Cats finally have reason to celebrate

Column by Jonathan Smith

With Saturday’s win over Vanderbilt, UK won its eighth national basketball championship.

OK, maybe not. But it certainly looked like it.

Ramel Bradley and Patrick Patterson were screaming at the resuscitated Rupp Arena crowd. Patterson’s parents, Buster Jr. and Tywanna, made their way to the floor to celebrate with an array of fist-pumps and high-fives. Perry Stevenson was mobbed at midcourt by the UK reserves for his back-breaking steal in the second overtime.

That was the scene after UK defeated the Commodores 79-73 in double overtime Saturday afternoon. A national championship wasn’t really at stake, but the fans, coaches, players and parents of players had many reasons to celebrate.

They celebrated so passionately because of the way the season started. They celebrated with so much enthusiasm because the game was so back-and-forth and competitive.

They celebrated with so much verve because, for the first time this season, they finally had something to celebrate.

“These guys have been through a lot already,” head coach Billy Gillispie said.

They sure have, Coach.

UK was miserable in the first 13 games of the season, losing seven of those contests, giving the Cats a losing record going into conference play for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

UK had also lost 11 straight games against ranked teams before knocking off the No. 12 Commodores. And the Cats had lost four straight games to Vandy.

All those ended Saturday, setting off the wild celebration.

“We needed this a lot,” Patterson said.

Much of the credit for the win should go to Patterson.

Patterson scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the way for UK. He dominated in the first half, but was largely ignored by his teammates in the second half and in overtime.

Still, he became the first player in the history of the program to record three 20-point, 10-rebound games during his freshman season.

UK got off to leads of 6-0 and 23-10 in the first half, and 32-22 at halftime largely behind Patterson. The teams traded the lead six times in the two overtimes, and he was a big reason UK won in the second overtime — he hit a free throw and grabbed three rebounds as he completed a full 50 minutes of play.

After the game, Patterson said he wasn’t “tired at all” and that he could “go again.”

Credit should also go to UK’s two seniors, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford.

Bradley’s jumper with 33 seconds left in the second overtime clinched the win for UK. Crawford had 17 points and gave the Cats the lead for good with 3:33 left in the second overtime, but his biggest contributions came on the defensive end. He gave Shan Foster, the Southeastern Conference’s best player, a hard time all game.

Bradley and Crawford have been here for four years now, and they’re the only players on the team who played in the last UK game that went to double overtime.

That was the 2005 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight game against Michigan State. UK lost, and many fans still haven’t gotten over it.

But against Vanderbilt this weekend, they won. And they celebrated.

It has been a long time coming.

Jonathan Smith is a journalism senior. E-mail [email protected]