Date story was published: Thursday, January 9, 1986
Twice while Kentucky smiled through its pregame warm-ups last night, Ed Davender interrupted with a warning:
"Let's get serious, you all," he said.
The Wildcats didn't take heed, however, until 15 minutes remained in a surprising struggle with Mississippi.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Then, UK resembled the team that relied heavily on defense on its way to 10 victories in its first 12 games.
Victory No. 11, a 75-58 decision over Ole Miss last night, followed when the better-late-than-never Wildcats squeezed multiple turnovers out of their suddenly vulnerable victim.
After a timeout with 15:08 remaining, Kentucky went on an 18-6 spurt to break out from what had been a 34-34 deadlock.
Once ahead comfortably at 52-40 with 9:17 left, UK coasted to its second victory in three Southeastern Conference games.
Ole Miss fell to 7-5 overall and 0-3 in the SEC.
"He (Coach Eddie Sutton) was upset with us all through the game," said Davender, nixing the notion of anything magical about the timeout at the 15:08 mark. "We knew it was time for us to win. We didn't want to wait until the final minute and be in a tie game."
Whatever Sutton said, and he, too, downplayed its significance ("I didn't give any Knute Rockne speech," he said), UK broke from the huddle a different team.
The Wildcats attacked immediately, trapping all over the court. The Rupp Arena crowd of 22,645 responded with a standing ovation.
After Roderick Barnes broke for a layup that Kenny Walker stretched high to goaltend, Ole Miss had its second and last lead of the game: 36-34.
Kentucky forced turnovers on the Rebels next three possessions, scored the next six points and never looked back.
Walker got the equalizer on a freak "pass" from Richard Madison.
Madison, whom Sutton designated as UK's man when the Cats want to scrap its three-guard lineup, appeared to be going up for a short shot. The ball squirted out of his hands right to Walker, who flipped in two of his 31 points.
"Beautiful pass," said a smiling Sutton, who went with his regular three- guard starting lineup.
"It came so fast, it must have been a pass," Walker said.
Not so, confessed Madison.
"I was going to jump like I was going up for a pass and then dump it off," Madison said, "but it fell out of my hands."
Then, with 14:22 remaining, Walker scored more conventionally, posting low for a turnaround on the baseline, and Kentucky led for good.
The lead grew to as much as 20 down the stretch (70-50) before Kentucky made the oddsmakers look good with a 17-point decision. UK was favored by 17.
"I guess we should be happy," said Sutton, who immediately added that he wasn't. "We came out flat. It looked like the team was waiting for the crowd to cheer and the crowd was waiting for the team to do something to make them cheer."
Every Cat partisan - player or fan - had to like the 18-6 spurt that followed the timeout at 15:08.
Ole Miss seemed unnerved thereafter, its well-executed plan of sagging a zone around Walker and potshotting the Cats at the other end a distant memory.
Barnes committed the first turnover that fueled the 18-6 spurt. He penetrated too far and threw a wild pass that hit Madison in the hands.
After Walker posted for the go-ahead basket, Ole Miss called time with 14:18 remaining. However, nothing changed when the two teams returned.
On the Rebels' next possession, the trapping Cats would have had another turnover if the sideline hadn't gotten in the way. Trapped in the corner, a Rebel threw up a short pass that Kentucky tapped out of bounds.
But UK did get the ball when Eric Smith and Winston Bennett accidentally tripped each other on the inbounds pass. Neither player fell, but Bennett had the better position for the ball.
Paul Andrews hit a jumper at the other end to extend UK's lead to 40-36.
When UK stripped the ball from center Derek Horne, it was the Rebels' third straight turnover. Madison, whose 10 points made him Kentucky's only other double-figure scorer, hit two free throws to make it 42-36.
"They went to their karate defense, that's what I call it," Ole Miss coach Lee Hunt said of Kentucky's new-found intensity. "They were overplaying unbelievably. It makes it difficult to get into an offensive set when they're hacking and slapping."
While Hunt questioned Kentucky's defense, he had only praise for Walker.
UK's All-America candidate ripped Ole Miss for 19 second-half points. Besides the baskets that tied it and put UK ahead for good, Walker also had 13 points in the final 8:07 to doom any thoughts of a Rebel comeback.
"He's an amazing player," Hunt said of Walker. "In the second half he really went to work to free himself.
"When he did get the ball, we tried to triple-team him. What amazes me is his uncanny accuracy in heavy traffic."
Sutton tried to station Walker on the perimeter in the first half. "I hate to put him inside because he takes such a beating," Sutton said.
But when Walker got off only seven first-half shots, the same number as Davender, it was back to the trenches.
What was envisioned as a laugher turned serious when the two teams left the court at halftime. UK was ahead 32-28, a lead forged on a 7-2 spurt in the half's last two minutes.
Madison, inserted into the game to provide outside shooting against Ole Miss' zone defense, hit two jumpers in the run, the first a 15-footer from the right side that erased Ole Miss' only lead of the half, putting UK ahead 27-26.
Madison's second shot, a rainbow from the right corner, concluded a streak of eight straight points that put UK ahead 32-26 with 25 seconds remaining.
The Rebels got two of the points back when Joe Coleman went one-on-one with Roger Harden and hit an 18-footer in the final four seconds to set the halftime score.
Harden nearly got it back, but his shot from beyond midcourt bounced off the front of the rim at the buzzer.
Ole Miss claimed its only lead of the half (26-25) on a 7-0 scoring run.
Kentucky went scoreless for almost four minutes during the run as the Wildcats struggled to solve the Rebel zone.
Ole Miss opened the game in a "point-drop" zone, one of the defenses Auburn used in its 60-56 victory over Kentucky Monday night.
Although Sutton repeatedly shouted "pass the ball," UK too often launched a jumper from the perimeter rather than work the ball for a better shot.
Because Davender (two of seven) and Harden (one of four) made just three of 11 shots in the half, UK could not shake the Rebels. Davender's four-for-12 shooting, which followed a three-for-nine performance at Auburn, will earn him a special shooting session at today's practice, Sutton said.
Coleman's 18-footer with 3:14 remaining concluded Mississippi's 7-0 run.
Sutton also did some shouting at Walker, who finished the half with 12 points.
With about 16 minutes left in the half, the UK coach could be heard telling Walker to shoot over the zone.
Walker immediately responded, hitting two 15-footers to move UK out to an early 11-5 lead.
"He takes coaching well," Sutton said with a smile.
Kentucky's margin grew to as much as eight points three times in the half. Bennett got a cheer from the subdued crowd by spinning into the lane for a fast-break layup to put the Wildcats up 13-5 with 13:39 remaining.
Davender hit twice from the top of the key to put UK ahead 15-7 and 17-9.
However, when those perimeter shots failed to fall, Ole Miss crept back into the game.
Sutton had Leroy Byrd ready to enter the game when Davender hit the jumpers because he wanted the ball passed around the zone more frequently.
Knowing Byrd's popularity, Sutton also put in the little guard to spark a response from the crowd.
"Sure, I'm conscience of that," Sutton said. "And they did respond a little."
At the 15:08 mark of the second half, they began responding a lot.
Only two referees - Don Rutledge and Reggie Copeland - worked the final minutes of the game. The third official, Wally Tanner, pulled a hamstring in the second half and had to leave the court.