Date story published: Tuesday, December 10, 1996
A David-and-Goliath storyline makes for compelling competition. But only if David wins as Kentucky and Wright State illustrated last night.
Goliath, er, Kentucky merely fulfilled its scheduled obligation by beating Wright State. The Cats all but chose the 90-62 final score. Ho-hum came two days after a hum- dinger, the smashing of rival Indiana by a similar score Saturday.
When asked to describe the difference in his degree of satisfaction in the two one-sided victories, UK senior Derek Anderson turned into Harpo Marx. He reached into his bag for a prop: a can of Degree deodorant.
After reporters laughed, Anderson answered the question.
"If the talent's not good, if you don't score 150 points and break all kinds of records, you can't tell much about your team," he said.
UK (6-1) could not avoid beating Wright State. After a mentally and physically grueling six-game stretch to start the season, the Cats understandably did not look magnificent doing it.
Even Coach Rick Pitino, whose Type A+ personality once drove him to leave a team huddle to correct a maintenance man fixing the faulty shot clock at the Southeastern Conference Tournament, sounded as empathetic as Dr. Joyce Brothers.
"We got after the game what we wanted, which was a 'W,' " said Pitino, who dutifully noted his team's generous defense (Wright State had nine three-pointers) and season-high 22 turnovers. "Normally you'd get upset. I've done that in the past. I don't think that accomplished too much. Under the circumstances, we're pleased with the win."
Wright State, 1-1, suffered its most lopsided defeat in 50 games, but interim coach Jim Brown did not complain.
"I had a vision watching tape we wouldn't even score a point," he said. "So I'm proud of our kids."
Kentucky asserted its dominance from the beginning. Nine seconds after UK won the tip, Ron Mercer swished the first of a career-high five three-pointers. That began a first half that saw the Cats make 10 treys. Mercer and Anthony Epps led the way with four each.
Wright State's defense dictated a three-point assault. The Raiders packed a zone into the lane and dared (invited?) Kentucky to shoot from the perimeter. So one-sided was what passed for competition, the Cats probably could have worked effectively inside anyway. But UK went ahead and shot threes.
"Our unselfishness got us a lot of good shots," Pitino said. "All those threes were unchallenged."
Kentucky did not attempt a shot inside the arc until the 14:47 mark. UK's first five baskets were three-pointers, a blitz that enabled the Cats to assume a double-digit lead less than four minutes into the game. UK's advantage steadily increased to 56-29 by intermission.
Kentucky's man-to-man defense dominated at the other end. Wright State had 16 first-half turnovers. UK had 10 first-half steals, and several contributed to an almost five-minute stretch that saw Wright State get only two shots to the rim. One went in.
During that time, UK stretched its lead from 21-11 to 36-13.
With the outcome decided, the second half served as a quest for highlight film material. Two plays probably made the grade:
* Jared Prickett threw a nifty behind-the-back pass that gave Nazr Mohammed a layup.
"It was sort of instinct," said Prickett, who had a career-high seven assists. "It seemed like the fastest and easiest way to get it there. I'm glad it hit because I'd hate to hear what Coach would say if it didn't."
* A 12-second span starring Mercer. He made a three, then intercepted a pass in the press and then passed to Epps, who tossed up a lob that Mercer one-handed through the hoop.
Mercer may have been one of only two people in Rupp Arena not impressed. "I just caught it and put it in," he said.
But you had to reach back for the pass and somehow guide it, oh, 5 or 7 feet to the hoop?
"When I catch a lob, I put it back anyway," Mercer said with a shrug. "So I was in good position."
The other unimpressed person in Rupp? Pitino.
"One of our weaknesses at home is we try to perform rather than play," he said. "In the first half, we really tried to play. We didn't worry about performing.
"You can't be on them about every little thing. You've got to let them get the win and concentrate on the next game. That's what we'll do."