- Wednesday, February 7 2007 -
South Carolina - 89 (Head Coach: Dave Odom) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 95 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 20th by AP and 18th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 50, South Carolina 28
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Arkansas 82 - 74|||||Florida 61 - 64|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Blowout turns sweat it out for Wildcats
What started as a pre-Florida pep rally ended as another example of the inconsistency Kentucky's basketball team has shown all season long and left Tubby Smith laughing in an effort to hide the disappointment.
The Cats raced to a 28-point lead early in the second half and then watched South Carolina shave 23 points off that margin before finally holding on for a 95-89 victory at Rupp Arena. UK (18-5, 7-2) now enters its showdown with No. 1 Florida on a bit of a sour note because of the second half meltdown.
"Again, it was a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde performance," Smith said. "It's something we've dealt with regularly. We've had trouble dealing with prosperity for awhile now. We need other people to step up and give us some leadership."
Smith was so worried about the Cats fixating on Florida he forbid his players from even uttering anything that had to do with the Sunshine State before they took on South Carolina. It was an understandable concern. UK had trounced South Carolina by 38 points less than a month earlier in Columbia and fans and media surrounding the Cats immediately jumped to the Gators after UK ran past Arkansas over the weekend.
The worry seemed unnecessary however when UK bolted out to a 20-5 lead and eventual 22-point halftime edge. The lead grew to 63-35 with 16:23 left in the game when Ramel Bradley converted an old-fashioned three-point play before the Cats downshifted like they have so often this season.
"They played extremely well, particularly in the first half," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "They took our breath away. I thought we were fortunate to be in the same county at halftime."
The Cats were certainly primed to play, feeding off eight quick points from Bobby Perry and an energetic Rupp crowd. When South Carolina was forced to call its third timeout 7:30 into the game it equaled the number of field goals (3) the Gamecocks had to that point. The 50-point half for UK also mirrored the second half in Columbia when the Cats scored that same number of points.
Not to be outdone, the 'bad Kentucky' made an appearance in the final 16 minutes of the game. Once the lead ballooned to 28 the focus waned and the wheels began to come off.
Before UK could blink South Carolina ripped off a 25-9 run on the strength of five three-pointers to slice the deficit to 12. UK seemed to steady itself by pushing the lead back to 20 with just under six minutes remaining and relaxed yet again.
"Our focus, I don't know where it went but it wasn't on the game," Smith said. "It was poor execution. We were very nonchalant. We weren't being strong. It was a total lack of focus and concentration."
"We let our guard down," Perry said. "There is not much you can say about it. We should be tougher than that. You have to fight through. (Smith) was disappointed, absolutely, in our effort in the second half."
Despite the deficit South Carolina rallied on the strength of nine second half three-pointers and the gutsy play of senior point guard Tre' Kelley. Trailing 87-71, South Carolina got a spinning circus shot from Kelley and then UK's Lukasz Obrzut, who surprised everyone by starting for Randolph Morris, threw away two consecutive inbounds passes in the backcourt. Carolina's Brandon Wallace converted both for easy buckets and the six points in 10 seconds cut the UK lead to 10 with 3:01 remaining.
The Gamecocks eventually got the margin down to five before running out of time.
"Teams lose interest," Odom said. "I'm not saying Kentucky did but it's hard to hold that interest over 40 minutes and what happens is your team senses it and plays harder. It feeds itself."
UK's struggles to maintain the intensity of the first half showed in allowing Carolina to make 56.8 percent of its shots in the second half. It showed in letting a team that had scored more than 70 points just once since the calendar turned to 2007 drop 61 in the second half alone. It showed in Kelley, who is one of the league's most underrated players, pouring in 36 points on a defense that had been strong most of the year.
It also left Smith in a strangely goofy mood in his post game press conference.
"We have great concentration," Smith said sarcastically. "We have great interest and great focus. We focus for 40 minutes, 45, as long as it takes. We have the best concentration in America. I never see a slip. Our concentration is at an all-time high.
"Hey, I've got to laugh because I'm crying on the inside."
There's that split personality disorder again. Seems likes its in the water.
The Rupp Arena crowd got quite a surprise before ever settling into its seat when Lukasz Obrzut was announced as the starting center in place of Randolph Morris. While UK officials said the move was a "coaches decision" moments later, Tubby Smith said after the game that Morris had violated an undisclosed team rule.
The disciplinary move seemed to jar Morris out of a recent slump, as the junior played with a passion rarely seen from him. Morris threw down several vicious dunks -- one a reverse jam -- on his way to 17 points and eight rebounds, his best totals since the Cats beat South Carolina in Columbia on Jan. 20.
"I don't know what I was doing really," Morris said. "I wanted to come out and dominate. That meant playing physical, playing stronger. If my demeanor came off as playing mad that's just because that's how I played."
Morris would not elaborate on what team rule he broke.
Woo wins the tap
Bobby Perry with a tip-in
Derrick Jasper winds up for a tomahawk jam