<
>

Crawford, Bradley rescue Wildcats offense

CINCINNATI (AP) -- The ball left Ramel Bradley's hand with the
right amount of spin but way too much speed, headed straight for
the backboard with the game at a turning point.

Smack. Swish.

Bradley's banked 3-pointer from the top of the key started a
final push by No. 18 Kentucky, which trailed most of the game
Friday night before rallying for a 71-63 victory over Ohio in the
Wildcats' annual trek across the Ohio River.

Bradley and Joe Crawford had career highs, rescuing the Wildcats
(9-3) from an off-night by their top two guards. Crawford scored 23
points and Bradley had 16 in an offense so stagnant at times that
coach Tubby Smith furiously smacked his black leather shoe on the
floor.

"We really don't have a team that's going to just run away from
people -- the big knockout punch," Smith said. "We've got to do it
in so many different ways."

They did it with two unexpected performances and that banked
3-pointer that Ohio (6-2) won't soon forget.

"My plan was to stay in it until the end, then steal it,"
Bobcats coach Tim O'Shea said. "And we were doing that. Then the
guy banks in the 3."

Ohio led by nine points three times, leaving the Kentucky fans
at U.S. Bank Arena fearing the worst. Bradley's momentum-turning
3-pointer cut it to 56-55 and got Kentucky revved.

"I think I hit a shot before that and I was feeling good, so I
knew I was going to pull up when I got it," Bradley said. "We
were playing in Bank Arena, I guess, so I knew I had to bank one
home."

The Bobcats unraveled in the last 3 minutes. Rekalin Sims had a
tip-in and a three-point play with 2:30 left that gave Kentucky its
first lead since the middle of the first half, 60-59.

"It was just a gut check for us," Sims said. "I'm really
happy we pulled it out because for a second I was really scared
myself."

Mychal Green led Ohio with 16 points, all in the first half,
when the Bobcats shot 65 percent from the field. They shot 34.6
percent in the second.

Nothing came easy for Kentucky. Point guard Rajon Rondo was
2-of-4 for six points, and Patrick Sparks was 1-of-10 for three.
And a timid front line failed to use its height advantage --
Kentucky got only four free throws in the first half and missed
them all,

"The big key is you've got to get there," Smith said. "Four
times in a half is just terrible."

The Wildcats made what was likely their final trip to the
downtown arena where they have played a game each of the last eight
seasons to reward their fan base in northern Kentucky. The contract
to play at U.S. Bank Arena ends after this season.

They have lost only once in 14 games at the arena -- Dayton beat
them by two in 1999. Ohio was looking to repeat the feat, but the
Mid-American Conference's top-ranked team lost its shooting touch
down the stretch.

The Bobcats used the game as a measure of how far they've come
since the their last trip to town. Playing on Cincinnati's campus
on Dec. 14, they imploded in the second half and lost to the
Bearcats 86-58.

In a short time, they've grown a lot.

"I think anybody who watched this game would come away
impressed that Ohio has a good team," O'Shea said. "To go
toe-to-toe with them for 40 minutes, how can I be disappointed?"

The Bobcats showed a lot more gumption this time, more than
holding their own against a bigger lineup and a pedigree basketball
program. Green went 4-of-5 on 3s -- two of them from beyond the NBA
arc -- to keep Ohio ahead for most of the first half.

Crawford matched him in a game of one-upmanship, also going
4-of-5 from behind the arc while equaling his career high with 14
points in the half. The sophomore had never made more than two 3s
in a game.

Smith gave his players three days off over Christmas, then
decided they looked sluggish in practice on Thursday. A day later,
they were still a step slow, even after a halftime rest.

Jeremy Fears scored three consecutive baskets, one on a layup
after he stole a halfhearted pass by Sparks, putting Ohio up 48-39
in the opening minutes of the second half.

Fears stole another sloppy pass by Sparks for a dunk that made
it 54-45 with 12:34 left, finally waking Kentucky from its
lethargy.

The game had special significance for Kentucky -- its 2,500th
all-time. The Wildcats are 1,913-586 with one tie.