Date story published: Thursday, December 4, 1997
CHICAGO - Kentucky basketball is experiencing many changes this season. New coach. New playing roles. New shoe company/fashion cop.
Last night proved that at least one constant remained. After a close first half, Kentucky took charge and defeated Purdue by 14 points in the Great Eight.
New UK Coach Tubby Smith credited depth as the difference in the Cats' 89-75 victory.
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"I knew both teams would hit a wall," Smith said of UK and Purdue, which played in Hawaii and Alaska, respectively, last week. "We had the depth off the bench to keep the pressure on. That was a big key. One of the things we wanted to do was wear them down."
The strategy worked to limit Purdue's leading scorer, center Brad Miller, to 10 points (nine below his average).
"One of the keys was we wanted to limit his touches," forward Scott Padgett said of Miller. "That's why I tried to front him when I guarded him. If he got the ball, it had to be a perfect lob pass. We didn't want him to beat us. We saw the North Carolina tape."
Miller scored 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds against the Tar Heels Saturday in Alaska.
"I thought running both Jamaal (Magloire) and Nazr (Mohammed) at him constantly would wear him down," Smith said. "I didn't see a backup center coming in (for Purdue)."
Mohammed also came up big offensively. He led UK with a career-high 19 points.
After escaping the first half with a five-point lead (the Cats led by three last season), UK simply outshot, outhustled and outplayed Purdue.
Good defense that fed transition baskets contributed mightily to No. 7 Kentucky improving its record to 5-1.
Purdue, which was ranked No. 6 but still disturbed by a self-perceived lack of respect, fell to 5-2. Coming off a bitter 73-69 loss to No. 3 North Carolina four nights earlier, Purdue had to be demoralized.
"We're a bunch of wannabes," said Gene Keady, who came into the game tied with Wad Lambert as Purdue's winningest coach (371 victories).
Neither team established a double-digit lead in the first half. The competitive half saw 12 lead changes and no lead larger than five over the final 12 minutes.
A three-pointer by - of all players - Myron Anthony with a second left gave Kentucky a 42-37 halftime lead. The freshman came into the game having made only two of 10 shots, including a three-pointer against Missouri in Maui. His first trey on the Mainland gave UK its largest first-half lead.
UK fans looking for omens had to like a halftime lead. Purdue boasted a 99-5 record when leading at intermission since 1991-92.
Purdue got off to a faster start. Three early three-pointers helped the Boilermakers take a 16-7 lead seven minutes into the game.
UK's early-season poor shooting continued. The Cats made only three of their first 10 shots. But Purdue's decision to press helped breathe life in Kentucky's offense. Five of UK's first 12 baskets came in transition.
Meanwhile, Kentucky's defense took out Miller, a pre-season All-Big Ten center and nephew of former UK player Tom Heitz who carried a 19.2-point scoring average into the game. He didn't make a basket until 4:37 remained in the half. It helped that Mohammed fell trying in vain to induce a charging call.
Miller made only two of six shots and committed three turnovers against a UK man-to-man defense that collapsed around the low post.
Still, Purdue hung tough in a half that saw nine lead changes in the final 7:19. Purdue turnovers and more transition baskets for Kentucky early in the second half helped the Cats take the game's first double-digit lead.
After scoring the half's first basket - a three-pointer that narrowed UK's lead to 42-40 - Purdue went scoreless for almost five minutes. In that time, the Boilermakers missed three shots, then committed turnovers on five straight possessions. And several were bad turnovers. Brian Cardinal hopped to make a pass, then tried to dribble. Alan Eldridge dribbled off his foot.
UK reaped seven fast break points off the turnovers that helped fuel a 11-0 run. It gave the Cats a 53-40 lead with 15:07 left.
Purdue closed within 53-47 before another unlikely three-pointer stemmed the rally. Heshimu Evans, to that point 1-for-5 from outside the arc, swished a trey from the top of the key.
Earlier start pondered
An earlier start for the Great Eight is being considered. But don't get the idea that the 10:03 p.m. EST tip-off for the Kentucky-Purdue game concerned officials.
The Great Eight may start earlier in the season in the future. Why? As with so much in college basketball, because of television's preference.
"Maybe the first weekend of the season," said Dean Diltz, a spokesman for ESPN, the cable sports TV network. "One reason is you'd pick up where the teams left off (the previous season)."
For example, Diltz cited Tuesday's Arizona-Kansas matchup. It matched No. 2 Kansas against No. 4 Arizona.
A Great Eight the first weekend of the season would have had No. 1 (Arizona) against No. 2 (Kansas).
If and when the Great Eight moves to the season's first weekend will come from talks between the controlling interests: ESPN, Raycom (an independent TV network) and the United Center, Diltz said.