HalVs Cats Win Opener At Rupp
James Blackmon and Kenny Walker each pumped in 17 points to pace host Kentucky over Toledo 63-54 in the opener for both squads.
The game was close throughout the evening as there were a total of eight lead changes during the contest at Rupp Arena. But the play of Blackmon was too much for the Rockets to overcome.
Starting center Robert Lock initiated the UK "get away'' at the 8:16 mark in the second half when the freshman took a pass from junior Roger Harden and connected from 15 feet to put the Wildcats ahead 43-40. After drilling a 15-footer, Blackmon took a pass from Harden and scored on the fast break with an eight-foot jump shot. Toledo coach Bob Nichols had seen enough as he called for a timeout with his team trailing 47-40.
With 2:21 remaining and the score 54-46 in UK's favor, the sophomore from Marion, Ind., went on a scoring tear of six straight points to secure the win for the home team. With Kentucky using 39 of the 45 ticks on the shot clock, Blackmon bombed away from 18 feet to give the Cats a 56-46 advantage. Jay Gast field goal cut the lead to eight, but Blackmon soared down the baseline for an electrifying dunk. Blackmon's play fired up the 23,129 supporters and shot down the Rockets' hopes. His 18-foot jumper from top of the key raised UK's margin to 10 (60-50) with only :36 to play.
The reserve guard, who is recovering quickly from knee surgery, could spot the problems his team was having.
"I was just watching Toledo," said Blackmon. "They were running a lot of picks. I was ready when Coach Hall called on me, (he told me) to block and execute well. When I came in I wanted to be ready for that (picks)."
Walker had an off-night from the field (5-14), but was a perfect seven for seven from the charity line. The 6-foot-8 forward also grabbed eight rebounds.
The junior All-America candidate was not happy with his performance, but he did not seem to be worried.
"I knew they were sagging back in the middle in the first half," said Walker. "I knew I just had to wait my turn  it came in the second half. I had the shots that I wanted, but they just weren't falling. That was due to me getting a little bit tired.
"I've got to keep taking those shots. They'll start to fall."
Walker had to come out early in the first half due to a cut below his right eye. However he only missed 3:29 of action in the first stanza.
Hardin, a junior guard, added 11 points while dishing out a team high five assist. Six-foot forward Bret Bearup chipped in with eight points respectively.
Toledo was every bit as tough as their preseason predictions. The Rockets who are favored to capture their conference title, were led by Gast (a Maysville product) and Bob Borcherdt. The two sharpshooting guards put a scare into the Kentucky faithfuls early in the contest.
With the score knotted at eight, Brocherdt and Gast combined for five long range jumpers as the Rockets stayed with the favored Wildcats. The visitors then took their biggest lead of the night 23-17 when Gast connected from 18-feet. Toledo held a halftime advantage of 26-24.
Gast finished the night with 16 points followed by Borcherdt's 12.
Ken Epperson, an honorable mention All-American last year, was held to seven points. Though, it was thought that the 6-8, 238 pound Louisville native might not play at all because of bone spurs in his right foot.
Kentucky's first half shooting performance against Toledo could be resembling to the Georgetown performance of less than a year ago.
The Wildcats' starting lineup consisting of one freshman (Lock), one sophomore (Paul Andrews), two juniors (Walker and Harden) and a senior (Bearup) started out flat against the team from the Mid American Conference and stayed that way until halftime. At one point (7:57-1:40) the Wildcats didn't score a basket of any sorts. UK's 32.4 percent first half shooting wasn't as bad as the second half in Seattle last March (nine percent), but it wasn't a stellar performance either.
However, Kentucky improved its shooting in the second half hitting on 16 of 30 shots for a much improved 53.3 percent.
James For Two