For fans of a certain age, Saturday’s game in Rupp Arena calls to mind another Senior Day showdown between Kentucky and LSU.
Thirty-five years ago, LSU came to Rupp Arena with a 17-0 record in Southeastern Conference play. Kentucky, then as now the league’s flagship program, stood in the way of the SEC’s first 18-0 champion.
Kentucky won 73-71, a victory Sam Bowie preserved by blocking Howard Carter’s last-second shot.
Dale Brown, who coached that LSU team and who will attend Saturday’s game, recalled the game-saving block in a conversation with Bowie this winter.
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“It looked to me like you knocked him to the floor,” Brown recalled telling Bowie. “It was a definite foul. And I looked at the referee, and he just didn’t do anything.”
As Brown recalled the conversation, Bowie said, “Coach, I fouled him twice.”
“You did?” Brown said.
“I hit his arm and his shoulder, too,” Bowie said. “I looked at the referee, too, and he ran off the court.”
Bowie said his admission to a foul was meant in jest, an example of sporting jocularity.
We felt no one could beat us. And I think we may have been a little too overconfident. Not only in that game, but also in the Final Four.
Howard Carter, former LSU player
“Always let your competition think they were right,” he said. “Mr. Brown may have said that, but I’m telling the commonwealth, always let your competition have the what-ifs.”
Carter did not recall a foul. “Sam blocked the last shot,” he said. “That’s what happened.”
Bowie and Carter have exchanged text messages recently. They fondly recalled the competition and wished each other well.
The loss 35 years ago not only disappointed LSU players, it surprised them. It snapped LSU’s 26-game winning streak.
“We felt no one could beat us,” Carter said this week. “And I think we may have been a little too over-confident. Not only in that game, but also in the Final Four.”
LSU lost to Indiana in the 1981 national semifinals.
Kentucky was upset by UAB in the second round of the 1981 NCAA Tournament.
Carter sees the same confidence in the current LSU team.
“In my opinion, they have a tendency of not getting up for a mediocre team,” he said. “Somewhat like we were.”
Brown, an unabashed promoter of the Kentucky-LSU rivalry, said he sensed a month ago that Saturday’s game would play a part in deciding this season’s SEC championship. So he convinced a group of friends to travel to Lexington for this weekend’s game.
Earlier this winter, SEC Network commentator (and former UK assistant coach) Joe Dean Jr., recalled the 1981 UK-LSU game as a classic. Encouraged by a rabid Rupp Arena crowd, Kentucky played exceptionally well . . . and won by two points.
Bowie considers the 1981 Senior Day showdown among his three most memorable UK games. The other two came in 1983-84: a 65-44 opening-night romp over Louisville and a 74-67 victory over Hakeem Olajuwon-led Houston.
Bowie expects both teams to be excited in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
“We’re going to get their best,” he said of LSU. And LSU will get Kentucky’s best.
“No excuses,” Bowie said.