Whirlwind week for Cats

By Steve LeMaster

Wow, last week was quite a week for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team.
Yes, it had its highs and lows.

After losing on the road at South Carolina, Tuesday night, Feb. 15, the UK men’s team returned home to play Saturday, returning to the friendly confines of Rupp Arena. The Wildcats played host to visiting SEC rival Mississippi State and won impressively, 94-78. Kentucky was able to put the loss to South Carolina, its first conference setback of the 2004-05 season, behind it and move on. Seven different Wildcats reached double figures, as Kentucky played huge in front of the home crowd.

Kelenna Azubuike led Kentucky with 15 points. Patrick Sparks made four 3-pointers and added 14 points for the Wildcats. In scoring 98 points, Kentucky posted its highest single-game point total of the season.

Mississippi State entered Saturday’s game as one of the SEC’s hottest teams. The loss snapped a nine-game Mississippi State winning streak. Kentucky’s defense was key in the win. The Wildcats had 16 steals, including a game-high eight swipes from freshman Rajon Rondo. Chuck Hayes tossed in 12 points for Kentucky. Hayes has been named first team All-District 7 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Walk-on junior Ravi Moss and freshman Ramel Bradley both had 10 apiece.

Kentucky broke open what was a close game at halftime. The Wildcats took a three-point lead (46-43) into halftime. In the second half, Kentucky got off to a quick start by going on a 10-0 run. The win over Mississippi State secured for Kentucky and head coach Tubby Smith the program’s 50th overall and 15th consecutive 20-win season. The Wildcats improved to 20-3.

Cold Pizza, ESPN2’s weekday morning show broadcast live from Memorial Coliseum Friday, Feb. 18. The show featured interviews with UK senior Hayes and Smith, and former Wildcats Kenny Walker and Jeff Sheppard. University of Kentucky students were a part of the audience.

ESPN’s College Basketball Gameday show was broadcast live from Rupp Arena over the weekend, Saturday, prior to the Kentucky men’s basketball game. The broadcast location was the Rupp Arena lobby off High Street between the Lexington Center Shoppes and the arena turnstiles.

Some 150 student-athletes, honored from 15 districts are now eligible for the NABC Division I All-American Team. The All-American Team is scheduled to be announced at the end of the season. Louisville’s Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean, Memphis’ Rodney Carney and Tennessee Tech’s Willie Jenkins joined Hayes on the NABC District 7 squad.

Hayes wasn’t the only SEC student-athlete honored. Mississippi State’s Lawrence Roberts, Alabama’s Kennedy Winston and Ernest Shelton, Florida’s Anthony Robinson, Arakansas’ Ronnie Brewer and LSU’s Brandon Bass joined Hayes.

Hayes entered the week averaging almost a double-double for the Wildcats. In 23 games, Hayes has averaged 10.7 ppg and 8.6 rpg. The Atlanta UK Alumni Club will be holding a pep rally at the SEC Tournament on March 11 at the Georgia World Congress Center Rooms B405-B407 beginning at 3 p.m. Cost is $15 per person. Children under 10 will be admitted free.

The first 500 people will receive a free Kentucky T-shirt. A DJ will be playing music, vendors will be selling merchandise and former UK players such as Walker and Sheppard will be in attendance. The 14-time National Champion Wildcat cheerleaders will be present as well as the National Champion UK dance team and the UK pep band. Guest appearances by UK President Lee Todd and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart will highlight the event.

There will be a cash bar available and door prizes will be given out during the event. For more information, call David Shelton at 770/309-3949. n