Date story published: Sunday, February 10, 2008
Kentucky got floor leader and emotional heart Ramel Bradley back. Alabama played without space eater and stat monster Richard Hendrix.
Advantage Kentucky, which got a long-overdue break from the basketball gods on Saturday.
Bradley hit several big shots while Hendrix nursed a case of the flu in a Lexington hotel. UK beat Alabama 62-52.
Alabama compensated nicely for Hendrix, who leads the Southeastern Conference with 12 double-doubles this season. Sophomore Yamene Coleman's career-high 10 points helped the Tide enjoy a 16-13 first-half scoring advantage among the "bigs."
But, eventually, not having Hendrix hurt. That eventuality came in the second half when Kentucky's defense practically shut down Alabama.
With Bradley repeatedly hitting clutch three-pointers, then swishing nearly every free throw down the stretch, Kentucky eased to a fifth straight victory. The Cats improved to 12-9 overall and 6-2 in the SEC.
"Ramel Bradley made a big difference for them," Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said. "He's huge. He's one of those guys who can control the tempo and the flow of a game. When the ball's in his hands, it seems they relax and they're comfortable and they're confident. He made a difference."
As with the loss of Hendrix, the return of Bradley took time to affect the game early. Alabama scored the first five points and led 12-7 when UK Coach Billy Gillispie benched Bradley with 14:14 left in the first half.
"He was playing like that guy we used to see playing at the start of the year," Gillispie said. "Probably just happy to be out there.
"I felt Ramel was still suffering from post-concussion syndrome."
Bradley, who played 254 of 255 minutes in January, missed UK's turnover-filled victory at Auburn at mid-week after suffering a concussion at Georgia last weekend. He was already feeling puny because of a virus.
Bradley's presence translates into "a different level of confidence, not only for myself, but probably every Kentucky fan in here has a little more confidence," Gillispie said.
However, he said he pushed Bradley to be more assertive in getting teammates in the proper spots on the floor.
"He really believed this was the biggest game of the year," Bradley said of Gillispie. "He was a lot more intense. Every little thing was mattering and ticking him off."
Once he re-entered the game, Bradley made a difference. His back-to-back three-pointers helped the Cats eat up an early 23-15 deficit. UK had missed its previous seven three-point shots.
With UK nursing a 38-35 lead, Bradley hit the game's most memorable shot. The shot clock had wound down inside five seconds when Alabama blocked Patrick Patterson's attempt from the foul line. The rejection landed near Bradley, who swished a hurried three.
"One of those where you shake your head," Gottfried said. "It was a momentum-shot for them. A great hustle play on our part turns into a big-time three-point play for them. That's part of the game. That's the bounce of the ball."
After making the shot, Bradley froze in his follow- through for a moment. "I was holding my pose for the photographers," he said as he flashed his trademark smile.
That shot started a 19-7 UK run that settled matters.
"Those have the ability to deflate the defense," Gillispie said. "They played good defense for 34 seconds, and you luck one in. Our team played pretty decently at the end of the shot clock. We just need to play better for the first 34 seconds."
In the final three minutes, Bradley made five of six free throws to finish with 19 points. That made him 47-for-49 in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime this season.
Meanwhile, Alabama (13-11, 2-7) strained for every point. UK held the Tide to one basket (a fast-break layup by Mykal Riley off his steal) for nearly a nine-minute span. From the 16:14 mark to 4:01, Alabama had two baskets. The Tide shot 28 percent in the second half.
Hendrix, the fourth-best scorer in SEC games (19.0 ppg) and second-best shooter (61.4 percent), left a gaping hole.
"The ball goes to Richard so much in our offense," Gottfried said. "I thought, all in all, our guys did a good job (compensating for Hendrix, who told the coach at practice he couldn't play). You're not going to reinvent your game with one guy out."
The 52 points marked Alabama's lowest-scoring game since posting 45 against Georgia on Jan. 21, 2004.
"We just didn't score enough points," Gottfried said. "Fifty-two points is not going to win you many games. That's fairly obvious."