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GRAND FUNK: CATS BARELY FEND OFF LSU

Date story published: Thursday, February 5, 1998

Former Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino liked to think of disappointing losses as fertilizer for future success.

After being upset by Florida Sunday, Kentucky responded with, uh, more fertilizer.

Louisiana State, a team that had won only once at home in Southeastern Conference play, had a shot to tie and another to win in the final seconds against the Cats last night.

Both shots missed, which allowed Kentucky to escape with a 63-61 victory.

But the first question in Kentucky's post-game radio show showed that happy days are not back again. Commentator Sam Bowie, the former UK star, put it directly to leading scorer Jeff Sheppard.

"What's wrong?" Bowie asked.

Interestingly, Sheppard did not take exception to the question. "If we knew," he said, "we'd have found the solution tonight."

No. 8 Kentucky, which clinched a ninth straight 20-victory season, never led by double digits against a team ranked 11th among 12 Southeastern Conference teams in scoring margin in league play.

"I'm very disappointed to be honest, UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "It's the most disappointed I've been all year. I thought they just out-hustled us once again."

LSU, which fell to 9-11 overall and 2-8 in the SEC, got to within 63-61 in the final minute when guard Maurice Carter hit a three-pointer. Once more, Kentucky played poor three-point defense. LSU's eight three-point goals equaled a season high, and surpassed the Tigers' previous high against a league opponent.

Had one more three-point shot gone in, LSU would have won. But after Allen Edwards missed a three, the Tigers got two chances to score. Willie Anderson, who had 16 points, missed a forced leaner.

Then Carter, who led all scorers with 19 points, missed an open three-pointer in the final seconds.

UK, which improved to 20-3 overall and 9-1 in the SEC, won the game with pressure defense in the second half. LSU, which played much of the game without regular point guard DeJuan Collins, committed 14 turnovers in the final 20 minutes.

That offset UK's poor shooting and inconsistent offense (10 assists, 13 turnovers).

The first half did little to settle any jittery UK fans. The Cats looked relatively intense, but shot poorly and never led.

effective team play. It came only in short spurts in what became Kentucky's lowest scoring first half of the season.

The freshmen got a long look against LSU. Myron Anthony scored five points in back-to-back possessions, which left him a point shy of his season high.

29-23. Playing more than a minute for the first time since the Dec. 30 game against Ohio, Hogan lost his man on inbounds. That man, Carter, hit a layup while being fouled. The three-point play gave the Tigers a six-point lead.

That Smith played all four freshmen apparently came out of necessity. Despite their pledges to play harder (and presumably more effectively), the Cats failed to get off to an impressive start.

It didn't help that point guard Wayne Turner picked up two fouls and went to the bench with 15:57 left in the first half.

But the Cats weren't exactly clicking with Turner. Kentucky did not score until slumping Edwards banked in a shot at the 17:28 mark. UK had three missed shots and a turnover in its first four possessions.

Turner going to the bench was part of a mass substitution by Smith. He replaced all five starters. The move helped Kentucky tie the score 14-14, but the Cats simply didn't shoot well enough (9-for-28, just 1-for-9 from three-point range) to take control.

Anthony's three-pointer (his second in two games) was all UK got from behind the line. Cameron Mills, coming off a career-high 31-point, eight-trey game against Florida, missed all three of his three-point attempts.

Kentucky opened the second half much more aggressively. With a small, pressing lineup, the Cats got LSU to turn over the ball on its first four possessions.

UK crept to within one but still found the lead an elusive objective.

Fittingly, Kentucky took its first lead, thanks to its defense. The Cats converted a turnover into a Sheppard dunk to go ahead 35-34 with 15:28 left.

The continuing LSU turnovers ignited Kentucky. UK converted turnovers into back-to-back three-point baskets. Edwards hit one, his first since the Jan. 13 South Carolina game. Mills hit the other, his first basket of the game, and it gave the Cats their largest lead, 42-36 with less than 14 minutes left.

Kentucky stretched its lead to as much as eight points later in the half.

* The snow stranded Jerry Tipton at Blue Grass Airport. He returned home and wrote this story as he watched the game on television.

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