Date story was published: Friday, March 23, 1984
Though drowned out at Big Blue Heaven, Louisville's tiny contingent of fans resorted to getting their message across on cardboard signs: "Give 'em L, Louisville."
The Cardinals had to settle for scaring the "L" out of Kentucky.
Playing a style that bore faint resemblance to the disorder they displayed here in November, the Cards hung tough until the very end.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
But, as UK's 72-67 victory indicated, it wasn't enough.
"I'm very proud of my team, needless to say," said Louisville Coach Denny Crum. "This game proved you can play well against a good team and get beat. That's what happened."
Although Kentucky had overwhelmed Louisville 65-44 here in the season opener, the Cats couldn't breathe a sigh of relief until the final seconds last night. The final 13 seconds, to be exact. That was when Winston Bennett tipped in Jim Master's missed free throw. Bennett was fouled on the play by Charles Jones. His free throw, combined with one Master made before the miss, gave UK a rare four-point play, a 72-65 cushion and, most importantly, a berth in Saturday afternoon's Mideast Regional final at Rupp Arena.
UK will play Illinois, which beat Maryland 72-70 in last night's first game.
As if playing at Rupp Arena wasn't advantage enough, UK may also face a short-handed Illinois team. The Illini lost leading scorer Efrem Winters to a sprained left ankle last night. Illinois Coach Lou Henson said Winters would not practice today. His status will probably be unknown until game time Saturday.
Kentucky, meanwhile, may also have the luxury of surviving a sub-par performance. That was Coach Joe Hall's theory after UK beat back Louisville for its 28th victory in 32 starts.
"It might be a good thing we didn't play all that well," Hall said. ''That's important in a five-game tournament. Somewhere you will have a letdown. We're in good shape now."
Louisville, which finished 24-11, got the kind of guard play it expected -and Kentucky feared. Lancaster Gordon and Milt Wagner combined for 47 points, 35 more than the pair managed here in November.
The backcourt duo scored Louisville's first 13 points and almost doublehandedly shot the Cards into a early six-point lead. Gordon had 18 points and the Cardinals a 36-32 lead by halftime.
But Kentucky stayed close, with its front line on the way to a 36-29 rebounding edge -- and Dicky Beal.
Those factors kept the Cats in the game and neutralized Wagner in the second half, when he scored 14 of his 22 points.
With Louisville leading 49-47, Kentucky scored 10 straight points. That spurt along with an 11-4 run at the start of the second half gave the Wildcats a lead they wouldn't give up.
Kentucky took the lead for good when Jim Master hit a jumper with nine minutes remaining. That shot put UK up 51-49.
"We didn't say anything more than we weren't in the game defensively," Hall said of his halftime rhetoric. "I don't think we were pressured, but we were tight . . . and I don't know the difference. I felt we could get control of the game if we didn't let them handle the ball outside so well."
With Hall encouraging the man-to-man defense by shouting "stick 'em" from the sidelines, UK became the aggressor.
And, when the Cats had finished their 10-point surge midway through the second half, they retreated into a 23 zone.
Crum had problems of his own, but he said that few of them concerned what was happening on the court. "There's always some things you'd like to do again," he said, "but you're going to make mistakes. The kids aren't robots."
Off the court, a spectator hit Crum in the forehead with a quarter.
The incident occurred when Louisville freshman Barry Sumpter knocked a fast- breaking Beal to the floor.
While the game continued, Crum had his forehead treated.
"I thought he had a fever," Gordon said.
The game became feverish in the final three minutes.
With the Cats clinging to a 63-59 lead, Wagner hit a 15-footer. Then Charles Jones stole an inbounds pass intended for Bowie and drove for what looked like the tying basket. Jones missed the short jumper, however, and Manuel Forrest was fouled on the rebound.
Forrest, a 76.7 percent free-throw shooter, missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Master and Kenny Walker sandwiched a pair of free throws each around a Wagner miss to increase the UK lead to six at 67-61.
But when Bennett made only one of a potential four free throws, Louisville crept back to within three (68-65) with 21 seconds remaining.
Bennett atoned eight seconds later by tipping in Master's missed free throw.
"I wasn't really worried," Walker said. "Not one time did losing enter my mind."
But, with a crowd of mostly UK fans roaring its approval, the Cats couldn't deny it was nice to be home.
"If we were on the road and had a bad start, it could have been over," Walker said.
Louisville was left with "maybes" and "might-have-beens."
"Maybe on a neutral floor it might have been different," Crum said. ''We'll never know."