Date story published: Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Until Tuesday night's 72-66 victory over No. 3 Tennessee, Kentucky had not beaten such a highly ranked team in almost five years. But it was how UK beat the Vols that pleased Coach Billy Gillipsie.
"The way it happened was perfect," Gillispie said.
A roster full of contributors and a one-for-all sacrifice ruled a rocking Rupp Arena as Kentucky gutted out an improbable victory against its neighbor-state rival.
Gillipsie noted how senior Joe Crawford asked out of the game because of a sore foot even though he'd just made two three-pointers to cap a rally from a 10-point second-half deficit.
Perry Stevenson, who had scored eight points in three previous Southeastern Conference games, added only the fifth double-digit scoring performance of his career. He scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked five shots to give the Cats an effective playmate for freshman Patrick Patterson around the basket.
Patterson, whom Gillispie called "a force," scored 20 points, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and blocked three shots.
Although Ramel Bradley's streak of 20-point games ended at six, he didn't mind. "We got the 'W,' " he said after scoring 16 points, which included eight free throws in the final 90 seconds after Tennessee tied it at 60.
Oft-sidelined Jodie Meeks and Derrick Jasper shook off slow starts to contribute 11 points and one turnover in a combined 40 minutes.
"The guys figured it out," Gillispie said of Meeks and Jasper. "It's a 40-minute game. They're going to be as tough as anybody they play no matter the situation for 40 minutes."
Kentucky, which improved to 8-9 overall and 2-2 in the SEC, hadn't beaten such a highly ranked team since a 69-67 victory at No. 3 Florida on March 8, 2003.
Tennessee, which was playing its third game in six days, fell to 16-2 overall and 3-1 in the league.
"Kentucky was the more passionate team," Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl said before adding, "It's hard to imagine Tennessee not coming to Rupp with all the passion and poise. But it's been a difficult stretch for us. I think (games on) Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday showed a little bit."
UK held Tennessee to two baskets from the 13:37 mark of the second half until Kentuckian Chris Lofton made two three-pointers in the final 12.1 seconds.
Lofton led the Vols with 22 points. His five three-pointers gave him 367, one more than Arkansas guard Pat Bradley's SEC career record. "It doesn't mean anything," Lofton said. "I'd rather have the win."
Bradley's defense played a big part in denying Tennessee the victory. He held Lofton scoreless in the first 17 minutes of the second half.
"Ramel has a lot of pride," Stevenson said. "Chris Lofton comes in here and gets cheers. I don't think (Bradley) liked it very much. It was on his agenda to not let him come in here and do what he wanted to do."
Tennessee trailed for only 20 seconds in the first half. And a 36-30 halftime deficit did not bode well for UK, which had been 0-7 when trailing at intermission.
Perhaps Tennessee's greater depth played a part in a late spurt. After UK closed within 24-23 on a pretty play (Patterson's touch pass gave Stevenson a dunk), the Vols scored nine straight points to take their largest first-half lead, 33-23.
An intentional foul against Jasper contributed to Tennessee's mini-run. After Ramar Smith intercepted Bradley's pass, Jasper prevented the UT player from converting on the fast break.
UK fans booed the call, which resulted in a four-point trip for the Vols. Smith made both free throws. Then on the ensuing possession, JaJuan Smith (no relation) took an inbounds pass and hit a layup.
Lofton, who contributed a three-pointer in that run, nailed the half's final shot. After Stevenson's two free throws completed his 10-point half and closed the deficit to 33-30, Tennessee set up for the final shot. It came from Lofton in front of the UK bench. His high-arcing shot swished.
Lofton finished the half with 14 points, which was more than he'd scored in any of the six most recent games.
Stevenson, who hadn't reached double-digits since getting 10 against Indiana on Dec. 8, had 10 in the first half. Three dunks, a foul-line jumper and those two late free throws accounted for his points.
The half saw the end of Bradley's streak of consecutive minutes played. He left the court for Jasper with 4:13 left. That marked the first time this month that Bradley left a game and snapped the minutes streak at 191.
"It didn't feel that good," Bradley said of sitting. "I wanted to get back in the game."