Date story was published: Sunday, December 16, 1984
LOUISVILLE - Who says these aren't dream games?
Last night's Kentucky-Louisville IV sure was, what with Louisville's Billy Thompson and Kentucky's Kenny Walker trading the kind of brilliance that many others only dream of.
It may be a cliche, but it's true: It was a shame it had to end.
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When it did, Louisville had won 71-64 in a game so good you might have thought the state refurbished Freedom Hall just for the occasion.
Kentucky may have lost, falling to 1-4 for the first time since the 1926-27, but the Wildcats looked like anything but losers.
Perhaps fittingly, it was a reworked offense that helped the Cats look better in the new Freedom Hall. Instead of looking for Walker in the low post, UK had the junior forward cut off picks at the top of the key for perimeter jumpers.
Walker made a bundle and worked the boards like a, well, wildcat. The yield was a career-high 32 points, and 15 rebounds.
''I hate to feel good about a loss, but I do," said Walker, who was not referring to his own eye-popping output. "Everybody played well."
UK coach Joe Hall agreed. He saw plenty he liked with one glaring exception: the final score. On that score, Hall credited Louisville rather than discredit his own courageous players.
''It was a great effort; the players played about as well as they could," Hall said. "But we could have played better and still lost. We have to give Louisville the credit. They played well down the stretch."
Neither team led by more than seven, and Louisville couldn't secure that tenuous safety net until the final three minutes when even Walker proved to be human. He tired.
And with good reason.
UK's 6-foot-8 meal ticket scored 32 points against a Louisville man-to- man defense that was constant.
Walker, somehow, continued to score, throwing up off-balanced shots all night.
''It felt good for a change," said Walker, who had faced mostly collapsing zones in UK's first four games. "If there was an inch of daylight, Coach Hall wanted me to put it up."
But, as well as Walker played, it wasn't enough.
''Walker was great, but I didn't have much doubt he wouldn't play well," Louisville coach Denny Crum said. "They went to him a lot, too."
Walker had gotten off only 46 shots going into last night's game, an average of less than 12 shots a game. He took 25 shots against Louisville.
But evoking a coaching axiom, Crum said: "It's hard for one guy to beat you."
Louisville didn't take charge until the final four minutes. Thompson was a major reason.
The 6-8 junior scored only one point in that stretch, when the Cardinals upped a 53-51 lead to the game's final margin. But Thompson made many other contributions.
He was a bear on the boards, taking down 12 rebounds (nine in the second half).
Thompson also had four of Louisville's seven blocked shots. (The Wildcats had none.)
Thompson's play couldn't have come at a better time for Louisville. Both Milt Wagner and Kevin Walls were on crutches. Another Cardinal, forward Manuel Forrest, aggravated an Achilles' tendon injury and left the game for good with more than seven minutes remaining.
Thompson, often maligned in the past for not living up his potential, picked up the slack.
''Billy's a super athlete," Walker said. "I always knew he'd be a great player. Right now, he's the true Billy Thompson."
Crum couldn't have said it better, although he tried.
''He's playing like an All-American is supposed to," the Louisville coach said.
When Louisville took command, it was Thompson having a hand in a lot of it.
Thompson's block of a ill-advised Richard Madison shot (call it a freshman mistake) was sandwiched around three free throws that upped Louisville's lead to 56-51 with 4:17 remaining.
Winston Bennett, who scored 14 points in his first starting assignment, drove for a basket that cut the lead to 56-53.
Then, disaster struck UK. Jeff Hall, whose 14 points made him one of five Cardinals in double figures, scored four points in three seconds.
Hall got his first two points on a baseline jumper. Then, the Cardinal guard picked off a botched UK inbounds pass and was fouled by Bret Bearup. Hall made both free throws to up Louisville's lead to 60-53 with 2:46 to go.
Both Roger Harden and Bearup had wanted to take the ball out, Bearup said. Harden got to it first and flipped it to a surprised Bearup.
''Hall was just there," Bearup said. "If he hadn't taken it, I would have gone out of bounds with it."
Free throws sealed UK's fate. Louisville made 13 of 15 in the final three minutes.
In the first 20 minutes, UK hardly resembled the confused team that had lost three of its first four games this season.
The Cats also looked more confidently for fastbreak opportunities. As as promised by Hall, UK's guards also seemed more active.
''Coach Hall opened it up a little more for the guards," said Harden, who scored a career-high 12 points. "I don't want to say he gave us freedom. He gave the guards more areas to exploit offensively ability."
But even with all the changes, Walker was still Kentucky's main man. He poured in 16 points in the hectic first half. Walker's tip-in with four seconds remaining gave UK a 30-28 lead at intermission.
Walker's post-up basket inside gave Kentucky a 2-0 lead in the game's first 14 seconds and the Cardinals fought an mostly uphill battle from there.
Kentucky led by as many as six, taking a 24-18 edge with 5:14 to go.
UK got its lead after the two teams had battled to an 18-18 standoff in the first 14 minutes. That was one of six ties in the evenly matched first half.
Neither team led by more than four points in the first 16 minutes of the second half.
Louisville took the lead for good with 8:30 remaining when Thompson rebounded a miss and scored. The shot put Louisville up 43-42.
Thompson saw that it stayed that way.