Date story was published: Sunday, January 24, 1988
BATON ROUGE, La. -- It was a topsy-turvy game. Winston Bennett, whose offense has come mostly from the perimeter this season, went inside. Jose Vargas, a menacing threat in the lane, went outside.
Those two reversals of form were, in large part, why Kentucky claimed a less-than-picturesque 76-61 victory over Louisiana State yesterday.
Kentucky moved into second place in the Southeastern Conference at 6-2. The Cats improved to 13-2 overall.
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LSU fell to 4-2 and out of first place in the SEC. Florida, after beating Tennessee yesterday, took first alone at 5-1. LSU dropped to 9-6 overall.
Poor shooting played a part in Bennett and Vargas leaving their usual scoring areas. Bennett moved because Coach Eddie Sutton wanted a favorable matchup inside. Vargas' move was a top defensive priority for UK.
"Looking at the stats for both ballclubs, neither was burning up the world shooting," Sutton said.
UK's helping man-to-man and zone defenses choked off Vargas inside. Leading scorer Ricky Blanton couldn't pick up the slack, shooting 6-of-15 from the field.
That left LSU's offense in the hands of its three perimeter players: forward Bernard Woodside and guards Darryl Joe and Fess Irvin. Woodside came into the game as the trio's best shooter: 41 percent.
In this case, form held. Woodside, Joe and Irvin shot a collective 7-of- 27. LSU made only 35.4 percent of its shots, a figure deflated by 3-of-17 shooting from three-point territory. Joe missed all five of his three-point attempts, part of a 0-for-9 game. Irvin was 0-for-4 from behind the three- point line.
"We had so many open three-pointers, we were almost forced to take them," LSU coach Dale Brown said. "If we can't correct that, we'll invoke a Thou- shalt-not-shoot-the-three-point-shot rule."
Kentucky, which shot 28.1 percent in its last game, did not exactly singe the nets either. The Cats made but 42.3 percent of their shots yesterday.
But when locked in a fitful struggle early in the second half, UK put Bennett back on the low post. The senior forward responded with 12 second-half points. Seven came in a 16-5 run that established a 49-35 lead.
Teammate Rex Chapman said rough play by Blanton inspired Bennett.
"I saw Blanton give Winston a couple of cheap shots," Chapman said. "I told him (Bennett) to post up and wear him out."
Bennett shrugged off Blanton's play as typically physical.
"Coach Sutton made the decision for me to go to the block," said Bennett, who finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. "I hadn't played there much this season, but I guess I haven't lost anything. Every practice we have a drill where he work on low-post moves. The shots were falling pretty well. That's definitely my comfort zone."
LSU got no closer than nine, thanks in part to a spectcular block by Chapman on Blanton's layup.
But in a game where little came easy, Kentucky managed to keep it relatively close. The Cats missed six of 15 free throws in the final 6:01. Three of the misses came on the front end of one-and-ones.
With 1:57 left and UK ahead 67-56, Sutton put freshmen LeRon Ellis, Reggie Hanson and Sean Sutton in with Ed Davender and Bennett. But when Ellis foolishly fouled trying to rebound a missed free throw, Sutton put veterans Cedric Jenkins and Chapman back in the game.
"It was not a thing of beauty," Sutton said. "But it's a big win for us. It sort of makes up for one of the homecourt losses (to Auburn and Florida)."
Brown, whose two technical fouls also fueled the 16-5 breakout, saw little redeeming quality in the game.
"I thought it was a lousy game," he said. "I bet my wife will say 'Why did you call timeout (with 1:56 left and UK ahead 67-57)? Just get the slaughter over.'
"I just thought they played better worse than we did. We played bad worse. They played better worse."
Worse was the word for much of the first half. When a television timeout was called with 11:49 left, UK had hit only one of its 13 shots. LSU had made but three of its first 12.
LSU led 11-6, but Vargas had only the game's first basket. Those were the only points the 6-foot-10 center would get in the half.
"I thought we'd convinced him you guys were wrong (about Vargas being inconsistent)," Brown said. "Although I have to say I was the first to call him Houdini. He's like me. He's a reactor rather than an actor."
Vargas reacted to UK's collapsing defense by stepping farther from the basket.
"He's not as effective there as on the block," UK center Rob Lock said. "He was yelling at his teammates to get him the ball."
Vargas hit one of six first-half shots and finished with 10 points, his lowest total since Dec. 29.
"I thought our defense frustrated them," Sutton said. "I thought both teams played well defensively. Both teams played hard."
Until hampered by foul trouble, LSU's defense was effective, too. The Tigers concentrated on stopping UK's top two scorers: Davender and Chapman.
At the 11:49 mark, UK's guards had taken one shot each. Both missed.
But Davender hit a three-pointer at the 10:58 mark, beginning a resurgence that would net a game-high 21 points.
Chapman didn't hit his first shot until the 7:17 mark. He loosened up when Woodside, a past tormentor, picked up his third foul with 5:28 left and went to the bench.
Before intermission, Chapman hit two three-pointers, the first giving Kentucky the lead for good at 22-19.
The lead was still three, at 33-30, when UK broke free.
Bennett began the 16-5 run by posting low and drawing Woodside's fourth foul.
Bennett also sandwiched post-up baskets around a Vargas free throw to extend the lead to 41-33.
In all, Bennett and Chapman combined for 11 straight points.
"It hurt us," Brown said of Bennett's low-post play. "He's an inside player. We figured they'd go to him. He's not a perimeter player. But everything hurt us."
Including, Brown admitted, the coach.
The final point of the Bennett-Chapman string was Bennett's free throw with 12:36 left. He drew Vargas' fourth foul on the play, the third time Bennett had drawn a foul on the low post in the half.
The precision of Bennett's scoring or drawing fouls low irritated Brown to the point that the coach lost control. With the Vargas foul, Brown yelled at the officials and finally appeared to flash an obscene gesture their way.
A technical -- the excitable Brown's first this season -- was called with 12:36 left. Davender made both free throws. With the possession, Davender drove for a shot inside.
Combined with Bennett's free throw, the five-point play put UK ahead 48-35.
Thirty-seven seconds after the first technical, Brown again seemed to flash the well-known gesture toward the referees. Another technical was called.
Davender made one of the free throws, putting UK ahead 49-35.
Only two minutes before the technicals, UK had shifted to its "Red-12" matchup zone, the same alignment used to frustrate Georgia. Again, the idea was to keep the ball from Vargas inside.
Two danger points were ahead.
Woodside's three-pointer completed a 5-0 run that excited the crowd (13,853) and prompted a UK timeout.
"I reminded them of that (going to Bennett on the low post)," Sutton said, "but also that the clock can become your best friend. It puts additional pressure on the other team."
UK went immediately to Bennett, who scored over freshman Wayne Sims.
Chapman came to the rescue when LSU cut the lead to 53-44. After he missed from the corner, Chapman raced downcourt to block Blanton's fast-break layup.
Thereafter, UK pushed its lead to as much as 61-44 before the missed free throws halted the gradual pullaway.
"There was no turning point," Brown said. "That's the sad thing. Neither team looked like they were playing for anything. Neither team had much emotion or spark."