Date story published: Sunday, December 10, 2006
With two defensive-minded teams seemingly at a crossroads, it didn't figure that Kentucky and Indiana would put on an offensive show yesterday.
Throw in a combined 5-for-36 three-point shooting in an intense rivalry, and you've got a test of wills decided by big men in an unforgiving piece of basketball real estate known by a pleasant-sounding misnomer: the lane.UK, which won 59-54, could be thankful it had Randolph Morris on its side.
Morris was the master of this game's defining domain, grabbing 10 rebounds and leading UK with 16 points in recording his second double-double of the season.
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None of his points were bigger than a basket with 5:58 left. The game was tied at 47, a six-point Kentucky lead erased in the previous 90 seconds.
After a timeout, UK went to Morris, who recognized the forming double-team, turned away from it to the baseline and hit a shot. Fouled on the play, Morris' three-point play gave the Cats the lead for good.
UK Coach Tubby Smith spoke of "clutch players" making such plays.
"Randolph is developing that mentality," Smith said. "Get it to me, and I'll deliver. And he did today."
Having tried more than once to make getting the ball to Morris a habit, Smith noted that Joe Crawford "took a second, third, maybe fourth look to get it into him."
Morris, whose double-double was the fourth of his career, discouraged talk of Kentucky rising or falling on his play. The Cats improved to 6-3 in only the third UK-IU game since 1965 in which neither team was ranked.
"I don't think it's a one-person team," he said. "There are many people who can step up."
If equality reigns, his teammates spoke of Morris as first among equals.
"He's my big man," guard Ramel Bradley said. "I think he's the best big man in the country."
When asked about Morris' three-point play, Bobby Perry said, "He's a pro, man. He can flat-out play. He can take anybody in the country."
Having come off outplaying ballyhooed North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough last week, Morris might be what Perry suggested.
Which raised a question: Why did Smith have to call a timeout with 6:12 left to remind the Cats to throw the ball to Morris.
"I don't need to be reminded," Perry said. "Every opportunity, I'm going to look for him. ... We all want to score. We all want to help the team. When we have an open shot, we want to do it."
D.J. White gave Indiana a counter to Morris. He equaled a career high of 23 points and kept the Hoosiers at the doorstep of victory.
Kentucky nearly squandered a 57-52 lead in the final 21/2 minutes. First, freshman Joey Shaw stripped Bradley of the ball and hit a layup to reduce the lead to 57-54.
Earl Calloway stripped Derrick Jasper of the ball on the next possession, but Jasper recovered by chasing down Calloway and blocking his fast-break layup attempt.
Indiana, which fell to 5-3, got several chances to get closer but didn't score after Shaw's layup in a gritty contest that IU Coach Kelvin Sampson called a "possession game."
Defense, fittingly, won it for UK, which limited Indiana to 4-for-25 shooting from three-point range and a season-low 30.6 percent from the floor.
"In a game like this, you have to find a way to win," Smith said. "We had to overcome our turnovers. You have to put so much into the defensive end of it."
Only each team's center managed to exhibit offensive prowess in the first half. White made seven of 11 shots and scored 15 points for Indiana. His teammates made four of 23 shots. For the game, White made 10 of 19, his teammates 12 of 53 (22.6 percent).
In contrast to the 13-for-26 three-point shooting against Chattanooga, Kentucky made only one shot in seven attempts from beyond the arc in the first half. Jodie Meeks hit with 1:04 left. That was the only trey UK made in 11 attempts.
Throughout the game, Morris was a steadying influence.
"Randolph is one of the better big men in the country," Smith said. "I really like his (statistical) line."
Morris equaled a career high of four blocks, which he also got against Chattanooga on Tuesday. And he logged a career-high 37 minutes.
"That shows me he's developing that stamina, that endurance, that consistent play," Smith said.
But being a coach, Smith noted how Morris (and UK) will improve: "If we can get him some more touches."