- Wednesday, January 3 2007 -
Houston - 70 (Head Coach: Tom Penders) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 77 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 39, Houston 32
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Eastern Kentucky 78 - 65|||||Mississippi 68 - 58|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Late rush helps Cats hold off Cougars
If Kentucky scheduled its final non-conference game in hopes of toughening itself up for league play it can pat itself on the back for a job well done.
The Cats survived a spirited Houston team and escaped Rupp Arena with a 77-70 victory to end the non-Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule. Although they have yet to look like a dominating team UK (11-3) extended its winning streak to a healthy seven games.
"We knew this would be a tough game because their style of play is very similar to the way Memphis plays," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "We made some clutch plays. We found a way to win."
Houston came into the game having lost five of its previous six games and fell behind 10-0 right out of the gate but stayed in the contest behind three-point shooting and offensive rebounding. It also didn't hurt that UK fell into the tempo trap and jacked up a season-high 30 three-pointers.
Following Memphis' template of spacing the floor to an extreme degree and trying to take the Cats off the dribble and then pitch to open shooters, Houston climbed back into the contest on the strength of Dion Dowell's first half shooting. The Cats, who started the game by making its first five shots, struggled to maintain the hot streak and made just seven of their final 26 attempts and found themselves up only 39-32 at the break.
It didn't help UK's cause that Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford and Bobby Perry were ice cold from the field again, combining to make just 5-of-19 from the field and 2-of-9 from three-point range during the half.
"They were open but some (of the threes) were too quick," Smith said. "We'd rather take them off inside-out passes. You can get caught up in (Houston's) style and their shooting and you want to match it."
The Cougars, who had stumbled most of the season despite being picked in the preseason as the second best team in Conference USA behind Memphis, found their footing and began knocking down countless jumpers after the half. Three times Houston pulled even with UK Ð the last with 2:51 remaining Ð yet it could never get the lead. Six other times Houston could have taken the lead with either a two or three and failed to take advantage.
That's when UK freshman Jodie Meeks stepped to the forefront yet again.
After Randolph Morris scored on short bank shot to give UK a 70-68 lead and Houston's Oliver Lafayette missed a quick three-pointer, Meeks made the biggest play of the night. The 6-foot-5 guard grabbed an offensive rebound of Sheray Thomas' missed front end of a one-and-one and hit a leaner in the lane while being fouled by Dowell. Meeks buried the ensuing free throw to push the Cats' lead to 73-68 with 1:57 remaining and effectively end the game since Houston did not score again until the 9.4 seconds remained and UK had run off a 9-0 run.
"You don't do that unless you're mentally tough and you have confidence in who you are and what you're capable of doing," Smith said. "Jodie doesn't let anything faze him."
Meeks, who spoke to the media for the first time after Smith lifted the ban on his freshmen doing interviews, was just thankful he had the opportunity. Nevermind the fact Meeks has now played a huge role in UK's wins over Indiana (two late free throws), Louisville (18 points) and Houston.
"I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time," Meeks said. "I have to give credit to Coach Smith for having confidence in me.
"(The Houston player) tipped it one way and I grabbed it and looked to kick it out. (Dowell) fouled me and I just tried to make a strong play."
For Meeks, it was just another memorable effort in a young career already being filled with them.
Derrick Jasper drives
Ramel Bradley attempts a layup in front of Houston's Dion Dowell