Date story was published: Sunday, January 20, 1991
Believe it or not, Rupp Arena housed slam-bang action yesterday.
Not on the basketball court, where Vanderbilt slowed the tempo and held Kentucky below 60 points for only the second time in the Rick Pitino era. For the most part, UK lost the battle for tempo while winning the game 58-50.
The afternoon's most exciting action came behind UK's closed locker-room door at halftime.
"Typical chalk-throwing extravaganza," John Pelphrey said of Pitino's halftime behavior.
Besides flying chalk, Pitino apparently made his point in a Big Blue streak of demands.
Jamal Mashburn, who learned at intermission he had been benched, declined afterward to quote his coach as television cameras rolled.
"Nah, I can't say it on the air," Mashburn said. "So many words he said you can't repeat them."
Whatever Pitino said -- and the UK coach claimed he merely appealed indirectly to Mashburn's pride -- the Cats' 6-foot-9, 244-pound man-child freshman responded. Mashburn scored all 17 of his points and grabbed all five of his offensive rebounds in the second half.
That effort, plus a rejuvenated defense, allowed No. 9 Kentucky to win its ninth straight game and improve to 14-2 overall and 6-0 in the Southeastern Conference. Vandy, losing to UK in Lexington for the 17th straight year, fell to 10-7 and 4-3.
"The difference was Kentucky's ability to rebound the ball off the offensive board in the second half," Vandy coach Eddie Fogler said. "We couldn't keep them off the offensive board. Second shots wound up hurting us badly."
Ten of Mashburn's game-high 17 points came off more-than-one-shot possessions. His 17 points accounted for 25 of his team's points in a run that erased Vandy's largest second-half lead, 29-23, and established UK's largest of the game: 51-43.
Three times early in the run, Reggie Hanson made like a point guard and zipped inside passes to Mashburn. The Hanson-Mashburn connection yielded eight points.
After his work inside, Mashburn punctuated the run by stepping outside and hitting a three-pointer that put Kentucky ahead 48-41.
"We couldn't get him off the board, then he hit the three," Fogler said. "He's a load in there. Horse. He's from New York. I'm from New York. Make that a horse, not a load."
Mashburn was benched after a one-shot, one-rebound, no-point first half.
He did not mention Mashburn by name at halftime, Pitino said. Instead he singled out power forward, Mashburn's position. "We're going to make a change," Pitino said he told the team, "because if we're only going to get one rebound out of the power forward we've got to make a change." Deron Feldhaus started the second half rather than Mashburn.
At halftime, Pitino sought more than Mashburn's attention. Vandy had caught Kentucky off guard by holding the ball for 20 seconds or so before initiating its offense. The Commodores spread the floor and beat UK on backdoor cuts or got a step ahead on the drive.
Poor shooting and rebounding further complicated the first half for UK. The Cats made only three of 16 three-point attempts (warming up slightly to 6-for- 26 in the game) and had only four possessions in the half that produced more than one shot.
"I had no idea," Hanson said of Vandy's slowdown tactic. "It surprised me."
Added Jeff Brassow, "We didn't prepare at all. We thought they'd play."
Fogler remained vague about why he chose to break from Vandy's usual style this season.
"Shortening the game was something that needed to be done for our team to have a chance to win here," Fogler said. "I thought we did it fairly well. We turned it over way too much, I know that."
Still, Vandy led throughout most of the first half. The game's first basket produced UK's largest lead, 2-0. The Cats scored 19 first-half points, the lowest half of scoring during the Pitino era, and trailed by three at the break.
Pitino said his halftime oration focused on three areas:
"If you're missing the shots, treat it as a pass off the glass."
Get the ball inside more.
"We had to really elevate our defense because every possession was a game- winning possession in a game like this. This was old-fashion basketball, a throwback game. We had to really, really turn up the heat defensively. And we did."
Not right away. Vandy's leading scorer, guard Scott Draud, hit a three- pointer and cut for a layup that enabled the Commodores to surge ahead 29-23. That matched Vandy's largest lead of the first half, 13-7.
Worry, if not borderline panic, crept onto the faces of UK's players.
"We didn't panic," Brassow said. "But we got a little excited. If they hit a couple baskets, the tempo we were playing, we could be down 12 and it would be hard to come back."
But UK held Vandy to one basket over the next nine minutes.
Other defensive stats:
Averaging 18.1 three-point attempts and 7.5 three-point baskets, Vandy was limited to 3-for-7 three-point accuracy.
Vandy committed 14 second-half turnovers and 23 for the game. A high number, Pitino said, in a slow-paced game.
"We didn't want to get in a three-point contest," Vandy center Steve Grant said. "We wanted it to be methodical and make them play more defense."
Ironically, Vandy succeeded and, therefore, failed to win.