Date story published: Sunday, December 31, 2006
Eastern Kentucky did not allow Kentucky to ease back into basketball after a holiday break. When freshman Josh Daniel hit a three-pointer with four minutes left, the Colonels trailed by only six points.
Fittingly, Ramel Bradley countered.Bradley's three-pointer 28 seconds later eased UK toward a 78-65 victory yesterday. As he retreated on defense, Bradley formed a triangle with his hands to signal ... what exactly?
"He's sure everybody knows what that means," teammate Bobby Perry said with an I-knew-I-was-right smile. "I told him out of 23,000, that 50 might know."
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The triangle is a reference to fellow-Brooklynite Jay-Z and the rapper's 2000 CD The Dynasty: Roc La Familia.
Bradley's sign language reaffirmed that Kentucky would use an all-for-one approach (i.e. familia) to "roc" EKU and continue to be a dynasty this season.
"I want to bring that team concept to our basketball team," he said after starring at both ends of the floor.
Bradley scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half to help Kentucky distance itself from an EKU team that used execution, willpower and freshman Adam Leonard's three-point shooting to threaten the Cats.
Bradley might have made an even bigger impression on defense. He made a career-high five steals and, more importantly, answered associate coach David Hobbs' request for shut-down defense on Leonard.
"Coach Hobbs asked him, 'Can you handle him? Do you want him?' " UK Coach Tubby Smith said. Bradley answered yes and yes.
"He's a very energetic guy," Smith said of Bradley. "He rises to the challenge."
When asked when Hobbs posed the questions, Bradley smiled and said, "After he (Leonard) scored that last point, I think."
Leonard, a 6-foot point guard from Lee's Summitt, Mo., did not score in the final 14:20. In that span, he got off only one shot: a heavily contested driving layup that missed (his only miss in a 20-point afternoon).
In the movie Hoosiers, Gene Hackman calls for better defense by telling a player he wants the defense so tight the defender will know what brand of gum the scorer is chewing.
"He wasn't chewing any gum," Bradley said of Leonard. "He hit some tough shots even when guys contested him. I didn't want to give him any room at all."
Kentucky and Bradley did most of their missing in the first half. The Cats made only four of their first 16 shots. Thereafter, UK made 25 of 40 with center Randolph Morris making eight of his final 10 in equaling a career-high 25 points.
Kentucky (10-3) went on to make 51.8 percent of its shots. But the Cats failed to make a three-pointer in the first half for the third time this season. This time the first 20 minutes saw 0-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc.
Rebound dominance (24-11 in the first half and 38-26 for the game) enabled Kentucky to lead 34-28 at halftime.
Led by Bradley, Kentucky made six of nine three-point attempts in the second half.
Bradley made UK's first three-pointer with 16:11 left. It widened the lead to 43-39. It started him toward a 4-for-4 second half from beyond the arc and symbolized Bradley's philosophy of shaking off the bad times in his roller-coaster season.
"I put in my mind, I'm still on fire," he said of following an 0-for-3 first half from three-point range with four second-half treys. "When you think like that, you're going to make shots. If you're thinking, 'Ah, man, I'm not hitting,' you're thinking too much. It's going to hurt you."
After making that first three, Bradley followed with an inspiring defensive play. He jumped up and blocked his man's pass inside, then reached the deflected ball with a diving effort. Still on his back, he fed Morris for a fast-break layup.
"He's really focused," Smith said of Bradley. "We need that effort and I saw that ... diving on the floor and giving that special effort. Because he had to raise his level of intensity to stay with Adam. And he did that. I think the guys feed off that because he is such a vocal and energetic leader."