Date story published: Wednesday, December 28, 1988
LOUISVILLE -- A revived LeRon Ellis and an apparently unprecedented performance Chris Mills led UK to an 85-77 victory last night over Austin Peay.
Ellis led UK with 23 points and an inspired defensive effort that included three blocks and four steals. The performance was in stark contrast to his forgettable game against Indiana last week.
Mills added the first "triple-double" in memory for a UK player: 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
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"I can't say there's never been one, but I can't ever remember one by a Kentucky player," said Cawood Ledford, who is in his 36th season announcing UK basketball.
Three of Mills' assists came when UK desperately needed offensive production.
Once down 65-44, Austin Peay went on a 25-10 run that cut UK's lead to 75-69 with 2:46 left. Austin Peay coach Lake Kelly credited a switch from man- to-man to a trapping matchup zone for the run.
Twice as the lead dwindled, Kentucky called time. After the second timeout, which came at the 2:46 mark, Mills replaced Ellis at the high post and fed Reggie Hanson for two layups.
Then, capping the turnaround, Mills tossed a lob that Ellis converted into a reverse slam that made it 81-69.
That ended Austin Peay's comeback and enabled UK to improve its record to 5-6. Austin Peay fell to 7-5.
"When the defense is attacking, you've got to make them pay for mistakes they make when gambling," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "LeRon wasn't turning (at the high post) and facing up and forcing anybody to cover him."
Asked when he last had a triple-double, Mills said: "I don't know. I'm not sure I ever had one in high school."
Sutton, who expressed relief that his team will play Louisville on Saturday coming off a victory, couldn't remember the last triple-double by one of his players.
"Chris played a whale of a game," Sutton said. "I don't know how long it's been since a player had a triple-double at Kentucky. It's been a while since I coached a player (to have one) at Arkansas and I had great guards at Arkansas who never did that."
As for Ellis, Sutton said: "LeRon played the way we want him to play. We know he's a good offensive player. I was most impressed with his defense and the way he covered the defensive board like a big man is supposed to. I talked to him this afternoon and yesterday and I told him I wanted him to be a better rebounder. If he had played more, he perhaps would have gotten double figures. That was his goal."
Ellis finished with seven rebounds in 29 minutes of play.
Led by Ellis and a tenacious defense, Kentucky threatened to blow open the game in the first half. The Cats never trailed and led by as much as 20 before settling for a 45-30 halftime cushion.
Ellis, maligned for a forgettable eight-point, two-rebound performance against Indiana a week ago, played with a purpose against Austin Peay. At both ends.
"I have more or less seen the light for what I have to do," Ellis said. "Not giving 100 percent was hurting me and my future and for now my teammates. I decided to play for me and my future and for the team."
Ellis scored 19 first-half points, including a turnaround from the low post that established UK's biggest first-half lead, 39-19.
That shot ended an 8-for-9 shooting half for Ellis that included medium- range jumpers and flip shots in the lane as well as more traditional center fare.
Ellis also had six rebounds, two blocks and three steals in the half. Most memorable was a steal he made by knifing into a passing lane at the top of the key and roaring to a two-handed stuff.
Ellis, however, was not alone with active defensive effort. All the Cats overplayed and surrendered few easy shots. Austin Peay made just 10 of 29 first-half shots (34.5 percent), including just two of 13 three-point attempts.
Only Keith Rawls solved UK's defense. Rawls, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, did it mostly with sheer athleticism. Rawls led Austin Peay with 15 first-half points, hitting five of 11 shots from the field. He finished with a game-high 28 points.
In another departure from recent games, UK also controlled the boards. UK won the first-half rebounding battle 24-16, finished with a 34-31 advantage and limited the Governors to five offensive rebounds.
Kentucky made 62.1 percent of its first-half shots (18 of 29). The Cats used backdoor cuts against Austin Peay's man-to-man pressure. UK also displayed the kind of improvisation Ellis said to expect from a new, freer offense.
"We played a horrible first half," said Kelly, who blamed Austin Peay's slow start on fatigue. "We acted like we didn't know what we were doing and we acted a little tired. That concerned me a little. We've had no day off in the last two and a half weeks."
Austin Peay played in a Chicago tournament last weekend, then practiced Christmas and yesterday in preparation for UK, Kelly said.
"We were sluggish," Kelly said, "and that took away our advantage in quickness."
Foul trouble immediately threatened UK's superior position early in the second half.
Ellis picked up two fouls in 21 seconds and went to the bench with four fouls at the 18:19 mark.
Ellis got his third at 18:40 while fighting for a defensive rebound. His fourth came on a post-up charge call that was booed.
After UK expanded its lead to 49-30, Austin Peay closed to 49-35.
"When we had the opportunity to break the game open we didn't seize that opportunity," Sutton said. "Mainly because of carelessness. We played at times as well as we have all year long. At times, we played as poorly as we have all year long. We were very inconsistent."
Mills posted up for two baskets to steady UK. For the fourth straight game, Mills had more than 10 rebounds.
UK's lead was 57-44 when the Cats got the best of am emotional duel between Derrick Miller and Rawls.
The two guards, who had words in the game's first two minutes, had to be separated at a timeout with 13:01 left.
"It surprised me when he cheap-shot me," said Miller, pointing to his jaw. "The coaches grabbed me and told me not to get involved in that."
The crowd roared when Miller's defense forced back-to-back turnovers on passes intended for Rawls. On each, Donald Tivis threw outside while Rawls cut inside.
When Miller hit a three-pointer between turnovers, UK had a 63-44 lead.
A Deron Feldhaus jumper after the second wayward Tivis pass gave UK its largest lead, 65-44, with 11:45 left.
Though Austin Peay rallied to make it close, Kelly saw too many factors working against his team. UK had time to soothe the wounds -- emotional and physical -- from the loss against Indiana. Austin Peay had too little time to prepare and recover from a stretch of five games in the last 10 days.
"I guess I've had 40,000 remarks made to me about Kentucky," Kelly said. "Most of it was, 'Oh, you won't have any trouble up there.' I said, 'Bull- you know what.' Bobby (Knight) would say it differently."
But asked how Austin Peay would fare in a series against UK, Kelly said: "Better than tonight. I'd love to do that."