Date story published: Sunday, December 10, 1995
The schedule said Kentucky played the fifth game of the season against Georgia Tech. But, in a sense, UK made its debut against the Yellow Jackets last night. At least it was the first time Kentucky played the Kentucky way this season.
The result: an 83-60 victory over Georgia Tech.
Until last night, Kentucky's opponents hadn't shown the expected wearying whipsaw effect of UK's full-court pressure and bloated bench load of depth.
Tech sure did. Led by gifted freshman Stephon Marbury, the Yellow Jackets controlled much of the first half and actually led at intermission. Then Kentucky dominated. Propelled by a 29-8 run as sudden as it was spectacular, the Cats outscored Tech 35-11 in the final thirteen-plus minutes.
"I knew Kentucky would come after us," Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins said. "But I didn't expect us to unravel like we did."
Cremins expected an inspired Kentucky after a less-than-satisfying victory over Wisconsin-Green Bay Wednesday. UK Coach Rick Pitino was so unhappy he promised to bench senior leaders Tony Delk and Walter McCarty.
"I thought we were ready to meet the challenge," Cremins said. "In the second half, we didn't. We had our butts handed to us."
Given its style of play and depth, that is how Kentucky should win, Pitino said. The second half not only beat Tech, it confirmed for the first time this season that the Cats can follow the script their style mandates.
"It was terrific basketball," Pitino said of the second half, "and what we've been looking for for some time."
The UK coach saluted several aspects of the second half:
Better feeding inside to the big men, particularly leading scorer Antoine Walker (16 points). "By throwing crisp passes away from the defense rather than standing there and trying to lob over them," Pitino said.
Better defense. Tech shot 24 percent in the second half.
Better rebounding. UK dominated the boards throughout and enjoyed a 54-30 edge over a Tech team that lacked an inside presence.
"We did a good job on all the things we were looking for," Pitino said. "We really gained a lot from this basketball game."
Kentucky weathered a stellar first half by Marbury. His 17 first-half points powered Tech into a 41-38 lead at intermission.
Late in the half, Pitino complained about preferential treatment for Marbury from the refs.
"Who . . . is he, Michael Jordan?" Pitino asked a referee.
Jordan, er, Marbury did not score in the second half. He missed the only four shots he got off, committed two turnovers and suffered a bloody nose in a dismal second half.
The Cats took control by scoring 14 straight points. Wayne Turner, the other heralded freshman point guard in the game, sparked the run with back-to- back baskets. Delk's first basket of the game (with 11:37 left) also contributed to a run that gave Kentucky a 62-49 lead.
Later, in what became a 29-8 run, the Cats reeled off 10 straight points.
"When we pressed, he got kind of shook up a little," Turner said of Marbury's second half. "I watched the Georgetown game (with Tech). I didn't think he proved he handled the pressure very well. I think our pressure is much better."
Georgia Tech's poor foul shooting contributed to the blowout. The Yellow Jackets missed their first five free throws in the half, and made only two of their first 10 shots from the line.
"There's a lot of pressure on him,"Walker said of Marbury. "He's got no backup. He's not getting any (rest). He's carrying time he doesn't need to have. That's a lot of pressure on him."
Kentucky's pressure is designed to wear out the opponent. That's the effect Derek Anderson saw in Marbury.
"Run him to death," Anderson said of the plan. "So he'd go flat on his shot."
Kentucky, 4-1, turned a tight game into a laugher in the final minutes. The Cats used the occasion to put together a series of highlight plays.
Jeff Sheppard dunked.
Anderson wind-milled a dunk.
Finally, Anderson dribbled down, then threw a lob of the backboard that McCarty slammed.
Wait a minute. Didn't Pitino caution against making flashy play a higher priority than fundamentals. Well, he did. But . . .
"We know what he says means something," Anderson said. "But we know what he already said. He said it's for the fans this year."