Date story was published: Sunday, January 26, 1986
Winston Bennett, Kentucky's "other" forward, used the words "nothing special" to describe his career-high 26 points yesterday, but the effort was wrapped with importance.
Bennett, who toils in Kenny Walker's considerable shadow, had his most productive offensive game in Kentucky's 74-57 whipping of archrival Tennessee at Rupp Arena.
The performance, which included 15 points in the decisive second half, surpassed Bennett's previous best, a 23-point effort earlier this season against another important Kentucky rival: Louisville.
In helping beat Tennessee, which improved UK's first-place record to 7-1 in the Southeastern Conference, Bennett had three three-point plays. All three came in a second half that saw Kentucky shake the pesky Volunteers.
Ironically, the rough-and-ready Bennett did a lot of his work standing still. Fourteen of his points came at the foul line as UK pounded the ball inside Tennessee's gamelong 2-3 zone.
"Nothing special," said Bennett of the UK offense that freed him often inside. "We just ran our basic 1-4 offense against a zone. Kenny and I go the top of the key first to relieve any pressure. Then, we start posting low."
Bennett wasn't the only Kentucky hero as the 11th-ranked Wildcats improved to 16-2.
Richard Madison countered one of Tennessee's second-half surges and the Vols' strategy of collapsing a zone around Walker with two rainbow jumpers.
"Kentucky's an outstanding team and they took it to us in many ways," Tennessee coach Don DeVoe said. "I was really impressed with the way they were getting into the passing lanes. Overall, we hung in there as well as we possibly could."
Largely responsible for keeping Tennessee close was Tony White, who accounted for 14 straight Volunteer points in the game's first nine minutes. He scored 12 of those points and passed for another basket as the Vols played Kentucky even in the first 12 minutes.
Three times in the run, White spun away from Davender's defense and hit 15- footers. On another possession, White drew the defense with a spin move and fed Anthony Richardson for an open jumper.
UK threw a succession of guards at White in an effort to stop him. Ed Davender, Roger Harden and James Blackmon each had a turn getting burned by the SEC's leading scorer in the first half. But, after White ripped UK for 16 first-half points, the Cats adjusted their man-to-man defense to double-team the Vol guard. He finished with 28.
When DeVoe sat White down for a brief rest with 10:13 remaining in the first half, UK inched ahead to stay.
Davender led the charge, scoring eight straight Kentucky points. The four baskets were capped by a steal and drive for a layup that put UK up 24-20 with 7:18 remaining.
"I was a little down on myself and figured I'd better contribute something," Davender said of his offensive spurt. "I'd let Tony White destroy me a few times."
After settling for a 31-26 halftime lead, Kentucky took command in the early moments of the second half. Bennett's first three-point play sparked an 8-4 UK run that opened the lead to 39-30. His other three-point plays came after Tennessee had closed to within six (42-36) and eight (53-45).
Two factors in UK's second-half dominance were a switch in defensive strategy and better execution offensively.
The defensive switch involved the containment of White. In the first half, a single Wildcat guard attempted to check White. In the second half, UK coach Eddie Sutton had another guard cheat away from his man to help.
"We did it a little at the end of the first half," Sutton said. "We were releasing a guy to double on the ball. We were trying to get the ball out of his hands."
Offensively, the Wildcats got the ball inside more frequently in the second half.
"In the first half, we executed well enough," Sutton said, "but we didn't move the ball quickly enough and our guards didn't get inside, what we call penetrate and pitch."
Walker and Bennett each had only one basket inside the lane off the set offense in the first half.
"We did a much better job of getting it inside in the second half," Sutton said.
After Tennessee got the second half's first basket, cutting UK's lead to 31-28, Bennett answered with his first three-point play. He took off for a fast-break layup and drew a blocking foul on White.
"It was one of those calls that can go either way," Bennett said. "Fortunately, that one went my way."
The three points put UK up 34-28.
When Tennessee got within six again - 42-36 with 12:34 remaining - Bennett struck again.
He cut into the lane, pump-faked Rob Jones into the air and hit a jumper as the Tennessee center fell into him. The free throw that followed increased UK's lead to 45-36.
"It's something I try to do when an opponent is guarding me too tight," Bennett said of the fake. "Rob's a good leaper, so I thought I could get him off his feet."
Bennett's third three-point play followed a Tennessee run that cut UK's lead to 53-45. After the Vols missed a chance to make further inroads into the margin (an offensive rebound went off freshman Doug Roth's hands out of bounds), Bennett drove the baseline for a three-pointer. He adjusted the shot when Roth challenged. The drive and free throw put UK ahead by 11 (56-45) with 6:48 remaining.
Tennessee got no closer than 10 thereafter because of Kentucky's seven trips to the foul line in the final five minutes.
"I should have dropped off to take the charge but I couldn't get there in time," Roth said of Bennett's final three-point play. "I had my head turned looking for Walker."
Tennessee center Rob Jones also acknowledged that Walker's presence contributed to Bennett's big day.
"You know what Walker can do," Jones said, "so you've got to be aware of him wherever he is on the floor. Bennett can flash off of that."
Walker finished with a workmanlike 17 points and six rebounds.
When the Wildcats didn't get baskets off its inside play, they frequently got free throws. UK shot 27 free throws in the second half and made 18.