Date story was published: Thursday, March 3, 1988
The seniors are gone, but Rex Chapman is back.
And so is the Southeastern Conference basketball championship.
In a game preceded by the traditional sendoff of its seniors, Kentucky outlasted Georgia 80-72 last night at Rupp Arena to clinch at least a tie for the school's 37th SEC title.
Louisiana State and Vanderbilt lost last night, leaving Florida as the only team that can tie UK, now 21-5 overall and 12-5 in the SEC. The Gators would have to beat Alabama at home Saturday and win at LSU Sunday while Kentucky would have to lose at Mississippi Saturday to force a tie.
Chapman, who was returning from the back injury he suffered last Wednesday, scored 15 points. Included was a three-pointer and dunk when UK scored eight straight points to take control with a 58-50 lead. Georgia, 15-14 and 7-10, got no closer than four.
What impressed Georgia coach Hugh Durham were Chapman's five steals.
"Kentucky's defense was the factor in the game," Durham said. "Chapman got 15 points, but he hurt us as much or more defensively. He hurt us in critical situations with steals. Of course, anybody who can get his back healed in 10 days (actually seven) ought to be able to get a couple steals."
Two of Chapman's steals came soon after a television timeout with 15:44 left. The game was tied at 44.
"During a timeout, Coach (Eddie) Sutton stressed that we needed some big defensive plays or it might go down to the wire," Chapman said.
Chapman picked off a lob intended for Toney Mack, the game's high scorer with 21 points. The steal led to Eric Manuel's rebound basket that put UK ahead for good at 52-50.
A Chapman three-pointer and Manuel free throw expanded the lead to 56-50.
Then Chapman struck again. He picked off a Willie Anderson pass and carefully dribbled to a conservative two-hand dunk that made it 58-50 at the 10:05 mark.
"I didn't feel like I usually do," said Chapman, who had his midsection padded to protect a broken bone in his back. "But I guess I can't expect that the first time back."
Georgia got as close as four twice after UK took its 58-50 lead. Chapman's three-pointer quelled one rally.
Center Rob Lock, one of five UK seniors making a final home appearance, hit four points in the last 23 seconds to end the other threat.
"You've got to give Georgia a lot of credit," Sutton said. "Tonight it was evident they are a good basketball team. They shot well (51.8 percent), hung in there and fought us all the way to the wire."
UK did not lead by more than six until the 8-0 run made it 58-50. Thereafter, UK's edge got no greater than 74-64.
Asked what allowed UK to finally break away, Sutton said: "Good defensive play and we were able to convert them into baskets. That was important. It normally is.
"Georgia did a good job putting us on defense and tiring us out. They ran what I'd call a semi-spread. They got some backdoor plays. And even when they missed, they did a good job on the boards (29-19 advantage). We did a horrible job on the boards. They kicked our tails there."
Before the breakout, Sutton said, the Cats may have been hindered by the ceremonial pregame sendoff for the seniors: Ed Davender, Winston Bennett, Cedric Jenkins, Richard Madison and Lock.
"It looked like the activity took a lot out of them," Sutton said. "They looked drained, tired, not as sharp."
Of the seniors, Davender led the way with 20 points and eight assists. The latter statistic allowed Davender to become the first UK player ever to have at least 1,500 points and 400 assists. His career totals improved to 1,539 points and 405 assists.
Lock added 19 points, including a punctuating dunk with seven seconds left that brought the house down.
Bennett, who had 10 points, made the pass in transition that set up Lock's dunk.
"Any time you break open, you ought to look up and be ready to make the pass," Bennett said. "I saw Rob streaking."
Lock, a 6-foot-11 center, streaking?
"Streaking hard," Lock said. "I owe him a steak dinner."
Fittingly on this night, UK's seniors accounted for all eight points in an 8-2 run that allowed the Cats to claim a 39-33 halftime lead.
Bennett posted for a three-point play that gave UK a 34-31 lead with 2:55 left.
After Georgia got two free throws, Cedric Jenkins posted up for a basket. The shot increased the lead to 36-33. It represented the 23rd and 24th points UK got inside the lane against the smaller Bulldogs in the half.
UK increased the lead by three with a relatively rare outside bomb.
Chapman moved to the left corner on a set play. His three-point shot with seven seconds left gave UK its 39-33 lead.
Except for the late spurt, Georgia hung tough. The Bulldogs haven't won on the road since Jan. 7, yet did not allow UK more than a three-point lead until Chapman's three-pointer.
Madison's left-handed layup and Davender's driving shot gave UK its largest lead, 74-64, with 1:42 left.
Still, Georgia would not quit. Anderson stole an inbounds pass and hit a shot in the lane to cut the lead to eight with 1:01 left.
Two seconds later, Bennett missed the front end of a one-and-one. When Rod Cole hit a three-pointer, Georgia was within 74-69 with 48 seconds left.
The Bulldogs cut the lead to 76-72 with 24 seconds left when Alec Kessler scored off a rebound while being fouled by Lock.
"I'm a senior and I shouldn't make a foul like that," Lock said. "I'll learn from my mistake. It won't happen again. I promise."
Lock made amends. After a Georgia timeout, he was fouled and made two free throws.
After Anderson missed a three-pointer, Bennett found Lock streaking toward a concluding slam.
"It was a nice way to end a career with the thing I like most: a dunk," Lock said. "It felt good."