Date story published: Monday, March 16, 1998
ATLANTA - Scott Padgett's three-point shot rimmed out.
"Take him out!" a Kentucky fan behind press row shouted.
"Yeah, get him out of there!!!" a smiling Padgett agreed, facetiously, after the game when told of the fan's comment.
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Considering the Cats' 88-61 victory over Saint Louis yesterday, that UK fan either graded too strictly or possessed a healthy sense of humor. Not much else went wrong for the Cats during the time Padgett - gasp! - missed a shot.
When Padgett missed, UK had scored on 12 of the previous 13 trips downcourt, had made 18 of its previous 26 shots, had in essence already advanced to the NCAA Tournament South Region semifinals next weekend in St. Petersburg.
According to Padgett, Kentucky could have booked passage to St. Pete less than three minutes into the game. In that time, the Cats - who haven't trailed since the second half of their Southeastern Conference Tournament opener against Alabama (or 173 game minutes) - bolted to a 10-0 lead.
"It was just a matter-of-time type of thing," Padgett said of the rest of the game.
Kentucky (31-4) excelled at both ends of the floor, especially in the first half. Led by Jeff Sheppard, who displayed a Lazarus-like rejuvenation from a sprained ankle, the Cats made 59.4 percent of their first-half shots. Sheppard scored 18 points as all five starters hit double-digits.
Defensively, the Cats' helping man-to-man defense limited the Saint Louis star, freshman Larry Hughes, to one first-half basket and 4-for-17 shooting overall. His 11 points were his third fewest in a game this season.
Although Kentucky led 46-18 by halftime, an ever-cautious Coach Tubby Smith would not commit to it being his team's best 20-minute stretch of the season. He'd have to check the tape, he said.
Don't bother, said Charlie Spoonhour, the Saint Louis coach and Smith's buddy dating back to their days as Missouri Valley Conference rivals.
"He doesn't need to look at the tape," Spoonhour said. "He's got a scoreboard hanging out there, for heaven's sake."
Backup center Jamaal Magloire summed up Kentucky's mental approach to the game. "Dominate from beginning to end," he said.
Point guard Wayne Turner and swingman Allen Edwards quickly ruined the Billikens' reputation for sticky man-to-man defense. Turner and Edwards drove around their men pretty as you please for layups inside the first two minutes.
"I took that instinct of so what if they're a defensive team," Turner said. "You have to prove it."
"Turner took the ball and broke us down so much early," Spoonhour said. "We just couldn't contain him early. On the defensive end, we lose aggression there. And then we don't have enough (aggression) for the offensive end."
UK, which limited a ninth straight opponent to less than 40 percent shooting, held Saint Louis scoreless until Hughes hit a contested leaner with 16:38 left in the first half. Hughes, who averaged 21.3 points, did not score again until 18:21 remained in the game.
"Somebody actually asked me (Saturday) if I could stop him from getting 30," Edwards said. "I thought, you think he's going to get 30?"
Saint Louis (22-11) did not get 30 points until 15:02 remained in the game.
"We vapor-locked a little bit," Spoonhour said of his team's 19.4 percent first-half shooting (30.8 percent for the game). "
UK's defense contributed mightily to the Billikens' scoring problem. The Cats made 11 steals and blocked nine shots.
All the while, Kentucky hounded Hughes.
"If you noticed," Spoonhour told reporters, "he got around the first layer of defense. But the problem was then you're running into a number of good players around the hole. Kentucky's always guarding.
"It's an eye-opener to play a team when they're playing that well because there's very little that you can find to do. Our guys played well and we didn't give up in the second half. And I was proud of that."
If Saint Louis kept playing, so did Kentucky. The Cats extended their lead to as much as 35 points (or one more point than the aggregate margin in the Billikens' first six losses this season).
The final margin could have been worse. Smith played four freshmen and sophomore walk-on Steve Masiello the final 3:11.
"Tubby was very nice to us in the second half," Spoonhour said. "The main thing is they're good athletes, and they really know how to play. It's a pleasure, if you're not coaching, to watch them."