Date story was published: Saturday, January 21, 1984
It wasn't December, but it wasn't January either.
Considering the monthly rise and fall that has become Kentucky basketball, say last night's 67-46 victory over Vanderbilt came in "Janu-ember"
As in this season's edition of the dreaded "January Slump," the Wildcats couldn't buy a bucket from outside.
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But unlike the dreary performances that resulted in losses at Auburn and Florida, UK used defense to overcome its offense.
"I can't say we're completely out of it," Kenny Walker said of the slump, "but we showed some life out there."
And, Kentucky took sole possession of second place in the Southeastern Conference. The victory improved UK's records to 13-2 overall and 5-2 in the league. Vanderbilt fell to 8-7 and 43.
In snapping its two-game losing streak, Kentucky made Coach Joe Hall something of a visionary. Hall had said defense -- not offense -- had been the problem during his team's recent regression.
UK's offense was less than spectacular last night -- the Cats made only 43.9 percent of their shots -- but the combination of man-to-man and zone defenses more than made up for the lack of efficiency.
"We felt like we made a step back," Hall said. "Tonight was good for us. We made some adjustments and got a better response from our players on the floor."
The "adjustments" Hall referred to included one of attitude. Instead of the demand for perfection -- and the pressure of being undefeated -- the Cats were asked to play more carefree.
"If they made a mistake, we didn't want them to hang their heads," Hall said.
"And," the perfectionist UK coach added, "we did make mistakes."
The Cats put the game out of reach with a 16-6 run early in the second half. It was during that run, which pushed UK out to its largest lead of the game (53-30), that the Wildcats demonstrated the kind of play that was the norm in December.
The baskets, in order, were:
* A jumper from the foul line by James Blackmon after Sam Bowie returned the freshman guard's feed inside with a touch pass.
* A post-up turnaround jumper by Melvin Turpin, whose 10 points reflected a continuation of the collapsing zone defenses he has faced.
* A 15-footer by Jim Master as he pulled up and fired at the end of a fast break.
* Another 15-footer set up by similar circumstances by Walker.
* Fast break again. Walker again. This time from 10 feet.
* Bowie's slam of a rebound.
* Walker's dunk off a lob from Blackmon.
* Turpin from the baseline as UK beat Vandy's 2-2-1 press for a quick basket.
Just as in the old days of a month ago, for one brief shining moment that lasted about seven minutes, UK played as it did in December.
"We pushed the ball and got out and ran more," Hall said. "That's what we thought we had to do to loosen up more and get ourselves playing with more aggressiveness."
At the other end, UK held Vandy to only one basket during a six-minute stretch, one of three scoring droughts the Commodores suffered. The one basket was a gift, coming on a goaltending call against Bowie.
UK blocked four shots during the 16-6 spurt and 10 in the game.
Walker scored 13 of his team-high 19 points in the second half. Winston Bennett provided a first-half spark, scoring eight of his 13 in the first 20 minutes.
But, as in previous games, UK's outside shooting was suspect. Jim Master, Roger Harden and James Blackmon combined to make just four of 16 shots, propeling the Cats to a 43.9-percent shooting night.
Vandy's shooting, however, was even worse. Only Jeff Turner, who led the Commodores with 19 points, could consistently dent the UK defenses. The 6- foot-8 senior forward-center worked against UK's man-to-man for 11 points in the first half. He added eight more over the second-half zone.
Phil Cox, the team's second-leading scorer (averaging 12.2 points a game) was held to one point. For the first time in his three seasons at Vandy, the little point guard went without a field goal, shooting zip for seven from the field.
"It probably is a question of young players being a bit tight," Vandy Coach C.M. Newton said. "Turner was our only player who shot with confidence."
And Turner made just seven of 22 shots, helping Vandy to a 26.9-percent night.
At halftime, it was hard to say whether UK was out of its January doldrums, but it was clear by then that the Cats would win.
The confusion centered on whether UK's defense was much more effective or Vandy's offense that ineffective.
Whichever, a tone was set in the game's first few seconds. Vandy won the tip, and on its first attack at the UK basket, the Cats looked intent on proving a point. Bowie, playing the kind of defense Hall had been asking for in the past two weeks, batted away the Commodores' first pass -- a routine pass to Turner at the wing.
When Vandy did finally get off a shot, it was blocked by Turpin.
Vandy missed its first seven shots, didn't score until the 15:26 mark and fell behind for good.
Later in the half, the Commodores went more than six minutes without a point (missing six shots, getting one blocked and committing two turnovers).
For the half, Vandy made just 17.9 percent of its shots (five of 28).
"This was not a letdown for us after beating Auburn," Newton said, referring to his team's 73-71 victory at Auburn earlier this week. "We were ready to play." * * *
With victory safely in hand, the UK student sections chanted for an appearance by Leroy Byrd. The students began calling for the 5-5 guard with 2:19 remaining and UK holding a 67-42 lead. They kept up the rhythmic chant throughout the final minutes, but Hall didn't make the move.
"It was because of the fracture," Hall said, referring to the break of a facial bone Byrd suffered in his first day of practice two weeks ago.
The UK coach said he wanted to wait until the bone had healed better before sending his mighty mite into battle.