Date story was published: Sunday, December 2, 1984
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - When Joe Hall accepted congratulations on his 56th birthday Friday, he insisted he was really 58 years old.
"I aged three years last season," the Kentucky coach quipped.
Yesterday, Hall's aging process took another beating in the form of a 66-56 loss to Purdue. This time the UK coach let those who witnessed his youthful team's growing pains supply their own punch lines.
A combination of Kentucky turnovers and Purdue defense doomed the Wildkittens, er, Wildcats to their first loss of this young season. UK committed 22 turnovers, each seeming to quell a mounting comeback.
If that wasn't frustrating enough, Kentucky was whistled for 34 personal fouls. Purdue was called for 20 fouls as the officials made good on their pre- game warning to both teams that the action would be called close.
For all its starts and stops, Kentucky hung tough to the bitter end. Trailing by as much as 16 points (56-40) with less than six minutes remaining, UK whittled the margin to six (60-54) in the final minute.
Four Purdue free throws - the Boilermakers made 30 of 41 on the game - protected the victory.
Purdue's defense, both sides agreed, was the difference. Except for late in the first half when Purdue had to protect against its own foul trouble, the Boilermakers played man-to-man defense.
Particularly effective was a man-to-man press, which Purdue used to break out to a 15-4 lead in the game's opening 10 minutes. The pressure troubled UK again in the early minutes of the second half when Purdue built its 16-point advantage.
"Naturally, we think that defense won the game," Purdue coach Gene Keady said. "The great defense in the first 10 minutes probably won the game."
Playing strictly man-to-man defense, Purdue limited Kentucky's offense to two baskets in the first 10 minutes. At one point, the Wildcats went almost six minutes without a field goal.
Purdue missed the chance to blow open the game early because of poor shooting. Keady called it poor shot selection. The Boilermakers made only 30 percent of their first-half shots (six of 20) and actually fell behind by as much as five (24-19) before intermission.
UK got a lift from the return of Winston Bennett, who sat out last week's opening-night victory over Toledo because of a knee injury. Playing his usual damn-the-torpedoes style, Bennett contributed six points and 24 minutes, about twice the amount of playing time UK coach Joe Hall said he expected from the 6-6 sophomore forward.
"He's a great kid," Hall said of Bennett. "He gave a tremendous effort. He's a courageous individual."
But Bennett and his teammates were powerless to prevent Purdue's second- half breakout. As in the first half, the Boilermakers choked off UK's offense. The Cats were limited to just two baskets in the first eight minutes of the second half and had only four in the first 13 minutes.
That dry spell, which saw UK add only two free throws to its feeble offensive output, propelled Purdue to its 16-point lead.
"As I look back on it, I credit Purdue's defense," Hall said. "It was excellent. They made it hard for us to have any offensive consistency. And at the start of the second half, they took the game away from us."
Keady and several of his players said that meeting a team with the tradition of Kentucky inspired the defensive effort. One Purdue player, guard Steve Reid, added that UK's inexperience certainly helped make the press more effective.
"It helped a lot," said Reid, who scored 13 points for Purdue. "With 14,000 (14,123 to be exact) in the stands, that had a lot to do with it."
As will probably become a custom this season, UK's Kenny Walker received special defensive attention. Although he and James Blackmon shared high- scoring honors with 16 points each, Walker could work free for only four points in the second half.
"Every time I tried to post, there were two or three guys there," Walker said. "There were some times when the guards tried to force it inside when they should have taken the shot."
Purdue's defense produced a fast-breaking attack. When the Boilermakers took control early in the second half, outscoring UK 18-8 in the first 10 minutes, eight of those points came from an early offense.
"We just didn't execute well and they got three or four quick baskets," Blackmon said. "We weren't creating good shots inside like we wanted to."
Neither team created much of substance in the game's first six minutes. After almost five minutes of futile action, Kentucky had two points. Purdue had one.
During one stretch, UK committed turnovers on six of seven possessions. The exception was a rushed shot by Bret Bearup as the shot clock reached its final five seconds.
"We had turnovers of every form," Hall said. "Again, it was good defense."
The referees also had a hand in muddling the game. The crew - Jim Bain and Ted Hillary of the Big Ten and Reggie Copeland of the Southeastern Conference - called 27 fouls in the first half. At the 11:57 mark of the first half, 16 fouls had already been called.
"That was the closest game I've ever seen called," Reid said. "But they were consistent on both sides. That's all you can ask."
Both team captains, Reid and Walker, said they were told by the referees before the tip-off that the game would be called close.
"They said they'd call the hand check and not let anything go by inside by the big men," Walker said.
Kentucky, 1-1, returns to Rupp Arena for its next game. The Wildcats will play Southern Methodist University Tuesday night.