Date story published: Thursday, December 28, 1995
NEW YORK -- Sports fans love a David-slays-Goliath story. But last night Kentucky reminded lovers of underdogs that it's good to be Goliath, too. Very good.
UK used its superior size and skill to overwhelm a willing if unable Rider team 90-65 in the first round of the ECAC Holiday Festival. In Friday night's championship, the Cats (8-1) will face Iona, a 70-57 victor over St. John's in last night's other game.
Forward Antoine Walker scored a career-high 27 points to lead Kentucky. He had plenty of help inside as UK outrebounded the smaller Broncs 52-38.
The truth be told, UK probably could have beaten Rider from the perimeter or shooting left-handed or even skipping lob passes off the glass.
"What can I say? I'm very, very jealous," Rider Coach Kevin Bannon said, half-joking, about the disparity in talent. "I told Walter McCarty in the tunnel, I'd give you 40 minutes (a game)."
But the Cats' inside attack might pay important dividends down the road.
"It's probably going to be a very good thing for them in the long run," Bannon said. "They seem very determined to establish an inside game and not be so reliant on the three-pointer.
"You always know they'll be a team that can make the three and score in transition off the press. You also need to be confident you can perform well should you get in a possession-by-possession game. This team looks like they're going to be pretty good at that."
Walker was the key to Kentucky's inside game. He dunked. He posted up. He also scored on offensive put-backs. Maybe most pleasing to UK Coach Rick Pitino, his Magic Johnson-loving sophomore took only two three-pointers. Neither went in.
"When he gets inside, he's a heck of a player," Pitino said of Walker. "He loves to score. He has to figure the formula. If you love to score, get inside. If he loves 15 or 16 points a game, stay on the perimeter."
Walker, who also had a team-high eight rebounds, displayed less-than- overwhelming enthusiasm for becoming an inside specialist.
"I'm very comfortable," he said of low-post play. "Eventually, hopefully, I'll get to play outside."
Kentucky needed the gritty inside work on a night when the pretty finesse plays weren't working. McCarty and Derek Anderson missed dunks off lobs.
"We were able to overpower them on the offensive glass because of our size and quickness," Pitino said. "Our offense was shaky because of poor free-throw shooting (11-for-26) and poor passing and missed dunks. We weren't on top of our game offensively."
The first half bore little resemblance to the last time Kentucky played Rider. Two years ago in the NCAA Tournament, UK led 63-24 at intermission.
Last night, UK led 42-34 at halftime. That represented a moral victory for the smaller Broncs.
Tony Delk, who complemented Walker with 24 points, made sure Kentucky got off to a good start. He scored 15 first-half points en route to passing three players on UK's all-time scoring list in a 15-point half.
Delk moved past Rick Robey, Winston Bennett and Kyle Macy in assuming 16th place on UK's all-time scoring list (1,412 points).
Rider's top scorer, Charles Smith, scored 14 of his team-high 20 points in the competitive first half. Rider also kept the game close for a half with five three-pointers.
"They obviously don't have as much talent as we do," Pitino said. "The three-pointer can negate talent."
A lineup change contributed to UK's second-half breakout. Point guard Anthony Epps, who did not start because of a stomach virus, was on the floor as the second half began.
"I thought we had to go inside right away," Pitino said of sitting first- half starter Jeff Sheppard. Epps "is most comfortable passing inside."
Rider was within 10 points a minute into the second half. The Broncs trailed by only 11 more than three minutes into the second half. But inevitably, UK pulled away.