Date story was published: Sunday, December 31, 1989
It was hard to separate the winners from the losers after Louisville's 86-79 victory over Kentucky yesterday.
Louisville, 9-1, achieved an historic victory: the school's first in Rupp Arena and second in Lexington. The first was in 1922.
But the mighty Cardinals, ranked eighth and primed to pummel UK, never led by more than 11, and trailed 60-59 with less than 11 minutes left.
"They came out a little laid back, like the game was already over," UK center Reggie Hanson said. "We came to play ball. We didn't come to watch them play."
Kentucky, 5-5, could not deny a third straight defeat. Yet the Cats met their prime objectives:
Neutralize U of L's 7-foot center, Felton Spencer, with a zone defense and Hanson's perimeter game. Spencer had seven points and six rebounds; Hanson led UK with 24 points, including four three-pointers.
Minimize U of L's rebounding (the Cards won the boards, but only 35-33; Deron Feldhaus grabbed 16, 12 off the offensive board).
Create havoc with their presses (Louisville had a season-high 24 turnovers). "We were going to be like gnats," Derrick Miller said.
Assessing the game, Miller issued something of a victory statement. "We're shocking people," he said.
UK coach Rick Pitino was pleased with everything but the score. His U of L counterpart, Denny Crum, found much room for improvement. The score was just fine.
"To come away with a victory, by one point or 50 doesn't make much difference; I'm pleased," Crum said. "It's a good victory. There aren't any bad victories.
"I didn't know how my team would play coming in here after 12 days off. Certainly, we didn't play as well as we're capable. I think we can play a lot better. But we won."
Kentucky took solace in its effort and its grim determination to stay with the high-flying Cardinals. Afterward, Pitino cited oxygen debt as well as U of L's obvious talents as reasons his team lost.
"The only thing we had a problem with was we had guys like Reggie Hanson, Derrick Miller and Deron Feldhaus play too many minutes," Pitino said. "You can't play that aggressive and that hard with a press for that long.
"I feel bad how I'm getting after them during the timeouts to reach back and suck it up. I don't think I've had a group work so hard. I can't tell you how proud of them I am. It's almost not human to do what they're doing."
Though Louisville's athleticism shone brightly at times, especially from point guard LaBradford Smith, Kentucky found a way to stay close. Crum cited his team's rustiness, but he also lauded "a lot of heart and a lot of enthusiasm" by UK.
With less than five minutes left, UK trailed only 70-66. Louisville reeled off six straight points. Supersub Jerome Harmon drove around Hanson for a fast-break layup. Smith intercepted two Hanson passes, which led to four more points.
Louisville protected its lead at the foul line, making eight of eight in the final 3:07.
"They had more weapons," Pitino said, "and fatigue set in a little bit."
The signal that this game would be competitive came at the 17:05 mark of the first half. Miller, hounded by Louisville's defense, jawed with Smith as the teams lined up for an inbounds play. Smith shoved Miller. UK point guard Sean Woods intervened with a shove of Smith.
Woods and Smith were hit with technicals.
"They have an attitude that they're not going to be pushed around," Miller said. "Well, we're not going to be pushed around, either."
Louisville controlled the early going. The Cards zipped to a 19-8 lead, their largest of the game, largely by shutting down UK's three-point attack. The Cats had been averaging 36.1 three-point attempts, and they had taken as many as 53 in a game this season. U of L held UK to 29, and only nine went in.
"Our guys weren't giving them any 'threes'," Crum said. "They had to earn them. That's what we wanted to do. If they shot 50 of them, they'd probably beat us."
UK missed its first eight shots, and it made only one of its first 14.
But, as Crum predicted Thursday, no one could completely shut off UK's three-point attack. The Cats warmed up to the point that three-pointers by Hanson and Richie Farmer in a 22-second span cut Louisville's lead to 32-30.
Kentucky anticipated Louisville would take away the three-pointer. The antidote -- backdoor cuts to the basket -- and offensive rebounding kept the Cats close. UK had more offensive rebounds (20) than defensive (13). UK's 21 assists were the most Louisville has surrendered this season.
"Our initial defense was not bad," Crum said, "but, boy, we sure gave up a lot of offensive rebounds. They did a great job going to the board from the spread formation. When they're spread, our guys have a tendency to look to fast-break rather than getting back to the board. That probably helped them and hurt us more than anything else."
Hanson's three-pointer with 16:54 left put UK ahead 49-48, the Cats' first lead since 2-0.
The lead changed hands seven more times in the next six minutes.
Depth became a factor down the stretch. Keith Williams' drive put Louisville ahead for good at 61-60. Then two baskets by sub Cornelius Holden fueled a 11-2 Louisville run that spelled defeat for UK.