Date story was published: December 11, 1983
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- When they hand out the congeniality award, the Kentucky Wildcats needn't bother attending. They don't smile. They don't giggle. And they don't care.
This ain't the symphony, darlin'. College basketball, as staged in Allen Field House, more closely resembles armed combat. But the Wildcats strode into this maelstrom singularly unawed, and they left being described, by Kansas' Calvin Thompson, as "awesome."
For once, the well-worn shoe fit. Even for a program littered with glittering achievements, last night's stands among the best. Not because UK's 72-50 defeat of the Jayhawks was particularly artistic. To the contrary. This victory was noteworthy for its lack of frills.
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"We were down to business," said Joe Hall, Kentucky's coach. "We worked hard. The crowd didn't bother us a bit. We were impressive."
Say amen, flock. Three games into the season, we see already that the Wildcats will dazzle no one with footwork. Not once last night did UK get a cheap basket. The Kentucky break, such as it was, netted but two points. Everything else was trench warfare.
And the Wildcats weren't equal to that challenge. They were 22 points better. They set their picks, ran their patterns, ground Kansas into the floorboards with icy-eyed precision.
"They earned everything they got," Thompson said. "They showed what type of team they are. They're well-coached, and they realize you can't win with just a bunch of individuals. They've got great players, but they all sacrifice to win."
A weaker team, one built on a foundation of egotists and pretty boys, mightn't have won this game. Twice, the Jayhawks stormed from far back to contend, once in the first half, once in the second. Twice, the Wildcats met fire with ice.
"They had so much poise," said KU's Kelly Knight. "Even when we came back on 'em, they didn't crack. Anybody who can come in here and do that . . . well, there's a lot to be said for 'em."
The first test came late in the opening half, as the Jayhawks sliced a 10- point deficit to a basket. "It was 2018," Thompson said, "the crowd was going wild, and we thought we had 'em." Wrong. The Wildcats score the next 13 points.
Second half, early. KU's Thompson starts flinging in jumpers from Topeka. Kentucky's 15-point halftime lead melts to seven. Hall calls time, assigns Kenny Walker to Thompson. UK outscores Kansas 14-6, Walker contributing two baskets and a rebound. Thompson gets nothing.
"I'd never been to Kansas before," Walker said, "but (Sam) Bowie kept telling how wild the people got out here. But I think we came in here and did real fine."
Absolutely. With the Allen patrons stomping, screaming and, as the first half ended, flinging debris at the officials, the Wildcats never batted an eye. UK made 64.4 percent of its shots, committed but 13 turnovers. For a team getting its first taste of life on the road, it was a smashing performance, and it served to delineate, much more clearly than the victories over Louisville and Indiana, the true mettle of these Cats.
No longer is Kentucky a passive bunch, subject to the whims of referees and crowds and opponents. This team has steel inside it, not mush. Yes, it's early, and yes, Kentucky always beats the world in December. No matter. You can tell by looking: These Wildcats are far different than their weaker- hearted predecessors.
"Are we tough?" said UK's Roger Harden. "If we want to be, yeah. That comes from within. Things like a noisy crowd only get to you if you let it."
A week ago, Kentucky allowed Indiana to dictate a tempo, darned near an outcome. That won't happen again soon. "We talked about it in practice," said Winston Bennett. "It wasn't a question of us being nervous or rattled against Kansas. It was a matter of not allowing ourselves to play somebody else's game a second time. And we didn't."
No. From stem to stern, Kentucky stuck to its work. When Bennett and KU's Kerry Boagni had their little punch-up on the baseline, the Wildcats didn't lose sight of their objective and go hunting for heads. "We wanted to show the discipline you need to win on the road," said Hall, and his team surely did that. Beating Louisville by 21 points in Rupp Arena shows talent. Beating Kansas by 22 in Allen shows guts.
And only when it ended did the Wildcats break out the smiles and high-fives. And, for an instant, even the humor. Told that his goaltend on Brian Martin's shot cost UK a share of the Allen record for biggest margin by a visitor, Walker slapped his forehead.
"Goodness!" he said, tongue in cheek. "Stupid me!"
So much for yuks. So much for Kansas, and its arena, and its frothing crowd. And for the Wildcats, so much more to come.