Date story was published: Wednesday, February 27, 1991
Kentucky coach Rick Pitino mimicked Wimp Sanderson's reliance on plaid power last night.
But rebounding and fast breaks, a staple of Alabama basketball for years, propelled UK to victory last night.
The Cats outrebounded Alabama 42-29, keying a fast-break style that beat the Crimson Tide 79-73.
Never miss a local story.
With the victory, Kentucky made two bits of history and moved a step closer to a third.
The victory -- the 200th for UK in Rupp and the 1,500th in school history -- moved UK within a game of clinching the best record in the Southeastern Conference this season.
An SEC rule prohibits Kentucky from officially winning the conference title. But no SEC school could better UK's conference record if the Cats beat Auburn Saturday in the season finale.
Kentucky improved to 13-4 in the SEC and 21-6 overall.
Alabama fell to 17-9 and 11-6.
"We wanted to fast break and the only way to do that is to rebound big," UK coach Rick Pitino said. The Cats "wanted to run because of a respect level for Alabama's defense. If we played them from top of the key to top of the key, we'd struggle."
Though his pizza bet (most rebounds a game) with Reggie Hanson had been suspended, Jamal Mashburn led the way with 12 rebounds. Six came on the offensive board.
Asked to explain UK's rebounding dominance, Mashburn said, "We had to, really. We had to play real hard. We got good position. That's a credit to us."
By Pitino's count, 22 of Kentucky's 28 baskets came off fast-break situations. The Cats had 38 fast-break opportunities in the game.
Pitino's first-half numbers were 22 breaks and 15 baskets.
"The early breaks made us worry about the break rather than go to the boards," said Sanderson, who listed two other Tide shortcomings. "We didn't do a good job defending the dribbler. They got a lot of points off pressure. And we didn't."
Kentucky hit Alabama with an emotional haymaker at the start of the half. Except for the shooting of Gary Waites, who had 16 points in the first half, the Tide might have been kayoed.
As it was, UK seemed to be in charge at halftime, leading 43-34.
Pitino set the groundwork for an emotionally charged evening before tipoff. As part of his pre-game instructions, he had the team watch a video depicting the UK's basketball heroes of yesterday. The same video had been shown at yesterday afternoon's Legends Luncheon, a gathering of 111 basketball lettermen.
"For the first time, I felt part of the tradition here," Pitino said.
Pitino tried plaid power, too. He wore an eye-straining green, gray and blue plaid jacket, drawing a grin from Sanderson, the SEC's prince of plaid.
"He wanted to know what size it was," Pitino said of the coaches' pre-game handshake and brief conversation.
"You can tell Rick has a lot more money," Sanderson said.
Pitino's coat was an expensive brand. Sanderson's black and gray model was "J.C. Pen-NAY," the Alabama coach quipped.
The buildup of emotion, plus Richie Farmer's three-point shooting, got Kentucky off fast. Farmer hit a pair of three-pointers and scored eight of UK's first 12 points.
The Cats zipped to a 14-6 lead and appeared capable of breaking it open.
Then Waites took charge. Before this season, the Alabama point guard had been content to pass and handle the ball.
But he had scored in double figures in eight of his last nine games, including a career-high 31 at Georgia last week.
In the first half, Waites gave Kentucky a look at his new-found scoring ability.
Waites hit a leaner and a three-pointer to steady Alabama. The shots began his 16-point first half and cut a UK lead to 15-13.
Kentucky put together a run late in the half, extending a 31-28 nailbiter to a 41-29 cushion with two minutes left.
Mashburn, taking charge with Reggie Hanson in foul trouble, scored two put-back baskets to key the late run. Mashburn had 10 rebounds in the half, keying a 24-14 UK edge on the boards.
UK's pressure defense also took a toll. Bama committed just three turnovers in the first 12 minutes. The Tide had seven in the final seven minutes.
Jeff Brassow converted one into a two-handed fast-break dunk with 2:35 left that gave Kentucky its first 10-point lead, 39-29.
Halftime seemed to rob UK of its momentum.
The Cats made just one of their first seven shots. That one had Mashburn fumbling a pass, then retrieving the loose ball and dunking.
Otherwise, the Cats missed inside shots in the face of Alabama's renewed effort to block and challenge shots.
Melvin Cheatum accounted for eight points in a 13-4 run that enabled Alabama to tie it at 47-47.
Deron Feldhaus countered for the timid Cats.
Feldhaus clapped for a pass from Pelphrey and hit a three-pointer to stall the Bama charge.
Five straight points by Woods pushed Kentucky to a 57-51 lead.
A nightmare two minutes by Robert Horry enabled UK to flirt with taking control. Horry took two questionable shots and committed two turnovers before Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson mercifully took him out.
On the second turnover, Horry nonchalantly stood holding the ball. Pelphrey picked his pocket and fed the ball upcourt for a nifty lefty flip by Farmer that gave UK a 59-53 lead.
Robinson's pull-up three-pointer kept the game on.
Pelphrey, of all people, gave Kentucky a lead to work with down the stretch. He seemed hesitant to shoot most of the half. When he did, his shot was flat.
Yet, Pelphrey hit a three-pointer set up by Brassow's extended catch of a pass inside to give the Cats a 70-61 lead with 4:31 left.