Date story was published: Saturday, March 23, 1985
Two weeks ago, some Kentucky players figured their season had ended in a Southeastern Conference tournament collapse at Birmingham, Ala. But an NCAA bid gave the Wildcats new life in a season that turned out to be their coach's last.
Last night, before Joe B. Hall announced the end of his 13-year coaching career at Kentucky, the Wildcats fell 86-70 to St. John's in the West Regional semifinals.
But Kentucky and Hall could leave Denver and the NCAA Tournament with pride.
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Despite foul trouble that took away the effectiveness of Bret Bearup and Winston Bennett, Kentucky played the regional's top seed close until the final minutes.
Despite an eye injury to Kenny Walker, who still managed to score 23 points, the Cats played the Redmen on even terms until the final 5:26.
In the end, St. John's had too many weapons. A combination of Chris Mullin, who scored 30 points, and a strong inside game ended UK's dream of returning to Lexington for the Final Four. Forward Walter Berry added 22 points.
Instead, the Cats will return home with a final record of 18-13.
St. John's, now 30-3, advanced to the West Regional championship game on Sunday afternoon. The Redmen will play North Carolina State, a 61-55 winner over Alabama in the other regional semifinal last night. Tip-off on Sunday is 4:05 p.m. EST.
St. John's took the lead for good with 16:33 remaining and came close to breaking it open in the next five minutes.
Offensive rebounding against UK's foul-plagued front line played a big part. Kentucky's last lead came at 42-41 (on a Walker post-up).
''They beat us badly in the second half on the offensive boards," Hall said. ''On all but four possessions, they got second shots, and we couldn't contend with that. That was our biggest breakdown."
St. John's got five baskets off rebounds in the meat of the second half, with two coming in the breakaway run.
In that time, the Redmen outscored Kentucky 12-6, which in this taut affair was equivalent to a blowout.
Willie Glass, the "other" forward on St. John's front line, rebounded for two baskets in the run. The first followed a Bill Wennington hook and pushed St. John's ahead 53-47.
The second, a one-handed slam attempt that glanced off the rim, off the backboard and in, kept the lead at six (57-51).
UK closed to within four, 64-60, on a Walker turnaround with 5:26 remaining.
But Mullin exploited UK's defenses for two baskets down the stretch that kept the Cats at bay.
Mullin sneaked behind the back line of UK's 2-3 zone for a bucket that stretched the lead to 66-60 with 5:07 to go.
When UK switched to a man-to-man defense, Mullin slipped freshman Richard Madison and took a pass for another layup.
That shot put St. John's ahead 68-62 with 2:57 remaining.
Mullin said he was "pretty wide open all night. They were probably the easiest shots I got all year. It was nice out there not getting bumped around and double-teamed. It was like being out of jail for a night."
Hall said the Wildcats "tried a little bit of everything on Mullin, but he's such a great shooter, so intelligent and he works so hard to get himself open, that it's wishful thinking to even think you could stop him."
In an exciting first 20 minutes, both sides got surprising outside shooting.
UK, its perimeter game suspect since November, got a perfect four-for-four effort from Troy McKinley. The Wildcats' other outside shooters did well, too, with the guards hitting six of their first eight jumpers.
That kind of production pushed Kentucky into an early lead - as much as seven points (the last time at 20-13).
"The first half I thought they'd (Kentucky) never miss," St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca said. "Thank God, they cooled off in the second half and we got some offensive rebounds. Willie Glass made some big buckets when we needed them off the offensive boards."
St. John's surprise shooter was Mullin. It wasn't that the All-American's form was questionable. On his way to winning the John Wooden Award, Mullin was a 52.1-percent shooter this season.
The surprise, from UK's point of view, was how Mullin stayed in the game to score 13 first-half points.
Mullin was involved in no less than four plays in the first 11 minutes that could have resulted in fouls. As it was, Mullin was not called for a single foul.
The first debatable play came when Winston Bennett was driving for a slam dunk at the 16:54 mark. Mullin took a swipe at the ball and appeared to nudge Bennett, but no foul was called.
The next non-call was more costly. In sagging off on Walker, Mullin accidentally poked UK's star forward in the area around his right eye. Walker backpedaled immediately and fell out of bounds. The play came with 11:16 remaining. When Walker returned at the 8:12 mark, his right eye was swollen more than half shut.
At the 10:50 mark, Mullin seemed to mug Roger Harden near the sideline. The only call was a walk against Harden.
At the 9:40 mark, Mullin bowled over Bret Bearup on an inbounds play. Again no call.
Despite it all, UK held its ground. Outside shooting played a big part as the Cats hit on 17 of 27 first-half shots (63 percent).
St. John's inside game helped the Redmen come back.
A spinning move inside by Berry cut the UK lead to 26-23. Berry was fouled on the play. His missed free throw was rebounded home by Wennington.
St. John's took its first lead since the opening two baskets when reserve guard Mark Jackson hit a 15-footer with 55 seconds to go. That shot gave St. John's its 39-38 halftime lead.