Date story was published: Thursday, January 14, 1988
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It wasn't a resounding comeback from last Saturday's surprise defeat, but Kentucky had no problems accepting a hard-fought 63-55 victory over Alabama last night.
"We didn't win," UK assistant coach Jimmy Dykes said afterward, "we survived."
The victory, which put UK into second place in the Southeastern Conference, wasn't secured until the final four minutes.
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In that time, the Cats broke from a 54-52 lead. Rob Lock's two free throws and Rex Chapman's baseline jumper finally gave UK breathing room.
But on this night, nothing was safe. Leading 59-55, Cedric Jenkins and Winston Bennett missed the front end of one-and-ones.
Also typical of the game, Alabama couldn't take advantage. Leading scorer Michael Ansley rushed a turnaround jumper and missed. Then Craig Dudley missed a three-pointer.
When Chapman hit two free throws with 34 seconds left, UK led 61-55 and had the victory in hand.
Alabama used the same strategy that helped Auburn beat UK 53-52 Saturday. The Tide tried to slow down the pace on offense and fall back into a zone on defense.
"We played exactly as I wanted," Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson said. "We shortened the game and had a chance to win at the end. We had a darn good game plan."
UK improved to 11-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC because its pressure defense forced a faster tempo. In that respect, it wasn't a repeat of the death waltz against Auburn.
Louisiana State held first place at 3-0 after beating Tennessee last night.
"We played a lot better (than against Auburn)," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "We were horrible against Auburn. We made mistakes, but I think the effort was there."
Alabama, falling to 8-7 overall and 0-3 in the SEC, barely held together early in the face of UK's defensive pressure.
But the Cats showed little patience on offense. Except for transition baskets off steals, UK hardly shot better than the 34.4 percent it had in Saturday's loss to Auburn.
By halftime, it was obvious UK's defense had risen from the ashes of last Saturday.
But the Cats' shooting didn't follow suit, leaving Kentucky with a precarious 29-22 lead at intermission.
The first six minutes were a blueprint for the half. In that time, UK's set offense struggled. The Cats got only one basket from its halfcourt game in that time. It was a layup off an inbounds pass by Bennett, who played a courageous 36 minutes. Bennett missed practices Monday and Tuesday because of a virus.
"I didn't feel good at all," Bennett said. "This may have been the best thing for me: run hard."
Three steals produced seven points and propelled Kentucky to a lead it was able to protect throughout the game.
Ed Davender picked Alabama point guard Craig Dudley and sprinted to a layup that tied it at 2-2. Fifteen seconds later, Chapman took a pass that went through Bryant Lancaster's hands and was off to a go-ahead layup.
After Bennett's layup, a gamble by Davender paid off in three more points. Davender left his man and took the ball from Chapman's man, Lancaster. Again, Davender was off to a layup, this time being fouled by Lancaster.
The three-point play pushed UK ahead 9-4.
Bama hung tough with good rebounding -- a 15-12 edge in the half -- and UK's cold shooting.
The Cats made 11 of 23 shots in the half, but three baskets came off steals. A fourth was Eric Manuel's layup. On the play, Rob Lock was stripped on a move to the basket. The loose ball found its way to Manuel under the basket.
The basket was Manuel's only one of the half.
"I think he played nervous," Sutton said. "His man (freshman Melvin Cheatum) scored the first basket."
In a surprise, Manuel started at forward. The press had been alerted that Richard Madison would start.
"I just wanted to give him an opportunity," Sutton said of Manuel. "After grading the film (of the Auburn game), Richard and Cedric made quite a few mistakes.
"I thought Richard competed a lot harder tonight."
Neither Manuel nor Madison made much of an impact in the first half. Except for his layup, Manuel only touched the ball twice in the half-court offense. Both times he passed the ball around the perimeter.
Such passing was at a premium, however. In a throwback to the 53-52 loss to Auburn Saturday, the Cats seemed in a hurry to shoot. Seven three-pointers launched over the Alabama zone defense were an indication of UK's impatience. The Cats made just one, by Davender, which shot UK into an 18-12 lead.
For the game, UK shot 16 three-pointers. Three were made.
"We'd get a seven or nine-point lead and not milk the clock," Sutton said. "We shot too quickly at times. Perhaps we'll learn."
When the lead was cut to 22-20, Alabama came up empty on four straight possessions. Two turnovers, Lock's block of freshman Gary Waites' layup attempt and a five-second violation stymied the Tide.
UK proceeded to outscore Alabama 7-2 in the final 2:55 to take a 29-22 halftime lead.
The second half opened with more of the same: good UK defense and Bama's inability to capitalize on opportunities.
Bennett made a steal off the press and fed Davender for a layup that gave UK a 31-24 lead.
The lead was 33-28 when Alabama missed back-to-back layups by Askins and Ansley. After Ansley's miss off a post-up move, Sanderson raised his arms heavenward.
"How those layups came out I'll never know," Sanderson said.
UK's lead was 35-32 when the Cats went on a 9-2 run to build its largest lead, 44-34.
Again, defense played a part. After Bennett made two free throws, Davender made a steal and fed Madison for a dunk.
A three-pointer by Davender and his fast-break layup pushed the lead to 44-34.
A spurt by Chapman kept the lead at 10. After missing a three-pointer, Chapman raced downcourt to block Lancaster's layup attempt. The block ricocheted out to near mid-court, where Madison grabbed it and went in for a left-handed slam. The dunk put UK ahead 48-38.
Chapman began limping after Madison's dunk and left the game with 10:19 left.
"I came down on somebody's foot," Chapman said of his sprained left ankle.
He returned at the 8:41 mark. Less than a minute later, he hit a three- pointer that put UK ahead 53-44.
Still, Alabama wouldn't go away. The Tide got several uncontested shots.
After Dudley made a layup cut the lead to 53-46, UK called time with 7:26 left to strengthen its defense.
But UK's quick-on-the-trigger offense remained a problem.
With UK nursing a 50-44 lead, Chapman fired a three-pointer. It went in.
But when Alabama closed to 53-48, Chapman fired another. When it missed, Sutton waved his arms across his chest, signaling it wasn't the time to shoot three-pointers.
Both teams continued to squander chances. Lock badly missed a fadeaway 10- footer, then was called for a curious charge as he backed into scoring position from the baseline. The call erased his layup and a possible three- point play.
Waites bounced the ball off his foot and was called for a 10-second violation before he could get across the mid-court line.
The turnover came with UK ahead 53-50.
It was a lead UK did not give away. Or was Alabama unable to seize the moment?
"We played a lot harder," Chapman said. "We still didn't play that well, but as long as we came away with a win, I'll take it."