Date story published: Wednesday, January 17, 2007
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- With 16:14 left in the second half, Kentucky guard Joe Crawford rose for a three-point shot. It missed.
"Finally," a South Carolina fan muttered.
During Kentucky's 87-49 victory here last night, it was easy to hear fan discontent. The many empty seats made each utterance easy listening. And UK's most lopsided victory since a 40-point beating of Ole Miss last Feb. 22 dampened what enthusiastic noise the fans mustered.
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Crawford led the way in silencing the Colonial Center. He scored 21 points in the game's first 21 minutes (and three seconds). Only UK Coach Tubby Smith's compassionate substitutions kept Crawford from doing more than equalling his career high of 23 points and saved South Carolina from absorbing an even-more lopsided defeat in a season of blowout losses.
When asked about the career high that could easily have been, Crawford smiled and said, "Hopefully, I can get my career high against Florida."
He paused, then added, "I shouldn't have said that."
That marked one of the few faux pas on a night Kentucky administered the second-worst beating in its 45-game series with South Carolina. Only a 126-81 UK victory in 1980 was by a larger margin. The Cats' 62.5-percent shooting marked the program's best accuracy since a 64.2-percent night against Eastern Kentucky in December, 2003. UK limited South Carolina to season-low 26.8-percent shooting (5-for-26 in the second half).
One more statistic to mull: for the second straight game, South Carolina suffered its most lopsided home loss since 1915 (a 64-11 loss to Wake Forest).
In extending a sizzling shooting start to this Southeastern Conference season, Crawford made nine of 12 shots (three of five from three-point range). That made the junior guard from Detroit 29-for-46 (and 13-for-19 on threes) in four league games. That meant Crawford has made an unworldly 63 percent of his shots (68.4 percent from beyond the arc) against SEC teams so far this season.
"I don't want to hear about percentages," he said. "It's bad luck."
Randolph Morris, who supported Crawford with his eighth double-double of the season (17 points and 11 rebounds), did not try to hide his astonishment at Crawford's recent shooting.
"It's crazy," the UK center said, "because usually somebody shooting that high a percentage might be a center or power forward."
Ramel Bradley, who chipped in with five three-pointers (one shy of a career high) and 15 points, credited Crawford for setting the tone that propelled newly minted No. 25 Kentucky to its 11th straight victory. The Cats improved to 15-3 overall and 4-0 in the SEC.
"He's unconscious right now," Bradley said of Crawford. "He's in a zone. When a player's in that zone, you never want to get him out of it."
South Carolina, which had lost its previous three games by an average margin of 24.7 points, fell to 10-6 overall and 0-3 in the league. Point guard Tre' Kelley led the Gamecocks with 19 points. Other than Kelley, the Gamecocks made only eight of 44 shots (18.2 percent).
Crawford's 17 first-half points propelled Kentucky to a 37-27 lead at intermission. He started from the perimeter, hitting his first three three-point attempts. Those shots, which came in the first 6:08, left Crawford only one shy of a career high for treys.
"I was forced to," Crawford said in almost apologizing for the early three-pointers. "I had to hit the shots."
UK Coach Tubby Smith credited Morris. "Randolph commanded a lot of (defensive) attention," he said. "That's why the perimeter guys got a lot of open looks."
Crawford's shooting was contagious. Bradley made a three-point shot that first bounced off the front of the rim and then the glass before going in. It was part of a 6-for-11 shooting half from beyond the arc for Kentucky.
Crawford took only two more three-point shots the rest of the game.
Any lingering doubt about the outcome vanished early in the second half.
Rather than begin the half with the customary pass into Morris near the basket, the Cats set up a play for Crawford.
"He was the hot hand," Smith said.
Crawford drove the baseline for the half's first basket, then hit a pull-up for UK's second score. That gave him 21 points (on 8-for-10 shooting) with 18:57 left.
Barely a minute later, Kentucky again showed how this was its night. Crawford fumbled the ball as he rose for a shot and awkwardly pushed it cross-court to Bradley, who swished a three-pointer.
Bradley credited extra shooting the starters got in earlier in the week.
Crawford mentioned South Carolina's downward spiral of a season.
"We didn't want to be the team to lose to them," he said.
Smith increased his victory total as an SEC coach (45 for Georgia and 256 for UK). That put him fifth on the career list. Tied for third and fourth are former UK Director of Athletics C.M. Newton (Alabama and Vanderbilt) and Harry Rabenhorst (LSU) with 340 victories.
The top two coaches on the list are Kentucky's Adolph Rupp (875) and LSU's Dale Brown (448).