Date story was published: Tuesday, January 31, 1984
Kiss January and its dreaded slump goodbye. Last night, Kentucky "March- ed" to victory.
"March-ed" as in NCAA Tournament; as in Seattle-bound; as in 93-74, the worst beating a Wildcat team has administered to Tennessee since March 10, 1962. UK won that night 90-59. If the Wildcats were any more dominating then, Tennessee Coach Don DeVoe would be surprised.
"Kentucky has a far superior basketball team," the Volunteer coach said., ''one of the all-time greats as far as Kentucky is concerned."
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As would befit such a statement, Kentucky led from tip-off to conclusion last night. The Wildcats jumped out early, taking a lead of 14 points in the first half. After weathering a second-half comeback, in which Tennessee rallied to within one point (54-53), the Wildcats roared away with a whirling display of dunks, slams and above- the basket theatrics that bring visions of Seattle to an observer's mind.
"Kentucky is a team that will be in Seattle when it's all said and done," DeVoe said, referring to the site of the NCAA Final Four. "They'll represent the conference well."
UK took sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference, moving to 7-2, one-half game ahead of Auburn. Tennessee fell to 13-8 overall, 4-5 in the SEC. Despite its second-half rally, the Vols came to the point of advising white flags to other SEC teams.
"No one in the league has a chance with the 45-second clock," DeVoe said. ''They (Kentucky) get the ball back too much."
Only two weeks ago, the Cats had lost two straight (at Auburn and Florida) and were mere mortals. Unlike during the "Slump," UK got steady play from its guards last night to go along with its already imposing front line. The combination was too much for Tennessee.
Jim Master rediscovered his jumper and hit six of 10 from the field. Running mate Roger Harden had 11 assists. With Melvin Turpin, Sam Bowie and Kenny Walker cleaning the boards, all cylinders were on full.
"When you're in a running game with Kentucky, you don't have a prayer," DeVoe said. "We got soundly kicked on the boards (37-28) and Kentucky's too good for us when we allow them to do their thing . . . when they run."
Kentucky was running from the start, beating Tennessee's man-to-man trapping press. Once pass the press, the Cats attacked.
"When you've got 7-footers filling the lanes, it's a tremendous advantage," said Harden.
The primary benefactors of the break were Walker, Bowie and Turpin. The trio combined for 55 points and 24 rebounds and clearly outplayed Tennessee's overmatched "big" men. The Vols, who started no one taller than 6-7, got 18 points and 12 rebounds from its starting front line.
DeVoe blamed part of his team's inability to stop Kentucky's running game to the Vols' poor shooting. Tennessee shot only 44.8 percent from the field, 43.8 percent in the second half. And, he added: "When you miss, they're sprinting down the floor and making great plays."
Like (in chronological order):
* A dunk by Walker, who finished with a game-high 21 points, off a feed from Leroy Byrd. (Byrd entered the game with 8:33 remaining and UK nursing a 62-56 lead. The 5-5 guard dished off two assists, the second a lob to Walker for a resounding stuff, and left the game with 5:45 left and the Cats ahead 73-60).
* A behind-the-head dunk from Walker that came off Bowie's one-hand touch pass on the fast break.
That brought the house (22,928) down and left Tennessee trailing 77-62 with five minutes to go.
All that fun was set up early, DeVoe said, by Master's shooting. Like most UK opponents, the Vols entered the game intent on giving up the outside shot and stopping the Wildcats inside.
"Master established the tempo early by hitting the shots," DeVoe said. ''He came out and played with confidence. He should be congratulated."
After missing his first shot -- a 15-footer from the right side of the basket -- Master hit his next four shots.
"I'm trying to work myself back into that role," Master said of his usual assignment of shooting and scoring.
Master credited two things for his improved shooting: (1) the Cats were running and playing at a pace they like; and, (2) Harden's increasingly effective play has drawn more attention from enemy defenses.
Along the way to victory -- and Seattle? -- there were a few snags. Tennessee outscored UK 10-1 during a three-minute span in the second half, cutting an 11-point Cat lead to 54-53 with 11:21 remaining. Walker's righthanded hook over Willie Burton (and the resulting free throw) pushed the Cats ahead 57-53. UK got more breathing room seconds later when Winston Bennett, who contributed 14 points and six rebounds off the bench, spun around his defender for a layup. DeVoe thought Bennett used three steps to get to the basket, but didn't put up much of a protest after the game. "If you can get away with three steps, you can get away with three steps," the Tennessee coach said with a shrug.
Shortly thereafter, after UK had gone ahead 79-64, Tennessee's pressing defense finally paid off. The Vols got two straight turnovers and scored three baskets to close within nine.
But, after a television timeout at the 3:38 mark, UK salted the game away at the free-throw line, making 10 straight.