Date story published: Wednesday, November 29, 2006
A Joe hadn't been off his feet so many times in succession since George Foreman repeatedly pounded Smokin' Joe Frazier to the canvas in Jamaica in 1973.
Yet down went Kentucky guard Joe Crawford not once, but twice in diving efforts to retrieve the loose ball he created with pressure defense. He cashed in on his second effort when he secured the ball and fed it to Randolph Morris for a layup.Thus, Kentucky's 77-61 victory over College of Charleston last night had its signature moment. That was the punctuation on a game that showed all the effort UK paid to defense since returning from Maui had paid off.
"I did try to challenge Joe," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. " 'You have to be one of our best defenders. That's one of the reasons we recruited you. Let's step it up.'
"I think he accepted the challenge. That tells me a lot of his leadership and commitment. That's the type of effort we need."
UK (4-2) smoked Charleston with defense, maybe to the point of detracting from its own offense. The Cats missed their first eight shots and threatened to snap their streak of games with at least one three-point basket.
Kentucky missed its first seven attempts before -- you guessed it -- Crawford swished a shot from beyond the arc with 10:05 left to extend the streak to 616 games (third longest active streak).
But, surely to Smith's delight, most of the talk afterward was about defense. Most noticeably, Kentucky held Charleston to 20 points in the paint after giving up 146 in three games in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
"We got just what we wanted and the things that we worked on," Smith said.
The UK coach listed the areas of improvement: better defensive positioning, taking charges, more aggression in defending screens and greater attention to the scouting report. The Cats limited Charleston's leading scorer, guard Dontaye Draper, to 4-for-14 shooting and 15 points (six less than his average of 21.4 and down dramatically from the 59 he scored in the two most recent games).
"I wanted to come in here and play a competitive game," Charleston's famous coach, Bobby Cremins, said. "I don't think we accomplished that."
Crawford, who equalled a career high of two steals while chipping in with 15 points, welcomed the challenge he got from Smith.
"I only had eight deflections coming into this game," he said. "He challenged me to get more ball pressure. He says that's why he recruited me."
His signature moment came after a sluggish first half that saw Kentucky not reach double figures until a Ramel Bradley jumper with 8:29 left. That shot came during one of the quietest 17-0 runs seen in Rupp Arena. The spurt, which took more than five minutes to slowly unfold, put UK ahead 23-11.
Any possibility of Charleston (3-3) rallying from a 27-15 halftime deficit faded quickly.
With the UK lead at 35-17, a pressing Crawford separated the ball from his man barely past the top of the key. Both dived simultaneously for the loose ball. It squirted away. Crawford had much the quicker second dive to the ball, and then from the floor he fed Morris for a layup.
Rather than drink up the applause, Crawford preferred to suck oxygen on the bench less than a minute later.
"I was dead tired after that," he said. "Coach asked me if I wanted to come out. I said, 'Yeah.' "
Crawford, who wanted to play so badly as a freshman that he tried to transfer after the fall semester, acknowledged how unusual it was for him to voluntarily come out of a game.
"I never say that," he said.
The play and the game capped a period of intense concentration on defense. Besides an entire practice devoted to defense, the players noted that Smith gave them a quiz before Monday's practice.
"On the fundamentals of defense ... ," said Morris, who led the Cats with 17 points. "Coach always alludes to the fact you get grades in basketball just as you do in class."
Morris gave the Cats a B-plus, the offensive struggles early taking away the possibility of an A.
Crawford thought he did well on the test. "I think I got a hundred," he said.
Against Charleston, he and the Cats put their knowledge to practical use.