Date story published: Wednesday, January 17, 1996
BATON ROUGE, La. -- University of Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino shuffled his starting lineup in hopes of jumping on LSU quickly last night. What ensued was the equivalent of a 500-pound gorilla carrying an anvil under each arm sitting on Dale Brown's Tigers.
Propelled by a record-setting first half, UK romped to a 129-97 victory over LSU. It was LSU's most lopsided home-court defeat.
Pitino started freshman Wayne Turner at point guard in place of Anthony Epps. "I wanted to put pressure on (LSU point guard and team leader) Randy Livingston," the UK coach said. "No one puts more heat on than Wayne Turner."
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That move -- plus quicksilver Derek Anderson at small forward in place of freshman Ron Mercer -- paid immediate dividends. LSU turned the ball over on three of its first four possessions. The debacle was on.
"It was kind of funny because we had some decent ball handlers in there," LSU Coach Dale Brown said. Kentucky was "so quick, they just took us out of our game totally."
Livingston, who suffered what LSU trainer DeAnn Koehler termed "a posterior hip pointer" at Vanderbilt last week, never got untracked (no points, five turnovers).
"I could tell he was really like a little slow," Turner said. "Any chance I had to go by him, I was going to go by him."
Brown pinned his hopes for an upset of No. 2 Kentucky on the series' history of bizarre occurances.
But once more, Kentucky benefited from the bizarre. The Cats scored a school-record 86 points in the first half in putting away LSU. UK led 86-42 at the break, which meant the Cats had outscored LSU by 126 points in the teams' previous 35 minutes and 47 seconds of competition here (LSU led 68-37 with 15:47 left in the Don't-Ever-Give-Up comeback game two years ago).
The one-sided victory extended Kentucky's winning streak to 13 games, the longest since a 14-game string in 1985-86. UK improved to 13-1 overall and 5-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
LSU fell to 9-6 overall and 2-2 in the league.
Antoine Walker led the Kentucky onslaught with a career-high 32 points. He passed his previous high (27 against Rider Dec. 27) with a dunk at the 1:53 mark of the first half.
Walker made 14 of 16 first-half shots. Hard to believe he entered the game in an offensive slump: 23-for-75 shooting (30.7 percent) in the previous five games. "I'd been in a slump so I'd been working on my moves," he said. The precocious sophomore forward also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and had four assists and no turnovers in the half.
"Nah, I've never been involved in anything like it," Walker said of the first half. "It felt great. We wanted to press them. We knew Randy was injured a little bit. He was slow."
The first half made UK's highest point total of the season a certainty (the previous high was 118 against Marshall). The Cats overwhelmed LSU the entire 20 minutes. Suffocating press begat easy layups, which begat more pressure.
Eye-popping first-half statistics resulted:
UK had 16 steals, well on the way to breaking the school record for a game (23 against Mississippi State Jan. 9, 1991 and Tennessee-Martin Nov. 26, 1994). Because the Cats pulled off the press in the second half, they finished with "only" 20.
Fueled by a whopping 23 baskets from the paint, UK shot 67.3 percent.
Six UK players made a total of nine three-point baskets. Jeff Sheppard capped the onslaught with a 25-footer in the final seconds to give the Cats the 86-42 halftime lead.
UK's previous record for points in a half -- 75 against Georgia Feb. 27, 1956 -- was topped with more than two minutes left in the half. Oliver Simmons did the honors with a layup.
"That was about as good as we can play offense in a half," Pitino said. "We're not as good as that. They're not as bad as that. That was a half of a lifetime."
Kentucky's unselfish play especially pleased Pitino. The Cats equaled the school record of 33 assists. UK also had 33 against Mount St. Mary's in the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
As well as Kentucky played, LSU was as inept. Or so it seemed in a half that saw 21 Tigers turnovers and about that many bad shots. Even Ronnie Henderson, the league's leading scorer, was of little help. LSU seemed to forget about Henderson in the frenzy. When he did get the ball, he frantically put up shots. The result: he didn't score until the 12:23 mark and finished the half with eight points.
Walker benefited most from the early breakout. Repeatedly, Kentucky's press turned LSU over, and frequently the resulting conversion was Walker at the basket.
Walker's three baskets in a 26-second span gave Kentucky a 6-0 lead and prompted a LSU timeout with 18:56 left. It also tipped off a UK avalanche.
Five times in the first four minutes UK converted LSU turnovers into points. Walker cracked double digits at the 16:14 mark.
A Cat cavalcade ensued so devastating that one press row wag likened the "action" to a church league game.
Anderson's pretty reverse layup -- his back was to the baseline -- fueled the Kentucky momentum.
It was catching.
Sheppard entered the game at the 13:31 mark. Ten seconds later, he swished a three-pointer. So much for possibly being rusty after the famous sledding incident two weeks ago.
Tony Delk joined the parade of hits with a leaner in the lane. The three- point play moved him past Melvin Turpin on UK's career scoring list.
With 4:37 left, Walker threw in a nifty left-handed baby hook in the lane. Thirty-six seconds later, he put in a nifty right-handed baby hook.
When Walker tossed in a 15-footer at the 3:04 mark, he turned to his defender and said, "Just a little technique, baby."