Date story was published: Sunday, January 27, 1991
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- At game's end, the scoreboard read Alabama 88, Kentucky 83.
But UK coach Rick Pitino saw three teams in Alabama's "Plaid Palace" yesterday, the third being the declawed Wildcats of the first half.
Those foul-prone Cats trailed 55-42 at halftime. That gave Alabama a lead just large enough to withstand a revived Kentucky press and John Pelphrey's latest demonstration of clutch shooting in the second half.
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With Pelphrey scoring 16 of his game-high 28 points in the final seven minutes, Pitino's Kentucky team -- its press once more on the assault -- reduced a 73-59 deficit to 82-80 in the final minute.
Only Bama free throws, as improbable as UK's comeback, snapped the Cats' 10-game winning streak and sealed the team's first Southeastern Conference loss. UK fell to 15-3 overall and an SEC-best 7-1.
Asked to explain the radically different UK performances, Pitino said, ''Well," then paused for five seconds, exhaled and pointed at the referees.
"We never got to play in the first half," said Pitino, who picked up a costly technical foul, his first of the season. "We got taken right out of the game. We can't blame the officials because it was consistent. It was consistently called like a biddy basketball game. All we ask from officiating is consistency and they consistently called every seventh-grade foul.
"In the second half, they allowed us a little more bumping."
Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson, hoping his struggling team found a pivotal victory, did not argue with Pitino's assessment.
"Probably true," said Sanderson, who declined to elaborate.
The Tide, the SEC's pre-season favorite, now 11-6 overall and 5-3 in the league, clearly did not mind the method of victory.
The referees set the tone early for a closely called game.
Though UK did not open in a press, the Cats had five fouls in the first two minutes.
"I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Jeff Brassow, who picked up his second foul with 18:33 left in the first half. "We really weren't playing that intensely. We were able to play real well the last 10 minutes. If we'd played that way the whole game, we'd probably have won."
Asked if playing on the road hindered UK's ability to press, Brassow said, ''I think so. People know we'll come out and play real aggressive and hard. Sometimes the breaks will go that way. You'll get called for some fouls."
Six Kentucky players picked up two fouls in the first half. One was Reggie Hanson, who played only eight minutes in the half.
With UK's best inside defender on the bench, Alabama's power game took over.
Forward Melvin Cheatum equaled a career high with 26 points, 18 in the first half.
"We were very tentative," Pitino said. "It had been dictated how the game would be called. We were a little tentative and a little complacent because we were afraid of foul trouble."
Pitino's continual irritation with the officiating boiled over at the 6:41 mark. Pitino -- and several occupants of press row -- thought Bama guard Latrell Sprewell stepped over the three-point line on a jumper. When the referees signaled a trey, and Richie Farmer turned the ball over, Pitino ran out to midcourt to argue.
Veteran official John Clougherty hit him with a technical.
Sprewell's trey, Robert Horry's technical free throw and freshman James Robinson's banker made for six straight points, concluding a 11-0 run that gave Bama a 38-26 lead.
Pitino said the technical did not give Alabama momentum.
"It didn't matter," he said. "It was not that play. It was the whole game."
Sanderson said he feared the technical would be a "game turner rounder."
Asked if he meant the referees would begin giving UK a break on calls after the technical, Sanderson smiled and said, "Rick said that. I didn't."
Bama equaled its largest lead of the game with 6:59 left. Marcus Webb's dunk put UK down 73-59.
Pelphrey answered with a three-pointer, then another, then another. Pelphrey made four of his six three-pointers in the final 6:42.
"I just happened to be open," he said. "The big thing was we got out there defensively in the press and got them out in the open floor. They had a tough time matching up. Basically, that's all it was. Not any great thing on my part. Sean (Woods) got me the ball and all I had to do was get it up there."
After a Pelphrey layup reduced Bama's lead to 81-78 with 1:21 left, the Cats fouled the right guy: Sprewell, a 44.4 percent free-throw shooter (eight of 18) entering the game.
Sprewell made the first of a one-and-one, the shot hitting the front of the rim and bouncing off the glass into the basket. He missed the second.
A layup by Hanson cut the Bama lead to 82-80. But the Tide made six of six free throws in the final 17 seconds. Robinson, a 60.8-percent free-throw shooter entering the game, hit two. Horry (75.8) hit two and Gary Waites (76.9) hit two.
"That surprised me," Sanderson said. "If we don't make them, we don't win."