Date story published: Thursday, January 26, 1989
A fight to the finish it wasn't. Kentucky, as expected, handled the Southeastern Conference's worst team, Auburn, winning 86-76 last night.
Still, what was deemed a fight broke out in the final minute anyway, capping an unusual finish to a routine victory.
"We played a good basketball game until late," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "With a couple of pink elephants and a couple of clowns we'd have a circus out there. It got a little wild."
Except for the final 10 minutes, UK dominated as expected to stay in the SEC race. The Cats improved to 10-9 overall and 5-2 in the SEC. UK is now tied for second with Tennessee, which lost 87-85 in overtime at Alabama.
Louisiana State took the lead at 6-2 with an 80-79 comeback victory at Georgia.
Auburn fell to 7-8 and 0-7 in the league.
The last 10 minutes at Rupp Arena included:
Sean Sutton spraining an ankle, preventing UK's point guard from adding to a career-high 13-point game.
The whistle-happy referees calling six fouls in 43 seconds, and 11 in the final 2:27.
Three players being ejected, two for staging a no-punch fight.
Centers LeRon Ellis of UK and Auburn's Matt Geiger were ejected when tempers flared as they rolled on the court grappling for a loose ball. The ejections came with 1:05 left.
The play began with Ellis turning on the low post. An Auburn guard collapsed on Ellis, knocking the ball free.
Ellis and Geiger went to the floor. The two players appeared to object more to the close contact than any exchange of punches.
But their wrestling and angry stares prompted technical fouls and ejections.
"I don't think a lick was swung by either one," Auburn coach Sonny Smith said. "One thought the other was assaulting the other."
Another player, Auburn's Robert McKie, was ejected, too. McKie, who was at the scorer's table waiting to enter the game, was ejected because he came on the floor as the wrestling began instead of waiting to be signaled in by the referees, Smith said.
Ellis and Geiger downplayed the brief altercation.
"It wasn't as serious as it looked," Ellis said. "It was a heat-of-the- moment type of thing. I lost my cool a little."
Added Geiger: "It wasn't a fight really at all."
Still, Ellis and Geiger are subject to the NCAA's new fighting rules. Any future fight this season involving either player will result in a one-game suspension. A third fight for either player will cause an automatic suspension for the rest of the season.
"I wasn't very pleased with the fight," Sutton said. "I explained that in no uncertain terms. There's no place in basketball or athletics for fighting."
Sutton brought the team in a circle in the locker room after the game and delivered individual congratulations, Ellis said.
Ellis, however, did not get one.
"He told me, 'No more fighting,' " Ellis said. "I don't know if he thought I had a good game or not."
An ankle sprain cut short Sean Sutton's very good game. He limped off with 9:38 left after a freakish collision near the foul line caused Sutton to turn his ankle. "It kind of flipped over, twisted over," he said of the ankle. "Then I fell down."
Even more freakish play followed. UK's until-then well-run offense deteriorated.
"That gave a good indication he's the glue that keeps the team together," Eddie Sutton said of Sean. "He wouldn't have let it get that wild."
Also adding to the confusion was Sutton's wholesale substituting. At one point, the UK lineup was Mike Scott, Chris Mills, Richie Farmer, Johnathon Davis and John Pelphrey. The latter made his first appearance since the Indiana game. Pelphrey had been out with a stress fracture in his left foot.
Davis had played only 11 minutes before last night. He logged eight minutes against Auburn, grabbing five rebounds. He had totaled only four rebounds in six cameo appearances earlier in the season.
UK's bench outscored Auburn's substitutes 23-12, but Sutton noted, "That probably won't happen much in the future."
Fueled by runs of 11 and 10 straight points, UK established a 45-28 halftime lead.
Although the Cats started slowly, trailing 10-9 after six minutes, a Kentucky victory seemed inevitable.
Both coaches credited UK's man-to-man defense, which forced Auburn to abandon plans to slow the tempo to a crawl.
"We were concerned Auburn would try to spread the floor like last year and keep the game in the 50's," Sutton said. Auburn upset UK 53-52 at Rupp last season. "Early, our defense was very active. We were probably as good on defense as we've been all year long."
The Cats dominated in all areas. UK outrebounded Auburn 41-33. UK outshot Auburn 53.4 percent to 40.7.
Only Keenan Carpenter and Geiger solved UK's defense. Carpenter simply stood outside the Cat defense and fired. He hit six three-pointers and led all scorers with 30 points. Geiger worked inside for 18 points and seven rebounds.
UK took control shortly after Auburn's leading scorer, Geiger, departed with two fouls. Geiger, who entered the game averaging 18.5 points, left at the 15:47 mark.
Little more than a minute later, UK went on a 10-0 run that lifted the Cats into a 19-10 lead.
Reggie Hanson got it started on a play that typified the sloppy half. Mills went in for a layup, but apparently slipped and got off a weak flip that barely hit the backboard. Hanson grabbed the loose ball and banked it in.
Five straight points by Derrick Miller, who had an itchy trigger finger throughout the half, made it 16-10. Miller led UK with 16 points.
Sean Sutton finished the run with his second three-pointer. Sutton had hit only three of 11 three-pointers (27.3) before making two of three in the first half. He finished with three-of-four shooting from three-point territory.
"I knew there'd be a night they'd fall," Sean Sutton said. "I'm not worried about missing anymore."
An 11-0 run later in the half gave Kentucky its largest lead: 37-17.
Auburn got as close as 41-28.
Any Auburn comeback hopes died early in the second half. The Tigers missed their first five shots, while UK had trouble missing . . . even when not intending to shoot.
A Mills three-pointer began a 7-0 UK run at the start of the second half.
Sutton completed the run when his lob pass intended for Ellis banged off the rim and fell through. That pass-basket gave UK its largest lead: 52-28.