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UK's 'backbone' repels Razorbacks

Date story published: Sunday, February 24, 2008

Joe Crawford drove into the lane, spun 360 degrees and somehow knifed between two defenders for a score. You know, his signature scoring strategy via pretzel logic.

He also hung in the air on another drive, absorbed a hit from 7-footer Steven Hill for a three-point play.

Ramel Bradley mimicked one of his favorite pros, Chauncey Billups of the Detroit Pistons, when he shot-faked a defender into the air and then jumped into him while shooting. He routinely gets to the foul line this way.

Later, sensing another defender might be looking for the fake, he rose without hesitation for a clutch jumper that put his team ahead for good inside the final 90 seconds.

Giving a basketball connotation to the term senior moment, Crawford and Bradley led Kentucky to a 63-58 victory over Arkansas on Saturday.

Crawford and Bradley have been synonymous with clutch play. This time the Arkansas defense left UK with an improvisation-or-bust attack.

"Arkansas took us out of our offense," Crawford said. "Me and Ramel just had to create for every one."

UK Coach Billy Gillispie gushed over his playmakers.

"Our seniors were fantastic," he said. "Down the stretch, they were as clutch as you probably can be."

Kentucky (15-10, 9-3 Southeastern Conference) dominated the rebounding 38-23. "I can't believe they only got three offensive rebounds," Gillispie said of Arkansas' towering front line.

Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey mocked the notion that his team's size translated into dominance.

"Everybody talks about our advantage up front, and you didn't see it today," he said. "Offensive rebounding basically swung the battle. They won it there. I'm still waiting for this great front line we're talking about. This talk of pros and stuff. Well, pros are supposed to get offensive rebounds."

Kentucky also defended well. Except for a star burst by Arkansas wing Sonny Weems, who scored 22 of his game-high 26 points in the second half, UK contained the Hogs. Arkansas (18-8, 7-5) scored a season-low 58 points.

Despite the rebounding and defense, UK found itself in what Gillispie called another "hard-to-get-basket game" ultimately decided by clutch plays.

In other words, time for Crawford and Bradley, who each scored 18 points.

The duo, assisted by freshman Patrick Patterson, scored all but three of Kentucky's second-half points. Patterson's last basket came with 13:08 left. Arkansas tried to make sure the player Pelphrey called "the big fella" did not decide the game.

"We just didn't sustain our defense when we needed to," said Pelphrey in reference to UK's 13 offensive rebounds and the Crawford-Bradley day-at-the-improv act as the shot clock wound down.

"They know who they are," Pelphrey said of Crawford, Bradley and Patterson. "And so do the rest of the guys on the team."

Overcoming a second-half deficit to win an SEC game for the seventh time, the Cats trailed by as much as 39-32 with 13:20 left. A Crawford three-pointer, then that three-point play after the Hill foul tied it at 42-42.

Bradley's two free throws (the Chauncey Billups moment) brought Kentucky within one, 53-52, with 3:28 left. Bradley gave UK the lead for good when he hit a 12-footer over fellow Brooklynite Gary Ervin with one second left on the shot clock. It gave the Cats a 57-55 lead with 1:12 left.

"When those kind of things happen and the shot clock's running down, you just have to make a play," Bradley said.

Arkansas did not make a basket in the final 3:24 until Weems hit a three-pointer with seven seconds left.

"They know their roles," Patterson said of Crawford and Bradley. "They are the leaders. They are the backbone of Kentucky. Ramel, he wants the ball. He wants to shoot the free throws. He wants the crunch-time plays. As far as Joe, we look for him to drive to the basket when we need it. They both put us on their back."