Date story was published: Sunday, December 29, 1985
Roger Harden was all set to slip out Rupp Arena's backdoor. Kentucky's exciting 69-64 victory over Louisville yesterday was safely tucked away and the night was still young.
However, there was one more reporter waiting with one more question.
With the game's excitement building toward a whirlwind finish, Harden had stripped the ball from Louisville's Billy Thompson. A five-point lead with more than a minute remaining became a more manageable seven-point bulge (65-58) when Harden made two free throws at the other end.
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But Thompson, who otherwise had a 10-footer in his sights, said he was fouled. What's more, Thompson said Harden admitted the foul to him before shooting the important free throws.
All true, Harden was asked?
"I'm not available for a comment," said the slick UK guard, unable to suppress an ear-to-ear grin. "I've got a hot date waiting for me."
But, the reporter called out to the retreating Harden, Thompson said you kiddingly told him that the referee really wasn't a personal friend of yours.
"Oh, nooooo," said a still-smiling Harden.
Harden's sleight of hand didn't end there. The senior guard, who scored all 10 of his points in the second half, also daringly drove the lane twice to scoop shots over the Louisville leapers to keep the Cardinals at bay. The second of these improbable shots bounced high off the glass and found the basket to increase UK's ever-perilous lead to 46-42.
Surprised, Harden was asked, that the shot went in?
"Very," Harden replied.
One person not surprised with the officiating was Denny Crum, who questioned the difference in free throws (25 for UK, seven for Louisville) openly in the post-game press conference.
"That's a lot better than the last time, so I guess we're gaining on them," the Cardinals' coach said in pointed reference to the free-throw differential in the 1983 "Dream Game" here. (UK was 27-of-36 from the line, Louisville 2- of-5). "What can you say? I didn't have a whistle. There were a lot I would have called differently, but I'm prejudiced.
"This is a tough place to play. You've got to play a whole lot better than them. That's true in a lot of places."
Including in Louisville, if the measurement is based on free-throws attempted. Louisville shot 35 and made 27 in last season's "Dream Game" in Freedom Hall. UK was 6-of9 and a seven-point loser.
In the final analysis, Crum admitted, his team simply didn't play "a whole lot better" than Kentucky. In fact, the Wildcats outplayed Louisville at one of the Cards' strengths - rebounding - and found a way to win when the usual modus operandi was unavailable.
UK's top two scorers, Kenny Walker and Ed Davender, combined for only 17 points, hitting only six of 22 shots. Walker pulled a back muscle in the first half and suffered an reoccurence of leg cramps. Davender had an off day, getting no points in the second half until sinking two free throws with five seconds remaining. "I just didn't get the breaks," he said of his 1-of-9 shooting.
Other Wildcats filled the vacuum. They included:
Winston Bennett, who scored a career-high 23 points and played perhaps the headiest floor game of his life. He had three steals, more than anybody on the floor, and only one turnover in a 40-minute virtuoso performance. "He played as good a game as I've ever seen him play," Crum said.
Richard Madison, who had 10 points and five rebounds off the bench.
And the aforementioned Harden.
The result was UK's third victory in the five "Dream Games" and eighth this season against a single loss. Louisville fell to 6-3.
UK outrebounded Louisville 36-24, pounding the offensive board repeatedly for second, third and fourth shots. Unbelievably, the Cats had more offensive rebounds (20) than Louisville had defensive rebounds. This startling statistic made up for UK's 41.7 percent shooting from the field.
UK also was a step ahead of the Cardinals on the court and a point or more in front on the scoreboard almost the entire game. Louisville's only leads were one-point margins early in each half, 3-2 and 36-35.
Otherwise, it was a Kentucky effort that Coach Eddie Sutton said breathed life into his X's and O's.
"We felt there were four keys," Sutton said. "One, we had to handle their press without turning the ball over (UK had only seven turnovers to Louisville's 12); two, good solid defense without fouling; three, offensive patience and, for the most part, we were able to do that; I had said I wanted a score in the 60's; the tempo of the game was to our favor.
"And four, defensive board play. I never dreamed we'd get 20 offensive rebounds."
However, Sutton and the Wildcats had an idea they'd get more than a few after watching film of previous Louisville games this season.
"We saw that they didn't box out well," Walker said. "They rely on great leapers and don't put a body on you. They're not a fundamentally sound club."
Three times in the final 10 minutes, with the game on the line, UK rebounded its own missed free throws. The Wildcats converted consecutive misses into points with the score knotted at 46.
After Bennett made one free throw, James Blackmon rebounded his miss on the second attempt. Blackmon was then fouled by Thompson, the Louisville star's fourth personal. Blackmon made one free throw, increasing the UK lead to 48-46.
When Blackmon missed the second, Bennett pulled down the rebound and shot over Louisville's wonder freshman, Pervis Ellison, for a basket that put UK ahead 50-46.
Louisville answered with two quick hoops.
Ellison, who had 13 points, hit a basket. Then, after Blackmon missed a shot and Walker's rebound attempt was blocked, Herb Crook tied it at 50.
Three free throws (one by Walker and two by Bennett) put Kentucky ahead 53-50 with 6:37 remaining.
After Louisville reserve Chris West missed badly on an ill-advised jumper in traffic with more than 40 seconds remaining on the 45-second shot clock, the Wildcats pushed the lead to five on Madison's 15-footer.
The lead reached seven (59-52), which was UK's largest margin, when Harden sank two free throws with 4:26 to go.
However, Louisville had one more comeback left.
Milt Wagner, who led the Cards with 19, sandwiched two layups around a Crook fast-break layup to cut Kentucky's lead to 61-58 with 2:24 remaining.
Once more, Kentucky's rebounding was its rescue.
Davender's miss was rebounded by Walker.
Walker's shot was rejected by Ellison, one of the freshman center's four blocks.
However, Madison retrieved the block and sent it toward the hoop. Ellison again blocked the ball, but this time was called for goaltending to give UK a 63-58 edge.
Louisville answered with a rebound of its own at the other end. However, it wasn't followed by a basket.
Ellison missed the shot, a turnaround from the low post, and Thompson got the rebound.
Before Thompson could raise his arms above his waist to take a shot, Harden was off with the ball and the game.