Date story was published: Sunday, March 3, 1985
BATON ROUGE, La. - Kentucky has lived on defense this season.
Yesterday, the Wildcats died because of defense, were beaten 67-61 by Louisiana State and lost a chance at a league championship.
It was that simple.
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"The defense won it for us," LSU coach Dale Brown said, "it" being the Southeastern Conference regular-season title as well as a victory over the defending champ.
From the opposite side, Joe Hall was not pleased with his team's defense.
"Our defense was not good," the Kentucky coach said. "And it looked like we had a chance to beat LSU, too."
The opportunity before UK was more Hall could have known. Four hours later, Tennessee nipped Georgia 86-85. If Kentucky had won yesterday, the Cats would have had a share of the title.
Instead, UK finished tied for third place in the SEC at 11-7, two games behind LSU and one game behind Georgia.
The Wildcats will be seeded fourth and play fifth-place Florida in their first game in this week's SEC Tournament. Alabama, which also finished 11-7, got the third seed because it split two games with second-place Georgia. UK lost twice to the Bulldogs.
John Williams, Louisiana State's highly saluted, highly recruited freshman forward, reaped the biggest dividends from UK's defensive breakdowns.
Williams, a bust in Lexington a month ago, burst Kentucky's slim title chances with a team-high 19 points.
Stationed at the high post in the Rupp Arena game, Williams had only two points and one rebound.
Yesterday, he played the low post. From there, he gave UK a sinking feeling.
Slimmed down to 235 pounds on a 6-foot-8 frame, Williams ripped Kentucky for 13 points in the first half.
"He was definitely the difference in the first half," Hall said.
When LSU had a 15-point second-half lead reduced to nine with more than seven minutes left to play, the Tigers went to Williams.
Following a timeout, Williams and Jerry "Ice" Reynolds played a two-man game. When the shot had to be taken, it was the man-child, Williams, who stemmed the tide with a short jumper.
"John had been having a pretty good game throughout," Tiger point guard Derrick Taylor said. "We wanted John low. Jerry just happened to be on the wing."
Thereafter, UK got no closer than nine until the final 32 seconds when the Wildcats scored eight straight points against LSU substitutes to make the final score deceivingly close.
While Williams thrived, Kenny Walker suffered.
Walker, who could become the first player to lead the SEC in both scoring and rebounding since Bernard King in 1976-77, managed just 10 shots and 16 points. As Hall said, when Walker is held to 10 shots, "we can't win."
"I thought Kenny Walker was unstoppable, but Jerry Reynolds changed my mind today," Brown said. "I hail Jerry Reynolds."
Actually, it was more than Reynolds that checked Walker. The Tigers used four different defenses in the game, including a "diamond and one" combination of zone and man-to-man installed for yesterday's game, to stifle Walker.
"It was nothing I haven't seen before," Walker said of the defenses. ''I've seen a 'box-and-one;' I've seen a 'triangle-and-two;' I've seen everything.
"They just played real well."
Walker had only one basket in the first half, a dunk off a lob from Roger Harden.
The junior forward didn't get another basket until he tipped in a missed shot with 5:40 remaining in the game. By then, Williams had already plugged the dike with his clutch jumper.
"This must be the best defensive job anybody has done on him this year," Hall said of Walker. "They did an excellent job of stopping us inside and collapsing. We just couldn't get much inside."
Lost opportunities highlighted the first half. Neither team shot well and neither took command.
LSU had the first chance to break it open. Kentucky had only one basket and just two points for almost eight minutes of the half. LSU reeled off 10 straight points in that stretch, but those points produced only a 21-14 lead.
Ed Davender, who gave UK a lift with eight points in the first half, hit a jump shot at the 13:05. Roger Harden hit a 15-footer at the 8:37 mark and that was it until Troy McKinley connected over LSU's 2-3 zone. That cold spell pushed UK toward a seven-for-21 shooting half.
Just when LSU appeared ready to take charge, the Tigers went cold. UK took advantage, outscoring LSU 8-3 in the final four minutes to cut the Tigers' halftime lead to four (28-24).
Freshman John Williams, nearly invisible in the game in Lexington (two points, one rebound), made his presence known early and often yesterday.
Williams, who finished the half with 13 points, scored in the game's first five seconds and lived up to his press clippings in the first 20 minutes.
Williams' basket should have looked familiar to UK fans. It was a play off the tap that the Wildcats' looked for with Melvin Turpin in every game the past three seasons.
Yesterday, Derrick Taylor retrieved the tap and threw a cross-court lob to Williams from halfcourt. The freshman had only to slam it through.
A short bank shot by Williams gave LSU the lead for good at 13-12 at the 12:45 mark.
That lead was at its largest thanks to back-to-back baskets by Williams that showed the freshman's versatility. On the first, he spun past Bret Bearup, drove the baseline and flipped the ball over his shoulder and into the basket.
The second straight was strictly a power move as he posted up Bearup, turned and fired. That basket pushed LSU's lead to 25-16.
Kentucky did not get the ball into Walker much in the first 20 minutes. The junior forward took a lob from Roger Harden and dunked for his only first-half basket.
Walker had four other points on free throws as LSU challenged every feed inside.
That strategy was costly, however, as Williams had three fouls.