Date story published: Saturday, November 30, 1996
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The insomniacs among Cat fans saw the most entertaining first half so far this season last night/this morning. And nothing that transpired figured to rob any Kentuckian of any sleep.
As expected, UK defeated Alaska-Anchorage 104-72 in the midnight semifinal of the Great Alaska Shootout.
But unlike stylin' Syracuse the night before, the outmanned Seawolves gave a good account of themselves. That made UAA Coach Charlie Bruns something of a prophet.
"They're not going to be intimidated," he said of his five senior starters. "I don't see that happening."
Kentucky, 2-1, was simply too good. Derek Anderson and Ron Mercer led the scoring. Anderson scored a career high for the second consecutive night with 30 . Mercer equaled his career-high of 20.
Kentucky, seeking to become the second team to win more than one Shootout, will play the College of Charleston in tonight's finals. Charleston, which beat No. 21 Stanford 82-78 in the other semifinal, came into the Shootout hoping to prove it belonged among the nation's better teams.
"We think we have as much talent as anyone in the country," senior forward Stacy Harris said.
In the first half, Kentucky's vast superiority put Alaska down by 14 points barely five minutes into the game.
Urged on by a quaintly enthusiastic crowd (wild cheers greeted the home team winning the opening tap), the Seawolves refused to roll over. Their repeated rallies seemed to frustrate UK. Still, the Cats were simply too good not to lead comfortably, 51-35, at halftime.
Anderson, gunning for his third straight career-high in as many games, scored 15 first-half points. He had six of UK's first 14, a spurt that enabled the Cats to lead 18-4 with 14:48 left.
Unlike Syracuse the night before, Alaska played intelligently and competed hard. Ryan Williams, who became a father Wednesday, led the way with 14 first-half points. As a result, the Seawolves got as close as 25-22 with 9:36 left.
Pitino looked genuinely concerned. When Burt Wallace hit a three-pointer in front of the UK bench, Pitino reacted by swinging his hand at Wallace's defender, Anthony Epps.
Pitino reinserted Jared Prickett, who had two fouls. That didn't work. Twenty-six seconds after going in, Prickett picked up his third foul trying for a steal in the backcourt.
Epps twice made up for surrendering the three-pointer. After Alaska closed within 25-22 his three-pointer eased the tension.
Another Epps' three quelled Alaska's emotional high point. Chris Hamey blocked Cameron Mills' shot and fed Wallace for a fast-break dunk. The crowd roared as a player from Juneau fed a teammate from Homer, Alaska, for a dunk against UK. The play reduced the lead to 43-32.
But Epps answered with a long-range three.
Anderson scored UK's final five points. Four came on one play. Fouled while making a three-pointer, he hit the free throw with 1:01 left.
Any lingering thought of an upset disappeared early in the second half. In a five-second span, Mercer hit a pretty stop and pop, intercepted the ensuing inbounds pass and fed Allen Edwards for a three-point play layup. That flurry gave Kentucky a 65-39 lead.
Charleston, which is in its fifth season at the Division I level, returned all five starters from a team that had a 25-4 record last season. The Cougars beat Tennessee 55-49 in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament last season. Charleston also led at Syracuse 15-1 before losing by 11.
Charleston's star center, Thaddeous Delaney (6-8, 250), the so-called "Shaq of the TAAC," termed playing Kentucky "a real thrill because you see Kentucky all the time. They're on (TV) with all the publicity and hoopla."
Charleston will be making its first national television appearance since March of 1988 when the Cougars played in the NAIA semifinals.
Despite that humble television legacy, Cougar players said they wouldn't be in awe of Kentucky.
"They're human just like we are," guard Anthony Johnson said. "We're seniors. We've been through a lot of teams that press and this and that."