Date story was published: Thursday, January 25, 1990
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn's Derrick Dennison played a hunch last night, and for the second straight season hit the jackpot against Kentucky.
With the game tied in the final 20 seconds, Dennison intercepted a Sean Woods pass intended for Derrick Miller.
Dennison was fouled by Woods on a resulting dunk attempt. His two free throws with 13 seconds left gave Auburn a 72-70 lead.
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After Woods missed a leaner near the basket, Auburn was back at the foul line to clinch an improbable 74-70 comeback victory over UK by scoring the game's last six points.
Kentucky led by as many as 17 in the first half. The Cats seemed set to make the final half a formality, and smash the Southeastern Conference road jinx. Only five visitors had won in the 32 SEC games entering last night's play.
UK coach Rick Pitino did not blame the loss on the SEC's home-court advantage.
"It was a well-officiated game, a very good game," Pitino said. "They deserve a great deal of credit. Certainly, they played better than us. We could have won the game. It was in our grasp. We did not. They executed when it counted, and they should be proud of themselves."
Dennison, a UK nemesis here last season, made the critical play.
"Miller is their money man," Dennison said. "I felt they'd go to him."
UK intended to run a "high pick and roll," Pitino said. "We'd have Sean come off it and find either Derrick or Reggie (Hanson) inside."
Instead, Woods threw "a long pass," Dennison said, making the interception easier. Woods threw the ball from left of the top of the key toward Miller, who was standing on the right wing.
Pitino placed the responsibility for the critical error on Miller.
"Our inability to step to the ball lost it," Pitino said. "The worst (you're supposed) to come out with is a tie in that situation."
Miller, who led UK with 21 points, accepted responsibility.
"I didn't run the ball into my hands," he said. "I didn't know if he'd throw it or not."
Dennison had a key interception late against Kentucky here last season. His two free throws then gave Auburn a 77-75 victory.
Did he think of that moment? "Yeah," Dennison said, grinning. "I did."
The interception capped a standout night for Dennison. The 6-foot-3 senior led all scorers with 27 points. His three-pointer tied it at 68-68 with 1:45 left.
"Tonight was a fine-wine night for Derrick Dennison," Auburn coach Tommy Joe Eagles said. "I've told you before. When he's good, he's like good wine. When he'd bad, he's like vinegar."
Woods came close to getting the points back.
After Dennison's two free throws, Woods rushed upcourt, penetrated the defense and leaned into what Pitino estimated to be a 4-foot banker from the left side.
It bounced off the rim, making Woods 0-for-4 on last-second shots this season. He missed at the buzzer against Indiana, and twice against Southwestern Louisiana (once in regulation and overtime).
Auburn center Zane Arnold, who for the third straight game had a career- high total of rebounds, grabbed the miss.
Arnold, who had 15 points and 18 rebounds, hit two clinching free throws with three seconds left.
Arnold's rebounding propelled Auburn to a 43-27 edge on the boards. "A key stat," Pitino said. "We just got killed on the backboards."
Pitino called three timeouts trying to stem Auburn's second-half comeback. The Tigers trailed 44-30 at halftime.
But he didn't call one in the final minutes with the outcome in question.
"That didn't lose the game," Pitino said. "We ran what we call 'power.' He (Woods) took a good shot."
Kentucky dominated early, but Auburn outplayed the Cats at crunch time.
"As good a comeback as I've been a part of," Eagles said. "We had plenty of opportunities not to play."
UK fell to 8-9 overall and 4-4 in the Southeastern Conference.
Auburn improved to 6-11 and 3-4.
Shooting was another key. UK hit 56.7 percent of its first-half shots to Auburn's 35.7. Besides seven extra baskets, the Cats also had more chances to set up their presses.
But the percentages were nearly reversed in the second half. Auburn made 51.5 percent of its second-half shots. UK's accuracy fell to 35.1 percent.
Eagles credited Auburn's defense, which held UK to 26 second-half points.
"With our ability to defend, we were able to rebound misses and run our break," Eagles said. "In transition tonight, we were awfully good."
Fewer baskets limited a UK press that wasn't very effective to begin with.
"We are a team that forces a lot of turnovers," Pitino said. "We were unable to force a lot of turnovers tonight to create scoring off our defense."
The SEC's much-discussed home-court advantage didn't seem very terrifying in the first half.
Kentucky, which hasn't won away from Rupp Arena all season, had a 44-30 lead at intermission.
UK got two breaks before the opening tipoff.
John Caylor, Auburn's leading rebounder (7.3 rpg), did not dress. Caylor hyperextended a knee last week, and had been listed as possible.
Break No. 2: At tipoff, Memorial Gymnasium was half full at best. The attendance was listed at 8,633. Capacity is 12,500.
UK's quick start quieted what crowd was there.
The Cats hit their first five shots to take a lead they didn't surrender until Dennison hit two free throws with 9:45 left.
UK's largest lead was 40-23. Dennison kept Auburn close, scoring 10 straight points in one stretch.
Trying to halt Auburn's comeback, Pitino called three timeouts in the first 11 minutes of the second half.
Defensive errors were being made, Pitino said, including doing things incorrectly on inbounds plays. Auburn had two three-point plays and a layup off inbounds passes in the second half.