Date story published: Wednesday, January 17, 2001
As Kentucky and Tennessee lined up for the tip-off last night, the Vols' Vincent Yarbrough had a message for Keith Bogans.
"He told me I was in a bad situation," Bogans said.
Actually, Bogans put himself in a difficult position the day before when he all but guaranteed Kentucky would beat No. 4 Tennessee in the showdown of the last two teams with unbeaten Southeastern Conference records.
But happily for Bogans, he not only talked the talk, he walked the walk. His 21 points -- 14 in the second half -- led UK to a 84-74 victory over the Vols. It also allowed UK's leading scorer to keep egg -- make that a three-egg omelette -- off his face.
Although he diplomatically claimed not to know about Bogans' prediction, UK Coach Tubby Smith radiated irritation with the UK player's contribution to Tennessee's pre-game bulletin board. "He told me I shouldn't have done that," Bogans said. "I backed it up. But I guess I got lucky."
Media questions that wounded his pride the day before the game caused the prediction, Bogans said. "I think I got upset when the reporters kept asking if we were intimidated by Tennessee," he said. "I'm not intimidated by anyone or any team."
This showdown featured one of UK's best performances of the season and one of Tennessee's least impressive (22 turnovers, season-low 38.8-percent shooting).
The Cats never trailed. But Tennessee shook off its own bumbling to make it a game.
UK's big-game players -- Tayshaun Prince and Bogans -- came through in arguably the season's biggest game to date.
Kentucky, which won its seventh straight, improved to 10-5 overall and 3-0 in the SEC. Tennessee, the pre-season pick to win the conference, fell to 16-2 overall and 3-1 in the SEC.
Kentucky opened a can of 18-minute kick-butt and emptied its contents on Tennessee in the first half. The Cats never trailed in the opening 20 minutes and led by as many as 16.
The Vols put themselves in catch-up mode by missing their first six shots (three from the low post by Isiah Victor).
"I thought we had the mentality of going to war," said Yarbrough, who led all scorers with 21 points. "But the first five minutes was almost like we took a step back and let them parade on us."
Prince saw freshman Gerald Fitch as the drum major. On their third trip downcourt, the Cats missed a shot and hulking Charles Hathaway rebounded. Though seven inches shorter and 80 pounds lighter, Fitch ripped the ball from Hathaway's grasp. A startled Hathaway fouled Fitch, which brought the Rupp Arena crowd of 23,621 to a full-throated roar.
"That one hustle play started the whole series of plays," Prince said.
Kentucky scored the game's first five points and enjoyed a double-digit lead less than four minutes after tipoff.
UK planned to mix its defenses to keep the Vols off balance. But that wasn't necessary. The Cats played strictly man-to-man in the game's first 12 minutes.
On offense, Kentucky looked crisp. Five of the Cats' first eight baskets came off assists, none more memorable than the give-and-go that saw Jason Parker feed a cutting Prince for a high-rising dunk barely three minutes into the game.
Nine UK players scored in the half. Marquis Estill's three-point play (off a Fitch pass) put the first-half lead at its zenith, 36-20, with 6:16 left.
UK led 44-28 going into the final two minutes of the half. But the domination abruptly ended. Tennessee went on a 10-2 run to reduce the Cats' lead to 46-38 at intermission. Tony Harris set the halftime score by hitting a fluky three-pointer from the top of the key that required him to lean under Bogans.
"Coach (Jerry) Green came into the locker room at halftime and said it was a blessing we were only down eight at halftime," Yarbrough said.
Both teams talked about the influence of the roaring crowd.
"We got rattled a little bit," said Isiah Victor, UT's best low-post scorer. "The crowd got to us. ... We started to play an old-fashioned style of basketball (more one-on-one forays) instead of playing our new style (team play that emphasizes the extra pass)."
Tennessee had outscored the opposition 200-101 in the first five minutes of the second half. Sure enough, the Vols started fast and reduced UK's lead to 51-47 on a Jon Higgins three-pointer with 16:03 left.
Led by Bogans, Kentucky set its sights on victory in the next three minutes. Bogans scored nine points in a 12-0 run that put the Cats ahead 63-47 with 12:53 left. In the run, he hit a three-pointer, grabbed a loose ball and scored from the baseline and twice made fast-break layups.
Kentucky's lead grew to 67-49 on a Jason Parker post-up power move with 11:44 left.
But a flurry of three-pointers got Tennessee within 70-62 three minutes later. Jon Higgins and Harris Walker hit back-to-back three-pointers to reduce the UK lead to eight. Those shots made the Vols 12-for-23 from three-point range.
But Bogans and Prince combined to score UK's next nine points to ease the growing anxiety.
Afterward, Yarbrough graciously ate his pre-game taunt.
"I don't know if they're the best offensive team we've played," he said of Kentucky. "But they're the best defensive team we've played, getting in the passing lanes and denying me the ball."
UK gave ebullient broadcaster Dick Vitale a chance to eat his mock criticisms in past seasons of free food provided the media at Rupp Arena games.
Before the game, Bill Cochran, vice president of the Kentucky Pork Producers, came to courtside to present Vitale a butterfly pork chop sandwich.
"Unfortunately, I don't eat red meat," Vitale said.
To which someone shouted, "That's white meat. The other white meat."
Vitale still refused to take a bite. "I just ate dinner," he said.
SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer attended the game.
So did such national media figures as Dick "Hoops" Weiss of the New York Daily News, Malcolm Moran of USA Today and Mike DeCourcey of The Sporting News.
Sports Illustrated sent a photographer with a flexible plan for future coverage according to UK publicist Brooks Downing.
"If Tennessee wins, they'll do a spread on them in a couple weeks," Downing said before the game. "If Kentucky wins, they may come back with a writer to do something on Kentucky's resurgence."