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The Big Cat Came To Play
Curry Kirkpatrick
December 05, 1983
Sam Bowie did everything but score a basket as Kentucky blew out Louisville in the rivalry that wasn't—but now is
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December 05, 1983

The Big Cat Came To Play

Sam Bowie did everything but score a basket as Kentucky blew out Louisville in the rivalry that wasn't—but now is

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Well, Louisville, as Art Baker used to say on television. You asked for it. You wanted this regular-season game with Kentucky, shouted for it, pleaded, demanded that it take place not just every sixth decade or so but once every year. Now that you've gone down Interstate 64 to open the season against the boys from the big state U., now that you've finally played the game you wanted so badly, how does it feel? You happy? Satisfied? Fulfilled? What about it, Cardinals?... Cards?... Hey, Louisville, you still alive?

No one would have been surprised if Coach Denny Crum and his smallish and depleted Cardinals had requested smelling salts last Saturday night after the huge and experienced Wildcats, whom Louisville had knocked out of the NCAA tournament last season in a classic resumption of a puzzling kind of nonrivalry, exacted some revenge in a 65-44 wipeout. Or continued some regular-season domination. Take your pick. The last time these Commonwealth schools met in a scheduled game was on Jan. 21, 1922 Score: Kentucky 29, Louisville 22. By the time the Cards had 22 on Saturday the Cats had 39 there were still nearly 17 minutes left in the game and Sam Bowie hadn't even scored a basket yet.

He still hasn't, but no big deal. The old Bowie, that 7'1" fellow who terrorized the SEC as a freshman and sophomore from 1979 to '81, played center and floated along the baselines and through the keys, shooting at will. This new Bowie looks the same—same height and lank, same caf� au lait skin and delicate features—but this guy shoots more like Jim Bowie or Bowie Kuhn or David Bowie or Ziggy Stardust. And he isn't playing center. Instead, he stays far away from the basket handles the ball gets assists and helps break the press. On defense he denies the entry pass and overplays out on the floor and still finds a way to deflect loose balls and bang inside and block shots. This Bowie unloaded three horrible clangers against Louisville, but he also made seven of eight free throws and 10 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and three steals in about as impressive a floor performance as a man finally coming off a two-year layoff from severe shinbone injuries could possibly hope to expect. Sam's shinbone must be connected to his gut bone, which must be connected to his heart. So Let's Dance.

Dance was what the Wildcats' awe-inspiring front line did all over the visitors' perplexed noggins in the process of scoring 13 straight points late in the first half and in taking a 35-20 lead at intermission, which effectively ended the mismatch early. Kentuckians already have a name for this crew of 6'8" Kenny (Sky) Walker, who had 13 points against Louisville, Bowie and 6'11" Mel (Big Dipper) Turpin, who had 16 points and nine rebounds. Unfortunately, the name is Sky-Sama-Dippa. So much for originality. Anyway, that moniker doesn't take into account the off-the-bench contributions of a 6'7" glaring monster named Winston Bennett, a sledgehammer of a freshman who slashed and pounded the Cardinals enough—remember, we are talking Louisville here, not Marist or somebody—to accumulate seven harmful rebounds and four hurtful fouls Call him Sir Winston and get out of the way, Credit Bennett, too, with bestowing upon the Cats a new more aggressive spirit, "No more Mr. Kentucky nice guys," said Guard Jim Master. "We've got the mean streak now."

The last time Kentucky appeared so physical, so frightening, so mean was in 1977-78, when the last NCAA championship team in Lexington was criticized by some opposing coaches for playing, ah, dirty. Wait until they get a load of Bennett. "There's probably more personality to this team than any we've had since '78," says Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall. "I can hold Winston up as an example." Bennett already has had a punch-up with Bowie in practice. A proud Hall has made the Cats practice defense with their hands behind their backs lest they kill one another.

The aggressive Kentucky D—a man-to-man that was previously thought to be too sluggish to cope with Louisville's quickness—dominated Saturday's proceedings from the beginning as the Cardinals' normally distinguished backcourt of Lancaster Gordon and Milt Wagner suddenly came undone. Gordon and Wagner had scored 18 baskets between them against Kentucky last March but managed only six this time as Master, alongside either Roger Harden or James Blackmon—another outrageously talented freshman who's the point guard of the future—threw up some tenacious coverage outside.

Nor could Louisville, which desperately missed the departed-to-the-pros Rodney and Scooter McCray, get anything done down low either. Center Charles Jones was a non-factor, while Forward Billy Thompson, the much-heralded sophomore from Camden, N.J. seemed more than ever a figment of some Garden State press agent's imagination. The Cards needed 22:52 in the middle of the game to score all of 12 points.

As a team Kentucky had 12 steals and seven blocked shots and forced 20 turnovers. "They took us out of our offense, played us for the jump shot on the drive." said Gordon. " Kentucky pushed but the pushes were clean. They used their bodies well, which is the mark of a good team."

And an imposing one, "The Cards looked intimidated," said Master, who led all scorers with 19 points. "Milt and 'Caster didn't seem to want to get involved. They seemed out to lunch."

The irony of the slaughter was that this game was Crum's baby all the way, or ever since he pulled up his UCLA roots and descended upon the bluegrass 12 years ago. Crum has pushed and prodded and taunted for a UK-UL series. He has been so vocal about it. University of Kentucky traditionalists took to calling him Denny the Crumb. Then Louisville, a perennial power, started winning as never before—and won the 1980 national championship. And on March 26, 1983—good lord, bartender, make that bourbon a double—it beat Kentucky in the NCAA Mideast Regional final. That did it. "The Louisville force went from benign to malignant to political," says Mark Bradley of the Lexington Herald-Leader . "The walls came crumblin' down. The man became Denny the Crumbler."

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