Date story published: Sunday, January 22, 1989
KNOXVILLE -- Upsets and Knoxville, that inseparable part of the Kentucky-Tennessee series, reappeared again last night.
This time, however, it was UK that sprung the surprise, outfighting cocky Tennessee 66-65 before the largest crowd ever to watch a Southeastern Conference game: 25,610.
Ironically, UK used the same strategy that thwarted so many Wildcat teams here in the past. The Cats spread the floor, milked the shot clock and thoroughly frustrated the Volunteers, ranked No. 18 in the nation.
Never miss a local story.
Then Deron Feldhaus hit two free throws with 12 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 66-62 lead that made meaningless Greg Bell's 35-foot three-pointer at the buzzer.
No Tennessee player was more frustrated than Dyron Nix, the team's leading scorer and odds-on favorite to win player-of-the-year honors in the SEC.
Stymied by a collapsing UK defense and his own teammates' unwillingness to wait for him to break free, Nix was limited to just two baskets and 14 points. He came into the game averaging 23.6 points per game.
Asked if experience, Tennessee's strong suit, failed to be the deciding factor, Nix said: "I see the factor right here."
He held a boxscore.
"If you don't come to me, you don't win in this league," Nix said. "Dyron took nine shots. Doug (Roth, center) took seven shots. Ian (Lockhart, backup center) took five shots. That's bull right there, especially when their inside people all had three fouls."
Charge after Tennessee charge was repelled.
Twice in the final two minutes, the Vols closed to within two.
Nix's final two points made it 61-59 with 2:09 left.
Sean Sutton, a 48.1 percent free thrower, nailed two free throws at the 1:41 mark.
"I'd hit two earlier in the first half," Sutton said. "That gave me confidence."
Tennessee closed within 64-62 when Bell, who made just six of 17 three- pointers, hit a trey with 16 seconds left.
Then Feldhaus, who'd made just six of 11 free throws this season, hit the two with 12 seconds left.
"I'd changed my routine," Feldhaus said of his clutch free throws. "I had been over to the right too far."
A nail positioned at the center of the free throw line (it is used to paint the circle) gave him his bearings, Feldhaus said.
Still, "I was really nervous," Feldhaus said. "I'd never been in that position in college."
Led by Derrick Miller's 23 points, UK won despite losing center LeRon Ellis for huge chunks of the game. Ellis played a season-low 21 minutes.
UK's starting front line -- Chris Mills, Reggie Hanson and Ellis -- all had four fouls with almost nine minutes left.
Inexplicably, Tennessee kept launching three-pointers instead of going to its inside players. The Vols took nine in the final eight minutes. Questionable strategy on a night when Tennessee made just six of 26 three- pointers (23.1 percent) and 18 of 60 overall (30 percent).
Meanwhile, UK never varied from its plan.
"I told the squad the biggest key in the game would be tempo," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "That would allow us to take the crowd out of it and shorten the game."
Tennessee coach Don DeVoe, who watched his team score almost 25 points below its average (89.9), agreed.
"We knew in this game we needed the lead," he said. "We expected them to play the game they wanted to play. We didn't expect to go unbeaten, but we did expect to win at home."
With Mike Scott and Feldhaus supplying much-needed relief off the bench, UK never trailed over the final 31 minutes. The Cats led by as much as 45-36 early in the second half.
UK, which won for only the third time in its last 17 trips to Knoxville, evened its record at 9-9 and improved to 4-2 in the SEC.
Tennessee, which suffered its first SEC loss in six league games, fell to 12-3 overall.
A tone was set in the first five minutes. UK immediately got into a spread offense, while Tennessee rushed jumpers.
"Definitely we expected to win the ball game, but we didn't jump on them early," Tennessee point guard Clarence Swearengen said. "That was the key to the game. After that, those guys had confidence they could play with Tennessee. That was our problem right there."
The Vols nixed Nix from their first-half offense and trailed Kentucky 34-29 at halftime.
Nix, who averages 16.2 shots a game, got only five first-half shots. He had six points at intermission. His only basket was uncontested: a breakaway dunk at the 18:32 mark.
When UK played man-to-man, Hanson blanketed Nix. When the Cats shifted to a 2-3 zone for the final seven minutes, Nix couldn't escape the collapsing Cats.
Instead of patiently waiting for Nix to get free, Tennessee launched three-pointers. But only two of 13 went in.
The Vols never did find the range. Tennessee hit only seven of its first 29 shots. UT finished the half hitting just eight of 35 shots (22.9 percent).
The poor shooting helped Kentucky to a lead despite Ellis' foul trouble. Ellis picked up two fouls in the first two minutes, then left at the 12:05 mark with his third when he went over Ian Lockhart's back for a rebound.
The call appeared costly because Ellis' basket on the play was disallowed, leaving UK trailing 15-14. Ellis had scored eight of the 14 points.
But the Cats hung tough with some improbable plays and its patient offense. UK shot just one three-pointer.
Mills, of whom one Tennessee fan yelled "He's a money player," demonstrated that was true. Of course, the fan was referring to the now-famous Emery package. Mills scored seven of his nine first-half points after Ellis left, including two acrobatic drives.
On one, Mills took an inbounds pass and dipsy-dooed under Nix for a layup.
A 360-degree spin at the end of a cut to the basket produced another easy basket.
UK extended its lead to 43-34 early in the second half.
Feldhaus, who entered the game at the 17:42 mark when Hanson picked up his third foul, drove clumsily and banked one in over Roth that made it 40-34.
After Tennessee missed another jumper, Miller hit a three-pointer in transition to give the Cats a nine-point lead to protect.
Foul trouble and turnovers hurt Kentucky.
The Cats committed 25 turnovers. "We played good defense," Eddie Sutton said. "But Tennessee played great defense."
Seven of those turnovers came in a five-minute span that saw Tennessee tie the score at 49 after trailing 45-38.
"When we got close with a possession to tie or go ahead, we rushed a shot or made a turnover," DeVoe said. "We stopped ourselves on numerous occasions. We kept trying and trying, but when the ball doesn't fall you have a disappointment at home."
After two Scott free throws put UK ahead 51-49, Travis Henry threw a lob too high to Nix.
When Miller hit a jumper and Henry missed a three-pointer, UK had a lead to protect.