- Thursday, March 8 2007 -
SEC Tournament (at Atlanta, GA)
Kentucky - 79 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Alabama - 67 (Head Coach: Mark Gottfried) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 35, Alabama 27
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Florida 72 - 85|||||Mississippi State 82 - 84 OT|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats turn in best effort, turn back Tide
ATLANTA - Hoping to make a statement about their postseason aspirations Kentucky took the first step to a successful March by throttling an Alabama team fighting for its NCAA Tournament life.
The Cats (21-10) fell behind by 10 early but responded in resounding fashion, controlling the tempo and shutting down Alabama's dangerous inside attack on their way to a 79-67 victory in the first round of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome.
Just 19 days removed from being frustrated and out hustled by Alabama in an 11-point loss in Tuscaloosa the Cats flipped the script on the Crimson Tide. The Cats turned in a complete effort, winning the battle of the little things and showing a toughness that has been missing in action most of the season.
"This was an excellent showing of how to finish games," senior forward Bobby Perry, who had 10 points, said.
It wasn't easy for the Cats though. Despite the fact stars Ronald Steele and Jermareo Davidson were both nursing injuries Alabama jumped out to a 21-11 lead midway through the first half as the Cats struggled to find their shooting eye. The start was eerily similar to the game in Tuscaloosa when the Crimson Tide led 20-6 when UK just one of its first nine shots, a mark dubious feat the Cats nearly matched with a 1-of-8 start that extended to 3-of-15 in the cavernous Georgia Dome.
In an opposite reaction to the game at Alabama, the Cats dialed the defensive pressure up and turned the contest on its ear. Over the final 9:30 of the first half UK outscored Alabama 24-6 on the strength of 13-0 and 11-0 bursts to claim a 35-27 halftime edge.
"We didn't change anything when we got down, we just started hitting shots," freshman guard Jodie Meeks said. "It's a long game. They were only up eight or so, so it's a long game."
The spurts put UK in the driver's seat but also brought back the old bugaboo of stepping on a team's throat when the Cats have then knocked off their feet. Twice Alabama attempted to make a run at UK in the second half and both times the Cats absorbed the shot and then retaliated with a more forceful one of their own, none more so than after the Tide sliced the lead to 52-47 with just over 12 minutes left in the game.
Squandering two chances to pull closer Alabama then watched UK put the game away with a 13-2 jaunt that featured 11 points by junior leaders Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford before being punctuated with a steal and thunderous dunk by Meeks.
"When they made their run we didn't fall down, we didn't let up," Bradley, who tied for team-high scoring honors with 17 points, said. "If you want to win you have to do that. If guys hit you, you have to hit them back."
Randolph Morris must have taken the message to heart. The junior center played arguably his best game of the season in response to an effort he referred to as "not having his head in it" in Tuscaloosa. Knowing Alabama's strength could be found in the paint with Davidson and Richard Hendrix, Morris controlled the lane on both ends of the floor. The enigmatic Morris finished with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting and added 11 rebounds, two steals and a block in 27 minutes.
"He's our catalyst," Bradley said of Morris. "When he plays well he frees up all of us."
Morris' aggression on the offensive end of the floor forced Alabama ton pick its poison, which resulted in UK knocking down nine three-pointers and placing five players in double figures.
"I was more aggressive," Morris said. "It's do or die time now. If we lose we go home so I'm more focused."
The focus showed up across the board for UK. The Cats pulled down eight more rebounds than Alabama, scored eight more points in the paint and limited the Tide to just 11 second chance points. Outside of Hendrix's 21 points (10 of which came from the free throw line) Alabama was virtually shut down, including just two points and one assist from the hobbled Steele.
It was the kind of effort UK knows it must have in the postseason.
Derrick Jasper (#5) knifes toward the hoop
Joe Crawford (#32) shoots over Alabama's Richard Hendrix (#35)
Jodie Meeks (#20) seals the victory with a dunk