Pitino’s Bombinos Sink The Shaq and Jack(son) Show
Tayshaun’s performance vs. UNC was huge, as was the Florida game in 2003, the Mardi Gras Miracle in 1994, the return of (and supremacy over) Rick and the Filthy Cards in 2001, and UK nirvana over LSU in the Bayou in 1996 (the best half of basketball in UK history in my opinion). But, my best regular season memory is the 1990 win over LSU during my first year of law school. As you can see from the Feldhaus versus Shaq pic above (and no, it is not photoshopped — Shaq is really that big), UK was, to say the least, overmatched. I was blessed to see the first game of Little Ricky’s tenure in Lexington and his last in the championship game in Indy in 1997, as well as hundreds since. But one game catapulted UK and Pitino on arguably the most impressive 6 year run in UK’s storied history, and gift-wrapped a dynasty for Tubby Smith that, sadly, almost crumbled away.
As I’m sure you recall, the Cats were banned from television during the 1989-90 season, Pitino’s first, due to NCAA sanctions, a penalty that the now toothless NCAA would never impose today. With no TV and no NCAA tournament as motivation for Pitino’s Bombinos, a crew with no player taller than 6’7” turned the LSU game in Rupp on February 15, 1990 into its championship game. The Cats had been turned back a month earlier in Baton Rouge 94-81 by LSU’s two 7-footers, Shaquille O’Neal and Stanley Roberts, and its SEC Player of the Year candidate (at the time) Chris Jackson. Little Ricky and Dale Brown went toe to toe at center court in a heated exchange that would lend even more gasoline to the fire that burned at Rupp that night.
The Bayou Bengals entered the game ranked #12 in the AP, and the Cats were riding a 3-game winning streak (12-10 overall) that had them on the cusp of a winning season, a feat that seemed improbable following UK’s first losing season in over 60 years in stumbling Eddie Sutton’s final season. The Bombinos had their moments, both good (didn’t lose at home that season), and bad (a 150-95 loss at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence that had Roy Williams and Pitino in a game of chicken, which Rick obviously lost). Roy — “I’ll take my starters out when you stop pressing.” Rick — “We’re installing a system and this is what we do.” Disclaimer — those aren’t real quotes from the coaches, but you get the drift.
The Cats dominated most of the rematch with the Tigers on the backs of Derrick Miller, whose spindly colt-like legs lifted him to 5-16 shooting from 3 point range and 29 total points, and Deron Feldhaus, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds fighting between the sequoias Roberts and O’Neal. The Bombinos essentially won the game in the first half by forcing the Tigers into 17 turnovers, fueling a 32-10 run led by Miller’s 14 points.
However, Chris Jackson, who later changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and later refused to stand for the national anthem while a Denver Nugget (resulting in a bizarre retaliation of sorts by a turban-topped ragtag duo of radio station employees who entered a Denver mosque with a trumpet and bugle to blare the Star Spangled Banner), would not let the Tigers die without a tussle. Trailing 87-70, Jackson hit a 3 to cap a 22-7 run that cut the Cats’ lead to 2 with a minute to play. Richie Farmer, future governor of Kentucky, hit four straight free throws to redeem an otherwise dismal 0-5 shooting night from 3. Jackson hit his seventh 3 to cut the margin to 98-95 with 41 seconds to go. But Jackson fouled Farmer, who made both free throws to seal the momentous victory.
But, the paramount moment in what I still believe is the loudest game in the celebrated history of Rupp, is when Shaq, not content with his 24 rebound performance, in response to a clean block of his 3 foot shot by none other than our beloved 6’7” Reggie Hanson (whose assistant coaching ineptitude may only be surpassed by the ever-gum chewing Scott Rigot), pounded the ball to the floor and 24,301 blue-clad maniacs gazed in amazement as the ball shot up what seemed like 100 feet above the floor, rivaling Big Bertha hanging over center court. After gawking at the sheer strength of the man-child, the UK crazies, including yours truly, shook the place to the rafters.
The gravity of the game cannot be underestimated. UK would go on to lose 4 of its last 5, attaining a 14-14 mark and catapulting the Bombinos to a 22-6 record the following year and morphing them, with the help of the legendary Jamal Mashburn, into the Unforgettables two years later.
Mosley’s Take: Nice recap, Jon, and you certainly make a strong argument for the importance of the game in boosting the Pitino teams into the upper echelon of college basketball. One of a few things that I would advise would be to be careful with what you include parenthetically and ensure that it doesn’t distract from the general flow of the work. For instance, the aside about Chris Jackson and the guys going into a mosque blaring the anthem veered significantly from the main thrust of the article and could potentially cause readers to lose their train of thought. Similarly, while I agree that Reggie Hanson may not have been a great assistant, the general tone of the post is one of pride and appreciation toward that 1990 team and the little dig goes against that feel. Again, just a couple of things that I noted, but I generally liked the post and enjoyed reliving a fun time in the history of UK basketball. Thanks and good luck.