Date story published: Thursday, February 13, 1997
Kentucky fans treated retiring LSU Coach Dale Brown to a polite - and sustained - standing ovation as he marked his final game against the Cats in Lexington. But the fans saved their full-throated cheers for updates on a game in Athens, Ga., last night.
The loudest cheer greeted the announcement that South Carolina lost to Georgia 77-74 (Page B4). With UK's defeat of outmanned LSU taken for granted, the fans knew a Georgia victory cleared the way for Kentucky to win the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division's No. 1 seed.
A career game from guard Anthony Epps spiced a predictable one-sided Kentucky victory. By beating LSU 84-48, the Cats improved to 23-3 overall and 9-2 in the SEC. South Carolina fell to 11-1 in the league. UK and the Gamecocks play in the regular-season finale in Rupp Arena March 2.
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Public address announcer Doug Bruce alerted the crowd to South Carolina's defeat during a timeout with 7:24 left in the UK-LSU game. With Kentucky ahead by 33 points, the game in Athens provided the evening's suspense.
Epps, on his way to career highs for three-point baskets (six) and points (18), wanted to roar with the crowd. But he noticed UK Coach Rick Pitino staring straight at him in the huddle as Bruce made the announcement.
"So I downplayed it," Epps said with a smile. When Pitino looked elsewhere, Epps turned to injured teammate Derek Anderson and said, "It's ours to win."
Epps did much of the scoring to put Kentucky in a nice position. His six treys led a 10-for-29 blitz from beyond the three-point arc that shot holes in LSU's zone defense.
"I was kind of getting into a groove, kind of a Tony Delk night," Epps said in reference to his former teammate and UK's all-time three-point king. "If you're going to play zone (against the Cats), I think you're just digging your own grave."
Epps did much of his scoring after moving from point guard to shooting guard. Wayne Turner took over at the point and used penetrating drives to free Epps for open shots on the wings.
"It's pretty fun playing a 'two' because it takes a lot of pressure off you," Epps said. "If you make a mistake as a 'two,' they're not going to get on you as much as a 'one.' I know how the fans react if you make a mistake as a 'one.' "
Epps felt like a scapegoat only last week when his errant pass at the end of overtime killed UK's chances of winning at South Carolina.
Epps, the part-time shooting guard, handed out four assists to move past Kyle Macy for fourth place on UK's all-time list. He improved his career total to 472.
"It means a lot to me to pass somebody like Kyle Macy," Epps said. "I passed one of the great backcourt players ever to wear the uniform here. Now I'll just get my goal set on passing who I think is my mentor, Sean Woods."
Woods is third on UK's all-time list with 482 assists.
Even with Epps' 6-for-10 shooting from three-point range, the game paled beside many former UK-LSU wars. Kentucky never trailed. LSU, which fell to 9-16 overall, 2-10 in the league and 0-6 on Brown's farewell tour, never threatened.
"I'm really sorry such a phenomenal college series had to end on such a bad ending," Brown said. "We were outmanned. That was obvious from the beginning."
UK's press ate up LSU. The Tigers committed turnovers on five of their first six possessions, and nine of the first 11. LSU, which came into the game averaging 17.2 turnovers in league play, had 17 at the break and 26 in the game.
Pitino saluted Kentucky's defense. It was LSU's second lowest point total against UK since 1960. But otherwise, the Cats failed to meet Pitino's objective: sustaining the bravo performance that humiliated No. 16 Villanova on Sunday.
"Emotionally, you kind of expect it," Pitino said of the dip in intensity. "This game really wasn't a well-played game. There were too many turnovers by both teams (45). Certainly it wasn't the performance of the Villanova game, by any stretch."