Date story published: Sunday, March 3, 1996
In the final minute of Kentucky's 101-63 victory over Vanderbilt last night, Walter McCarty attempted to capture the moment and the season with a single gesture.
He took a broom from a Committee of 101 usher and started sweeping. Yes, Kentucky completed the first perfect sweep through the Southeastern Conference since 1955-56. The Cats' sweet 16 league victories came by an average margin of 24.2 points.
But as McCarty's broom neared Rick Pitino's feet, the UK coach demurely shook his unsmiling face from side to side in an unmistakable signal to whisk that broom out of here. Pitino still remembers one of his New York Knicks teams celebrating a 4-0 playoff victory over Philadelphia by waving brooms. The gesture drew criticism. Worse, the Knicks lost the next series to the Chicago Bulls.
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"He wasn't too excited about it," McCarty said. "We did away with it quick."
The same could be said of how Kentucky did away with Vanderbilt. Quick.
The Cats led 7-0 before Vandy got the ball across midcourt. That assured the expected glitter of accomplishments this Senior Night. UK (26-1 overall) also equaled the school record for consecutive victories in a season with its 25th straight. The record can be broken Friday when UK plays either Florida or Ole Miss in a redundancy known as the SEC Tournament.
Asked about the Mike Tyson-like start to the game, Derek Anderson quoted teammate Antoine Walker.
" 'Toine' just said it," Anderson said. "We knew we were SEC champs with 15 minutes to go in the first half."
How quickly did Kentucky jump on Vanderbilt? The Cats led 10-0 before Vandy got a shot off (McCarty blocked Malik Evans' dunk attempt). The lead was 13-0 before a Vandy shot hit the rim (Drew Maddux managed that feat with a panicked leaner in the lane at the 17:08 mark.)
Vandy finally moved the zero off its side of the scoreboard with 14:57 left in the first half. Leading scorer Frank Seckar hit a jumper as the shot clock nearly expired.
"We caught them off-guard because we didn't press down there," Walker said. Kentucky didn't press in its 120-81 victory at Vandy on Feb. 7.
"It was a situation where this was a game they were focused for," Vandy Coach Jan van Breda Kolff said. "It showed when they got ahead 13-0."
The game's first play suggested the Cats were on their toes. Anderson immediately exploited a 3-inch height advantage by posting up Seckar for a layup.
Vandy couldn't make the ensuing inbounds pass, the first of two five-second calls against Evans in the first three minutes.
Anthony Epps hit a three-pointer to give UK a 5-0 lead 29 seconds into the game.
UK backtipped the ball away from Seckar on Vandy's next aborted possession. Anderson scooped up the loose ball for another layup. That made it 7-0 Cats just 37 seconds into the game.
Vandy got the ball across midcourt on its next possession but then threw away a pass.
Two Vandy turnovers later, McCarty broke away for a dunk. Not just any old dunk. He spun 360 degrees before throwing it down, signaling UK's superiority and itch to entertain this night.
"I've always wanted to do a 360 in a game," said McCarty, one of three seniors honored in pre-game ceremonies. "There's no better place to get it than Rupp. I thought if I could get it, it'd be at the end of the game. But it came early and really sparked the team."
Another Epps three-pointer made it 13-0 at the 17:34.
"We had our run at the beginning of the game," Pitino said. "Normally, we have it when the other team gets a little tired. It really allowed us to control the tempo. We did it with excellent defense without fouling."
Kentucky's defense erased the remote possibility of a competitive game. Vandy made only six of 29 second-half shots. For almost 10 minutes (from 18:52 to 9:12) the Commodores had only one basket.
Overall, Vandy shot a season-low 30 percent.
"This group had to win with great defense," Pitino said. "I knew we'd have good offense. We've just tried to motivate them the entire season to try to become a great defensive team. They've done a remarkable job from the Massachusetts game on."
Pitino credited Kentucky's 16-0 SEC record to "incredible work ethic, tremendous focus and, obviously, a lot of talent.
"In the regular season, I've had no greater accomplishment. I still don't believe it. Let's face it. We've got great talent. The only way you can do this is with great talent. You can scout all you want. You can be Norman Vincent Peale. The reason you win is talent when you're 16-0."
Just leave the brooms at home.