Date story was published: Sunday, January 3, 1988
ATLANTA -- The first half numbers were hard to believe: Kentucky made 68 percent of its shots, yet trailed by two at the break.
So was the sight of Kentucky Gov. Wallace Wilkinson sitting courtside. His headset in place, Wilkinson sat beside the UK radio team of Cawood Ledford and Ralph Hacker.
Stranger still was the majority of fans at an "away" game rooting for UK. The best press row guesstimates were a 55-45 ratio between UK and Georgia fans at The Omni last night. The decible difference was more pronounced. "It sounded like Rupp Arena," Winston Bennett said.
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To these oddities Coach Eddie Sutton added an unlikely strategy: a zone defense. Call it a Red menace. It sparked an 84-77 UK victory over Georgia last night that could have easily been the Cats' first defeat this season.
Instead, UK improved to 9-0, its best start since the 1983-84 Final Four team opened at 12-0.
"I didn't like the tempo of the first half, not at all," Sutton said of his unusual strategy. "I told the team (at halftime) that if we get 43 points, we should be ahead the way we teach the game."
Georgia shredded Sutton's beloved man-to-man defense for 45 first-half points.
Drastic times called for drastic measures. First, Sutton turned to a 2-1-1 zone, nicknamed "Red 10" in UK's playbook.
When it failed to stem the tide, the UK coach ordered "Red 12," a 3-2 zone with aggressive matchup tendencies on the perimeter.
Georgia's offense was stopped relatively cold. After UK switched to "Red 12," the Bulldogs went more than 11 minutes without a two-point basket.
In that time, UK outscored Georgia 22-8 to position itself for a 2-0 start in the Southeastern Conference.
Georgia fell to 8-5 overall and 0-1 in the SEC.
"It was a quick game with a lot of running up and down," Georgia center Alec Kessler said. "All of a sudden, they went to a zone and we didn't adjust. We didn't change speeds. We kept putting up quick shots."
The defensive switch came as UK ran off 12 straight points to take a 60-51 lead.
sub graf below Georgia's only baskets in more than 11 minutes were a pair of three-pointers by Patrick Hamilton. A 51-48 lead with 16:03 left became a 70-59 UK advantage at the 4:30 mark.
Asked if the switch to zone conflicted with feeling of the way basketball should be played, Sutton said: "The bottom line is I want to win."
Sutton's preference for final scores in the 60s seemed unlikely at halftime. Kentucky's hot shooting and luke-warm defensive intensity made for a high-scoring half.
UK's early shooting did not resemble any other demonstration this season. The Cats entered the game hitting 48 percent of their shots.
Last night, UK hit its first five -- three by Winston Bennett, two by Ed Davender -- and took a quick 10-7 lead.
When Rob Lock tipped in his own miss at the 11:27 mark, Kentucky had gotten points on all but five possessions. The exceptions were turnovers.
In all, UK was shooting 10 of 12. The two misses were tipped in. For the half, Kentucky made 68 percent of its shots (17 of 25).
"In the man-to-man, we didn't contain the dribblers," Sutton said. "We did a horrible job of containing the dribblers. And we did a horrible job on the defensive board. I bet Georgia had six put-backs."
Even with the uncommonly good shooting, UK could not build more than a seven-point lead. That despite benefiting from a slow start by Georgia's two main threats: Anderson and Mack.
Bennett, who finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, shadowed Mack early on. Mack, who entered the game averaging 16.5 points per game, had only two in the first 12 minutes. Mack finished with 18.
Rex Chapman, who scored a game-high 26 points, dogged Anderson. Georgia's All-SEC performer had only one basket in the first 10 minutes.
Georgia's offensive rebounding kept the Dawgs close. Georgia outrebounded UK 14-10 in the half, 7-2 on the offensive boards.
Once Anderson and Mack got going, momentum was clearly on Georgia's side. The pair combined for 16 points in the final 9:20.
Anderson had 10 down the stretch, including two free throws in a grind- it-out Georgia comeback. The free throws put the Bulldogs ahead 39-37.
Anderson's offense also put Chapman in foul trouble. The UK guard had three in the half. He picked up his second on a charging call with 5:45 left. His third came with 2:54 left when he reached in to defend an Anderson drive.
Mack sank a three-pointer to give Georgia its largest lead, 44-41, with 1:34 left in the first half.
Kentucky built a 58-51 lead in the first minutes of the second half.
The Cats continued to be efficient on offense, but at a slower pace.
But Georgia went cold. The Dawgs hit three of their first 12 shots of the half. In that stretch, Georgia went more than six minutes with just one basket.
That shot was a Mack layup that put Georgia ahead 51-48 with 16:03 left.
During a television timeout at the 14:48 mark, Sutton ordered "Red 12." Georgia did not make another two-point basket until Mack rebounded a shot home with 4:28 left.
Kentucky ran off 12 straight points to take a 60-51 lead.
Chapman, whose 26 points equaled his career high, starred in the run. He hit a foul-line leaner and passed off for two layups.
Hamilton's two three-pointers fueled a Georgia charge that cut the margin to 62-57.
Davender took over. With Georgia shooting to slice the lead to three, he tapped a rebound away from Kessler. Davender's driving layup put UK ahead 66-59.
Davender took off with another Georgia turnover to end the Bulldogs' next possession. Freshman Neville Austin fouled Davender at the other end. Davender's two free throws made it 68-59.
Kentucky's lead reached double-figures for only the second time with 3:33 left. Richard Madison posted up freshman Jody Patton for a three-point play. That made made it 73-63.
But UK wasn't out of trouble yet.
Mack's rebound basket cut the lead to eight.
Two calls against UK helped cut the lead to 73-68. Madison's layup was blocked. Was it a goaltend?
At the other end, Andersons driving layup bowled over Lock. Blocking was the call.
Free throws saved UK. The Cats made five of six in the last 44 seconds to outlast Georgia.