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Games That Never Came: U of L vs. UK 3/13/82

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Fans, coaches, and athletes of every school, team, franchise, and sport have those “If Only” battles through the years, the ones that never came about.

This is the fourth installment of a here’s-what-never-happened series of indeterminate duration featuring what might have been but never was for various Louisville Cardinal contingents through the decades.

The Dream Game was truly epic.

Despite three national crowns, it remains their favorite basketball game ever, in the minds of many long time fans.

At least that’s how it’s fondly remembered and rehashed by Louisville Cardinal faithful.

Winner to the Final Four.

Close proximity of Knoxville.

A stand alone NCAA game with no fans of other teams in the building.

Denny vs. The Beasmon back and forth.

Decades of pent-up longing.

And the delayed reality that it was finally coming about. After the Wildcats beat IU. And the Cards survived Arkansas.

And after two previous near misses in the Dance.

First was ‘75 in San Diego. When the game would have been for the national title.

Would that have been as epic? All the way on the Left Coast. How many fans would have jumped a jet plane on the day between semis and the final? A lot but not as many as packed Stokley.

Would U of L have shipped a pep band out just for the championship game?

But, you know, Richard Washington hit that jumper. The aura of the Wizard of Westwood was to have his last hurrah.

U of L’s the team that didn’t keep its part of the bargain that time.

But ‘82 was a different story.

UK and U of L had been on parallel paths throughout those halcyon years. Both started that campaign in the Top 5.

U of L — Still reeling from that U.S. Reed half court dagger? — hit the wall, slowly fading in the polls until falling out entirely at the end of January. UK, which lost to Alabama in the SEC tourney title tilt, fell to AP #15.

Yet, when the NCAA pairings came out, Louisville got a bye. UK did not.

But the set up was still in place. All the Wildcats had to do was take care of biz against Middle Tennessee, a school that had never won a tournament game, then Louisville and Kentucky would finally duel. In Vandy’s Memorial Gymansium.

This not to be was not the Cards’ fault. And the reason why is one of the Cardinal faithful’s ongoing smirks of indelible schadenfreude.

Kentucky spit out the bit against Coach Stan “Ramrod” Simpson’s Blue Raiders.

50-44.

The game was knotted at 30 during intermission.

I’ll do the math for you. Dirk Minniefield, Derrick Hord, Chuck Verderber, Jim Master, Mel Turpin, Charles Hurt and Dicky Beal scored 14 points total in the final twenty minutes.

In fact, they scored only four in the last 12:29.

Two days later, when the Dream Game mighta been, U of L battered Middle Tennessee’s goal to “win the state of Kentucky.”

81-56.

The next weekend, U of L caught a break. UAB, playing on its home court, upset Ralph Sampson and UVA in the regional semi. After beating Minnesota 67-61 in theirs, Louisville didn’t have to face the Cavaliers, whom they could never beat. Besting the Blazers on their home court was an easier task.

Thus that Cardinal team ended up at the Final Four, where they fell to tough Georgetown in New Orleans.

So, actually, despite the disappointment, it all ended well.

UK getting beat. The Cards making it to the Final Weekend.

And the magnificence that was to come a year later on a Saturday afternoon in eastern Tennessee.

The wonderfulness Louisville fans simply call “Knoxville.”

— c d kaplan