Date story published: Wednesday, November 22, 2006
LAHAINA, Hawaii -- Kentucky tried mightily to be on the fun end of comeback in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
But the Cats fell tantalizingly short, losing 73-68 to UCLA last night.
UK (3-1) trailed 26-9 early. Then UK's freshmen led a rally that put the Cats ahead briefly in the second half. But No. 5 UCLA (3-0) made enough plays to advance to tonight's finals against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets trailed by 19 in the other semifinal game before beating Memphis 92-85.Kentucky, which plays No. 12 Memphis in today's third-place game, needed to rally from a 67-62 deficit with barely two minutes left.
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Joe Crawford, who led UK with 16 points, got the Cats closer by hitting a turnaround shot while being fouled. The three-point play got UK within 67-65 at the 2:02 mark.
Turnovers kept Kentucky at bay.
With a chance to tie it at 67, freshman Derrick Jasper had his feed into Randolph Morris stolen by Josh Shipp.
Then after a UCLA miss, the Cats got two more chances. The Bruins deflected another feed into Morris. After the resulting tie-up and alternate-possession arrow gave the ball to Kentucky, the Cats squandered the chance.
Ramel Bradley, who suffered through a dismal night, got tied up by UCLA point guard Darren Collison. Collison ripped the ball free and fed Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for a clinching dunk with 25.5 seconds left. Mbah a Moute led UCLA with 18 points.
That a dunk clinched the game seemed fitting. UCLA scored 50 points in the paint. That followed 52 points by DePaul the night before.
"We have to address our interior defense because people are scoring in the paint quite a bit. ..." UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "It starts in full-court. You've got to find people in transition because people are getting so many layups."
Kentucky never led in the first half against a UCLA team that showed superiority in athleticism and cohesion. The deficit got as large as 17 points (26-9) before UK's freshmen fueled a rally that narrowed the margin to 38-30 by halftime.
Freshmen accounted for all but five of Kentucky's first-half points. UK's veteran leaders -- Joe Crawford, Randolph Morris, Bobby Perry and Ramel Bradley -- made only two of 12 shots.
Bradley, the new point guard, stumbled badly in his nationally televised debut against a marquee opponent. And it started right from the start. He failed to connect on a post feed to Morris on Kentucky's first possession.
Then on UCLA's first possession, sophomore point guard Collison drove by Bradley for a floater.
With UCLA ahead 12-2, Smith replaced Bradley with freshman Derrick Jasper at the 16:09 mark.
The nadir came with less than nine minutes left. After UCLA widened its lead to 26-9, Bradley threw up an air-ball three-point attempt and Perry walked while attempting a putback.
But the Cats didn't quit.
"We just lost our intensity," Collison said of UK's comeback. "We're known for doing that. We did that a couple times against BYU," in the Bruins' opener.
UK's freshmen took advantage. A steal and fast-break layup by Jasper got the Cats within 28-18 at the 5:44 mark.
A Michael Porter three-pointer from the left corner reduced the deficit to 33-27 with 2:37 left. It was UK's first successful three-pointer of the game.
Two breaks helped UK's comeback. UCLA Coach Ben Howland kept Collison in the game after picking up his second foul. Sure enough, Collison got a third, so the Bruins were without their point guard for the final 5:18.
And Arron Afflalo, UCLA's leading scorer and all-conference guard, made only two of nine shots en route to a 5-for-18 shooting night (1-for-8 from three-point range).
"We won the game not shooting well," Howland said with pride. "That goes back to our philosophy of playing defense each and every possession."
As the second half began, Kentucky turned up the heat. Bradley, who started at shooting guard with Jasper at the point, hit two free throws to reduce the deficit to 40-37 with 17:15 left.
UCLA rushed in Collison, who had begun the half on the bench.
Seemingly making up for a lost first half, Kentucky's veterans led the charge. Three-pointers by Bradley and Crawford got UK even at 48 with 11:46 left.
UCLA took the lead for good when center Lorenzo Mata posted up for a basket with 4:58 left. It gave the Bruins a 61-59 lead.
Mata, who was 0-for-7 from the line this season, made two clutch free throws with 4:41 left to put UCLA in position to win. With 12 points and 11 rebounds, he had the first double-double of his career.