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Image 3 of The Cats' Pause, "April 11, 1987"

Part of The Cats' Pause

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Peaks & Valleys Have Followed UK Since 78 Title This time next year will mark the 10th anniversary since the Kentucky Wildcats last won a national basketball championship. To say a lot of water has passed under the bridge would be understating the obvious. March of 1978 found Kentucky fans at the pinnacle of their glory. During a four-year period, the Wildcats had won the NCAA crown, an NIT trophy in 1976, were NCAA runners-up in 1975 and NCAA regional finalists in 1977. So when Jack Givens, Rick Robey, Mike Phillips, Kyle Macy, James Lee and Company paraded around the floor at St. Louis' Checkerdome, there was little reason to doubt that more championships would follow during the next decade. It never happened. Sure, everyone expected the Wildcats to rebuild in 1979 because graduation hit the Big Blue hard. But the two of the nation's top prepsters—Dwight Anderson and Clarence Tillman—inked UK letters of intent just a few days after the national championship. The makings of a return trip in just a couple years would be automatic, according to some die-hards. What happened the following year only re-enforced the Big Blue faithful's optimisim. Coach Joe B. Hall and his staff went out and signed what many tabbed as the nation's top recruiting class. Among the signees were Sam Bowie, Derrick Hord, Dirk Min-niefield, Charles Hurt and Tom Heitz. A sixth member who never signed because he slipped away to prep school and then transferred to UK the following season was a kid by the name of Melvin Turpin. The class was so awesome, many said Kentucky couldn't miss making the Final Four, even if it tried. Despite the youthfulness of the 1979 squad, it often brought Wildcat fans more joy than some other UK teams which were far more successful in the won-loss column. By the season's end, the 'Cats clawed their way to the championship game of the renewed Southeastern Conference tournament before bowing to Tennessee in overtime. A couple nights later, UK was upset at home by Clemson in the opening round of the NIT with a couple Wildcats fighting back flu symptoms and fatigue. In 1979-80, the season began the way it ended, with a tough down-to-the-wire loss to Duke University, the team which Kentucky defeated in 1978 for its last national championship. In the season-opening Hall of Fame Classic at Springfield, Mass., the young kiddie corps of Bowie, Hord, Minniefield, Hurt and Heitz put on quite a show with veteran Kyle Macy and sophomore Dwight Anderson leading the charge, only to lose in overtime. But the the Wildcats bounced back quickly, winning the Great Alaska Shootout by defeating the Jim Valvano-coached Iona Gaels (led by Jeff Ruland) in the title game. What followed was a brilliant season. Although Kentucky lost to LSU in the championship game of the SEC tourney, after winning the regular season trophy, the Wildcats bounced a good Florida State team out of the NCAA tournament in advancing to the Mideast Regional semifinals at Rupp Arena. Although the 'Cats played excellent basketball in demolishing FSU 97-78, all was not well in the Kentucky camp. It was no secret Macy was unhappy because he wasn't being called on more in the offense. With the pros just around the corner, the Mr. Basketball from Indiana figured his scoring average was important as the pro draft time neared. He was particularly annoyed because of his lack of playing time in the second half against Florida State. Others called it pouting. Amidst all the media cries about being allowed to play on its home floor, Kentucky muffed the opportunity of advancing to the Final Four when Duke upset the Wildcats 55-54 as Macy's shot at the buzzer fell short. Bowie went to the bench early in the contest with three personal fouls and saw little action the rest of the way. What kept Kentucky in the game was the play of junior Fred Cowan who responded with what would prove to be the biggest game of his career. He poured home 26 points, but it wasn't enough. That 29-5 season saw four of the five losses administered by LSU and Duke with the only other defeat coming at the hands of Alabama. Ironically, three of the five losses came at home and the other two were administered on a neutral floor. That season, as frustrating as it began and ended, failed to see Kentucky lose on an opponent's home court. But agony's ugly face would soon return. With Macy gone to the pros, Kentucky still fashioned an excellent 22-6 worksheet the following season, but never seemed to be on the right track. There were narrow victories over schools fans expected Kentucky to dominate. And during an era in which Kentucky totally dominated Digger Phelps and Notre Dame, the Wildcats experienced one of their rare losses to the Irish and at a time when the 'Cats were big favorites. Kentucky struggled toward the end of the season and the 'Cats were upset in their first game of the SEC tournament by Vanderbilt. The loss was more damaging than most thought at the time. A week later, University of Alabama-Birmingham, a team which Kentucky defeated 61-53 in the annual UKIT earlier in the season, shocked the Wildcats 69-62 in the opening round of the NCAA at Tuscaloosa, Ala., as Sam Bowie sat helplessly on the sideline in foul trouble much of the game. The loss left Wildcat fans growling from border to border. Never mind that UAB advanced to the semifinals and gave Indiana the toughest game of the tourney before the Hoosiers won the national title. Never mind that UAB a year later would upset Ralph Sampson and Virginia. Then the really bad news. Prior to the next season, Sam Bowie came down with the leg injury which at first was thought to be minor. Eventually, the popular All-American would be sidelined for a full two years. Most experts refused to concede at the time that Bowie's absence would hinder the Wildcat Express. Kentucky fashioned a 22-8 mark, one which should have made Joe B. Hall proud, but Kentucky fans never accepted second, even when they should have. Pressure mounted throughout the year although UK appeared to be making a late-season run with a six-game winning streak before the 'Cats were shocked 94-78 by LSU in Baton Rouge. With the SEC tournament being played for the first time in Rupp Arena, folks figured Kentucky would get a nice send-off for the NCAA tourney. Again, it didn't work out that way. Kentucky defeated Auburn with ease, 89-66 and then held off Ole Miss 62-58 after blowing out the Rebs in the first half. But Ole Miss coach Bob Weltlich should be given an assist for the downfall of the 'Cats as he exhibited his seat while fully-clothed during the postgame press conference. Shouting obscenties and crying at the same time, he leveled at the game's officials an indictment which hasn't been matched since by any coach in the SEC. According to Weltlich, there was no way the officials were going to allow Kentucky to lose at Rupp Arena. And wouldn't you know it, less than 24 hours later, Wimp Sanderson {the same man who said prior to this season that it was against the rules for UK to lose at home) and Alabama pulled the trick, defeating UK 48-46 in the title game. If Kentucky was down, it was nothing to compare with a week later. Thanks to the NCAA selection committee, Kentucky was paired against OVC champion Middle Tennessee State in the opening round, setting up a potential second-round confrontation with arch non-rival Louisville. Kentucky never got out of the gate and Middle Tennessee shocked Kentucky 50-44 in one of the biggest upsets of the tourney. The wolves really came alive. With his back to the wall, Joe B. Hall then fought his way back in 1982-83. Still without Bowie, Hall faced obstacles Last Weekly TCP Issue Before Summer Editions This issue marks the end of our weekly issues for the current sports year at The Cats' Pause. The May issue will be printed and should by delivered to your home or office by the middle of May. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank you, our loyal subscribers, for your continued support for both the TCP and the Kentucky Wildcats. This summer we plan to keep you abreast of the late breaking recruiting news and other items pertaining to Kentucky basketball and football. Remember, your next issue of Jlie Cats' Pause will be the monthly May issue and it should arrive in your mailbox by the middle of May Our regular weekly issues will resume in early-September, the sveek of Kentucky's football season opener. in 1983 he'd never faced before, or after. Notre Dame's Phelps had been crying for umpteen years that it just wasn't fair to have to play Kentucky at Louisville's Freedom Hall each year, and unless Joe B. agreed to visit Digger's playpen in South Bend, the series would cease. Pressure had been mounting on Hall for years about not playing Louisville and now the Notre Dame situation arises. Never mind that the long-running (over 20 years) Freedom Hall date was actually proposed and implemented by Notre Dame. Digger's biggest problem was that he just couldn't beat a Joe B.-coached team more than once every seven years or so. So to silence the critics, Hall agreed to a two-year series which called for one game (1981) in Freedom Hall and one game at Notre Dame. The South Bend contest (December, 1982) turned out to be the final one. When the 'Cats arrived in South Bend, one could tell that it was one of those rare games which the Irish have become famous for, in other words, winning at any cost. Digger's best laid plans were buried in the dark of the night by a group of 'Cats. Derrick Hord played one of the finest games of his career, scoring 18 points as the Wildcats hit an amazing 75 percent (24 of 32) from the field in downing Notre Dame 58-45. The season, however, was far from over. Kentucky played well near the end of the regular season, winning eight in a row before falling 74-60 at LSU. Like two years earlier, Kentucky lost in the opening round of the SEC tourney, this time to Alabama by a 69-64 count. But the similarities ended there. With Hord, Hurt and Minniefield playing their final games, Kentucky regrouped and steamed past Ohio University 57^0 to set up a big date with Indiana in the Mideast semifinals at Knoxville. The NCAA selection committee, with a gleam in its eyes, set up the perfect confrontations. Kentucky versus Indiana with the winner taking on the winner of the Arkansas (Hi there, Eddie) and Louisville game. Three months earlier, Kentucky dropped a tough 62-59 decision to Bobby Knight in Bloomington. Experts argued that a date in Knoxville would not change the outcome. They were wrong. Kentucky, which had been gaining rapidly in getting even with Knight over the past few years, fought through the Hoosier picks like a jack-hammer operator and found itself a 64-59 winner as Hall continued his mastery of Knight which changed dramatically after the famous head-slapping incident in 1975. For obvious reasons, the victory was short-lived. It did set up the all-important match with Louisville after the Cardinals scored a come-from-behind victory over Arkansas in the other semifinal match. Kentucky left its season on the Stokely Athletics Center floor that Saturday afternoon in a 12-point overtime loss to the Cardinals, but it certainly was a far cry from the losses Wildcat fans had become accustomed [Continued On Page 22]