Date story was published: Friday, March 9, 1984
NASHVILLE -- Kentucky's state of mind, the No. 1 question on the minds of its fans, was discovered last night. In a word, the Cats are unconscious.
Led by Melvin Turpin, who played in a scoring trance, UK whipped Georgia 92-79 in what for the Wildcats could be termed the meaningless Southeastern Conference tournament.
But please don't call it that.
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UK didn't play that way.
"If we don't win this tournament," said point guard Dicky Beal, "we feel we won't win the NCAA."
With last night's victory, UK's 24th in 28 games this season, the third-ranked Wildcats advanced to tonight's SEC tournament semifinals. The Cats will play Alabama, which posted a 72-70 overtime victory over Louisiana State in another quarterfinal yesterday.
Turpin tied Cliff Hagan's SEC tournament single-game scoring record by firing in 42 points against the helpless Bulldogs. At 6-foot-11, at least five inches taller than any Georgia player, Turpin also broke Hagan's single-game field-goal mark. Turpin hit 18 of 22 shots against Georgia. Hagan, who is UK's athletics director, made 16 field goals and scored 42 points in an 81-66 victory over Tennessee in the 1952 SEC tournament.
Asked how it felt to be matched, Hagan said with a smile: "Bad . . . . But to tell you the truth, I didn't think he was going to do it."
Turpin had scored 24 points in the first half, a period that saw UK roll out to a commanding 47-34 lead and make Turpin's record chase the only remaining excitement.
After back-to-back feeds from Beal, who finished with 10 assists, and Bowie, Turpin was stalled at 40 points with 3:45 remaining.
"I didn't know I was near a record," Turpin said. "Then Sam came up and said I needed two more for the record."
In the final two minutes, Turpin clapped his hands together and made several other gestures for the ball, but for the first time all evening he couldn't get it.
Only in the last time downcourt did Turpin get his hands on the ball. Freshman James Blackmon had the dribble on a three-on-two break. Instead of passing to Turpin on his left, Blackmon dished right to Kenny Walker. "I didn't know what everyone was talking about," Blackmon said.
Walker, however, made a touch pass over to Turpin who drilled a 10-footer at the buzzer.
"I just wanted to win," Turpin said, "but maybe now I'll show him (Hagan) some of my hooks."
Turpin had hooks and a whole lot more last night.
And it was all on display from the beginning.
UK broke out early and never looked back in bouncing Georgia from the tournament.
Walker, who finished with 18 points, opened the game with a three-point play.
After that, nearly everything went right for Kentucky in the first-half blitzkrieg that brought back memories of December.
With the Cats running the break and rebounding almost at will -- UK owned the boards 25-10 in the first half and 41-22 for the game -- Kentucky broke quickly to a lead that was never seriously threatened.
Less than six minutes into the game, UK had a 10-point advantage (18-8). That lead jumped to 15 (30-15) less than 10 minutes into the game. From there Georgia was playing catch-up against one of the best frontrunning teams in America. So said Georgia Coach Hugh Durham.
"Everybody's like that, I know my team is," Durham said. "Get ahead and you play a different game. You get up early and you come down and miss a jumper, your buddy will say 'Hey, get it next time.' In a close game, your buddy will say 'What the hell are you trying to do.' "
Last night, Georgia tried to keep it close with what has become the standard strategy for smaller teams against UK. The Bulldogs, who fell to 17-12, packed a zone defense in tight, gave up the outside shot and prayed.
"Everybody who plays them gives up the outside shot," said Georgia guard Vern Fleming, whose 30-point comeback from a six-point effort against Mississippi State on Wednesday night was buried in Turpin's onslaught. "If they're hitting those shots, you're in for a long night."
Beal, Bowie and Jim Master all hit jumpers in the first few minutes. Georgia was indeed in for a long night.
It was made longer by Turpin. The Lexington native outrebounded Georgia 13-10 by himself in the first half and finished with a season-high 16 rebounds. (Turpin hadn't had double-figure rebounds since grabbing 11 against Houston on Jan. 22. His previous season high was 13 at Louisiana State on Jan. 7.)
Turpin didn't need his patented jumper from the foul line. He simply towered over the smaller Bulldogs. Seven of Turpin's 11 first-half baskets came on rebounds he put back in. Turpin got one more rebound basket in the second half.
In the regular season, Georgia had checked Turpin to 18 points in each game. Last night, Turpin had 18 with 10:04 remaining in the first half.
"We've got to play behind him, because if we don't, all he's got to do is turn around and dunk it," Fleming said of Turpin. "So we played behind him and hoped he'd miss the shot. If his shot is going down, well, you saw what happened."
During one four-minute span of the first half, Turpin scored 11 straight points for Kentucky. He scored on a dunk off a fast break, two turnaround jumpers, a follow-shot on another break, found a loose ball and tucked it home and topped that off with a free throw. That flurry pushed UK's ever-widening lead to 33-16 with 9:30 left in the half.
So commanding was UK that Coach Joe Hall refrained from his usual substitution patterns. Hall's only substitution in the first 12 minutes was to insert James Blackmon for Master. That move came with 12:57 remaining and was hastened by Master's two fouls.
UK widened its lead to as many as 19 three times in the half (the last being 39-20 with 7:31 remaining).
It was then that Georgia made a mild comeback. The Bulldogs outscored UK 14-8 over the final seven minutes to cut their halftime deficit to 13 (47-34).
Georgia, which had run through the opposition in winning the SEC tournament last March, got no closer than 11 in the second half.
Georgia got that close six times in the final half. On four of those occasions, Turpin responded with baskets. Walker had the baskets on the other two.
Durham became so weary of pointed questions about Turpin's play, that he finally said: "What do you want me to say? That Turpin's the greatest thing since sliced bread? Let's have some perspective. He was going against 6-6 guys . . . and he had his confidence high."
So did the other Wildcats. Bowie continued along his comeback. The 7-1 center-forward grabbed 13 rebounds in addition to his 10 points.
Beal, UK's other comeback kid, scored eight points and contributed enough ball-handling to make Georgia's press relatively meaningless.
"We've got to prove we have the heart and desire to go all the way," Beal said of UK's motivation last night.