Date story was published: Saturday, November 23, 1985
The experiment that is Kentucky's early season schedule took unfamiliar paths last night.
But in the end, as expected, Kentucky turned outmanned Northwestern State into guinea pigs 77-58.
A Rupp Arena crowd of 23,127 sat mostly in silence as Eddie Sutton made is official debut as Kentucky's coach third coach in 55 years.
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Leroy Byrd into a game with 6:04 remaining?
A front line of freshman Irving Thomas, Cedric Jenkins and Kenny Walker?
A fivesome of Winston Bennett, Richard Madison, Jenkins, Paul Andrews and Byrd?
A Sutton man-to-man defense gone soft and vulnerable to layups?
Walker scoring only 13 points, his lowest output in 25 games? A sagging zone defense and leg cramps hindered Walker, who scored all his points in the first half. Walker left the game twice when his legs cramped, leaving for good with 8:45 to play.
It all happened last night as UK got off to a winning start before taking off for a two-game swing in Hawaii. Once there, Sutton promised more experimenting in UK's games against Chaminade and Hawaii.
Northwestern State, a 3-25 team last year that was pumped fresh with junior college transfers and freshmen, next plays at Alabama.
"I wish we would have played a little better," Sutton said. "In the 40 minutes, I'd say we had 24 or 25 minutes of good basketball."
The inconsistency was most apparent at the defensive end. The UK man-to-man that stifled the Czechoslovakian National Team in last week's exhibition was probed several times for layups and easy shots inside. Northwestern State made 65 percent of its shots (26 of 40).
"We allowed them to pass around the perimeter too easily," Sutton said. "They set some good screens on the baseline and executed quite well.
"They had a little more quickness than the team across the ocean."
Walker first left the game with 14:59 remaining in the second half. After trainer Walt McCombs massaged Walker's legs, the 6-foot-8 forward returned at the 13:04 mark. But less than five minutes later, Walker exited again and walked gingerly and immediately to the locker room.
"It usually happens about this time every year," Walker said of the cramps. "This time I hadn't been feeling well (a touch of the flu) and my body required more fluids."
Walker said a doctor will take a blood sample today to determine if a deficiency in any chemical might be causing the cramping.
Otherwise, "there's nothing you can do except get more fluids into your body," Walker said.
A 19-6 spurt in the final seven minutes of the half propelled Kentucky to a 38-24 intermission lead.
UK's rush coincided with a television timeout at the 7:01 mark. Following the break, UK began pressing and got a quick turnover when Harden picked off a pass.
Harden fed Blackmon, who hesitated with the ball as a defender floated by, then stuck in the layup. Blackmon's basket concluded a six-point run that put Kentucky up 25-18.
Later in the half, Harden had another nifty assist. He drove the lane on a fast break, then moved the ball behind his back as the defender leaped out of bounds.
Harden completed the behind-the-back pass to Walker, who two-handed the dunk, putting UK up 34-24.
The Wildcats' largest lead of the half was the 14-point margin at intermission.
Until the late spurt, the half was notable for Northwestern State's surprisingly capable play and UK's failure to match the defensive intensity it showed in beating the Czechoslovakian National Team last week.
UK yielded seven layups in the half, a big reason why the visitors shot 75 percent (12 of 16) in the opening 20 minutes.
Kentucky faced a familiar defense: a zone packed around Walker.
"It's something we expect," Davender said. "We saw it all last year. Coach Sutton puts confidence in us. We'll try to take advantage of the opportunities the other team gives us."
Walker managed 13 points in the half, making all five of his shots.
The season's first half was also notable for a rule change that came into play.
Davender was fouled intentionally on a fastbreak drive mid-way through the half.
Davender missed the shot, but got two free throws. UK also retained possession of the ball. However, UK did not get points from the possession as Bennett missed a short jumper. He got his own rebound, but UK then had a turnover.
With Winston Bennett, who led all scorers with 18 points, displaying a soft touch from outside, UK extended its halftime lead to 17 (50-33) early in the second half.
"I can put up the shot without worrying about the knee," Bennett said of his now healthy knees. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in the pre-season a year ago. "A lot of my problems came with worrying about whether the knee could hold up," said Bennett, a 42.9 percent shooter last season.
Bennett made eight of 13 shots last night.
After weathering a brief NW State rally - the lead was cut to 10 (54-44) with nine minutes remaining - UK broke away again.
The Wildcats built their lead to as much as 23 points four times down the stretch.
Most memorable, not to mention unusual, was a UK fans' dream fastbreak. Byrd, the 5-5 Rupp Arena darling, feeding Jenkins, a wobbly colt of a player lovingly adopted by the crowd.
Byrd dribbled down the right side with Jenkins trailing down the middle.
"Cedric said to me, 'Didn't you hear me yelling, Throw it to me, throw it to me,' " Byrd said. "I didn't. But I saw him out of the corner of my eye and just flipped it high over the basket."
Jenkins, all arms and legs at 6-9, slammed it home to put UK up 69-46.
"Of the players off the bench, the one who impressed me the most was Cedric," Sutton said. "He's been doing it for the last two or three days."
Jenkins finished with eight points and four rebounds in 19 minutes.
Talk about unusual. Those numbers were a good start toward matching his seasonal output of 14 points and 28 rebounds as a freshman.