Date story published: Sunday, January 18, 1998
Arkansas guard Tarik Wallace's shot hung in the air in the dying seconds of the game's 45th minute. Down below, Kentucky forward Scott Padgett braced himself for double overtime.
"You had to grab your heart real quick," he said, "and make sure everything was all right."
Kentucky and Arkansas staged one of their nail-biting, palm-sweating, nerve-wracking specialties yesterday. The game's 142nd and final shot - Wallace's three-point attempt that bounced off the rim -preserved UK's 80-77 overtime victory. It also served as a fitting exclamation point to a game filled with more dramatic twists and turns than the Alfred Hitchcock film canon.
Kentucky rallied from a seven-point deficit with less than eight minutes left in regulation.
Kentucky and Arkansas exchanged leads with clutch - and in UK's case this day, rare - three-point baskets in a 26-second span inside the final two minutes of regulation.
Kentucky, which dominated the rebounding 57-31, tied it at 67-67 on Nazr Mohammed's tip-in with 29 seconds left.
Kentucky dodged defeat when Arkansas point guard Kareem Reid's off-balanced, running 12-footer bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
Finally, with Heshimu Evans coming up big, Kentucky held its largest lead of the day, 78-71, with less than 30 seconds left in overtime. Then Pat Bradley's fifth and sixth three-point baskets left everyone in Rupp Arena and a national television audience focused on Wallace's shot.
"I thought it was a great college game for TV," Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson said. "You didn't have to be a fan of anybody to enjoy it. CBS got lucky.
"We had them in trouble for a minute. There were great shots. Great tips. Great rebounds. A lot of great plays. Sometimes it's too bad one team had to lose."
One man who did not enjoy it (not entirely, anyway) was UK Coach Tubby Smith. Season lows for three-point shooting (just two baskets on 10.5 percent shooting), and assists (10), plus a season-high 22 turnovers soured Smith's enthusiasm.
"I'm concerned, not disappointed," he said. "But I'm happy with the win."
No. 6 Kentucky improved to 16-2 overall and 5-0 in the Southeastern Conference. No. 22 Arkansas slipped to 14-3 overall and 3-1 in the league.
Minutes into the game, Kentucky received two handicaps. Starting small forward Allen Edwards' sore back had not responded to treatment. It limited him to an ineffective 20 minutes. Then with 15:13 left in the first half, starting point guard Wayne Turner picked up his second foul and sat until the second half.
"Well, I don't think that was the biggest factor," Smith said of Turner's foul trouble. "We just couldn't make shots. I'm talking uncontested shots."
UK made only one of nine three-pointers in the half and trailed 40-38 at intermission.
"With the way we were playing, it could have been a lot worse," Smith said.
Bradley and Wallace kept Arkansas in control much of the second half. When UK closed to within 48-47, Bradley hit an NBA-length trey. He finished with a game-high 26 points.
Wallace's free throw put the Hogs ahead 60-53 with 8:19 left.
Padgett sparked a 9-2 run that got UK even at 62-62. He rebounded his own miss inside and bulled between two defenders for a three-point play. "More than anything, that was a frustration play," he said. "I was frustrated because I missed. I got the ball, turned and said 'I don't care what you do, I'm going to score.' "
Turner tied it when he drove through Arkansas' press for a layup with 2:35 left.
Evans snapped a streak of 16 straight UK misses from three-point range with a trey from the left corner with 1:48 left. It put the Cats ahead 65-64 (UK's first lead since the 6:55 mark of the first half).
Wallace, who made only two of 13 three-point shots, answered 26 seconds later with a rainbow trey from the left corner at the other end. "Right in my face," Padgett said. "When he took it, I thought no way he's going to hit that. I'm 6-9. He's 6-2. Right there, you're thinking it's one of those days."
Kentucky tied it at 67-67 when Mohammed tipped in Jeff Sheppard's miss. "As I told our coaches at the time," Richardson said, "all we need is one more rebound, one stop, and we win the game."
Mohammed, who grabbed 13 rebounds, saw that one as routine. "Nothing unusual," he said. "Just the normal box-out, and I tipped it in."
Arkansas did not get the shot it wanted at the end of regulation. "I wanted to get the ball to Pat (Bradley)," Reid said, "but they smothered him. I looked up to the clock and looked over to the bench, and they said take it. There was four seconds left."
Reid dribbled down the right side of the lane and leaned backward for an awkward left-hand shot. "That's Kareem," Richardson said. "He's either going to be the hero or the heel. He makes that shot, the game's over and we're victorious."
"It's a shot normally he would hit," Turner said. "I was saying to myself, 'Please don't make that shot.' "
Reid's miss emboldened Kentucky and deflated Arkansas. Evans put the Cats in control by scoring UK's first seven points of overtime.
"We weren't as aggressive in the overtime," Richardson said. "I think our hopes and dreams were shattered when Kareem didn't make that shot."
For all its shooting woes, Kentucky missed only one of five overtime shots.
"We got some easy (transition) baskets," Smith said. "Something we couldn't do the whole game. We just made shots."
So did Bradley, who scored eight of Arkansas' 10 overtime points. Early in overtime, he hit a Bob Cousy-like push shot. Later, his back-to-back treys (the second banking in) brought the Hogs within 79-77 with 8.1 seconds left.
After missing the first free throw, Turner made one with 6.9 seconds left. That set the stage for Wallace's final three-point attempt.