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WALKER, BENNETT, DEFENSE KEYS TO 80-75 SEC CLINCHER

Date story was published: Sunday, February 23, 1986

ATHENS, Ga. - It was special for so many reasons, Kentucky's 80-75 victory over Georgia here yesterday.

Yet, in a sweet paradox, it was commonplace, too.

The method was one that Wildcat fans have come to expect: A lot of Kenny Walker and Winston Bennett inside and timely outside jumpers by James Blackmon.

Also present again was some clutch help off the bench, this time provided by Richard Madison, who shook off an ailing left knee and got in 13 productive minutes. He scored six points and pulled down four rebounds.

Ditto for tight man-to-man defense, and for an offense that was both patient and opportunistic after a reminder from Sutton during a timeout early in the first half.

The result, however, was anything but humdrum.

In no particular order, this victory:

clinched the Wildcats' 36th Southeastern Conference championship, returning the trophy home after a one-year absence.

was No. 1,400 in the school's proud history. Of course, no school has more.

improved Eddie Sutton's first Kentucky team to 24-3, a step closer to becoming the school's sixth 30-game winner.

made Walker's final homecoming as a Wildcat one worth savoring for many years to come.

"People asked me about that a lot in the last few days," said Walker, a native of Roberta, Ga. "I downplayed it. I lied. It means a lot."

By contrast, Sutton was letting it all hang out after his team survived another pressure-cooker to improve its SEC road record to 7-1.

"I've coached a lot of years and a lot of players, but I don't think I've ever been prouder," said Sutton, who is in his 17th season as a college coach. "These guys aren't the most talented, but they don't know that. They're just the hardest working group I've ever been around. They always seem to find some way to win."

After a typical Georgia last-minute comeback had been repelled and the Cats held on to win, Sutton called his team out for an encore. He suggested his Wildcats cut down one of the nets, an idea that inflamed several stragglers in what had been Georgia's largest home crowd (10,826) of the season.

"That's what you should do," said Sutton, whose Arkansas teams won or shared five Southwest Conference crowns in his 11 seasons there. "If anybody ever clinches in Rupp, I'll help them."

Hugh Durham, who saw his Georgia team possibly fall out of NCAA Tournament contention at 14-11, had no objections.

"They burned it off during the game," the Georgia coach said. "We might as well let them take it with them."

Hot shooting did serve UK well. The Cats made 60 percent of their shots, continuing a string of three straight games of shooting better than 50 percent.

Walker, Bennett and Blackmon did the bulk of the shooting, taking 40 of UK's 55 shots.

Walker and Bennett benefited from Georgia's surprisingly ample use of man- to-man defense to dominate inside. The pair combined for 42 points and 16 rebounds.

Walker hit 10 of 13 shots and scored 22 points. Bennett had 20.

"It really surprised me," said Walker of the man-to-man, "but it made me feel good, too."

Walker's post-up for two of his 12 points in the first half gave Kentucky a 32-30 lead with 3:40 remaining. Although few could have guessed it, what with nine ties to that point, UK would never trail again. When Georgia refused to go away, the Wildcats repeatedly went inside.

"The whole thing was that our inside defense was close to nonexistent," Durham said. "We let him (Walker) get the ball directly. You've got to make them go over the top. They didn't go over the top once all day."

Ironically, a botched lob may have taken the life out of Georgia's most serious second-half comeback.

Early in the second half, UK had forged a 46-41 lead, the widest margin to that point.

However, a three-point play and David Dunn's block from behind on Bennett gave Georgia the ball with a chance to tie.

From the sidelines, Durham called for a lob to guard Dennis Williams. Williams got the ball over the basket, but when he tried to dunk, the ball bounced off the rim.

At the other end, Bennett posted up for a basket to put UK ahead 48-44.

"You don't have to dunk it," Durham said. "Vern Fleming (former All-SEC guard at Georgia) didn't dunk it in four years."

On Georgia's next possession, Dunn posted low. After receiving the ball and head-faking twice, he finally shot and missed everything.

UK raced downcourt, where Walker's post-up basket increased the margin to 50-44 with 13:58 remaining.

"I was too far under the basket," Dunn said of his miss. "It was a bad percentage shot on my part, but I was trying to draw a foul."

Two jumpers by Blackmon, whose 16 points gave him double figures in five of the last seven games, twice got the Kentucky lead to eight points.

Walker's post-up pushed the lead to 10, 56-46, with 11:25 remaining.

"I never felt secure," Sutton said, "even when we had a 10-point lead."

It was still a 10-point game, 69-59, with 5:25 to go when Georgia's seemingly inevitable comeback came.

The Bulldogs had built a reputation for rallies. In its last home game, Georgia had erased an eight-point deficit in the final 52 seconds before losing to Auburn in overtime.

When Patrick Hamilton hit a 20-footer, his only basket of the game, UK's lead was down to 69-63. The stage seemed set with 3:58 remaining.

A heady play by Ed Davender and clutch free throws blunted the assault.

After both sides missed, Davender was left with the ball near the top of the key.

When the sophomore guard found himself free, he drove unmolested for a layup that put Kentucky ahead 71-63 with 2:45 remaining.

"That caught me by surprise," Davender said. "I faked (sophomore Willie Anderson) and when I turned no one was there. At first I thought about holding the ball to run off some time, but it was too good to pass up."

From there, UK countered Georgia's baskets with free throws. The Bulldogs hit three bombs and two tip-ins in the final 66 seconds. Durham also mixed in three timeouts.

It was all for naught as UK hit nine of a potential 12 free throws in the final 1:28.

The net-cutting followed as Kentucky could once again call itself SEC champion.

"I feel we didn't win it; we ruled it," Roger Harden said.

With the Cats now 15-1 in the league, who would argue?

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