Date story was published: Sunday, March 23, 1986
Put away the Roman numerals.
There will be no Dream Game VI this season.
Kentucky will not play Louisville - the so-called "dream game" matchup that merits Roman numerals a la the Super Bowl - in the Final Four.
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Louisiana State saw to that here yesterday, beating UK 59-57 in the Southeast Region finals to earn a game against Louisville in Dallas.
The loss, so reminiscent of the many spine-tinglers Kentucky had pulled off this season, went the other way this time.
It was LSU that rallied late, erasing a four-point deficit with less than six minutes remaining. LSU also made the necessary big plays down the stretch.
Rather than Kentucky.
"You could tell they were wondering if they could beat us four times in a row," LSU's Derrick Taylor said. "Usually, Kentucky comes down and says, 'Here we are. We're going to do it to you again.' But today they came down and were hesitant."
Still, Kentucky had one last chance to remain destiny's darlings.
James Blackmon's half-court heave at the buzzer came tantalizingly close. But it bounced off the front of the rim. With it went Kentucky's season. Over at 32-4.
"I knew that wasn't going in," LSU's John Williams said. "That well is dry."
Just to be sure, LSU paid special attention to Roger Harden as Williams attempted to seal the victory at the free throw line.
An LSU victory, which would be its 26th in 37 games, appeared safe anyway. The Tigers had a 59-57 lead, Williams shooting free throws with three seconds remaining and the confidence of posting earlier upsets over this region's sixth (Purdue), third (Memphis State) and second (Georgia Tech) seeds.
However, the memories of Harden's last-second heroics were fresh. Earlier this season, last-second jumpers by Harden had accounted for two of Kentucky's three victories over LSU.
When Williams missed the front end of a one-and-one, Winston Bennett rebounded and looked to midcourt where Ed Davender, Blackmon and Harden were stationed.
"Roger had told me after we broke the (timeout) huddle (with five seconds remaining) to get him the ball," Bennett said. "When I looked, there were two or three guys around Roger."
To which LSU's Derrick Taylor, who claimed to be the lone defender, said with a smile: "It might have looked that way."
The pass went to Blackmon, who turned and threw up a shot that came close. But as both these teams learned in earlier games against each other, close wasn't good enough.
"I can't lie, it was on my mind," Davender said of the Wildcats' knack for making the improbable routine. "I guess our luck ran out on us tonight."
Actually, LSU believed it had this game wrapped up with more than four minutes remaining.
The Tigers had tied it at 51-51 with 4:34 left when Ricky Blanton beat Kenny Walker on a sharp cut, took a Don Redden pass and hit a layup.
Then Walker, who carried UK with 16 first-half points, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 4:03 left.
"If I had the opportunity shoot it again, I'd take a little more time," Walker said of the miss. "I was a little winded."
LSU seized on the opportunity. Redden, who was voted the region's Most Valuable Player, posted up low and hit a shot over Bennett after multiple head-fakes froze the Kentucky forward to the floor.
Twenty seconds after Blackmon hit the last of three straight corner jumpers to tie it at 53-53 with 2:51 left, Blanton made two free throws to give LSU the lead for good.
Strange forces were at work.
Blackmon missed from the corner. "I rushed it," he said.
Then Taylor, who did not make one of his nine shots, fired away from 18 feet. Redden rebounded Taylor's miss and scored. LSU was up 57-53 with 1:31 remaining.
After Walker's two free throws cut the deficit to 57-55, LSU called time with 1:19 remaining to set up against the Kentucky press.
Twice, UK got a hand on the ball. Bennett deflected the inbounds pass into press row. Seconds later, Walker deflected a Taylor pass to midcourt, but the little guard beat the Cat star to the ball.
"That was very close," Walker said. "I almost had it and it almost hit James (Blackmon) in the head. If he'd turned around he would have had it.
"There were plays like that all day: almost getting it but not getting it."
LSU called time with 44 seconds remaining. Then as UK tried to trap, Redden spotted Blanton wide open under the basket. "Just a beautiful cut," Redden said.
Blanton's layup put LSU ahead 59-55 with 15 seconds remaining.
"Blanton was a big surprise," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "If you had told me that we would shut out Taylor from the field, I would have said we would have won the game."
LSU conceded a driving layup by Harden that made it 59-57 with six seconds remaining.
Then after Williams missed the front end of the bonus, Blackmon's prayer was not answered.
This game had a promising beginning for Kentucky.
Williams, who hit only two of 15 shots against Georgia Tech here Thursday night, missed his first three.
Kentucky's main man, Walker, had nine points in the first four minutes.
After he posted up for a three-point play over Jose Vargas that put UK ahead 9-4, Walker sank to a knee and pumped his right arm in exhiliration.
"Kenny saw (Auburn's) Chuck Person jumping up and down the other day," Davender said. "It seemed to carry them to a victory (over Nevada-Las Vegas). He said he wanted to do the same thing here."
A Walker dunk off the fast break gave Kentucky it's largest lead, 11-4, less than four minutes into the game and a rout seemed possible.
"It felt like a nightmare," Blanton said. "But we kept our composure. Being behind by 12 to Memphis State (with 16 minutes remaining) and coming back then really helped us in this game."
LSU righted itself offensively when Redden hit three straight shots.
Defensively, the Tigers got rough with Walker.
"We didn't body check him at all," Taylor said of Walker's fast start.
After four baskets in the first first four minutes, Walker got only four more the rest of the game.
"The defense wasn't anything different," Sutton said. "There was a lot more physical activity. But that's nothing new."
With Walker relatively quiet, Kentucky had to call on its other guns. Except for Harden, who made six of eight shots, and Blackmon's brief hot streak, the other Cats mostly shot blanks.
Bennett and Davender, UK's second and third top scores, shot a combined 4- for-19.
"I've got no excuse, just an off night," Bennett said. "It was a sad time to have an off night."
Bennett didn't reject the suggestion that Kentucky's early burst of enthusiasm could have affected its shooting later on.
"It's a possibility," he said. "We knew Louisville had won. Maybe I was pressing too hard."
Sutton, however, said he approached the game like any other. "Playing LSU a fourth time, we knew how tough it would be," he said.
Whatever the problem was, UK never really found its shooting eye. The Cats made 46.7 percent of their first-half shots and 45.5 percent of their second- half shots.
Only Walker was a consistent threat.
"We added to our misery and weren't as patient as we should have been," Sutton said. "We didn't have very good shot selection.
"On the other hand, they showed a lot of patience, more so than they did the three other times we played them."
After UK's early burst and Redden's stabilizing shots, the two teams played evenly.
Neither led by more than four in the final 34 minutes.
Two Blackmon jumpers sandwiched around a Williams miss put Kentucky ahead 51-47 with 5:52 remaining.
"We were in good shape," Sutton said.
Then things began happening, like zero-of-nine Taylor taking an 18-footer and getting away with it when Redden rebounded the miss.
And Walker, a 76.7 percent free-thrower, missing from the line.
And LSU looking like a winner.