Date story was published: Tuesday, January 10, 1984
Joe Hall likes to think of his bench as a means of changing a game's tempo. Last night, the Kentucky coach shifted gears and the Wildcats peeled away to a 76-66 victory over Alabama.
For about 30 minutes, the Cats and Alabama were locked in a tense, bumper- to-bumper race that saw neither team able to nose ahead by more than five points.
At that point, with Dicky Beal, Winston Bennett and James Blackmon inserted into the lineup, UK shifted into overdrive or -- more accurately -- hyperspace.
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The trio off the bench combined with Kenny Walker and Melvin Turpin to form a devastating 2-2-1 trapping press. Quicker than you could say "turnover," Alabama committed three straight and the Wildcats were on a roll.
Before it ended, UK had scored 14 straight points (breaking a 52-52 tie and assuming a 66-52 lead) and awaited only a checkered flag.
"We didn't show up tonight until the second half," Hall said. "It was good that we did show up."
The Cats weren't all that bad in the first half. Alabama was nearly flawless -- "As close to playing the way I wanted them to as a coach can expect," Tide Coach Wimp Sanderson said -- yet UK trailed only 34-33 at intermission.
The two teams were deadlocked at 52-52 eight minutes into the second half. After a television timeout at the 11:31 mark, UK sprang its trap.
The press reaped two turnovers immediately, and Walker and Turpin converted with dunks.
Now rattled, Alabama went scoreless for more than five minutes. On 10 possessions, the Tide committed seven turnovers.
When the draught ended, with a jam by Tide center Bobby Lee Hurt, so had the game. An Alabama surge at the end, which narrowed a one-time 18point deficit (74-56) to 10 at the finish, was of small consolation.
"For 35 minutes, we played as hard and as intelligently as we can," Sanderson said. "We then had five very poor minutes against the press and that took us out of the ball game."
The game and Eric Richardson's left ankle turned on the same play.
Richardson, Alabama's only experienced guard, turned his ankle the first time UK applied the press.
As he got the ball near mid-court, Richardson was trapped by Beal and Blackmon. As Walker closed in, the 6foot-3 senior jumped to make a pass. His left foot landed on Blackmon's foot.
His tipped pass went to Walker, who raced downcourt for a twisting "stuff-er-rino," as ESPN announcer Joe Dean probably called it.
"I saw I was in the clear," Walker said. "I said, 'What the heck. I'll get the fans excited and get this game on the road.' "
Richardson, meanwhile, was limping off the court, his trip cut short.
"We had worked against a press," Richardson said afternoon, his left foot soaking in a tub of ice water. "We thought they might use it early. When they did use it, it was a good time for them and a bad time for us.
"We felt we had them playing our tempo. We were trying to be patient and make them work on defense."
UK's press made a shambles of those plans.
The 14 straight points were reminiscent of UK blitzes of Brigham Young (23 straight points) and Purdue (15 straight) earlier this season. The result as an 11th straight victory this season. In the process, the Cats tied Auburn for the early Southeastern Conference lead at 3-0.
Alabama, which ironically lost senior guard Mike Davis to a broken hand at Rupp Arena last season, fell to 8-4 overall and 1-2 in the SEC.
"People who know me know I'm not an alibi coach," Sanderson said. "But, we don't have a lot of people who are ready to play and can't afford to have anyone hurt."
Beal, who had eight assists and eight points in a frenetic 17 minutes of play, make no bones about it.
"That was the key," Beal said of Richardson's injury. "They didn't have an experienced ball-handler."