Date story was published: Wednesday, January 30, 1991
AUBURN, Ala. -- Hit the critical three-pointer. Make the steal. Make the clutch free throws.
Once more, Kentucky responded to basketball's version of a two-minute drill like a bunch of Joe Montanas.
"This was a big win in our run for the championship," Coach Rick Pitino said after UK beat Auburn 89-81 last night. "We said before the game this was pivotal for us to win the SEC championship."
UK improved to 16-3 overall and a Southeastern Conference best 8-1 at the halfway mark of the league's 18-game round robin.
"This was a road game we had to have because we're going to LSU, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt," Pitino said. "We had to get this one."
On the flip side, Auburn fell to 0-5 at home in the SEC and found little comfort in coming close.
"This was a backbreaker, a heart breaker," Coach Tommy Joe Eagles said. "Like somebody stuck a knife in our heart and twisted it."
Auburn fell to 10-8 overall and 3-6 in the SEC.
John Pelphrey and Jeff Brassow made the big plays to spark UK in the final two minutes.
Pelphrey hit two free throws with 1:53 left to give UK the lead for good, then stole John Caylor's telegraphed 20-foot pass inside.
"I don't think he saw me," Pelphrey said.
Brassow made Pelphrey's steal pay off when he hit a three-pointer off Sean Woods' penetration. The shot from in front of the Kentucky bench gave the Cats an 83-78 lead with 1:03 left.
"For someone who wasn't having an on-night, it took a lot of guts to take it," Pitino said. "I'm glad he did because it was icing on the cake for us."
Brassow, who had 10 points, said he felt compelled to shoot despite missing seven of his previous 10 shots.
"I think I'd missed a couple earlier from the same spot," Brassow said. "Actually, I didn't think about it. I saw my man was off me a good five to six feet and I just shot it. And thank God it went in."
UK sealed the victory by hitting six of six free throws in the finals 39 seconds.
Kentucky led 45-42 after a seesaw first half.
Ronnie Battle burned Kentucky early with his quickness. Battle had a hand and a quick first step in 13 of Auburn's first 19 points.
Battle scored eight points, flashing by Pelphrey, then Brassow for uncontested shots.
"We weren't guarding him for that," Brassow said. "We were more concerned with stopping the three, and he'd go past us."
Battle also passed for two baskets: a Wesley Person three-pointer and a Robert McKie layup.
Battle propelled Auburn to its largest lead of the half, 21-12. Person finished the early run off with two free throws.
Down 19-12, UK called time with 13:04 left.
The Cats slapped on the press and got immediate dividends. Auburn's back- up point guard, former walk-on Champ Wrencher, turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions. Those turnovers sparked a avalanche of miscues. Auburn turned the ball over six times in a four-minute span. The mistakes fueled a 14-2 UK run that tied it at 26-26.
Deron Feldhaus and Richie Farmer scored six points each on the run.
Two heady plays by Pelphrey helped Kentucky establish a 39-32 lead with 3:45 left.
Twice Pelphrey knifed inside and rebounded Reggie Hanson's missed free throws and banked in baskets.
With UK seemingly on the verge of a breakout, Auburn countered.
Person hit three straight baskets, completing a 16-point first half. The half represented an SEC-high for Person, who had made just six of 25 shots and scored 16 total points in his last three games. He finished with a game-high 22.
UK opened the second half by missing six straight shots. Auburn tied it at 45-45.
But the Cats got the three-point shooting machinery working. Five of UK's next seven baskets came on three-pointers. UK made eight of 18 second-half three-point attempts.
"It won that game," Pitino said of the three-pointers. "We stole that game because of the press and the three-pointers."
Feldhaus hit three, including back-to-back treys that quieted the crowd and established a 64-54 lead, Kentucky's largest. Feldhaus made all four of his three-point attempts and led UK with 17 points.
"I'm confident," Feldhaus said. "I'm shooting the three everyday and improving every day. I'm as confident in the last month as I ever have been."
Feldhaus ended the night 17-for-31 from three-point range in SEC play.
Auburn rallied after a timeout and the teams played evenly over the final 11 minutes.
When Wrencher's two free throws made it 71-68, Pelphrey hit a three- pointer of NBA lengths off an inbounds pass.
"It's supposed to be a foot behind the college three-point line," Pitino said. "He was three feet past the NBA line. But I'd rather he take that rather than pass to a defensive player's hands."
Two of Pelphrey's seven turnovers helped Auburn tied it at 78-78 with 2:09 left.
From there, UK made the big plays.