Crawford shines as Cats down Gamecocks

COLUMBIA, S.C. – When Joe Crawford spotted a $20 bill last week on the street, he was afraid that if he picked it up his hot shooting wouldn’t continue.

Crawford, thinking like most people would, picked up the money.

After he scored 14 points last Saturday against Mississippi State, it appeared his luck couldn’t be broken.

After he scored 23 points last night against South Carolina, it is obvious no superstition can break his rhythm.

Crawford had another big night, getting to double figures for the sixth straight game to lead the Cats to an 87-49 blowout win over the Gamecocks in front of 13,809 fans at the Colonial Center. It was USC’s worst home defeat since losing to Wake Forest 64-11 in 1915.

“He’s hot,” said head coach Tubby Smith. “What else can you say.”

Crawford got started early, and didn’t slow down.

He scored six of the Cats’ first nine points, both on 3-pointers, to give UK (15-3 overall, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) an early 9-2 advantage.

Crawford went back and forth with USC (10-6, 0-3) guard Tre Kelley for most of the first half, as each led his team with 17 and 16 points respectively as they headed into half time. But both attacked the offensive end in different ways.

Crawford did his damage from outside, hitting his first three 3-point shots in pushing the Cats to an early 12-4 lead. All of his threes were virtually uncontested. So Crawford put it on himself to knock them down.

“I was forced to,” Crawford said. “I was open and I had to hit the shots.”

USC and Kelley, on the other hand, attacked from inside the arc. With his team down 18-9, Kelley scored seven of USC’s ten points — four on layups, two from 15-feet and one from the free throw line — to get the Gamecocks within five.

After that, Crawford went back to work, this time from inside the three point line, as he scored four straight to stretch the Cats lead back to nine.

Crawford wasn’t the only UK player that was knocking down 3-pointers. Ramel Bradley also got in on the act, hitting a trio of triples and scored nine points in the first half.

In the second half, Crawford and Kelley traded baskets in the first minute.

Crawford scored again on the next play, which sparked an 11-2 run to put the Cats up 49-30 with 16:46 to go. The Gamecocks would get no closer than 16 points the rest of the way.

“Any team in the SEC is dangerous,” Bradley said. “We wanted to come out in the first five minutes and really put it on them.”

It was the third straight big home loss for the Gamecocks, who had previously fallen to No. 1 Florida and No. 5 Kansas by a combined 50 points.

“I know South Carolina is going through some tough times,” Smith said. “As a coach you always sympathize with coaches and teams and you know injuries and things that happen that can put your team in tailspins.”

Still, UK was unrelenting as the Cats continued their strong play on defense, limiting the Gamecocks to 26.8 percent on 15-of-56 shots. It is the fifth straight time that the Cats have held their opponent to under 40 percent from the floor. Kelley was the only Gamecock to hit more than half of his shots. He finished with 19 points.

On offense the Cats shot a season high 62.5 percent. As soon as the Cats got to the gym, the team knew they could have a big night shooting the ball.

“As soon as we had our shoot around, everybody started shooting well,” said Randolph Morris, who finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds. “We knew that the rims were very generous and I think we obviously played well in this arena.”

And no one played better than Crawford. But even with his big game, he didn’t want to talk about it.

When a reporter told him that he’s shooting over 60 percent in league games, he cut him off.

“I don’t want to talk about percents,” Crawford said. “It’s bad luck.”