Date story published: Sunday, January 31, 1999
Point guard Wayne Turner has donned many roles for Kentucky. Scorer. Ball-handler. Passer. Defender. Leader.
But master of suspense? That was not one of them yesterday.
Turner, who needed two points to reach the celebrated 1,000 mark for his career, got them on UK's first basket.
Turner also saw to it that the day's other expected ho-hum outcome occurred, a Kentucky victory over hopelessly outmanned Louisiana State . When LSU still threatened Kentucky early in the second half, Turner snuffed out the faint chance of final-minute drama. He hit two consecutive shots to spark the Cats toward an 86-62 victory.
Kentucky improved to 19-4 overall and stayed tied with Auburn for the best record in the Southeastern Conference at 8-1. LSU fell to 10-8 overall, 2-7 in the SEC.
"It just goes to show you what kind of player he is," Turner's backup, Saul Smith, said. "When it's pressure time, there's no other player in America I'd rather have.
"I promise you this: He'll be playing his best basketball at the end of the year. He did that in his sophomore year. He did it last year. And he's going to do it this year. I promise you that."
Turner made no Broadway Joe guarantees the day before Super Bowl XXXIII. "You all brought it to my attention," he told reporters of the 1,000-point mark. "I didn't know I was that close."
For the record, Turner got to 1,000 in fitting fashion. LSU turned over the ball against Kentucky's press and Turner hit a fast-break layup.
"I thought about it and decided I should have dunked it," Turner said before agreeing that a basket off UK's press typified his style. "I guess that was the best way to get it."
Then again, Turner did not have to do, say, the Dirty Bird, to draw attention. His state line (team-high 14 points, six assists and no turnovers in 24 minutes) made him stand out.
"An outstanding day on his part," said UK Coach Tubby Smith, who's come to expect routine excellence from Turner. "One thing I can say about Wayne Turner: He always comes ready to play. That's why he's such an important part of the success the program's had over the last few years. He's been such a steady influence."
Overall, Kentucky was anything but steady against rebuilding LSU. Even UK's bedrock foundation this season, its defense, took a powder for a while. LSU, which bills itself as the fifth-youngest Division I team in the country, made 53.8 percent of its first-half shots. That marked the best first-half shooting against UK since Louisville made 63 percent of its shots on Dec. 26.
"In the first half our defensive intensity wasn't there," UK forward Scott Padgett said. "Then we just turned it on and played a lot better. We realized we could score pretty much at will. For a while, we were trading baskets."
That ended early in the second half. By making 18 of its first 31 shots, LSU got to within 50-45 barely two minutes into the second half. But the Tigers made only seven of 23 shots the rest of the way.
"That game, for our team, is difficult to play because of the athleticism of the Kentucky team and the depth it has," LSU Coach John Brady said. "As the game went along, it's certainly difficult for us to meet the challenge their team presents for us."
Turner and depth produced a 29-7 breakout run that established a 79-52 lead for Kentucky.
Turner hit back-to-back perimeter jumpers to satar the run. "They backed off me and I have the confidence to hit those shots," he said.
A smile came to Turner's face when asked about defenses inviting a 1,000-point scorer to take open shots.
"Sometimes it feels good they back off and give me opportunities," he said. "Sometimes you kind of hesitate. That's what I can't be doing."
Of course, defenses give Turner open looks because of his unreliable shooting mechanics from the perimeter (2-for-21 on three-pointers this season) and the need to shut off his penetrating drives.
"It may be unorthodox, but it goes in," Tubby Smith said of people have to guard Wayne on the perimeter and that opens it up inside."
Although Turner got the breakout started, Kentucky's bench proved overwhelming. Moments before LSU closed to within 54-48, Smith went to a lineup of three freshmen (Desmond Allison, Tayshaun Prince and Jules Camara) and two sophomores (Mike Bradley and Saul Smith). It reeled off nine straight points.
Maybe more importantly, it got the attention of players sent to the bench.
"They were quicker," the UK coach said of the lineup. "Quickness helps us defensively and the guys who go to the bench have a chance to understand (he chuckled) they ain't going to play if they don't play hard."