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Crawford starts a rout for Cats

Date story published: Sunday, November 25, 2007

Joe Crawford returned to the starting lineup last night and proceeded to remind everyone why he was Kentucky's leading returning scorer from last season.

Crawford scored a career-high 32 points to lead UK to a 83-35 victory over Texas Southern. He equalled a career high with four three-point baskets, grabbed six rebounds and even took a charge with the Cats ahead by 37.

"He looked like he was everywhere," Texas Southern Coach Robert Moreland said.

Media speculation arose that Crawford wanted to prove something to UK Coach Billy Gillispie, who has seemed noticeably unenthused about the senior guard.

"He puts us in a position where we all have to prove ourselves," Crawford said. "That's how you get better and show you're a capable player."

A balky knee slowed Crawford's transition to a new coach. Since he missed bootcamp because of the knee, he has been running sprints at 6 a.m. to try to improve his level of conditioning.

With Gillispie's focus on defense, Crawford said he's even been prodded to shoot more, which seems akin to encouraging Bonnie and Clyde to rob banks.

"When I'm open, I'm going to shoot," he said. "That's what coach told me. He even kicked me out of practice when I wasn't ready to shoot.

"This year I have a new approach. When I'm open, I take it and don't think about it."

Crawford's scoring balanced a suffocating defensive performance. The Cats came closer to Gillispie's desire for unrelenting defense in holding Texas Southern to the fewest points scored by a UK opponent since a 96-32 victory over Morehead State on Dec. 16, 1995.

Perhaps Kentucky, 3-1, provided a salve for fans still hurting from the 52-50 overtime football loss to Tennessee at Commonwealth Stadium earlier in the day.

This game was no contest as Kentucky won by its widest margin since a 106-44 humiliation of Vanderbilt on March 5, 2003.

"Now we've been introduced to Kentucky basketball," Moreland said. "We were served up and the feast was on."

Freshman Patrick Patterson, who was coming off a 23-point, 10-rebound performance against Liberty, contributed 21 points and seven rebounds. Ramel Bradley flirted with a triple-double. He had 17 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

Kentucky plays next against Stony Brook on Tuesday before making a big-time step up in class against North Carolina next Saturday. With the Tar Heels and other stiffer competition ahead, Gillispie acknowledged how UK did a better job of staying on task in beating Texas Southern.

"You have to understand, 'Hey, we're not just playing for tonight,'" the UK coach said. "They're playing for tomorrow and the future."

Kentucky jumped on Texas Southern from the start and didn't let up throughout the first half. The Cats took the lead for good 96 seconds into the game and steadily expanded the margin until it stood at 43-18 at halftime.

Crawford led the way with 17 first-half points. He hit his first shot (a three-pointer from the top of the key) and poured it on from there. The senior guard scored 10 of UK's first 15 points and 17 of the first 32.

"He's been playing well," Gillispie said in explaining the decision to start Crawford. "He's been practicing better. He's starting to earn an opportunity."

The first-half statistics were cartoonish. UK made 77.3 percent of its shots (17 of 22), while Texas Southern made only five of 23 shots. The Tigers scored only two baskets in a span of more than 15 minutes. Texas Southern didn't grab a rebound until the 12-minute mark.

Meanwhile, Kentucky showed no mercy. With the Cats ahead 26-7, Bradley dived at the feet of Texas Southern's David Burrell to make a steal.

As the second half began, Bradley signalled Kentucky's intention not to relax. He went to the floor for another loose ball on the half's first possession. Texas Southern committed turnovers on its first three possessions and scored only two baskets in the first six minutes.

UK clearly wanted to keep the intensity high. After Crawford scored on a fastbreak banker to make the lead 69-29 with 7:46 left, Gillispie gestured with a hand to indicate he wanted defensive pressure applied.

With some prodding, Crawford noted the satisfaction that comes with starting.

"I'm happy to be starting," he said. "It's a privilege to start for Kentucky basketball."

Crawford also took pride in eclipsing his previous career high (29 at Georgia last season). But he refused to make any bold proclamations.

"It feels good," he said. "But I have a long way to go and it's a long season. I can't get too high on myself."

Gillispie's message after this blowout: Neither can the Cats.