Date story was published: Saturday, March 7, 1987
ATLANTA -- Sonny Smith, the long-suffering Auburn coach, had a strange reaction to his team's 79-72 victory over Kentucky yesterday.
"It's a real sweet win for me," he said, "but I felt bad at the end because we didn't win with style."
Oddly enough, style was what UK coach Eddie Sutton felt defeated Kentucky.
Except for three unnecessary fouls in the final 19 seconds -- for which Smith subtracted style points -- the Tigers seemed in control throughout.
Unlike the regular-season games, the third Kentucky-Auburn game was an up- tempo affair. Kentucky, as a result, was run out of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. It was Auburn's first post-season victory over UK in nine games.
"The tempo was too fast for us," Sutton said. "We wanted a half-court game, but we didn't get it. I told the team (all week) there were two things we needed: strong defensive board play and stopping their transition game. We didn't do a good job with either one of those goals."
When Kentucky twice rallied in the slower-paced second half, Auburn refused to crack. Gerald White hit a three-pointer when UK cut a 14-point deficit to 47-44.
Center Jeff Moore's two baskets fueled a 7-0 run when UK got within two, 57-55.
Forgotten, for once, were the six UK victories over Smith in games decided by a last shot.
"I wasn't worried about that," Smith said of his bad luck against UK. "As long as they (the referees) were calling holding and pushing on rebounds and faking charges, I didn't have to worry."
UK, now 18-10, shouldn't worry about receiving a bid Sunday to the NCAA Tournament, Sutton said. "I think our team merits getting to go . . . because of some good non-conference victories we had."
Auburn, 17-11, may need another victory in today's SEC Tournament semifinals, Smith said. The Tigers play the winner of last night's Alabama- Tennessee game.
Kentucky's problems with tempo came in a 45-point first half for Auburn. The Tigers left the floor ahead by 8.
UK was unable to stop Auburn's running game in the half. Even Kentucky baskets had little effect. Eight times Auburn raced upcourt after UK scores and hit baskets within 10 seconds.
"Coach Smith told us to run wild in the streets," Auburn guard Frank Ford said.
The Tigers listened.
Before yesterday, the most UK had surrendered in a first half this season was 36 against Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
"We don't play basketball like that," Sutton said of the 45 Auburn points. "Auburn came out with good intensity."
Mike Jones stood out in the Auburn's first-half runout. Jones, who had but two points when the two teams played in January, had 10 by halftime and 17 for the game.
"He was like a different person," said the player who guarded Jones for UK this season, Richard Madison.
Like Chuck Person, Smith said. "Mike's given us a player like Person who we can go for the big bucket," the Auburn coach said.
Jones' 15-footer with 17:07 left in the first half put Auburn ahead for good at 9-8.
An 11-0 run later in the half pushed the lead to 26-14.
A rebound basket by Moore, who led Auburn with 23 points, pushed the lead to 33-19.
"They were executing better, playing better as a team," Madison said of an Auburn team UK beat twice this season. "When a team that talented plays together, they're tough to beat."
Particularly damaging was a lob play for the Auburn front line.
"Just like Georgia did to us," Madison said, "only Georgia lobbed to their guards, and Auburn went to the forwards and center."
Despite its poor first half, Kentucky almost left the floor trailing only by five. A Rex Chapman three-pointer cut the deficit to 45-37 with a minute remaining.
Derrick Miller had another three-pointer go in and out at the buzzer.
Auburn resorted to a box-and-one defense to hold Chapman to eight first- half points.
"We took Rex out of the second game, and (James) Blackmon beat us (27 points)," Smith said. "This time we still wanted to take Rex out of it, and gamble the others wouldn't beat us. We wanted Madison and (Rob) Lock to beat us."
Chris Morris, a 6-foot-8 forward, and guards Terrance Howard and Johnny Lynn took turns guarding Chapman while the other Auburn players played a zone defense.
"I told Rex, 'Welcome to big-time basketball,' " Sutton said. "Sonny Smith did a good job, especially with the gimmick defense he used to dog Rex Chapman."
Without a free-to-operate Chapman, UK's offense was inconsistent. The Cats went almost five minutes without a basket in the first-half stretch that saw Auburn pull away.
"It worked well because we weren't hitting our shots," Chapman said. "It was the same defense Oklahoma played (last Sunday at Rupp Arena). Only we hit our shots then."
UK abandoned its outside game to start the second half.
Five points from Lock and Madison's tip-in brought UK within 47-44 when Auburn called time with 17:19 left.
When the huddles broke, UK went into a 2-3 zone. "Just in case they tried a trick play," Ed Davender said.
Auburn wanted to go inside for a basket or a foul, Ford said.
Instead, White hit a three-pointer from the top of the key. "He just felt it," Ford said. "It pulled us back together."
UK stalled, in part, because Lock had asked to be taken out of the lineup. Irv Thomas, who took his place, was guilty of two turnovers before Lock came back in with 14:27 left.
Two Chapman jumpers, the second a lean-in three-pointer from the top of key, made up UK's final rally. Chapman's three-pointer brought the Cats within 57-55 with 10:08 left.
On the next possession, Madison appeared to steal a pass intended for Jones. But a foul was called.
"I didn't touch him physically at all," Madison said. "The ref said I held him, but I wasn't in position to hold him."
Moore rebounded his own miss and was fouled while scoring. The three-point play pushed the lead to 60-55.
Two more Auburn baskets made it 64-55.
Free-throw shooting stalled another UK comeback. Madison missed four straight free throws in a 41-second span down the stretch. Kentucky made just 11 of 24 free throws in the game.
"It was just a matter of time before the free throws got us," Davender said.