Date story published: Sunday, December 14, 1997
Transfer Heshimu Evans came to Rupp Arena yesterday with his usual plan for sparking Kentucky off the bench. But it rarely works as well as it did in UK's 85-71 "homecoming" victory over Georgia Tech.
"Once I get some rebounds and once we get the fans in it, that's when we really get on our run," Evans said. "And once they call timeout, that's when we know we've done something."
That pretty much described how Kentucky won its first home game in 23 days.
The slow-starting Cats trailed 27-16 with less than five minutes left in the first half. Evans, who had his first double-double for Kentucky (10 rebounds and a season-high 14 points), made three straight inside baskets. That fueled a 31-9 run that gave UK a 51-39 lead barely five minutes into the second half.
"He's relentless on the boards," UK Coach Tubby Smith said of Evans. "That was a big key. That kind of thing can energize a team. And we needed that."
It deflated Georgia Tech. Kentucky needed that, too.
"Gosh, we're up 10 or 11 and then I look up and we're down 51-39," Tech's Matt Harpring said. "And it didn't seem that long. I thought, 'My gosh, how can that happen?'
Tech rallied after a timeout with 14:28 left. A three-pointer by freshman Dion Glover, who had a game-high 27 points, reduced UK's lead to 51-44.
But three straight drives through Tech's suddenly flat-footed defense - two by Evans sandwiched around a rim-rattling dunk by Allen Edwards - sparked another 11-0 run that finished off the Yellowjackets.
"This wasn't a game I'll look back on and say we didn't have a chance to win," said Harpring, whose 22 points made him Tech's only other double-digit scorer. "They got a couple turnovers, a couple of threes, a couple of dunks. They do that a lot in here."
Kentucky, 8-1 and now off for exam week, needed Evans' off-the-bench formula to work. Smith used words like "flat" and "rusty" to describe the Cats' ho-hum break from the gate.
Led by freshman center Alvin Jones, the Division I leader in blocks, the Yellowjackets snuffed three of UK's first eight shots. The Cats were also guilty of a five-second violation and a rare 35-second shot clock violation before Evans entered the game with 13:34 left in the first half.
"Today, it was huge," teammate Scott Padgett said of the spark UK has come to expect from Evans. "We were really in a rut."
Smith speculated on why UK struggled early. Tech surprised and defanged the Cats' press by inbounding the ball faster than expected. "That can take the wind out of your sails," he said.
Maybe the 11,495 miles traveled since their first home game (Nov. 20) caught up to the Cats.
A theory by Padgett rang true.
"We haven't been playing a lot of 12 o'clock games," he said of the TV-ordered noon tipoff. "We're used to sleeping in. We're not used to 7:30 wake-up calls.
"Or maybe we came out lackadaisical because we were at home."
Smith touched on that possibility in his halftime oratory.
The Cats went more than five minutes without a point, and more than seven minutes with just one basket in falling behind by 11 in the first half.
"He wasn't angry," Edwards said of Smith's halftime demeanor. "He wasn't (ticked) off. He came out calm. He just said you're not supposed to expect the other team to lay down for you. That kind of riled us up."
After adjusting its press by no longer guarding the inbounds passer, Kentucky jumped on Tech as the second half began. Tech had eight turnovers and three baskets in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
"The first half we thought we could throw the long pass over the press," Glover said. "In the second half, the pressure picked up and that play wasn't there."
Although UK's bench outscored the opposition's reserves 30-4 and enjoyed a 24-3 rebounding advantage, Tech dismissed depth as a factor.
"I don't think they wore us down," Glover said. "They came out and played the second half. We just played a half, not a ball game. A basketball game lasts 40 minutes. We lost our intensity. We got after them in the first half. In the second, they got after us."