Date story published: Sunday, February 21, 1999
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Kentucky nearly overcame Arkansas' do-or-die urgency. The Cats almost won despite what they said was a whistle-swallowing officiating crew that enabled Arkansas to press and trap with impunity. UK came close to prevailing despite Kareem Reid's best long-range shooting game of the season.
But when fate also smiled on Arkansas, well, Kentucky came tgo accept a 74-70 loss yesterday as inevitable.
Good fortune interceded on the Razorbacks' behalf in the final seconds. Trailing by four, UK freshman Desmond Allison rose to put back Wayne Turner's driving miss. Unbelievably, Allison's two-handed tip rattled off glass and iron and came to rest on the wide portion of the rim that attaches to the backboard as precious seconds on the clock ticked down to 8.5.
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"The only time I saw that was maybe when the Globetrotters were playing," said Allison, who scored a career-high 12 points. "I don't think I could do that again even if I tried."
The gravity-defying moment stunned backup guard Saul Smith, who missed three shots in the frantic final minute as UK tried to complete a late rally from 13 points down.
"Maybe I saw that on TV, a blooper from 1987," he said. "Wow."
His thought at the time? "What?" Smith said. "How?"
Ultimately, both sides saw "Why?" as the appropriate question to ponder.
"When I saw that happen, I just knew it was over," said Allison, who was so sure of the tip-in that he headed back downcourt. "I guess it was destiny for us not to win."
Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson saw divine intervention.
"I've seen a ball stick between the goal (and the backboard)," he said. "But this one was on top of the goal. I've never seen that, where the ball just sits there. I think the Good Lord was looking down on me this time and said, 'Nolan, I'm going to take care of you, Hoss. I'm a Razorback today.' "
For UK Coach Tubby Smith, Allison's tip-in, -out and finally -on typified a game of what might have been.
"We had opportunities," the UK coach said. "We had them all day long. We were not able to make big plays at crucial times."
Despite repeated challenges from Kentucky, Arkansas made enough plays to lead the final 24:23.
Surprisingly, Arkansas kept control because of rebounding. The Razorbacks ranked last among Southeastern Conference teams in rebound margin going into the game. Kentucky, which ranked third, had a 38-6 rebounding edge against Georgia eight minutes into the second half three days earlier.
"The second-chance opportunities hurt us more than (Reid's four three-pointers)," Smith said of the little guard who set a season high from long range. "What was disappointing was our (defensive) rotation to the basket and not stopping easy baskets in transition and boxing out."
Florida outrebounded Arkansas 37-26 Tuesday. In that game, the Razorbacks had only six rebounds in the second half. Against UK, Arkansas managed to break even 39-39 on the boards.
"We did a horrible job running down long rebounds," UK forward Scott Padgett said. "I don't think they did all that much rebounding inside. They were just outrunning us to the ball."
Although superior quickness got Arkansas to those rebounds, Padgett said UK could have nullified that advantage. "What you've got to do is put a body on them when the shot goes up," he said. "Don't let them get around you and you've got position. We were running to the rim."
Arkansas, which improved to 19-8 overall and 8-6 in the SEC, played well from the start. Reid, who had made only two three-point shots in the last four games, swished two in the first four minutes.
That sent a message to his point guard counterpart. The message? "Oh, you got trouble," Turner said. "And you've got to find a way to contain him. He's so quick.
"You could tell the way they came out they were playing like their season was on the line. I give them credit. They got after it the whole game."
Reid's backcourt mate, Pat Bradley, gave Arkansas its largest lead - 67-54 - on a three-pointer with 7:06 left. "I thought up to that point we had outplayed 'em and outhustled 'em," Richardson said.
Ryan Hogan's only three-point basket and a trey by Padgett fueled a rally that got Kentucky within 69-68 with 2:57 left. Chris Walker's three-pointer from the corner stunted UK's comeback.
After Jamaal Magloire's tip-in closed the deficit to 72-70 with 1:58 left, the Cats did not score again.
Those final two minutes saw Padgett miss a 12-footer in the lane. "I probably tried to aim it a little too much instead of shooting it," he said.
Moments later, Saul Smith missed an open three-point shot. Then Turner missed the running banker that led to Allison's missed tip-in.
Asked if a rally that fell just short made losing more painful, Tubby Smith said, "No. In fact, I feel good. We didn't give up."
Of course, Richardson also felt good.
"I know it looked like we had a chance to put it away," the Arkansas coach said. "But never forget we're playing the defending national champions. They're a great team and we were fortunate to pull out a victory."