Date story was published: Sunday, February 8, 1987
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Opportunity knocked and Ed Davender answered. That's how Kentucky's junior guard coolly described a 29-point effort yesterday that included a game-winning jumper.
A closely guarded Davender sank a 12-footer with six seconds left to cap an improbable comeback in the final 90 seconds. The shot and comeback lifted UK to a 70-69 victory over ninth-ranked Alabama.
"The opportunity was there for me," Davender said matter-of-factly of his offensive heroics, which matched a career high. He also had 29 at Tennessee earlier this season. "When the shots are falling, they're falling. That's all."
When Derrick McKey hit a turnaround jumper from the baseline, Alabama led 69-63 with only 1:23 to go. At that point, opportunity seemed to smile on Bama, which was seeking to maintain sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference.
"We had fought our way back (from a one-time 12-point deficit) and got ourselves in a comfortable position," Alabama guard Mark Gottfried said. "We were in a position we wanted to be in. To put that much effort into it makes it hurt more than usual."
A Rex Chapman steal and feed to James Blackmon for a three-point play got Kentucky close. When Alabama's Michael Ansley missed the front end of a one- and-one with 44 seconds left, UK had its chance.
The Wildcats worked the clock to 16 seconds before calling time.
"I felt it," said Davender, who played the final 11:47 with four fouls. "I told a couple of the fellas I wanted to take the game-winner like Roger (Harden) did last year."
Harden's 23-footer beat Alabama 73-71 here last year with six seconds left.
UK coach Eddie Sutton gave Davender the green light.
"Coach said, 'Well, Ed, you've been hot all game, we're going to give you a chance to win it,' " Richard Madison said. "He told the rest of us to crash the boards."
Kentucky went into its "1-4" alignment where the player with the ball, in this case Davender, operates one-on-one and his four teammates clear to the baseline.
Davender made one pass to Cedric Jenkins and got an immediate return pass. "A smart play," Sutton said. "It avoided the chance of a five-second call."
With the clock inside 10 seconds, Davender challenged Alabama point guard Terry Coner. To the left of the lane, just inside the foul line, Davender rose for a jumper with Coner stretching a hand in his face.
"I had to alter it a little because I felt McKey or Ansley would come out of nowhere and swat it," Davender said.
Neither appeared. "I thought about it," said McKey, the SEC's second-best shot blocker (2.5 per game). "I figured if I went over, my man would be by himself. It was safer to stay with my man."
Davender's shot swished.
Alabama, which fell to 17-4 overall and 10-2 in the SEC, called time with five seconds left to map a shot for its leading scorer, McKey.
After spending two seconds to reach midcourt, the Tide called time again.
When Sutton got a look at the Alabama offensive alignment, he called time. Rob Lock was inserted to contest Ansley's inbounds pass and, as Sutton said, "make it very difficult to lob."
Ansley's pass found McKey, but not under the basket. Instead, the Tide center was on the left side near the three-point line. Jenkins' long arms were also there to contest the shot.
"We wanted to get the ball to McKey all the way," Gottfried said. "We were hoping it would be a little closer than it turned out. Because of their pressure 'D' he was a little further out than we wanted."
Like Davender, McKey was mindful of last year's game here. If Davender was inspired by Harden's heroics, McKey couldn't forget the Tide's failure on a final-second shot.
"It flashed through my mind," McKey said. "I was confident when I went up, but I realized immediately that it was going to float to the outside a little bit."
Madison's box-out knocked the dangerously pesky Jim Farmer to the floor. As the ball bounced off the rim, the horn sounded. UK improved to 14-6 overall and 7-5 in the SEC. The latter good for sole possession of third place, three games behind co-leaders Alabama and Florida.
Chapman's steal followed two Davender free throws that cut Alabama's lead to 69-65 with 1:09 left. After Davender's free throws, UK tried to trap the ball.
"The coaches were yelling from the sideline for us to double-team," Chapman said. "I was waiting for the man James (Blackmon) was on to turn his back, but he didn't."
Instead, that man, James Jackson, threw a weak pass toward Farmer waiting at midcourt. Chapman almost overran the ball it was so poorly thrown.
"It was a slow pass," Jackson said. "It gave (Chapman) time to react. It was a bounce pass. Maybe I should have tried a chest pass."
Blackmon took Chapman's feed and laid it in as a late-arriving Farmer tried to ease away. A disbelieving Farmer was called for a foul. The three-point play drew UK to within 69-68 with 50 seconds left.
"If I was going to foul him, I would have fouled him," Farmer said. "I was trying to go up and contest the shot as much as possible and then go by him. If I brushed him, I did with my jersey."
Ansley's miss from the foul line and Davender's swish from just inside the line decided matters.
With Davender scoring 18 in the first half (nine of 11 from the field), UK led at halftime and through the first 22 minutes. The Cats led by as much as 12 (25-13) in the early going with drives by Davender and the other guards providing much of the damage.
"Alabama was overplaying so much, it was hard for them to help out (on the drives)," Chapman said. "When we penetrated the middle, the shot was there."
Behind McKey and Farmer, who combined for 20 first-half points, the Tide stayed close. Alabama finally took the lead at 43-42 when Farmer hit a three- pointer with 17:43 left.
Davender's foul trouble further fueled Alabama's momentum. Davender picked up a third and fourth foul in an 18-second span and went to the bench with 14:28 left.
When Alabama's lead reached seven at 51-46, at which point UK had been outscored 16-6 in the second half, Sutton rushed Davender back in during a television timeout with 11:47 left.
"I didn't feel we could fall behind by double figures and have much of a chance to come back," Sutton said. "I told him, 'Even if you have to give up a couple of baskets, don't foul out.' "
Alabama tried mightily to foul out Davender. When Davender was assigned to Farmer, the Bama swingman posted up the UK guard. When Sutton switched Davender to Coner and then Jackson, the smaller Bama players took it to Davender, too.
But Davender stayed alive to slay Bama at the end.