Wildcats Capitalize On Hustle Plays

FAYETTEVILLE--Even when Arkansas led Kentucky 45-31 with 16 minutes, 45 seconds left on Saturday, one had the sense that the Razorbacks were simply borrowing a big lead for awhile.

Sure enough, 22 seconds later, Wildcats guard Ramel Bradley buried an NBA-length 3-pointer to make it 45-34. On Kentucky's next possession, following a media timeout, the 'Cats got a big break and capitalized on it. Bradley's field goal try late in the shot clock barely grazed the front of the rim — a bad enough miss that Kentucky was able to corral the offensive rebound, one of its 11 in the game. Bobby Perry, a senior who had a quiet game with four points, made his only field goal in six tries — a six-footer that cut Arkansas' lead to 45-36. That enabled Kentucky to jump into a press and force a five-second count against Arkansas freshman Michael Washington, the in-bounds man. The shark-like Wildcats could smell blood in the water now. Joe Crawford's 3-pointer cut the UK deficit to 45-39 with 15 minutes left and officially made it a "live" ball game. "We didn't handle the pressure very well," Hogs coach Stan Heath said. "Guys weren't getting open. At the end, Bradley busted his tail to get open for Kentucky." Just when it appeared that Sonny Weems' flying dunk on a feed from Patrick Beverley had given Arkansas something of a comfort level at 49-41, Crawford made the play of the game for the visitors. The play was vintage Kentucky, because it demonstrated what the Wildcats have always done best — play every single aspect of the game to the hilt. Crawford outhustled three Razorbacks into the corner in chasing down an offensive rebound, and that set up Bradley's 3-pointer that cut the Arkansas lead to 49-44. A Bradley drive made it 49-46. At 50-46, Crawford's 3 pulled UK within 50-49. Gamely, Beverley (19 second-half points) answered for 53-49, but so did Bradley in rat-a-tat order, for 53-52. Freshman Jodie Meeks of Norcross, Ga., one of 13 non-Kentucky natives on the Wildcats' 13-man active roster, chose that moment to show off his blazing speed. For the first of two times down the stretch, he went faster dribbling the ball on a fast break than the chasing Hogs did without the ball. His layup put Kentucky up 54-53. Steven Hill's fourth steal — he got all four of Arkansas' thefts — slowed the onslaught and set up a Darian Townes follow that put the Hogs back ahead 55-54 with 7:26 left. But Randolph Morris scored over Hill, and the 'Cats never looked back. Fresher by playing reserves for 65 minutes to the UA subs' 46 minutes, Kentucky outscored Arkansas 28-19 down the stretch for an 82-74 win. "We showed great character, poise and toughness down the stretch," 'Cats coach Smith said. Hard to argue with that. At the end, Bradley (career-high 24 points) cocked both ears toward the UA students, to see if they were still yelling. They weren't, although they had been quite active most of the game. "I was a little angry going into the half," Bradley admitted. "I was a little upset." By overcoming its 35-30 halftime deficit, Kentucky extended its series lead over Arkansas to 21-7; took a 4-3 lead in Bud Walton Arena; pushed its advantage over SEC West teams to 80-19, including 33 of the last 35; and won its 15th game in the last 16 road tests against the SEC West. GRANT HALL IS A MORNING NEWS SPORTS WRITER. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH MONDAY AND THURSDAY. E-MAIL: GHALL@NWAONLINE.NET

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