Echoes of Kentucky Basketball: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

Echoes of Kentucky Basketball: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

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by Tubby Smith

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Bringing the history of the University of Kentucky basketball program to life, this record details the team with the most wins in the history of the game and with some of the most devoted, knowledgeable fans. Compiled are accounts from sportswriters over the past decades that document the most memorable games, profile coaching and playing legends,


Bringing the history of the University of Kentucky basketball program to life, this record details the team with the most wins in the history of the game and with some of the most devoted, knowledgeable fans. Compiled are accounts from sportswriters over the past decades that document the most memorable games, profile coaching and playing legends, and explain the University of Kentucky basketball phenomenon.

Editorial Reviews

With chapter titles like "Sky-High Kentucky Cuts Houston Down to Size," "Mash Bash," and "Rupp's Cats Fiddle Away," it's clear that this book will be a favorite with Kentucky basketball loyalists. Entertaining stories that span decades of Wildcat heroics.

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Triumph Books
Publication date:
Echoes of... Series
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6.00(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

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Echoes of Kentucky Basketball

The Greatest Stories Ever Told

By Scott Stricklin

Triumph Books

Copyright © 2006 Triumph Books
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57243-887-3


Louis Effrat, The New York Times

Kentucky Defeats Baylor in NCAA Basketball Final at Garden

Much of Kentucky's early basketball reputation was built on the strength of wins in the Big Apple. The Wildcats won the 1948 national championship, their first, at New York's famed Madison Square Garden by defeating Baylor. Following is The New York Times' account of that game.

Kentucky's Wildcats, at no time in jeopardy, easily conquered Baylor, 58 — 42, last night at Madison Square Garden and romped to their first NCAA basketball championship. Off to an early 17-point lead, Adolph Rupp's powerhouse completely outclassed the Bears from Waco, Texas.

The second smaller turnout of the season, 16,174, witnessed this one-sided East-West final, in which Baylor's strategy — slowdown and stress possessions — succeeded only in holding down the score. Baylor, lightly regarded at the outset of the Western Regionals, qualified for the title clash with a pair of upset victories over Washington and Kansas State, but last night ran out of surprises.

Perhaps the best way to describe Kentucky's thirty-fourth and certainly most important triumph of the campaign is to report that form held up. Nearly every pregame prediction pointed to the size, speed, and depth of the Wildcats from Lexington and figured that these would determine the outcome. They did, too, even if Coach Rupp, who wanted to win this one above all others, saw little need to turn to his bench. He did not substitute until 6:30 of the second half, by which time the decision was just about clinched.

Alex Groza, the tallest man on the floor, was the high scorer for Kentucky and the game. His 14 points were two more than Ralph Beard tallied and four more than Bill Johnson made for Baylor. The latter was unable to handle Groza's height, and most of the rebounds were dominated by the 6'7" center, who was voted the outstanding player of the tournament.

But Groza was far from being the only Wildcat in a starring role. Beard, an irrepressible digger; Ken Rollins, an all-around ace; Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones, a dependable workhorse; along with the steady Cliff Barker — all contributed handsomely toward a victorious cause.

That Baylor, because of Kentucky's height advantage, would resort to a deliberate style of attack, was anticipated. The Bears, reluctant to risk forfeiting possession, attempted to make certain that every shot was a clear one and from close range. As a result they had taken only one chance in the first four minutes and six in the first seven and a half, not one finding the target.

Thus Kentucky enjoyed a 13 — 1 spread — Jim Owen caged a foul shot at 5:25 — and Baylor followers foresaw a rout.

Finally, when the clock showed seven minutes and 35 seconds gone, Don Heathington dribbled in with a layup, and the Texans, on their seventh attempt from the floor, achieved their initial basket.

However, this was not repeated often enough to lighten Baylor's burden, and at 12:35 Kentucky's lead was 17 points at 24 — 7. This shrunk slightly to 29 — 15 at the intermission, and later the Bears rallied to cut the deficit to nine points, but the Wildcats packed too many weapons and triumphed going away.

Kentucky, obviously superior in all departments, was most impressive during the early stages. One two-minute spurt netted seven points as Jones, Rollins, and Groza excelled.

The Wildcats were driving hard and harassing the Bears at every turn. Thereafter they performed commendably enough, but their rallies were intermittent and the Kentuckians did not again look that superb.

Probably the reason for this letup was lack of incentive. They were en route to victory and knew it, and no end of grimaces from Rupp on the bench sufficed to reawaken them. Baylor, on the other hand, did not have the power to take full advantage and suffered its sixth setback of the year.

In victory Kentucky attempted a total of 83 shots, clicking with 23, as compared to 15 out of 64 for the losers. Both teams automatically qualified for the Olympic trials, which get underway Saturday afternoon at the Garden.

Third place in the competition went to Holy Cross, despite an early 16-point lead, staggering to a 60 — 54 victory over Kansas State in the preliminary encounter.


Herb Good, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Hatton Knots First Extra Set on 47-Footer

Vernon Hatton's 47-foot shot to force a second overtime against Temple is still noted by a star painted on the Memorial Coliseum floor. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the triple-overtime thriller in December 1957. UK would also down Temple later that season in the Final Four en route to its fourth NCAA title.

Vern Hatton, 6'3" senior University of Kentucky backcourtman, pulled victory out of Temple University's grasp by sinking a sensational 47- foot shot as the buzzer ended a five-minute overtime session tonight. But two additional extra periods were needed before Hatton finally was able to give the unbeaten Wildcats their third straight triumph, 85 — 83.

Hatton scored the last six Kentucky points of the third overtime period to tip the scales in a super-duper thriller that was filled with such suspense that one of the 12,300 [in attendance] died from the excitement before it was over. Even so, Temple's Mel Brodsky had a chance to extend the overtime but missed a short-side shot in the last furious seven seconds.

Ex-Commissioner Dies

William Baughn, former Lexington city commissioner, collapsed from a heart attack in the last 30 seconds of regulation play, which ended 65 — 65 when Hatton converted a free throw with 1:14 left and another with 49 seconds remaining to erase a 65 — 63 Temple lead.

Temple forged a 69 — 65 lead in the opening minutes of the first five-minute extra period only to have Kentucky rally for a tie at 69. However, when All-American Guy Rodgers, who helped pace the losers with 24 points, spun away from his guard and connected on a short jumper with three seconds left, it seemed certain Temple had the game in the bag.

But the never-say-die Wildcats called a timeout with one second left, just as they had done before time expired in regulation play. On that occasion, Adrian Smith, taking a throw-in at the center line from John Crigler, missed in a long, desperate heave.

Crowd Delirious

The second time Crigler put the ball into play, he threw it in to Hatton, about a step in front of the midcourt line. The latter got off a set shot the instant the ball reached his hands, and it arched its way 47 feet to the basket, as the buzzer sounded, and dropped cleanly through the hoop while the crowd went insane.

Temple went ahead in the second extra period at 73 — 72 on a rebound goal by Jay Norman at 2:37, but Ed Beck grabbed the rebound of Johnny Cox's missed free throw to regain the lead for Kentucky.

When Beck drew a foul against Rodgers with 55 seconds left, he not only cashed the first of two free throws to give the Wildcats a 75 — 73 lead but sent Rodgers to the sidelines with his fifth personal. The latter had been nursing four from 9:41 of the second half.

Brodsky ties at 75

But Temple wasn't finished. Brodsky converted two fouls with 53 seconds left to tie at 75 — 75, and the Owls got the ball back and worked Bill "Pickles" Kennedy free for a driving shot that just missed the mark as the second overtime ended.

Kennedy, who tallied 19 points in a tremendous all-around performance that more than upheld the high regard of Coach Harry Litwack, created the third tie (81 — 81) of the third overtime with a short jump shot with 1:53 to go, only to have Hatton break it for keeps with his second goal of the period at 1:40.

Twelve seconds later, Kennedy fouled out when he charged into Hatton on a drive, and the latter made his free throw and a bonus try to give Kentucky an 85 — 81 lead.

Still the scrappy Owls refused to admit defeat. They pulled within two when Brodsky, a brilliant 24-point performer, again converted two pressure fouls with 1:20 left. Temple still had a chance when Tink Van Patton got the rebound on Hatton's missed free throw with 24 seconds left, but Brodsky's last-ditch shot with seven seconds left skimmed off the rim. So when Kentucky's Beck came down with the rebound, it was all over.

The give-and-take of the overtime play was typical of the entire game. Temple enjoyed the biggest lead — eight points midway through the first half — but Kentucky cut it to 35 — 34 by the intermission, and from then on it was a wild scramble.

The Owls, who certainly didn't lose any stature from their first loss, tackle tough Cincinnati in the Ohio city Monday night before returning home.


Dave Kindred, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal

No Tricks in UK Victory

Prior to gaining national fame at The Washington Post and The Sporting News, Dave Kindred served as sports editor of The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. Here he reports on Kentucky's upset win over previously undefeated Indiana in the 1975 NCAA Mideast Regional championship.

A woman with a big smile and dancing eyes tapped Joe Hall on the shoulder. The University of Kentucky basketball coach was talking to reporters. "Can I interrupt the coach?" said Katharine Hall, who, as the coach's wife, knew the answer to that one.

Hall put his right arm around her, pulling her close, and they kissed on the basketball court at the University of Dayton Arena. Only minutes earlier, Kentucky had beaten Indiana 92 — 90 in a game full of cardiac arrests.

"Great, just great," Hall said into his wife's ear.

If Kentucky ever, in its rich history, played a more important game with more ferocity, someone will have to prove it to the 13,458 folks here.

By winning, UK is the NCAA's Mideast Regional champion and advances to the Final Four in San Diego. It will play Syracuse, champion of the East Regional.

By winning, UK ended Indiana's 34-game winning streak, handing the number one — ranked Hoosiers their first defeat of a remarkable season in which they performed with such precision that they dispatched opponents by an average of 23 points a game.

By winning, UK ended a melancholy streak of failure in the regional finals. Since Kentucky finished second in the 1966 NCAA tournament, it had lost four times in the regional championship game.

UK did it with straight basketball. No tricks. Not holding the ball. Lesser teams might have tried something crazy — especially a team that had lost to Indiana 98 — 74 on December 7, as UK had. Somebody asked Jimmy Dan Conner, a UK guard, if his team came into yesterday's game with trepidation.

"No," Conner said. "When we went out of the locker room to play, we were ANGRY. They beat us so bad the time before. We wanted to get 'em."

UK won because its guards, Mike Flynn and Conner, scored 39 points — 18 over their combined average. And it won because its defense, aggressive and enthusiastic, broke Indiana's poise. Normally efficient and careful, Indiana was forced into 20 turnovers yesterday.

"They got that look on their faces that a coach likes to see in the opponents," Hall said.

What look?

"Like a look of wonder at what's happening."

It was, in fact, a wonder. People who make their living betting on sports events figured Indiana to win by 12 points. A Louisville sports editor (blush) said Indiana would win 93 — 81. He said UK could win only if Kevin Grevey, the star forward, scored 25 or 30. He said Indiana's Quinn Buckner would control Mike Flynn.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Flynn scored 22 points, nearly triple his average. He made six of six shots in the decisive second half. At game's end, they raised Flynn up last to give him the honor of cutting the last strand that held the net to the rim. Taking it in hand, Flynn shook it in the direction of Indiana rooters.

"I was thinking about all the times Indiana has beaten us, and all that stuff I've had to take back home," he said.

Flynn grew up in Jeffersonville. He was Indiana's "Mr. Basketball" in 1971. When he chose to play at Kentucky, and when Indiana beat Flynn and UK four straight times, the noise Jeff heard grew.

"They'd say, 'I told you, you should have gone to IU. They're winning, they're better than Kentucky.'

"And Indiana proved it. So what could I say? They had me."

Flynn sat at courtside, the net a necklace. He smiled. "Now maybe I can do some talking."

For Flynn, for Grevey, for Conner and Bob Guyette — for UK's senior starters — yesterday's victory was the stuff of dreams.

"I came to Kentucky to win a national championship and be All-America," Flynn said. "I won't be an All-American, but we still have a shot at the national championship."

Joe Hall recruited these seniors. While assistant to Adolph Rupp, Hall coached them as freshmen. He became boss the next year, and the four seasons have been full of drama.

"My freshman year, we were 22 — 0 and ranked number one in the country. We couldn't have asked for anything better," Flynn said. "As sophomores, we started out slow. A lot of things were going wrong. We had a lot of publicity, and there was a lot of pressure — and we weren't ready for it."

UK won 10 games in a row that year before losing to — yes — Indiana in the Mideast Regional championship game. The UK record was 20 — 8. Not bad most places, but at a school that has won four national championships, 20 victories is mediocre.

If 20 — 8 is mediocre, what is 13 — 13? "The downfall of our career," Flynn said of last season. "We let a lot of people down, and they started saying we weren't as good as we were supposed to be. We didn't live up to their expectations."

The problem, Flynn said, was one of manpower. "We just didn't have the big man. We had a small guard, two small forwards and no big man. That's changed now."

Any explanation of UK's turnaround — from 13 — 13 to 25 — 4 with two more victories needed for an NCAA championship — must begin with UK's two 6'10" freshman centers, Rick Robey and Mike Phillips.

Because they contributed so significantly and so quickly, Coach Hall could use the 6'9" Guyette at forward and the 6'4" Conner at guard. Suddenly, a small UK team was a very large one.

Robey brought more size. He is a fighter, and his aggressiveness rubbed off. If UK is anything, it is, to use a coaching word, "physical." That means it hits lots of people with lots of shoulders, elbows, and hips. Somebody asked Conner how UK handled Indiana's screening offense so well.

"Coach Hall decided that any illegal pick would be met with force," he said.

The game at times was a heavyweight fight. Bodies flew. Twice, fists flew. Guyette inadvertently decked Kent Benson, IU's 6'11" brute, with a forearm. Benson threw an elbow at Robey, connecting solidly — and it was at that moment, with 5 minutes and 32 seconds to play, that UK's season came full circle.

On December 7, Benson humiliated Robey, a seasoned and skilled sophomore overwhelming a freshman in his third college game. The humiliation included a forearm smash to the teeth. No foul was called.


Excerpted from Echoes of Kentucky Basketball by Scott Stricklin. Copyright © 2006 Triumph Books. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Triumph Books is a leader in quality and innovation in sports publishing. In 2000, Triumph Books launched Triumph Books Entertainment, a specialty pop culture and current events imprint. Tubby Smith is a former University of Kentucky men's basketball head coach who took the Wildcats to the 1998 NCAA championship.

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