Date story was published: Sunday, January 5, 1986
After last night, the phrase "Davender stole the ball" may enter Kentucky basketball lore.
In a play reminiscent of the Boston Celtics' famous "Havlicek stole the ball," Davender deflected an inbounds pass to help preserve UK's 80-71 Southeastern Conference victory over Vanderbilt.
The circumstances last night weren't as dramatic as those in Boston Garden 19 years ago, when the Celtics saw a comfortable lead in the seventh game of a playoff dwindle to one in the final seconds. Havlicek deflected the final inbounds pass to save the day.
But the situation was heart-thumping enough as the Wildcats successfully opened SEC play in a gym where no UK victory seems to come cheap. The Cats had won by no more than six points in their last four regular-season visits here.
Davender's play came after UK, which had once led by 19 (49-30) in the early minutes of the second half, saw its lead cut to five in the final five minutes.
Kenny Walker had authoritatively blocked Frank Kornet's shot out of bounds, leaving Vandy with another chance to make further inroads into Kentucky's gamelong lead.
With a crowd of 15,626 ready to roar, another Vandy freshman, Barry Booker, attempted to inbound the ball from the baseline deep to center Brett Burrow.
Davender, playing a guard position in UK's 2-3 zone defense on the inbounds play, slipped under Burrow and tapped the ball away.
Walker collected the loose ball and fed Davender for a layup that put UK up 70-63 with 4:05 remaining.
Although Vandy got to within five once more, it was Davender's steal that broke the Commodore comeback and assured UK's ninth straight victory in the series.
"That turned the game around for them," Burrow said. "We had them where we wanted them, but we couldn't cash in."
Vandy fell to 7-4 overall and 1-1 in the SEC.
UK now goes to Auburn for a game Monday night before turning to Lexington.
Davender, whose 19 points were second only to Walker's 25, said he made two reads on the play.
"I saw it in his eyes," Davender said, referring to Booker, "and I saw a screen on Kenny (which was to free Burrow near the top of the key).
"I couldn't get all of it, but I knew I could tip it away."
Until the final 10 minutes, UK seemed to be breezing to its 10th victory in 11 starts.
The Cats' swarming defense made a shambles of Vandy's offense, often reducing it to a rushed shot.
"Our defense was phenomenal," guard Roger Harden said. "We had them completely out of their offense."
Vandy, which made only 42.9 percent of its first-half shots, was in no position to argue. The Commodores' inexperienced lineup (three freshmen among its first seven players) made for even greater confusion.
UK paid a toll for its defense, however, in fouls. All five starters and sixth-man Richard Madison had at least four fouls.
"The foul trouble took away our defensive initiative," Harden said.
Vandy's second-half comeback coincided with Walker's foul trouble.
Walker left the game with 10:15 remaining after being called for charging, his fourth foul. Walker questioned the call, as he did his third foul, a blocking violation on Darrell Dulaney's fast-break layup.
UK was leading by 11 when Walker departed.
Vandy then crashed the boards and outscored UK 10-4 to cut the deficit to 62-57. It was then, with 7:36 remaining, that Walker returned.
"When he went back in, I told him he had to take the game over," UK coach Eddie Sutton said.
Walker immediately posted up for a basket to increase UK's lead to seven.
UK added two more baskets - the first a jumper by Harden after spinning off a pump fake, and the second another Walker post-up - and seemed out of danger.
But UK failed to convert on its next two possessions. Madison missed an off-balance layup in traffic and Winston Bennett was called for walking.
Vandy then scored six straight points.
Booker made one free throw to cut the lead to 68-63 with 4:50 remaining.
Vandy's first chance to draw closer was thwarted when Booker missed the second free throw and Bennett batted the rebound away from Steve Reece.
"As physical as the game was, it was as clean as anything all night," Reece said. "I just didn't take good care of the ball."
After Walker missed the front end of a one-and-one, Vandy had two more chances.
Walker's block on Kornet snuffed one.
Davender's steal, his third of the game, took care of the other.
Vandy got to within five (70-65) on Dulaney's two free throws with 3:12 remaining.
But Walker answered by rebounding a Bennett miss and posting up for a basket.
After Vandy missed twice from inside, Bennett hit an 18-footer to put UK up 74-65 with 1:40 remaining.
Kentucky rode a tough defensive effort to take early command of the game.
Thanks largely to Vanderbilt turnovers, UK never trailed in the first half en route to a 43-28 lead at intermission.
UK forced 11 first-half turnovers and held the Commodores to 42.9 percent shooting. Three Vandy scoring droughts added up to more than 10 minutes of the first half.
Walker and Davender combined for 27 first-half points.
Davender, who had 13 in the half, hit back-to-back baskets off the break to fuel UK's 6-0 spurt to start the game.
Vandy didn't get a basket until the 17:17 mark when Kornet, a freshman from Lexington, rebounded a miss for a three-point play.
Kentucky's early lead grew to seven points (16-9) when Walker, who had 14 points in the half, threw down a fast-break dunk off a Harden pass.
Vandy got a lift when Bobby Westbrooks came off the bench and rebounded two misses for back-to-back baskets. The plays cut UK's lead to 18-13 with 11:17 remaining.
Then UK took off, and defense was again a prime reason.
Over the next 5:19, UK outscored Vandy 11-2. In that time, the Cats forced five turnovers and the Commodores made only one of five shots.
Burrow, another Kentuckian, had Vandy's only basket during the period.
Walker had back-to-back post-up baskets to start the run.
The spurt was concluded when Walker tapped away a feed inside and threw a baseball pass to Davender. UK's sophomore guard was fouled intentionally by Vandy's Dulaney. Davender made one of the two free throws to increase UK's lead to 29-15.
Vandy got as close as eight (31-23) in the latter stages of the first half.
But UK took off again, scoring 10 straight points to grab its largest lead of the half at 41-23.
Bennett had the most spectacular basket of the run, one-handing a rebound slam of a Harden miss.