Big Blue & Blue Devils... Again
86-84 was a hot shower for some Kentucky basketball fans who came in from the rain after dancing in the dirt for six years with the Devil. For some others, 86-84 was whipped cream and a cherry atop a scoop of Superman ice cream. And 86-84 was just blood money for the rest.
The year was 1998. The deficit was 17 points. The time was, oh, about eight or so minutes to go... or less.
Duke was having its way with Kentucky in the finals of the South Regional of the NCAA tournament, and it again looked like the Devils would use the Cats as a stepping stool to reach the Final Four cookie jar.
But the Comeback Cats came back. Roared back, actually. In roughly five minutes, Kentucky erased Duke's lead with precisely six 3-pointers and went on to win 86-84.
And the Cats also went a long way toward erasing a memory, a six-year bane borne on Kentucky's back. For the 1998 game marked the first time that UK had faced Duke since the "The Game" when Christian Laettner hit "The Shot."
"The Shot," shot in the 1992 East Regional final, was a knife in many a Kentuckian's side. There have been stories of Commonwealth citizens who got sick, in a literal sense, both psychologically and physiologically, when, with only 2.1 seconds remaining, Duke's Grant Hill lobbed a perfect full-court pass to Laettner, who pivoted toward the basket and launched a seemingly slow-motion shot that landed the Blue Devils in the Final Four.
104-103. Two overtimes. March 28, 1992, a day that will live in infamy... in Kentucky anyway.
The hero of "The Game," Laettner, would lead his team to a national title a few days later. The goat of "The Game," Rick Pitino, who, for some ridiculous reason, used the man who should have guarded the inbound pass from Hill to instead double-team Laettner (which worked out real well for Kentucky), would lead his team to a national title a few years later.
Still, Pitino's 1996 championship was not as sweet as the one won by Tubby's team in 1998. Because in 1998, as it climbed through the jungle gym that is the NCAA tournament bracket, UK avenged the 1992 loss to Duke.
This year, the rivalry could continue; there's a chance - by design, no doubt - that the Devils and Cats could collide again in the tournament. If Duke beats... and if Kentucky defeats... Hey, whom am I kidding? They're gonna play. Mark it on your calendar for March 24. Duke, the #1 seed in the East vs. Kentucky, the #2 seed. There're no two teams with more momentum in America.
So now that I've determined they'll play, I'll let you know who'll win.
An elemental breakdown:
Duke's Jason Williams sprained his ankle in the finals of the ACC tournament on March 11, and he may not be fully healed for the UK/Duke game. But even on one leg, he could dribble circles around Saul Smith... and Cliff Hawkins... and J.P. Blevins... combined. Williams is the top talent in the country. Not just at guard but at any position. Advantage: Devils.
Who's the Cats' shooting guard? Bogans or Fitch? I'll go with Bogans - since he shoots a lot more than Fitch and everyone else save Prince. Duke's off-guard is Nate James. Both Bogans and James, who have similar builds, are fantastic athletes and tough mentally. But the edge in skills has to go to Bogans, who can take over a game whereas James can't - or hasn't. Advantage: Cats
Carlos Boozer is a better big man than any Kentucky has. But Boozer may not be back from a foot injury, and that means Duke has no big man better than any Kentucky has. But even if Boozer's playing, he won't be at 100%. And he'll need to be at least that, because Jason Parker is really coming on for Kentucky. Advantage: Cats
Both guys on the wing, Fitch for Kentucky and Mike Dunleavy for Duke, are two-position players. Fitch can handle the point and wing, and Dunleavy can play small forward and wing. Both are good outside shots. Fitch is much quicker, but Dunleavy brings more versatility and five extra inches to the table along with considerable experience. Advantage: Devils
The best match-up of the bunch is Battier vs. Prince. Whoever wins this battle could win the war for his team. These might be the two most complete players in college. Both can hit the trey, pass well, handle the ball, and post-up. And both can play defense, though Battier does it better because he works harder at it. Same with rebounding. The deciding factor is intestinal fortitude and muscle. Advantage: Devils.
Frankly, Duke's bench, though improving, is treacherously thin. Kentucky's, also improving, is not. This is an easy one. Advantage: Cats
In the last UK/Duke game tournament game, Tubby out-coached Krzyzewski down the stretch. This time, don't expect that to happen. Tubby is doing a fine job this year, but what Krzyzewski is doing with the non-deep Duke team, especially since Boozer's injury, is even better. Advantage: Devils.
In November, most thought Duke would make the Final Four, and many questioned whether Kentucky would make the field of 64. This will turn out to be a good thing for the Cats, who, while they have everything to prove, have nothing to lose. The Devils, on the other hand, will feel the heat. Advantage: Cats
All told, four advantages for the Cats plus four for the Devils equals a close game... maybe another one for the ages. Somebody has to win, though, and I think it will be Duke, 79-73.
The deciding factor? History. Ominous history.
The Blue Devils are 21-3 as a #1 seed in the tournament. In East Regional play, they are 38-3. And they've won 26 straight in that region.
Plus, that game on March 24 will be played in Philadelphia.
Duke and UK met there last in 1992.
Cinematic Neurological Update
I.e., Brains on Film. The medulla oblongatas of Jumpin' Joe, Brother George and Professor Tread have been working overtime; the first episode, at a hefty 22 minutes, is available for download at www.brainsonfilm.com, and they're nearly done with episode #2, which has already gone over to a pornographic theme. It was only a matter of time, although we frankly figured they'd wait till the fourth episode before they decided to go XXX. Maybe they'll rechristen themselves Nude Brains on Film.
But they have other, more tasteful projects in the works as well... keep checking www.dudeitotallyfarted.com to see their more sublime artistic efforts. It beats working... -RB
In preservation news...
When the structure located at 173 Old Georgetown Street, circa 1815 (yes, folks, that's old for Kentucky), burned on December 28, 2000, arson was blamed. The front rooms were deemed restorable but the back rooms were nothing but rubble. Vacant since 1995 (the house was once inhabited by Lexington's only postmaster, Mr. McChessney, and later used as the Cunningham Funeral Home, catering to a largely African American clientele), the Historic Western Suburb Neighborhood Association has been rightfully concerned as they faced the possibility of a large, vacant lot (usually a breeding ground for junk cars, vagrants and litter) in the middle of their historically preserved neighborhood if the property was razed.
Confronted with a demolition permit, the HWSNA set about organizing themselves and looking for ways to save what is left of the structure before the Board of Architectural Review agreed to a full demolition. After months of hard work, they were preliminarily successful. As of March 6, the BOAR has agreed to only a partial demolition (saving the front rooms) and now the HWSNA must find funding and interest in restoring what remains.
Bill Johnston, the Treasurer of HWSNA, would like to talk to you if you have ideas, comments, or ideally, funding for their labor of love. Contact him at (859) 253-2526 or Bill_Johnston@pobox.com. And they say one person can't make a difference these days... sheesh. -EC
98 Degrees of Nothin'
Well, you're either safe or sorry - the 98 Degrees show, featuring Debelah Morgan, Puffy's teen rompers Dream, and the hopefully soon-to-be executed Baha Men (those fine fellows who keep letting the dogs out) has been canceled. The public explanation is that there were "production difficulties," but whether this be because the lights at Rupp Arena made Jeff look 'splotchy,' or Drew and Justin had a fight over whether they should tuck or crotch-grab after the third spin in "I Do Cherish You," or if they just couldn't stop licking each other long enough to sing us a song, is still unknown. While most of us were pants-wettingly excited at the prospect of hearing Dream do their little role call live, we understand there may be some folks upset by the cancellation; we have inquired to Andy Wilson, publicist for SFX Productions, as to the nature of these difficulties, but Wilson is keeping mum, lest the full-scale 98 Degrees world tour be hurt. Here's hoping for the sake of the future U2 concert that Bono can keep his tongue to himself. -RB
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