Date story published: Sunday, January 4, 1998
Not every basketball game can be condensed to a single sentence. Kentucky's 71-62 victory over Vanderbilt last night could.
"If we don't rebound the ball," UK Coach Tubby Smith said, "we don't win this game."
Kentucky outrebounded Vandy by an eye-popping (head-spinning? side-splitting?) margin of 57-18.
Put another way, the Cats had more offensive rebounds (31) than Vandy (and four other opponents earlier this season) had total rebounds.
According to the official statistics, and the sense of the game served as corroboration, Vandy had only six rebounds the entire second half.
"It's mind-boggling to see that stat," Vandy Coach Jan van Breda Kolff said of having fewer than a third of the opponent's rebounds. "It's hard to address."
UK backup point guard Saul Smith suggested that the margin defied analysis.
"You can't do anything but smile," he said. "But the margin is just ridiculous."
Maybe not so comforting was this: No. 6 Kentucky needed just about every one of those rebounds in order to win this Southeastern Conference opener. UK improved to 12-2 overall.
Facing yet another zone defense, the Cats shot 41.4 percent (their fourth-worst percentage this season).
And UK suffered its worst assist-to-turnover ratio of the season (12 assists, 19 turnovers).
Led by forward Scott Padgett (a career-high 14 rebounds) and Nazr Mohammed (12 rebounds), Kentucky snapped up enough rebounds to overcome another slow start (Vandy led by as many as eight points late in the first half) and then build a comfortable second-half cushion.
The rebounds made moot Vandy's superior shooting (42.6 percent), greater number of three-point baskets (7-6), assists (14-12) and steals (9-7), plus fewer turnovers (14-19).
"We just got outrebounded," Vandy center Austin Bates said. "This was a game against a team we should have beaten, and we just gave a poor effort on the boards."
Van Breda Kolff refused to use fatigue as an excuse. The Commodores, 11-3 overall, were playing their fourth game in seven days (with an all-night return trip from Hawaii thrown in).
"Rebounding was our Achilles' heel," the Vandy coach said. "We're not a great rebounding team."
Vandy, which had battled opponents to a standstill on the boards (a margin of plus 0.9), seemed the fresher, freer team throughout the first half. The Commodores led most of the half, and did not trail the final 11 minutes.
Vandy's matchup zone confused the Cats, never more so than in an embarrassing stretch late in the first half.
In the final five minutes:
* Padgett got stripped of the ball as he stood in the lane waiting (for a shot? for a bus?).
* Wayne Turner drove seemingly aimlessly across the zone, only to be stripped of the ball.
* Jeff Sheppard tried to duplicate Turner's wandering. He, too, drove across the zone, stumbled and then coughed up the ball.
"We had been working on attacking a zone defense all week," Saul Smith said. "Then we just sputtered. It kind of stumped us the entire first half."
Tubby Smith blamed impatience for UK's 28.6 percent first-half shooting. Instead of stretching the defense with ball and player movement, UK often took the first available shot, often an open three-pointer all but gift-wrapped by Vandy.
"I don't know how many times we dribbled the ball into the paint for no reason," the UK coach said. "You're supposed to dribble to advance the ball or drive to the basket or get off a better pass. They did none of those."
Asked why the Cats so eagerly shot over the zone, Allen Edwards said, "It was tempting. They wanted us to shoot that shot, and we fell into the trap."
UK took charge by outscoring Vandy 26-9 to start the second half. That erased a 31-25 halftime deficit and gave the Cats a 51-40 margin to protect in the final nine minutes.
Tubby Smith again had a concise explanation.
"We made some shots and got into the press," the UK coach said. "There wasn't much of an adjustment made there except to get some scoring."
Not that Kentucky buried Vandy with a dazzling display of offense. With 14:51 left, the Cats had as many rebounds (39) as points (39).
Fittingly, a rebound sealed the victory.
Vandy trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half, but closed to within 69-62 on three Drew Maddux free throws with 54 seconds left.
Four seconds later, Sheppard missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Edwards grabbed the rebound.