Date story was published: Tuesday, February 7, 1984
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Forget the loss at Alabama on Saturday. Kentucky did.
Remember when UK was lord and master of all in the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats do, and they brought back those golden memories last night with a 77-58 blowout of Mississippi State. Forgotten, for at least one night, was the parity of recent seasons that has brought the pack closer to UK's standards.
Also out the window, ushered by Mississippi State's dreadful 34.8 percent shooting, was the notion that on every given night a visiting team -- even mighty Kentucky -- will have a fight on its hands.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"No one expects to go on the road and get a victory like we did," said Sam Bowie, who brought back some personal sweet memories with a 20-point, 13-rebound performance.
In a game that had vintage written all over it, UK dominated outmanned MSU and got into better position to challenge for its 35th SEC basketball championship. UK, now 17-3 overall and 8-3 in the conference, moved within a half-game of first-place Auburn (8-2). The Wildcats and the Tigers will play for the top spot on Saturday at Rupp Arena. MSU fell to 7-13 and 2-9 . . . and landed with a thud.
A Humphrey Coliseum crowd of 8,936, the largest for a game this season, watched in disbelief as UK roared to a 45-16 halftime lead.
The rest of the game was mere formality.
The first half?
"Unbelievable," Bowie said.
Particularly, when it came on the heels of Kentucky's three straight road losses, the last being a 69-62 defeat at Alabama two days previously.
"After the Alabama game, we definitely had the last road trip on our minds," Bowie said. "Maybe it was because it was our first loss of the season, but at Florida all we could think about was Auburn. For four days, everybody moped around."
Auburn thrashed the then-unbeaten Cats 82-63 on a Friday night. It wasn't until the following Tuesday that UK played again -- and lost again 69-57 at Florida.
"This time we had a good attitude," Bowie said. "There was a lot of laughing. It wasn't the atmosphere of a team coming off a loss."
Even a bruised knuckle on his shooting hand couldn't dampen Bowie's spirits. The 7-foot-1 senior soaked the hand in ice overnight. Then, he used MSU's ultra-sound and whirlpool to treat the hand.
The Bulldogs were also generous in the game. MSU made just seven of its 29 first-half shots and fell hopelessly behind.
"We had hoped we could play man-to-man and not let them bounce the ball around and work the clock," UK Coach Joe Hall said. "We wanted to really be on them tight and deny a lot of passes. I think that disrupted their timing."
Also disruptive was the defensive work of Kenny Walker, who scored 16 points at the offensive end. Walker, who enjoyed a three-inch height advantage, blanked MSU's leading scorer, Ken Harvey (12.6 points per game), in the first half.
So near-perfect was the half that Hall got to enjoy his favorite violation -- an illegal screen -- whistled three times against the Bulldogs.
"That kind of cleaned up their offense," Hall said.
The rest was all Kentucky as MSU bounced shot after shot off the rim and UK was off to the races. With a 47-23 edge off the boards (27-11 in the first half), UK could take full advantage of most of the misses.
"I thought we took good shots," MSU Coach Bob Boyd said of the first half. He refused to comment on how much he liked who took the shots (Tracy Taylor and Harvey got off only four shots each) or the timing of the shots (MSU quickly got away from its patient game as it fell behind).
"I think they tried to get it all back at once," Walker said, "and that played right into our hands."
After taking an early 6-4 lead, UK reeled off nine straight points and outscored MSU 15-2 over one eight-minute stretch to blow the game open.
Mississippi State went more than six minutes without a point, falling behind 15-4. As its shots continued to miss, the Bulldogs fell behind by as much as 31 (45-14) in the first half.
"I'm not sure why we didn't shoot well," Boyd said. "You want to know why the game was lopsided? That was the reason. We're not going to score around the basket against Kentucky or anyone else. The shots we missed are shots Division I players are supposed to make."
At the other end, Kentucky was playing as though it belonged on some other, higher division. Even Jim Master, whose month-long shooting slump inspired a taunting chant of "shoot, shoot, shoot" from the crowd every time he touched the ball, found the range. The 6-5 senior guard missed his first four shots, then hit six of the next 10. Master also made all 10 of his free throws and finished with a game-high 22 points.
"It's coming around," he said of his shooting. "Hopefully, it'll be there when we need it most."
The Cats didn't need it last night, just as they didn't need the two technicals called against the Mississippi State bench. The first came with 5:41 remaining in the first half. Boyd was asking -- "In the usual thrash talk," he said -- for a three-second call against UK. Master made both technical free throws to widen UK's lead to 30-8.
With 2:29 remaining, the MSU bench was hit with another technical, helping UK to a six-point play. The MSU bench was enraged when Anthony Robinson was called for a foul against Winston Bennett. Bennett spun into the lane and went up for his shot. The referee near the action didn't blow his whistle, but another official across the floor made the call.
Bennett made his two free throws. Master made the two technicals. Then Master hit a 10-footer when the Cats were given possession. The six points pushed UK ahead 41-12.
"It would have been a cop-out to take a third technical and get thrown out of there," Boyd said. "But I thought about it. That would have been a way to escape the debacle."
There was no escape for MSU's undersized front line, which gave up a collective 15 inches in height. Adding Bennett's contributions off the bench, UK's front line made 20 of 31 shots and pulled down 34 rebounds.
Bowie, whose 20 points was a season high, drilled two jumpers from the perimeter and made six of 10 shots in what could have been his best shooting game yet.
"The biggest difference is I'm not thinking pass or shoot as I go up," Bowie said. "I'm now raising straight up."
MSU got no closer than 20 points until the closing moments. In fact, UK held a 32-point lead (69-37) when the fun stopped.
In an all-out gambling press, Mississippi State reaped six turnovers in the game's final five minutes. UK also turned the ball over five other times in that same span, putting a sour ending on what had been one of the sweetest evenings of the season.
"I counted 11 turnovers in our last 14 possessions," Hall said. "We did not execute well at all. It was everyone.
"The rest of the game was pretty good," he understated.