Date story published: Thursday, January 11, 2007
Seven minutes into the second half and only four Kentucky players had managed to put the ball in the basket from the floor.
Hardly. Four veterans led Kentucky to a 84-57 crunching of poor-shooting Auburn last night.
Before the season, UK Coach Tubby Smith tempered enthusiasm for his team's freshmen by noting that returning players would be the key to Kentucky's fortunes this season. This victory suggested that the Cats are in capable hands.
Senior Bobby Perry, plus juniors Joe Crawford, Randolph Morris and Ramel Bradley scored 41 of Kentucky's first 45 points. Except for a goaltend that gave freshman Derrick Jasper a basket in the first two minutes, no other UK player scored until freshman Jodie Meeks made two free throws with 4:14 left in the first half.
Senior Lukasz Obrzut's set shot from the foul line with 13 minutes left in the game was the first UK basket by a player other than this night's Fab Four.
"It's up to us, first, to come out there and beat up on the other team," said Crawford, who led UK with 21 points. "To lock up on the other team and make the offense flow.
"They stepped up," Smith said of the veterans. "The tone was set by Ramel with his defense. He was very active. He was energetic. He was enthusiastic. That was contagious."
Kentucky blocked seven shots (the most in a month) and held Auburn to season-low 27.9-percent shooting.
"We were focused and ready," Smith said. "We played with intensity. It was a good all-around effort."
UK, which improved to 13-3 overall and 2-0 in the Southeastern Conference, got 12 points each from Morris and Perry in the team's highest-scoring game since the Maui Invitational opener.
Bradley scored 18 in his ninth straight game in double digits. He also contributed career highs of 12 rebounds and seven assists while committing only one turnover in 36 minutes.
"The difference in the game was their guards," Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo said. "Bradley and Crawford were terrific. Bradley had a great game. He didn't turn the ball over. He took big shots. He got to the foul line. He's a smart player, a very smart player."
Kentucky never trailed in a first half that saw a steadily growing lead crest at 36-19. A combination of stout defense and veteran scoring gave the Cats their largest halftime lead since the 23-point cushion against Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 17.
In building its fifth double-digit halftime margin of the season, UK benefited from poor Auburn shooting. The Tigers, who broke out of a prolonged shooting slump in beating Vanderbilt last weekend, reverted to form.
After making its first shot, Auburn missed the next nine. That propelled the Tigers, who rank 11th in three-point accuracy and 12th in free-throw shooting among SEC teams, into a downward spiral that included misses on 13 of the first 16 shots and 17 of the first 22.
"Just atrocious," Lebo called his team's first half (22.6-percent shooting, two assists and 10 turnovers). "I think we missed five or six layup attempts in the first half and dug ourselves such a hole."
Unlike Kentucky, Auburn got little from its -- well, Auburn doesn't have veterans, so make it the leading scorers. The five Tigers with double-digit averages combined for 11-for-42 shooting (four of 17 from three-point range). Those players made five of 23 first-half shots.
Auburn's leading scorer, sophomore forward Korvotney Barber (13.4 points a game), got off only one first-half shot and scored a season-low four points.
Overall, UK's seniors and juniors accounted for 32 of the Cats 36 points in the first half.
The second half began with more of the same. With Crawford scoring the first nine points, the UK lead grew to as many as 21 points.
Auburn got no closer than 13. Freshman Kelvin Lewis threw a mild scare in Kentucky by making four of six three-point shots in the second half. Three came in a minute's span, which matched his season's total (3-for-12) coming into the game. Lewis, who was averaging 2.7 points and had scored 16 points all season, led Auburn with 14.
"We finished the game the right way," Smith said. "That's something we've been concerned with all year long. Tonight the guys kept their focus. When we substituted, our kids continued to play the right way."