Bradley finds his ‘groove’

Senior guard records second career double-double against USC

With 13 minutes remaining, Ramel Bradley had a decision to make: take his steal all the way to the hoop or attempt a behind-the-back pass to a trailing teammate.

Bradley made the pass, but its recipient wasn’t on the court, as the ball flew out of bounds to the UK bench. UK, already down two to South Carolina, lost possession and went down five after the Gamecocks nailed a 3-pointer on the next possession.

The swing in momentum appeared to dash the Cats’ hope for a second-half comeback, but behind Bradley’s play, UK rebounded from the deficit and downed USC 78-70 on Saturday in front of 23,996 fans at Rupp Arena.

“I’m very proud of our guys,” head coach Billy Gillispie said. “They never hung their heads.”

Although the Cats (9-9, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) led the entire first half, they found themselves trailing just minutes after the intermission. The Gamecocks (9-10, 1-4 SEC) quickly erased a 39-34 halftime deficit behind four 3-pointers. South Carolina’s Zam Fredrick hit three of those 3-point bombs to give USC a 46-39 lead with 16:05 to play.

UK rallied to tie the game three separate times, but every time the Cats closed the lead, USC guard Devan Downey would answer with a basket or assist. Downey, who finished with 24 points, tried to close out the Cats after he scored a layup and was fouled at the 7:29 mark for a 61-57 Gamecocks advantage.

After trailing for most of the second half, the Cats finally took the lead with the help of a 12-1 run during the final minutes of the game. Sophomore guard Derrick Jasper nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing for a 65-63 lead. UK never trailed after that.

“It was a very big play by a clutch player,” Gillispie said. “I think everyone is finally seeing what we missed when he wasn’t on the court. I can’t wait until he’s fully healthy.

As clutch as Jasper was, it was Bradley who led the Cats from the second-half deficit. The senior guard was 5-of-5 from behind the arc, and he finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds for his second career double-double.

“It wasn’t his fault when we were having leaderless possessions,” Gillispie said. “But he’s really becoming a guy that’s embracing that position (of a leader).”

Freshman forward Patrick Patterson added 22 points and nine rebounds against USC, playing all 40 minutes.

“I’ve never seen a better post player as a freshman than Patrick Patterson,” USC head coach Dave Odom said.

Even with all the battling on the court, the injury bug continued to strike the Cats off the court. Senior guard Joe Crawford did not play on Saturday because of a foot injury, giving sophomore guard Jodie Meeks his first SEC start this year.

“We’ve been down that road before,” Gillispie said. “It was not a distraction.”

The Cats started off hot in the first half, riding a combination of Patterson, Bradley and Meeks to grab a 23-14 lead. Patterson pounded in the paint for 10 first-half points, while Bradley and Meeks went 5-of-8 from 3-point range to balance UK’s attack.

The Cats finished with 59 percent shooting, including 63 percent from behind the arc. Bradley’s 5-of-5 shooting from 3-point range was a big reason UK won its first back-to-back games since winning three straight at the end of November.

“I had open looks and knocked them down,” Bradley said. “I’m just in a groove right now.”