Date story was published: Saturday, December 21, 1985
As expected, Kentucky beat East Carolina last night and reached the finals of the 33rd UKIT.
But the 86-52 victory was full of surprises, such as East Carolina's dogged determination for a half to look like anything but the 30-point underdog it was.
In the end, however, UK's superiority prevailed.
James Blackmon scored a career-high 18 points to lead Kentucky into the finals.
The Wildcats will play Pepperdine in the championship game at 8:05 tonight. The Waves beat Southern Methodist 75-68 in overtime in last night's other game.
The championship game will pit the perennial tournament favorite, 23-time champ Kentucky, against a Pepperdine team hungry for recognition.
"We didn't fly five hours to get here to play East Carolina, I'll tell you that," Pepperdine's Grant Gondrezick said.
Pepperdine, 7-1, rode its best player into the finals. Dwayne Polee, a soft-spoken guard, pumped in 20 points, including 14 after halftime, to pace the Waves.
Polee, who played one season with UK's Leroy Byrd when the two were at Nevada-Las Vegas, said he was looking forward to playing against UK.
"I didn't have that feeling until I got on the airplane (in an Atlanta changeover Thursday)," Polee said. "People were telling us, 'You guys can't beat Kentucky,' " Polee said with a smile. "They told us, 'You better watch out.' "
Until Kentucky put the game away in the first few minutes of the second half, the Wildcats seemed in need of a warning.
After seeing an 11-point first-half lead shrink to two and then balloon to 12 by intermission, UK settled matters by scoring the first seven points of the second half.
Winston Bennett's free throw got the run started. Then, after East Carolina's Al Clark missed a layup under pressure, Kenny Walker hit a three- point play, part of his 19-point effort.
When Roger Harden hit a leaner in the lane the lead was 42-24 with 18 minutes left.
Six minutes later, when Cedric Jenkins rebounded a missed free throw and tucked it home, UK doubled the score (61-30).
The first half had a little of everything and maybe too much so. With about two minutes remaining in the topsy-turvy half, a near-fight erupted to mar the action.
Only in the first seven minutes or so did it seem the rout everyone expected. UK, benefiting from multiple East Carolina turnovers and James Blackmon's hot shooting, scored the game's first seven points.
East Carolina, fell behind by as much as 11 (17-6 with 13 minutes remaining).
Blackmon hit his first four shots to spark UK early.
The Wildcats also were hot after the ball. UK reaped turnovers on East Carolina's first four possessions and the visitors didn't get off a shot until guard Curt Vanderhorst hit a jumper with 17:15 to go.
Less than five minutes into the game, East Carolina had already committed five turnovers, the same amount UK's most recent opponent, Kansas, committed in an entire game.
East Carolina was guilty of 14 first-half turnovers. But just when the Pirates seemed set to self-distruct, UK helped keep the visitors in the game.
Perhaps as was first-game victor, Pepperdine, the Wildcats became overconfident with the early lead.
Whatever the reason, Kentucky got away from the patient offensive game Coach Eddie Sutton has been preaching.
Suddenly, Kenny Walker was shooting off the dribble in traffic. Roger Harden was stripped of the ball while driving aimlessly into the lane. Winston Bennett was forcing a shot in heavy traffic.
Those kind of plays got East Carolina back into the game and gave the Pirates a aggressiveness that wasn't apparent at tipoff.
With Herb Dixon, a 6-3 starter last season coming off the bench now, scoring six straight points, East Carolina closed to within two twice (22-20 and 24-22).
East Carolina had chances to get even after another sub, Manuel Jones, beat UK's press for a layup. The chance slipped by when yet another reserve, Al Clark, walked as he waited for the defense to clear under the basket for a layup.
As UK's lead dwindled, the game got rougher.
Walker, as usual, was a victim of the rough play. With 9:44 remaining, his goggles were slapped from his head. Less than 30 seconds later, Walker was knocked to the floor.
Bennett and Clark exchanged menacing glares with 2:06 remaining. Both players had to be restrained.
Kentucky scored the half's final 10 points to open up a 36-24 lead at intermission.
Walker, who hit 12 of 13 free throws en route to a 16-point half, hit four straight free throws to start the streak.
The lead grew to 32-24 when Davender intercepted a forced pass underneath and fed Walker for a 360-degree layup.
Two heady plays added four more points as the half ended. Harden slipped into a lane to grab a missed free throw that eventually led to a Harden 15- footer.
Davender hit a 15-footer at the buzzer to set the halftime score.