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In nuclear weaponry they call it stockpiling. At Kentucky they call it recruiting. The difference is the Wildcats, omnipotent missile rattlers that they are, aren't afraid to launch each and every warhead they have and let the chips (or the freshmen, or the sophomores) fall where they may.
When the dust from the most recent Kentucky explosion had cleared last week, Coach Joe B. Hall's youthful Wildcats had blasted their way to a 3-0 record and, in the process, just about obliterated the powerful Big Ten conference. And the 'Cats did it with some unexpected bombers.
You may have heard of 7'1" sophomore Sam Bowie, the center on the U.S. Olympic team. Against Indiana a 6'11" freshman named Melvin Turpin played more minutes and got more rebounds than Bowie. You may know of sophomore Dirk Minniefield, the successor to the graduated legend, Kyle Macy. Against Indiana and Ohio State another freshman, name of Jim Master—a grand Kentucky Rifle if there ever was one—played more minutes than Minniefield and scored more than twice as many points. Finally, you may recall such stalwart upperclassmen as Fred Cowan and Chuck Verderber. Well, it wasn't either of them, but another unfamiliar substitute who made the two biggest plays in the Wildcats' victories over the musclemen from the league of the big shoulders, Ohio State (70-64) and Indiana (68-66). It was only fitting that the player's name was Hurt. Charles Hurt. No, he isn't another inexperienced freshman. He's a sort-of-experienced sophomore.
The 6'6", 215-pound Hurt, whose physique must have been mail-ordered from the Lou Ferrigno school of design, didn't merely hurt the 'Cats' opponents. He knocked 'em flat dead with a pair of steals when 1) with 1:21 left in a tie game with Ohio State and the Buckeyes looking for an opening, Hurt darted in front of Jim Smith at the State free-throw line and roared all the way for a breakaway jam, and 2) with Kentucky ahead of Indiana 66-64, 18 seconds to go and the Hoosiers setting up for a tying basket, Hurt slapped the ball away from Landon Turner on the baseline and then saved it from going out of bounds.
"A garbageman?" said Hurt, who scored all of four baskets for the week. "I'm sort of like the guy who, whatever nobody else wants to do, I do it. Yeah, I guess I'm a garbageman."
Hall didn't think there was anything trashy about the conquest of Indiana. "They don't come any sweeter," he said. "I'll cherish this one the rest of my life."
Of all the traditional rivalries—UCLA-Notre Dame, North Carolina-Maryland, Temple-Villanova—none is conducted at such a high level of belligerence as Kentucky-Indiana. Or at such a high level, period. Including a couple of NCAA tournament games, this was the seventh time in 15 years that the Wildcats and the Hoosiers met when one or the other of them was ranked No. 1 in a wire-service poll.
The Wildcats had almost lost that rating before running into the Big Ten two. Following a season-opening 62-57 escape past East Tennessee State, Hall described his team as "overconfident, conceited, pigheaded," adding, "I call a spade a spade. In '78 I said we'd win the NCAAs, and we did. But this team just isn't ready. How do you tell freshmen and sophomores they're progressing when they're ranked No. 1? I figured us to be about 12 and Ohio State and Indiana to be two of the teams chosen ahead of us."
To cope with the physical tortures Big Ten teams dish out, the Kentucky staff presided over a bone-jarring practice the day before meeting Ohio State. Bowie said it was tougher than any workout last season. Cowan said it was rougher than most games. During the practice Turpin and Verderber nearly came to blows. "I want to thank Chuck for showing me what it's all about," said Turpin. "It's about getting mean."
With Bowie shooting 1 for 9 in a first-half disappearing act against Ohio State, it was up to Turpin and the other freshmen to hold off the Buckeyes for a while. They scored 16 points—eight by Master—as the Wildcats established a 35-34 lead at intermission. Kentucky didn't begin to put the game away until the score was 47-47 in the second half. That's when Bowie woke up, caught some lob passes over Herb Williams and outscored Ohio State 11-5 to pace Kentucky to a 60-52 lead. Then after Clark Kellogg scored his only two baskets to help lift the Buckeyes into a 64-64 tie with 2:34 left, the other Wildcats took over. Hurt got that aforementioned sidewinder dunk, and Derrick Hord, another sophomore, made two free throws and threw down another tomahawk slam for the 70-64 final score. The game had been rough, but as Bowie observed later, "Ain't no need to take a bump without givin' a bump."