Date story published: Thursday, March 1, 2007
For four years, critics have carped about the quality of Kentucky's current senior class.
Fact is, Bobby Perry, Sheray Thomas and Lukasz Obrzut will not go down in the annals of UK hoops for stellar careers.
But few Wildcats have ever done Senior Night as right as Perry.
On the night when My Old Kentucky Home fills Rupp Arena in the traditional pre-game tribute to departing seniors, Perry scored UK's first seven points en route to a season-high 22 points as UK whipped Georgia 82-70 last night.
It was the most points for the 6-foot-8 forward from Durham, N.C., since he had back-to-back games of 25 (vs. Alabama-Birmingham) and 20 (vs. Connecticut) last year in the NCAA Tournament.
The win allowed Kentucky (20-9, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) to move into a tie with Tennessee for third place in the SEC East.
In a week that began with fan criticism of UK Coach Tubby Smith after a close loss at Vanderbilt and also featured an ambiguous statement about Smith's future from UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, the Kentucky team responded with an energetic effort.
Ramel Bradley added 18 points and Randolph Morris 17 for Kentucky. Terrance Woodbury led Georgia with 18.
In years past, many Kentucky seniors have been so emotional during the senior send-off they can't get their game faces on.
Not so for Perry. "You know, I really didn't feel any different," he said of his pre-game emotions. "It probably won't hit me until next year, when I'm watching a game in here and I'm not part of it."
Perry began as if he were going to set a new Senior Night scoring record in the first half.
After Georgia took a 2-0 lead on a dunk by Takais Brown, the UK senior ran off seven straight. Perry hit a three-pointer, then cashed two of three free throws after getting fouled on a three-point attempt. The Cats led 7-2 when Perry scored on a follow of a Derrick Jasper airball at 16:16.
"When he hit that first three, I knew he was going to be on tonight," Obrzut said. "I knew one of us would have a big night. It was Bobby."
Yet, even with Perry's quick start, the Wildcats didn't open daylight between them and a short-handed Georgia (playing without injured starter Mike Mercer and suspended starter Levi Stukes) until just before the half.
Playing a big role in getting Kentucky going was Jasper.
With Georgia leading 20-17, Jasper found fellow freshman Jodie Meeks for a three-pointer. Next, the 6-foot-6 Californian assisted on three straight Morris goals in the lane.
Morris returned the favor only 45 seconds before halftime, hitting a cutting Jasper for a layup off a nifty bounce pass. Fouled, the freshman guard hit the free throw to give Kentucky a 31-28 lead.
When Perry drained a three with 5.1 seconds to go in the half, it sent Kentucky into the locker room with a 34-28 lead.
"He's going to be a really good point guard for the Wildcats," Perry said of Jasper. "It's just a matter of time before he gets comfortable and finds himself. He sees the floor really well at his size."
The late first-half momentum continued for UK into the second. The Cats opened with a 10-4 run to take a 44-33 lead as Perry scored five points. Georgia was never closer than eight the rest of the way.
"Bobby was being as aggressive as I've ever seen him," said Georgia Coach Dennis Felton. "They're obviously harder to guard when he's feeling it."
With Perry (8-for-12, 4-for-7 from three-point range) leading the way, Kentucky shot 58.8 percent (30-for-51) for the game. The Wildcats also hit 58.1 percent in their Sunday loss at Vanderbilt.
"We had better ball movement tonight," Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith said. "We've been working very hard on ball movement."
UK had 21 assists on its 30 field goals.
As for Perry's classmates, Bradley gave the Rupp Senior Night crowd what it wanted to see -- an Obrzut basket -- by hitting the Polish big man for a dunk off a pick-and-roll with 16:55 left in the game.
Obrzut finished his final game in Rupp with four points. The third UK senior, Sheray Thomas, failed to score but grabbed four rebounds.
"I was very proud of our seniors," Smith said. "They've been a big part of a lot of wins here at Kentucky."
Bobby Perry made sure one of those came on Senior Night.