Date story published: Saturday, March 11, 1989
KNOXVILLE -- Shooting, Eddie Sutton had predicted, would decide Kentucky's game against Vanderbilt yesterday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Sutton was right.
Hot shooting carried an inspired UK team to an early 13-point lead. But cold shooting thereafter buried the Cats.
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Vandy won 77-63 and advanced to today's semifinals against the winner of last night's Alabama-Mississippi game.
The Commodores, 19-12, also expected another dividend from yesterday's victory: a NCAA Tournament berth.
"This game was critical considering who we were playing," Vandy guard Barry Goheen said. "It wouldn't have been a crime to lose to a team like UT (Tennessee) here. But to lose to a team like Kentucky would have really made us nervous."
UK, alas, could not avoid its also-ran status. Not that the Cats did not try mightily before losing for the 19th -- and final -- time this season.
Kentucky, 13-19 and mercifully finished for the season, made nine of its first 14 shots. Baskets by LeRon Ellis, showing newfound eagerness to take it to the hoop, began and ended a 16-1 run that pushed UK ahead 21-8. Ellis led UK with 20 points.
Chris Mills, playing despite a painful skin irritation on his back side, contributed a post-up jumper and three-point bomb to the run. Both were part of a miraculous 17-point, 18-rebound performance that defied Sutton's expectations.
"We didn't think Chris would play," Sutton said. "He certainly displayed the courage he's shown all year long."
Asked about the pain, Mills said, "With any movement, there was throbbing pain."
He ignored the pain. A greater hurt, last month's 81-51 loss at Vandy, needed tending to first.
"It's tough coming off a 30-point win," Goheen said. "They came out really motivated."
Trailing 21-8, Vandy called time at the 11:47 mark.
sub graf below "Obviously, we were a little concerned when we fell behind by 13," Goheen said. "Coach (C.M.) Newton told us during the timeout that we'd find out what kind of character this team had. And we really got after them."
The game immediately took on a different complexion. Frank Kornet, the Lexington Catholic High graduate, hit a baseline jumper that began a 20-4 run.
Kornet, who along with Booker scored 17 points to lead Vandy, had four more points in the run.
Booker, part of Vandy's trioka of three-point shooters, hadn't gotten open early. But he hit a pair of three-pointers the rest of the half.
His trey with 2:24 left put Vandy ahead for good at 31-28.
While Vandy hit 53.8 percent of its first-half shots, Kentucky could not find the range after the hot start. After taking the 21-8 lead, the Cats made only four of 22 shots the rest of the half.
"We probably played as well as we can play," Sutton said of the fast start. "Then we just couldn't get the ball in the basket. We got good shots, but we couldn't convert."
UK's worst shooter was its usual best: Derrick Miller. Miller made only one of eight first-half shots and just two of 15 in the game. He finished with five points, his lowest output since scoring just one in the 30-point loss at Vandy.
"I feel I let the team down today by not scoring," Miller said. "I thought I was releasing it right. The shot wasn't falling. Coach Sutton kept saying, 'Keep shooting. It'll fall.' "
Miller's backup, Richie Farmer, missed all four of his shots.
"We dug a deep hole and Kentucky was playing with a lot of confidence," Newton said. "The comeback was triggered by our defensive intensity. Barry Booker hit some key threes, which helped open up the inside on the offensive end. But defense made the difference."
Vandy also beat UK in transition. Kornet's one-handed rebound slam of Goheen's runner put Vandy ahead 33-28.
A nearly identical one-handed rebound slam by Booker gave Vandy a 38-30 halftime lead.
Vandy controlled the early moments of the second half. Goheen's only three-pointer gave the Commodores their largest lead, 58-43, with 12:41 left.
Goheen also provided a light moment when his attempted dunk on the fast break bounced off the rim. The miss was part of his 3-for-10 shooting.
"I have a lot of trouble with depth perception in large gyms," Goheen said. "I never play well here."
Goheen made only four of 12 shots when Vandy concluded the regular season at Tennessee last weekend.
Ellis and Mills fueled a Kentucky comeback.
The Cats cut the 58-43 deficit to 64-57 with 6:39 left. Ellis posted up strong for the basket that cut the deficit to seven.
"I was a little concerned," said Goheen, who noted that Vandy blew a 13- point second-half lead at Florida late in the season. "Unlike at Florida, when we lost our aggressiveness, we didn't this time."
Vandy made nine of 10 free throws to hold back Kentucky.
UK was also hindered by its own shooting. After closing to within 64-57, the Cats made just two of their next 12 shots.
Down 70-61 with three minutes left, the Cats didn't score again until walk-on Chris Jones drove for an uncontested layup at the buzzer. It was his only basket this long, hard season.