Date story published: Saturday, March 11, 2006
NASHVILLE -- Kentucky's 68-61 victory yesterday proved that inconsistency -- both individually and collectively -- has its charm.
The Cats made only four of its first 25 shots. Then the same UK team also scored on 11 straight trips downcourt to erase an 11-point deficit in the final seven minutes.
So, Kentucky's advance to today's Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals typified a season of chutes and ladders.
Never miss a local story.
That experience made the painfully slow start against Alabama easier to shake off.
"A lot easier," Brandon Stockton said. "We know we're going to have down moments. We know we're going to shake them off and make a move."
UK (21-11) today will play South Carolina, which yesterday beat Eastern Division champion Tennessee 79-71.
UK Coach Tubby Smith credited his team's greater depth as the key factor.
"The game plan was to try to wear them down, fatigue them," he said. "The pressure that we were placing on them, it's sort of cumulative. You're not jumping as high. The shots are shorter."
Alabama (17-12) could not argue. The Tide had much the better of it early in each half, and they built a 58-47 lead with 6:17 left.
But Alabama didn't score in the final 4:28 of the first half and, most decisively, the final 4:15 of the game when eight straight shots clanked off the rim.
"We are who we are," said Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried, whose point guard, Ronald Steele, played 39 minutes, the first time in 10 games he hadn't gone from tipoff to final buzzer. "We don't have a lot of depth."
Two players improbably sparked the turnaround.
Rekalin Sims' first three-pointer since the Kansas game (Jan. 7) started a 13-2 run that gave UK a 23-22 lead. Sims finished with eight points after having scored just 16 against SEC teams all season.
Shagari Alleyne, who had scored only four points against SEC teams this season, scored five in the final three minutes of the half. Maybe more importantly, he blocked two shots and altered several others. That compensated for a foul-plagued Randolph Morris. It also abruptly blunted an Alabama inside attack that got center Jermareo Davidson (who torched UK with 28 points in Rupp Arena) nine points in the first 12 minutes. He finished with 15.
Alleyne figured in a fluky play that gave UK a 23-22 halftime lead. Inbounding with 3.4 seconds left, the Cats hoped to free Patrick Sparks for a three-point shot. But Alabama had the play covered, so UK switched to "Play Five" for Alleyne. Stockton threw the inbounds above the rim from near mid-court. Alleyne deflected the pass off the glass to -- ta-da -- Alleyne standing in front of the rim.
His dunk signaled the planets were aligned for Kentucky.
Led by freshman Alonzo Gee, Alabama struck back. Gee scored 18 points in a span of less than eight minutes to give the Tide its largest lead, 58-47, with 6:17 left.
Then the charming side of inconsistency again favored Kentucky. Sparks had missed his first six shots and did not score until 10:01 remained in the game. But that first basket, a NBA-length three-pointer, turned on the spigot from which he drenches opponents with shot-making.
Ten more points (including two more three-pointers) flowed from Sparks to get Kentucky close.
"There are little things in your mechanics you can do during a game," Sparks said of his off-on switch. "But shooting is mostly mental.
"I thought it was what our team needed. I just needed to make one."
Bobby Perry, whose 13 points matched his most since the Liberty game on Nov. 25, scored nine inside the final six minutes.
His floater in the lane put the Cats ahead 63-61 with 1:15 left. Afterward, Perry acknowledged how improvisation produced the go-ahead basket.
"I was looking inside for Randolph," he said. "I saw the lane open. While I was in the air, I was still looking to pass the ball."
Perry hopped off the wrong foot -- his left foot -- as he put up a one-handed shot.
"I laid it up as soft as I could," he said. "I was thinking maybe we'd get an offensive rebound."