March 28, 1998
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - The Kentucky Wildcats picked up where they left off last
season, beating taller, brawnier and supposedly smarter Stanford 86-85 in an
overtime thriller Saturday to advance to the Final Four championship game for
the third straight year.
Kentucky got the job done this time with the 27-point shooting of Jeff
Sheppard and moved within one victory of its seventh national title.
Champions two years ago and runners-up to Arizona last year under Rick
Pitino, the Wildcats' return to the title game came with a team that Tubby
Smith inherited but shaped into his own.
More than a collection of thoroughbreds racing up and down the court, this
Kentucky squad coped cleverly with Stanford and overcame the absence of a
superstar by playing with slick teamwork.
Down by as many as 10 points in the second half, Kentucky stepped up the
defensive pressure with Smith screaming on the sideline and rode the outside
shooting of Sheppard and the inside muscle of Nazr Mohammed to victory.
"We kept our composure throughout and hung in there when things weren't
going well for us," said Smith, the first black basketball coach at a school
where Adolph Rupp built an all-white dynasty with 876 wins and four NCAA
Sheppard scored six of his points in overtime, and Mohammed bounced back
from foul trouble and a scoreless first half to score 18 points.
Arthur Lee, the hero of Stanford's victory over Rhode Island in the Midwest
Regional final, led the Cardinal with 26 points, while backcourt teammate Kris
Weems scored 17. Lee hit five of eight 3-pointers and did a superb job of
controlling the tempo for the Cardinal.
Kentucky (34-4) trailed most of the game but scored the first five points in
overtime, all by Mohammed and Sheppard, to jump to a 78-73 lead. Stanford never
"This team has gone through a lot this year," Sheppard said. "It's been
fun to pull together. We are like a family, like brothers out there."
In its first Final Four since winning the title in 1942, Stanford (30-5) got
within a point three times down the stretch but saw its chance of an upset fade
when Peter Sauer missed a long heave at the buzzer.
Stanford turned the ball over only twice in the first half, but Kentucky's
pressure in the second half and overtime forced the Cardinal to make 13
Weems, Stanford's leading scorer most of the season but averaging only 5
points in the NCAA tournament going into this game, had the green light to keep
shooting and sank three of 11 shots, all 3-pointers, in the first half. But he
was just 6-for-23 overall.
"I don't know what more I could ask of these kids," Stanford coach Mike
Montgomery said. "It was an unbelievable season. If anybody anywhere had any
doubts about this team, they were answered by these kids.
"We made some critical errors. Maybe it was fatigue, maybe it was youth.
But we answered the call every time we were down."
Stanford took a 13-3 lead in the first five minutes of the game, and led
throughout the half despite one five-minute stretch when it couldn't get off a
shot and Kentucky came back to 18-17.
Staying in a man-to-man defense and keeping Kentucky's fast break contained
with good position under the boards, Stanford rode 3-pointers by Weems and Lee
for a 37-32 halftime lead.
Mohammed picked up two fouls in the first few minutes, sat out most of the
rest of the first half, and went scoreless until hitting three inside shots in
a row early in the second half.
But Stanford kept answering Kentucky's inside shooting with 3-pointers,
including one by Sauer that gave the Cardinal its biggest lead of the second
half, 46-36, and another by Lee that made it 49-40.
The Wildcats fought back to 49-48 on a basket by Mohammed, a 3-pointer by
Allen Edwards and a steal, drive and foul shot by Sheppard.
Kentucky stayed close but couldn't grab the lead until Scott Padgett sank
two free throws to put the Wildcats ahead for the first time, 54-53, with 10:04
A 10-foot hook by Mohammed made it 56-53, but Stanford regained the lead
with two straight baskets before a pair of free throws by Mohammed, on Tim
Young's fourth foul, put Kentucky ahead again with 7:23 to go.
With the 7-foot-1 Young going to the bench, Stanford lost a big presence in
the middle who had accounted for 10 points and seven rebounds.
That meant Mark Madsen had to step up even more, and he responded with an
offensive rebound, layup and free throw that put Stanford ahead once more,
68-66, with 3:04 left in regulation.
Kentucky made it 72-66 on two 3-pointers by Sheppard, but another offensive
rebound and layup by Madsen, and a 3-pointer by Lee with 26 seconds left after
a Kentucky free throw tied the game 73-73.
With three seconds to go in regulation, Turner missed a short bank, and
Madsen rebounded to give Stanford a chance to win the game with 1.1 seconds
left. But a 40-foot heave by Weems under pressure fell well short and the game
went into overtime.