Date story was published: Sunday, January 13, 1985
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Alabama usually counts on the inside games of Buck Johnson and Bobby Lee Hurt for its victories. Yesterday, however, the Tide had to rely on outside shooting to hold off Kentucky 60-58.
And maybe Mark Gottfried's prayer helped.
"All I could do was say a quick prayer," the Alabama guard said, "and heave a huge sigh of relief." Gottfried's prayer was that Kenny Walker would miss as he put up a jump shot that would have tied the score with two seconds left in the game.
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Walker's 16-footer bounced off the rim and Alabama had beaten a relentless Kentucky team, preventing the Wildcats from claiming sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference. UK, now 8-5 overall, fell to a 3-1 tie with Mississippi State and Florida for first in the SEC. Alabama improved to 11-3 overall and 3-2 in the league.
Thus ended a gamelong comeback effort that came up one shot short.
One outside shot.
Poor shooting - UK made just two of its first 13 attempts - put the Wildcats into the comeback mode.
And good shooting from the perimeter put Alabama ahead and kept the Tide there.
Forward Buck Johnson and center Bobby Lee Hurt, who make up a combined 13 feet and four inches of muscle and an even 30 points per game under the boards, did little shooting. The two disappeared into UK's 2-3 zone, got off only 11 shots and scored just 15 points.
"I put all my energy into keeping Bobby Lee off the boards," UK center Bret Bearup said. "That's how he gets a lot of his points. Believe me, he goes to the boards harder than any human being I've played against.
"This team was determined not to let Bobby Lee and Buck beat us."
Despite not scoring much, Johnson and Hurt contributed. The two had a total of 24 rebounds.
Johnson had the unenviable task of guarding Walker. Except for inbounds situations, such as the one in the final seconds, Alabama went with its man- to-man defense. Johnson, a 6-foot-7 junior, did everything Sanderson asked. He kept Walker within sight of his 22.3 scoring average.
Walker, who operated within the elbow-infested paint area around the Alabama basket, scored 25 points and had 14 rebounds.
(Walker appeared to be injured when he left the game with 7:16 remaining in the first half. He only had trouble swallowing a salt tablet, UK officials said. He returned to the game within minutes.)
Still, Johnson and Hurt did not roll up points inside.
"People seem to say that if you can stop the Alabama game with Bobby Lee Hurt and Buck Johnson, you can win the game," Tide coach Wimp Sanderson said. ''That didn't hold true today."
Probably because Alabama made the outside shot more often than Kentucky. At least, that's how UK Coach Joe Hall saw it.
"Our defense executed really well," Hall said. "The credit should go to Alabama's perimeter people. They did well enough to outshoot us, so to speak. It came down to the fact that they shot the ball better than we did.
"But I'm awfully proud of our team. They made a great effort down the stretch. On the road, to play with that much courage was certainly encouraging."
UK made only 38.6 percent of its shots. But thanks to missed free throws (Alabama made just three of a possible 10 free throws in the final 3:13) and a five-second violation against the Tide, Kentucky had the ball and a chance to tie with four seconds remaining.
UK had closed to within 60-58 on a Ed Davender jumper with five seconds to go. After using two timeouts to align its press, the Wildcats got the ball back when Johnson could not inbound the ball from his own baseline.
Kentucky used its last timeout to set up Walker. The junior forward drifted to the top of the key, took the inbounds pass from Bearup and had only to rise above two Alabama guards, Terry Coner and Gottfried, for the shot.
"It was a good, clean shot; a shot he'll make about 60 percent of the time," Hall said. "This was one of the 40 (percent)."
The shot bounced off the back of the rim. Then off the backboard. Off the rim again. And out.
Hurt, who had already grabbed 11 rebounds, concentrated on swatting the loose ball hard off the floor.
But Walker, who was slightly undercut by Coner, had fallen to the floor and could only watch helplessly.
"I can't make all of them," Walker said. "It felt good when I let it go. When it started rolling around the rim, I thought it might roll in."
Walker's miss capped a frantic final five minutes that mirrored the whole game.
"It felt like the Twilight Zone out there, especially at the end," Hurt said. "I felt like we had a good lead, but it seemed like it was not meant to be."
Neither team was hitting its shots in the early going. Alabama missed its first four. UK misfired on its first five. While Alabama slowly warmed up, the Cats stayed cold throughout the first half. In the first nine minutes, UK had only two baskets.
"The first five minutes were crucial to us," Hall said. "We just couldn't get the ball to go down. We had excellent shots. We had as good or better shots than they had.
"We were like a horse that can't get out of the gate. When you have to use the whip before you get to the backstretch, that's bad."
With Coner getting two improbable in-traffic jumpers to fall, led by seven (53-46) with 3:47 remaining. And signs brought by Alabama students that read "Seven Is Enuf" seemed accurate. The signs, of course, were aimed at the seven-game winning streak UK brought into the game.
Then, the Tide started missing free throws and Walker and James Blackmon went to work. Walker had eight of UK's final 12 points and finished with 25. Blackmon, who played all 40 minutes despite still-noticeable swelling around his left eye, got the other four points.
When Walker worked free for one of his free post-up plays and pulled off a three-point play, Kentucky was trailing by only two (58-56) with 54 seconds left.
Alabama dribbled away time before calling time with 29 seconds remaining on the game clock and 19 seconds on the shot clock.
"Our feeling was they would work the (shot) clock down to about six seconds and take a shot," Hall said. "We wanted to play soft defense until about 10 seconds were on the shot clock. Then, we'd tighen up and force an outside shot."
Alabama was content to pass the ball around the perimeter of UK's sagging man-to-man. Suddenly, with the shot clock inside three seconds, Jim Farmer slipped by Blackmon and Gottfried hit him with a perfect pass through the UK defense. Farmer had only to make a layup to put Alabama up 60-56 with 12 seconds left.
"I wish I could take credit for it," Sanderson said. "Mark just made a good pass. It was nothing we set up in the huddle."
Davender's baseline jumper got the basket back with five seconds remaining.
Then, UK went to work setting up its press.
The strategy paid off when UK got the ball back.
But, like so many this day, the shot wouldn't fall.