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Wildcats Rise as Bradley, Crawford Fall

Date story published: Sunday, February 3, 2008

ATHENS, Ga. -- A concussion sent Kentucky's iron man, Ramel Bradley, to the sideline with more than eight minutes left in the first half.

Fellow senior Joe Crawford filled much of the void, in part with a career-high five three-pointers. Yet what Coach Billy Gillispie called "total cramps" requiring "an IV in his entire body" removed Crawford with 4:20 left in the second half.

Jodie Meeks, who has been in and out of the lineup all season, never left the bench because of lingering hip pain.

Despite it all, Kentucky kept itself competitive against a Georgia team riding an 11-game home winning streak. During a television timeout with 7:52 left, Gillispie repeated one message over and over. "Help each other, help each other, help each other," he implored again and again.

The 63-58 victory -- the first time Kentucky had won on an opponent's court all season -- served as a testament to helping each other collectively limp across the finish line first.

"You can talk about offense," Gillispie said. "You can talk about defense. You can talk about all those things that show up on the stat sheet.

"But the thing that's winning games for us right now is heart, determination and togetherness."

Kentucky, which improved to 10-9 overall and 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference, had to dig deep. And the Cats had reasons to put down the metaphorical shovel.

Bradley, who played 254 of 255 minutes in January's six games, sustained a concussion when a foul by Georgia center Dave Bliss sent him hard to the floor at the 8:44 mark of the first half. He lay on the floor for several minutes before rising and using a towel to dab at blood from a cut on his chin. Then with Gillispie under his right shoulder, Bradley was helped to the bench, where he sat glassy-eyed as UK's medical team examined him.

"Not the way we intended to get him some rest," Gillispie quipped. "It's scary at the time."

Gone from a team that had won three previous SEC games by a total of 20 points went a player who had excelled in the clutch: 22 of 23 free throws in the late stages of league games. His leadership of action and words made him the league's Player of the Week last week.

"We've played without me, without Joe, without Derrick (Jasper), without Jodie," Patrick Patterson said of this trouble-filled season. "Finally that day came when we had to play without Ramel. It was kind of weird.

"We want to win with everybody. But we can win with nobody. It's not about one player."

With Bradley (hampered by a virus going into the game) sidelined, Jasper manned the lead guard. Michael Porter, who had played all of two minutes in league play, contributed 18 minutes of relief.

Meanwhile, Crawford's scoring kept the Cats close with 26 points, his high since getting 28 at Houston on Dec. 18.

"Fantastic," Gillispie said. "It's the best offensive game he's played all year long because all the shots he took were so timely. We didn't have a whole lot of things going on, offensively. He just made something out of nothing."

Crawford's final basket pointed UK toward victory. His three-pointer with 4:46 left put the Cats ahead 56-54. Twenty-six seconds later, cramps sent him to the bench. He grimaced much of the rest of the way as trainers worked to alleviate the pain.

"He wasn't totally 100 percent," teammate Perry Stevenson said of Crawford. "He tried to do as much as he could. Once he couldn't walk, he knew he couldn't play."

Fittingly for this one-for-all affair, four different Cats scored down the stretch. Ramon Harris, who had scored seven points in five previous SEC games, completed a nine-point afternoon by cutting backdoor for a layup off a Patterson pass.

After a Stevenson block helped preserve a 58-55 lead, Patterson and Jasper collaborated on a pretty pick-and-roll. Jasper threw a lob that Patterson dunked to give the Cats a 60-55 lead with 56.3 seconds left.

"I was surprised," Patterson said of the basket that completed his 16-point game. "I didn't think Derrick was going to throw it. I thought a guy (Bliss) was on me and I was unable to get a pass. But Derrick threw a beautiful pass."

Jasper said he never hesitated. "I'm comfortable throwing it," he said. "Pat's a beast. He'll get it."

That kind of courage under pressure defined Kentucky's winning afternoon. It didn't hurt that UK held Georgia to one basket in the final 5:18.

"Probably not the most beautiful win for the casual fan," Gillispie said. "But it was beautiful to us. It took tremendous courage and tremendous teamwork. Everything you could do as far as intangibles."