Place the name Wallace on a ballot, and Alabama will vote for it. Turn a football game into a bowl and Alabama will lose it. Take one of the bright new programs in basketball, set it down in pigskin-crazed Alabama, and it seems doomed to experience a miserable combination of both. The Crimson Tide gets plenty of votes in the polls. Then it gets beat.
In 1973 the Alabama basketball team lost at home to Kentucky when victory would have meant the Southeastern Conference championship. A year ago the Tide was defeated on its own court by Vanderbilt under similar circumstances. And last week 'Bama again had everything for the taking in Tuscaloosa: victory over second-place Kentucky, a 14-1 league record and a virtual clinching of the SEC title. Disaster struck once more.
Kentucky's star shooter, Kevin Grevey, who had been benched for what his coach called "gutlessness," returned from exile to score 12 points in the final 11� minutes and led the Wildcats to an 84-79 victory.
The Kentucky upset rendered meaningless a remarkable performance by 'Bama Center Leon (Grandpa) Douglas, who had 34 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, but almost no help from his teammates. Trying to take on the Wildcats alone, he was worn into exhaustion and finally had to leave the game. The 'Cats' victory also demonstrated the effectiveness of the Kentucky bench; reinforcements helped the 'Cats amass 17 more shots and 16 more rebounds than the home team and paced Kentucky's late rally, and the comeback victory threw the SEC race into a deadlock with three games to go.
The fact that both teams will wind up in this year's expanded NCAA tournament came as no consolation to the Tide. Coach C. M. Newton could only watch in bewilderment as Alabama blew two big leads by throwing the ball away, rushing shots and committing atrocious mental errors. 'Bama's fine senior guard, Charles Cleveland, got into early foul trouble, missed eight of 10 shots and was never a factor. Neither was anyone else except Douglas.
Called Grandpa because—natch—he is so young (20), Douglas whirled, spun, drove and banked the ball for his 13 baskets while impersonating a punching bag for 34 minutes. Time after time he got up off the floor and missed free throws. Grandpa took himself out with 1:30 left, 'Bama behind 78-75 and the game in the balance. He said he was too weak to continue. "I couldn't straighten my arm. I was whipped," he said. Even Newton could not fault him. "Leon was spent," the coach said. "I couldn't ask him to go back in."
Ironically, long before that, Kentucky Coach Joe Hall had refused to put Grevey back in. The 6'5" senior had played without distinction in the first half when the 'Cats fell behind 40-35. Then Hall let Grevey have it at intermission: "Gutless. Namby-pamby on defense. You're being intimidated and you're not helping us."
For the first time in his career Grevey did not start the second half. He sat on the bench as Kentucky fell behind 49-37. But freshmen Rick Robey and Jack Givens, who combined for 27 points, brought the Wildcats to within four. Grevey sat some more as Alabama moved out to a 60-51 lead. He returned to the floor with 11:31 to go. "I'm dumb, but I'm not that dumb," Hall said later. "We needed him."
Indeed, Kentucky did. After 'Bama scored to stretch its lead to 11, Grevey hit his first second-half shot, a 25-foot jumper. Immediately the Wildcats were visibly revved up and roared ahead 73-69 before Alabama made a nice comeback of its own, tying the game at 73.
On the Tide's next trip down the floor, Kentucky's Bob Guyette stepped in front of Douglas to pick off a pass, and on the ensuing fast break he somehow rammed in a shot while lunging backward toward the basket. Guyette also was fouled and went to the free-throw line to pick up another of his 17 points.