94 feet: Looking back at Turpin’s near perfect game

The newly minted No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (19-1, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) travel to historic Athens, Ga., to take on Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs (10-9, 1-4 SEC) in a late-night league showdown. The Cats will be looking for a measure of payback after last year’s 77-70 loss at Georgia in a game best described as a tough, physical battle.

This year, the Dawgs, fresh off a close 66-63 loss to Ole Miss, will be looking to right the ship with a signature win over the Cats, while UK will try to keep its perfect SEC mark unblemished.

Series history

Kentucky holds a 113-25 series advantage over Georgia. Since 2000, UK has won 18 games and lost eight. Since 1990, the Wildcats hold a 38-10 edge. In games played at Georgia since 2000, the Cats are 8-4. Since 1990 at Georgia, UK is 16-6. All-time in Athens, Kentucky is 39-16.

Series superlatives

  • Melvin Turpin holds two UK records against the Bulldogs, both recorded in the same game: 1.) most points scored by a Wildcat in a game against the Bulldogs with 42, and 2.) most field goals against UGA with 18 in March of 1984 (more on Turpin’s record-setting game later).
  • With his 23 rebounds against Georgia in February of 1976, Mike Phillips set the record for most boards against UGA.
  • Three Wildcat greats tie for most single-game assists versus Georgia with 10: Kyle Macy (February 1978), Roger Harden (January 1984 and February 1985) and Dicky Beal (March 1984).
  • Both Jamal Mashburn (February 1991) and Reggie Hanson (February 1990) recorded six steals against Georgia.
  • Patrick Patterson holds the UK record for most blocks against the Dawgs with eight in March of 2009.
  • Four Cats nailed five 3-point shots in a single game against Georgia: Derrick Millar (December 1986), Tony Delk (January 1994), Joe Crawford (February 2008) and Michael Porter (March 2009).

The verge of perfection

It was March of 1984. The Kentucky Wildcats, sitting at 23-4 on the year, entered the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., as the No. 3 ranked team in the country. Twin Tower-mania, featuring UK’s All-America big men, 7-foot-1 Sam Bowie and 6-11 Melvin Turpin, had engulfed the Bluegrass as the Cats marched through the SEC with a league best 14-4 record.

Up first for the Cats in the SEC tourney was Hugh Durham’s Georgia Bulldogs (Durham was a two-sport star at Eastern High School in Louisville, Ky. before matriculating to Florida State). The Bulldogs, sporting a 17-11 record, had played the Cats close in their last game at Athens, losing to UK by two points. Led by all-league selection Vern Fleming, the Dawgs were athletic but vertically challenged, as UGA had no player on its roster taller than 6-6, a fact not lost on Turpin, who was about to enjoy one of the greatest games ever by a Wildcat.

Early on in the contest it became clear it would be the Cats’ day. With Kentucky guards Dicky Beal and Jim Master making shots, Georgia’s tightly packed zone began to loosen a bit, turning the game into Turpin time.

Dominating around the rim, Turpin scored on put-backs, tip-ins and dunks, and in one four-minute stretch of the first half (13:30 to 9:30), the big man scored 11 consecutive Wildcat points, propelling UK to a 33-16 lead. As if to reiterate his size advantage, the 15,426 in attendance at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium witnessed Turpin make seven of his 11 first-half shots on follow-ups after a UK miss.

Turpin accounted for 24 of UK’s 47 first-half points (to UGA’s 34), and with Big Mel adding 13 rebounds to his stat line, he out-rebounded UGA all by his lonesome, as the Dawgs could muster only 10 boards (to UK’s 25).

The second half brought more of the same – misery for the Dawgs, and an SEC Tournament scoring record for Turpin as he continued his domination of the paint and beyond. Once again scoring from in close against the Bulldog double teams, Turpin began making shots from midrange, as well as his patented hook, rendering the Bryan Station alum almost unstoppable.

The Cats held their lead for the entirety of the second frame, but six times the Dawgs got within 11 points of UK, and four of those times Turpin responded with a basket.

With 3:45 remaining, and Kentucky clearly in command, Turpin scored his 40th point on a nice feed from Bowie. That basket brought Turpin within one basket (technically, one point) of passing Cliff Hagan’s SEC Tournament single-game scoring record of 40 points set in 1952. Turpin, though, had no idea he was so close to setting the scoring record.

For two minutes Turpin called for the ball in all manner of ways, but the Cats just couldn’t seem to get it to him. Finally, with the clock winding down and Turpin stuck on 40 points, UK guard James Blackmon led a three-on-two break. Unaware of Turpin’s chase for the record, he dished to a trailing Kenny Walker, who, in the blink of an eye, guided a touch pass to Turpin for a 10-foot jumper at the buzzer. He swished it for the record as the Cats won by a final score of 92-79.

Turpin’s stat line read thusly: an almost perfect 18 of 22 from the field, 16 rebounds and 42 record-breaking points. Afterward, UGA’s Vern Fleming said, “We’ve got to play behind him, because if we don’t all he’s got to do is turn around and dunk it. … So we played behind him and hoped he’d miss the shot. If his shot is going down, well, you saw what happened.”

Cat stats and trends

Darius Miller — Through the season’s first five games Miller made only 1-of-11 3-point shots, but in the 15 games since he’s connected on 24 of 60 from long-range (40.0 percent) … Miller has scored in double figures in 10 of UK’s 20 games … When he takes double-digit shots, Miller is 29 of 53 from the field (54.7 percent) and averages 14.6 points per game.

Terrence Jones — In his last six games, all starts, Jones is averaging 13.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game … In those six games, Jones made 28-of-49 shots, good for 57.1 percent field-goal shooting … On the year, Jones averages 2.1 blocks per contest, but in the last three games he has blocked 10 shots.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — In SEC play MKG has made only 1-of-6 trey tries after starting the season 10 of 27 (37.0 percent) … Through his first 16 games of the year, MKG averaged 1.1 steals per game, but in the last four games he has eight steals … He has made 8-of-15 shots over the last two games (53.3 percent), after making only 19 of 49 from the field the previous five contests (38.8 percent).

Doron Lamb — UK’s sharpshooter is making 46.8 percent of his 3-point tries on the year, 8 of 16 in SEC play (50.0 percent) … Lamb has recorded only 10 steals all season (.5 pg) … Lamb has dished out 39 assists to only 22 turnovers on the season (1.8-1 assist/turnover ratio).

Anthony Davis — Davis is seventh in the SEC in steals with 32 in 20 games played (1.6 per game) … UK’s man in the middle had nine double-figure rebounding efforts through the Cats’ first 16 games and was averaging 10.6 rebounds, but in the last four games he’s had only one double-figure board game … Davis has no less than four blocks in any of his last five games, and he’s averaging 5.2 blocks per game in that span.

Marquis Teague — UK’s point guard has 18 assists and 16 turnovers in SEC play (1.1-1 assist/turnover ratio) … In nonconference play Teague had 68 assists to 47 turnovers for a 1.4-1 assist/turnover ratio … Through his first 11 games, Teague made 15-of-27 foul shots (55.6 percent), but in the last nine contests he has made 27 of 34 from the charity stripe (79.4 percent).

Kyle Wiltjer — In his 42 minutes of SEC play (covering all five games), Wiltjer has put up 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting, 3-of-9 3-pointers, five rebounds, two turnovers and one block.

Eloy Vargas — In his 18 minutes of SEC action, Vargas has posted two points, one rebound and one steal.

Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. Stay tuned to CoachCal.com as Eric Lindsey and UK assistant coach John Robic will be along with a comprehensive scouting report on the Georgia Bulldogs.