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UK BOTTLES UP BLAZERS' STARS

Date story published: Saturday, March 18, 2006

PHILADELPHIA -- Never mind the pedestrian expectations born from a season of struggle, Kentucky was still Kentucky. At least to Bobby Perry. He spoke of Final Four possibilities going into this NCAA Tournament.

Perry backed up those words with action last night. His 25 points led Kentucky to a 69-64 first-round victory over post-season nemesis UAB.

"That's got to be a career high," UAB Coach Mike Anderson said. It was, one of five personal bests Perry broke or equaled as Kentucky advanced to Sunday's second round, where Connecticut awaits the Cats.

"They're awesome," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "It'll take a major, major, a great effort on our part just to compete with them."

UConn looked anything but invincible in the first round, falling behind by 12 in the second half before rallying to a 72-59 victory over Albany. The UK-UConn game is scheduled to tip off at 2:30 p.m..

Perry scored 19 of his points in the second half. UK needed just about every one of those points in an otherwise cold-shooting night. The team's Renaissance Man (he acted in high school and plays piano) made six of 10 shots (three of four from three-point range). His teammates made 13 of 51 shots (25.5 percent) and two of 21 from beyond the arc.

Overall, UK's 31.1-percent shooting equaled the second-worst accuracy of the season (24.2 percent at Kansas was the worst).

"Certainly, if he hadn't done what he did, we wouldn't have won the game," Smith said.

Perry, who scored 24 total points in three Southeastern Conference Tournament games last week, mainly hit from the perimeter. His three second-half three-pointers equaled a career high. He also finished shots around the basket and set career highs with 10-for-10 shooting from the free-throw line.

"We knew they were foul prone," Perry said of his many trips to the line. "Their big guys go after a lot of shots."

UAB, which eliminated Kentucky from the NCAA Tournament in 1981 and 2004, finished the season at 24-7.

Paul Delaney led UAB with 13 points. The Blazers' leading scorer on the season, Marvett McDonald, who was hounded by Patrick Sparks, struggled, shooting 4-for-15 and finishing with 10 points.

Kentucky also contained Carldell "Squeaky" Johnson, UAB's ultra-quick point guard. He had two points.

Nor did Kentucky let the Blazers' pressure defense, which Johnson spearheads, affect the game. UK committed only eight turnovers (one in the second half).

"That was a big key," said Rajon Rondo, who did not have a turnover in 35 minutes even though he was nearly always guarded by Johnson, the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. "We broke their pressure with patience. They didn't make us play up-tempo like they wanted."

As a game between eight and nine seeds suggested, neither Kentucky nor UAB took charge in the first. The largest lead was six points with UK trying to exert its dominance inside and UAB using superior athleticism.

UAB had the early initiative. Kentucky made only two of its first 12 shots in falling behind 16-10. The Blazers outrebounded UK 7-1 to start the game and appeared capable of building a commanding lead.

Foul trouble slowed down UAB. With UK focused on getting the ball inside, UAB starting center Frank Holmes committed two fouls and went to the bench at the 15:28 mark. Backup Brandon Tobias went to the bench with three fouls at the 6:52 mark.

Kentucky reversed its early problems on the backboards. The Cats outrebounded UAB 25-21, meaning UK enjoyed a 24-14 advantage in the final 15 minutes of the first half. The Cats finished the game with 47 boards to the Blazers' 38.

A putback by Randolph Morris -- one of the team's 13 first-half offensive rebounds -- gave Kentucky its first lead, 21-19, with 7:30 left.

Another Morris layup gave the Cats their largest lead, 25-21.

UK's focus inside led to 14 free-throw attempts (or as many as the Cats had tried in 14 earlier games this season).

But 24.2-percent shooting (eight of 33) prevented Kentucky from taking charge. The starting backcourt of Rondo and Patrick Sparks combined to make two of 10 shots.

It was the first time that Kentucky won by shooting this poorly since Dec. 6, 2003, when the Cats beat UCLA 52-50, hitting only 27.1 percent from the floor.

UAB scored the last six points of the half to lead 33-30 at intermission.

Perry exploded early in the second half. After Rondo opened the half with a putback, Perry scored nine straight points. A three-pointer capped the personal run and put Kentucky ahead 41-37.

UAB did not back down.

Kentucky took the lead for good when Perry hit a three-pointer with 11:47 left.

The Cats never led by more than six points down the stretch.

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