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DEFENSE KEY AS UK BEATS VANDY 65-54

Date story was published: Friday, February 20, 1987

Eddie Sutton changed his starting lineup. But his team -- Kentucky's wild and then mild Cats -- couldn't break its habit of playing in spurts.

Last night, UK had Vanderbilt reeling under deficits as large as 17 points in the first half. Thereafter, the schizophrenic Cats helped Vandy prove there was life after apparent death.

Vandy closed to within seven in the final two minutes before finally succumbing 65-54.

The source of UK's uneven play last night was shot selection, Sutton said.

"Our team still concerns our staff," Sutton said. "At times we don't understand how many points we're ahead and that the clock is our best friend. At this point of the season, we should be better. We must have taken at least 10 shots in the second half that shouldn't have been taken."

Despite the imperfections, UK improved to 16-7 overall and 9-6 in the Southeastern Conference.

Vandy, which fell to 14-13 and 5-10, pointed to free-throw shooting as its downfall. The Commodores made just 12 of 27. "That's not even 50 percent," center Will Perdue said. "What can you say?"

For much of the night, UK displayed its best defense in weeks.

A choking man-to-man dominated the first half. The result was a commanding 36-19 halftime edge that seemed to leave only the final score to be decided.

"With the exception of fouling way too much, our defense in the first half was one of the best 20-minute periods we've had all season," Sutton said.

Paul Andrews and Irv Thomas started for UK in place of James Blackmon and Richard Madison. They and the other Wildcats made sure Vandy's offense stayed in neutral.

The lobs for center Perdue never materialized. Vandy's 7-footer was held to eight points.

"Four for 14 and zero for five," said Perdue, reciting his shooting from the field and the line. "That's not my style. It was like the basket had a lid on it."

Perdue's two baskets made up a third of Vandy's six in the half. The Commodores shot just 28.6 percent in the half (six of 21).

"We ran through more passes than we did in the last couple of games combined," Thomas said. "Our defense was a couple of notches higher. I think it was a trickle-down effect. One guy runs through a pass and others pick up on it."

UK's intention to play defense was obvious from the beginning.

Rob Lock and Thomas blocked shots in the first two minutes. Lock's block came on Perdue's first shot.

Andrews made a steal in the first two minutes.

"Sometimes you can put two new guys in there and it works," Sutton said. "Didn't you think our defense was super in the first five minutes?"

Still, because UK was also shooting poorly (12 of 29 for 41.4 percent), the Cats couldn't build a lead.

Two baskets by Barry Goheen staked Vandy to a 5-1 lead.

From there UK outscored Vandy 35-14. From the 17-minute mark until 2:37, UK enjoyed a 29-8 edge.

Play from Madison and Andrews and a trapping UK press keyed two first-half explosions.

Madison and Blackmon came in with 14:53 left in the half.

At the 12:49 mark, Madison completed a four-shot possession by scoring inside. Madison was fouled by Chip Rupp, the grandson of Adolph Rupp, on the play. The three-pointer tied it at 7-7.

Kentucky took the lead for good on its next possession. Andrews grabbed the second missed shot and flipped it in while falling to the floor. The free throw off the floor made it 10-7 with 12:30 left.

Eight seconds later, UK got another basket. Blackmon stole a pass on the press and fed Madison for a slam.

The lead was 16-13 when UK ran off 14 straight points.

Madison's leaner on the post got the run started. Back-to-back three- pointers by Derrick Miller and Rex Chapman made it 24-13. Miller's three- pointer was his first since the Navy game on Jan. 25.

A foul-line jumper by Chapman completed the run that gave Kentucky a 30-13 lead.

Vandy's poor free-throw shooting and a three-pointer by Blackmon at the buzzer kept the lead at 17 at halftime.

Vandy missed the front end of two one-and-ones in the final 1:25. The Commodores also missed two other free throws in that span.

"I thought we handled their defense well," Vandy coach C.M. Newton said. "If we get it done at the foul line, their defense intensity isn't worth a flip."

Vandy's final miss came after Blackmon took a shot with eight seconds left in the half. That gave Vandy's Derrick Wilcox time to be fouled. He made one of two free throws with six seconds left.

Blackmon made amends. He gathered himself and swished a 25-footer at the buzzer.

Madison, who began a game on the bench for the first time since the Louisville game Dec. 27, showed in the second half he wanted to start again.

In one stretch, Madison scored three straight baskets inside. The first pushed UK ahead 48-32.

Madison finished with a career-high 19 points. His previous high was 16.

UK scored the half's first four points to take its largest lead, 40-19.

Vandy got no closer than 12 until the final two minutes.

A layup by Bobby Westbrooks brought Vandy to within 61-54 with 1:11 remaining.

Then Thomas went down in a rebound fight.

"A guy tried to dig upward to get a rebound from me," Thomas said. "I got a finger in the eye."

Thomas departed with 1:11 left. His right eye suffered two superficial cornea scratches, according to Ken Weaver, one of the UK team doctors. Thomas was examined after the game and should be able to play Saturday at Louisiana State.

Rex Chapman made both ends of a one-and-one to make it 63-54 with 50 seconds left.

After Perdue couldn't catch a feed inside, a Chapman tip-in sealed what could have been decided much earlier.

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