Barry Rice's Second-Half Header Goal Lifts No. 23 Soccer to C-USA Championship Game

Nov. 14, 2008

Box Score

DALLAS -- Barry Rice’s header goal in the 66th minute lifted the No. 23 Kentucky men’s soccer team to a dramatic 1-0 win over UCF in the Conference USA Semifinals, on windy Friday night at SMU’s Westcott Field. 

Kentucky (12-4-4) used a strong defensive effort and dominating performance, outshooting UCF 26-5 and holding a 14-3 advantage in corner kicks. In addition, the Wildcats had a shot hit the post and had several chances inside the box, thoroughly controlling every minute of the contest. UK owned both halves, with a 12-2 shot margin in the first half and a 14-3 margin in the second half.

“I thought both teams really scrapped hard and it was a big win for us,” head coach Ian Collins said. “The wind was obviously a factor in the game. Give Central Florida a ton of credit, they really battled and used the wind and had the game 0-0 in the first half. The second half, I thought we really played well, we had a lot of chances and we were really dangerous. Give credit to Central Florida, they have come along way and (UCF coach) Brian Cunningham has done a great job. Credit to our players too, going against the wind, I really thought we buckled down.”

The Wildcats dominated the Golden Knights in 90 minutes of physical play, with UCF resorting to pulling its 6-foot-4, 220-pound goalkeeper, Sean Johnson, with 10 minutes in the game and subbing him into a forward position, in an attempt to use his height and athleticism to net the equalizer.

Rice, a preseason All-American and two-time C-USA Defensive Player of the Year, netted his second goal of the season, lifting the Wildcats to its second C-USA Championship game in the last three years. UK will face the winner of South Carolina and Tulsa, currently scoreless 17 minutes into the first half.

Rice gave the Wildcats the lead in the 66th, as Chad Hagerty played the ball to Jason Griffiths, who lofted a cross from about 30 yards out to the far post. Rice, a member of the Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy National Player of the Year Watch List, rose up from about two yards out, firing a hard-hit header shot into the back corner of the net for a 1-0 UK lead. The goal marked Rice’s second of the year and the assist Griffiths’ second of the season and Hagerty’s team-best sixth of the year. Rice became the first player in conference history to claim defensive player of the year in two consceutive seasons.

One of the top players in collegiate soccer, Rice netted his first game winner of the year and the fifth of his career. A force in the air, Rice won 11-of-13 contested header attempts in the game – including the goal – to bring his season total up to 179-for-205, an 87-percent clip. In 2007, Rice was forced to carry the offensive load for an injury-depleted Wildcat team, totaling a team-best seven goals and one assist – with six coming on header attempts of corner kicks. The header goal was the first for Rice on the year, with his other goal coming off a free kick.

UK, riding a school-record nine-game unbeaten streak, has been red-hot since an Oct. 7 setback at No. 7 Tulsa, UK’s last defeat. The Wildcats have posted wins over No. 18 South Carolina, UAB, UCF, FIU, Marshall and No. 22 SMU – in addition to ties at No. 14 Indiana, the NCAA RPI leader at the time, and Memphis in the regular-season finale. UK has added an NCAA resume-building win over No. 8 Michigan in addition, a dominating 2-1 Wildcat win. UK’s win over Marshall on Wednesday, gave the Wildcats the school-record for the longest unbeaten streak, topping the 1997, 1998 and 2004 team’s seven-game unbeaten streaks.

“We have got to get healthy and get sorted out for Sunday, which is going to be a very, very difficult game,” Collins said. “We are just happy to be here and to have a chance to win it all.”