94 feet: When three just wasn’t enough

*To read about the 1986 season when UK played Alabama four times in one season, scroll down to “When three just wasn’t enough.”

The Alabama Crimson Tide (13-5, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) invades Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon to take on the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats (18-1, 4-0 SEC) in what should be a classic showdown between two of the most talented squads in the SEC. Coach Anthony Grant’s team, though, is coming off of two consecutive SEC losses, and will certainly be looking to right the Tide ship with a victory Saturday.

The Cats, coming off one of their best performances of the year in their 86-63 win over Arkansas, must play with toughness if they hope to extend their SEC winning streak to five games.

Series history

The Cats and Tide have hooked up on the hardwood for a total of 137 games since 1923, with UK coming out on top 101 times and losing 36 games. Kentucky has played Alabama nine times as the No. 2 team in the country and won all nine contests. The last time UK played ‘Bama as No. 2 in the land was in March of 2010 in the SEC Tournament. At Rupp Arena, UK holds a 19-5 advantage, with the Crimson Tide’s last Rupp victory coming in January of 2006 by a count of 68-64.

Currently, UK has won six of seven and boasts an 11-5 record versus ‘Bama since 2000. Since 1990, the Cats have a 22-8 edge against the Tide.

Series superlatives

  • Dan Issel is the Wildcat responsible for scoring the most single-game points against Alabama, with 47 in February of 1970. Issel’s 19 made field goals that game is also the high water mark for UK players.
  • Tying for most rebounds in a game versus ‘Bama are Cotton Nash and Kevin Grevey, who both snared 18 boards against ‘Bama, Nash in February of 1963 and Grevey in January of 1975.
  • Ed Davender dished out 10 assists against UA in February of 1988, setting the record for most dimes by a Cat against the Tide.
  • Both John Pelphrey (in January of 1990) and Rodrick Rhodes (in February of 1994) had five steals against Alabama, setting the UK standard.
  • The most blocks by a UK player against the Tide is six, executed by Jamal Magloire in February of 1997.
  • Patrick Sparks set the UK mark for most made 3-pointers against UA, by nailing seven treys in February of 2005.

When three just wasn’t enough

In 1986, UK, led by senior All-America Kenny “Sky” Walker, junior All-SEC power forward Winston Bennett, senior point Roger Harden, sophomore guard Ed Davender and the high-flying guard James Blackmon, embarked on one of the great seasons in program history — and one of the most improbable string of matchups.

Finishing the season ranked No. 3 in the country and with a 32-4 record, the Cats rolled through the SEC season with a 17-1 record. Included in those 17 conference wins were two games against Alabama. The first UK win, in a game played Rupp Arena, came on Jan. 1, 1986, and featured a tremendous effort by UK’s Walker as he scored 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds. James Blackmon contributed 18 points on 9-of-11 field goals, as the No.11 Cats rolled the unranked Tide at home by a score of 76-52.

In that initial contest, ‘Bama’s top two players, forward Buck Johnson and swing Derrick McKey, combined to make only 7-of-25 shots and score 20 points, well below their season averages. As a team, the Tide shot only 39.2 percent to UK’s 56.4 percent.

In the second game between the two teams, barely a month later on Feb. 13, Alabama, Johnson and McKey played much better, combining for 38 points as the No. 18 Crimson Tide came within two of the No. 11 Cats, losing 73-71 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Again for UK, Walker came up big, scoring 16 points and snagging 11 boards, but it was the play of Blackmon which led the Cats, as the uber-athletic Hoosier native scored 22 points (making 11-of-16 shots), as Kentucky again shot accurately from the floor, connecting on 51.9 percent of its shots (ironically enough, the Tide shot the exact same percentage).

As will happen from time to time, the Cats and Tide hooked up for a third meeting in the ’86 season, this time in the SEC Tournament championship game played on March 8 at Rupp Arena.

Fouls reigned supreme in the contest, as the two squads, by now quite familiar with each other, combined for 54 fouls and 66 foul shots. But once again, for the third time in less than two months, the Cats came out on top, winning 83-72 by making 27-of-32 free throws, an almost unbelievable 84.4 percent. Walker, a strong free-throw shooter throughout his UK career, connected on 16 of 18 from the charity stripe, scoring all but four of his 20 points from the line. Roger Harden also had a nice game, dishing out seven assists and scoring 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting.

Kentucky then entered the 1986 NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed in the Southeast Regional, with the Crimson Tide making the tourney as the No. 5 seed in, yes, the Southeast Regional.

Both teams dispatched their first two Big Dance opponents, UK besting (16) Davidson and (8) Western Kentucky, while ‘Bama took care of business against (12) Xavier and (4) Illinois, setting up the fourth – yes, fourth – meeting between the two SEC schools.

In possibly the Cats’ best defensive effort of the season, in a game played at The Omni in Atlanta, Georgia, Kentucky played a collapsing man-to-man defense designed to choke off the inside play of Bama’s Johnson and McKey. The result, the Tide shot only 42.6 percent from the field, while UK connected on 51.6 percent of its attempts, and were again led by Walker’s 22 points, as the Cats sent the Tide packing with a fourth consecutive defeat, this time 68-63.

Bennett also came to play as the physical forward scored 14 points and snared a game-high 12 rebounds, while Harden tossed in nine assists in the winning effort. Walker, though, experienced perhaps one of the most satisfying individual accomplishments a Wildcat can enjoy, as he, with a first-half turnaround jumper which was goaltended by ‘Bama’s McKey, passed Jack “Goose” Givens for second place on UK’s all-time scoring list with 2,039 points (Walker ended his career with 2,080 points, 58 points shy of Dan Issel’s career scoring mark of 2,138 points).

After the game — again, the fourth between the two schools during the ’86 season – UK’s Bennett appropriately declared, “We don’t believe in the law of averages.” The “law of averages” would catch up with the Cats in the Southeast Regional Final, though, as LSU, a team UK beat three times during the season, bested the Cats by two points, advancing to the Final Four.

Kentucky’s effective field-goal percentage

For those readers not aware of what effective field goal percentage is, here is a concise explanation: effective field goal percentage (eFG%) takes into account that a made 3-point shot is worth more than a made 2-point shot, something the traditional field-goal percent stat does not do. The eFG% statistic simply reveals which players are the most efficient shooters.

The formula is as follow: 1.) Multiply the number of made 3-point shots by .5, 2.) add step one result to the total number of made field goals by the player, 3.) divide step two result by the number of field-goal attempts by the player, and one has the effective field goal percentage of the player. Example: Doron Lamb has made 34 3-point shots on the year and made a total of 83 shots, while attempting 180 shots. Lamb’s eFG% breaks down like this: 34 x .5 = 17, 17 + 83 = 100, 100 divided by 180 = 55.6 percent, which is Lamb’s eFG%, tops on the team.

Next in line is Darius Miller with an eFG% of 54.8, and not far behind Miller is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with a 53.0 eFG%. Terrence Jones sports an eFG% of 51.3, while Kyle Wiltjer’s eFG% is 50.0.

Tipoff is schedule for noon ET with television by CBS. Stay tuned to CoachCal.com as Eric Lindsey and UK assistant coach John Robic will be along with a comprehensive scouting report on Alabama.