Date story was published: Thursday, February 6, 1986
"We were flat," Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton said, "and careless."
"That's the bottom line," Kenny Walker said after UK's subpar 73-65 victory over Vanderbilt last night at Rupp Arena. "The way we played was very disappointing, but we did win."
Clutch jump shots down the stretch by James Blackmon and Roger Harden helped Kentucky hold off Vanderbilt.
Besides improving UK's record to 19-3 overall and a league-leading 10-1 in the Southeastern Conference, the shots prevented what would have been an embarrassing - if understandable - defeat. Kentucky remained one game in front of Alabama, which beat Georgia 57-54 last night to improve to 9-1 in the SEC.
UK, which was a 16-point favorite to beat Vandy for a 10th straight time, led by 10, 47-37, with less than 15 minutes remaining. But the Wildcats, who were coming off an emotional three-game set, kept Vandy in the game with less-than-inspired play.
"I didn't think we would be razor sharp," Sutton said, "but I thought we'd play better than this."
Kentucky was coming off a draining three-game set that saw the Wildcats win at Louisiana State, at home against Auburn and then lost a national television struggle at North Carolina State on Sunday. All three games came in a five- day span.
"It's not alarming to me," Sutton said of UK's off-night. "To win a conference, you're not always going to be on top of your game. When we don't and still win, that goes a long way toward getting us to the crown room."
Vandy, which fell to 4-7 in the league and 10-10 overall, tied the game at 53-53 on Bobby Westbrooks' three-point play with 9:36 remaining.
And if the Commodores hadn't missed the front end of two one-and-ones down the stretch, an upset could have been in the making.
However, with UK clinging to a 57-56 lead, Blackmon, who scored a career- high 22 points, hit an 18-footer with 4:56 remaining to increase the lead to three.
Then, after Vandy closed to within two, 60-58, on Darrell Dulaney's rebound basket off his own miss, Harden hit from the top of key. A basket made possible when Cedric Jenkins, subbing for the fouled-out Winston Bennett, rebounded a miss.
Vandy lost its last chance when freshman Frank Kornet of Lexington walked on a back-door play. He seemed to take his eye off the ball when he noticed Ed Davender set to take a charge.
"I didn't see him," Kornet said of Davender. "Then I turned and saw him and I guess I shuffled my feet."
Following the walk, Blackmon drilled another 18-footer to increase the lead to a safe 64-58 with 1:34 remaining.
"The shots were just there," said Blackmon of his season-high 14 field-goal attempts.
They were there partly because Vandy aped every other SEC team and collapsed a zone around Walker for much of the game. The difference was that Vandy was able to take Walker out of the Kentucky offense, holding the high- flying forward to six shots, just one the entire second half.
"We played our post players up higher," Vandy coach C.M. Newton said of the 2-3 zone's effectiveness. "Both he (Walker) and (Winston) Bennett like to flash high. With our post players higher, we had a man-to-man situation, really."
Walker even abandoned his goggles to avoid any distractions in attacking Vandy's zone. Twice he had the goggles dislodged. After the second time, early in the second half, Walker set them aside.
"I'll play with them again," Walker said afterward. "I just got tired of re-adjusting them."
Although Walker was contained from the field (his previous low in field- goal attempts were five in an injury-shortened opening night against Northwestern State), he made amends at the foul line.
Walker hit 12 of 16 free throws, including four critical attempts following a Kentucky timeout. Sutton had signaled time with 9:36 remaining after Vandy had tied it at 53-53.
"I felt the next possession was very, very important," Newton said. "We'd been busting a gut to catch up. We felt we'd broken Kentucky's pressure and were able to get into what we wanted to do offensively."
Kornet was whistled for a foul as he tried to defend Walker on a post-up. The freshman immediately protested, indicating that Walker had pushed off first. But Kornet lost the argument and Walker made both free throws to put Kentucky ahead 55-53.
"The rules say I'm allowed to hold a position," Kornet said. "He was moving in and I was trying to hold my position. Then he came in one more time and I fell back and they called it on me."
Newton seemed to agree with Kornet's interpretation of the play. "Frank might have been justified," the Vandy coach said.
If the call was wrong, Sutton said, it could be balanced by missed calls that hurt UK.
"There were strange calls both ways," the UK coach said.
When Vandy sub Will Perdue was called for pushing off while posting at the other end, Walker returned to the line for two more free throws to increase Kentucky's lead to 57-53 with 8:09 remaining.
UK's 46.2-percent shooting wasn't due entirely to Walker's meager imput, Sutton said. The Wildcats missed numerous shots inside, including Jenkins' two-hand dunk attempt.
"Carelessness," Sutton said. "It's one thing to miss shots, but some of them were right underneath the basket."
Kentucky squandered most of a 34-27 halftime lead in the first three minutes of the second half.
The Cats, who had poor first-half shooting, made only one field goal until the 16:43 mark. In that time, Vandy closed to within two at 37-35.
Six straight points enabled Vandy to cut a 37-31 UK lead to 37-35. Brett Burrow's post-up narrowed the lead to 37-33.
Kornet, who played at Lexington Catholic, slammed home a rebound to make it 37-35.
Vandy scored several times by lobbing over Kentucky defenders who were overplaying the passing lanes.
"They took away our pressure defense," Sutton said, "by emptying the back end so they could lob."
Following Kornet's slam, a timely rebound by Davender helped Kentucky break out again. After Bennett made a free throw, Davender slipped inside to tip in the miss on the second rebound to extend UK's lead to 40-35.
When Blackmon hit a baseline jumper off the fastbreak, UK's lead was 42-35 and Vandy called time with 16:19 remaining.
The timeout had little immediate effect in cooling off UK. After Jeff Gary hit a jumper to cut Kentucky's lead to 42-37, Bennett posted up for two baskets. He was fouled on the first, the resulting free throw part of a five- point burst that increased the lead to 47-37.
The first half was hardly inspiring as Kentucky moved in fits and starts to a 34-27 lead.
The emotional toll from three games in a recent five-day period showed throughout the first 20 minutes. The ill effects were especially apparent on offense.
UK shot just 43.3 percent in the half. Worse, the Wildcats missed several bunnies that prevented a more sizable lead.
The poor shooting, which included Bennett missing a wide-open layup after his heads-up steal, was typical of a half that saw Kentucky go ahead early by as much as six (18-12), drift into a tie (20-20) and then push ahead by as much as nine (34-25) in the waning moments of the half.