- Tuesday, December 29 1981 -
(at Louisville, KY)
Kentucky - 34 (Head Coach: Joe B. Hall) - [Ranked 4th by AP]
Notre Dame - 28 (Head Coach: Digger Phelps) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 18, Notre Dame 12
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|North Carolina 69 - 82|||||Georgia 68 - 66|
Game Writeup - by Mike Sullivan, Louisville Courier-Journal
UK nips plodding Irish 34-28 in overtimeNo one will ever know what would have happened if Notre Dame had ever grabbed a lead over Kentucky in last night's college basketball venture into the Twilight Zone at Freedom Hall.
What did transpire was spooky enough, with fourth-ranked Kentucky jumping to a 6-0 lead and then more or less acquiescing to a Notre Dame stall strategy that last . . . and lasted . . . and lasted . . . all the way through a five-minute overtime period and a 34-28 UK victory.
As it turned out, the failure of the Fighting Irish to mount even a two-point lead at any time probably cost them the victory in front of 16,834 Freedom Hall spectators.
That was because UK, as long as it could lay back in various zone defenses and pressure the Irish now and then, was able to keep 6-foot-11 Melvin Turpin on the floor.
And Turpin was clearly the hero. He scored 11 points - including all five UK points in the second half - and then rattled in the first basket in overtime after winning the jump ball, putting the Wildcats on top 25-23.
For an added flourish, the sophomore from Lexington's Bryan Station High School then blocked a Bill Varner jump shot that would have tied the score 25-25, and drew a foul after rebounding Tim Andree's unsuccessful follow attempt.
"We probably would have taken Melvin out if they had forced us to pressure them man-to-man," UK coach Joe Hall said. "We did what we had to do. Melvin was outstanding. Many people felt we had to win by a big score, and if we had tried to, we could easily have been beaten.
"Actually we had to abandon the man-to-man because they refused to play against it. We were at a disadvantage in terms of how well they hit against our zone - they hit shots you normally like to see a team take. They made no attempt to go to the basket except for maybe two occasions.
"But we felt we had to be patient and avoid mistakes. We felt no pressure to win by predictable points."
In a game where every point loomed large, Turpin's initial basket - an alley-oop slam dunk off a Dirk Minniefield pass after Turpin had won the game-opening tip - was a biggie. The Irish then stood, cut, circles and zig-zagged until Andree was called for a moving pick with the game 4-1/2 minutes old.
UK converted almost immediately, going up 4-0 on Charles Hurt's eight-foot bank shot on a feed from Turpin. And after Minniefield deflected a Notre Dame pass, Derrick Hord scored on a follow shot to make it 6-0 with 14:10 left in the first half.
"We didn't abandon our game plan after they got that lead," said Notre Dame guard John Paxson, who led all scorers with 12 points and shared the Bernie A. Shively Memorial Plaque with Turpin as the game's most valuable player.
"We kept our poise and got back in it," Paxson added. "I'm glad we did what we did. We knew we couldn't get into a transition game with them. Hey, we almost pulled it off. Their defense enabled us to keep stalling, but as long as they had the lead, that was probably smart. If they had come out after us - well, you saw how North Carolina back-doored them (in a 82-69 win over UK last Saturday)."
The frightening shadow of that back door seemed imminent when the Irish managed to tie Kentucky at 8-8 and 10-10. But the Wildcats uncorked their second 6-0 stretch of the period, scoring on Minniefield's 15-footer, a 23-foot Jim Master set shot and Turpin's twisting lay-in to go on top 16-10 with 2:07 left in the half. UK led 18-12 at the break after hitting nine of 12 field-goal attempts (75 percent).
In his one-man show after halftime, Turpin hit a free throw with 13:57 to go, a nine-foot turnaround jumper with 11:39 left and a stunning eight-foot hook shot at the 9:45 mark. UK led 23-18 at that point, but the Irish tied it by the end of regulation on Andree's free throw, an eight-foot follow shot by Paxson and Varner's 19-footer from the side with 1:12 left.
The overtime was assured when Hord left his feet and tried to force a pass inside in the waning seconds.
"We were going to call time out with 20 seconds left," Hall said, "but when Notre Dame went to a man-to-man,we ran our 'two-stack.' It might have worked if we had swung it over to the weak side, to Master or Turpin, but Derrick got stuck with the ball."
After Turpin's early heroics in the overtime, the victory seemed assured when one free throw by Minniefield and two by Hord put the Irish down 28-23 with only 40 seconds left. But Varner came through with a three-point play that made it 28-26 with 0:31 to go.
Paxson's 23-footer after a pair of Master foul shots pulled the Irish to within 30-28 at 0:18. Then, after Hord sank two more in the bonus, Turpin tapped a Paxson miss upcourt and Minniefield steam in for a one-handed, game-ending slam.
The result left Sam Bowie, UK's 7-1 center who will have his injured left leg X-rayed on Thursday, shaking his head over Turpin's performance.
"We all told Melvin this was his night to shine," Bowie said. "He's been getting the job done, but not really playing up to what we all know he's capable of.
"Melvin hit shots out there that I couldn't hit. Maybe I better hope the fracture isn't healed. Then I'll have an excuse, and I won't have to admit that Melvin took my job away."
Hall said he saw no special irony in the fact that Turpin not only scored most of the important UK points, but did it from a range - 10, 12, 14 feet - usually reserved for smaller players.
"Melvin's a good shooter from that range," Hall said. "And Andree wasn't able to pressure him a whole lot. He could turn and shoot it in Andree's face."
Turpin said the game was "very strange. We were talking a lot on defense not only to keep from getting back-doored, but to keep each other awake.
"We were coming off a loss and we were determined. We didn't want to commit a bunch of silly fouls, so we took our time just like Notre Dame did. It was a good game for all of us. Hord and Master and Minniefield should share that award with me for hitting all those free throws."
Hall also singled out Hurt for praise. The 6-6 junior sank all three of his field-goal attempts and played well on defense.
But he wouldn't want to have steady diet of such games.
"It blows your mind," Hurt said. "We fought against a lot of adversity. With two minutes left, I thought we had played exceptionally well, and yet we weren't that far ahead. It was weird."
UK shot 76.5 percent for the game, hitting four of five after intermission for a final 13 of 17. Notre Dame hit 48 percent (12 of 25).
Kentucky (7-1) plays Georgia Saturday at Athens at 7:35 p.m. Notre Dame (2-5) plays Missouri Saturday at Kansas City.
Commentary - by Billy Reed Louisville Courier-Journal (December 30, 1981)
On. what a party-pooper. Here they came, an arena full of hem, all ready to roast the Digger and toast another University of Kentucky victory over Notre Dame in the finale of the series that has been a holiday fixture in Freedom Hall for more than 20 years.
So what did Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps do? He wouldn't play their silly game, that what. He ordered his outmanned troops to simply let the air out of the ball and let the frustrated Wildcats make what they would of it.
As might be expected, the Digger's brainstorm went over like a, uh, dead mouse in the punch bowl. All night the UK fans behind the Notre Dame bench screamed insults at the flamboyant Notre Dame coach.
But whenever somebody would yell "Boring, Digger, boring!" or "Go home, Digger!" or "Play ball, Digger!" an unhearing Phelps would only clap his hands and exhort his players by yelling, "I love it, I love it."
The final score, in a game in which UK was favored by 17 points, was UK 34, Notre Dame 28, in overtime. It was a game that wasn't decided until the last minute of overtime and then it might have pivoted on a questionable officiating call.
With only 0:56 to go and UK sitting on a 25-23 lead, Notre Dame's Mike Mitchell was called for fouling UK's Dirk Minniefield in the backcourt. Since that was only Notre Dame's fifth team foul, it seemed as if UK should get the ball out of bounds.
However, the official immediately called Mitchell for an intentional foul and ordered Minniefield to the foul line.
"Why?" shouted Phelps, running to midcourt, arms raised in protest.
It was a good question, but it didn't matter. Minniefield hit the first free throw to give UK a 26-23 lead. He missed the second, giving Notre Dame the ball, but another Irish foul enabled Derrick Hord to get two free throws for a 28-23 lead with 0:40 remaining.
Twice the Irish cut it back to two - at 28-26 and 30-28 - but it was too late. Now the crowd of 16,834 was doing what it hadn't done all night, which was shriek and waves its pom-poms and inspire the Wildcats.
After it was over, Phelps shook hands with UK coach Joe B. Hall and strode off the Freedom Hall floor for the final time. He was swept away on the crest of a loud chorus of boos. It didn't matter. The Digger had done what he wanted to do.
Later, after talking with his team, he learned against a wall outside the Notre Dame dressing room and smiled.
"I thought this was the only way we could beat Kentucky and we stayed with it," Phelps said. "You just play to win in these situations, and we played to win. Why should we run and shoot just to please the crowd?"
If not the popular thing, what Phelps did last night was the smart thing. The only thing, really. When you're as outmanned as Notre Dame was outmanned last night, you do whatever is necessary to give your team a fighting chance.
There was plenty of precedent for what the Digger did - or didn't do, as the case may be. Coaches such as Georgia Tech's Whack Hyder, Mississippi State's Babe McCarthy and Tennessee's Ray Mears used to give Adolph Rupp fits with various types of stall games.
Once, after Mississippi State upset UK 49-44 in Memorial Coliseum, the State players didn't leave the arena until they have placed a black funeral wreath on one of the hoops. The crowd booed, just as it did last night, and Rupp fumed, just as Hall probably was doing inside.
it was the lowest scoring UK game since the 1944-45 season, which goes back to the days before Rupp had won his first NCAA championship. And, no matter what the fans thought, it wasn't that boring.
What Phelps did was take a potential blowout, a cinch runaway, and make a basketball game of it. The man earned his paycheck last night. And his players probably earned a lot of respect for themselves and their coach, at least from unbiased observers.
The elements for a rout were all there. Poor Notre Dame had only a 2-4 record, and a couple of those losses had come at home to tams such as Murray State and Northern Illinois. Meanwhile, mighty Kentucky came into the game primed to get back on the winning side after a nationally televised loss last Saturday to unbeaten, top-ranked North Carolina.
After watching UK films and the North Carolina game, Phelps was convinced that Notre Dame's only shot was to hold the ball. The Irish are too small to rebound with UK, too slow to run with it. Getting into a transition game with UK is like putting a loaded .38 revolver to the temple.
So give Phelps credit. He made a game of it. He might have ruined the party, but then, he was just an interloper, anyway, right?
"They let us play a ball-control game," Phelps said. It's up to each coach to do what he wants to do, and then up to the other coach to go get it."
Indeed, UK fans had almost as much reason to be upset with Hall as with Phelps. Or, at least, to blame Hall for the way the game unfolded. After jumping to a 6-0 lead, the Wildcats were content to either lay back in a zone defense or play a half-hearted man-to-man.
That, of course, played right into Notre Dame's hands.
"I'm proud of the way our kids handled it," Phelps said. "We almost pulled it off. Once they were complacent on defense, we said, 'Hey, let's get it down and just play the last minute and a half of the game.'"
Whenever Notre Dame let UK play, the Wildcats showed what might have happened in a normal game. UK hit 13 of 17 shots from the floor. Melvin Turpin, the 6-foot-11 junior center, might have scored a jillion in a regular game. As it was his 11 points almost matched the 12 points scored by standout Notre Dame guard John Paxson for game honors.
So the Digger might have pooped the party, but he also almost came away with a win he had no business getting. He smiled when the fans booed him in the pre-game introductions. During the game, he ignored the taunts and insults from both the fans and the UK band.
"We just can't rebound," Phelps said. "Next year we'll be back."
Next year the game is in South Bend instead of Freedom Hall. And next year, Phelps will have some blue-chip freshmen, three taller than 6-8, to go with everybody who played last night except Mitchell. Next year the Digger won't hold it.
"We did a great job of sticking with our game plan," Phelps said. "We made the key plays and shots when we had to. It's the only way we can play right now. Hey, why try to sprint when you can't?"
The Digger smiled a satisfied smile.
"You know," he said, "we almost won this game."
Dirk Minniefield (#10) drives
Minniefield and others reach for the ball
Melvin Turpin (#54) loses the ball