Date story was published: Friday, March 21, 1986
"We don't believe in the law of averages," Winston Bennett said.
With good reason.
Kentucky kept right on steamrolling through Alabama and the Southeastern Conference. And showed signs it had no intention of stopping anytime soon.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Last night's victim at The Omni was Alabama . . . again. For the fourth time this season, UK beat the Tide. This time the score was 68-63. That made it 21 victories in 22 games against SEC competition.
More important, the victory pushed Kentucky into Saturday afternoon's Southeast Region championship game here. The Wildcats will Louisiana State, which upset Georgia Tech 70-64 last night in the second Southeast Region semifinal game..
Kentucky, 32-3, got there in a familiar way.
"The key, as I've said many times, was defense," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "Our defense was solid."
The defense, a collapsing man-to-man that took away Alabama's inside attack, left the Tide with no excuses.
Missed free throws, which Alabama blamed for its 73-71 loss in Tuscaloosa weren't there. The Tide missed only four of 21. UK missed that many in the final 62 seconds, one reason this decisive victory had only a five-point margin at the finish.
Foul trouble, an excuse noted in Alabama's SEC Tournament loss, was also a non-factor. Bama's top guns, forward Buck Johnson and center Derrick McKey, each played 40 minutes. Johnson had only one foul by halftime. McKey didn't pick up his first until 18:12 remained in the second half.
And Kentucky still beat Alabama, finishing the Tide season at 24-9.
"A lot of people thought if Buck and McKey stayed in the game 40 minutes, they'd have a great chance," said Sutton, apparently so proud of UK's defense he couldn't resist crowing.
How effective was UK's inner defense?
Johnson and McKey, who finished with 16 and 12 points respectively, had only one second-half basket off the set offense. That was a leaner in the lane by Johnson that Kenny Walker goaltended. For much of the final 20 minutes, Alabama's offense was reduced to point guard Terry Coner's penetration. He finished with 20, including 11 in the Tide's futile comeback in the final three minutes.
Meanwhile, UK dominated inside. Walker scored 22, increasing his career point total 2,060. Only Dan Issel (2,138) has more.
Winston Bennett pounded away inside, scoring 14 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and manning the front line defenses against Alabama's big men.
UK's inside edge was aided again by Cedric Jenkins, whose six points included a baseline jumper that began an 8-0 run that repelled Bama's final assault.
"One thing Kentucky has over us is a lot of strength inside off the bench," Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson said. "With Jenkins, (Richard) Madison, Walker and Bennett, those are four really strong physical guys. We're not a big strong, knock-'em-out-of-the-lane basketball team."
Sanderson said UK's muscle was most effective in taking away the lob from Alabama's offense. The Tide didn't complete one all night.
"Kentucky just played good defense," Sanderson said. "They did a heckuva job shoving us out from the low post and they made our point guard (Coner) pick up his dribble too far out on the court. That made the lob more difficult to execute."
Incited by the student band, the loud UK crowd was chanting "one more time" as the game began.
In the early moments, Kentucky seemed ready to deliver a fourth victory this season over Alabama.
After a feeling-out process in the first five minutes, the Wildcats took charge. UK hit five straight shots in a three-minute stretch to erase a 9-8 Alabama lead and claim a 18-13 advantage.
Walker, who had 10 first-half points, got the run started. His turnaround, which was goaltended by McKey, put UK ahead 10-9 with 14:43 remaining. The shot also moved Walker past Jack Givens and into second place on Kentucky's all-time scoring list.
Walker followed with another post-up shot to answer McKey's tip.
Then James Blackmon hit a jumper and Ed Davender followed with two more to give Kentucky its 18-13 lead.
As was expected, Bama came right back. When UK went cold, missing five of its next six shots, the Tide was able to get a lead.
The lead change occurred with Roger Harden was caught in the air and had to double-clutch a shot that clanged off the front of the rim. McKey rebounded and fed Harden's man, reserve James Jackson, who had sneaked downcourt for an easy layup.
An angry Sutton called time after the play with 7:45 remaining.
"I gave them a 'do-better' talk," Sutton said. "When they were in a man- to-man, we weren't doing a good job getting it to Kenny."
At first it seemed the time would not stem Alabama's charge. UK's first shot after the break, a turnaround from the baseline by Bennett, was caught in midair by McKey.
At the other end, McKey faked an anxious Bennett off his feet and tossed in a 10-footer. The shot gave Alabama its largest lead of the half, 23-20.
However, Alabama wouldn't get another point in the next five minutes. The Tide missed four shots, another was blocked by Walker, and fell behind 32-23.
UK reeled off 12 unanswered points in the span. All of the Wildcat points came inside the lane.
The final four brought UK fans out of their seats. Jenkins was under the basket when he faked upward and slipped a pass to Walker for a layup.
The shot put UK ahead 30-23.
Then Johnson was trapped on the low post and stripped of the ball. UK fed Blackmon for a layup that put Kentucky ahead 32-23 with 2:28 left.
Alabama called time with 2:25 remaining.
The Tide then scored the last five points of the half to cut UK's lead to 32-28.
Walker and Alabama traded six points apiece in the opening five minutes of the second half. That left UK ahead 38-34 when a television timeout was called with 14:50 remaining.
When the next TV timeout came with 9:08 remaining, Kentucky enjoyed a 48-39 lead.
Hot shooting and good defense fueled UK's 10-5 run. Both were present in a four-minute stretch that saw UK increase a 40-37 lead to 48-39.
Jenkins got the 8-2 run started with a baseline jumper.
Then with Bama back in a zone defense, Blackmon hit two straight perimeter bombs that sounded a death knell for the Tide.
"Make no mistake," Sanderson said. "The other three games (against UK) didn't count. This was the game we needed.
"We lost to a team that was better than us this year."