Date story was published: Sunday, February 12, 1984
All is right again in Kentucky basketball because all the Wildcats are right.
With Dicky Beal joining Sam Bowie yesterday as a healthy, contributing member of the UK team, the Wildcats bested Auburn 84-64 and regained what many of their fans expect: the top spot in the Southeastern Conference.
Beal came off the bench and played 26 minutes, the most he's played during his injury-littered season, and spark-plugged the Cats to their 18th victory in 21 games. UK is now 9-3 in the SEC, one-half game ahead of Auburn, which fell to 8-3.
It was Beal who held the reins when the Wildcats rolled up a 19-2 spurt during a seven-minute span of the game's midsection, turning an eight-point deficit into a workable second-half lead.
And, it was the quicksilver senior guard who turned free-throw shooter supreme in the waning moments, making 11 of 12 in the final three minutes to make the UK victory look like a rout, though it really wasn't.
Bowie? He continued his own comeback, shedding a little more of the rustiness caused by a forced two-year layoff. Bowie scored only eight points, but the 7-foot-1 senior's presence made teammate Melvin Turpin's biannual swoon against Auburn (and the Tigers' indomitable Charles Barkley) tolerable.
Among other things, Bowie led UK with eight rebounds, helping the Cats better the nation's third-best board team, 35-32.
"I never thought they'd outrebound us," Auburn Coach Sonny Smith admitted.
Until yesterday, Smith's counterpart, Joe Hall, could have been excused if he thought he'd never get his squad at something approaching full strength.
"I said at the start of the season that we needed a healthy Sam Bowie and a healthy Dicky Beal," the UK coach said, "and we had a little of both."
But, it took some prodding to get Hall to single out heroes. He had many to choose from.
* Kenny Walker, the "other" player on UK's starting front line. The steady sophomore scored 16 points (one-half a point below his average for SEC games) and defensed Auburn's Chuck Person out of the game.
Person came into the game as the SEC's leading scorer (20.9 points a game) and third-best rebounder (nine a game). He left with 16 points and a rebound total he didn't want published.
"Worst game I've played this year . . . especially that," Person said as he pointed to his less-than-grand total of one rebound.
* Winston Bennett, who helped out in the tug of war with Barkley inside. The 6-7 freshman also tied Beal for team scoring honors with 17 points, many coming in Barkley's face.
"I might have gotten lucky," a gracious Bennett said of his success against Barkley. But, then, Bennett was more in character when he added: "I try not to let any team intimidate me."
Still, the game seemed to turn when Beal entered with 10:28 remaining in the first half.
Beal, who had arthroscopic surgery performed on his right knee three times last spring and summer, reinjured the knee prior to UK's game at Auburn last month. He hadn't played more than 11 minutes in any game in the last three weeks.
"Any time you can add quickness, and Dicky Beal has great quickness, that gives you a chance to come from behind," Smith said. "Beal gives them the kind of catch-up possibilities that makes them a great team."
That possibility arose yesterday when Auburn grabbed the early lead with the kind of inside play Kentucky had feared. Off the game's opening tap, Barkley posted low and took a feed for a dunk.
The Tigers got five more layups or dunks in the game's first eight minutes. Auburn had a 30-22 edge with 5:12 remaining in the half when Person hit a jumper from the top of the key. But, the 6-8 sophomore forward would score only one more basket until the final five minutes of the game. By then, Auburn had that 14-5-and-sinking-to-14-6 feeling.
"We felt they'd go after one player, either (freshman point guard Gerald) White or Person," Smith said. "They did a good job on Person until we called a timeout and told him 'Chuck, you've got to put it up.' "
Person worked for eight points in the final five minutes. But, with Auburn trailing 63-48 when Person was told to force his shots, the baskets were mostly meaningless.
"I guess they didn't want me to beat them," Person said quietly. "I guess they wanted the younger guys to try and beat them. They doubled me every time I made a good move."
As he has much of the season, Walker drew the assignment to shut down the other team's most potent scoring threat on the front line.
"I played him for the jump shot," Walker said. "Sam (Bowie) said: 'Stick him Walker. If he drives, I'll give you a lot of help.' "
Without Person's usual production, Auburn was "scrambling," said Smith. ''We were hunting for somebody to get us going. We said at halftime: 'Somebody has to have a great game.' "
Auburn got into that predicament late in the first half. The Tigers got only two Barkley free throws in the final 5:12 of the half, missing six shots and turning the ball over twice. The cold shooting continued when Auburn missed its first two shots of the second half.
By then, UK had reeled off 19 points, many on fast breaks directed by Beal, to take a 41-32 lead.
The Cats outscored Auburn 15-2 in the final five minutes of the half. Turpin started the surge with a three-point play over Barkley -- UK's only head-to-head victory over Barkley in the half -- to cut the Wildcats' deficit to 30-25.
UK took the lead for good when Bennett banked home a shot off the fast break with 2:24 remaining in the first half.
The lead widened to 37-32 at the half when Beal literally threw in a 15-footer at the buzzer.
"I was trying to draw a foul (from Auburn sub Carey Holland)," Beal said of his awkward shot. "I threw it up there and it went through."
While Beal's shot capped the first-half turnaround, Smith took the blame for starting it.
"The biggest thing in the game was when we were up and I thought we were shooting too quick; I thought the crowd was getting into the game," the Auburn coach said. "We decided to slow it down. That hurt us."
Auburn called a timeout less than two minutes into the second half. "We midn't want them to get happy on us," Smith said. "They are a great team when they're happy." After the timeout, Auburn made one final run at the Cats.
Auburn cut UK's lead from nine (41-32) to three (43-40). But, with Person still out of the offense and Bowie clogging the middle, the Tigers ran out of steam.
Bennett's three-point play off a post-up move around Barkley got the lead back to six. And, the Wildcats pulled steadily away as Auburn misfired its way toward a 40.7-percent shooting afternoon.
"Kentucky played better because they ran better," Smith said of yesterday's reversal of Auburn's 82-63 victory over UK last month. "Dicky Beal was big key. Not because he made the free throws. We were fouling as a calculated risk, hoping they'd miss enough to get us back into the game.
"Dicky Beal was a key because we couldn't press them. We didn't hurt them with the press. I thought we might."