Date story published: Saturday, March 7, 1998
ATLANTA - After the game, too late to do him any good, Alabama lame-duck coach David Hobbs knew who Kentucky freshman Michael Bradley was.
When Bradley entered the game early in the first half, a puzzled Hobbs turned to an assistant coach. "Where did that guy come from?" he asked.
Of course, Bradley came from Worcester, Mass., via Lexington, Ky. Where he's going is today's Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals against Arkansas.
Much to Hobbs' surprise, Bradley set six career highs to help Kentucky beat Alabama 82-71 yesterday in a quarterfinal game.
"He didn't make our scouting report," Hobbs bravely acknowledged. "I asked my assistant, 'Why didn't he make our scouting report?' "
Probably because Bradley averaged only 4.8 minutes, 1.7 points and less than a rebound (0.8) in SEC play this season.
But when UK Coach Tubby Smith suspended backup center Jamaal Magloire on Thursday, Bradley became the Cats' first big man off the bench. Not that Bradley knew about it before entering the game with 15:55 left in the first half.
"I didn't know Jamaal was not going to play until halftime," Bradley said.
Smith didn't tell Bradley or the team until halftime. In warning the Cats to stop fouling, the coach told them Magloire would not play.
"I didn't want to scare him," the UK coach said.
Starting center Nazr Mohammed played only four first-half minutes because of foul trouble. Suddenly, the Cats needed Bradley to contribute. He did.
"He kept us afloat," forward Scott Padgett said.
"He did some major damage," Hobbs said.
Bradley - who had career-high points (10), rebounds (six), steals (two), baskets (four), shots (seven) and minutes (14) - loomed largest at the game's most critical point.
Alabama, which hung close thanks to three-point shooting, nudged ahead 54-51 with 13:55 left. To that point, counting UK's 70-67 regular-season victory over the Tide, the teams had played 66 minutes dead even. And Alabama, which trailed by as many as 10 in the first half, had momentum on its side.
With Bradley suddenly all over the court, the Cats ripped off six straight points. UK did not trail again.
Bradley tipped in a basket. Then he deflected a feed into the post, which fueled Jeff Sheppard's fast-break dunk. Then he took a pass from Padgett and hit a layup.
"That happened?" Smith joked. "Michael did that?"
Turning serious, the UK coach added, "Those were big plays because we were struggling. We needed someone to step up."
Sheppard, who led a balanced attack with 17 points, gave Kentucky the lead for good. His three-pointer with 10:10 left gave the Cats a 60-57 lead. Helped by back-to-back Alabama three-point shots going in and out, UK built a 10-point cushion to protect in the final four minutes.
Alabama (15-16) got as close as six points down the stretch. Brian Williams, who scored 28 points, hit his sixth three-pointer to reduce UK's lead to 75-69 with 2:39 left.
Williams' sharpshooting compensated for Damon Bacote's scoreless afternoon. Bacote torched the Cats with seven three-pointers and 25 points in the regular season.
"I think he and Williams just changed roles for this game," Padgett said.
But Kentucky had too much size and depth for Alabama, which got outscored 25-3 off the bench.
"I'm sure they know they were in a battle," Hobbs said of UK. "At the same time, their size inside and depth proved to be a little too much.
"We could have used Michael Bradley. That's for sure."
Although Bradley had played double-digit minutes only twice since Dec. 20, Smith saw improvement over the course of the season.
"Michael's probably our best passing big man," the UK coach said. "And he's gotten stronger. You can see the progress he's made. His body's transformed. He kind of looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger as opposed to how he looked before."
Padgett envisioned Bradley playing a big role on a regular basis in the future.
"When he's a junior, he'll be the man in the center," Padgett said. "No doubt about it."
After yesterday, Bradley does not figure to surprise the opposing coach again.
"I don't know how to respond to that," he said when asked about not being in Hobbs' scouting report. "Maybe he needs to get some new assistants."