- Sunday, March 18 2007 -
NCAA West Regional Second Round (at Chicago, IL)
Kentucky - 76 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Final Unranked by AP]
Kansas - 88 (Head Coach: Bill Self) - [Final Rank 2nd by AP and 2nd by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kansas 36, Kentucky 30
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Villanova 67 - 58|||||Central Arkansas 67 - 40|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats exit NCAA after Windy City wipeout
CHICAGO - Kentucky waited all season for its moment in the sun, the day all the basketball stars would align and would look like Kentucky again.
Better wait until next year.
Top-seeded Kansas sprinted away from the Cats after halftime for an 88-76 victory at the United Center. The Jayhawks' Brandon Rush hit four of his six three-pointers after the break, including three in the first 5:14 during a 13-2 Kansas spurt that eliminated any opportunity UK had at salvaging its season with a rousing upset.
"I just really think they hit their shots," UK junior guard Joe Crawford said. "They hit those three shots in a row and it really took us out of our game. (Rush) was on fire and they played great team basketball. They didn't force anything, they just waited for the defense the break down and then knocked down the shots."
Looking every bit like the No. 1 seed they were the Jayhawks wore UK down with a deep and talented roster, taking advantage of seemingly every mistake by the Cats throughout the game. Although UK hung tough in the first half before trailing by six it never appeared as though it owned enough firepower to hassle Kansas for a full 40 minutes.
By the end UK looked exhausted. Kansas connected on 64.3 percent of its field goal attempts after halftime and 56.6 percent for the game. The 10 triples the Jayhawks made tied a season high and Rush's six were easily a high-water mark for him.
"Brandon is a great shooter but I don't think he has had a game where he has been on a roll like he was (against UK)," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "For him to make 6-of-7 that came at key times really gave us a lot of momentum or they were backbreakers for Kentucky."
It seemed like it was going to be that kind of day for UK from the get-go. After Randolph Morris hit a short turnaround jumper for the first basket of the game the Cats harassed Kansas on its first possession all the way to the bitter end of the shot clock before Mario Chalmers buried a rain-drawing triple. Chalmers made another long bomb the next time down the court before Rush swished two to give Kansas an early 14-11 day.
Like most every other defeat the Cats had this season it was a case of close but not quote there.
"We almost played perfect the first half as far as defensively," Crawford said. "We played well, we just broke down in the second half. Mario Chalmers hit two really tough three-pointers where we played great defense until right at the end. It was meant for them to be."
"We've had games like this this year," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "When a team is as talented as Kansas you can't play mistake-free but you have to come close to being flawless on both ends of the court."
Credit UK for not throwing in the towel like it did a year ago in Lawrence when the Jayhawks dispensed a 27-point beating on the Cats, the worst loss in Smith's 10 years in Lexington. Although the lead ballooned to 20 with just under five minutes remaining the Cats scrapped back to within the final 12-point margin to make things respectable.
Much of the Cats' ability to remain in contact with Kansas hinged on Morris and senior forward Bobby Perry. Despite being collapsed upon by two or three defenders every time he touched the ball Morris still managed to drop 22 points and eight rebounds, with most of the scoring coming by virtue of his 14-of-16 performance at the free throw line. Perry added to his career efforts in tournament play by scoring 21 points and making a career-high five triples.
But as they did in most of UK's losses the guard trio of Crawford, Ramel Bradley and freshman Jodie Meeks struggled to make shots the entire game. The three hit just 8-of-31 from the field, 5-of-18 from long range, and got suckered into rushing and trying to create too much during the Jayhawks' decisive run.
"We were rushing shots and not taking very good ones, me included," Morris said. "The speed at which they play forced us to panic and we weren't really patient. It's just what it was, they found a way to make us play their way."
For UK they was it played was all-too-familiar.
"We were right there with the best teams in the country but I guess you could say we just didn't put games away," Perry said. "How do you do that? I don't know the magic formula. You have to develop that and we fell a little short."
The magic has been missing for two years now.
Bobby Perry (#13) and Jodie Meeks (#20) try to keep KU's Julian Wright out of the lane
Derrick Jasper loses the ball in front of Mario Chalmers
Bobby Perry (#13) and Joe Crawford fight Julian Wright (#30) and Brandon Rush (#25) for the ball