Date story was published: Friday, January 1, 1988
Welcome to the Southeastern Conference race. Or how Eddie Sutton survived "40 minutes of living hell" to post his 400th career coaching victory.
Kentucky, No. 2 in the country, was nearly second best on the Rupp Arena court last night before pulling out an 81-74 victory over Vanderbilt.
UK, 8-0, did not lead for more than 25 minutes before striking with quick, deadly force to pull out its SEC opener. Trailing 65-56, the Wildcats scored 11 straight points, the last seven in 21 seconds. UK never trailed again.
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Though they hadn't met their own lofty standards until then, Ed Davender and Rex Chapman led the turnaround. Davender hit a three-pointer with 4:47 left to cut the deficit to two.
UK's press did the rest. When a trapped Eric Reid fumbled the ball off his leg, Davender scooped up the loose ball and sped 15 feet to a layup.
The ensuing inbounds pass found Vandy's Barry Goheen trapped under his own basket. His feeble outlet went to Chapman, whose layup came nine seconds after Davender's.
With 4:26 left, UK had a 67-65 lead. It was the Cats' first since a 15-13 edge with 10:52 left in the first half.
"(The press) sort of wore them down," Davender said. "In the second half, the press took its toll. Our plan was to press after every made free throw and field goal. We had more depth than they did. Maybe someone is looking over us."
Vandy coach C.M. Newton had a different view.
"We got casual against their press once and it got them back in the game," Newton said. "I don't think we got tired. We had a good transition game most of the time. I kind of liked their press until that seven-point spurt."
Five consecutive points by Chapman, part of his string of seven straight, pushed UK ahead for good. Tied at 69-69 with 3:23 left, Chapman drove the baseline to put the Cats ahead 71-69.
After Vandy center Will Perdue missed the front end of a one-and-one, another baseline drive by Chapman made it 73-69.
UK protected its lead at the foul line. The Cats made eight of a possible 10 free throws in the final 1:54 to clinch the victory.
"I'll always remember my 400th victory," said Sutton, who was presented a commemorative plaque after the game. "I don't know if I've ever worked any harder."
Sutton added that he expected more of the same as the SEC race heats up.
"I would have to think there will be a lot of games like this," Sutton said. "A lot of white-knucklers, nailbiters and down to the wire jobs.
"This one was truly an example of what I'm talking about."
By that, he meant his description of college coaching as "40 minutes of living hell."
As the second half began, Kentucky faced its largest halftime deficit of the season.
Vandy's bread and butter -- good shooting and Perdue's presence inside -- pushed the Commodores to a 39-33 lead at intermission.
Despite a slow start, Perdue poured in 11 first-half points. He missed four of his first six shots, but came on to be the most commanding figure inside.
But foul trouble gave UK reason to believe. Perdue picked up his second and third fouls of the half in a 14-second span late in the half.
His second foul was a charge as he spun to drive on Rob Lock at the 1:58 mark.
With 1:44 left, Perdue tried to block Cedric Jenkins' post-up shot from behind. The third foul came with teammate Frank Kornet waiting to report in for Perdue.
Vandy hit 17 of 28 shots. The barrage included a trio of three-pointers. The third -- a semi-desperation heave by Derrick Wilcox, a sophomore guard from Louisville -- came with six seconds left. It gave Vandy its six-point halftime margin, the Commodores' largest of the half.
While Vandy relied on its strengths, UK had no such luxury. The Wildcat guards, touted often as the nation's best, hardly looked the part. Davender and Chapman combined for 17 first-half points, but hit only seven of 17 shots.
Worse, the pair combined for six turnovers. Officially, UK committed nine turnovers in the half. The Cats were well on the way to surpassing their average of 12 a game this season. A halftime lecture from Sutton cured the turnovers.
"I just told the team to play smarter, but with the same intensity," Sutton said.
Three of UK's first four possessions resulted in turnovers. An angry Sutton called time with 17:25 left to settle his team down.
The timeout had little effect. Turnovers followed in the next two possessions.
"Those five turnovers came so quick, I didn't think we'd ever get a shot," Sutton said.
UK committed only 20 turnovers in its two games against Vandy last season. The Cats had only six in the first game.
Last night's miscues helped keep the Cats in the comeback mode throughout most of the half.
UK did not lead until Davender hit two free throws with 12:17 left. The free throws gave UK a 12-11 lead.
Less than two minutes later, UK fell behind for good. Barry Booker drilled a three-pointer with 10:21 left to put Vandy ahead 16-15. Booker's six three- pointers in the game tied the Vandy record he shares with Scott Draud.
UK could do nothing with the halftime deficit in the second half's opening four minutes.
The Cats' strategy was to take it to Perdue in hopes of drawing a fourth foul. UK's first shot came off Lock's post-up move. His tentative shot missed.
Meanwhile, Perdue did not shy away from contact. He had a blocked shot, a post-up slam and an over-the-shoulder rebound attempt that netted a free throw in the half's first four minutes.
His work kept Vandy ahead by six, 45-39, when a television timeout was called at 16:10.
UK made a serious move and got Perdue's fourth foul in the next three minutes.
Lock's tip-in and a fast-break basket by Davender off Chapman's feed got UK within 45-43.
UK was trailing 50-45 when Perdue picked up his fourth foul. Lock cut to the low-post and used a hesitation fake. Lock was still glued to the floor as Perdue rose to challenge a shot.
When Lock went up, Perdue fell into him. The shot went in and the basket cut Vandy's lead to 50-47 with 13:17 left.
Perdue went to the bench.
"Ed (Davender) had been telling me all night to pump fake and then go up strong," Lock said. "I finally heeded Ed's advice. I don't think he was expecting it."
Surely this was the point at which UK would finally overcome the Commodores.
It was not to be in the next six minutes, even though Perdue didn't leave the bench.
UK got no closer than three in that span. Vandy's three-point shooting was a key.
The Commodores made three of the extra-point bombs in that time. Those three-pointers allowed Vandy to expand its 50-47 lead to as much as 65-56 with Perdue on the bench.
The last of Vandy's nine three-pointers gave the visitors the 65-56 lead.
Ironically, when Perdue returned, UK struck.
The action out on the perimeter of Kentucky's press was the reason.
"We went with it with the idea of getting them tired," Sutton said of the the press. "I do believe Vanderbilt got a little tired. It showed up in turnovers, in missed shots and on the defensive end."
It also showed up in the victory column. UK went to 1-0 in the SEC race.
"On a night when we weren't on top of our game," Sutton said. "That's very, very important when you're trying to win a championship."