Date story was published: Saturday, December 20, 1986
It may have been only the UKIT, but it was "tournament time" last night at Rupp Arena ...in both the good and bad sense of the term.
Kentucky's 75-59 victory over Iona featured a Rob Lock playing at peak efficiency, his career-high 19 points and team-leading 11 rebounds testament to a sudden burst of seasoning.
And as will be expected in March, Cedric Jenkins played, albeit only a 22- second cameo first-half appearance in his initial action of the season.
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On the down side, however, this UKIT first-rounder was marred with the kind of bench-clearing scuffle usually reserved for late season, when more important matters are at stake.
What last night's game decided was tonight's UKIT finalists.
Kentucky, now 4-1 and seeking its 25th UKIT championship, will play Boston University in the 34th title game. Boston U. beat Texas A&M in last night's tame first game.
Kentucky's victory had long been assured when Irv Thomas and Iona's Tony Wright squared off under the Gaels' basket with 8:25 remaining.
Television replays showed Thomas boxing out Wright under the basket as Iona's Richie Simmonds took a perimeter jump shot.
Suddenly, Wright spun and lunged at Thomas, aiming an elbow at the Kentucky player's throat.
Thomas retaliated with one right hand before Wright wrestled him to the floor.
At once, both benches emptied.
"He hit me in the mouth with an elbow, that's all I know," Thomas said. "After that, I don't know what was going on. All I know is I was on my back."
Wright, who incited a chorus of boos by feinting punches when he was separated from the pile, was not available for comment.
Iona coach Gary Brokaw sent his team to their hotel.
The Gaels' Jeff Wilder made matters worse. As the crowd rained boos on the visitors, he clapped his hands over his head.
That brought even louder boos.
"I always tell the team that you win with class and you lose with class," said Brokaw, a former Notre Dame player. "Obviously, that wasn't the way we wanted it to end."
As Iona left the court, Brokaw was heard scolding a member of his team's entourage for taunting fans.
Thomas and Wright were assessed flagrant fouls and ejected from the game.
With 16 seconds remaining, Lock and Iona's Nestor Payne exchanged menacing stares. They were separated before any punches were thrown.
"Iona was probably a little frustrated because we were out front," said UK's Rex Chapman. "Things like that happen. It could have been worse. Everybody charged off the bench just to protect their players. No one was trying to fight. I know I wasn't. I would have ran."
Chapman provided an outside attack to complement Lock's inside play. He scored 16 points, including four of five shots from three-point territory, to fuel the Kentucky rout.
Kentucky took the mystery out of it early in the second half.
Just as in the game's first few minutes, UK forced Iona into a cluster of turnovers. The Gaels committed turnovers on their first four possessions of the second half and didn't score until there was 17:16 remaining.
Iona committed five turnovers in the game's first four minutes to fall behind for good.
When the second-half turnovers were committed, Kentucky scored two baskets, on rebound shots by Lock and James Blackmon, to take a 37-21 lead.
Iona got no closer than 14 points thereafter.
"Our defense was very, very good," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "We did a better job taking charges and our defensive rebounding was better, too. We always believe defense is important. Tonight it was the difference."
The rout also featured the first points by a UK walk-on this season. Terry Shigg rebounded a Lock miss and banked it home with 7:04 left. The shot put UK ahead 60-35.
"Rob shot and it just fell in my hands," Shigg said. "They can't come any easier."
Lock missed only four times in 12 shots. He scored a career-high 13 points in the first half alone, leading Kentucky to a 33-21 intermission lead.
Lock, who had twice scored 12 points, including a dozen against Lamar last weekend, provided Kentucky with its first inside power of the season. The 6- foot-11 Californian posted up for two baskets and even hit a 15-footer from the foul line, a shot the coaches had been strongly discouraging in practice.
This night, Lock could do little wrong.
"This is the best feeling I've ever had in sports," Lock said. "This is what you work for, what you practice for. It all happened tonight."
"I'm so proud of Rob Lock," Sutton said. "Gosh, darn, I think he won some fans in Rupp Arena tonight."
On Dec. 2 at Rupp Arena, Lock was booed three times in UK's victory over Texas Tech.
The junior center brought the Rupp crowd to its feet last night with a running slam dunk off a fast break. Lock took a pass from Ed Davender on the play and threw it down with authority. The thunderous dunk, which came at the 15:24 mark, pushed UK's lead to 10-4.
The pass typified a night when UK players dished out 17 assists. Iona had only six.
Lock scored three straight Kentucky baskets in one stretch, each answering a bucket by Simmonds and pushing UK's lead to eight. Simmonds, the tournament's leading scorer (an average of 21.3 ppg), was held to 12.
UK, which trailed only when Simmonds drove for the game's first basket, controlled the first half.
Only free-throwing and a quiet crowd disappointed Sutton.
The Cats made just half of their 16 free throws, continuing an early-season slump from the foul line. UK had made just 57.1 percent of its free throws in the first four games.
To awaken the crowd, Sutton put Jenkins in the game with 12:35 remaining in the first half.
Jenkins' cameo appearance ended 22 seconds later when Lock returned.
Jenkins had been sidelined because of a stress fracture in his foot. Only Thursday, he had been given the OK to resume workouts.
"He (Sutton) told me earlier today to be ready to go in for awhile," Jenkins said. "He said it might not be 30 seconds, but I'd probably go in."
When Sutton made the call, Jenkins said, "I thought he was kidding. Then I realized he was kind of serious.
"I didn't feel out of place out there or anything. I was glad to see that."
Jenkins did not return to the game.
Asked why he inserted Jenkins, Sutton said: "To get the crowd into the game. Sometimes our crowd is like a country club setting."