Date story published: Tuesday, November 25, 1997
LAHAINA, Hawaii - Either Kentucky's defense was more suffocating than the non-air-conditioned Lahaina Civic Center. Or George Washington could not have dropped a shot in the Pacific Ocean glistening under a setting sun a quarter-mile from the arena.
Whichever, the Cats put a 70-55 whipping on the previously unbeaten Colonials. In the 14-year history of this tournament, only four teams had failed to score at least 50 points. The Colonials did not cross that modest hurdle until barely two minutes remained.
The victory advanced Kentucky to a compelling rematch with defending national champion Arizona in tonight's semifinals. Arizona, which beat UK 84-79 in overtime in the national championship game March 31, beat Boston College 99-69 earlier yesterday.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"Everybody wants another chance," UK forward Scott Padgett said of a game against Arizona. "I know how I feel. A couple breaks here and there we feel we'd be two-time defending champions."
Arizona reserve forward Eugene Edgerson welcomed the challenge.
"But the whole thing is they didn't beat us," he said. "They want revenge, and we won't let them have that revenge."
Those comments fueled expectations of another memorable Kentucky-Arizona game like the 93-92 thriller UK won in the 1993 Maui finals. "We're both Wildcats, I guess," UK guard Jeff Sheppard said when asked to explain the history of exciting games. "Yeah," Coach Tubby Smith added, "real Cat fights."
Kentucky held George Washington to 34.3 percent shooting (24.2 percent in the decisive first half). Maybe even more impressive, UK's defense blanketed the entire floor and thereby shut down the Colonials' triple-pronged offense. Low-post center Alexander Koul, perimeter-shooting point guard Shawnta Rogers and mid-range shooting forward Yegor Mescheriakov had made 51 percent of their shots in the Colonials' first three victories. The trio made only 15 of 36 shots (four of 14 in the first half).
"We really want to challenge every shot," Smith said. "I thought this was the best job so far in contesting shots and not allowing second shots." UK outrebounded the Colonials 54-41 (and 38-15 on UK's defensive board). "I can't say enough about that," Smith said.
If Kentucky's offense hadn't suffered from first-game jitters, the Cats might have led by more than the comfortable 33-17 halftime margin. The Cats committed nine first-quarter turnovers and added a 10th barely a minute into the second quarter. Those miscues helped George Washington trail by only 16-12 with 8:23 left in the second quarter.
But UK relaxed, at least on offense, and rode a 17-5 run the rest of the way to lead by 16 at the break.
George Washington did not make its second basket of the second quarter until Rogers hit a three-pointer with 1:39 left. It only did minor damage to the Cats' largest first-half lead (31-12).
Wayne Turner's shooting highlighted UK's second half. A career 5-for-21 shooter from three-point range, the junior point guard made three treys.
"He had an off night is what he had," a smiling Colonials Coach Mike Jarvis said of Turner. "When he has three three-pointers, he had an off night, trust me."
Turner chuckled and shyly hung his head when told of Jarvis' comment. "I don't know," he said after a pause. "I don't think I had an off night. I think I shot it pretty well."
Smith applauded how Turner's outside shooting can create more scoring space for Kentucky's big men. It also can blow an opponent's mind. "That always creates a problem when somebody unexpected hits some shots," the UK coach said.
The Kentucky-Arizona game appears to be a 94-foot test of wills.
UK would appear to have the most incentive, having lost to Arizona in the championship game.
Not true, Arizona reserve guard Jason Terry said. "For us, it means more," he said. "We need to prove we're No. 1. A lot of people still don't believe."
Each team figures to throw a press at the other.
Despite the heat, Arizona will press "the whole game," Terry said. "Even against Kentucky, Duke."
Terry dismissed the threat of UK's press. "With our quickness, if a team is going to press us, they better think twice," he said. "We're pretty quick."
You look maaaavelous
Smith ordered matching blue-and-white Hawaiian shirts for the non-playing members of the team. His administrative assistant, Marta McMackin, bought 14 shirts at $50 apiece. The UK Athletics Association paid the $700 bill, Senior Associate Director of Athletics Larry Ivy said.
UK personnel wearing the shirts were Smith, assistant coaches George Felton, Shawn Finney and Mike Sutton, trainer Eddie Jamiel, equipment manager Bill Keightly, team doctor David Caborn, strength coach Tommy Boyd, publicist Brooks Downing and two team managers.