- Saturday, January 29 2005 -
Kentucky - 68 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 7th by AP and 6th by ESPN/USA Today]
Arkansas - 67 (Head Coach: Stan Heath) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Arkansas 33, Kentucky 32
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|Tennessee 84 - 62|||||Vanderbilt 84 - 70|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats survive by skin of their teeth at Arkansas
Kentucky turned the basketball over, couldn't defend the glass and missed the front end of two one-and-one's at the free throw line in the final minutes, yet somehow survived Arkansas and Bud Walton Arena for a 68-67 victory.
The Cats could finally breathe a sigh of relief when Arkansas point guard Eric Ferguson missed an open look at a three-pointer from the top of the key as the buzzer sounded. Ferguson, who had just knocked down a triple with 10 seconds left, got the chance to win the game after UK senior forward Chuck Hayes Ð playing in a mask from a broken nose Ð drew front rim with a free throw attempt.
The game was reminiscent of the old days when UK (16-2, 7-0 SEC) and Arkansas routinely staged some of the Southeastern Conference's fiercest battles. There were nine ties and seven lead changes throughout the game, but it was two old-school basketball plays in the final minute that saved the Cats on a day when it didn't play nearly as fundamental as they had been for much of the season.
"We knew we were in for a battle when we came down here," junior guard Ravi Moss said. "They were really hyped. They had been in the media all week saying this was a marquee game they really wanted to win."
It nearly happened. The Razorbacks pounded the offensive glass in the first half, producing 11 offensive boards for 14 second chance points on their way to a 33-32 halftime edge. Despite shooting 51 percent in the first half and holding a 20-14 lead at one point, the Cats struggled to keep the Hogs off the glass and allowed 6-foot-7 guard Ronnie Brewer to dominate for 12 points and five rebounds.
Arkansas continued to hold UK at bay early in the second half, as the Cats fumbled away several chances at easy buckets. The Hogs used a 9-2 spurt to open their biggest lead of the second half at 46-42 with 12:58 remaining, but that's when UK did what it does best in climbing back into the game with a gritty effort.
"They were ready for us," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "Their kids raised their level of play, but our kids did too.
"We overcame 19 turnovers. We overcame getting beat on the boards. We overcame Chuck having an under par game. That's the sign of a maturing team."
UK's comeback started with back-to-back dunks by Kelenna Azubuike off a Patrick Sparks pass, then 7-foot-3 Shagari Alleyne on a lob from Hayes. The Cats finally took the lead for good at the 9:01 mark when Azubuike swished a NBA-length three-pointer on an inbounds play to put UK ahead 53-50. UK capped the 18-7 run with a short jump shot by sophomore reserve forward Bobby Perry with 5:45 left to push the lead out to 60-53. Moments later, Rajon Rondo converted a back door cut and feed from Hayes to put UK up 64-57 with 3:05 remaining.
But Arkansas wasn't done yet. Olu Famutimi stuck a pull-up jumper and then had the final two of the Hogs' 20 second chance points when he banked in a putback off a Brewer miss to pull Arkansas within 64-61 at the 1:30 mark.
UK answered with a play straight out of "Hoosiers". Perry set a nice screen for Sparks at the top of the key, then rolled to the right block. Arkansas center Darian Townes was slow in rotation and Sparks found Perry for a lay-in at 1:05 to make it 66-61. The Hogs answered with a three-point play from Jonathon Modica to pull within 66-64.
Sparks and Perry capped UK's scoring when they rant he same play, but this time both Arkansas defenders went with Perry and Sparks made just his second field goal of the day when he swished a free throw-line jumper to make the lead four. Ferguson hit his fade away three from the wing with 10 seconds left before Hayes missed and set up the climatic final seconds.
"We were lucky to get out of here with a win," Moss said.
Better to be lucky than good, but UK seems to be both this season.
Rajon Rondo works against UA's Ronnie Brewer
Ramel Bradley reacts after losing the ball to Darian Townes