No, The Stokely Center Ghosts May Have Made The Move To Thompson-Boling Arena, But UK Was Victimized By Its Own High Jinks In 72-70 Loss
By TCP Columnist Mike Estep
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Like the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. After Don DeVoe's rag-tag Volunteers got through with his Kentucky club, UK coach Eddie Sutton could have added a new corrolary to the rule: Sutton led his horses to Knoxville, but he couldn't make them think.
Yes, Sutton's stable of thoroughbreds boarded the plane to K-town with an opportunity to break the SEC race wide open. The 'Cats entered the UT game with a 10-3 record in league play, a game ahead of Vanderbilt, a game and a half ahead of Florida and LSU. Had the frontrunning Wildcats been able to top the seventh-place Vols, who came into the contest riding a three-game losing streak, they could have almost assured themselves a spot in the SEC winner's circle at the end of the season.
Instead, UK came out of the gate slowly and then failed down the backstretch. And after redshirt freshman Greg Bell threw in an off-balanced, buzzer-beating jumper snap a 70-70 tie with :02 remaining, the 'Cats escaped Big Orange Country a half-game ahead of LSU, lucky that Alabama and Ole Miss took care of Vanderbilt and Florida, respectively.
This Time, Kentucky Beat Itself In Knoxville
What caused the 'Cats to stumble was not the so-called Knoxville jinx which had haunted them in 13 of their previous 15 trips to Tennessee, although the last 1:18 of the game certainly brought back unpleasant memories of Stokley Center. Instead it was UK's own brand of high jinks—most notably a lack of patience and smarts on the offensive end in the first half.
"I thought the first half we really kinda dug ourselves a hole by not playing very smart offensively," a distraught Sutton said after the game. "And I don't take anything away from Tennessee, because I thought they played excellent in the first 20-minute period. But offensively, we were shooting the ball too quickly, the shot selection was not what we really wanted.
"But then we fought back and got ourselves back in a good position in the second half and the game could've gone either way."
As it happened—Bell picked up a loose ball in the lane and had his five-foot prayer answered just ahead of the buzzer—it went Tennessee's way. But had the 'Cats used their heads a little more in the early going, been more patient, worked for better shots, they would have never been in position to lose it at the end.
"At this point I thought we had realized what we have to do," Sutton said, "but evidently we haven't done a very good job of teaching because they certainly reverted back to (the way they were playing earlier in the season). We were almost in a frenzy in the first half. It was almost like every time we shot it was, 'Boy, this is the las,t shot we're gonna get.' It shouldn't be that way. That's when guards should take over and make a team run its patterns."
First-Half Hole Too Much To Overcome For UK
You could almost count on the fingers of one hand how many times the much-ballyhooed backcourt of Rex Chapman and Ed Davender set up the offense in the first half. While Tennessee was busy running up a lead which ballooned to 13 points at 39-26 with 4:14 remaining until halftime, UK's guards were playing bombs-away. Chapman, who didn't find his shooting eye until late in the game, was three for eight from the outside in the first period. And Davender, the same Davender who had put up just two shots— instead handing out 10 assists—in quarterbacking the club so expertly in a win over Alabama three days before, went wild. Although Easy Ed's stat sheet looked good for the first half—he was six of 12 from the field and four of four from the line for 16 points—he never allowed UK's inside players to get their hands on the ball. The inside trio of Winston Bennett (0-1), LeRon Ellis (1-2) and Rob Lock (3-5) took just eight shots.
"When you look at the statistics," Sutton said, "I think we did not get the ball inside as much. We depended too much on perimeter shooting, and that's not really what we want to do. We want to get the ball inside and establish an inside game, and then when the defense collapses, kick it back out on the floor."
First-Half Defense Could've Been Better, Too
All the blame can't be placed on the offense, however. UK's man-to-man defense was suspect in the early going as the Vols got off to a 10-4 lead in the first three minutes, all five of the UT baskets coming on layups. And with leading scorer Dyron Nix having trouble getting untracked in the first half, Bell and Clarence Swearengen penetrated the Wildcat defense almost at will. Tennessee's starting guards were outscored 41-1 by their UK counterparts in Kentucky's 83-65 thumping of the Vols earlier this season in Lexington, but Bell and Swearengen combined for 25 Wednesday, 19 of them in the first half.
Despite the offensive and defensive breakdowns in the first half, the 'Cats did battle their way back into the game. A 9-0 Kentucky run. punctuated with a five-foot half-hook from Lock, put Kentucky ahead for the first time at 51-50 with 12:30 to go.
The teams traded baskets for the next six minutes, before Tennessee threatened to pull away again. Nix, who finished with a team-high 20 points, 14 of them in the second half, went to work inside with three straight baskets, moving the Vols in front 64-59 at the 6:29 mark. Kentucky fought back, and a pair of 10-footers by Chapman put the 'Cats back on top 67-64 with 3:33 remaining.
Then Mark Griffin, a 29.2-percent shooter from three-point range making just his second start of the year, hit his fifth bonus baby of the game to pull the Vols even at 67.
"That was a big-time shot," Davender said. "If he had missed that shot, they would have folded a little."
Instead, the Vols were pumped up for the Stokley-like finish.
A three-point possession—a free throw from Davender and a left-handed hook from Lock—put the 'Cats back in front 70-69 with 1:18 to go. A Nix free throw evened the score again at 70-70 at the :47 mark.
Last 1:18 Brought Back Memories Of Stokely
That's when it got interesting.
Kentucky called its last timeout with :37 left to set up its final strategy. Sutton said he wanted to isolate Chapman one-on-one for the final shot that would either give UK the win, or at least salvage overtime. As it turned out, neither was the case.
"We wanted to work the clock down to :10 and then give the ball to Rex and run what we call "1 flat," Sutton said. "We wanted him to go one-on-one but he never got the ball back."
But freshman Eric Manuel was trapped on the baseline near the left hashmark before he could return the ball to Chapman, and the ball popped out of bounds to Tennessee.
"One Tennessee guy grabbed my arm and knocked it loose," Manuel said. "You'll get calls like that on the road. I didn't hit it again."
Another questionable call—at least from UK's point of view-would occur just seconds later at the other end. Swearengen drove the left side of the lane with under :10 to play, and bulled into Chapman.
"A lot of times you try to fake (a charge)," Chapman said. "I definitely didn't fake it."
The officials thought otherwise, however, and no call was made. Bell scooped up the loose ball and hit the game-winner.
"I was off-balance," Bell said. "I just cut between them (Chapman and Bennett), put it up and said, 'I hope that goes in.' It wasn't the kind of shot you want at the end."
The result was, though—it swished the nets with :02 left on a clock which Kentucky could not stop again, giving the Vols the two-point upset. And dropping the 'Cats back to the pack in the SEC race.
18:46 Lock layup 18:01
14:47 Chapman It 14:11 Davender layup
13:25 Davender 6 It.
12:56! Lock layup 12:40
2:16 ; Davender 16 ft. 1:17
9:24| Lock 2 ft. 8:44. Davender layup
7:42 Chapman FT, FT
6:49 Chapman follow
5:28 Chapman layup
4:00 Manuel 8 ft., FT 2:18 I Davender layup 1:57 j
1:14 Davender 5 ft. 0:50! Lock FT, FTA 0:11 j
Om Davender FT, FT
110-19 12-191 j 12-21 114-21 14-21!
trengen layup Rolh layup Bell layup Griffin 20 ft.
Bell 20 ft.
Griffin 20 ft.
Nix 9 turnaround
Nix lavup Bell 21 ft.
Roth 4 ft. Bell FT, FT
Roth 16 ft.
Bell 15 ft., FT
18:15 j Manuel 10 ft. follow
17:32 Lcxk 5 ft. 16:42 i
16:221 Davender FT, FT 15:43
14:50 j Manuel 10 ft. 14:17 Bennett 10 ft., FT 13:071 Manuel 10 ft.
10 Rock 5 ft. 11:36 | 1:14 10:481 10:28| 10:11 9:55 9:02 7:59 7:31 6:50 6:29
6:10 Lock follow layup 5:25| Davender 5 ft. 03| Chapman 15 ft. 33 Chapman 10 ft. 3:18 2:29 !» 1:16 0:47 0:02
Davender 10 ft. Manuel 12 ft. Davender 9 ft.
Davender FTA, FT
40-46 40-48J 42-48 42-501 44-50; 47-50 49-50 151-50 51-52
57-58 57-60 59-60 59-62 59-64 61-64 63-64 65-64J 67-64 67-67
68- 69 70-69 70-70 70-72
Swearengen layup Nix dunk Nix dunk
Griffin 22 ft. Nix FT, FTA
Swearengen 5 ft.
Nix 8 ft. Nix dunk
Griffin 21 ft. Nix FT, FT
Nix FT, FTA Bell 5 ft.
-Cats' ftiuse chart