Date story published: Friday, March 9, 2007
ATLANTA -- When Kentucky lost at Alabama last month, Randolph Morris committed a career-high eight turnovers and said his head wasn't in the game.
"I tried to get rid of that, that bad notion, by coming out and playing aggressively," Morris said after leading Kentucky to a 79-67 victory over Alabama yesterday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Morris' head was in the rematch. So was his heart, his spirit and his spleen.
The same could be said of all the Kentucky players. An all-out effort -- combined with heady play -- propelled the Cats into today's quarterfinals game against Western Division co-champion Mississippi State.
Morris scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to post his fourth double-double since Jan. 6. He joked about his motivation. "It must have been the Wheaties I ate this morning," he said with his deadpan delivery. "It gave me some energy."
Joe Crawford suggested another, more personal, reason.
"He's getting tired of people looking over him," he said. "He doesn't get much national 'pub.' "
While UK Coach Tubby Smith might frown on individuality, surely he allowed for an exception in this case. With Alabama boasting not one, but two All-SEC second-team big men in Richard Hendrix and Jemareo Davidson, UK needed Morris fully engaged.
"He was a monster ... ," teammate Bobby Perry said of Morris. "He sold himself short down at Alabama (15 points and seven rebounds marred by the turnovers). He had something to prove."
Alabama got in the first proverbial punch, the subject of much pre-game chatter. The Tide hit eight of their first 14 shots in zipping to a 21-11 lead.
"Coach stayed positive," said Ramel Bradley, who also had 17 points, plus only two turnovers in 37 minutes. " 'OK, they hit us. We've got to counter. We can't let up.' "
Countered only begins to describe how Kentucky reacted. The Cats outscored Alabama 24-6 the rest of the half to take a 35-27 lead at intermission.
Defense and remembering about Morris as an offensive threat fueled the turnaround.
In falling behind early, Kentucky missed 12 of its first 15 shots. Five of UK's first seven shots were from beyond the arc.
After the first television timeout, Kentucky made a greater effort to get the ball to Morris. He delivered nine first-half points.
"The main reason the threes were going up was because they were keying on the post so much," Morris said. "I looked up one time and I was triple-teamed."
His scoring seemed to inspire Morris at the defensive end.
After taking the 21-11 lead, who knew that Alabama would make only two more shots the rest of the half? In that time, Kentucky reeled off runs of 13 straight points (four three-pointers included a Bradley trey with the shot clock buzzing) and 11 straight (threes by Bradley and freshman Jodie Meeks the spark).
Alabama closed within four, 37-33, early in the second half. Back-to-back postup baskets by Morris kept Kentucky ahead.
Later, after Alabama narrowed the lead to 52-47, Kentucky scored the next nine points. Bradley got the first five.
During the regular season, Kentucky struggled to shake opponents. With star point guard Ronald Steele unable to play much after the first half, Alabama proved more submissively. UK extended its lead to as much as 18 points. The Tide got no closer than 10.
"It's very important that we show teams we are a strong team," Bradley said. "We're going to be coming with it all post-season."
Crawford, who chipped in 16 points, took satisfaction in UK not allowing Alabama to get any closer than 10 points of the Cats.
"We showed all year we can play with these teams," he said. "March is the time to show we can beat anyone."
Kentucky (21-10) wondered aloud about all the teams it can beat with a fully engaged Morris.
Even Morris wondered about that.
"If I can be tough all tournament, I think we'll have a favorable outcome."
And, Morris said, he packed plenty of Wheaties.
"A closet full," he said. "That will last me four days."