Date story published: Sunday, November 20, 1988
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- For a half, it was the Kentucky of old. Locked in a two-point duel with one of the nation's best teams.
Then came the second half, when UK reverted to the Wildcats of real old: 1926-27 to be exact.
You had to go back that far to find a Kentucky loss on opening day as lopsided as yesterday's 80-55 beating by No. 1 Duke. UK fell 48-10 to Cincinnati to begin the 1926-27 season.
No other opening-day defeat compares -- there are only 14, seven since World War I -- in UK's 86 mostly glorious seasons.
After trailing only 39-37 at halftime yesterday, UK soon ran out of depth.
Foul trouble and Duke's defense and bench combined to make glaring UK's well-documented lack of depth.
Even more eye-popping was what Duke did with its superiority. The Blue Devils ran up 16 straight points to break from the game's only tie, 43-43 with 16:42 left.
Interrupted by a Reggie Hanson driving dunk and three-point play, the run continued on to a 29-3 avalanche that buried the Cats.
"I think we got taught a pretty good lesson by an outstanding team," UK coach Eddie Sutton said.
Particularly noteworthy, Sutton said, was Duke's man-to-man defensive pressure and depth.
"That defense, well, it's the way we'd like to play the game," Sutton said. "It finally gets to you. They kept shuffling players in there; it finally wore us down. Duke's defense is as good as any we'll see all year. They will make an experienced team look bad if they play as good as they did today."
UK committed 29 turnovers, more than any one-game total last year, when the Cats played at a faster tempo. The high in 1987-88 were the 25 turnovers against Southern University in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cats also made just 36.4 percent of their second-half shots (eight of 22). The percentage fell to 29.4 percent (five of 17) after LeRon Ellis went to the bench with his fourth foul at the 16:33 mark with the score at 43-43.
Ellis, who finished with a career-high 17 points, returned at the 11:49 mark but departed for good when his fifth foul was called at 9:11.
Without Ellis, the Cats lost their prime scoring threat. And with Hanson and Chris Mills already playing with three fouls, UK retreated into a 2-3 zone.
"Duke is such a good shooting team and they pass so well, they were able to tear our zone apart," Sutton said.
Four three-pointers highlighted Duke's 16-0 spurt. Danny Ferry, who led all scorers with 23, had two of the bombs.
"In the second half, we played almost flawlessly," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We got one break when they missed an easy shot."
John Pelphrey appeared to get pushed from behind and missed a layup that would have cut the Duke lead to 46-45.
"As a matter of fact, he had two hands on me," Pelphrey said of the push.
But it probably wouldn't have mattered.
"If we played like that all the time, I'd be very, very happy," Krzyzewski said of the second half. "Starting the game, the team was a little bit nervous. We were not in a good rhythm.
"And Kentucky did some good things strategy-wise. They used the court well. They used the (shot) clock well."
Although UK never led, the Cats hung tough. Duke broke to a 17-6 lead, but UK clawed back to within one, 25-24, on Deron Feldhaus' three-pointer.
"Our defense got us back," Sutton said. "I was proud of the team because they could have folded their tents."
UK abandoned a post-up offense early, spread the floor and got several baskets off backdoor cuts that took advantage of Duke's overplaying defense.
At one point early in the second half, Ferry angrily shouted at his teammates: "No more backdoor cuts, damn it."
As if on command, they stopped.
"Our adjustments to the spread were good," Krzyzewski said. "After we got the lead, we made another adjustment so they couldn't run that."
Duke dropped Ferry off UK's center, which would have been Ellis, and let him roam the middle picking up cutters.
"LeRon had kept them honest," Pelphrey said. "With him out, they could overplay. And to compound it, they started hitting at the other end and executing unbelievably."