Date story published: Saturday, March 14, 1998
ATLANTA - Except for Jeff Sheppard's left ankle and calf, there wasn't anything bruising about Kentucky's first-round game in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cats handled outmanned South Carolina State 82-67. Sheppard, UK's leading scorer and hottest player till he sprained an ankle last weekend, made a modest contribution statistically.
Sheppard may have gotten more notoriety for the nasty bruise created by the sprained ankle. It began at his toes and ran halfway up his calf.
"Oooh, it's ugly," teammate Allen Edwards said of the bruise. "All that purple stuff. I'm glad I'm black. You can't see that on me."
Kentucky did not need much from Sheppard - and not the best from his teammates - against South Carolina State. "We did what we needed to do to get the win," forward Scott Padgett said, "and move on."
The big men advanced UK to a South Region second-round game against St. Louis on Sunday.
UK's centers and forwards outscored South Carolina State's 54-8. About which Bulldog Coach Cy Alexander said, "I didn't think we had that many."
Fearing Kentucky's outside shooting (25 three-point baskets the past two games), South Carolina State decided not to double-down on the low post. That didn't work either, not that a No. 15 seed has a lot of attractive alternatives against a No. 2 seed.
"Any time a team plays us one-on-one in the post, we'll have a pretty big day," said Padgett, who made six of 10 shots and scored 14 points.
Showing no ill effects from a slight (right) shoulder separation, center Nazr Mohammed led Kentucky with 18 points.
"They were just a little too small," said Edwards, who chipped in 13 points. "A little turnaround jump shot could hurt them. They played hard. But their size wasn't good enough."
None of which surprised Alexander, who pinned South Carolina State's upset hopes on its front line somehow holding its own.
"I thought our big boys did not do a good job in trying to challenge (Kentucky)," the South Carolina State coach said. "I thought they played too soft. And that's what we kept talking to them about during timeouts."
Each team's first possession signaled a mismatch. UK got three offensive rebounds, beginning a 34-27 edge on the boards.
Then UK point guard Wayne Turner stripped the ball from South Carolina State's best player, Roderick "Moo Moo" Blakney, to start a fast break.
"We got turnovers when they tried to split the trap," Turner said. "From watching film, we almost knew every move they were going to make."
Kentucky (30-4) got off to a fast start. The Cats scored the game's first six points and led 13-3 barely five minutes in.
"The guards admitted the first four or five minutes they were a little awestruck," Alexander said. "So that affected us early in the ball game. But once we settled down, we came back and cut it to one."
Guards Tyler Brown and Blakney led the charge. Blakney, who led all players with 23 points and 10 assists, showed why he's been called "the poor man's Tim Hardaway."
"He's a good player," Turner said. "For a person his size, you'd think it'd be difficult to go inside. But he's smart and clever with the ball."
Shooting guard Tyler Brown showed NBA-length range in scoring 22 points. "Brown was hitting some shots from a different area code," Padgett said.
The first of Brown's six three-point baskets reduced UK's lead to 17-16. But South Carolina State got no closer.
Kentucky led by double digits the final 25 minutes, by as much as 24 points in the second half. That South Carolina State rallied to within 11 points (67-56 on Brown's sixth three-pointer) served as tribute to the Bulldogs' outside shooting to and UK putting its game on cruise control.
"We were more threatened in the second half when they started bombing three-pointers from everywhere," Padgett said. "We sort of got complacent in the second half. I think we stopped playing for a while."
The repetition of inside basket after inside basket may have given UK white-line fever. The Cats had only one basket from the perimeter in the second half: a trey by freshman Myron Anthony with 45 seconds left.
With the lead down to 11, two layups by Heshimu Evans and a post-up basket by Edwards killed any lingering possibility of an upset.
"I thought we were about a 'B' effort," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "You know we can play better, and we'll have to play better."