Date story published: Sunday, November 30, 1997
PHOENIX - Wayne Turner started Kentucky's longest road trip of the season the butt of jokes about getting lost. He ended it by all but saying "Follow me" as he directed the Cats to a come-from-behind trip to Victory City.
Turner, who got lost while snowmobiling in Alaska at this time last year, guided Kentucky to a 76-61 victory over Clemson in the Premier Classic. With the Cats trailing by five midway through the second half, Turner sparked a 15-2 run that fueled his team's fourth victory in five games.
Whether it was travel fatigue (fourth game in the ninth day away from home) or a lackluster atmosphere (a gathering of 4,306 fans in America West Arena, capacity 20,199), Kentucky could not seize control.
"We needed a spark," Coach Tubby Smith said.
Turner contributed that combustible something on both ends. His pull-up jumper began the 15-2 run. Later he added another mid-range jumper over 7-foot-1 Adam Allenspach.
But Turner's defense may have played an even bigger role in sparking Kentucky. On back-to-back possessions, he swiped the ball from Clemson. He knifed in front of Clemson's star point guard, Terrell McIntyre, to steal Tony Christie's telegraphed cross-court pass and roared to a fastbreak dunk.
Technically, Turner broke a Smith defensive rule on the steal.
"Coach Smith told me to stop gambling," Turner said. "But I had to go for it. I learned that from (ex-Cat) Derek Anderson. I watch the passer's eyes."
After his dunk, Turner stole the ensuing inbounds and bounced it off McIntyre's leg out of bounds.
That inspired a series of chest bumps as Turner went to the bench for a television timeout. When play resumed, Jamaal Magloire's tip-in completed the run and gave Kentucky a 57-49 lead with 6:44 left.
"My job is to be a leader," Turner said, "and not let the rest of the team panic. I had to do something to keep us in the game."
Clemson Coach Rick Barnes saw lapses by his team rather than Turner's skill in the game's decisive stretch.
"I don't want to take anything away from him," Barnes said of Turner, who led UK with 17 points, five assists and three steals. "But a couple of those steals were just poor decisions our our part. I don't know why (Christie) threw it where (he) did. We should have attacked the basket."
Smith said he saw Kentucky begin to move from its transition period to a new identity.
"Our guys showed a lot of character and a lot of heart in the second half," the new UK coach said. "They showed a lot of maturity to come back. We showed the coming together of a team."
Clemson (3-2) was led by Kentuckian Greg Buckner. The native of Hopkinsville led the Tigers with a game-high 19 points.
"I had no special feeling because it was my home state," Buckner said. "I enjoy the best competition. That's the reason I was up for this game. Not because it was my home state."
Despite the fatigue (or maybe because of it), Kentucky and Clemson played a competitive first half. Neither team built more than a five-point lead, and UK took a 35-34 lead into halftime.
The first half saw Kentucky meet its twin objectives of better shooting and fewer turnovers. The Cats, who averaged 17.3 turnovers in Maui, committed only five turnovers. UK, which shot no better than 41.5 percent in its three Maui games, made 15 of 28 first-half shots against Clemson.
Clemson, which dominated UK inside in last season's opener in Indianapolis, struggled in the paint this time. The Tigers controlled the first-half rebounding 18-11, but got only five points from its trio of big men.
In the second half, UK won the rebounding battle 17-11.
"We didn't allow ourselves to get washed too far under the basket," Smith said.
For that, Turner took credit.
"I thought they were beating us up a little bit under the glass," he said. "When we huddled before the second half, I said they're killing us under the glass. We have to do something."
Neither team took control early in the second half. UK and Clemson traded the lead five times inside the first four minutes.
Big men Magloire and Nazr Mohammed, neither of which played against Clemson last season, collaborated to give UK a 42-40 lead. A nice post move by Magloire (he faked left, then wheeled into the lane for a right-handed flip) gave the Cats a one-point lead. Fouled on the play, Magloire had to leave the game apparently because of blood. Mohammed came in and hit the free throw.
A rash of UK turnovers enabled Clemson to match its largest first-half lead. During a two-minute span, the Cats turned over the ball five times. Buckner's fastbreak layup off the fifth gave the Tigers a 47-42 lead with 13:52 left.
"We really had a chance to open a lead and do something with it," Barnes said. "Turnovers can hurt you. Today they really did. We gave them a lot of points with turnovers."
UK senior Jeff Sheppard continued to struggle with his shooting. He made only two of 10 shots, dropping his season accuracy to 14 of 45 (31.1 percent).
"He's going to be fine," Smith said. "I liked his aggressiveness. I liked his confidence in his shot. What would concern me is if (poor shooting) affected the other aspects of his game."