Date story published: Wednesday, December 20, 2006
When the ball first came to him early in last night's game, Kentucky center Randolph Morris felt lonely and confused.
"I kind of hesitated because I was waiting for the trap to come," he said. "When it didn't come, I almost didn't know what to do." Morris figured it out, as his 23 points and career-high 13 rebounds suggested.
Kentucky rode Morris to a 74-60 victory over Santa Clara.
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While a winning streak reached a season-high four games, the Cats left Rupp Arena dissatisfied. Maybe because the goal -- improved offense -- eluded UK, which shot a season-low 41.3 percent. Other than Morris, Kentucky made only 16 of 45 shots (35.6 percent).
No one had to tell Joe Crawford that future opponents are likely to bring the trapping defense Morris has come to expect.
"We're not going to beat every team like this with just Randolph," Crawford said. "We're going to have to step it up and help him out."
Before the season, UK Coach Tubby Smith put the onus on veteran players to carry the load. Other than Morris, those players fizzled against Santa Clara. Ramel Bradley, Bobby Perry and Crawford shot a combined 6-for-24.
The nadir came with about seven minutes to go and Kentucky nursing a 54-49 lead. In a sequence reminiscent of last season's stagnant offense, Bradley bounced the ball seemingly endlessly, almost losing it when he attempted a between-the-legs dribble. Mercifully, he handed the ball off to Crawford, who also dribbled repeatedly as he searched in vain for space to drive.
Boos descended onto the Rupp Arena court.
"We can't let that get to us," Crawford said. "We have to bounce back just like Sheray (Thomas) did. We can't be worried about that. We know we're a good team. We're winning. We're not going to let that get us down."
Smith noted that emotional victories over Indiana and Louisville and final exams might have taken a toll. "We didn't seem as sharp early in the game," the UK coach said. "But I was pleased with the way we recovered."
While happy with the victories over rivals, Crawford said, "I thought we were a much better ballclub than both of them, and we didn't play like it."
Morris made sure Kentucky beat Santa Clara, which had its four players 6-foot-8 or taller take turns combating the UK center. "Randolph really carried the load," Smith said.
Morris scored half of UK's points in a first half that saw the Cats take a 30-28 lead into intermission.
"I was just out there having fun," he said, "and doing what I can do to help the team."
Late in the first half, Morris did a credible Rajon Rondo impersonation. Like the quicksilver point guard of the last two seasons, he knifed into a passing lane, stole the ball and raced -- OK, make that dribbled with purpose -- about three-fourths of the court to a fast-break layup.
"He taught me a couple things while he was here," Morris said of Rondo.
But, the big man conceded this play was out of character.
"It felt definitely different," Morris said. "I won't make it a habit. I was a little out of my element."
Thanks, in part, to the one-on-one coverage, Morris dominated around the basket with his trademark turnaround jumper. He also spun with purpose to the baseline for a nifty up and under layup and flipped in a pretty jump hook.
In the second half, Morris again showed the hustle he's incorporated into his game this season. Seven seconds after Santa Clara scored to reduce UK's lead to 60-52, he beat the Broncos' 6-foot-11, 305-pound John Bryant down court for a fast-break layup.
"I wouldn't say that's a new part of my game," Morris said. "I'm just doing it."
After his third double-double of the season (and fifth of his career), Morris was asked if any center in the country was doing it better.
"Possibly," he said. "I'm looking for all matchups, though. I'm looking for any matchup to prove to people I am the best center in America."
When the trapping defenses come, his teammates will have to prove they can be better complements.
"Right now, our offense is just OK," Morris said. "Once we find those next people to step up, that will make for an offense that's more potent."