Date story was published: Wednesday, November 29, 1989
Rupp Arena rocked with believers last night as the University of Kentucky unveiled new coach Rick Pitino and his breakneck basketball style.
When in use, the running, pressing and three-point shooting powered UK tantalizingly close to a blowout.
Then Ohio U. settled down, played its patient game and whittled a 14-point halftime deficit to two before succumbing 76-73.
"At halftime, everybody figured we've got this game, now," UK freshman Jeff Brassow said when asked to explain the turnaround.
The Wildcats might have:
Had they continued applying defensive pressure. UK's goal of 35 deflections per game fell one short after recording 22 in the first half, Pitino said.
"We relaxed on that lead," Pitino said. "I told them with our style of play where you don't bring it out and you're always pushing the pace, you've got to play defense every time down."
Had Reggie Hanson, who led UK with 24 points and 14 rebounds, not gotten into foul trouble.
Had Ohio U. not switched to a matchup zone defense that, coupled with Hanson's absence, left the Cats shooting perimeter jumpers. None of seven second-half three-point attempts went in. The Cats made only 10 of the 29 shots from the floor.
"We've got to go inside on that," Pitino said. "It hurt us with Reggie out of the game.
"They had their pace," Pitino said, summing up the second half. "I told the guys we have to play both ways. Certain teams will make you slow it down and you can do nothing about it."
Ohio U's first-year coach, Larry Hunter, had complaints with the first half, which he called "an absolute nightmare."
UK zipped to leads of 10-0 and 18-6 in the first five minutes.
"Of the first 16 points, at least 14 were off turnovers," Hunter said. "We weren't very poised and patient."
Added Dave Jamerson, OU's star and its leading scorer with a game-high 30 points: "We didn't play anywhere near what we wanted. Horrible. We were lucky to be down only 14."
For the most part, the first half affirmed Pitino's style. Enough of the three-pointers went in -- five of 14. Many of the Ohio U. plays hovered on the brink of turnovers: 12 of the 23 were committed in the first 20 minutes.
The Cats zipped to a 10-0 lead in less than two minutes on the strength of several plays straight from the Pitino playbook.
Derrick Miller hit the game's first three-point shot -- behind a double- screen on an inbounds play -- to give UK a 5-0 lead.
Seconds later, an Ohio inbounds pass sailed way long and Miller retrieved it for a easy layup.
Ohio struggled from the beginning. Freshman Steve Barnes wore No. 35 rather than the listed No. 34. Ohio sports information director Glenn Coble said he did not know Barnes' road number differed from his home No. 34.
Fifteen seconds into the game, a two-shot technical was called on Barnes. Hanson made both free throws, beginning the breakout.
After three Jamerson baskets helped cut UK's game-long lead to 28-22, UK spurted again. Hanson's three-pointer extended the lead to 35-22. Richie Farmer's three-pointer with two seconds left gave Kentucky its largest lead to that point, 44-30.
"The first half was a great pace for us," Pitino said. "We were on a pace for a 50-point half till we ran into a draught."
The second half saw UK's poor shooting (34.5 percent for the half, 40 percent for the game) and Ohio's style tighten the score.
Jamerson scored 19 of his 30 points in the second half. Included was a three-pointer that cut UK's lead to 56-54 with 10:18 left.
After a timeout with 9:05 left, the crowd of 23,037 roared its loudest when it meant the most.
"They seemed to take us out of it," Jamerson said of the crowd. "We had a hard time communicating our offense. We let the energy of the crowd get us going a little too much."
Hanson's deflection off OU freshman Steve Barnes delighted the crowd. Then point guard Sean Woods hit a leaner in the lane to double the lead to four points.
"When they got into it defensively, that really helped us tremendously," Pitino said. "When the other team makes a run, you can hang your head. When we lost most of our lead, the crowd refused to let us do that."
Two Johnathon Davis baskets helped push the lead to 68-59 with 3:38 left. It grew to 72-61 at the 1:48 mark and could have been more had the Cats made free throws. In the final 7:39, UK missed eight free throws, including the front end of two one-and-one bonus situations.
Despite the flaws, Pitino embraced victory. It was what he wanted most, Pitino said, even more than a rousing introduction of his style of play.
"I wanted a one-point victory and get out," the UK coach said. "I didn't care about anything else. I'll wave my blue pompoms later."
Look for a Pitino's debut as UK coach to be featured in an upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated.
SI's Curry Kirkpatrick attended last night's game and will attend this weekend's Big Four Classic in preparation for a story.