Date story was published: Sunday, January 4, 1987
AUBURN, Ala. -- If curiosity killed the proverbial cat, patience saved the Kentucky Wildcat.
Last night Kentucky notched another victory on its three-point belt line and the credit went to the Cats' milk-the-clock attack.
The latest victim was the Auburn Tigers, whose own irresponsible shooting from three-point territory in the final two minutes contributed mightily to UK's 63-60 victory.
In more ways than one, Kentucky's first Southeastern Conference victory this season hinged on the three-point game.
The Wildcats, now 7-2 overall and 1-1 in the league, nearly won in a rout thanks to the three-point shot. Rex Chapman, who hit five straight three-point attempts and scored 21 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, drilled his final three-pointer to give Kentucky its largest lead. That was 50-37 with 8:55 remaining.
Just when UK's lead seemed secure, Auburn clipped off seven straight points.
With the 11th-largest crowd in Auburn basketball history (12,347) roaring, the Tigers cut the deficit to 58-53 with 2:41 remaining.
But once in position to pull out the victory, Auburn began firing three- pointers indiscriminately. The Tigers missed six within a 90-second span.
Granted a reprieve, UK made enough free throws to win.
" 'Panic' is a good word for it," Auburn coach Sonny Smith said of the wild shooting down the stretch. "We rushed our heads. We had no self- confidence at all."
The source of Auburn's problem was Kentucky's strategy of patience, Smith said. The Wildcats worked the 45-second shot clock repeatedly. In the first half alone, at least five shots were taken with less than five ticks remaining.
As for what effect the patience had on Auburn, Frank Ford said it best. ''Whenever we play a team like that," the Auburn guard said, "we get antsy feet and antsy hands."
The first-half price was rushed shots in a futile effort to speed the tempo.
In the second half, the style cost Auburn its second straight defeat after beginning the season with seven victories.
This was Smith's assessment.
''They got us to play frustrated," the Auburn coach said. "You overreact and a good team takes advantage."
That meant another two-point UK victory over Auburn. It was the Cats' fourth such victory in their last nine games against Auburn.
None may have been as important as last night's.
"This was a must game for us," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "We could have looked up and been 0-3 or 0-4. I emphasized that at breakfast, at shooting practice and at the pregame meal."
UK plays pre-season SEC favorite Alabama Wednesday at Rupp Arena before going to Tennessee Saturday.
After a 49-47 disappointment to Kentucky in 1984, Smith announced his intention to retire. Later that season he retracted the statement.
Last night's defeat was easier to take, he said.
"I would really be hurt if we had played," Smith said. "We played like we didn't want to win. A lot had to do with the way that they made us play. They frustrated us."
Ironically, two straight three-point plays set up the final wild minutes. First Ford hit a jumper from beyond the three-point line. Then center Jeff Moore grabbed a rebound and scored while being fouled. His free throw made it 58-53.
After James Blackmon missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2:28 left, Auburn got four shots. All were rushed three-pointers and all missed.
"I kept thinking we can't keep giving them the opportunities," UK guard Ed Davender said. "They might make one."
Auburn closed to 60-57 when Aundrae Davis picked off Davender's dribble and raced to a dunk with 1:14 left.
Derrick Miller made the front end of the bonus to inch the lead to 61-57 with 1:11 remaining.
However, Auburn reserve guard Johnny Lynn missed two more rushed three- point attempts.
"We didn't need those shots," Chris Morris said of the six misfires from three-point territory. "We didn't really know how much time was left and what the score was. We need to work on that."
With 56 seconds left, Miller made the front end of another bonus situation to make it 62-57. But even the five-point edge wasn't safe.
Ford rebounded another three-point miss and put it in while being fouled by Richard Madison.
The three-point play made it 62-60 with 46 seconds left. Auburn got a chance for the tie or win when Chapman's behind-the-back dribble got away from him near midcourt.
"I thought I was fouled two or three times before the ball got away from me," Chapman said.
The lead was saved when Terrence Howard rushed a spinning 10-footer over Davender in transition.
Auburn got another chance when Moore tied up Rob Lock on the rebound. It was Auburn's turn of possession.
But Lynn missed again, this time from about 17 feet.
All Auburn could do was catch up to Davender and foul.
Davender made one free throw with one second remaining to set the score.
The final 44 seconds typified the first half. For almost all of that time, Kentucky held the ball without approaching an attack at the basket.
Then, in the last 10 seconds, the Wildcats went to work. When a three- point attempt by Miller was shut down, the freshman fed Madison on the post. Madison turned and sank the five-footer, giving UK a 25-21 halftime lead.
Much of UK's first-half tactics were similar. The Wildcats spent much of the half patiently passing around the perimeter.
The tactic seemed to cause Auburn to rush. The Tigers were guilty of six turnovers in the game's first 10 minutes. UK had only three in the half.
"We want to do that on the road, especially against a good team like Auburn," Davender said. "We wanted to put them on defense as long as we could. They didn't want to play defense. They wanted to play offense."
The strategy also lessened the damage of UK's poor shooting half. Chapman made only one of five shots in the half, much to the delight of a near sellout crowd that booed or chanted "Shoot-shoot-shoot" each time Chapman touched the ball.
Miller, another of UK's three-point shooters, missed his only two shots.
Despite the misfires, Kentucky never trailed after Madison rebounded a loose ball and scored to make it 4-3.
Lock helped Kentucky made its first breakout midway through the half. He tipped away a feed for Moore at the top of the key.
Lock ran three-quarters of the court to retrieve the loose ball. Then he fed Davender alone under the basket for a layup to give UK a 15-11 lead.
Three minutes later, the lead grew to five at 19-14 when Davender sped to a fast-break layup.
Another Davender layup, this time on a drive around Lynn, made it 21-16.
Then the crowd got its first chance to cheer. Gerald White canned a three- pointer to make it 21-19.
Auburn made only one other three-pointer.
The first two minutes of the second half saw the potential for a roller- coaster rush to the finish.
First, UK erupted to take its largest lead to that point, 29-21. In the first 90 seconds, UK got two baskets, while Auburn missed a shot, Mike Jones sprained an ankle and Moore was called for pushing off on the low post.
After Auburn called time with 18:21 remaining, UK's advantage evaporated quickly.
A Chapman turnover and Morris' low-post basket brought a Sutton timeout with 18:02 remaining.
It did no good.
Morris was the reason why. The Auburn forward scored eight points in a three-minute span. He posted up. He rebounded home a shot. He took a lob for a slam and he hit a perimeter jumper.
All those hoops got Auburn even at 29-29 with 16:36 remaining.
But Morris made one mistake. He tried to taunt Chapman while the teams walked off the court with 18:02 left.
"I couldn't understand what he said," Chapman said. "I asked him what he was talking about, but before he could answer the ref said to break it up. I guess he was trying to intimidate me."
"I was fired up," Morris said. "I had to say something to somebody. I told him he was just a rookie.
"Listen, he's a great player."
Chapman took charge. The freshman hit five three-pointers in the next seven minutes. Four of the three-pointers accounted for 12 points in an 18-6 UK run that built a 47-35 lead with 9:52 remaining.
Chapman's fifth three-pointer pushed Kentucky to its largest lead, 50-37, with 8:55 to go.
"Rex is just a great competitor," Sutton said. "He hit some big-time shots."
Auburn would not quit.
Morris again fueled the rush. He slammed home a rebound to start a seven- point run. After Davis' three-point play (a baseline shot and a foul), Morris took a White pass for a layup that made it 50-44 at the 6:41 mark.
That shot fired up the crowd, especially after Chapman had finally missed a three-pointer seconds earlier.
But Lock steadied the Cats when he rebounded his own missed dunk and slammed it home to put the Cats ahead 52-44.
Auburn got no closer than seven until the final 90 nerve-racking seconds.