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Just as it had last season, the SEC game between Kentucky and Georgia in Athens went down to the wire. And, just as they did last year, the Wildcats pulled out a victory. Kentucky beat Georgia 68-66 on Melvin Turpin's at-the-buzzer tip-in. The Wildcats had to overcome a seven-point deficit in the second half and a 28-point performance by the Bulldogs' Dominique Wilkins. "I felt Kentucky capitalized on our mistakes," said Wilkins. "We didn't do what we had to do late in the game and they did." The defeat was Georgia's second straight in the conference.
After both of Tennessee's starting guards, 6'3" Gary Carter and 6'2" Ed Littleton, flunked out of school following the fall quarter, the Vols were written off as contenders for the SEC title. But against previously unbeaten Alabama, Tennessee made 68.6% of its shots and forced the Crimson Tide into numerous bad shots and turnovers en route to an 88-67 victory. "You don't get a win like this very often," said Tennessee Coach Don DeVoe. "This makes coaching fun." The Vols were paced by Dale Ellis, who scored 27 points, and their new backcourt tandem of Michael Brooks and Tyrone Beaman, who combined for 21 points and eight assists and outplayed the Tide's heralded guards, Ennis Whatley and Mike Davis.
Minnesota was a big winner on one court and in another. In Minneapolis the Gophers routed Army 79-37 and Arizona 91-62 to win the last Pillsbury Classic. They have won the tournament all eight years it has been played. They then beat Long Beach State 75-67 as Randy Breuer and Trent Tucker combined for 47 points, and Breuer's tough defense held 49er Center Dino Gregory, who had a 22-point average coming into the game, to 14. But Minnesota got its biggest boost from U.S. District Judge Miles Lord. He issued a temporary restraining order that allowed Mark Hall, a three-year starter at guard, to rejoin the team on Monday. Aware that he would be ineligible this season because of grade deficiencies. Hall attended summer school to improve his average. Although he raised it enough to remain eligible, the university denied him admission to a degree-granting program, a requirement for participating in NCAA competition. Lord ruled that the school failed to follow proper procedures in evaluating Hall's application to enter such a program.
Two freshmen, 6'11" Forward Michael Payne and Guard Todd Berkenpas, helped Iowa defeat Drake 60-49. With seniors Kevin Boyle and Kenny Arnold in shooting slumps, Payne and Berkenpas, who scored 18 and 12 points, respectively, were game-savers. "I've always thought that most freshmen couldn't help you that much until they got experience," said Hawkeye Coach Lute Olson, "but we were lucky tonight that we had a freshman eligibility rule."
After DePaul beat Louisville 75-68, Blue Demon Forward Terry Cummings, who had scored a career-high 37 points, said, "I love to play the Louisvilles, but not every day. It may be in our best interest to play the Illinois States right now, because our young players need time to mature." Illinois State forced them to grow up faster than expected as De-Paul squandered an early 12-point lead and was up by only three, 42-39, before outscoring the Redbirds 25-17 in the final 14 minutes to win 74-58. Cummings, who averaged 24 points and 12.4 rebounds in the Blue Demons' first 10 games, got 24 points in this one. Two nights later he had 25 and a team-high 10 rebounds in a 55-46 victory over Northern Illinois. Against Penn State at home, Cummings scored only 14 points, but Forward Bernard Randolph had 17 in the first half and Teddy Grubbs added 12 in the second to lift DePaul to an 86-60 win.
Glenn Rivers and Michael Wilson combined for 50 points and held Loyola of Chicago's star guard, Darius Clemons, to four as Marquette whipped the Ramblers 81-69. In a Sun Belt Conference game Virginia Commonwealth gave its volatile coach, J.D. Barnett, his 100th career victory by edging archrival University of Alabama at Birmingham 55-54.
Houston's star Guard Robert Williams was having a horrendous Sugar Bowl tournament—he would end up shooting 25% from the field—so Cougar Coach Guy Lewis knew that against LSU in the final he would need a superlative performance from his 7-foot Nigerian import, Akeem (Jellybean) Olajuwon, if the Cougars were to leave New Orleans with the trophy. Jellybean delivered, scoring 20 points and blocking a shot with seven seconds to play that might have sent the game into overtime. Following the Cougars' 73-69 victory, Lewis said, "I'd sure like to come back to the Superdome for the Final Four."
Before Kentucky faced North Carolina in an early battle for the top spot in the polls, Dean Smith, the Tar Heels' ever-cautious coach, said he hoped the Wildcats' bruising strength wouldn't "blow us out." Instead, it was North Carolina that did the blowing away in an 82-69 defeat of Kentucky before 18,116 fans at New Jersey's Byrne Arena and a national TV audience. The Tar Heels' top performers were James Worthy, who had 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and Sam Perkins, who contributed 21 points and 11 rebounds. Asked what his club would have to do to beat North Carolina, 'Cats Coach Joe B. Hall said, "Shoot better, play defense better and rebound better." And have the services of 7-foot center Sam Bowie, who's still recovering from a fractured right tibia.