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LSU Post Season Games - 1986 Part 5
Kentucky fans were already booking their reservations for the Fi­nal Four in Dallas. And who could blame them? Eddie Sutton's Wild­cats, the #1 seed in the Southeast Regional of the NCAA Tourna­ment,  losers of only three of their 35 games, and winners of 14 straight, had al­ready beaten LSU three times during the 1985-86 season. All the Cats had to do to reach the Final Four was knock off the Tigers in the Regional Final at the Omni in At­lanta.
However, what UK fans weren't considering was that LSU's losses to Kentucky had been by 54-52 in Baton Rouge, 68-57 in Lexington, and 61-58 in the SEC Tournament semifinals, which was also at Rupp Are­na. Fur­thermore, the Tigers were playing much better basketball than in their last game with UKs. Seeded #11 in the Southeast Reg­ional, they had won three straight NCAA Tournament games against higher seed­ed foes: #6 Purdue, #3 Memphis State, and #2 Georgia Tech.
To have a chance, LSU would need John Williams (who would be called a "point forward" in today's basketball) to have a game like the one he played against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament. Although he hadn't play­ed well in the previous games against UK, he scored 28 points on his way to earning MVP honors in the tourney.
Another key to victory would be the duel between LSU's Ricky Blan­ton and Kentucky's top scorer, 6'8" F Kenny Walker. LSU's strong­est player, 6'7" Blanton held him under his average of 20ppg in all three meetings – 12 points at LSU, 17 in Lexington, and 11 in the SEC Tour­nament.

L-R: Eddie Sutton, Ricky Blanton, Roger Harden, Don Redden
"LSU's defense is very tough as far as cutting down our inside game," said Walker. "Ricky has definitely improved defensively throughout the year. ... He's got the size. He's got the body. He really plays tough and aggressively, whether they're playing man or zone."
LSU Coach Dale Brown was asked to explain his special "freak" de­fense. He said it in­volved a mix of box-and-one, diamond-and-one, and triangle-and-two alignments in addition to straight zones, match­up zones, and some man-to-man. We're trying to neutralize superior talent by mak­ing them hesitate."
Kentucky would play their usual man-to-man defense unless it got into foul trou­ble.
Coach Sutton said, "We're not going to do anything differently. We'll play like we always do: good solid defense without fouling. LSU's not doing that much differently, but they are playing very well as a team. They're on a roll because they've beaten three quality teams."
Kentucky G Roger Harden knew his team would be in for a dog­fight. "LSU's riding the intangibles, and they've got a lot of confidence. They're a very dangerous team right now."

John Williams and Ricky Blanton hem in Kenny Walker.
(University of Kentucky Kentuckian Yearbook Class of 1986)
First Half
With only 1,000 or so LSU fans in the 16,453 arena that was nearly full, it seemed like a Ken­tucky home game.
The Wildcats came out sky high and raced out to an 11-4 lead on the strength of nine in­side points by Walker. But LSU kept its composure and battled back to take a 17-16 lead on John Williams' three-point play.
LSU's Derrick Taylor said afterward, "They were super high. Kenny Walker was doing all that crazy stuff, kneeling down and pumping his fist. That was cute, but we didn't pay any attention to that. Maybe we were a little too loose coming into the game. But we didn't lose our com­posure and we played with more intensity."
Walker: "I was trying to generate some enthusiasm, hoping it would rub off. It was carry­ing us at the time, but it kind of died out."
John Williams: "We knew it was just a matter of time before we got things going. We just took our time and got back in the ballgame."
LSU righted itself offensively when Don Redden hit three straight shots. Defensively, the Tigers got more physical with Walker. After four baskets in the first four minute, he got only four more the rest of the game.
"We didn't body check him at all," said Taylor of Walker's fast start.
"The defense wasn't anything different," Sutton said. "There was a lot more physical activi­ty, but that's nothing new."
With Walker relatively quiet, Kentucky had to call on its other guns. But except for Har­den, who made six of eight shots and Blackmon's brief hot streak in the second half, the other Cats mostly shot blanks.
The Wildcats briefly led by seven points, the largest margin for either team in the first half. But the Tigers fought back to go up 28-24 with 3:37 left in the half.
But Kentucky outscored the Tigers 10-5 the rest of the way with a last-second fadeaway baseline jumper from Walker giving them a one-point lead at halftime.
Little did anyone know that the UK star would take just three more shots and score only one more basket in the second half.
Halftime score: Kentucky 34 LSU 33

Winston Bennett tries to steal the ball from John Williams.
(University of Kentucky Kentuckian Yearbook Class of 1986)
Second Half
Kentucky didn't play well in the first few minutes of the second half. But after falling behind by three, the Wildcats forced back-to-back turn­overs, leading to three straight Winston Ben­nett points to tie the score at 39 with 15:40 left. After that, neither team was able to put to­gether a streak and take control.
The Wildcats forged a 47-43 advantage on a jump shot by Ed Daven­der, but LSU scored the next four points. Then James Blackmon hit two straight shots from deep in the corner for a 51-47 advantage with 5:52 remaining.
Sutton said, "I thought we were in pretty good shape when we got up by four points in the second half."
But Brown told his team, "This is exactly where we want them. We're within striking dis­tance." His game plan was to keep the score close going into the stretch, then rely on defense to win. With that in mind, he switch­ed to a man to man defense.
Aided by Walker missing a critical one-and-one opportunity at the four-minute mark, LSU ripped off six straight points. Blanton scored two straight baskets on a put back of an air ball by Anthony Wilson and a layup. Then a bank shot by tournament MVP Don Redden after head-faking Bennett into a standstill put LSU ahead 55-51 with 1:31 left. "It was just a mat­ter of getting on the weak side," said Redden, "and I was fortunate enough to get the re­bound and put it back in."
Kentucky had rallied from five points down in the closing minutes against LSU in their last meeting. They had a chance to pull even after Walker drew a foul from Blanton and made both free throws with 1:19 on the clock to cut the deficit to two.
The Wildcats went to its full-court ball-denial press. But they couldn't get a steal, and LSU ran off 35 seconds before Davender finally fouled Taylor with 44 second left. Since LSU was not in the bonus, they got the ball out of bounds with a new shot clock that they could run down to the final seconds. Kentucky was in deep trouble.
"We wanted to try to get the ball out of our defense first, then foul after 15 seconds or so," explained Sutton. "We waited a little too long."
LSU spread out, opening space near the lane. They played keep away until Redden got the ball on the left side and wheeled into the line. He was double-teamed, but that left Blanton alone under the basket. Zip! Soft pass and layup by Blanton made it 59-55 with 0:15 left. Goodbye, Ken­tucky.
"I was going to take it to the hole, but I saw Ricky open," Redden said. "And he got the layup. I thought that was what broke their back." He add­ed, "I could see in their eyes they were hesitant. Not scared or anything like that, just hesitant. They were playing not to lose. I could tell they were thinking about the prior three games."
Not wanting to foul, LSU let Harden drive for a layup to make it 59-57 with five seconds left. After calling a timeout, Kentucky fouled Williams as soon as he got the inbounds pass. John had made only two of 15 field goal attempts and now, after another UK timeout, he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Harden had sunk a jumper at the buzzer to beat LSU 54-52 in Baton Rouge, and in the SEC Tournament he sank another bucket to seal the Wildcats' 61-58 triumph. But this time, as he dribbled furiously up court, the Tigers forced him to dish the ball to Blackmon, who launched a shot from midcourt that bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
"I knew I had to just turn and shoot," Blackmon said. "And I thought it was going in."
"Their well is dry," said Williams. "We knew their luck would run out."
Within seconds, the entire LSU team and coaching staff donned red caps from the NCAA Tournament Committee that said, "Destination Dal­las: The Final Four."
One Kentucky reporter wrote, "While UK's story reached almost fairy-tale proportions, LSU's season has been spiced with Brown's running feud with the NCAA, the defection of 7-1 Tito Horford, Wilson's aca­demic trouble and Williams' bout with the chicken pox. Yet, when it was all over, the glass slipper fit the ugly step-sister."

L-R: Dale Brown triumphant; Derrick Taylor and Anthony Wilson, Ron Abernathy
Post Game
When the game ended, Brown sprinted across the court and dashed into the locker room, where he dropped to his knees in prayer. "We did it! We did it!" he chanted while fighting back tears and hugging trainer Mar­ty Broussard. "Thank God, we did it. The one that counts."
Dale added: "I thought I did my best job of coaching today, and the players gave their best on the floor. I guess it's the best moment I've ever had."
Associate coach Ron Abernathy: "We kept telling the kids, 'Believe in us and something good will happen, not next year or the year after, but this year. The kids believed in us, and they turned it completely around."
Don Redden: "We knew when we came in at halftime that we were go­ing to win. They had played their best, and we hadn't, and they still only led by one. You could see it in their eyes. They were scared."
Redden rubbed it in a bit. "The difference between our team and theirs is that we didn't run our mouths. We let our actions do the talking. The last 10 games our guys have jelled more than any team I could have imagined."
Derrick Taylor missed all nine of his field goal attempts but didn't care. "Pride got in the way this time. It would have been disgraceful if a team beats you four times, especially if they weren't physically better than you."
Ricky Blanton had a perfect afternoon, hitting all five shots from the field and two free throws to go with eight rebounds and three assists while doing a great job on Walker. Asked if this was the best perform­ance of his career, he replied, "It really hasn't hit me. That's not impor­tant. The team winning is more important."
The defense of Blanton and Oliver Brown limited Walker to just one field goal in the second half and that came on a steal and layup when LSU's defense wasn't set up. He took only three shots in the second half. "I tried to keep moving, but they did a good job of helping on me," Ken­ny said. "They did a better job of denying me the ball (in the second half)."
Coach Sutton: "If you had told me that we would shut out Taylor from the field, I would have said we would have won the game."
He disagreed with Redden's assessment that his Wildcats were hesi­tant. "Things just didn't happen for us this time. On-court things. There are no upsets at this stage. Somebody loses." He added, "We added to our misery with shot selection, but LSU's changing defenses (mostly a 2-3 zone) created problems. And they played with more patience than they have before."
Walker denied that his team overlooked the Tigers. "We knew this ballclub was very dangerous coming in. It's very disappointing not going to Dallas, but it's not going to ruin a great season."

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Tiger Den Basketball Archives – I
Tiger Firsts: Basketball Team | LSU National Champs | Joe Adcock | Pistol vs UCLA | Eddie Palubinskas | Dazzling Debut: Chris Jackson | Tiger Firsts: Final Four | Dale Brown Takes Over

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – II
BR Sports Academy | Four Little Points | Harry Rabenhorst | Shaq's 30-point SEC Game | Maravich's Freshman Circus | First AP Poll Ranking | The Dark Knight Strikes | Ricky Blanton | Tigers Are Back!

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – III
"Most Bizarre Set of Circumstances I Ever Saw" | Joe Dean | The Cow Palace | Still Playing at 41 | Pioneer | "It's the socks, Pete!" | Largest Deficit Overcome | Maravich Is for Real

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – IV
"Little Giant" | Shaquille O'Neal | Pete Breaks His Own Mark | What a Difference a Day Makes | When Lexington Went Wild over Beating the Tigers | Superdome Sizzlers

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – V
Pistol Pete Invades the Big Apple
Memorable Games: Kentucky 1978
Profile: Bobby Lowder
1938 SEC Tournament

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – VI
First Visit to the Big Apple
Don't Look Ahead
Profile: Bob Pettit I, II, III, IV
Pete's Farewell

Tiger Den Basketball Archives – VII
Season in Time: 2005-06

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