Geno Auriemma and his Connecticut women's basketball team are in the headlines and highlights these days because of their incredible 87-game winning streak.
The Huskies' domination calls to mind the phenomenal run of success enjoyed by Roy Bowling and his Laurel County girls more than 30 years ago. The Lady Cardinals won 73 games in a row, a state record that still stands for girls and boys.
Laurel County's streak began when the reigning state champs beat Casey County in January, 1978. The Lady Cards finished the season with 21 straight wins, including a second state title.
They continued their winning ways the next season and took a 32-0 record into the 1979 Sweet Sixteen at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. That's when Bowling thought the pressure of the streak — up to 53 in a row — affected his girls. "When we got there, that's all everybody was talking about and asking us about, and I think it got to be a burden," Bowling recalled. "We went into our first-round game real tight. We didn't play well at all, but we lucked up and beat Pikeville (60-57). We relaxed after that and won another championship."
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Laurel County's string of victories continued into the 1979-80 season. The No. 1 Cards, led by guards Lisa Collins and Delena House, took a 14-0 record into the Louisville Invitational Tournament in January, 1980. After slipping past Mercy 49-46 in front of 3,000 fans at Atherton in the opening game, Laurel County pulled out a 52-51 overtime thriller against Manual in the quarterfinals. But the streak ended the next day when Allen County-Scottsville beat the Cards 47-40 in the semifinals. They were so deflated that they also lost the consolation game to Assumption.
Bowling, now 75 and coaching North Laurel's girls, can empathize with what UConn is dealing with every time it takes the court. "You don't want your players thinking about the streak, but it's hard not to, especially when you play a pretty good team."
After Laurel County lost to Allen County-Scottsville, Bowling was quoted as saying he expected Laurel County's 73-game record to be broken. "But I will say this: it's going to be a long time before it happens."
Three decades later, it still hasn't happened.
■ North Hardin's boys, picked to repeat as 5th Region champs, lost point guard Jermaine Ruttley for the season after he broke his leg in warm-ups before a scrimmage. That's only part of the story. After Ruttley underwent surgery to have a titanium rod inserted into his leg, his kidneys started to fail. He's been in Kosair Children's Hospital for three weeks, and been on and off dialysis. North Hardin Coach Ron Bevars, who visits Ruttley almost daily, said the 6-4, 200-pound junior appears to be on the road to recovery now. "It's been a nightmare experience for Jermaine," Bevars said. Ruttley averaged 10 points, four rebounds and four assists last season, and was projected to be one of the top juniors in the state. "He's worked harder than any kid I've ever coached," Bevars said. "And he's the kind of player who makes everybody around him better." With Ruttley out of the Trojans' lineup, the 5th Region seems to be up for grabs.
■ Memphis basketball meant Memphis blues to three of Kentucky's best boys' teams last week. In the Kentucky-Tennessee Challenge in Bowling Green, Memphis White Station crushed No. 3 Clark County 71-56; Memphis East beat No. 5 Bowling Green 60-56, and Memphis East clipped No. 6 Warren Central 52-44. Warren Central Coach Tim Riley said Memphis high school basketball is among "some of the best in the country" and that a college coach told him that "in Memphis, if a kid wants street cred, he gets it playing basketball." White Station Coach Jesus Patino was head coach at Bardstown 10 years ago.
■ If you want to get your fill of high school hoops over the holidays, Lexington is the place to be. Between now and the end of the year, more than 80 boys' and girls' teams will play more than 130 games in various tournaments around town: the ihigh Fayette County Frenzy (boys and girls); Lexington Catholic's Republic Bank Classic (boys and girls), and the Sayre Holiday Classic (boys).
■ Jeffersontown's boys, rated No. 1 in the state in the pre-season, cracked USA Today's national ratings at No. 19 this week. The Chargers, led by transfers Zach Price and Tony Kimbro Jr., take a 6-0 record into the King of the Bluegrass tournament at Fairdale this weekend.
■ It is apparently impossible for high school players to do a spin move off the dribble without being whistled for walking any more. I've already seen at least a dozen players try it this season, and traveling has been called every time. NBA and college players can pull off the whirling-dervish move, but high school players apparently cannot.
■ After hanging up his whistle almost 20 years ago, Jerry Pickrell of Lexington is back refereeing high school basketball. Pickrell served as supervisor of 10th and 11th region officials after he quit calling games, but he gave that up in 2000. Pickrell started thinking about a return to the court after referee Mondo Angelucci suggested it to him last season. "I realized the excitement was still there," Pickrell said. "I'd be in the stands watching a game and thinking, gosh, I wish I was refereeing." He went to rules clinics and summer camps to get ready to whistle while he worked again. "I love it," he said. "I'm having the time of my life. It's like I was in a time capsule for a long time, and then bang! I'm on the floor again."
■ Owensboro is playing basketball in its new on-campus gym this season after calling the Owensboro Sportscenter its home for 61 years. It will be a challenge to find enough wall space in the new gym for the banners highlighting the Red Devils' four boys' state basketball titles, 48 boys' and girls' region titles, and 25 state championships in other sports. The 2,500-seat gym is part of a $23 million expansion to the high school.
■ University Heights Academy has dismissed Ryan Hudson from the team for disciplinary reasons. Hudson was rated one of the top players in the 2nd Region.
■ UHA can brag about two former players, Scotty Hopson and Tyshwan Edmondson, who led the Blazers to the 2008 All "A" Classic title and to the 2008 Sweet Sixteen. Hopson, averaging 16.5 points as a junior at Tennessee, was named SEC player of the week. Edmondson, averaging 19.5 points as a junior at Austin Peay, is OVC newcomer of the week for the fourth time this season.
■ Simon Kenton QB Chad Lawrence passed for a touchdown and ran for another to lead the Kentucky All-Stars past the Louisville-area All-Stars 28-14 in the Best of the Bluegrass football game at St. Xavier Sunday. Lawrence rushed 12 times for 95 yards, including a 10-yard TD, and completed three of six passes for 43 yards, including a 6-yard scoring toss to Christian County's Marcoreyon "Bubba" Tandy. Tandy also had a 14-yard TD run. Kentucky's other score came on a 60-yard interception return by Troy Timmerman of Covington Catholic. Bell County's John Dudley Hilton was named the game's overall MVP. The Louisville-area stars' scores came on TD passes from Seneca's DaMaracus Smith to Pleasure Ridge Park's Dion Cummings.
■ Tom Leach, voice of UK football and men's basketball, is teaming up with the National Guard Community Outreach to recognize high school student-athletes who have overcome adversity to compete in sports. Nominees for the All-Resilient Team are being sought from schools across the state. A committee will select the honorees, based on athletic achievement in 2010, and what obstacles the nominees have overcome. The All-Resilient Team will be announced in February. Go to tomleachky.com for details.
■ Shelby County has renamed its gym Mike Casey Gymnasium to honor the former Rockets' basketball star who died last year. Casey led Shelby County to the 1966 state title and had a standout career at UK. Meanwhile, Fairdale's hoops facility has been renamed Stanley Hardin Gymnasium to honor the coach who guided the Bulldogs to Sweet Sixteen titles in 1990 and '91.
■ A new doubleheader will help kick off the 2011 high school football season. Nicholasville Tourism will sponsor the event, to be played at East Jessamine on Aug. 19. The games will match Tates Creek against the host Jaguars at 6:30 p.m., followed by Somerset playing West Jessamine.
■ St. Mary High School in Paducah has hung a banner in its gym honoring alumnus Russ Cochran, a winner on the PGA and Champions golf tours. Cochran, a 1976 graduate of St. Mary, won the state golf title in 1975 and played college golf at Kentucky.
■ Kate Larimore, who helped Green County to back-to-back state golf titles, signed with Western Kentucky University.
■ Pendleton County senior Phoenix Ramsey will play golf at Northern Kentucky University.
■ Rowan County senior shortstop Brooklyn Hesterberg signed to play fast-pitch softball at Union College. Hesterberg played at Lakeside Christian before transferring to Rowan County.