Date story published: Thursday, January 22, 1998
LOUISVILLE - The final buzzer sounded as Scott Padgett chased down the final loose ball. It safely in his hands, Kentucky's 70-67 victory over Alabama last night safely in the record book, he felt the need for an impromptu celebration.
Padgett jumped on press row and raised his two arms Rocky Balboa style toward the Freedom Hall ceiling.
Although Alabama had lost by 54 points at Auburn three days earlier, UK's expected victory was anything but routine. A season-high 14 three-point baskets and no doubt a season's best resiliency allowed 'Bama to extend No. 7 UK to the game's final possession.
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"Definitely there was a sense of relief," Padgett said of his victory pose. "We didn't play that good a game except down the stretch, so we were lucky."
Padgett earned his moment of triumph. Playing in his hometown, he equal ed a career-high of 24 points. The final four came in the final 31 seconds as Alabama tried to snatch one of the season's most unlikely victories.
His leaner in the lane with 31.3 seconds left gave UK a 68-64 lead. And when 'Bama closed within a point on the last of Damon Bacote's career-high seven three-point baskets, Padgett calmly hit two free throws with 12.7 seconds left.
"That's something I do hundreds and hundreds of times a day," Padgett said of the free throws. "So I had a loss of confidence."
Asked what went through his mind before the shots, Padgett joked, "Just thinking of what kind of celebration I was going to do."
Then, when the Tide got one last three-point shot to tie it, Padgett's defense forced Bacote's attempt high and short of the basket.
A cautionary tale in short pants over 40 minutes. And an example to cite for those who think about giving up.
That's what Kentucky and Alabama played.
Every coach who ever warned against the presumption of victory had to be nodding knowingly.
And every coach who told his humiliated team that it should continue fighting had to feel vindicated.
Kentucky did not take the lead for good until Nazr Mohammed made a layup with 1:56 left.
Mohammed, who finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, combined with Padgett to form an irresistible force for Kentucky inside.
"They really hurt us inside," Alabama's beleaguered coach, David Hobbs, said. "And that was the name of the game."
UK, 17-2 overall and 6-0 in the Southeastern Conference, never led by more than five points.
Alabama, which suffered the most lopsided defeat in school history three days earlier, fell to 9-10 overall and 1-5 in the league.
"This was a tough loss," Bacote said, "because if we were to win we would have shocked everybody. We beat them for 35 minutes, and then we gave it away in the last five."
A stunning display of three-point shooting propel ed Alabama to a 35-33 halftime lead.
Coming into the game as the SEC's worse shooting team, the Tide made eight three-point shots in the first 20 minutes.
That represented more treys than Alabama made in all but three games this season. The Tide had shot 5-for-52 from three-point range in the previous three games, including an 0-for-13 at Auburn.
Bacote, the Tide's best three-point shooter (34.6 percent), led the way. He surpassed his previous career high of four three-pointers with five in the first half.
Five of Alabama's first six baskets were three-pointers, four by Bacote. That gave the Tide a 17-7 lead with 15:49 left. It also allowed Alabama to surpass its point total in the first half at Auburn (16).
The Cats quickly tied it at 24 with 9:10 left. But for the first of many times Alabama refused to roll over. Kentucky never took the lead the rest of the half.
Mohammed's dunk with 18:42 left in the second half tied it at 37.
Again, Alabama responded. The Tide scored the next 10 points. Bacote hit his sixth trey in the run. A trey by Chauncy Jones with 15:38 left matched Alabama's season high of 10 three-pointers in a game and gave the Tide a 47-37 lead.
Rebounding - what else? - sparked a Kentucky rally. Back-to-back second-chance baskets began an 8-2 run that got the Cats within range.
Padgett and Jeff Sheppard collaborated on the mini-run's concluding play. Padgett threw a lob from the top of the key that Sheppard dunked. Sheppard's first basket of the game reduced Alabama's lead to 49-46 with 13:08 left.
Kentucky closed within 51-50. Yet again Alabama responded. Brian Williams' three-pointer gave the Tide a four-point cushion with 10:10 left.
Kentucky finally overtook Alabama with about six minutes left.
Mohammed gave UK a 58-56 lead with 6:12 left when he hit a layup. That marked the Cats' first lead since 5-3.
"I have to give it to Nazr; he's my boy; he's from the city," said Jones, a fellow Chicagoan. "It was hard to stop him inside."
Padgett's three-point play from the low post gave UK a 63-58 with 3:50 left. That matched the Cats' largest lead of the game.
But back-to-back Alabama three-pointers set up the dramatic finish.