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CAT THRASH FEVER RAGES ON

Date story published: Friday, March 22, 1996

MINNEAPOLIS -- You knew Kentucky had it going when Oliver Simmons -- yes, red-headed freshman Oliver Simmons -- swished the first three-point shot as a collegian.

"You have to feel real confident when a guy comes off the bench cold and hits it," teammate Derek Anderson said. "It's like seeing someone win the lottery."

Simmons' three-pointer came in an incredible first-half run that saw 13 straight UK shots go in and Utah go out of the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky battered Utah 101-70 to roar into Saturday's Midwest Regional finals against Wake Forest.

UK did not merely beat Utah, ranked 12th in the most recent Associated Press poll. The Cats dominated Utah like Bob Dole dominated his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. Only more so. UK did not have a New Hampshire misstep.

"We just came out of the gate incredibly," Simmons said. "We came out and left them."

Kentucky (31-2) never trailed in tying North Carolina for the lead in all- time college basketball victories (1,647).

Keith Van Horn, Utah's second-team All-American, did his part. His 23 points led the Utes and showed he had recovered from last week's viral infection. But his teammates looked sick.

It was not even competitive. Utah (27-7) had lost six previous games by a collective 27 points.

"I didn't want to say this in front of the players, but we were intimidated," Utah Coach Rick Majerus said.

Rightly so. "If we played them 90 more games, we would probably lose 89 more times," Majerus said.

Kentucky dominated the first half from start to finish and from baseline to baseline. The Cats led by double digits less than six minutes after tipoff, by 21 -- 40-19 -- barely nine minutes into the action.

Halftime brought a merciful respite to the carnage. Kentucky led 56-34.

The Cats bent, folded and multilated the pride of Utah's game, the Utes' defense. Utah had allowed an average of 62.7 points a game (17th best nationally). But as Majerus said Wednesday, the Utes hadn't played any team like Kentucky. It showed.

Kentucky simply looked awesome. UK shot past the average score for a Utah opponent less than a minute into the second half.

"They kind of catered to us," UK freshman Wayne Turner said. "They let us score and let us set up the press."

That in turn enabled Kentucky to keep the tempo faster than Utah preferred.

Point guard Anthony Epps lit the fuse. Less than three minutes into the game, he had already matched his career high of three three-poiners in a game.

"It doesn't become easier after that," UK Coach Rick Pitino said. "But everyone relaxes. Really, the game was decided in the first few minutes."

Shortly after Epps' long-range baskets, the Cats scored on 13 consecutive possessions to remove what little mystery remained. During a span of five minutes and 46 seconds, UK scored 29 points.

"When a team gets on a roll, you just slide into your position," Simmons said. "My shot just felt so natural."

How hot was Kentucky?

On the eighth straight scoring possession, Allen Edwards swished a three- pointer. It was his seventh of the season.

Even that paled when describing how hot the Cats were. Simmons' three- pointer at the 11:32 mark brought Anderson and Walter McCarty out of their seats. Never mind slapping palms. Anderson and McCarty slapped bodies.

Of course, there was plenty of highlight material. Tony Delk, who chipped in 14 points, cut into the lane and threw down a one-hand dunk. Antoine Walker, who led UK with 19 points, ducked under a Utah defender for a pretty hang-in-the-air layup.

Kentucky's offensive feast contrasted with Utah's point famine. The Utes scored more often -- make that less infrequently -- by beating the press than on its half-court set offense.

Center Michael Doleac, a player central to Utah's hope of using its size to compete with Kentucky, struggled to score nine points.

Swingman Brandon Jessie, the Utes' only other double-digit scorer (14.3), had twice as many turnovers (four) as baskets (two). Jessie, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ron Jessie, did not score until he hit a jumper in the lane with 15:58 left in the second half. He finished with four points.

"It was kind of surprising to go up by 20 points against a top-ranked team," Delk said. "Then again, at our peak, nothing's surprising."

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