c/%e< (Date' &cutA&
'Cats Close Out Season With A Bang!
Wow! What a weekend!
And what a lift for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Getting the 10-count after losing at Georgia last Wednesday, the Wildcats could have wilted on the vine, so to speak, during the final seconds Saturday as Ole Miss appeared to be on the verge of a major, major upset.
But the 'Cats had a couple of their nine lives left.
Thanks to freshman Rex "Prime Time" Chapman and his zeal for wanting the ball when the game is on the line, Kentucky escaped with a 64-63 victory.
And then the repeat preformance Sunday when Richard Madison became a star of the day by scoring the winning bucket with just seconds left in the game.
Now, Kentucky enters the Southeastern Conference Tournament on a real uptick as it hopes to improve its seeding in next week's NCAA Tournament.
Oh sure, there are some who may claim that Kentucky doesn't have a bid locked up. I'm not the type person who bets on basketball games, but I've got some loose change which says there will be a martian in the white house before Kentucky stays home from the NCAAs next week.
Prior to the two big wins over the weekends, there were some in the Bluegrass who had judged this season to be one of total failure around these parts. Oh what a monster you've created Eddie Sutton.
Just prior to the season opener, those same fans would have voted you coach of the year if you would have assured them of a 19-10 mark. You knew you were going to be shor-thanded with Kenny Walker, Roger Harden and LeRoy Byrd gone, but when Winston Bennett went out for the year. Well, there were some wondering if Kentucky might not suffer its first losing season since...well, whenever it was the last time Kentucky lost more games than it won.
But a funny thing happened along the march to The Omni. First, the Wildcats played Indiana toe-to-toe in Bloomington. It was enough to get Kentucky fans thinking maybe you were God after all.
And then that 34-point laugher over Louisville. Well, suddenly all the doubt was removed. Forget the fact that you warned the fans that it was a freakish deal at best.
And then it began to crumble. The upset loss to Georgia on that same Freedom Hall court a few days later. The embarrassing 34-point loss to LSU at Rupp Arena (gosh, you could hear the cracks forming in the concrete).
All of a sudden, the world was coming to an end.
And then Kentucky stuns Auburn, only to lose at Ole Miss. Then you upset Alabama in Tuscaloosa only to lose at Georgia. Just when the fans were ready to start breaking ground for their new garden, you've teased them again with those spine-tingling come-from-behind wins over Ole Miss and Oklahoma.
The big question is, which team will show up at The Omni Friday when Kentucky tries to whip Auburn for a third straight time.
pull another Cinderella finish at the SEC Tournament this week?
Last year, the Tigers bombed out to Mississippi State in the second round, but the two years prior to that Auburn put on brilliant charges in the SEC tourney to impress NCAA officials.
In 1984, Auburn went right to the wire with Kentucky before Kenny Walker hit a shot at the buzzer to give the 'Cats the crown.
In 1985, with Smith's job on the line according to some, Auburn charged from nowhere to win the tournament by turning back Alabama in the championship game.
There are some who insist that Auburn supporters aren't very happy with the way things are going in Tigerland. There are others who say Smith isn't very happy with things around Auburn himself. And there are some who say that East Carolina is looking more and more inviting to the popular Auburn coach each day.
Just how attractive East Carolina is to Smith could be answered by the number of wins his team achieves in the SEC this week.
And there is the rumor making the rounds that Smith could wind up back in his nativ-ed state of Tennessee as head coach of the Big Orange Vols if Don DeVoe should not be around in the not too distant future.
All those rumors and $1 will get you a cheap cup of coffee this week in Atlanta.
Without question, you can bet a lot more rides on this opening round game for Auburn than for Kentucky.
Still, Kentucky needs a win or two to help build momentum for the big show next week.
The weekend victories were nice, but they came at the friendly confines of Rupp Arena. They won't be around Rupp again before next November.
It's one thing to win at home and another thing to win on the road. And it's yet another thing to win at a neutral site which is where the 'Cats will play this week. Chances are the Cats won't face the Georgia Bulldogs during the SEC hoedown, but if they should, you can bet there will be two happy people— Eddie Sutton and Hugh Durham.
Happy because it would mean the two would be playing for the championship of the tourney. Neither is likely to make it, but stranger things have happened. Durham would like nothing better than to meet a team he has already beaten twice. And you can rest assured Sutton would like to have a third short at the 'Dogs. But it won't happen.
And now to our fearless predictions this week.
Opening round games have LSU taking on Mississippi State and Tennessee going against Vanderbilt.
LSU should have no trouble in disposing of the least talented team in the league, but the Tigers have performed tank jobs before. In fact, it wasn't so long ago, like last Saturday in Auburn. The Tigers are still living off their two wins over Kentucky. Still, if LSU loses this one, our good friend Joe Dean is going to have to get real rough with his good friend Dale Brown. The other first-round game has all the mak-
WU1 Sonny Smith and his Auburc Tigers injrs of sending, a coach .into either semi or
Don DeVoe has been on the hot seat the past few years in Knoxville and the temperature will rose this winter when Ole Miss beat the Vols twice in less than four days. His boss, AD Doug Dickey gave him a verbal vote of confidence but you know how much that is worth.
On the other hand, the diehards in Music City are becoming restless with the direction of the Commodore program and CM. Newton's patience has been wearing thin with his players.
A Knoxville sportswriter quoted CM. recently as saying he wasn't having fun anymore in coaching and that is why he quit the first time when he left the coaching scene at Alabama several years ago.
Vanderbilt got off to a torrid start in the preseason, even upset then-No. 1 ranked Indiana. Then, the SEC swoon season arrived. Upset losses at home and few victories on the road. A home-court upset over Notre Dame in February quieted the critics briefly, but Vandy lost to archrival Tennessee twice and that hasn't set too well.
So one of the two will close out a very, very disappointing campaign Thursday. It could be the death sentence for one, a 14-hour stay of execution for the other.
Newton's job isn't on the line this year, but DeVoe's could be. Here's hoping Vanderbilt's win doesn't mean we won't get to see DeVoe enjoy his new 25,000-seat arena next winter.
Thursday's aciton has Georgia going against Ole Miss with Kentucky challenging Auburn in the second game. Both will be decided in the final minute. Georgia over Ole Miss and Kentucky squeaking by Auburn.
In the first game Friday evening, Florida will challenge LSU and this could be the upset of the tournament. Brown is at his best in going for broke. The Gators still haven't learned how to win away from friendly O'Connell Center. LSU is tournament-tested.
The nightcap will have Vanderbilt taking on SEC champion Alabama. It'll be the most lopside game of the entire tournament. The fans will leave long before the final horn and enjoy a fine Atlanta dinner.
In the semi-finals, Georgia will clash with Florida and Kentucky will meet Alabama.
In the opening match, Florida has the horses but Georgia has Hugh Durham. It'll be crunch time for Norm Sloan and his Gators who want to prove to the world they aren't "choke city."
Vernon Maxwell, Andrew Moten and company won't lose this time and will move to the championship battle with a double-digit victory.
Without question, Alabama is the class of the SEC. Forget the Crimson Tide's losses to Kentucky and Florida. The Tide has all the ingredients to become a Final Four entry, as in the NCAA, not the SEC.
No one in the league has greater inside talent than Derrick McKey, Jim Farmer, Michael Ansley. McKey is better than most teams' entire front line. And what hasn't been said about Terry Coner and Mark Gottfried?
Sure, Kentucky beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. And once every century LSU might beat Kentucky 34 points in Lexington,
Kentucky will give it a good shot, but Alabama still hasn't forgotten those four losses last season, not to mention the upset loss last month at home. Alabama by K).
In the title game, the two which are supposed to be there will be there. It'll be a dandy, but Florida is no match for the SEC's finest—the Alabama Crimson Tide.
And now to the honors department.
Wimp Sanderson is our coach of the year. It's not even a close race. The man did what he is supposed to do and he did it with ease, class and perfection.
Sure, 'Bama has some great talent. But talent alone doesn't win. His team played well right out of the gate (save the Florida State game when Coner was hurt) and the Tide won the league race going away.
Second-place honors go to Hugh Durham who did a fantastic job after losing numerous key players. You can argue a point in Durham's favor as coach of the year, but it's a lot different from coaching an underdog and a favorite. The pressure is always with No. 1.
And Ed Murphy certainly is a strong third with his first year job at Ole Miss. His Rebels have played remarkably well, but history reminds us that sometimes we put too much stock into first-year beginnings.
Still, Murphy's work was certainly magnificant in leading the Rebels to a winning record, their first in four years.
Our ten-man All-Southeastern Conference team was a tough one. After the first five or six players, it became extremely tough to round out just a 10-man squad. At least six other players could have qualified. We had to pick ten and no doubt we probably missed one one of your favorites. Our apologizies.
Here's a reminder to all the Kentucky fans who will be making the trip to Atlanta this weekend.
The Greater Atlanta-UK Alumni Club is sponsoring an SEC Hospitality Reception Friday, March 6 at the downtown Hyatt from 3:30 p.m. til 6:30 p.m. between the afternoon and evening sessions of the tournament.
Admission will be $2 per person at the door.
Brad Loar of the Atlanta club says the club plans to schedule other activities, depending on the team's success. His phone number for information regarding such activities are (404) 979-8761 or (404) 7066 (daytime).
HITS AND MISSES . . . Former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall will be attending the SEC Tournament this week and will be the ABC-TV color analyst for the championship game on Sunday. He'll be working with Al Michaels . . . Kentucky, which is still making a push to sign a top-quality point guard for next season, had 6-0 Elliot Perry of Memphis, Tenn., in for an official visit over the weekend. He is considered the state's top prospect and many believe he will decide between Memphis State and Kentucky. Also