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Four Things I Learned Watching Old Kentucky Basketball Games

Getty Images

Getty Images

Without new NCAA Tournament games to watch in 2020, most folks have resulted to watching classic college basketball action. The only thing getting in-between me and a few classic Kentucky wins was a replay Lynn Bowden’s performance in the Belk Bowl on the SEC Network. During my time traversing the world of college basketball in the 80s and 90s, I discovered a few things about the game I love.

1. There’s No Scoreboard?!?!

How did you watch a game if you didn’t know the score? I can’t watch games now without a live stats feed, yet for years people tuned in without seeing the score or time on the clock for a majority of the action. I can’t even imagine what it was like trying to keep up from a sports bar when you were lucky just to get a score graphic after a made bucket.

When we did get graphics, they weren’t always accurate, like when the fledgling ESPN2 showed Tony Delk’s free throw stats as Anthony Epps stepped up to the free throw line in overtime for a pair of game-winning free throws in the 1995 SEC Championship Game.

The antiquated technology also meant the audience did not get to see modern marvels like ‘Jimmy’s Jet.’ Instead, we were forced to hear Dykes and Nessler, or Uncle Verne and Len Elmore, actually call the basketball game. There weren’t discussions about the Fab Five and the team’s long-term impact on college basketball. Broadcasters talked about the game they were watching, the way a game is supposed to be called.

2. Pressing was Fun

When people say, “Back in my day, the game used to be more fun to watch.” Maybe that’s because teams could still effectively press. The fullcourt press has unfortunately gone the way of the dinosaur. Who’s to blame? We’ll leave that discussion for another day (but let’s be honest, today’s elite athlete is too good for the press; interpret that however you’d like).

Sure, Pitino’s press gave up layups to great teams. But it produced a ton of points, forced him to deploy a deep bench and nine-point deficits with less than two minutes to play were not insurmountable. The practicians of Nolan Richardson’s 40 Minutes of Hell even succumbed to the pressure in the final two minutes of overtime to lose to UK in the Georgia Dome in 95.

3. So Much Swag

Great gracious, St. Athanasius!

Kentucky’s swagger was on a hundred thousand trillion throughout the 90s. Even Bill Keightley was fresh from head to toe.

Although, the stripes weren’t as flattering on Epps’ derrière.

Epps could not bear to watch Rodrick Rhodes miss two free throws with the game tied at the end of regulation vs. Arkansas.

Rick Pitino never liked to wear the same uniform for more than a year. It’s a trend he took with him to Louisville. It created some animated concoctions that will live in infamy. While I generally approve of keeping it fresh, there’s one exception: the 1992s. Even though they bring up bad memories, you can’t find a better Kentucky basketball uniform.

*Chef’s Kiss* via John Biever | Getty Images

4. I Get “The Unforgettables”

Many of this website’s readers were too young or did not exist when The Greatest Game Ever Played ended with The Shot at The Spectrum in 1992. Even though it happened two days before I turned six months old, I’ve always hated Laettner, like every other self-respecting Kentucky fan. To really understand why, you have to understand why that Kentucky team was so beloved.

A few years ago I read Gene Wojciehowski’s excellent book that chronicled the lead up to the game and how the events unfolded. “The Last Great Game” provided proper context. To truly understand it, I had to watch the game myself.

Within minutes, I was complaining about the officials as they sent John Pelphrey to the bench. You could not only see the passion in the way he played, you could feel it. The way Sean Woods scrapped, the way Deron Feldhaus defended and the pride that beamed when Uncle Verne announced the ball would be inbounded “by the pride of Clay County, Richie Farmer.”

There was something special about that team. They had it. What exactly it is can be difficult to describe. That’s why they’re Unforgettable.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

14 Comments for Four Things I Learned Watching Old Kentucky Basketball Games

  1. KYCat4EVER
    10:27 pm March 23, 2020 Permalink

    SPOT ON Nick!

    The game has changed each decade,

    the players are more athletic,

    the physical contact more flagrant and ignored,

    the players younger and less fundamentally developed,

    The offensive sets and ball passing, reduced,

    But two things have stayed the same!

    1. Kentucky remains the best program in college basketball-PERIOD

    2. True a Kentucky fans and BBN are the best fans in all college basketball and have continued to push, prod, cheer, and critique the CATS to “hit the high standards Adolph Rupp set and commanded the fans to uphold -DOUBLE PERIODS!


  2. Lip Man 1
    11:04 pm March 23, 2020 Permalink

    I have no problem, none with not having a “sports bar” or something that takes up a quarter of the screen. All I need to know is the score and how much time remains…a lot of the other stuff on these things was because of the “fantasy craze” which I have no desire to participate in. Just show me the damn game.

    The tapes I have of UK games in the 70’s and 80’s are a joy to watch because all the other nonsense hadn’t been invented yet.

  3. HillbillyInBC
    11:28 pm March 23, 2020 Permalink

    Believe it or not, we old-timers used to keep track of the score in our heads while watching the game. I still do it to this day, only I keep track of the margin instead. Even though the networks show the score on-screen most of the time, I still mentally update the margin (“up 6” or “down 1”, for example) in my head after every score. Old habits die hard.

    • Fitz
      8:34 am March 24, 2020 Permalink

      Same here, Hillbilly. For some reason as a young boy I focused on the second half score. If UK was up by three at half, as long as they were winning the last 20 minutes by two or more we were ok. Weird, I know.

    • tncatrn
      9:06 am March 24, 2020 Permalink

      I still do it too!! Its never 72 to 67…its always the spread, if we are down 6 next basket “down 4″…its almost ritualistic….especially when down

    • runningunnin.454
      9:09 am March 24, 2020 Permalink

      Yep, same here. Really don’t care about the score…just the margin.

    • runningunnin.454
      9:24 am March 24, 2020 Permalink

      Ha ha, only problem is when we don’t know if a guy’s foot is on the line on a 3 pointer. I had a bad habit back then of muting Billy Packer.

  4. UKFanSC
    7:27 am March 24, 2020 Permalink

    I’m actually really glad that these games were rebroadcast, because some of our younger viewers and contributors to these posts have never actually witnessed Pitino in action. You can argue all you want about his loyalty to Kentucky and his personal behavior, but he is without question an exceptional basketball coach. Just watch those guys. I promise you he will have Iona in the NCAA tournament in less than three years

  5. Lyle Evans
    8:14 am March 24, 2020 Permalink

    One thing that hasn’t changed, after all these years, it still ticks me off to hear these two color commentator comments: (1) after Sean Woods hit his shot to put UK up by 1, during the timeout before the Laettner shot, Len Elmore(on), sarcastically said about the shot “Well…it went in” (trying to make the point that with 3 seconds left, Woods should have found a better shot, I guess) and (2) with 1 minute 23 seconds left in the national semi-final between UK and UL in 2012, after Anthony Davis just put on a show proving why he was national POY, Steve Kerr said that he thought Gorgui Dieng was the best player on the floor that night, capping a night of going out of his way to praise Louisville. Clark Kellogg and Jim Nance were speechless. Between 1:23 and 0:00, Davis brought down 2 more game sealing rebounds — over Dieng.

  6. runningunnin.454
    9:12 am March 24, 2020 Permalink

    Nick, you could say the ’92 team that that certain je ne sais quoi.

  7. GM1978
    10:58 am March 24, 2020 Permalink

    1996/1998/2011/2012/2014/2017…….spent at least 20hrs watching tourney games from these years over the last few days!!!

    Thank you 8&10yr old kids, for teaching me how to use YouTube for tv

  8. Fitz
    11:59 am March 24, 2020 Permalink

    Oh how I miss the full court trapping defenses going back to the 60s with Loyola’ Chicago, then Woodens UCLA teams, Arkansas’s 40 minutes of hell, up to a few of Pitinos teams. As pointed out those days are virtually gone because of so many skilled ball handlers with quickness.

  9. Larkin123
    1:32 pm March 24, 2020 Permalink

    I can tell you growing as a teen watching our slow rise from probation was the most fun Ill ever have in sports! It was more exciting. I will always love Pitino because of that.

  10. SuperTroy18
    1:57 pm March 24, 2020 Permalink

    Leattner would be eaten alive in today’s game. He was so smart and crafty with the ball and had a great shot, but that is everywhere these days. He played Shaq beautifully back then, but if he had to consistently go up against guys like Anthony Davis and Noel and Bam and Cousins, he’d have been fouled out of every game. The NBA kinda exposed him. Great collegiate player, but would never be able to do that now. We were just a few years away from having teams that would have comfortably beaten that Duke team. The Unforgettables were the best though. Such heart shown while playing for the state. They truly bled blue. I remember when they’d lose a game, they’d come out the next game with an insane passion. They’d rarely lose to the same team twice as well. Back then, revenge games were very real. If they lost by 12 on the road to a conference team, they’d wanna beat them in Rupp by 13 or more.