- Wednesday, February 28 2007 -
Georgia - 70 (Head Coach: Dennis Felton) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 82 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 34, Georgia 28
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Vanderbilt 65 - 67|||||Florida 72 - 85|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats send seniors off in style
Fun had been a nasty word in Kentucky's basketball world the past few weeks but with the pomp and circumstance of Senior Night and the weight of NCAA Tournament hopes in the balance the Cats got a chance to enjoy themselves for once.
Needing a victory to silence growing unrest in its kingdom, UK took out a Georgia team missing two key players with an 82-70 victory in front of 24,108 fans at Rupp Arena. The win gave the Cats 20 wins on the season and matched the nine Southeastern Conference victories of a year ago, while also likely sealing a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
What the victory also did was allow the Cats to have fun again, something that has often been missing during a tumultuous February that saw UK lose six of 10 games before taking out the Bulldogs.
"We don't think about the outside stuff," senior Bobby Perry said. "We just go out and play basketball. It's like a release. You can just block everything out.
"The only way to succeed is to keep your eyes on the prize and keep shooting for it. We did an excellent job blocking it all out. There had been so much negative talk out there and doubt but we've never doubted ourselves."
Perry was one of three seniors UK said goodbye to before the game, joining Lukasz Obrzut and Sheray Thomas as the Class of 2007. Although never star players the trio went out the way they have throughout their careers, with a winning effort. Perry continued a recent hot streak, scoring a game-high 22 points after rediscovering his shooting stroke over the past few games.
"He's struggled this year with his outside shot," UK coach Tubby Smith said of Perry. "Bobby is a very poised and intelligent. I always tell him, 'Bobby, don't out think it. Let the game come to you. Don't fight it.'"
The message seemed to hold true for all the Cats. Just two days after UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart felt compelled to release a statement asking fans to withhold judgment on the season until March plays out the Cats played like a team capable of making some noise in the Big Dance.
Taking advantage of crisp ball movement and improved decision making UK shot better than 58 percent for the second straight game, including a 66.7 percent clip in the second half. After falling behind 28-26 late in the first half the Cats exploded to a 57-42 lead by the midway point of the second half thanks to a stretch that saw them make 15-of-18 field goal attempts.
"We're in a groove right now," junior center Randolph Morris, who scored 17 points in 17 minutes, said. "Offense really isn't a problem for us. We are right where we want to be playing. The defense has to be turned up a notch though. Defense wins championships."
Still, given the rampant speculation about Smith's job status and the circus-like atmosphere the rumors had created around the program the cats could have been forgiven if they seemed distracted or tight. Neither appeared to be the case, even after a gut-wrenching loss to Vanderbilt over the weekend.
"We just came out and played and everything took care of itself," Morris said. "It was a great night to be a part of. We played the right way and it was fun."
Even the embattled Smith could breathe a little easier and bask in another career accomplishment. The Cats' 20th victory gave Smith 14 consecutive years of reaching that plateau at UK, Georgia and Tulsa, the second longest current streak in college basketball behind Lute Olson's 19 at Arizona.
"I was very proud of our guys and our team because we had been struggling and were coming off a tough loss," Smith said. "I was really concerned about how we would respond emotionally and psychologically."
Not to worry Tubby, the seniors made sure to ease the mind.
"You've got to go out with a bang," Perry said. "We got the win and I was glad we were able to get it done the right way. We had fun and played the right way. We needed a game like this."
Sheray Thomas (#23) and Randolph Morris (#33) defend the basket against Georgia's Sundiata Gaines
Michael Porter makes like Michael Jordan with a reverse layup
Bobby Perry defends the goal