Date story published: Sunday, December 28, 1997
The biggest upset in Kentucky's biggest rivalry required -demanded? - a big exclamation point. And Scott Padgett provided it.
As soon as he got off the Rupp Arena floor, Padgett ripped off his jersey and deep-sixed that No. 34 to the concrete.
"I just wasn't too happy with the way I played," he said afterward in a tone that discouraged follow-up questions.
to improbable (but by no means fluky) victories.
Though unranked, undersized and a 16-point underdog, Louisville beat - simply beat - No. 4 Kentucky 79-76 yesterday. It marked UK's first home loss to a non-conference opponent in six years. Or in 40 games. Or since Pittsburgh won a Pre-Season NIT game in Rupp Arena on Nov. 22, 1991.
Though he did not mistreat his stunning electric blue blazer, UK Coach Tubby Smith accepted a portion of the responsibility.
"Their game plan was better than ours," he said matter-of-factly. "At times we just got out-hustled."
The most critical time for hustle came in the final 20 seconds. With a confidence born from the seeming inevitability of victory in Rupp, Kentucky nearly pulled off one of the program's don't-give-up, don't-ever-give-up specials. The Cats rallied from nine down with 2:13 left, from seven down with 1:23 left, to trail by two in the final minute.
Louisville helped the comeback by making only five of 12 free throws in the final 2:33. The Cardinals appeared to continue their holiday giving when, with the game clock inside 20 seconds and the shot clock about to run out, point guard Cameron Murray, otherwise a rock against UK's pressure all afternoon, forced an impossible leaning shot that Wayne Turner easily tipped off course.
Trailing 78-76, UK had only to rebound (ironically, the Cats' greatest strength this season), to have a chance to tie the score or to win with the final possession of regulation.
But U of L's undersized center, 6-foot-7 Alex Sanders, flew to the glass and tapped a would-be rebound into a loose ball near the foul line.
U of L's Nate Johnson got to the ball a split-second before being crashed into by UK's Jeff Sheppard.
"I saw the loose ball and he just beat me to it," Sheppard said. "I was going so hard, I didn't want to foul him."
But Sheppard did. Johnson made one of two free throws with 14.8 seconds left to set the final score.
"That was the key," said Smith, not only of Johnson beating Sheppard to the ball but U of L generally being a step ahead. "They were quicker to the ball. That was typical."
Louisville's defensive alertness and quickness reduced Kentucky's last shot to Padgett's desperation air ball from three-point range. The Cards disrupted a pick-and-roll play for Turner near the top of the key. That led to several hot-potato passes that left Padgett needing a miracle at the buzzer.
Asked if Louisville outhustled Kentucky, Sheppard said, "They did. They did. They outhustled us to loose balls. They just beat us. Just give them the credit."
A 2-3 zone defense contributed to Louisville's "better" game plan. But that would be overstating Louisville's intention to play much more zone than usual. The Cards, now 3-6, experimented with a zone in the first half, saw that it worked and gave the Cats little man-to-man to exploit in the second half.
"It was just what was working," U of L assistant coach Jerry Eaves said. "They were missing their shots, so we stayed with it. The bottom line was they just missed the shots."
Padgett, who made only three of a season-high 13 shots (0-for-5 from three-point range), said Kentucky put teeth in Louisville's zone.
move and have to play defense. It was probably the easiest defensive day they've had."
Louisville Coach Denny Crum called it "our best game."
Louisville's zone helped neutralize UK's superior size (its first five front-line players were a cumulative 11 inches taller) and make the game something of a three-point shooting contest.
Louisville made 12 three-point shots, a high for a UK opponent. Kentucky shot a season-low 21.7 from behind the line (5-for-23).
"We didn't attack it," UK swingman Allen Edwards said of the zone. "Or maybe it looked weird to us. Or something. We tried to beat it from outside."
Louisville's greater quickness, especially in the front court, kept the Cards from falling hopelessly behind in the first half. Kentucky led by as much as 20-12 with 7:47 left. But U of L's front line scored 13 of the Cards' final 19 points of the half - none on post-up moves - to reduce UK's halftime lead to 35-31.
"We let them back in the game," Padgett said of that stretch. "When we didn't put them away, it gave them confidence. From that point on, they pretty much controlled the game."
Louisville committed only five turnovers in the second half. During that time, the Cards made 17 of 27 shots (63 percent).
Trailing 61-59 with barely eight minutes left, Louisville made three straight three-pointers to take the lead for good. The lead grew to as much as nine points with as little as 2:23 left.
"I always felt we'd find a way to win," Padgett said. "Even when we were down nine with two minutes left, I still felt we'd win."
But helped by Kentucky's misadventures at the foul line (two makes of a possible six points in the final 2:33), Louisville hung on.
"I was a little surprised," Padgett said when UK's rally fell short. "How we played at the end of the game is the way we should have played all game."