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Dr. Dunkenstein. A broken Scooter. The pig Latin boys. A guy with a tearaway thumb. Why, if it isn't Louisville, harbinger of winter, loser of the big one, stranger in its own town and all-round enigma of college basketball. Yes, indeed. In a season already marked by so many injuries, suspensions and upsets that you can't tell the players without a forged transcript, the Cardinals have managed to hang right in there amidst the madness by employing some of their annual routines. Such as:
?Losing the heart of their defense, the exciting sophomore Scooter McCray. Cause: a torn cartilage in his right knee, suffered in the third game of the season.
?Positively exposing the weaknesses of haughty, then-second-ranked Ohio State's stale, non-running philosophy while pressing the Buckeyes into oblivion, 75-65, in the sixth game.
?And traveling halfway across the world to a tournament in Hawaii only to fall apart themselves, as evidenced by a 19-point first half in which the Cardinals shot 7 for 28 on the way to a 77-64 defeat at the hands of another enigma, the Fighting Decembers of Illinois.
"Hey, Derek Smith," Louisville Coach Denny Crum called out to one of his zillion good sophomores the other day. "Your size 15s are too big. You don't need all that feet. What say we chop off one of your toes and give it to Wiley?"
Inasmuch as Wiley Brown, another sophomore, needs a second thumb rather than an 11th toe, that suggestion was tabled. So Crum flew off to do the color for a Metro Conference TV game in St. Louis, then got back in time to coach his own team against dangerous Kansas State in what turned out to be the Cardinals' 10th victory in 12 games, 85-73. But who could've known that Crum would show up to coach or the Cardinals to play? You can never be sure at Louisville.
In the past eight seasons, or since the fun-loving, gin-rummy-playing Crum came roaring out from under the wing of UCLA's John Wooden to take charge of the Cardinals, Louisville averaged 23 victories and reached the NCAA final four twice—and, it is widely believed, had the 1975 national championship in the bag. The best free-throw shooter in school history had a one-and-one that would have clinched a semifinal win over UCLA and put Louisville in the finals with all the adrenaline flowing against the then-too-raw and much-hated Kentucky Wildcats. Instead, Terry Howard missed that opportunity, UCLA survived in overtime, and Wooden went on to win his last championship.
Have Crum and the Cardinals ever really recovered? In three of the four seasons since that debacle, strong and multitalented Louisville teams have done nothing so much as crumble at the wire, losing (in chronological order) four of their final six games, five of their final eight, and then, last year, five of their final eight again. In a fourth season-ending collapse, in the 1978 Midwest Regional, some puzzling Crum defensive strategy enabled DePaul's Dave Corzine to score 46 points—"layup city," a Louisville man called it—in a 90-89 upset. This so shocked the citizenry that Corzine's performance still hasn't been entered in the Louisville record book.
Ironically, Louisville's home court, fabled Freedom Hall out at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, may be partly responsible for the Cardinals' sorry swan songs. They can't use the state-owned building much in February and are forced to play most of their late-season games on the road. "They put everything in there from tractor pulls to cockfights," says Crum.
A lack of freedom in Freedom already has hampered this season's Cards, who were unable to get in a single practice on the floor before their opening game. And, come this February, Louisville will play six of its final seven regular-season games away.