Date story was published: Sunday, February 5, 1984
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Kentucky lost and Joe Hall blamed the press.
Sound familiar? It shouldn't.
It wasn't the media, a target in past defeats, that Hall fingered, but the swarm of Alabama defenders that beat the third-ranked Wildcats 69-62 here yesterday.
"They beat us with the press," the UK coach said. "Our turnovers were devastating."
UK gave the ball away 23 times. On no less than 10 occasions the Wildcats were guilty of turning over the ball against Alabama's 1-2-1-1 full-court
press. It was out of that alignment that the Tide erased most of an early 10-point Kentucky lead. It was traps sprung from the same configuration that allowed Alabama to assume a 12-point lead of its own in the second half.
"We've worked real well against the press in the past," Hall said. "We've attacked the press with a lot of courage. Today, we held the ball. It's hard to understand."
Terry Williams, the Alabama player who had been waiting for this game for a month, offered an explanation: "The team with the most guts won it. We had more guts and wanted it more."
Yet, for all the mistakes, Kentucky still had a chance to win. That opportunity slipped away when Sam Bowie was whistled for his fifth foul with 3:24 remaining. UK had rallied to tie the game at 56-56, but without Bowie, who was in foul trouble most of the game, the Wildcats wilted.
"Paul Galvan (the official who made the call) should have been the most valuable player," grumbled one Wildcat insider after UK lost its third straight road game.
Not only did Galvan's call send Bowie to the sidelines, it also wiped out what would have been the go-ahead basket in a game that had forced UK to play man-to-man defense against the quicker Tide players in the final moments.
Bowie's crucial foul culminated one of the Cats' few fast-break opportunities. Jim Master took a jumper from the baseline on the break. When it missed, Bowie went either over or on the back of Alabama's Terry Williams and tipped in the shot. If the basket had been allowed, UK would have had a 5856 lead. Alabama had been ahead 52-40 nine minutes earlier.
Instead, Alabama got the ball and used a spread offense to preserve the victory. The Crimson Tide is now 13-6 overall and 6-4 in the Southeastern Conference.
"It was a judgment call and the judgment went against me," Bowie said.
Alabama's players saw the play as a clear case of climbing an opponent's back to reach a rebound. UK's players saw it as a way to descend to 16-3 overall, 7-3 in the SEC.
"It was a questionable call; it could have gone either way," said Kenny Walker. "I would have loved for it to have gone our way.
"I thought the guy went under Sam. That was the difference in the game."
Not true, said Alabama Coach Wimp Sanderson. Ironically, in Sanderson's version, Alabama beat Kentucky the same way the Cats beat the Tide 76-66 in Lexington last month. UK applied a press on Alabama in the second half of that game and, aided by a sprained ankle suffered by Eric Richardson, cruised to victory.
Yesterday, with Richardson healthy and collecting a school-record 15 assists, it was Alabama that did the cruising.
"To be perfectly honest, our basketball team took the fight to them," Sanderson said. "I like to think that our good play had more to do with it than Bowie fouling out. The credit should go to our kids. If you sit back and analyze it, you'll see it the same way."
Interestingly, Alabama didn't go into its press until Bowie left the game with two fouls at the 13:05 mark of the first half. Bowie didn't return until the start of the second half and played only 19 minutes because of fouls.
UK was further hampered by Dicky Beal's unavailability. The quick point guard sprained an ankle at a practice Thursday. "I asked him if he could play," said Hall. "He said he couldn't."
Without Bowie, who can see and pass over a press, and Beal, who can dribble through pressure, UK looked lost.
Alabama got four turnovers off its press in the first half. But it was a second-half collapse by UK that was decisive.
In a four-minute span early in the second half, UK turned the ball over five times against the press and was outscored 17-2. That spurt pushed Alabama ahead 46-36 with 15 minutes to play.
Roger Harden "led" the Wildcats with eight turnovers. "I take full responsibility," he said. "I didn't play effectively."
Harden deserved only partial blame. After his first turnover of the second half, which Alabama converted into a three-point play, Hall inserted Leroy Byrd into the game. Byrd, however, threw the ball away on two straight possessions.
Hall went back to Harden after calling a timeout with 16:48 to play. On the ensuing in-bounds play, Harden's pass was intercepted by Williams.
"We made floating passes instead of sharp, crisp passes," said Walker, who was guilty of two floaters in the first half.
Alabama's players remembered well their own collapse against pressure in Lexington and saw yesterday's game as turnaround fair play.
"We were trying to use the same psychology they used," said forward Darrell Neal. "We wanted to do the same thing to them with our ability and the crowd."
Still, UK wasn't out of it. "I guess we got tired of throwing the ball away," Bowie said sarcastically of the UK comeback. "I don't know what the difference was. There's no excuse for the way we handled the press."
Alabama's players said they simply got tired from applying so much pressure and their fatigue allowed UK to come back.
After UK tied it at 56-56, Alabama took a one-point lead when Bobby Lee Hurt made one of two free throws. When Winston Bennett missed the front end of a one-and-one seconds later, Alabama was able to work its spread offense.
"We wanted to add to the score by either a layup or free throws," Sanderson said.
The Tide got both. Freshman guard Terry Coner slipped past the groping UK defense, hung in the air and sank a layup to increase Alabama's lead to 59-56 with 1:31 remaining. From there, the Tide made eight of nine free throws to ice the victory.
Kentucky zipped to a 14-4 lead in the game's first five minutes and was in a position to blow the game open. UK's turnovers -- the Cats had 13 in the first half -- allowed Alabama to survive its own poor shooting. The Tide made just 30.6 percent of its shots (11 of 36) in the first half.
"We were pretty fortunate," Sanderson said.
"I never thought we could beat them with a press," said Richardson, ''because they have so much size. I thought they could throw over it. I think they were shocked we pressed as long as we did. They made some passes that weren't there."
In another irony, Alabama's victory allowed its most-hated rival, Auburn, to assume sole possession of first place in the SEC . . .at least for a day. Auburn, 7-2 in the SEC, plays at Florida today.
"Just like I told their crowd, we'd beat them here," said Williams, the Alabama player who issued a beware-of-the-road warning last month in Lexington. ''That's the facts. I proved my word."
UK concludes its two-game road trip at Mississippi State Monday night.