
"We were prepared either way," senior forward Bobby Perry said. "But we knew they had other people who could pick up the slack. JaJuan Smith did his part. Other players did too."
Even a healthy Lofton might not have been enough to keep UK from finding itself in a surgically efficient second half that saw the Cats outscore Tennessee 45-25 and shoot 64 percent from the field. The offensive execution and defensive pressure (Tennessee shot 30 percent from the field after hitting 46.4 percent in the first half) allowed the Cats to turn a 47-46 lead with 10:01 remaining into a 67-48 lead by the 4:38 mark. UK (16-5, 5-2 SEC) made five consecutive three-pointers and converted an old-fashioned three-point play in the spurt, putting away the Lofton-less Volunteers.
"Shooting is always rhythm and contagious," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "Guys were getting good looks and we did a better job of pushing the ball up the court and finding guys."
Bradley and freshman Jodie Meeks sandwiched threes around a Perry triple to begin the run, then Bradley added another triple and a three-point play before Meeks swished his fourth three of the game from the top of the key to close the game-breaking sequence.
The long-range powered jaunt was as surprising as it was quick. The Cats had made just 6-of-21 from deep before hitting five straight in the stretch, with Bradley's Jekyll-and-Hyde afternoon showing up the most. Bradley was 1-of-8 from deep in the first half and was drawing boos from the home crowd after two second half five-second violations but his energy and effort during the deciding run earned him a standing ovation when he excited the game in the final minute with 21 points, five rebounds and four assists.
"Ramel has that kind of energy and plays with a lot of passion and enthusiasm and it's contagious," Smith said. "When is going well you can see everyone's spirits are lifted."
Meeks wasn't bad either, scoring 16 points and grabbing five rebounds in a career-high 30 minutes of action. It was Meeks who Smith trusted with the difficult defensive assignment on Tennessee guard Ramar Smith and with controlling most of the ball handling responsibilities down the stretch.
"He's definitely coming along," junior center Randolph Morris said. "Offense has never been a problem for Jodie but he's becoming a better defender."
"I thank Coach Smith for putting me in the position to play a good game," Meeks said. "I just played hard and my teammates happened to find me when I was open on the wings."
Meeks, Bradley and Joe Crawford's 15 points were necessary because Morris was again a nonentity because of foul trouble. Morris played just 19 minutes, scoring nine points and pulling in only four of UK's 42 rebounds.
That was about the only worry on the afternoon for the Cats, who now can enjoy the next week a little more.
"It would have been a really, really long week," Perry said. "And then to go to Arkansas…it would have been a tough week. Thank goodness we got the win."
Ramel Bradley runs out of room
Perry Stevenson skies for a shot over UT's Wayne Chism
Jodie Meeks gets caught in an orange crush