Wildcats Squeak By Central Florida
Rajon Rondo’s game-winning turn-around jumper with 1.5 seconds left lifted Kentucky to a 59-57 victory over UCF on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.
With the game deadlocked and the shot clock turned off, Rondo took the ball just inside the free throw line and backed down his defender before burying a fade-away jumper from 12 feet out. The Golden Knights missed a desperation half-court attempt at the buzzer.
Rondo’s heroics gave the Wildcats their fourth straight win and sent UCF (6-6) to its fourth defeat in its last five games. The Knights, which have been to two straight NCAA Tournaments, failed in their attempt to beat a ranked team for the second time in four years.
Kentucky (10-3) scored just eight points in the final eight minutes after leading by as many as 11 in the second half, but UK’s trademark defense stepped up to secure the victory. The Wildcats took two charges, forced a five-second call and a shot clock violation down the stretch.
UCF committed 19 total turnovers that turned into 24 points. Kentucky protected the ball much better, turning it over just 10 times – which was its second-lowest total of the year.
The Golden Knights stayed within striking distance during the early stages of the second half before making their run. Justin Rose capped a nine-point spurt with a jumper that gave UCF the lead, 50-49, with 6:56 to play.
The team’s traded baskets until a pair of Joe Crawford free throws pushed lead to three, 57-54 with 51 seconds left. After a timeout, Golden Knight guard Mike McDonell came off a screen to the left of the top of the key and drained a three-pointer to tie the contest. It was the second triple of the game for the NC State transfer who finished with six points.
For most of the game, UCF relied on Rose and leading-scorer Josh Peppers, who combined for 27 points. Rose added 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the year.
Rondo stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, six assists, four steals and four rebounds. The Wildcats were led on the toteboard by Ramel Bradley, who scored 14 of his game-high 16 points in the first half.
Undaunted by its surroundings, UCF scored the game’s first seven points and led 9-1 before Kentucky made its first field goal nearly six minutes in.
Shagari Alleyne ended the drought with a bucket from close range at the 14:11 mark of the half.
The Golden Knights continued their torrid start after Alleyne’s basket, knocking down three three-pointers in four possessions for their biggest lead, 18-7, with nine minutes left in the opening half.
However, the Wildcat defense clamped down, forcing six turnovers – that were converted into 12 points – while allowing just four field goals the rest of the half.
Meanwhile, Bradley took over on the offensive end, scoring 14 points during a 24-6 UK run that gave the Wildcats a 31-24 lead. The teams traded baskets before the break for a 33-26 halftime score.
Bradley entered the game less than three minutes in when Wildcat head coach Tubby Smith pulled the entire starting line up after the lackluster start. The bench responded with 23 first-half points en route to 35 overall.
Kentucky returns to action on Saturday when it travels to face Kansas at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. The Wildcats will be looking to avenge last season’s 65-69 loss to the Jayhawks.