No southern comfort

By Steve LeMaster

The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team now has two losses on its record for the 2004-05 season. In early-December, Kentucky stumbled on the road—Tobacco Road—against North Carolina. On Sunday, again taking a break from Southeastern Conference play, Kentucky returned to the home hardwood of Rupp Arena and stepped out of conference to take on the visiting Kansas Jayhawks. Visiting Kansas made the most of its road trip and non-Big 12 Conference game, beating the host Wildcats 65-59. Quite possibly most impressive for Kansas (11-0) is the fact that the Jayhawks beat Kentucky without the services of inside force Wayne Simeon. A pre-season All-American, Simeon was forced out of action earlier in the season when he had surgery on his left thumb. Kansas won its fourth straight game without Simeon. The win over Kentucky keeps Kansas undefeated on the season. The loss snapped a six-game UK win streak.

Freshman C.J. Miles, playing in replacement of Simeon, shot a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and finished with 10 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. Christian Moody, another frontline player for the Jayhawks and a junior walk-on, added 11 points and seven rebounds. Sasha Kaun, another inside player for Kansas, flipped in seven points.

Kentucky (10-2, 1-0 in SEC) got close, but could never overtake Kansas. The Jayhawks enjoyed their biggest lead at 52-44 with 6:12 remaining. Kentucky then went on a 9-0 run and after a layup by junior guard Patrick Sparks, led 53-52 with 3:54 left. Up 58-56, Kansas got a key 3-point basket from Michael Lee, who drained the trey with 30 seconds remaining. Kentucky forced Kansas into 21 turnovers, made couldn’t make the most of the Jayhawk miscues. Kansas shot 21-of-53 from the field (39.6 percent) and Kentucky shot 21-of-68 (30.9 percent).

Kelenna Azubuike paced Kentucky with 12 points. Sparks finished with 10 points, as did reserve Bobby Perry, who came in off the Wildcat bench and had career-highs in both scoring (10 points) and rebounding (seven rebounds). Ravi Moss, another Key reserve for the Wildcats, tossed in eight points, all of which came in the second half. UK freshman guard Rajon Rondo recorded a season-high five steals. After a slow start, Kentucky ended the first half on a 16-6 run and led the Jayhawks 16-6 at halftime. In losing to North Carolina and Kansas, Kentucky has suffered losses to two of the nation’s top-two NCAA Division-I men’s basketball teams.

Following the loss to Kansas, UK head coach Tubby Smith acknowledged Kansas and its talented play coupled with his team’s weaknesses. “Some of the same problems that we’ve had all year hurt us again today,” said Smith. “But I have to compliment Kansas. Bill Self had his team ready to play. We struggled shooting the ball obviously. We have to make some shots. We had some opportunities when we got in the post. We made some bad decisions, some undisciplined decisions at times. It was a hard fought game. Kansas is obviously a very good team.”

Now, Kentucky is back to playing in the tough SEC.

Kentucky returned to action at home earlier this week against SEC rival Vanderbilt.

In more UK basket ball news, head coach Tubby Smith announced Tuesday that freshman guard Joe Crawford will transfer.

Crawford is a part of Kentucky’s freshman class, a class that was rated as the top recruiting class in all of the nation. At this time, it isn’t clear where Crawford will transfer.

Crawford (6-4, 210), a guard from Detroit, was one of three McDonald’s All-America players in Kentucky’s freshman class, playing alongside fellow McDonald’s All-Americans Randolph Morris and Rajon Rondo.

Crawford sited a lack of playing time as his reason for transferring. Crawford, at 13.3 minutes per game, averaged the sixth-highest total of playing time on the UK men’s team.

The Detroit hoopster played just four minutes last week in a win over South Carolina and three in Sunday’s loss to Kansas. During his time at Kentucky, Crawford averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per contest. n