Date story published: Wednesday, January 1, 1997
LOUISVILLE - The Un-'80s persist when Kentucky plays Louisville in basketball: Traits that were Louisville's last decade are Kentucky's; traits that were Kentucky's are Louisville's. It's like when the decade turned the commonwealth flipped over. East is west. West is east.
There were signs of the flip-flop all along the trail to Kentucky's 74-54 win last evening at Freedom Hall. Even the game's most sterling player, Derek Anderson of Kentucky, is a Louisvillian who the previous night had a dream in which he was wearing a Louisville uniform.
Follow closely, please. A decade ago, then-Kentucky Coach Eddie Sutton referred to Louisville as Kentucky's "little brother" in the commonwealth. Anyone with clear eyes knew he had it backward. Louisville with its national championships and its state-of-the-art entertainment value was the bigger brother.
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In yesterday's afterglow Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino did not refer to Louisville as the "little brother," but anyone with clear eyes would have known he was right had he done so. Kentucky with its national title, its chance at a second, its six wins in the last seven against Louisville and its spot very much in the moment is the bigger brother, whatever that's worth.
Louisville has a chance to be very good; Kentucky has a chance to be great. The Un-'80s. Louisville tried to bolt the doors and conserve energy yesterday while sleek Kentucky wanted to break free and roam. The Un-'80s. The 28-27 halftime score seemed to tilt favor to Louisville; a final in the 50s would have been nice for it. It was the one nipping at the heels, trying to bite. It was plenty athletic, but more grinding. It had plenty of talent, but less charisma.
The Un-'80s. Reversal.
Like most ups and downs in sports, these swings hinge on slight things. They aren't indicative that Pitino is David Copperfield (magical) or that Denny Crum is David Cassidy (outdated). With basketball, employing only five players, it can be something as minute as one young man (Anderson) and his interest in a pharmacy degree.
"There was always almost no doubt he was going to be a Cardinal," George Williams said yesterday from beneath a black and blue UK cap. Williams is the uncle who teamed with wife Glenda to raise Anderson. "We always thought he was going to be a Cardinal."
Well, Kentucky is an 11-1 team, and this decade later, Kentucky happens to be Derek Anderson's team, above all others. Thunder and lightning (Ron Mercer and Anderson) both are impressive, but lightning (Anderson) does more damage. When Kentucky is in a bind, Anderson is the foremost reason you think Kentucky can emerge from the worry.
When it was behind 42-39 last evening before an unfriendly crowd , Anderson was the senior who could make you think that Kentucky would pull it out.
After Mercer hit a shot and Jared Prickett a follow and the pace became, as Anderson put it, "like sharks going after meat," the 6-foot-4 Anderson became busiest. He stole a pass in the Louisville end, went straight to the basket for one of those breathtaking dunks and drew a foul before he could get to the hoop. After a Louisville timeout, he made one of two free throws for a 44-42 lead.
Next offensive try, he fielded an Allen Edwards missed free throw and went for a reverse lay-up for 47-42. Then he rebounded a Scott Padgett miss and let go one of his measured, 15-foot bank shots for 49-42. Soon, he stood outside the defense and suddenly launched a long and bold three-point shot for 59-47. Next, he took a pass on a break and fed Prickett for a lay-up for 61-47. Enjoy your New Year's Eve, Cardinals. If you can.
Later, George and Glenda's nephew and "son" had just finished filing toward them, limping a bit, smiling all the way, blowing a bubble, greeting them and heading to the locker room. He was the last player out of the gym he always hoped to occupy, but, strangely enough, he was for the other team. "Every night you woke up," he said of his childhood, "you thought you were a Louisville player." He was walking out of Freedom Hall as a senior from doing the star-of-the-game bit on the Kentucky radio broadcast.
It had always been Louisville, he'd explain in a few minutes, but then you get older, start choosing a college, start to peer more at horizons. His uncle Williams, a Louisville graduate, stressed the education portion of the decision. As Anderson left high school, Ohio State had the prevailing pharmacy program, Williams said. Anderson went to Columbus, eventually transferring to Kentucky after Ohio State's basketball house of cards crumbled.
Now Williams was in Freedom Hall, saying, "I think for Derek's style, Kentucky fits him because he's a slasher and Rick can make him create on offense." The word "Kentucky" had adopted the creative image the word "Louisville" once evoked singularly. And Anderson was sitting in the locker room saying that while he dreamed even Saturday night he was in a red uniform playing alongside DeJuan Wheat, "I'd never trade in my Kentucky uniform."
Strange ? Not really. It's just that living a decade can turn things the other way. Clearly.