Date story published: Friday, November 29, 1996
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim predicted that an opening-game loss would cause a 50-percent improvement in the Kentucky team his Orangemen would face last night. He underestimated. And admitted as much after the Cats beat Syracuse 87-53 in the Great Alaska Shootout's first round.
"We're not prepared to play at their level," Boeheim said. "I thought Kentucky played at a Final Four level. At a level with the top four or five teams in the country."
UK Coach Rick Pitino scoffed at the reference to the Final Four. "He probably said we never lost the Clemson game," the UK coach said.
But Pitino happily said the Cats regained what he termed "the eye of the tiger," thanks to the Clemson loss.
"Against Clemson we didn't get to the backboard, didn't get to the loose balls," he said. "Tonight we were really hungry, determined to win, determined to get better."
Pitino called the domination of Syracuse - it was the most lopsided defeat of Boeheim's 21 seasons as coach and the worst for the Orangemen since 1962-63 - nothing less than his team finding its true identity.
"The Clemson game taught us the way for Kentucky to win is not to overwhelm the other team with numbers and sheer talent," he said. "The way Kentucky's going to have to win is to outwork people."
Ironically, superior talent might be enough when UK plays in the Shootout semifinals tonight. The Cats will play either Maine or host Alaska Anchorage at midnight . Besides advancing UK to the semifinals, the victory also prevented a bit of dubious history. Since 1926, only one Kentucky team has started a season 0-2. The Cats of 1975-76 lost to Northwestern and North Carolina to start the 1975-76.
Kentucky simply outplayed Syracuse.
"Against Clemson, we didn't come out and scrap like we did against Syracuse," point guard Wayne Turner said. "We just were a more scrappy team. We flat-out got after it."
Syracuse (1-1) dreamed of avenging a loss to Kentucky in last spring's national championship game. Instead, in a game between lesser lights from that game and newcomers, UK dominated even more.
Derek Anderson led the way. He scored a UK career-high number of points for a second straight game. He had 22 against Clemson, 25 against Syracuse. The latter topped his career-high while playing for Ohio State, 24.
"Hopefully, I'll get even more (career-highs)," he said. "This is my year to be a shooting guard. Like that was the job Tony (Delk) had last year."
The uptempo pace of the game suited Anderson's quicksilver style. It also was a disaster for Syracuse and its freshman point guard, Jason Hart. Hart had six turnovers and made only one of 13 shots.
"We took total advantage of him," Turner said. "He probably never saw the pressure we were going to give him. We were not going to let him slow the game down."
Boeheim asked reporters to go easy on Hart.
"He's going to be a great player," the Syracuse coach said. "But right now he's not ready to play a team like Kentucky. I don't think any freshman point guard is ready to play Kentucky. Their press was too much for us tonight."
With a group of 600 Cat fans cheering them on, the Cats controlled the game from start to finish. The pace was to Kentucky's liking. The game was a battle of full-court, on-the-fly decision-making. In that kind of game, UK dominated with better decisions. And the Cats' questionable inside players were not needed. The pace was so fast that UK outrebounded Syracuse 46-36.
Most statistical comparisons favored Kentucky. The Cats had more assists (20-4), steals (10-7) and three-pointers (6-1). The Cats had fewer turnovers, especially in the tone-setting first half (3-14).
Anderson, arguably the quickest Cat, poured in 17 first-half points. His total included four of Kentucky's six first-half three-pointers. The four treys were a career high.
Meanwhile, Syracuse got caught in the uptempo game and forgot about its big man, Otis Hill.
Syracuse had 14 first-half turnovers, or only four fewer than the Orangemen had in their opening-game rout of outmanned Winthrop.
The second half brought more of the same. Comfortably ahead, Kentucky could relax and play freely. That brought an Edwards' driving three-point play. It also produced Jamaal Magloire's first post-up turnaround basket. He finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
"It's amazing how much Jamaal Magloire has come in such a short period of time," Pitino said. "He was dropping every basketball a week ago and now he's catching every difficult pass."
All the while, Anderson kept playing well. A memorable move moved Anderson to career-high territory in scoring. He drove down the baseline for a dunk, punctuating the basket by chinning himself on the rim. That gave him 23 points, one more than he scored against Clemson in the opener, and gave UK a 32-point lead.