Kentucky wins once again in first round behind MorrisMar 17, 2007 - 9:22 AM CHICAGO (Ticker) -- If Tubby Smith holds onto his job at Kentucky, he can thank Randolph Morris.
Morris scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as eighth-seeded Kentucky continued an impressive streak in NCAA Tournament first-round games with a 67-58 victory over No. 9 Villanova in the West Region.
Freshman Jodie Meeks had 12 points and Ramel Bradley added 11 for Kentucky (22-11), which advanced to the second round for the 16th consecutive year and will face top-seeded Kansas on Sunday.
"They are the No. 1 seed in our bracket, so to slow them down we will probably need to try to control the tempo and control the boards and limit what they do," Morris said. "They are a fast-paced team and we will have to combat that."
Although Smith reached the NCAA Tournament in his 10th consecutive season with Kentucky, there have been a number of calls in recent weeks for his job, especially with the Wildcats losing six of their previous nine games.
Included in that slump was an 84-82 overtime loss to Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals last Friday, when Smith caused Sheray Thomas to commit a lane violation with Kentucky holding a two-point lead in the closing seconds of regulation and trying to add more. The Bulldogs went on to force the extra session on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
In this one, Kentucky flexed its muscle inside behind Morris, who shot 5-of-7 from the field, converted 9-of-15 free throws and blocked three shots.
"Villanova is a very good team and very talented team, we are happy to come in here and put together a complete game," Smith said. "Randolph set the tone early inside and our defense stepped up."
"That's always the emphasis to get me going early since I am the key to a lot of things we do, offensively an defensively I need to put us in a good position to win," Morris said.
After Villanova (22-11) used a 6-0 run out of halftime to take a 34-30 lead, Kentucky got a jumper from Joe Crawford and three straight free throws from Morris to pull back ahead at 35-34 with 17:09 left.
Crawford later had a 3-pointer, Meeks hit one and Morris added two more free throws to push the lead to 49-39 with 8:27 to play.
Lacking a third scoring option behind Big East Rookie of the Year Scottie Reynolds and Curtis Sumpter, Villanova was only able to get within 54-50 with less than five minutes remaining before Kentucky made numerous trips to the free-throw line.
The Wildcats did have their chances to close closer especially after their interior defense forced Morris to go up-and-down with the score 61-56 with 1:43 to play. However, Villanova guard Mike Nardi front-rimmed a wide-open look from the arc on the other end.
It was one of two wide-open looks from the arc in the final two minutes for Nardi, Villanova's third-leading scorer who was hampered by a badly sprained ankle.
"Mike Nardi had two great looks there," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "One would have made it a one-possession game and the one would have made it a two-possession game and we would still have had plenty of time. It's obviously disappointing."
The senior guard, who was limited to just a combined 10 minutes in his previous two games, went 2-of-7 from the field, including 2-of-6 on 3-pointers, to finish with six points.
"Without Mike Nardi, who played well on a bad wheel, it was a good college game," Smith said.
Overall, Kentucky finished 22-of-31 (71 percent) from the stripe, while Villanova went 15-of-20 (75 percent).
Reynolds scored 23 points and Sumpter added 19 and eight boards for Villanova, which shot just 33 percent (18-of-55).
- WEST REGIONAL
NCAA BB WEST REGIONAL
FINAL 1ST 2ND TOTAL
--- --- -----
VILLANOVA 28 30 58
KENTUCKY 30 37 67 FINAL
Mar 17 12:01 AM
- WEST REGIONAL
NCAA BB (9) VILLANOVA 28
(8) KENTUCKY 30 HALFTIME
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