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UK ROMPS AS PADGETT FLIES HIGH AS A BIRD

Date story published: Friday, February 7, 1997

In the pre-season, Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino likened Scott Padgett to Larry Bird. Scott Padgett put up some Larry Bird numbers in UK's 82-55 victory over Western Carolina last night. Career-high 23 points. Career-high 13 rebounds. Career-high six assists. Career-high two blocks.

Ipso facto, Padgett is Bird?

Padgett shook his head emphatically. "It's a one-time thing," he said of his statistical bonanza. "It'd be different if it was against Villanova. But this was Western Carolina."

Kentucky outmanned Western Carolina. That was never truer than when Padgett equaled his previous scoring high (16 points) by using a Mutt-and-Jeff 9-inch height advantage to reach over 6-foot point guard Joel Fleming for a rebound put-back.

UK Coach Rick Pitino devoted exactly one second on the victory in his post-game news conference before shifting the focus to Sunday's game against No. 16 Villanova. "We'll see one basketball team with as much talent as any team we've played," he said. "We'll see three players that from what I understand could be drafted in the top 15. They are as physical and as big and as talented as it gets. In order to be ready, we need Jared Prickett back. We can't battle them on the backboards without him."

Prickett sat out a second straight game because of the left ankle he severely sprained in practice Monday. The fifth-year senior never left the bench in Kentucky's 84-79 overtime loss at South Carolina Tuesday.

UK trainer Eddie Jamiel promised to have Prickett ready for Villanova, a skeptical but hopeful Pitino said. Prickett endorsed that prognosis.

"I don't think I'll be 100 percent," he said. "But I'll be back and ready to go."

Although Prickett said he could have played against Western Carolina, Kentucky did not need him.

That UK got little competition from the Catamounts, and discerned few truths from the victory, was fine with Pitino.

"It helped," he said of the glorified workout. "We had a big game on the road (against South Carolina), a bigger game on Sunday (against Villanova). And obviously you don't need another emotionally draining game."

Kentucky (21-3) signaled its confidence at the start. The Cats pressed and played man-to-man defense from the opening tap. No concern about foul trouble, which _-with Prickett and Derek Anderson sidelined - caused UK to retreat into a relatively passive zone for much of the game at South Carolina.

Though Western Carolina hit a couple of shots early and took a 5-1 lead, anxiety never oozed from the crowd. Impatience better described the mood.

Gratification came quickly. A relatively rare four-point play -Allen Edwards fouled on a three-point shot - tied it at 5-5. The Cats took the lead at the 17:56 mark on a Padgett fast-break layup and never looked back.

The Cat lead grew to 20-7 at the 14:07 mark, and reached its first-half zenith at 37-19. Western Carolina got no closer than 13 points in the second half.

"The main thing is that we got the win because we used a lot of energy against South Carolina," Anthony Epps said. "It wasn't pretty, but we got the job done."

Padgett led the way. He flashed his versatility, hitting two three-pointers, posting up for another basket and running the break.

"I believe he can do that against anyone, I really do," Pitino said of Padgett feasting on Western Carolina. "Scott was very active. Scott's gaining more and more confidence. He runs well and passes well when he's not careless. By tournament time, he can be a great player capable of 20 points a game."

Of course, Padgett sat out last season after what Pitino bluntly called "flunking out" after his freshman season. The Louisville native missed UK's national championship season of 1995-96. He worked two jobs during the fall semester, then returned to school as a full-time student in the spring.

"I think there's a huge difference in me as a player and as a person," he said. "I've learned a lot about the game, and a lot about life."

In regaining his eligibility at the semester break, Padgett made the Dean's List, signifying a grade-point average of 3.0 or better, last fall.

"It was tough sitting out," Padgett said. "I knew I could play, but nobody else thought I could."

A hint of Padgett's talent appeared in Kentucky's trip to Italy in the summer of 1995. "He was the second best player on the national championship team that went to Italy," Pitino said. "When he gets the rust off completely on defense and some other areas, he'll be an outstanding talent because he does a lot of things."

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