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UK HITS GROOVE FROM FAR-OUT PLACES

Date story published: Sunday, January 11, 1998

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Generation Xers should skip this introduction.

As the catchword went in the '60s, you Baby Boomers can relate.

What would you have thought if somebody told you in the late '60s that someday the Speaker of the House and a presidential representative would attend the nationally televised funeral of Sonny Bono?

Kentucky and Mississippi State staged a basketball happening yesterday that bordered on that kind of "far out" experience.

UK point guard Wayne Turner made only his third three-pointer since November.

UK reserve Heshimu Evans made only his second three-pointer since Dec. 6.

UK's vaunted bench did not score a basket until 12:13 remained in the second half.

State's power forward and leading scorer, Horatio Webster, hit - no, swished - his first two three-pointers of the season (and fourth and fifth of his career).

Yet, traditional basketball values, Kentucky truisms that probably date to the early Adolph Rupp years, ultimately prevailed.

Kentucky is Kentucky. Kentucky has more players than Mississippi State. Therefore, the Cats find someone to make the key plays when they need to be made. Kentucky prevailed 77-71.

"In the crucial situations, they executed," Webster said of Kentucky. "We had chances to get ahead. We had two turnovers and a missed shot."

That pivotal stretch came six minutes into the second half. State, 12-4 overall and 1-2 in the Southeastern Conference, whittled a 16-point first-half deficit to 48-47. Then senior forward Whit Hughes missed a three-pointer, Webster walked while starting a low-post move and starting guard Todd Myles missed his only shot (an improbable forced leaner in the lane).

"Three possessions in a row," muttered center Tyrone Washington, who led State with 23 points and eight rebounds. "Then the No. 6 team in the country did what they had to do. They made three crucial shots. That was the difference in the game."

Fittingly for this memorably weird game, two of the pivotal shots may not be repeated again this season. Both helped keep State from ever assuming the lead. And given the raucous sellout crowd of 9,334 - State's first of the season - UK might not have been able to regain the lead.

Perhaps inspired by his gutsy shooting at Georgia Tuesday, freshman Saul Smith hit the big shot. With the game tied at 48, he came down and quickly fired a three-pointer dead into the basket. Kentucky, 14-2 overall and 3-0 in the SEC, never trailed again.

Gutsy shot? No doubt. Foolish shot? Perhaps.

"That was major," said Tubby Smith, Saul's father and UK's coach, "because I know what would have happened if he missed it. But for his sake, he made it."

"I guess I have a lot of confidence in my shot," Saul Smith said of his only basket (and only attempt). "Cameron (Mills) said, 'If you hadn't made that, I'd have come after you.' "

Asked if he'd dare take that shot again, Smith launched his answer just as quickly. "Oh yeah," he said. "I'd take it again."

Padgett, whose second double-double of the season led UK (23 points and 10 rebounds), hit a three-pointer to extend the lead to 54-48.

A minute later, Jamaal Magloire hit a 10-footer on the baseline.

"It's very disappointing to have a chance to beat a team as good as Kentucky and not execute offensively and defensively in key possessions," State Coach Richard Williams said. "They hit key shots, it seems like, every possession. When it was an absolutely key possession, they hit the shot."

State closed to within 58-55. Evans launched his first shot of the game. The three-pointer from the left corner (only his second trey since the Indiana game) went in. "We knew about him," Williams said. "They didn't have any surprises on the floor. What did surprise me was his ability to hit the perimeter shot."

Added Tubby Smith of Evans: "He's not a three-point shooter (5-for-15 this season). But he was today."

State closed within 67-63 and 68-66. Padgett hit a 15-foot leaner (how often has he taken that shot?) and a driving flip shot while being fouled by Washington (whose 35 blocks led all SEC players).

In a belated testament to UK's superior depth, Evans scored all 10 of his points in the final 8:05.

By contrast, Washington wore down. State's main offensive force this day made one basket in the final 15:58, an inconsequential hook shot with 28.3 seconds left.

"They have a lot of weapons," the State coach said. "A lot of options. A lot of choices to make."

"We needed good play from the bench," Tubby Smith said. "And we got it."

And the beat goes on.

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