Date story published: Friday, March 14, 1997
SALT LAKE CITY - If a basketball game can be reduced to a single play, Kentucky's 92-54 victory over Montana last night came down to Wayne Turner taking matters into his own hands, his own mind, his own legs.
Somehow, after more than 10 minutes, outmanned Montana trailed only by a point. Balding point guard Kirk Walker, the most grizzled of the Grizzlies, brought the ball upcourt.
Then Turner struck. His anatomy of a game-breaking play:
"The scouting report said he had a great right-to-left crossover (dribble)," Turner said of Taylor. "He's really not all that quick. I watched his waist with one eye angling at the ball. When he hesitated and started to cross over, I anticipated it."
Clean as the mountain air here, Turner stole the ball and sped toward the basket and three-point play.
"After that I was emotional," Turner said. "I got the guys together and said, 'This is where it starts. Right now! They're not supposed to be in the game with us.'"
And Montana wasn't. Turner's play ignited a 15-5 Kentucky run. He contributed 10 of the points.
"Huge," teammate Scott Padgett said of the significance of Turner's steal. "From that point on, we pretty much took care of business."
Business was routinely disposing of Montana in the NCAA Tournament West Region first round. Entering this year, No. 1 seeds had a 48-0 record against No. 16 seeds. UK, 31-4, advanced to a game Saturday against Iowa . Montana finished with a 21-11 record.
Turner's steal sent the Cats toward the comfort of a 44-26 halftime lead, a contrast to the anxious six-point lead UK clung to against San Jose State in last year's first rounder.
"We were so surprised by the score, they tried to rush things to get on the run," UK Coach Rick Pitino said of last year's opener, which UK eventually blew out to a 38-point romp.
Among several reasons, Pitino hoped for game-breaking play when he made Turner his starting point guard a week ago.
"I'm probably a little disappointed I didn't do it sooner," he said. "Not only his offensive penetration. His ability to get after the other point guard. I was waiting for the right moment. Because we were winning, I didn't want to do it."
When Kentucky lost to South Carolina in the regular-season finale, the time was right. Turner moved from backup to starting point guard. Former starter Anthony Epps switched to backup shooting guard. Each thrived.
Turner scored 19 points, equaling the career high he had against Auburn in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. He also equaled his career-high five steals.
The sophomore point guard voiced confidence he can play well against anyone, even, say, Iowa senior Andre Woolridge, who this season became the first player to ever lead the Big Ten in scoring (20.9 ppg) and assists (6.1 apg).
"You're seeing these guys on TV all the time," Turner said. "You hear about people and how good they are. You're always anxious to see how it is to play against them. I don't think there's too many people in the country who can guard me off the dribble."
Montana stayed close with Kentucky for about 11 minutes. The Grizzlies beat UK's press more times than not. Then Montana patiently probed Kentucky's half-court defense until it found makeable shots. Center Bob Olson's layup gave the Grizzlies a 3-2 lead at the 18:23 mark. That was notable as UK's first deficit since the loss to South Carolina in the last game of the regular season.
Kentucky's deficit did not get any larger than two points. Yet a 14-13 UK lead with barely more than nine minutes left in the first half caused Montana Coach Blaine Taylor to think the unthinkable.
"I did look over (at the UK bench) and I said the score is not to their liking, the pace is not to their liking," he said. "I thought if we could just get to the locker room. I guess when you start playing to hang on to your britches, it sometimes goes against you. They made a nice run there."