Date story published: Sunday, February 4, 2007
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- His Cheshire cat smile in place, Ramel Bradley dribbled the ball near midcourt as the final seconds of Kentucky's 82-74 victory at Arkansas ticked off the clock yesterday. He bounced on his toes and, as the final horn sounded, he cuffed a hand around his right ear as if to ask the student section how it felt about a UK victory about as unlikely as it was sweet.
The silence must have been golden.
Trailing by 14 points with barely 16 minutes left, the Cats rode three-point shooting and energetic defense to victory.
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In his audacious 76-trombone way, Bradley led the charge as Kentucky improved to 17-5 overall and 6-2 in the Southeastern Conference. He scored 22 of his career-high 24 points after Arkansas seemingly seized this game by the throat with a 45-31 lead.
Not so fast, said the irrepressible Bradley, whose second-half scoring impressed his teammates.
"It blew my mind when they told me he had 22 in the second half," Joe Crawford said. "I knew he was hitting some shots, but I didn't know he had that many."
UK Coach Tubby Smith acknowledged that one particular Bradley shot stretched his mind.
It came with 3:27 left and the Cats clinging to a 63-60 lead. Moments earlier, UK had completed a 32-10 run. Poof, a 45-31 Arkansas lead became a 63-55 Kentucky advantage. During that run, Bradley hit three of his four second-half three-pointers. In the previous three games, he'd had only three treys (in 20 attempts).
But when you're hot, you're hot. Bradley blunted Arkansas' rally by hitting an NBA-length three-pointer early in the possession.
"He plays on momentum a lot of time," Smith said of Bradley. "He energizes the team. When he makes shots like that, I can see that he lifted (the team). Certainly, he lifted my spirits because I was ready to say, 'Hey, buddy,' if he missed it. But he made it."
Anger and a hometown rivalry fueled Bradley's big half.
The anger came from a seesaw first half that saw Kentucky ahead 26-18 before trailing 35-30 at the break.
"I was a little angry going into halftime," said Bradley, who made only one of four shots in the first half. "I felt we let them back into it. We let the crowd back into it."
During halftime, Bradley vented.
But, as Randolph Morris noted, no one told Bradley to shoot more. "Does Ramel ever need anybody to tell him that?" the UK big man said. "It was all internally."
The rivalry was with Arkansas point guard Gary Ervin, like Bradley a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. The two jawed at each other all afternoon.
"I'm the king of Brooklyn now," a smiling Bradley said. "He's a great friend. We're almost like family. I knew there would be a lot of bragging rights coming into this game."
Bradley began earning his crown by hitting his first three-pointer with 16:21 left. That began the process of reducing the 14-point Arkansas lead.
Kentucky sped the process by going small and pressing, a move that yielded a five-second call and a panicked timeout in back-to-back possessions.
"They put a little bit of pressure on us and we didn't handle it well," Arkansas Coach Stan Heath said. "That got the momentum going. Once it got going, it was hard to stop."
Heath had no such complaint about how Arkansas tried to defend Bradley.
"He made timely, timely shots that were huge," the Arkansas coach said. "It's kind of unexpected that he kind of rose up and shot those. You don't anticipate them going in."
Or as freshman Patrick Beverley, who led the Razorbacks with 25 points, said, "He was taking greatly deep shots."
After shooting Kentucky to the lead with an improbable string of shots, Bradley used the rock-solid part of his game to seal the victory: He made eight straight free throws in the final 75 seconds.
"As he goes, we go," freshman Jodie Meeks said. "He's our energy guy."
The brains of UK's outfit acknowledged how he contrasted with Bradley's emotional approach.
"I don't coach emotionally," Smith said. "We want to play the game under control. That's Ramel. That's what he has to do to get his game together. I don't think everybody's waiting for Ramel to start jumping up and down and making shots. ...
"For Ramel, that's just part of his personality and demeanor. The guys, fans, everybody else likes it. Me, I just want you to do your job. I don't care how you do it. Stand on your head. Just do your job."