- Tuesday, January 24 2006 -
Kentucky - 71 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Auburn - 62 (Head Coach: Jeff Lebo) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 39, Auburn 28
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|South Carolina 80 - 78|||||Arkansas 78 - 76|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Joltin' Joe: Crawford's career night leads UK
AUBURN, Ala. Ð Joe Crawford hadn't felt as good as he did when he took the floor against Auburn in a long time. It didn't take long for everyone else in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum to find out Ð although there weren't many spectators in the house.
Crawford exploded for 23 points and nine rebounds, leading Kentucky to a 71-62 victory in front of an announced crowd of 6,651. The sophomore guard tied his career high in points, set a new mark for rebounds and got to the line 11 times in pushing the Cats to their third straight victory.
"I finally got into a rhythm," Crawford said. "When was (the last time)? Ohio? It seems like forever ago."
Crawford's emergence marked the second consecutive game he led UK in scoring, but also demonstrated a player that appears more comfortable in his role and therefore, has been far more aggressive on the court.
"Joe is so focused right now," junior forward Bobby Perry said. "He doesn't show much emotion, but he has one mission and goal and that's to win. Whatever it takes. He's playing tremendous. He was unconscious."
Although not exactly world beaters, the Cats have played much better basketball during their three-game winning streak. After shooting 56 percent in each of the previous two games, UK was just a shade under 54 percent in the first half, helping the Cats take a 39-28 advantage into the break. The shooting fell off markedly in the second half Ð 30.4 percent Ð but UK made up for it by going to the free throw line 24 times after the break and rebounding the ball much better after being hammered on the glass in the first 20 minutes.
To help offset the cold shooting and with sophomore center Randolph Morris missing in action for the second straight game because of foul trouble, UK coach Tubby Smith elected to go to a four guard lineup, with Perry as the only front court player on the floor.
"Any time Randolph is in foul trouble that's what we have to do," senior guard Patrick Sparks, who had five points and five assists, said. "It's hard to guard. A lot of our parts are starting to step up and give us what we need.
"But we definitely need Randolph. We covered up for it, but we need him."
Even without Morris being a factor UK took control of the contest right away. The Cats ran off an early 9-2 run, then used consecutive three-pointers by Crawford to push the lead to 32-19. Auburn cut the deficit to 34-28 and had two opportunities to get closer than that, but Frank Tolbert missed the front end of a one-and-one and then Quantez Robertson bricked a three-pointer.
UK took full advantage of Auburn's inability to close the gap completely, using a 10-0 spurt at the end of the half and in the opening minutes to push the lead back out to 44-28. Determined not to get blown out, the Tigers Ð who are winless in Southeastern Conference play Ð responded with a flurry of three-pointers and second chance buckets to get back within 49-43 with 13:06 remaining.
"We didn't focus all the way through," Sparks said. "They scratched and clawed. Give them credit."
UK wasn't going to give away a conference road game it had control on though. Auburn's Ronny LeMelle air-balled a three-pointer and Rasheem Barrett missed a pull-up jumper on the break to basically end the Tigers' chances. UK answered back with four straight points by Crawford, followed by a Ravi Moss offensive rebound on Crawford's missed free throw that turned into two free throws that put UK back up by 10.
The lead grew from there as Smith went to the spread offense, allowing quicksilver guard Rajon Rondo to take his man off the dribble and either pitch to teammates or get to the tin. Rondo chose the second option, attempting eight consecutive field goals for the Cats, but scoring eight points in the mini-run that turned a tight game into a 66-48 rout.
"They made a run and Coach had close to five guards on the floor," Rondo said. "We spread the floor and they started crowding me and I knew I could by them."
What started with Crawford dominating in ways he hasn't before, ended in Rondo's elastic drives to the basket on his way to 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists. UK has been waiting a long time for those two young guards to get going, and it looks like it might be just in time for the Cats to get on the roll they've been searching for all season.
Rajon Rondo sneaks past Auburn's Frank Tolbert for a lay-up
But Tolbert catches Rekalin Sims on his shot attempt