Date story was published: Sunday, February 1, 1987
Kentucky's 50-36 victory over Mississippi State lacked luster and several other elements associated with entertaining basketball.
In fact, the big winner at Rupp Arena yesterday may have been Jefferson- Pilot, the company that televises Southeastern Conference games.
At least it could boast -- and representatives on hand did -- that the numbing telecast did not air during a critical ratings period. The next crucial TV period begins Wednesday, smiling electronic journalists reported.
Subdued was the word for everyone else involved: both teams, a regional television audience and a Rupp crowd listed at 22,831.
But, as Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton noted with an eye toward NCAA Tournament time, his team's fifth victory in 10 SEC games was important.
"We pulled out a win," Sutton said, "and at this time, that's the most important thing." The Cats improved to 12-6 overall.
"We're so darn inconsistent," Sutton said. "At times we can beat anyone. At times 287 teams could have beaten us."
If one incident captured the game's essence, it came with 3:40 remaining. It was then, when the teams were returning to the floor after a television timeout, that Kentucky center Rob Lock absentmindedly barged into teammate Richard Madison.
Lock wasn't alone.
Thirty-six turnovers and bad shooting galore put many in the mood to snooze. State, which fell to 5-14 overall and 1-9 in the SEC, had the majority of both. The Bulldogs committed 19 turnovers. The league's worst shooting team made just five of 23 second-half shots. In that dreadful half, State threw up two airballs, missed two layups and even had center Anthony Blakley's wide-open dunk clang off the rim.
Blessed with a heady 18-point performance by James Blackmon, Kentucky could hardly avoid winning.
"You can't beat a bad team, let alone a good team, when you don't make the easy shots," State's first-year coach, Richard Williams, said.
"Kentucky," Williams added, "wasn't playing quite as well as they needed to."
State made just 37 percent of its shots (17 of 46), throwing away an opportunity to make an up-and-down UK team sweat.
Asked if he would have contemplated victory knowing beforehand that his team would hold Kentucky to 50 points, Williams said: "For us, the way we shoot, I'd think we'd get 48."
Oddly enough, State shot well early. The Bulldogs, who entered the game with a SEC-low shooting percentage of 43.1, made nine of their first 12 shots. That shooting pushed State to an early 18-11 lead.
After experimenting briefly in a 2-3 zone, Sutton went back to the man-to- man he opened the game with. With an important twist.
"We got our defense out a little higher on the floor," the UK coach said. "We applied more pressure. It kind of disrupted them."
State made just eight of its final 34 shots.
From the 11:55 mark, when Robert Woodard's jumper gave State its 18-11 lead, the Bulldogs didn't get another basket for more than six minutes.
UK didn't exactly pour it on. The Cats scored only six points in that time.
But Rex Chapman's driving layup put Kentucky ahead 21-20 with 5:05 left in the half.
Two minutes later, when Blackmon took a no-look underhanded pass from Chapman for a layup, the crowd had something to cheer about. UK led 25-20.
"The first half was about as well as we can play given the situation we have in our players," said Williams of a 25-24 halftime deficit.
The second half began inauspiciously for both teams: two turnovers and two missed shots in the first 30 seconds.
Then Blackmon put the game away. The senior guard scored UK's first nine points, and 11 of the first 13, after intermission. His points led the Cats on a 12-4 roll that made it 37-28 with 13:02 left.
"I got a couple of great passes (from Ed Davender and Chapman) for layups," Blackmon said.
Asked if the game was his best, Blackmon said: "As far as scoring is concerned, definitely."
His passing (two assists), defense (two steals) and floor leadership were also highlights in an afternoon sorely lacking in such.
UK slowly pulled away, thanks mainly to State's many missed shots.
"To me, the problem was we didn't get any calls," said Hubert Henderson, one of four State players to score eight points. "There were a lot of breaks we didn't get."
On one shot, a UK player "actually grabbed me."
"You can't worry about it," he added with a shrug.
State's bricks allowed Kentucky to pay little attention to missing the front end of three one-and-ones down the stretch.
The Cats, Chapman in particular, were too busy trying to give the crowd a thrill. In the final minutes, Chapman spiced a fast break with a behind-the- back dribble and no-look pass. The latter was intercepted.
Later, the freshman flash arched a lob for Madison. That didn't work either. Madison was undercut and left hanging from the rim.
"I was trying to give the fans something to remember," Chapman said. "The coaches didn't want us to, but . . ."
Besides, Chapman added, "it was kind of boring out there."