Date story was published: Tuesday, March 18, 1986
Kenny Walker is Kentucky's most valuable player two seasons running, but he shared the distinction with Cedric Jenkins Sunday.
That was the opinion of Western Kentucky coach Clem Haskins after Walker, Jenkins and Kentucky eliminated his team 71-64 in the Southeast Region second round.
"Jenkins was the difference in the basketball game," Haskins said. "Walker is the most valuable player but Jenkins beat Western Kentucky University."
Jenkins scored nine points - all in the second half - as Kentucky held off the Hilltoppers to advance to the Southeast Region semifinals Thursday night in The Omni at Atlanta.
The soft-spoken sophomore also foiled Haskins' strategy of conceding Walker his points and containing the other Wildcats.
"By giving Walker his points I don't mean 40 or 45," Haskins said. "I mean his average (19.9). We realize he will get 20 or 25. The people that break your back is the sub. That's what really hurt us."
Walker scored 32 against Western's straight man-to-man and zone defenses.
Jenkins got his nine points in the second half, helping UK protect a 36-24 halftime lead from Western's determined comeback.
Jenkins' points included three free throws, a baseline jumper, another from the foul line and a sweeping hook in the lane, his first such shot of the season.
"That was just what they gave me," he said of the hook, "so I took it."
The off-the-bench production allowed Jenkins to put three straight games on the plus side. He contributed six points and four rebounds in 20 minutes against Davidson Friday night in Charlotte.
Jenkins scored a career-high 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game against Alabama, the same team UK will play at Atlanta Thursday night.
"Experience is one of the key factors," Jenkins said of his upswing. "Confidence and being relaxed on the court help a lot. It takes time."
Jenkins played sparingly as a freshman. He's averaging 11 minutes and three points a game this season.
Despite those modest numbers, Western's players said they weren't surprised by Jenkins' performance.
"We respect him," guard James McNary said. "We respect anyone on Kentucky's team because Coach (Eddie) Sutton won't put anybody on the floor who isn't productive."
Sunday's games set up a fourth meeting this season between Kentucky and Alabama.
UK has won the first three: a 76-52 January blowout in Rupp Arena (the most lopsided defeat in Wimp Sanderson's coaching career), a two-pointer (73-71) at Tuscaloosa and an 83-72 struggle in the SEC Tournament championship game.
Coaches like to say it's difficult to beat a team three times in a season. What about four times?
"At this point, I don't think it makes any difference," Sutton said. "In the regular season, it might be hard to get everybody's attention entering a fourth game. In the final 16, motivation won't be a problem.
"But," Sutton added, "I'd rather be 3-0 than 0-3 entering the final 16."
Haskins, a 10-year veteran of the National Basketball Association, was asked how he thought Walker would fare as a pro.
"It would depend on what team he gets with and whether it can utilize his skills," Haskins said. "On the right team, he would be a great player. On the wrong team, he would be a good player."
The right team, Haskins said, would be one with a center like Bill Walton or Sam Bowie who would be effective from the high post and leave the low post for Walker.
Otherwise, "he'll get lost in the shuffle," Haskins said.
All of the final 16 teams can win the national championship, Sutton said, but the UK coach makes Kansas "a big-time favorite."
"Kansas is the best team," Sutton said, "because (center Greg) Dreiling has improved so much."
Sutton claimed to have predicted first-round upset victories by Cleveland State (over Indiana) and Arkansas-Little Rock (over Notre Dame).
"I talked to (Michigan coach) Bill Freider and he played Cleveland State and told me how good they are," Sutton said. "I knew Arkansas-Little Rock had good quick athletes and I figured Notre Dame might overlook them."
What surprised the UK coach was Bradley's margin of victory (83-65) over ball-control conscious UTEP and Navy's victory over Syracuse at Syracuse.
Illinois' last-second 58-56 loss to Alabama brought back bitter memories for the Illini.
Two years ago, Kentucky held off Illinois 54-51 in the Mideast Region finals in Rupp Arena.
Illinois coach Lou Henson contended then that UK's Dicky Beal had gotten away with a walk late in that thriller.
On Sunday, Henson thought Terry Coner walked before hitting the shot in the lane that made Alabama the winner.
"There's no question he walked," Henson said. "We lost to Kentucky on a traveling violation that would have put us in the Final Four. I'm anxious to look at the film."
Henson protested to the referees on the court. Afterward Henson said the referees knew they blew the call.
"They missed a traveling violation and I think they know they missed a traveling violation," Henson said. "I think everybody knows. Look at the film. You be the judge."
Henson's anger at the officials wasn't soothed when it was pointed out that his Illini didn't shoot a free throw in the game. Alabama made six of nine.