Date story published: Thursday, February 25, 1999
Wayne Turner went down and stayed down. And it seemed Kentucky's national championship hopes this season crumbled to the floor as well.
"When it happened, I told myself, 'I know the Lord's not going to do that to us, not going to do that to him,'" said Turner's backup, Saul Smith. "When he went down, I was thinking to myself, 'Just get up.'"
In a Lazarus-like resurrection, Turner returned from a first-half injury to lead Kentucky to an 88-63 victory over Vanderbilt last night.
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Turner, who somehow injured his left knee on a missed breakaway layup, scored 15 points, handed out four assists and made three steals.
"Tonight was Wayne Turner's night," Vandy Coach Jan van Breda Kolff said.
Actually, it was Senior Night in every sense .
UK Seniors Heshimu Evans, Scott Padgett and Turner said goodbye to Rupp Arena by combining for 45 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals. "They finished strong at Rupp Arena," UK Coach Tubby Smith said of the seniors.
Each of UK's seniors provided fans with an individual highlight by which to remember them. Each picked off a Vandy pass and sped to a breakaway basket.
Turner, whose defense discombobulated Vandy point guard Atiba Prater all night, also gave the Rupp faithful a scare.
After he picked the ball from Prater mid-way through the first half, Turner headed for an uncontested score. Somehow, he missed the layup from the right side and fell to the floor under the basket.
"I went up for the layup and my leg locked," Turner said. "I felt a sharp pain as I jumped."
Like many in the crowd of 23,797, Turner immediately thought of the most famous knee injury in recent UK basketball history.
"The first person I thought of was Derek (Anderson)," Turner said. "I was just praying it was not serious."
Turner was helped off the floor with 8:12 left in the half and Kentucky ahead 23-13. Later in the first half, UK basketball publicist Brooks Downing said Turner suffered a strained left knee on the play and was unlikely to return.
Wrong. Turner started the second half and contributed to a streak of 21 straight points by UK's seniors that broke the game open. That scoring spree was part of a 24-6 UK run to open the second half.
UK team physician David Caborn exercised the knee, applied ice and diagnosed nothing more serious than "looseness," Turner said.
"Wayne's one of those guys who when he gets hurt, he jumps right up," Padgett said. "When I looked over to the bench (later in the half) and didn't see him, I thought, 'Uh-oh. It's bad.'
"The first thing I did at halftime was go to Wayne and ask him, 'You OK?' He said he was fine.
"That was a big lift for the team. Even if he hadn't played well, just having him out there would have been a big lift."
Turner played well. After freshman Desmond Allison opened the second half with a three-pointer, Turner scored UK's next seven points.
His first basket closely resembled the injury play. He stole the ball from Prater and sped to a layup. "It was like deja vu all over again," he said. "I decided to just lay it in."
As if handing off a baton, the seniors took turns helping to bury Vandy in the big run. Padgett scored the next nine points, capping his turn with a steal and driving dunk. Then Evans scored the run's final five points.
Kentucky, not in The Associated Press' top 10 for the first time in five years, improved to 22-7 overall. The Cats also tied Tennessee atop the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division standings at 11-4. That set up Sunday's showdown at Knoxville for the divisional championship.
Vandy fell to 13-14 overall, 4-11 in the SEC and 0-23 against Kentucky in Rupp Arena.
Kentucky's fast start suggested a Senior Night of uninterrupted celebration. With seniors contributing nine points early, the Cats roared to a 19-5 lead in the first eight minutes.
Turner got the breakout started by hitting a jumper from the left side.
Evans, who was benched and rebuked at Arkansas Saturday, excelled. He hit his first three-pointer in three games in the run. He also stole a pass and sprinted to a flying dunk.
UK's defense kept Vandy off-balance early. Vandy scored only two baskets in the first 8:34. And one of those, Vince Ford's three-pointer, came after Turner nearly picked the ball from point guard Atiba Prater.
"Atiba is more a control guy," the UK coach said when asked about Turner's defensive success. "He gets you in the offense. He's not like Kareem Reid, a penetrator and jet quick. Anybody can do an effective job against a guy that's not quick."
Ahead 35-23 at halftime, Kentucky blew open the game early in the second half.