Date story published: Wednesday, January 28, 1998
NASHVILLE - Ironically, ESPN replayed it over and over to make sure of the validity of a shot Kentucky center Nazr Mohammed never took before and probably never will again.
Would you believe a dribbling, 10-foot scoop shot that banked in at the buzzer?
"I can't ever remember taking a shot like that," Mohammed said.
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Make that the second irony. UK fans - and Mohammed - probably won't forget the shot. And not simply because it gave the Cats an exciting 63-61 victory over Vanderbilt.
"It's a great feeling," Mohammed said of his game-winner. "I know I'm going to dream about that one all night."
Kentucky (19-2 overall and 8-0 in the Southeastern Conference) had 4.4 seconds to win the game in regulation.
Drew Maddux, who led Vandy with 19 points, had tied the game with a rainbow 25-footer.
"That can take the wind out of your sails," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "To see our resiliency, that's the beauty of it."
The game-winner was pure improvisation. Smith said UK considered a maneuver called "Home Run." "A lob to whoever's open," Mohammed said.
But with the whole court to cover in 4.4 seconds, the Cats decided to inbounds to Wayne Turner and hope their heady, quicksilver point guard could either get to the basket or find a teammate open for a shot.
But Vandy's switching defense took away the Turner option. That left Jeff Sheppard, UK's top scorer with 20 points, starting upcourt in search of a miracle.
Before getting to midcourt, Sheppard threw a diagonal pass to Mohammed standing on the right side about 22 feet from the basket.
"My first thought was, 'Why did Sheppard give me the ball way out here?' " Mohammed said.
"I was hollering, 'Shoot it! Shoot it!' " Smith said.
But Mohammed, who has never made a three-point shot at UK and seldom sniffs offensive air outside the lane, knew a better way. He faked the shot, figuring Vandy freshman Greg LaPointe expected him to shoot immediately. Then Mohammed raced to the basket against the final seconds.
"The whole time I was dribbling I was looking at the clock," he said.
About 10 feet from the basket, Mohammed shot or threw the ball toward the goal. He estimated the attempt as "50-50." Half shot, half throw. "He scooped it!" UK assistant coach Shawn Finney said, amazement still in his voice.
Mohammed confessed he did not shoot the ball with the expectation of it going in, but merely wanted it near the rim for a tip-in opportunity. "I didn't have enough time to get off a shot," he said.
With gravity his best friend, Mohammed saw the ball bank high off the board and go in. "I was real surprised," he said. "Because it wasn't my normal shot."
Referee Gerald Boudreaux signalled the shot good as Vandy Coach Jan van Breda Kolff ran onto the court waving his arms in a gesture that the improbable shot came after time expired.
But television replays seemed to show the shot was good. "There was a point of a second to go," ESPN play-by-play man Brad Nessler said.
"Close," color commentator Larry Conley said. "Real close. But it looked like the ball just left his hand with all zeroes on the clock."
"I thought the clock started on about the second dribble," van Breda Kolff said. "And the ball was still in his hands when the light went on. For our part, nobody stepped up and made a decision on the last play, and it hurt us."
Inconsistent foul shooter Wayne Turner had given UK a 61-58 lead by making two free throws with 13.1 seconds left. The free throws, which made Turner 14-for-16 from the line in the last five games, were his first points of the game.
Besides serving as another testament to Kentucky's ability to find a way to win in close games, this one also proved that the Cats could win without their major weapon. For the first time all season, an opponent outrebounded UK. Vandy, which lost the battle of the boards 57-18 in Rupp Arena earlier this month, outrebounded the Cats 37-32.
Kentucky led 27-25 at the break, thanks to good shooting, especially in the final eight minutes . The Cats made eight of their final 11 shots of the half - the last a baseline turnaround jumper by Jamaal Magloire that set the halftime score.
Sheppard paced the hot shooting. He made five of his final six shots - three coming from three-point range - to complete a 13-point first half.
Vandy, which surrendered 31 offensive rebounds in Rupp Arena earlier this month, limited Kentucky to just four second-chance opportunities in the first half. UK maximized its few chances. Scott Padgett and Magloire had rebound dunks.
Thanks in part to Mohammed's foul trouble, Vandy outrebounded the Cats in the half 18-16. Mohammed went to the bench with his second foul at the 16:35 mark and did not return.
But the Commodores did not shoot well enough to take advantage of Mohammed's absence or its vastly improved rebounding. Vandy made only seven of 25 first-half shots. It was Vandy's worst shooting half (28 percent) of the season.
"I didn't get my normal touches," Mohammed said of his 16 minutes (his lowest total since the Dec. 13 Georgia Tech game). "I had foul trouble. To make the winning shot, it's kind of ironic."