Date story was published: Sunday, January 12, 1986
James Blackmon tied his career high of 18 points last night as Kentucky routed Alabama 76-52 in a game probably destined for a highlight film.
Blackmon's star shone bright on a night when UK had a galaxy of heroes. They included:
Kenny Walker, who led the Wildcats with 24 points.
Roger Harden and Ed Davender, who combined for 17 assists. UK had 22 as a team.
Winston Bennett and Cedric Jenkins, who combined to dim Alabama's star, Buck Johnson. The Southeastern Conference's leading scorer (23 points per game) was held to 10.
It added up to Kentucky's 12th victory in 14 games. UK also gained a share of first place in the SEC at 3-1. Florida, which lost at Mississippi 79-67 last night, and Auburn are also 3-1.
Alabama, which suffered its worst defeat since being humbled 101-74 by Kentucky in 1971, fell to 9-4 and 2-2.
"That's as good as we've played in quite some time," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "The only thing to criticize was our free-throw shooting (14 of 22) and the defensive boards. We again gave up too many offensive rebounds."
It hardly mattered on a night when the Wildcats took Alabama's best player out of the game.
Johnson, who had 62 points in the Tide's last two games, didn't score a field goal until 13:50 remained in the second half. By that time, UK had an 11-point lead (45-34).
When Johnson finally hit double figures with a post-up shot at the 6:56 mark, Kentucky was ahead 59-42 and cruising toward a big finish.
"It seemed like I was surrounded," Johnson said. "There was a guy in front of me, in back of me and on the side. It made me kind of skeptical to shoot."
As expected, Bennett drew the assignment to guard Johnson, a 6-foot-7 leaper. Johnson missed two shots in the opening two minutes (a layup off a lob in traffic and a semi-hook from the baseline) and really never got untracked. Johnson missed all five of his first-half shots en route to a 2-for-11 night.
Johnson had no better success against Jenkins in the second half.
"The best way to stop Buck Johnson is the same way teams try to stop Kenny Walker," Sutton said. "Deny him the ball. Don't let him catch it. If you let him catch it low, you're asking for problems."
When Johnson did catch it, he had to pass it back out.
"Our guards helped out really well," said UK assistant Doug Barnes. "We didn't let him put it on the floor."
The Wildcats wound up a wire-to-wire performance with three straight baskets in the final 90 seconds that had to be seen to be believed.
The first was a gem from beginning to end. It began with Blackmon, whose floor game could easily be termed a career-best, saving a rebound of a Johnson miss at the baseline. As he began to throw the ball to Leroy Byrd, an Alabama player darted into the passing lane. Blackmon adjusted in midair and lofted the ball over the defender to Byrd.
Byrd passed to Harden, who had lapped the field and had an uncontested layup for the taking.
Instead, Harden flipped the ball over his shoulder to Walker, who slammed it home to the delight of the 23,345 in attendance.
"I thought the fans would enjoy a dunk a little better," Harden said. "I got an assist." Harden had nine.
The dunk put UK ahead 71-51 with 1:26 remaining.
Twenty seconds later, Byrd made it 73-51 when he lost an Alabama player with a behind-the-back dribble and baby-stepped to a layup.
Freshman Irving Thomas put the exclamation point on UK's victory with his second basket of the season. After taking a half-court bounce pass from Harden, Thomas rose for a dunk, got fouled and somehow got an awkward shot to ricochet high off the backboard and fall through.
"I'm surprised no one asked about Irv's shot," a smiling Sutton said to reporters afterward. "He was going to dunk it and it slipped out of his hand.
"That's the kind of night we had. We're not that much better than Alabama."
Tide guard Jim Farmer agreed.
"Usually it looks bad when we come here," Farmer said, "but we match up really well this year."
Then, Farmer added, "They've still got to come to Tuscaloosa."
Alabama's fate was set in the first half when the Tide shot just 37.5 percent (nine of 24).
"You can't do a whole lot shooting 37 percent," Mark Gottfried said.
Alabama improved only slightly in the second half and finished the game at 39.2 percent.
"Our defense was outstanding," Sutton said. "We also didn't turn the ball over (seven in the game) and we had a great shooting night (56.4 percent)."
Blackmon was the hottest, softening Alabama's zone with 9-for-11 shooting.
When UK reeled off eight straight points midway through the second half to extend its lead to 19 (57-38), Blackmon hit back-to-back jumpers to fuel the rush.
"It's a spectacular feeling," Blackmon said. "First of all because the team won. But I feel good, too."
Those who expected a Walker-Johnson showdown were probably disappointed with the first half.
Kentucky went out to a 29-22 lead in the first 20 minutes despite only six points from Walker, none in the final 14:05.
Alabama, however, managed to hang tough without much of a contribution by Johnson, who departed the half with 9:48 remaining. Johnson left with almost as many fouls (three) as points (four).
Walker's early scoring helped Kentucky take a lead it did not relinguish.
Walker hit three baskets in a two-minute span that shot the Wildcats out to a 11-6 lead in the first six minutes. His third basket, a turnaround in the lane, gave Kentucky the early five-point bulge and drew Johnson's second foul.
Johnson drew his third after UK's lead grew to 17-8, the largest margin the Wildcats enjoyed in the half. Johnson was called for pushing off for a lob.
Bennett, who also picked up three fouls in the half, hit a bank shot off the fast break to give UK its 17-8 lead. Johnson's third foul followed on Alabama's trip downcourt.
With 6:46 remaining, Kentucky again led by nine (23-14). Walker had a breakaway attempt and an angle on Alabama's Terry Coner to the basket. Instead of shooting or slamming home the ball, Walker flipped it to the trailer, Davender, who laid it in.
Alabama remained within striking distance as Gottfried hit back-to-back perimeter shots to conclude a 6-0 run that cut UK's lead to 23-20.
UK helped Alabama stay close by missing the front end of three one-and- ones.
Another reason for UK fans to rest uneasy at halftime came with 3:46 left in the half. Sixth man Richard Madison collided with Bennett on a rebound and slumped to the floor.
After about a minute, Madison limped off the floor. Madison returned at the 14:37 mark of the second half.
The third miss - by Blackmon - followed a controversial charging call on Alabama reserve guard Craig Dudley on the fast break.
Blackmon set the halftime score by leaping high to tip in Davender's shot at the buzzer.