Date story published: Tuesday, November 22, 2005
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Weird, wacky and wonderfully entertaining.
That's what Kentucky and Iowa collaborated on last night in the Guardians Classic semifinals here.
Who would think that UK might win when Rajon Rondo does not score in the game's first 34 minutes?
Who would think Iowa might win when its two best perimeter shooters, Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska, shoot a combined 3-for-19?
Yet both possibilities happened on a night that saw each semifinal game decided in the final seconds.
With Rondo compensating spectacularly for his offensive struggles with a career-high 19 rebounds, Kentucky was poised to win this strange game.
Well, maybe poised was the wrong word. Because the Cats crumbled in the final minute and lost 67-63 to Iowa.
"We had so many opportunities," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "I don't know how you could ask for more opportunities."
Turnovers killed Kentucky. After tying the score with 1:11 left, UK turned the ball over twice down the stretch. Maybe as crushing, the Cats missed a layup.
That's why Kentucky (2-1) will play West Virginia in tonight's consolation game. In another thriller, No. 2 Texas nipped the Mountaineers 76-75 in the first semifinal.
Bobby Perry, who had been 1-for-7 from three-point range, swished a three-pointer with 1:11 to tie it at 61-61.
Then UK wobbled severely. After Ramel Bradley tipped away Mike Henderson's driving shot, Rondo was called for having a foot on the line as he scrambled to get the loose ball.
Haluska put Iowa ahead 62-61 with a free throw at the 40.7-second mark.
Then Bradley drove and made a nifty pass to Perry. But Perry, who has had trouble finishing, missed the layup in traffic.
Two Horner free throws put Iowa ahead 64-61 with 25.2 seconds left.
UK's last best chance evaporated when freshman Tony Freeman tipped away the ball as Bradley rose for a potential game-tying three-pointer.
"Amazing," Smith said. "It was an unusual display of, just, we just lost all our composure."
Perry, who scored a career-high 12 points, lamented the two that got away.
"I probably should have gone up and dunked the ball," he said before acknowledging the trouble he's had "finishing," to use basketball parlance, when taking shots near the basket.
"I don't know if it's a mind thing," he said, "or something I have to get in my head."
Smith suggested it was a toughness thing, not only for Perry but for the Cats.
"We want to be physical, tough and smart," the UK coach said of his team's signature style. "We're none of those right now."
An Exhibit A: Smith cited Rondo's 19 rebounds.
"I don't think I've ever had a guard -- a point guard especially -- get 19 rebounds," he said. "You can see why we have trouble rebounding when our point guard is the leading rebounder in all three games."
Rekalin Sims, arguably UK's toughest player, scored a career-high 22 points. Rondo only scored five points, all coming after his rebound total reached 17.
Kentucky rode Sims and an inspired rebounding effort. Sims, who made one of seven three-point shots in the season's first two games, hit three within 90 seconds early inside the first four minutes. Two came from the top the key and one from the left corner as the junior college transfer surpassed his previous season high (11 points against South Dakota State) with 10:30 left and finished the first 20 minutes with 14 points.
Other than Sims, Kentucky struggled to put the ball in the basket. Sims made five of 11 shots. The rest of the Cats made five of 20 in the first half. Joe Crawford (five of 16 in first two games) made only one of six shots: a rebound putback. He came off the bench in the second half.
Rebounding kept Kentucky close. The Cats, who only outrebounded South Dakota State and Lipscomb by a collective one rebound last week, hit the boards hard. UK limited Iowa to only two offensive rebounds in the first half, and none in the final 18:22.
Iowa rebounded better in the second half. After trying all three of his 7-footers, Smith went to the small lineup.
It nearly won the game. But not quite.