Date story was published: Sunday, March 17, 1985
Joe Hall couldn't remember the last time he rode off a basketball court on his players' shoulders.
With freshman exuberance, Richard Madison and Robert Lock shouldered Hall off from midcourt last night, the first 45 feet or so on the road to Denver.
"Oh Lordie, oh Lordie," Hall said as he and his contingent were swallowed by happy Wildcat fans.
Oh Lordie, indeed.
UK, the team supposedly too young and too inexperienced to still be playing, is going to the West Regional semifinals in Denver for a game against No. 3 St. John's on Friday night.
UK, a team that supposedly didn't belong in this tournament, stayed alive, beating Nevada-Las Vegas 64-61. Kentucky improved to 18-12, while UNLV finished at 28-4.
Again, it was Kenny Walker who saved UK from extinction.
Walker blocked a potential go-ahead shot by Vegas center Richie Adams, then sprinted downcourt for a layup that kept the Cats safely on top.
Those plays, combined with Madison's clinching free throws with nine seconds remaining and some sparkling guard play earlier in the second half, were Kentucky's tickets to Denver.
"Kenny's made plays like that all year," Hall said of Walker's block. ''This team has made those plays all year. This team keeps amazing me the way they play and win."
Walker, who led all scorers with 23 points, made the defensive play of the game just as Kentucky seemed ready to squander an eight-point lead in the final 4:49. When Madison beat the Vegas press for a two-hand slam, the Cats led 60-52 at that point.
But three straight turnovers in a decaying delay offense kept everyone in their seats and Vegas in the game.
The Rebels made two perimeter jumpers and a three-point play to close within one, 60-59, with 1:34 remaining.
The third of UK's consecutive miscues, a palm by Madison, gave Vegas the ball with 1:17 to go.
UK nearly gained possession with 22 seconds later when Vegas guard Fred Banks drove and appeared to have the ball tipped off his chest out of bounds. Don Shea, one of two Southeastern Conference referees working the game, indicated it was UK's ball. Shea was overruled by the other SEC ref, Charles Vacca.
"It was a good call," Hall said.
What followed was much more than good from UK's standpoint.
After a timeout with 55 seconds left, the Rebels worked the ball to Adams on the right baseline, about six feet from the basket.
Adams, a two-time all-conference player, went up immediately and flicked a left-handed half-hook toward the hoop.
It was intercepted by Walker, who had come across from the left side.
"I'm glad he took off that far because if he had been a step closer he could have dunked the ball," Walker said. "When I saw him drop-step, I came over. I just timed the ball."
Adams said he saw Walker coming all the way.
"I just intended to put in a little 3-footer," Adams said. "That's only the second time that's ever happened."
Madison saved the rejection from going out of bounds with a blind flip over his shoulder to James Blackmon.
In the last of his six assists, Roger Harden then hit Walker in full stride for a layup that gave Kentucky a 62-59 edge with 21 seconds to go.
Vegas again closed to within one when Fred Banks hit a 15-footer, but Madison sank two clinching free throws with nine seconds to go.
"He got the perfect shot and Walker made the perfect block," Vegas coach Jerry Tarkanian said. "No one else on the floor could have blocked it."
As timely as Walker's block was, Tarkanian said he thought the game turned on the baseline drives of Davender and Blackmon earlier in the half.
Those drives, three by Davender and one by Blackmon, started a 16-10 run that allowed UK to break a 40-40 deadlock.
"We were in position to take charge, but we didn't," Tarkanian said. ''That was the difference."
Davender drove the baseline and swung under the hoop for baskets three times. The first gave UK a 42-40 lead with 14:51 remaining. The second, which resulted in a three-point play, increased the margin to 47-42. The third kept the Cats ahead 51-48.
Blackmon literally rose to the occasion when UK was attempting to protect its lead.
The Cats had gone into a more deliberate offense with eight minutes remaining. UK led 53-48.
"It was because we were a little tired," Hall said of the change. "We were looking to score; we were posting up Kenny on every dribble down."
Blackmon drove the right side and slammed home a dunk with 6:01 to go, capping a delay that successfully used up two minutes.
"It was just the way the game evolved," Hall said of his guards, who combined for 25 points. "If they aren't hitting, I'm screaming. If they are, I'm clapping."
When Walker hit a short turnaround and Madison beat the press for a slam, UK was up 60-52.
Then UK nearly folded.
Twice Harden threw the ball away, once behind Blackmon, once too low for Walker.
Although Vegas closed to one, the Rebels just missed taking the lead.
Anthony Jones missed a layup and Adams was called for going over the back of Harden on the rebound with UK ahead 53-48 with nine minutes remaining.
Later, Adams missed a dunk.
"You tell me what happened," Adams said.
"We had our chances," Tarkanian said. "The team that advances makes the big plays. Kentucky made the big plays."
It was move, countermove in the first half with neither team able to take control.
UK held the early advantage, isolating Walker down low against Vegas' constant man-to-man.
That strategy allowed Walker to score 11 points in the first nine minutes. UK opened up its largest lead of the half, 17-10, at that point.
It was then, at the 11:48 mark, that Vegas called time and countered. The Rebels pulled their center, Adams, and later Richard Robinson, out of the man- to-man to help out on Walker. UK's All-America forward had only two points the rest of the half.
Vegas also turned up its defensive pressure and befuddled the Wildcats. Aided by two UK turnovers and 0-for-5 shooting by the Cats, Vegas ran off 10 straight points to claim its largest first-half lead, 20-17.
That brought UK's response, the Cats' amazing ability to wriggle themselves back into the game.
This time the unlikely heroes were freshman Cedric Jenkins and Blackmon.
Jenkins, who had only 10 points this season, had been inserted into the game late in the half and stationed, as the other Cat centers had been, away from the basket.
When the gangly freshman pivoted, he saw no defender close and heard Walker's voice.
"I told him to shoot, thinking I could get good rebounding position," Walker said.
Jenkins fired from 15 feet. And hit! UK assistant Lake Kelly shot off his seat clapping. The shot put UK ahead 28-24 with 2:20 remaining.
Blackmon's moment came in the last second of the half. Vegas had just taken a two-point lead on Frank "Spoon" James' jumper with eight seconds to go.
Blackmon dribbled down the right side and went up with two defenders. Blackmon hit from 20 feet, tying the score at 30.
All evening, UK ran when the opportunity was there.
"We felt their defense was weakest when it was strung out," Hall said.
UK was to fly back to Lexington last night.