A clean slate

UK opens league play with win over Vandy

Ramel Bradley dropped the basketball, turned toward the crowd and yelled, “Yeah, baby!” He slapped hands with a UK manager and headed to midcourt, where his teammates celebrated as the clock struck zero.

It took two overtimes and a valiant effort, but the senior guard and his Cats pulled out a 79-73 win over unbeaten No. 12 Vanderbilt on Saturday in front of 23,695 fans at Rupp Arena. The win snapped UK’s 11-game losing streak against ranked teams.

For Bradley, his post-game celebration was an outpouring of emotion built up over weeks, if not months, of frustration mounted from the Cats’ 6-7 start to the season.

“Big games like this, the emotions are running high, and you can’t let the emotions get the best of you during the game,” Bradley said. “We had the win at the end there, and I had to just let it out.”

Bradley scored eight straight points for UK (7-7, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) midway through the second half, when Vandy (16-1, 1-1 SEC) closed what was a 16-point UK lead to just four. Bradley then sealed the win with a step-back jump shot that gave the Cats a 77-73 lead with less than a minute to play in the final overtime period.

“If I had to choose anybody on the team to have the ball in their hands with a couple seconds left in the game, it’d be Ramel,” sophomore forward Perry Stevenson said. “He’s just smart about it. He knows what to do and when to do it.”

It was another senior — guard Joe Crawford — who gave the Cats the lead for good. After Vanderbilt center A.J. Ogilvy hit a free throw to give the Commodores a 73-72 lead with 4:44 to play in the second overtime, Crawford drove into the lane and banked a shot off the glass. The shot rolled around the rim and appeared to be falling off when Ogilvy tapped it off. Ogilvy was whistled for goaltending, UK got the points, and Vandy never scored again.

The Cats looked like they were going to run away with the game in the second half.

UK built a 16-point lead behind a 9-1 run with 14:20 to play in the second half, but Vanderbilt charged back, aided by a 5:41 UK field goal drought. Still, when Crawford ended that drought with a 3-pointer at the 1:59 mark, UK appeared to have withstood Vandy’s final charge. But Commodore guard Shan Foster nailed a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left that ultimately sent the game to overtime.

Foster finished with 17 points and three 3-pointers, but head coach Billy Gillispie said he was pleased with Crawford’s defense against Vanderbilt’s All-American candidate. The Cats held Vanderbilt to its lowest scoring output of the season despite playing 10 extra minutes.

The Cats were again seconds from the win in the first overtime, when freshman forward Patrick Patterson blocked an inside shot by Darshawn McClellan with less than 10 seconds to play. But Ogilvy corralled the rebound and scored, tying the game at 72 and sending it to the second overtime.

Gillispie has said all season that his team needed to compete harder, but on Saturday, he couldn’t come up with a single play when the Cats failed to compete hard enough.

“I don’t know if there was a possession where we didn’t compete today,” Gillispie said. “That’s what makes me the most proud as a coach, because you can’t win at the highest level without competing at the highest level.”

Bradley and Patterson embodied Gillispie’s definition of competing, the coach said. Both players played all 50 minutes, and Patterson earned his fifth double-double of the season, scoring 23 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. It marked Patterson’s third 20-point, 10-rebound game of the season, the most ever by a UK freshman.

UK pulled down nearly twice as many rebounds as Vanderbilt, out-rebounding the Commodores 45-23, including a 17-4 edge on the offensive glass that led to 18 second-chance points for the Cats.

In the end, it was a game in which neither team shot 50 percent from the field and both teams turned it over at least 20 times. But it still snapped a four-game losing streak to the Commodores — who are now 41-130 against UK all-time — and earned the Cats their 19th win in their last 21 SEC openers.

“We’re very happy, very happy,” Bradley said. “Basketball is a game — you’ve got to have fun with it. It’s a new season, and we started off 1-0.”