Date story published: Sunday, January 13, 2008
Kentucky belatedly got a look at Billyball. It proved to be a lovely view.
UK beat No. 13 and previously unbeaten Vanderbilt 79-73 on Saturday. Though surprising as the first signature victory for new coach Billy Gillispie, it was how the Cats won that drew praise from their difficult-to-please boss.
Will. Competitiveness. Unity of purpose. Toughness. Kentucky finally displayed many of the things that Gillispie preaches. And UK needed them all to persevere in the program's first multiple-overtime home game since 1967.
It took two overtimes for UK to outlast the Commodores. It also took resolve. The Cats shook off the evaporation of a 16-point second-half lead, early deficits in each of the overtimes and the shock of tying baskets by Vandy in the final seconds of regulation and the first OT.
"The best thing about the game -- other than winning -- was we had the lead, they came back and tied it," Gillispie said. "They wanted to take it. We got another lead. They tied it up again.
"When you win a game like that, it says a lot of things about the toughness you're developing mentally because they never would give up."
Kentucky, which improved to 7-7 overall in this Southeastern Conference opener, took the lead for good when Joe Crawford scored on a goaltend by Vandy center A.J. Ogilvy with 3:33 left in the second overtime. Ogilvy, a freshman from Australia, appeared to revert to international rules, which allow a defender to swat away the ball as long as it's off the rim.
Crawford, who scored 17 points, started a run that saw UK score the game's final seven points. In that stretch, Vandy missed five shots and committed a turnover.
"I didn't think our shot selection in the second overtime was quite what I was looking for," Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings said before adding, "Our undoing in this game was the first 10 minutes. It wasn't the last 30 (pause) or 40, if you will."
Kentucky scored the first six points and established a 10-point margin inside the first 10 minutes. The Cats led by as much as 15 in the first half.
"They came out ready to play," Stallings said, "and we did everything we could in the first 10 minutes to accommodate them. Our team fought extremely hard after the first 10 minutes."
UK's performance, at least defensively and in terms of hustle, was close to seamless. The Cats limited Vandy to a season-low point total, dominated the backboards 45-23, allowed Vandy only four offensive rebounds, made 12 steals (most since getting 13 against Tennessee on March 11, 2005) and limited the transition-happy Commodores to two fast-break points.
"I don't know if there was a possession where we didn't compete today," Gillispie said. "That's what makes me most proud as a coach because you can't win on the very highest level without competing on every possession."
Shan Foster, whose 20 hard-earned points met his SEC leading average, credited Kentucky for doing what Gillispie wants: dictating with defense.
"They did a good job of pressuring us, denying passes, things of that sort, making us uncomfortable," Foster said. "We forced some shots we usually don't force."
It nearly all unraveled after UK's lead reached its zenith, 46-30, with 14:20 left in the second half. Foster scored 14 of his points thereafter. A combination of turnovers (the Cats matched a season high with 23) and almost exclusive reliance on Ramel Bradley for offense further tightened the score. Bradley took all but two of Kentucky's shots in the final 12 minutes of the second half and finished with 20 points.
Vandy, now 16-1, tied it at 65 with 14.6 seconds left when Foster hit a high-arcing three-pointer from the left side.
After Kentucky failed to get off a potential winning shot, Crawford trudged to the bench. "My first reaction was, I was a little mad and frustrated," he said, "because I thought the game should be over. Ramel made me realize it's still a game and we still have to win."
Ogilvy's free throw 14 seconds into overtime gave Vandy its first lead. Patrick Patterson's putback, one of UK's 17 offensive rebounds, put the Cats ahead 72-69 with barely a minute left. Patterson led UK with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Victory seemed within reach when Kentucky blocked two shots in the final seconds. But Ogilvy's putback off the second rejection tied it with 1.8 seconds left. That was Vandy's only second-chance points. UK had 18.
Gillispie said rebounding and free throws (the Cats had 11 more than Vandy, which came in having made more foul shots than the opposition attempted) were the "big deciding factors."
Calling the victory "a huge relief," Patterson saw significance in how Kentucky won.
"This is the way we should have been playing the entire year," he said. "We should have been playing like this from day one."