Bradley makes ‘Smooth’ return in UK win

Ramel Bradley stood still as a statue, his right hand raised in the air. Pandemonium surrounded UK’s senior guard, accenting just how still Bradley stood.

“Once it went in,” Bradley said, “I was just holding my pose for the photographers.”

As his 3-point shot from the top of the key swished through the net, the Rupp Arena crowd of 24,190 erupted. The Cats had all but sealed their 62-52 win over Alabama.

Bradley helped the Cats extend their winning streak to five — their longest since 2006.

Even with more than 10 minutes left in the game, Bradley sensed his bucket was a big play.

As the shot clock ticked under five, freshman forward Patrick Patterson had his shot blocked, but the ball deflected to Bradley, who tossed the 3-pointer in as the buzzer sounded. It was an emotional dagger for the Tide (13-11, 2-7 Southeastern Conference). Bradley’s basket pushed UK’s (12-9, 6-2 SEC) lead to six, and Alabama never challenged again.

“That was kind of one of those where you shake your head,” Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. “That was right when the game was hanging in the balance, and it turns into a big-time 3-point play for them.”

After missing the entire Auburn game and much of UK’s win over Georgia with a viral infection and a concussion, Bradley returned to the court in style. He scored 19 points to pace the Cats, but his leadership was what head coach Billy Gillispie said fueled UK.

“He was probably just happy to be out there, and I definitely thought he was suffering from post-concussion syndrome the first five minutes,” Gillispie said. “He really picked it up. You have a different level of confidence (in Bradley). I know all of our players were (more confident).”

Except for an early tie, Alabama held the lead for the first 19:52 of the game. That changed when UK senior guard Joe Crawford hit a mid-range jump shot to give the Cats a 28-27 lead at halftime.

Crawford, who scored 13 points, finished off a 13-4 UK run to end the half.

The Cats’ defense lacked fire in the first half, and Gillispie took the blame.

“I think I made them a little bit tentative today,” Gillispie said. “I knew the importance of the game, and I think they played not to make some mistakes because of my attitude.”

But in the second half, the UK defense came alive. The Cats held Alabama to just 15 points during the first 18 minutes of the second half and 37 percent shooting overall. The result was a season-low 52 points for the Tide, nearly 25 points below their season average.

“We stepped it up and made it hard for them to get the ball moving, not letting them getting in their offense,” Crawford said.

Alabama played without junior forward Richard Hendrix, who averages a double-double. Hendrix made the trip to Lexington with the team, but he told Gottfried before the game he couldn’t play because of the flu.

Without Hendrix, Patterson and sophomore forward Perry Stevenson took advantage. Patterson scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Stevenson scored eight points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.

The game wouldn’t end without yet another injury for the Cats. Sophomore forward Ramon Harris was fouled hard on a fast break and suffered a hip-pointer after falling to the floor. Before the injury, Harris scored four points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out five assists. Harris could have returned to the game, Gillispie said, but the coach elected to keep him on the bench.

Harris’s play was another positive sign for the Cats, Patterson said.

“I think Ramon is realizing his strengths,” he said. “I think he’s realizing that he can drive to the basket and he can contribute to our team and be one of the key factors in our offense.”

In the end, it was another “ugly” win for the Cats. UK shot 48.7 percent but turned the ball over 18 times. Patterson said as long as the Cats are ahead on the scoreboard, ugly suits them just fine.

“Coach always says that’s the way he likes it. He’d rather have an ugly game than a pretty game,” Patterson said. “A win’s a win, (even if) it’s by one point. No matter how you write it down, a win’s a win.”