Date story published: Wednesday, February 21, 2007
For a change, Kentucky was the team making the clutch play or the critical stop.
Once started, Kentucky had no off-switch on grace under pressure (as Hemingway defined courage). With the score tied inside the final five minutes, UK ran off 10 straight points en route to a 70-63 victory over Louisiana State last night.
Failures at crunch time had saddled Kentucky with a three-game losing streak. LSU, if anything, had been even worse in the clutch, having lost six games by a total of 23 points.
So Kentucky figured to get the best of it even if LSU star Glen "Big Baby" Davis had played.
"We made some stops," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "We made them take tough shots. We made our free throws. Some things we haven't been doing in time and score. Everybody was moving and finding the open man. That's what I liked. We were moving the ball better and running (the offense) inside-out."
Guard Ramel Bradley's driving layup gave Kentucky the lead for good at 60-58 with 4:44 left. LSU, which went scoreless for more than four minutes, fell steadily behind to the point of hopelessness.
After Randolph Morris, who led UK with 20 points, hit two free throws, Joe Crawford scored his first points of the game (on a driving layup along the baseline), to stretch the lead to 64-58. Baskets by Crawford and Bradley completed the 10-0 run.
LSU Coach John Brady lamented his team's missed shots around the basket, mishandled fast-break opportunities and one free-throw attempt in the second half.
"Despite all that, we were in a four- or five-minute game," he said. "That's all we could ask for.
"You have to congratulate Kentucky. (Jodie) Meeks made some big shots We haven't been able to be a team to do that."
Meeks equaled a career-high of 18 points. Morris led UK with 10 rebounds. Bradley added 16.
Kentucky, which snapped a three-game losing streak, improved to 19-8 overall and 8-5 in the Southeastern Conference.
LSU, which lost for the ninth time in the last 10 games, fell to 14-13 overall and 3-10 in the SEC. Tasmin Mitchell led LSU with 19 points.
Kentucky trailed 31-30 at halftime, and had to feel fortunate to be that close.
The Cats shot horribly throughout the half, the misses foiling the strategy of pressing early as a means of breaking fast from the gate. UK made only one of its first 12 shots, so no press and no avoidance of the team's habitual slow start.
Freshman Alex Farrer's third three-pointer of the season gave LSU a 16-6 lead with 11:15 left. The lead grew to as much as 28-12 with 6:48 left.
"We had some good looks," Smith said. "That's why I felt comfortable and felt good that we could get a win."
At that point, Kentucky had made only three of 17 shots. Morris made all three shots. In fact, no other Cat had a basket until Bradley hit a fast-break layup with 6:11 left.
"He was carrying the load for us," Smith said of Morris.
Bradley's basket was part of an 18-3 Kentucky run in the half's final 6:39.
Eight of those points came in the final 96 seconds. A technical foul on Brady with 1:36 left helped spur Kentucky.
Referee Mike Stuart teed up Brady after a 10-second call against LSU. That suggested Kentucky's press might have been effective had UK shot better.
"I'm 52," Brady said. "I started coaching at 21. ... Most times you get a technical for standing up or yelling or profanity. If I was standing up, they might have thrown me out."
Meeks made both technical free throws. Then he swished a three-pointer with 1:22 left to reduce Kentucky's deficit to 31-27.
In the second half, neither team led by more than six until the decisive final five minutes. A Meeks three-pointer gave UK a 46-40 lead with 15:14 left. LSU scored the next seven points to set the stage for a test of wills and execution down the stretch.
After crunch-time failures against Florida, Tennessee and Alabama in the last three games, UK fans probably held their breath.
"We kind of got over the hump," Bradley said.
But, as Smith noted, a larger hill stands straight ahead; Kentucky's game at Vanderbilt (6-0 in SEC play at home) on Sunday.
"It's going to take a much better effort at Vanderbilt to beat them," the UK coach said before adding, "We can build off this and do a lot of positive things."