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CATS PREVAIL ON THRILLER INSTINCT

Date story published: Sunday, December 7, 1997

INDIANAPOLIS -- In the final three minutes, Kentucky point guard Wayne Turner prayed not once, not twice, but three times for divine assistance.

After Indiana's last shot had missed, preserving UK's 75-72 victory, Turner sounded grateful that good fortune smiled on the Cats.

"We took everything they gave us," he said in admiration of Indiana's never-give-up attitude. "Eventually, we came up lucky at the end and they missed some easy shots."

Welcome back, Kentucky-Indiana.

UK and IU staged one of their signature basketball thrill shows yesterday. The neighboring titans exchanged thunderbolts for 40 minutes. Momentum shifted from Blue to Red like a pendulum. First Indiana seized the initiative, then Kentucky.

Backup center Nazr Mohammed's career-high 21 points and domination of the more heralded Hoosier center, Jason Collier, seemingly set UK on course for a convincing victory. Then IU's dynamic backcourt, which produced a career-high 25 points from junior college transfer Rob Turner and 19 more from A.J. Guyton, seemed irresistibly destined to win.

In the end both became illusions - much like Kentucky's 99-65 rout of Indiana last year took on an even more surreal quality.

"That was a freak show," UK guard Jeff Sheppard said of the blowout. "That never happened."

No one had to tell Sheppard and his teammates how Kentucky-Indiana returned to its sweaty heritage.

"It's fun to play in the close games," Sheppard said. "There's a little more excitement when you win. When you beat somebody by a lot, it's sort of 'Well, we knew we were going to win,' so you've already been celebrating."

UK, which completed a hellish portion of the schedule with a 6-1 record, still savored this one long after the final buzzer sounded.

Indiana, which was intent on avenging last season's blowout loss, got off to the faster start. The Hoosiers (3-3) made their first six shots and led 15-7 barely four minutes into the game.

Thanks to Mohammed, who came off the bench and quickly scored eight straight points, the Cats prevented the deficit from growing.

With the game tied at 24, Kentucky took control. Cameron Mills, a hero of last season's NCAA Tournament run but almost invisible so far this season, hit four straight three-point shots in a span of two minutes, 21 seconds. He'd made only four baskets in the first six games.

"None of them felt good but the first one," Mills said of the treys that put UK ahead 36-30. "But they all went down and I'm not going to argue with it."

Mills credited screens by Mohammed and Jamaal Magloire for being so wide open. "Maybe they decided to lay off me," he said of the Hoosiers, "because I hadn't shot well all year (4-for-12 before yesterday)."

One of Kentucky's most reliable weapons against Indiana, the press, built the game's largest lead. The Hoosiers, who averaged 19.5 turnovers against UK the last eight seasons, turned it over on seven straight possessions early in the second half. For more than two minutes, IU did not cross half-court.

"We didn't get the ball off their backboard for what seemed like an hour," Coach Bob Knight said.

The turnovers helped Kentucky build a 60-49 lead with 12:39 left. The Cats still led 69-61 with less than six minutes left. Then UK stopped like an unwound watch. "I guess some people on the team thought we had the game won," Turner said. "But in Kentucky-Indiana, the game is never over."

Six straight points by Guyton narrowed UK's lead to 74-69 and set up a final three-minute test that the Cats survived as much as passed and Indiana squandered as much as failed.

In the final 3:57, Kentucky scored one point - a free throw by Turner with 6.2 seconds left that set the final score. Four different UK players missed a total of five shots.

"We short-armed some shots," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "I could see us getting a little tight. I was impressed the way we kept our composure and fought through the adversity of not getting baskets.... We executed defensively. We played tenacious defense."

Indiana had only one basket in the final 3:38 - a three-pointer by Turner that reduced UK's lead to 74-72 with 1:32 left. But the Hoosiers had much the better scoring opportunities.

Trailing 74-72, Guyton drove by Turner but inexplicably flipped up an awkward shot rather than shooting a layup, albeit a contested one. "I was just praying it would go off the rim," Turner said.

Indiana's next possession returned Turner to prayer. Freshman Luke Recker, Indiana's Mr. Basketball last season, threw a diagonal pass down the lane to teammate William Gladness open near the basket. But instead of a tying dunk inside the final 10 seconds, he lost control of the ball as Mohammed approached to contest the shot. "Oh, man," Turner said. "I was just praying (Mohammed) would block the shot or something."

With little time for options, Indiana happened to foul the right person. The Hoosiers called time to ice Turner, a career 55.7-percent free thrower this season. "In the huddle, I said a prayer," Turner said. "In my head, I said, 'I'm going to make these free throws.' "

He made one and missed one, which gave Indiana the opening for a tying three-pointer. After UK sandwiched 20-second timeouts around a full IU timeout, the Hoosiers nearly tied it. A half-court inbounds to Collier, a quick pass to Guyton and a dribble freed the Indiana guard at the three-point line to the left of the basket. "We did exactly what we wanted to do," Knight said.

But Guyton's shot bounced off the rim.

"We work on that every day," Turner said of preventing just that sort of shot. "I was just so happy the ball did not go in."

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