published Monday, December 19th, 2011

Mocs enjoyed trip to Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Something about returning to competition against a Southeastern Conference team spurred three former SEC players who now play for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Former Vanderbilt guard Keegan Bell set the career assist record for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Former Georgia forward Drazen Zlovaric showed no fear playing against the potential top pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

And Zaccheus Mason, who played tight end for the Ole Miss football team, had a break-out game against guys his own size in No. 3 Kentucky's 87-62 win over UTC.

"My first game here, I was nine months old and my dad, coaching Northwestern State, beat Kentucky," Bell said. "When I was at Vanderbilt, we beat them here. My parents, on their wedding night stayed in this hotel."

Bell broke the previous record of 414 career assists which had been shared by Tim Brooks and Wes Moore.

Bell earned it in the second half Saturday when the dribbled into the right side of the lane and passed to freshman Ronrico White who buried a 3-pointer from the corner.

"To break the assist record here in Rupp Arena is good mojo for me," said Bell, who added one more before the game ended and is No. 19 in career SoCon assists.

Zlovaric, whose Bulldogs went 1-1 against the Cats in his Georgia career, played as if the all the rust from missing a transfer year shed when the UTC bus crossed the Kentucky border.

Only Omar Wattad attempted more shots. Zlovaric relentlessly weaved his way through Kentucky's lengthy arms to hit a career-high seven shots in a career-high 13 attempts with a variety of hook-shots and power-moves.

He also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds against UK, which features potential NBA No. 1 pick Anthony Davis.

"I didn't feel intimidated," said Zlovaric, who is becoming the player coach John Shulman envisioned. "I feel like I'm playing basketball again. It feels good to be back."

Mason received significant playing time in the first half due to the indefinite suspension of Chris Early. Mason earned extended playing time in the second half based on the fight he showed in the first half, and finished with eight points and eight rebounds.

For the first time this season he looked more like a true basketball player than a former football player playing basketball.

"Z is the player of the game," Bell said. "He didn't back down. In the second half, I thought our bigs were going at their chins and not being afraid of their length."

The nights that the former SEC players enjoyed cannot top the full Dec. 17th that UTC senior guard Ricky Taylor experienced.

He graduated in the morning. UTC graduate assistant Jonathan Adams may have set a land-speed record in driving him to Lexington with a stop at Burger King. Then Taylor played in Rupp Arena against No. 3 Kentucky.

"I couldn't sleep the night before because I was too excited," Taylor said after the game. "It's a day I'll never forget."

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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