Date story was published: Tuesday, December 5, 1989
Because Kentucky put Mississippi State in a difficult position, the Wildcats placed themselves in first place.
UK, picked to finish in the depths of the Southeastern Conference, took the early lead last night with a dizzying 102-97 victory over Mississippi State.
An all-but-indefensible one-two punch helped UK win this rare December league game. If the near-record 13 three-pointers didn't get State, the driving layups did.
"That's the game," State coach Richard Williams said. "That's the way they play the game."
UK set an SEC record with 35 three-point attempts, eclipsing the old record of 32 set by Vanderbilt against Morehead State in 1987. UK's 13 three- pointers were the fourth best total by an SEC team. Vandy's 15 against Morehead remained the record.
Six UK players hit three-pointers. Eight attempted at least one.
Derrick Miller hit five three-pointers, one more than he had in UK's first two games. "Miller went on a streak where he was hitting everything," Williams said. "One must have been from 28 feet."
The nets scorched, Kentucky only tried three treys in the final seven minutes. Ten of UK's final 11 second-half baskets came from players who drove or ball-faked around a State defender.
"It's hard to defend a team when they don't shoot 'twos'," State guard Doug Hartsfield said. "When they did penetrate, you couldn't help because your man was looking to shoot a 'three'. "
For the record, UK attempted 35 three-pointers and 38 two-pointers.
The Cats made enough of each to reach the 100-point mark in Rick Pitino's third game as UK coach and for only the eighth time in the 1980s.
In four seasons under Eddie Sutton's ball-control philosophy, the Cats scored 100 points once: a 100-58 victory over Alaska-Anchorage on Dec. 28, 1987.
UK's last 100-point game against a team from the continental United States came in December of 1981: a 107-91 victory over Jacksonville in that year's UKIT.
Joe B. Hall also coached the Cats in their last 100-point game against an SEC team: a 102-74 victory over Auburn on Feb. 4, 1981.
Pitino shrugged off the 102 points. As expected, Mississippi State did elect to attack UK's multiple presses and run with the Wildcats.
But UK's first-year coach was positively giddy with his team's performance.
"I'll tell you, I'm so tickled with this basketball team," Pitino said. "I can't tell you how proud and happy I am with the guys. I never ever expected this after five or six weeks of practice."
Pitino singled out UK's execution in its multiple presses.
"The press in our three games, what with the guys having only a few weeks to work on it, has been magnificent," Pitino said. "I can't ask for anything else in the way they're playing."
State committed 22 turnovers. However, several came after beating the press.
"We kept getting good back pursuit," Pitino said. "They only had three or four breakaways. Normally, in a game like this, they'd have 15 breakaways."
Offensively, Kentucky, now 2-1 overall, put Mississippi State in a bind in the second half. The three-pointers came first.
Five of UK's first six second-half baskets came on three-pointers. Four different Cats hit threes.
Miller, UK's top scorer with 21 points, and Reggie Hanson, who added 19 points and 10 rebounds, hit two each.
With the treys, UK extended a 40-33 halftime lead to 66-50.
State, which counts man-to-man as its sole defense, started moving out to contest the threes.
UK then started driving past State's on-rushing defenders.
"Glaring to me was how poorly we guarded the ball," the State coach said. "The dribble penetration and the pitch out."
Point guard Sean Woods, who struggled in UK's first two games (five assists, eight turnovers), was a force. Woods made all seven of his shots, had 18 points, five assists and just one turnover in 27 minutes. Half his points came in the final 10 minutes when State rallied to erase two-thirds of a 21- point deficit.
"I told Sean before the game, 'You may be making mistakes, but you'll be a great guard because you take criticism well,' " Pitino said. " 'As long as you'll stay positive, you may lose some battles, but you'll win the war.' "
Back-up point guard Richie Farmer contributed seven points and continued to show a new-found ease at pressing the action. "Richie is going more north and south each game," Pitino said.
UK built its lead to as much as 71-50 with 12:21 left, but State did not concede its first loss in four games. The Bulldogs closed to within 85-78 with four minutes left mainly because of poor Kentucky shooting and guard Tony Watts entry into State's offense.
Kentucky made 63.3 percent of its second-half shots (19 of 30), but only five of 12 attempts went in during State's comeback. Woods also missed the front end of an one-and-one and Hanson missed two free throws.
Watts, who averaged 14.3 points in State's first three games, missed his first seven shots. His first basket, a foul-line jumper, didn't come until the 14:05 mark. Watts, the son of former NBA player Donald "Slick" Watts, finished with 18.
Enter John Pelphrey, a contrast in this athletic 94-foot game.
More slow-footed fox than quick-striking gazelle, Pelphrey made five clutch plays down the stretch to enable UK to hold off the on-rushing Bulldogs.
With State within 85-78, Pelphrey leaped out of bounds to save Miller's three-point air ball. Eventually, Paintsville's favorite son capped the possession with a banker in traffic.
When State got within 87-80, Pelphrey hit a three-pointer, his second of the game.
Later, when Greg Carter's first three-pointer of the season cut UK's lead to 95-91 with 43 seconds left, Pelphrey went across the lane to beat State to a missed free throw.
Eight more seconds ticked off the clock before Pelphrey was fouled with 30 seconds left. He missed the front end of the one-and-one. But in one final bit of ball-hawking, after a scramble, Pelphrey got himself in the right spot to retrieve the loose ball.
Eventually, Deron Feldhaus, the coldest of UK's shooters (three of 13), broke free for a dunk.