Date story was published: Sunday, February 14, 1988
Ed Davender took only a passing interest in Kentucky's deceptively close 82-68 victory over Alabama yesterday.
But, oh how large his efforts loomed.
UK, which blitzed Alabama with a 22-8 run to open the game, looked uncommonly crisp on offense, especially in a 14-assist first half. The Cats finished with 24 assists, one less than the season-high 25 amassed against Alaska-Anchorage.
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Davender, who came into the game averaging about 11 shots a game, contributed 10 assists while shooting but twice.
"I thought in the first half we probably passed the ball as well as we have all season," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "We got the ball in the hands of people who hit the high-percentage shot."
Kentucky's pressure defense wasn't bad either. In the first eight minutes, Alabama had as many turnovers (nine) as shot attempts (nine).
For all practical purposes, the game was over at that point.
The only questions concerned:
What would be the eventual margin? UK led by as much as 60-34 early in the second half. Sutton substituted liberally, beginning with 10:44 left. As Tide coach Wimp Sanderson shook Sutton's hand at halfcourt afterward, he said, "Thanks."
"We were just outmanned and whipped convincingly," Sanderson said. "Eddie was nice to us. I have no alibis, no excuses. We lost to a better team."
What possessed Davender to keep his gun holstered?
"I had a meeting yesterday (Friday) with Coach Sutton," Davender said. The meeting came at Sutton's request, the senior guard said when asked.
"It wasn't like one of those meetings like last week, far from that," said Davender, referring to the "do-better" talk he endured after a half-game suspension against Mississippi Feb. 3 for mouthing off to the coach. "We just talked about things I could do to get us from being a good team to a great team. Sometimes I've shot when a pass could have been made."
What followed was a 10-assist, two-shot afternoon from UK's second-leading scorer (15.8 ppg).
"It will seem weird when people read the stats tomorrow," Davender said. "My game's not changed, just toned. I'm still going to look for my shots.
"Nobody in Brooklyn will believe this. Back home on the playgrounds, nobody passes. You take it to the hole."
But three times in the 1984-85 season, when he was a freshman, Davender took fewer shots. He did not take a shot in his 12 minutes in a 56-54 loss to SMU. Nor did he take a shot in 14 minutes in a 53-43 victory over LSU. He took one shot -- a miss -- in 18 minutes in a 57-45 victory over Mississippi.
"I had a talk with Ed Davender about his role and looking for your teammates," Sutton said. "Even though he only scored four points, he really played a great floor game."
A clue of what was to come came early. As a three-pointer dropped through the basket, Davender pumped a triumphant fist into the air as he backpedaled.
The early three put Kentucky ahead for good at 5-2. The seemingly inevitable Wildcat victory followed a similar pattern. Shots went in. Davender celebrated.
But on this day, the two events were linked only by a pass. Davender did the passing. Others -- most notably Rex Chapman, who hit the go-ahead-for-good bomb, Winston Bennett, who pumped in 25 points, and freshman Eric Manuel, who matched his career-high of 12 points, all in the first half -- did the shooting.
One Davender shot was the result of a pass that Rob Lock fumbled away under the basket. Davender, who retrieved the ball in the shadow of a layup, had to take that one. The other shot? No one remembered, including Davender.
"I thought it was kind of fun to make a good pass and hear the crowd react," he said.
With a little help, Davender could have had a record-breaking afternoon. Eight of his assists came in the first half. UK's single-game record of 14 -- Dirk Minniefield vs. Villanova in 1982 and Dicky Beal vs. Brigham Young in 1984 -- was within reach.
"I came in at halftime and people told me I had eight," Davender said. "Roger Harden told me what the record was. I tried to get it. I didn't get it, but I got my personal record and I feel good about it."
For UK partisans, there was little not to be feel good about in the first 10 minutes. It was then that UK ensured its 18th victory in 21 games and 10th in 13 Southeastern Conference games. Alabama fell to 11-13 overall and 3-9 in the SEC.
When a television timeout was called with 11:43 left, UK led 22-8. An almost flawless offense against Alabama's 2-3 zone was one reason. In that span, Davender fed Chapman for the three-pointer, fed Bennett inside for a basket and fed Manuel for two perimeter hoops.
"Ed did a tremendous job running the club," Bennett said. "He was excellent feeding the players inside. Rob (Lock) and the inside players did a good job fanning the ball back out."
UK had only two turnovers in the first 10 minutes. Neither came off the set offense. Chapman was guilty on both. The first came on a breakaway dunk that wasn't to be. You could almost see Chapman considering what variation to apply to the dunk as he glanced back one last time to check for defenders.
"When I looked behind me, I didn't even hit the ball (on the dribble) and the ball went up to my ear," said Chapman, who fumbled the ball out of bounds.
The other turnover was a risky cross-court bounce pass on the fast break.
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Against UK's pressure defenses, every Alabama pass seemed risky. Many were picked off, including seven in the Tide's first 10 possessions.
"The first nine times we had the ball, we turned it over," Alabama's leading scorer, forward Michael Ansley said. "I don't know if that's right but it seemed that way. We just turned it over time after time after time. It seemed like they just threw a light press on us. But we just couldn't handle it."
Alabama's slim chances of victory evaporated when Ansley picked up his third foul and left the game at the 9:37 mark in the first half.
The rest was the required 40 minutes of play spiced with two highlights.
With 5:15 left in the first half, Manuel roared to a fast-break dunk that had an embarrassing conclusion. Manuel fell flat on his backside after throwing down the two-handed stuff.
"I was simply dunking the ball and I hit my elbows on the glass," Manuel said. "That threw me off balance."
With 18:16 left in the game, UK's other freshman contributor, LeRon Ellis, demonstrated the graceful side to dunking. Bennett's lob from the foul line flew behind Ellis as the freshman rose to the basket. Ellis reached back with his left hand, caught the ball and brought it through the hoop.
"I attribute my good hands to water polo," Ellis said. "In that game, you catch and throw the ball a lot with one hand. I knew I had a chance on that one and the ball happened to sit right in my palm."