Date story was published: Sunday, March 4, 1984
Steffond Johnson said it best.
As he headed for the Rupp Arena door, Louisiana State's perennial substitute turned to his teammates and said:
"Let's get out of Dodge."
Johnson could be forgiven for feeling like he had just been bushwhacked. Kentucky threw an emotional farewell to five seniors and a passionate man-to-man defense at LSU yesterday and came away with a 90-68 college basketball victory.
The combination was too much to overcome as Kentucky concluded its regular season at Rupp Arena . . . and began thinking about a return home in three weeks for the NCAA Mideast Regional.
Nothing would make that return more likely than for the third-ranked Wildcats to win the Southeastern Conference Tournament, which begins Wednesday.
"I wouldn't say we're peaking," said Dicky Beal, one of the five seniors treated to a sweet goodbye, "but we're heading in the right direction."
That sentiment matches the comments made by UK Coach Joe Hall, who watched his team play a second straight game with renewed vigor.
"Our defense was the best it's been since early December," Hall said. "It was great defense. Aggressive. We were alert with our hands and feet."
Although the game was relatively meaningless -- UK had clinched its 35th Southeastern Conference regular-season title less than 48 hours earlier -it didn't lack for effort or drama.
Fifty-three personal fouls and 48 turnovers are testimony that someone cared about the outcome.
The drama, of course, was the traditional send-off for Kentucky's outgoing seniors. Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin, Dicky Beal, Jim Master and Tom Heitz took bows yesterday in pregame ceremonies that brought tears to many eyes.
"Our game plan was a good one," said LSU Coach Dale Brown. "We wanted to come out and try to run off a lot of the (45-second shot) clock early. We thought if we could slow down Kentucky's offense and keep the crowd out of the game, we could have a chance."
Despite being down by as many as 12 early (17-5), the Tigers got back into the game and trailed by only five (3631) early in the second half.
"In the second half, there was a small period where they blew it out," Brown said. "After that, it was like an avalanche."
With 15 minutes remaining Kentucky put together a 12-2 run that broke it open. The spurt pushed the Cats ahead 48-33.
A few minutes later, UK scored 14 straight points, assuring a 23rd victory in 27 games. The Cats finished 14-4 in the SEC, two games ahead of second-place Auburn.
LSU fell to 18-9 overall and 11-7 (fourth place) in the league.
Officiating, always a target for criticism, played a part in UK's gamebusting run.
Turpin, whose mother, Louise, was in the stands to see her son play in person for the first time, got the run started with a turnaround jumper.
Turpin was walking on air. "This is the highest I've ever been; this game meant a lot to me," he said of his 19-point effort.
But Brown thought the 6-foot-11 senior had walked on the play. Instead, LSU's Nikita Wilson was called for a foul.
Although Turpin missed the free throw, Bowie, who had 20 points and 16 rebounds, tapped home the rebound. The four-point play increased UK's lead to 40-31 with 15:19 remaining.
The Cats got another "fourpointer" on their next possession.
Turpin hit a 15-footer. The other two points came on Bowie free throws when LSU's Leonard Mitchell was called for a foul under the basket on Turpin's shot.
"Bowie just put on his little act," Mitchell said of the call, which put UK into the bonus situation with 14:41 remaining.
LSU got another call to question when it got the ball after Bowie's free throws and Wilson was whistled for setting an illegal pick on Beal.
Brown, who conducted a gamelong dialogue with the officials, was hit with a technical for protesting the call on Wilson.
Beal made both free throws in the one-and-one, and two more for the technical. Those shots pushed UK ahead 48-33. The "avalanche" followed.
"There's no sense talking about the calls," Brown said afterward. "I've talked about calls for 27 years. The game's over. C'est la vie. Tomorrow is another game."
Players were also philosophical about the officiating. Derrick Taylor and Beal, who collided near midcourt certainly were. On the play in question, Beal was dribbling upcourt and appeared to be bumped by Taylor. Beal was called for elbowing Taylor as the crowd of 23,810 hooted its disapproval.
"That's one of those calls you've got to live with," Beal said.
"That was a bad call," conceded Taylor, "a real bad call."
Whatever the quality of the officiating, Mitchell refused to blame the referees for the defeat.
"You can't depend on the refs on the road," Mitchell said. "You've got to do it yourself."
UK did it with three scoring spurts. The final two, which broke the game open and buried LSU, came in the second half. (The 22-point defeat was the Tigers' worst since a 109-86 loss at Alabama three seasons ago.)
The first spurt allowed UK to take the lead for good in the first half.
Playing a tight man-to-man defense, the Cats held LSU scoreless for eight minutes and 11 seconds. During that dry spell, Kentucky scored 13 straight points to take a 17-5 lead.
Taylor, who led LSU with 16 points, hit two free throws to break the ice with 8:38 remaining in the half, LSU's first points since Wilson hit a basket at the 16:49 mark. The Tigers didn't get another basket until Taylor hit an 18foot rainbow at the 5:01 mark, a basket-less stretch of almost 12 minutes.
"What we wanted to do was stop them inside," Hall said. "We got good weakside help. After we got the lead, I thought we let up a little. We started reaching and being a half-step behind. Under a pressured situation, I thought we could have continued."
The pressure, of course, begins this week. First, the Cats will play in the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
The NCAA Tournament begins the following week.
"I told the kids I'd play all 14 (of them)," Brown said of his strategy for yesterday's game. "I wanted to get them a little seasoning for the tournament. We played Mitchell some to try and help him get his timing for the tournament."
Mitchell dislocated his right shoulder in a game against Tennessee on Feb. 6. He played 17 minutes yesterday.
UK looked ahead by remembering the rugged practices of the past week and playing some aggressive defense.
After watching his Cats block seven shots and make 10 steals, Hall promised that the tough practices would continue.