- Friday, December 23 2005 -
(at Louisville, KY)
Iona - 67 (Head Coach: Jeff Ruland) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 73 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 19th by AP and 20th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 34, Iona 26
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Louisville 73 - 61|||||Ohio 71 - 63|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Happy Holidays: Cats hold off Iona
LOUISVILLE, Ky. Ð Kentucky knew heading into its annual game at Freedom Hall that it had its hands full with a talented Iona team that arrived in the Commonwealth undefeated and with perhaps the best pair of guards the Cats would see all season.
It was imperative the Cats didn't have an emotional let down after beating rival Louisville in their previous game or get blinded by the excitement of having a few days to head home for the holidays. In what could have been a trap game, UK responded about as well as could be expected and held off the pesky Gaels for a 73-67 victory in front of 13,794 fans.
For the Cats, it sent them home with good vibes after a up-and-down first month of the season. With just three more non-conference games remaining, UK is starting to look more like the team most observers expected to see this season.
"We knew we better strap it up and come ready to play," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "This was an excellent test that we were able to pass."
It certainly wasn't easy though. Despite leading for the final 35 minutes, UK was never able to put Iona out of reach, allowing the dynamic guard duo of Steve Burtt and Ricky Soliver to continue shooting long enough to get hot in the final 10 minutes and make things interesting. After holding the pair to just nine points on 3-of-16 shooting in the first half, the two scored 33 points in the second half and nearly brought the Gaels all the way back.
"In the first half we did a real good job (defensively)," junior forward Rekalin Sims said. "Their leading scorer (Burtt) had two points in the first half, but the green light (to shoot) is so green for him.
"We let up a little in the second half and they got it going."
All of the good vibes of the past week nearly came crashing down as Burtt and Soliver started raining shots from all over the court. Although UK maintained a working margin for most of the final 10 minutes, the duo kept Iona within reach by scoring 18 of the Gaels' final 20 points.
"You can't keep a great player down," Smith said of Burtt. "He made some big threes, but we made him work to get his shots. They both are very talented players and they gave us all we could handle."
UK played soundly in most areas of the game, but turnovers crippled the Cats' chances of putting together a run Ð especially in the first half Ð that may have crushed Iona's spirit. When the dust settled UK had turned the basketball over 18 times, including three in the final two minutes as Iona rallied from 13 down to close within three points on two occasions.
"We have to play with more intelligence down the stretch," Smith said. "I was happy with the effort. I certainly was not happy with the turnovers, but I was happy with all the other facets of the game."
Ironically, it was a turnover forced by UK that stemmed the Gaels' final push. After Patrick Sparks buried a three from the corner Ð his only field goal of the game Ð to give UK a 71-65 lead with 1:07 left, senior guard Ravi Moss came up with the play of the night.
With Iona getting a second life after Joe Crawford rotated over and blocked Burtt's driving shot out of bounds, Moss jumped a passing lane in front of the Iona bench and swatted the ball toward UK's end of the floor. Running full speed, Moss chased the ball to the far corner of the court and grabbed it just before it crossed the end line, calling a timeout as he careened out of bounds. The play gave UK possession with 26.6 second left and allowed the Cats to run off more time, and ultimately, to win.
"That's just great heart by Ravi," Sims said. "Anyone could have just let that ball go (out of bounds), but he put it in fifth gear and gave it all he had.
"It was a great play. A very important play."
Brandon Stockton (#1) splits the Iona defenders
Ravi Moss (#2) looks to pass
Rajon Rondo (#4) drives