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Davender Leads Way
Senior Point Guard Scored Just Four Points, But Dished Out Career-High 10 Assists To Key Win
By TCP Staff Writer Jim Easterwood
When Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton talks, the 'Cats do more than listen.
They respond in a big way.
Talk hasn't been cheap either. The lOth-ranked 'Cats now have the "fortune" of being tops in the SEC, IS-3 overall, and peaking at the right time with a five-game win streak.
Saturday afternoon Ed Davender. the high-scoring point guard (I5.8 points per game), was the latest in a long line of 'Cats to heed Sutton's pregame advice. It came before the Alabama game.
"I told him about his role and how important it was to look for his teammates." said Sutton. "To set them up. . .that's the job of a point guard."
Easy Ed, the man with the Captain Marvel goggles, was simply marvelous in his new job of feeding the hungry 'Cats. Especially those who live inside the paint.
Davender has averaged 3.2 assists his first three years. But Saturday he wound up with 10 as the 'Cats rolled back the Tide 82-68 at Rupp Arena.
Davender-Led 'Cats Had Passing Game Going
"Ed did a tremendous job of running the ballclub and hitting the open man," said senior forward Winston Bennett.
Bennett was the biggest beneficiary of Sutton's chat with Davender. He scored 25 points, most of them coming after Rob Lock, Eric Manuel or LeRon Ellis had kicked the ball back out.
Easy Ed then would kick it back in, many times to Sir Winston.
Davender ended the game with only four points, a layup and two free throws. But he worked the floor better than Wallace Wilkinson works an eastern Kentucky political rally.
He had eight assists at halftime as the 'Cats grabbed a 42-28 lead. He added only two more but could have had a bundle except for some hobbled passes and a pair of dubious charging calls.
But then, he may have been going for the single game assist record when he got (hose calls within seconds of each other late in the game.
Dirk Minniefleld, now of the Boston Celtics, had I4 against Villanova in I982. This was tied by Dicky Beal against Brigham Young two years later.
But who needs records'? NBA scouts want to know if you can hit the Kareem Abdul-Jabbars. the Akecm Olajuwons or the Kenny Walkers. They know Easy Ed can play defense. And shoot. But they want to see how well he can get that ball inside. . .like a true point guard.
Saturday he showed them after getting the word from Sutton.
It didn't take long for other Sutton messages to reach home either. Like that was no Valentine's Day greeting Sutton gave Bennett with less than three minutes elapsed in Saturday's game.
Bennett, Manuel Stood Out For Wildcats, Too
Bennett, usually as steady as he flows, was subbed for immediately when Sutton put out a PSS signal. That's for Poor Shot Selection.
"The bench is a great motivator." deadpanned Winston in the post-game media bash. "I took a shot after only the second or third pass and the coach took me out. He gets his point across by doing things like that. It causes us to follow through and do what he says."
Manuel, too, got a pregame message.
As the No. I man off the bench, the Macon, Ga., freshman has worked his wayat a HO percent effortinto the favor of Sutton. He did it with his ball-handling, defense and all-out hustle.
But Sutton wanted more offense out of the 6-foot-6 guard-forward. After all, he had averaged 24 points a game for Southwest Macon High. Sutton conveyed his feelings.
Manuel listened. And against Alabama he responded. . .at least for a half.
He missed on his first attempt but then connected on his next fourall Moon-shot jumpersto help the 'Cats to take a 18-8 lead with 12:40 left in the first half.
Manuel finished with 12 points (all in the first half) two assists, one blocked shot and three steals.
"Ed allowed me to have more shots," said Manuel. "He penetrated and opened up the outside shooting."
Sutton said he doesn't really know if the 'Cats are a better team overall with Manuel in the lineup. But he does feel the rugged freshman adds a new dimension on offense.
"We're a better team with him on the floor offensively," said Sutton. "When he's in there with Rex (Chapman). Rob, Winston and Ed we look smooth."
At the same time Sutton is not sure the team is better if he takes out 6-11 freshman Ellis, who started the past five games.
Ellis, who played 18 minutes, four less than Manuel, had eight points.
"I'm not sure by taking LeRon out of the lineup that we are a better defensive club with his ability to intimidate and rebound," said Sutton. "It may be easier for Eric to come off the bench although he may wind up playing more."
Kentucky, with Davender scattering the ball around like so much buckshot, played in the first half one of its finest stretches of basketball this season.
The 'Cats quickly raced to a 28-12 margin over Wimp Sanderson's freshmen-laden team. The Tide was beginning to ebb.
Great Game For 11 Minutes, But After That...
Kentucky hit on eight of its first II shots and took advantage of six Tide turnovers in their first nine possessions.
"We were just outmanned and got whipped." said Sanderson. "We wanted to keep the ball at low tempo but we weren't able to. No alibis, no excuses. We just lost to a better team."
Unfortunately, save for a brief five-minute spurt at the start of the second half, this 11-minute span at the start of the game was about the only good basketball played in the 40-minute contest. For basketball purists.
Fans who like the college "thump-thump" game in ragged clothing would have loved this one. Especially the last 15-minutes of the second half.
"In the first half we passed the ball about as well as we have all season," said Sutton. "We got the ball in the hands of people for high percentage shots. Our defense was excellent. But when we started subbing the second half it kind of got loose."
Loose? That's another word for sloppy. Also try boring.
The only excitement belonged to the Kentucky gamblers who gave the points (17 in this case) according to the Las Vegas line.
Would the 'Cats beat the spread or wouldn't they? They sure looked like spread-beaters when the score went to 60-34 with 15:42 to play. Bennett had 10 points in this span.
But Sutton cleared the bench and the Tide regrouped to make the final score presentable. The Tide even cut it to 10 (78-68) with a layup by Alvin Lee with 52 seconds to play.
Lee (who finished with 13 points) was one of four Tide players to score in double figures. Michael Ansley, who missed 10 minutes in the first half with foul trouble, had a team-high 18. Craig Dudley had 16 and Melvin Cheatum 15.
Chapman trailed Bennett with 17 points for the 'Cats.
On the negative side, Kentucky was outrebounded 38-33. Sutton especially didn't care for 18 offensive boards by the smaller Tide.
So rest assured he will be talking to someone about that.
Who will the lucky person be this time?
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