Kentucky holds off Terps, 96-84 Maryland cuts deficit from 18 to 6 late, but No. 1 'Cats prevail

Rhodes hits career-high 30

Williams encouraged

'showed we can play'

November 25, 1995|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Maryland showed surprising strength on the boards and tenacity on defense last night, but couldn't match Kentucky's bottomless bench or the Wildcats' three-point shooting.

In a season opener that careened from blowout to nailbiter, No. 1 Kentucky shook off the Terrapins for a 96-84 victory in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic before a sellout crowd of 8,999 at the Springfield Civic Center.

"I kept telling the guys every timeout, 'If you think a 15-point lead is safe, you're crazy,' " Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said. " 'I coached against this gentleman, and this team is not going away.' "

"This gentleman" -- Maryland coach Gary Williams -- watched his Terps cut an 18-point second-half deficit to six with 2:15 to play -- and had the ball -- before letting the Wildcats slip off the upset hook.

"I'm encouraged," Williams said after a game fraught with peaks and valleys. "I think we showed we can play. When you lose a player like Joe Smith, there is concern you can stay competitive."

The Terps stayed competitive with Johnny Rhodes scoring a career-high 30 points, with Maryland pounding the boards for a

41-34 advantage, and a pressure defense that forced 20 Kentucky turnovers.

But the Wildcats won out in the end because of their three-point shooting -- they were 9-for-19 to Maryland's 1-for-12 -- and their all-star bench.

Maryland jolted Kentucky for a 20-9 lead at the outset, and was down by only two, 37-35, at halftime.

But Kentucky opened the second half with an 18-3 run that featured eight straight points by Derek Anderson, a transfer from Ohio State.

When freshman Ron Mercer threw down a dunk five minutes into the half, the lead went to 55-38. Kentucky's biggest lead was 70-52.

Maryland scored only one field goal in the first six minutes of the second half, making five turnovers in the process. Williams didn't attribute that lapse, however, to the Wildcats' depth.

"Where it hurt us was the start of the second half, when we shouldn't have been tired," Williams said. "We didn't play with enough intensity in the second half. We were down six with two minutes left and threw the ball away."

Two straight baskets by Rhodes and two free throws by Duane Simpkins (12-for-12 at the line) got the deficit down to 86-80.

A Kentucky turnover gave Maryland possession with 1:42 left, but when Mario Lucas tried to hit Rhodes in the low post, Anthony Epps stole the ball.

Tony Delk scored six straight Kentucky points around two more free throws by Simpkins to open a 10-point lead and finally put the game away.

"Johnny had good position and was open," Lucas said of the critical play. "I threw the ball and thought he was open. That's what killed us tonight, our passing. We had a lot of turnovers."

Maryland had 24 turnovers in a game of trapping defenses. The Terps struggled often in their half-court offense, and had just one field goal during a nine-minute stretch of the first half.

"Our depth was a major factor," Pitino said. "Because our press got to them because of our depth.

"They're going to be a great ballclub, Maryland. I take my hat off to their kids. They didn't quit."

Mark Pope, a 6-foot-10 senior, led Kentucky with 26 points and was named most valuable player of the game.

Delk added 21 points, hitting three of four three-pointers. All but three of Delk's points came in the second half as he was limited to three minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.

"Kentucky's very good," Williams said. "Their ballhandling is very overlooked. We both pressed, but they were able to convert a lot more out of transition situations."

Kentucky had 24 points off turnovers to Maryland's eight. Maryland had 17 second-chance points, though, because of its advantage on the boards, which included 16 offensive rebounds.

"They wore us down," said Simpkins, who scored 16 points but had eight turnovers. "It's hard to get going against [Kentucky's pressure defense], and when you do, to make something happen.

"But this game showed we have character, and that's a trademark of this team in the past."

The Wildcats shot 61 percent in the second half and finished at 54 percent. Maryland shot just 44 percent.

Rhodes hit 13 of 20 shots for the night and tied Simpkins for the team-high in rebounds with five.

"In the first half, we did a good job of attacking them and getting the ball in the middle," Rhodes said. "In the second half, we didn't. We made a lot of mental mistakes, a lot of little mistakes. We weren't that crisp catching the ball."

Keith Booth, who fouled out along with frontcourt mate Exree Hipp, scored 11 points for the Terps, and Lucas had 10 with four rebounds.

The Terps also got meaningful minutes out of freshmen Terrell Stokes (four points, two steals in 10 minutes) and Obinna Ekezie (six points, two blocks in 20 minutes).

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