Date story published: Monday, November 14, 2005
A revved-up public address announcer Doug Bruce milked the accomplishments of Kentucky point guard Rajon Rondo for all they were worth last night.
As Kentucky illustrated why early-season games expose areas of concern, Rondo's derring-do was worth a lot. His flirtation with career highs to the fifth power led UK to a 71-54 victory over South Dakota State. Without Rondo's career-high 12 rebounds and two three-pointers, the Cats might not be playing Lipscomb tonight for the chance to advance to next week's Guardians Classic final four in Kansas City. Rondo added 17 points (one shy of a career high), six assists (two shy) and six steals (two shy).
"He was unbelievable," teammate Ravi Moss said of Rondo. "But that's what we've come to expect from Rajon.
"And," Moss added, "that's what we need out of Rajon."
Kentucky won this season opener despite missing its first eight shots, barely outrebounding the Jackrabbits 45-40, committing 18 turnovers and struggling at the foul line (10 for 18).
Rondo rode to the rescue all night long. Actually, he logged 30 minutes, which seemed like all night.
"That's a lot of minutes," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "But we needed him on the court, especially the way he played.
"That's the effort we need from him and everybody."
Rondo got off to a shaky start. He missed badly on his first two shots: a brick in the lane and an air ball from three-point range. Thereafter, he made 7 of 11 shots, including a pair of three-pointers that matched his career high.
"I just have to believe in myself," he said, moving past the early misses. "That's where it starts."
Rondo's rebounding was the surprise. He needed six games as a freshman last season to grab 12 rebounds, got no more than seven in any game and averaged a point-guardish 2.9.
To explain the abundant rebounding, Rondo cited a conversation he had with backcourt mate Patrick Sparks.
"I told Patrick, 'You get back this year. I'm going to try to get the rebounds this year,' " he said.
Sparks, who contributed a diverse stat line (six points, three assists, two steals), confirmed the conversation.
"Since he got 12 boards, I'll probably be getting back every time now," he said.
As slow as Kentucky started, South Dakota State started slower. The Jackrabbits made only one of their first 17 shots and did not score their fifth point until the 9:32 mark of the first half.
By then, UK led 18-4.
"We didn't play well," South Dakota State Coach Scott Nagy said. "Some of it had to do with Kentucky. We were completely outmanned."
Rondo's 12 rebounds exceeded his previous high of seven against Florida last Feb. 8. "I didn't expect 12," he said. "I just try to rebound as much as I can. I don't worry about stats during the game."
After a pause, he added, "or after the game."
Rondo's only higher scoring game was 18 points against Vanderbilt on Jan. 12. His career-high eight assists came against the Commodores on Feb. 5. He had eight steals against Mississippi State on Feb. 19. His only other game with two three-pointers came against Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament.
Rondo acknowledged a link between his all-around stat-stuffing line against South Dakota State and his oddly quiet performance against Georgetown College in last week's exhibition.
"In the last game, I wouldn't say I gave my all," he said. "This game, I went overboard on the intangibles."
At one point, Rondo dived for a loose ball and skidded his face along the Rupp Arena court.
For one of the few times, Bruce contained himself and let the play speak for itself.
"Rajon has one of those names that begs to be emphasized," the public address announcer said. "The 'R' is a great way to roll into a name and the 'o' is a great way to fade out.
"He's got the perfect name."
And on this night, Rondo had close enough to the perfect game.