The Kentucky Wildcats broke out to a 10-0 run at the start of the game on buckets by Bobby Perry, Joe Crawford, Ramel Bradley and Derrick Jasper. But Houston proved to be a scrappy ball club and played the Cats pretty much even the rest of the way. The Cougars actually pulled even with Kentucky at 70 with just 2:00 remaining before buckets by Crawford and Randolph Morris put the game out of reach. Kentucky wins a close one, 77-70.
"Houston definitely gave us a run for our money," said Ramel Bradley, "They came out and hit shots and got after every ball. Randolph (Morris) played a big game for us today and helped us get the win. It wasn't pretty, but it was a win."
Junior center Randolph Morris, last week's SEC Player of the Week, led the Cats with a double-double, scoring 20 points and pulling in 10 rebounds. Morris went 5-10 from the field, 10-12 from the free throw line, and added three assists and four big blocked shots. Freshman Derrick Jasper has a terrific game, scoring 12 points on 5-6 shooting and tossing in six assists. Bradley added 11 points and Crawford scored 10 points. Fellow freshman Jodie Meeks chipped in with nine big rebounds, including six from the offensive glass. "Derrick played a great game. He is showing that he is able to be a leader and he is stepping into that role," said senior forward Sheray Thomas, who pitched in with seven big rebounds of his own, "He is getting really involved and that shows confidence. Jodie Meeks has also stepped up as a freshman and has had great play coming off the bench. He has made big shots. Tonight he took it through the middle and got the and-one."
Defensively, UK dominated the Cougars, holding them to just 36% shooting and out rebounding them 51-39. But the Cats struggled from the field themselves, cashing in on only 39% of their own field goal attempts and shooting just 26% from three-point range on a whopping 30 attempts. "We were open. We took some shots too quick," coach Tubby Smith said, "Our guys need to understand their job is moving the ball and getting it inside, and they didn't always do that tonight."
"Obviously, when you have 19 assists and 51 rebounds, you are doing some good things," Coach Tubby Smith continued, "We did a good job of finding people open, and I think this may be the best rebounding effort all year. We have seen a number of styles of play that should prepare us as we go on to conference play.
The Wildcats next travel to Oxford, Mississippi where they will meet the surprising Ole Miss Rebels, who have gotten off to a fast 11-3 start. The Rebels will present perhaps Kentucky's biggest challenge since they faced North Carolina back on December 2. The Wildcats have won seven games in a row since. Ole Miss is a perfect 9-0 at home this season. The Rebels are led by big Dwayne Curtis, the 6-foot-9, 290 lb junior center who is averaging nearly 13 points and 10 rebounds per game. The are also getting major production from 6-foot-4 junior guard Bam Doyne who is scoring over 18 points per game.
"Ole Miss has a very good inside player and their going to try to come in and set an inside presence," said Randolph Morris, "I have to know that and be ready for that. I know I have to put things on my shoulders. If we play defense and execute the way we have been, we'll be fine."
The Wildcats have beaten Ole Miss seven times in a row. The last time UK lost to the Rebels was in January, 2001, by the score of 65-55.