Date story published: Monday, January 27, 1997
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -Maybe Cameron Mills suffered a recurrence of his amnesia and forgot just who he was. Kentucky's seldom-used stand-still jump shooter hits a pull-up leaner in the lane? He drives to the hoop for a three-point play? Against Arkansas, arguably the most athletic team in the Southeastern Conference?
Or maybe Wayne Turner hit on the reason Mills suddenly played well and Kentucky continued winning without its best player, Derek Anderson.
"I look at it as 'OK, it's my turn,' " Turner said.
That can-do assurance enabled resourceful Kentucky to find as many solutions as there were obstacles on its path to victory. There were plenty of both.
No Anderson. No Ron Mercer, at least the Mercer called "our sophomore All-American" by Rick Pitino. No friendly home court (Pitino called Bud Walton Arena the third-most hostile atmosphere in college basketball). No clutch free-throw shooting. No. No. No.
Six Kentucky players - including Turner and Mills - achieved a collective 18 career highs.
And like air rushing to fill a vacuum, Kentucky beat Arkansas 83-73.
"This is as special a win as it gets," Pitino said. "We're overly delighted. Certainly we needed big performances from the team in order to get this done."
The Cats, 18-2 overall and 6-1 in the SEC, posted the school's first victory at Arkansas in Pitino's tenure as coach. Then they declared the victory a signal that Kentucky can win a second straight national championship.
"Everybody was questioning us, saying Derek's out and Kentucky is not a contender," point guard Anthony Epps said. "We still have got our goal set of going to Indianapolis no matter who plays or who doesn't."
Added Scott Padgett, another in UK's long list of fill-in-the-name heroes: "I think people wrote us off, saying since Derek got hurt, we'd have a good season but not be a contender."
Before the game, Pitino did not so much challenge the rest of UK's players to rise to the occasion as assure them they could. "You don't get a scholarship to Kentucky if you're any Tom, Dick or Harry," he said. "Yes, you may have lost your best player. But you all have tremendous talent or you wouldn't have a scholarship to Kentucky."
Kentucky's defense did not so much rise up as continue on the same stingy plateau. The Cats limited Arkansas to 40.6-percent shooting. The Hogs committed 25 turnovers, almost double the 13.8 they had been averaging in SEC play.
"When you have a great defensive team, it's a collection of people," Pitino said in declaring UK's defense as solid as when Anderson played. "It's not an individual. We really miss Derek on the offensive end and certainly in the press with his steals. But defensive is a collective effort."
Arkansas (10-6, 4-3) credited Kentucky's defense as the difference.
"Kentucky made every one of our shots difficult," said Pat Bradley, who scored 10 points, five below his team-leading average. "They challenge you every time down the court and force you to make a play. You can't just sit back and hope to shoot."
Even Tarik Wallace, who led the Hogs with five three-pointers and 16 points, found UK's defense stifling. "My shots weren't from the offensive set," he said. "They were causing me to play one-on-one. I was hitting my shots but when you cause a team to play like that, it takes them out of their offense. Their pressure caused all our problems."
Pitino singled out Turner as Kentucky's key individual. "You could name a lot of guys who played terrific," the UK coach said. "Padgett in the first half. Nazr (Mohammed) overall. Without question, the difference in the game was Wayne Turner. Every loose ball on the board, he came up with. He was very active defensively. He ran the team. When we were losing it, he made every big play in the open court to enhance our lead. I thought he played like a superstar."
With Arkansas struggling to score when not on the fast break, Kentucky had only to gear up its balky offense to take control. That came late in the first half when, after missing six of its first seven three-point shots, UK swished three in a minute and 20 seconds to take a 37-26 lead.
Kentucky extended its lead to as much as 44-32 early in the second half. Arkansas closed within 48-46, but got no closer. Turner scored nine of his 11 points thereafter. He also made one of his five career-high steals.
"Coach told us, 'You've got to be aggressive; take some risks,' " Turner said. "That boosted my confidence. He said he doesn't recruit nobody who can't play at Kentucky. I believe he's a man of his word."