- Thursday, March 17 2005 -
NCAA Austin Regional First Round (at Indianapolis, IN)
Kentucky - 72 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Final Rank 7th by AP and 5th by ESPN/USA Today]
Eastern Kentucky - 64 (Head Coach: Travis Ford) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 40, Eastern Kentucky 32
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Florida 53 - 70|||||Cincinnati 69 - 60|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats survive EKU in unimpressive fashion
INDIANAPOLIS -- Survive and advance is the mantra of the NCAA Tournament, but Kentucky might be taking the message a little bit too literally.
The Cats (26-5) coasted a bit too much for a tad too long and found themselves in a dogfight with No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky in the closing minutes before closing out the Colonels for a 72-64 victory at the RCA Dome. Coming off a disappointing loss to Florida in the SEC Tournament final, the performance was not a particularly inspiring one given the finality of the tournament.
"We are disappointed, but happy we won," junior Ravi Moss said. "We won and that's all the tournament is about. It doesn't matter if you win by one or 41, (winning) is all you try to do.
"It was a tough game. It was a scare."
UK looked like a team expecting its Commonwealth little brother to fall on the sword so it could advance. Eastern Kentucky, led by former Cat Travis Ford, had other ideas, sticking around for most of the game before turning the final five minutes into a sprint to the wire.
"We knew coming into the game that it would be a battle," sophomore Bobby Perry said. "They'll hit shots. We have to tip our hat to them. I've got a lot of respect for them."
It certainly didn't seem that way during the course of the game. Eastern hung around early, tying the score at 13 seven minutes into the game. UK responded with a 13-2 run that gave the Cats control, but Eastern used a late first half run to close the gap to a manageable 40-32 at halftime. The effort statistics showed UK was once again struggling, as the smaller Colonels held a rebounding edge and shot over 46 percent.
The talent differential looked like it was beginning to take over after the break, as UK pushed out to a game-high 16-point lead at 52-36 with an 8-0 run and just 13:40 remaining on the clock. The Cats had their chance to step on upstart Eastern's throat and close the game out at that point, but failed to do so again, further reinforcing this question about UK's mental desire.
"We had (EKU) down 15," senior Chuck Hayes said. "They were on their backs. Then we have a couple of slips and they are right there.
"Am I surprised? Yeah, you could put it like that. We started slowly but we had them on their heels and couldn't put them away."
It didn't take long for Eastern to fight its way back into the game behind a flurry of jump shots. Matt Witt started the comeback with a jumper from the corner in transition, then deferred to reserve Ben Rushing, who buried two long three-pointers with UK defenders in his face. As UK continued to stumble in its halfcourt offense, a Michael Haney post up of Hayes cut the lead to 62-56 before Witt swished a three pointer from Bloomington over a fully extended Kelenna Azubuike to pull the Colonels to 64-59 with just 4:14 remaining.
"I remember one shot where Kelenna contested as best he could and it still hit all bottom from 27 feet," freshman Randolph Morris said.
At that point, it was anyone's basketball game. But UK being UK, the Cats found a way to close the deal in the closing minutes. Morris blocked Alonzo Hird's post up attempt then hit one of two free throws on the other end. Hayes pushed the lead back to eight when he tracked down Morris' missed free throw and eventually banked in shot from the block. After another Witt three ball, Morris followed a wild Hayes' shot to extend the lead to 69-62 with 1:48 left.
The Cats finally sealed the deal when freshman defensive stopper Rajon Rondo picked off a pass near the three-point line after two Hayes free throws and eschewed a breakaway lay-in to run more time of the clock. The heady play capped UK's win, but didn't ease any tensions.
"(Each player) has got to ask themselves how bad they want it," Hayes said. "It's the fact of doing it and we aren't getting it done."
You can only survive and advance for so long before your time is up.
Bobby Perry is blocked from the basket