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CATS SHOW MORE SPARK THAN SPUTTER

Date story published: Thursday, February 12, 1998

Sure, Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith would enjoy putting a game on cruise control. Early lead slowly expanded. No runs (by the opponent). No nits (to pick). No errors.

"There aren't going to be any games like that," Smith said last night, "so why long for it? You want to meet a beautiful movie star. But you can't."

The UK coach made the movie star analogy after another example of how nothing comes easy for the Cats this season.

Even though Tennessee, the worst-shooting Southeastern Conference team, barely made a third of its shots, UK struggled to an 80-74 victory.

A sterling game - more correctly, a sterling half game - by Scott Padgett helped Kentucky prevail in a could-be laugher that never got beyond a nervous titter.

After a scoreless first half, Padgett poured in 17 second-half points. His three three-pointers in the second half fell one short of a career high.

Apparently, a dose of heated negative motivation from Smith at halftime got Padgett untracked.

"He told me to stop playing like an old lady with my injury," Padgett said of the UK coach's halftime rhetoric. "And if I kept playing like that, I'd sit next to him."

Well, Padgett admitted, Smith used a more fiery term than "old lady."

"Basically, he said I was playing like a wimp," Padgett said.

Well, a gimpy wimp. A hip pointer suffered at Villanova Sunday preoccupied Padgett's mind in a nearly invisible first half (no points, two shots, two rebounds, one assist in seven minutes).

"I was just sort of standing around," Padgett said. "I was worried about not doing anything to hurt myself."

In the second half, the junior forward from Louisville did plenty to hurt Tennessee. He scored UK's first eight points, propelling the Cats to a position to fend off UT.

"At the half, with our one, two and three players a combined 4-for-21, we were lucky to be behind by only three points," Tennessee Coach Jerry Green said. "Then they had a spurt in the second half, with Padgett hitting some key threes, and it was pretty much over."

Kentucky improved to 22-3 overall and 10-1 in the SEC. Tennessee, which had a four-game winning streak snapped, fell to 15-6 overall and 5-6 in the league.

Kentucky's first half bolstered Smith's contention that this season's team requires more than fine-tuning. Like a 1952 DeSoto, it needs constant attention.

UK got the fast start Smith called for recently. Whether it was a renewed devotion to the full-court press or more diligent warm-ups, the Cats zipped to an early 14-5 lead.

But Kentucky's poor shooting and - surprise - rebounding helped Tennessee stay close.

It took a circus shot by Jeff Sheppard to give the Cats a 33-30 halftime lead.

UK's bench accounted for much of the scoring early. The subs scored 10 of the Cats' first 14 points.

A three-pointer by Cameron Mills gave Kentucky its nine-point lead with 13:38 left.

But Tennessee scored the next seven points to close within 14-12. Neither team led by four the rest of the half.

Not that a competitive score indicated quality play. With 6:33 left in the half, the two teams combined for as many turnovers (12) as baskets (12).

Nazr Mohammed played a big part in UK's offense. He led both teams with 12 first-half points, and finished with a game-high 21.

Tennessee made only 25.8 percent of its first-half shots, 34.4 percent for the game.

With Padgett leading the charge, Kentucky took control early in the second half. Padgett scored UK's first eight points, including two three-pointers. That marked his first multiple-trey performance since the first Tennessee game. His three three-pointers were a season-high.

"When I hit a three right off the bat, it gave me some confidence," said Padgett, who followed up with a fast-break layup. "Any time you get an easy basket, it gives you confidence. Then I made another three. Then I felt I couldn't miss a shot the rest of the night."

Mindful of his 6-for-19 shooting, Padgett added sheepishly, "Well, I missed a few."

Padgett's sharpshooting gave Kentucky a 41-32 lead with 18:19 left.

Padgett temporarily left the game because of what public address announcer Doug Bruce dramatically called "an open wound."

Padgett's "wound" turned out to be a broken scab on his left knee. He stayed on the bench only 55 seconds. In that time, Kentucky continued to expand its lead to as much as 13 points midway through the half.

Tennessee did not fold. With help from UK turnovers, the Vols closed within six points on three occasions .

It was still a two-possession game when Padgett hit his third three-pointer with 4:13 left to ease the growing tension.

Padgett rode to the rescue one last time with 58.2 seconds left. After Tennessee closed within 73-67, he hit two free throws.

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