Date story was published: Thursday, February 20, 1986
Kentucky held off Florida 80-69 last night to clinch at least a tie for the first of what Coach Eddie Sutton hopes will be many Southeastern Conference basketball championships.
With Rob Lock scoring two timely baskets in the second half, UK was able to improve to 14-1 in the SEC. Alabama beat Tennessee 80-64 last night to remain three games back at 11-4 with three league games remaining.
Kentucky, 23-3 overall, led by as much as 16 points early in the second half.
However, Florida guards Vernon Maxwell and Andrew Moten combined for 28 second-half points to fuel a comeback.
The Gators, who fell to 14-10 overall and 8-7 in the league, were within 10 and had more than nine minutes to get closer when Lock went to work.
The seldom-used substitute tipped in his own missed tip to increase Kentucky's shaky lead to 63-51 with 7:56 remaining.
After Moten hit two free throws and another guard, Ronnie Montgomery, stole a pass and drove for a three-point play, the Gators were within seven at 63-56.
Lock struck again, posting strong and hitting a turnaround shot to increase the lead to nine (65-56) with 7:07 left.
"They were big baskets because they got the crowd back into the game," UK point guard Roger Harden said, "and they created some enthusiasm among the players, too."
Lock's contributions also loomed large because the Wildcats were playing shorthanded.
Richard Madison, the team's sixth man, watched the game dressed in street clothes on the bench. Madison suffered inflamation of his left knee after colliding with freshman Irving Thomas in Tuesday's practice.
Madison is expected to return to duty when UK tries to claim sole possession of the school's 36th SEC title at Georgia Saturday.
"I hope we win a lot of these," Sutton said. "With all the titles Mr. (Adolph) Rupp won and Coach (Joe) Hall won, I hope we can continue the tradition.
"But the first one will be the sweestest. It's that way with all coaches."
Kentucky went back to basics to protect its 42-30 halftime lead.
The Wildcats went inside on six of their first seven possessions of the second half. UK scored on each possession except the one when Winston Bennett put up a 10-footer.
Otherwise, Kentucky went inside with good results. Walker, who was held to six first-half points, scored 11 in the first 4:34 of the second half.
Walker's three-point play off a feed into the post put UK ahead 51-35 with 16:40 remaining.
Another Walker basket, this one a flip up to the hoop as he was sent sprawling to the floor, kept the lead at 16, 55-39.
"Their defense in the second half was about the same as the first half," said Walker, who scored 17 of his game-high 23 points after intermission. "They packed their defense like teams normally do. We forced it inside a little bit more in the second half."
UK needed the points inside because Florida's top scorer, Maxwell, came alive in the second half, too.
Maxwell, who had six first-half points, scored nine in the first 5:30 of the second half.
Those points kept Florida within shouting distance.
When Moten hit back-to-back jumpers to follow a Maxwell jump hook, Florida had suddenly scored six straight points to cut UK's gamelong lead to 10, 55-45, with 11:40 remaining.
The lead was still 10 (61-51) and Florida's offense in momentary disarray when controversy struck.
Moten was clinging to the ball near midcourt after the Gators had momentarily lose control of the ball.
When the 45-second clock was reset, Sutton ignored the coaching box restraints and walked to midcourt to protest at the scorer's table.
Florida coach Norm Sloan argued that Sutton should be called for a technical foul for leaving the box.
No technical was called.
When asked if he should have been assessed a technical, Sutton said, "No." He didn't elaborate.
"Apparently I don't understand the rule," Sloan said. "I was told that by Eddie and the three referees. I didn't think you could leave (the coaching box) under any circumstances. They told me Eddie could."
Afterward, the man who operated the shot clock, Bill Cooke, said that he had erred in resetting the clock.
"I anticipated them (Kentucky) getting possession," Cooke said. "It shouldn't have been reset."
Lock's two baskets, which seemed to give the Cats a second wind for the stretch run, followed.
"I'm very, very pleased with the performance of Rob Lock," Sutton said. "He looked like a super player making big-time plays."
Lock's eight-point, five-rebound performance was an encore to his nine points in UK's victory over Mississippi State last weekend.
"It was important for him to follow up with another good game," Sutton said, "but none of us expected him to play as well as he did."
Kentucky jumped on Florida early with defensive pressure. The Cats scored the game's first nine points and bolted to a 16-6 lead with more than 12 minutes remaining.
Ed Davender, the half's top scorer with 13 points, got Kentucky rolling early. The sophomore beat Moten (and Florida's surprise strategy of opening in a man-to-man defense) for two layups in the first 97 seconds. On the second, Davender was fouled. The three-point play put UK ahead 5-0.
Roger Harden, who had eight points, made it 7-0 when he stripped Montgomery at midcourt and sprinted for a layup.
James Blackmon's baseline jumper made it 9-0.
"They played us in a man defense for two minutes, then they came to their senses," Harden said.
Although he put the Gators in a 2-1-2 zone when the score was 7-0, Sloan said it was the Florida offense that was mainly responsible for the slow start.
"We just couldn't get anything done," the Florida coach said.
The Gators got off only three shots in the first four minutes and committed four turnovers in the same span.
Less than three minutes into the game, Maxwell swung a fist in Blackmon's direction after the UK player had twice tapped Maxwell's dribble out of bounds.
Maxwell, who entered the game with a 19.9 scoring average, also forced several shots en route to a two-for-seven shooting half. He finished with 22 points, 17 in the second half.
Two Blackmon baskets and his lob for a Walker basket accounted for a 6-0 UK run that put the Wildcats ahead 16-6 with 12:19 remaining.
Florida hit five straight shots and made two free throws to cut the Kentucky lead to 24-18.
The two teams traded baskets for the seven minutes. Florida got a gift when Walker seemed to inadvertently tip in a Maxwell miss.
After the timeout with 2:01 remaining, Walker rebounded a Bennett miss to put UK ahead 38-28.
Bennett's baseline shot increased the lead to 40-28, the Cats' largest lead.
Then, after a Florida tip-in, Harden got the lead back to 12 by hitting a jumper from the top of the key with four seconds left.