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UK TAKES FIRST STEP OF MARCH

Date story published: Saturday, March 6, 1999

ATLANTA - Sagging defense. The Georgia Dome. March.

With those factors all in his favor, Kentucky point guard Wayne Turner figured to play well last night against Mississippi .

But a career-high 24 points and, especially, a career-high four three-point baskets? Well, that was a bit much for UK's Mr. March to explain.

"I don't know; I can't explain it," Turner said of the treys that fueled Kentucky's 83-73 victory.

Turner had made only five three-pointers all season before he startled Mississippi and eliminated the Rebels from the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

"We were very surprised," Mississippi Coach Rod Barnes said. "We didn't expect him to shoot that well from the outside. But I did expect him to play well."

Turner, the MVP of the conference tournament in the Georgia Dome last year, scored all but three of his points in the second half. Six came in a 15-0 run that put UK ahead 62-46 with 6:54 left.

"All I know is that I had a lot of confidence running through me," Turner said. "Certainly, I didn't want to lose this game.

"Don't be surprised if you see five more (three-point shots) go up tomorrow."

That prompted a reporter to ask whether he meant go up or go in?

"I want them to go in," Turner said. "But, certainly, they'll go up."

Kentucky, which benefited from two technical fouls called against Mississippi, faces a tougher test in today's semifinals. The Cats play No. 4 Auburn which aches to avenge a regular-season loss at UK.

Despite the victory over Auburn, forward Scott Padgett said UK also had a revenge motive.

"We're kind of mad we didn't win the SEC (regular-season title, which Auburn did)," Padgett said. "Both teams have a lot to prove."

UK Coach Tubby Smith said of the Tigers, "They've proven they're the best team in the league so far."

Mississippi, which hoped to clinch an NCAA Tournament bid by beating UK, fell to 19-12.

Kentucky and Mississippi staged basketball most foul. Because the SEC does not keep a record for fouls, it was not known whether the 65 fouls called were a record. The two teams combined to shoot 81 free throws, which broke the SEC Tournament record of 77 attempts (Mississippi-Tennessee in 1994).

Padgett speculated that the SEC must have instructed its referees to call the games closer because of several regular-season incidents. There were 149 fouls called in the first three games yesterday.

But John Guthrie, SEC supervisor of officials, denied any such intention to keep tighter control of play. "When you reach, grab and hold, fouls are going to be called," said Guthrie, who sat at courtside for each game.

Kentucky and Ole Miss were tied at 31 at halftime. For UK, the tie was worse than kissing a sister. It was more like kissing a wicked stepsister.

Kentucky went to the locker room probably wondering how the Rebels avoided a double-digit deficit.

Mississippi senior point guard Michael White, whose absence from the regular-season meeting helped Kentucky win, limited himself to six minutes.

White picked up two fouls and went to the bench barely two minutes into the game. When his backup, 5-foot-4 Jason Harrison, also picked up two fouls, the Rebels sent White back into the game with 11:02 left.

Less than 90 seconds later, White picked up his third foul for pushing off against Turner. Frustrated by the call, White flung the ball downcourt. That prompted a technical foul - White's fourth foul - with 9:54 left in the first half.

Later in the half, Barnes was hit with a technical for protesting an off-the-ball foul on a Rebel player for boxing out, apparently too aggressively.

The Cats seemed poised to blow out Mississippi early. UK scored the game's first six points. The Rebels did not score until Jason Smith's put-back with 15:51 left, and did not get a second basket until Darrian Brown's three-pointer at the 12:57 mark.

UK shot well early. Led by Heshimu Evans, the Cats answered Smith's call to shoot more three-point shots. The Cats tried nine in the first half, or only two fewer than they put up at Tennessee on Sunday.

In particular, UK worked the in-and-out play well. The Cats got three of their four treys off passes from the post.

But problems with free-throw shooting and turnovers kept the Cats from taking control.

Mississippi took its first lead on its first possession of the second half. After Evans missed a trey, Marcus Hicks made two free throws to put the Rebels ahead 33-31 with 19:18 left.

Kentucky then reeled off 10 straight points to go ahead 41-33, which matched the Cats' largest lead.

Turner, who made only five of 25 three-point shots in the regular season, hit a trey early in the run.

Even though Jason Smith, another of Mississippi's trio of senior leaders, went to the bench with four fouls at the 15:02 mark, UK did not take control.

With fouls mounting for both teams, the game became a battle of zone defenses. A three-pointer by Harrison and two by walk-on Hunter Carpenter helped get Ole Miss within 47-46.

Then, finally, Kentucky took control thanks to Turner.

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