- Monday, March 30 1998 -
NCAA Championship (at San Antonio, TX)
Kentucky - 78 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Final Rank 5th by AP]
Utah - 69 (Head Coach: Rick Majerus) - [Final Rank 7th by AP]
Halftime Score: Utah 41, Kentucky 31
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Stanford 86 - 85 OT|||||Eastern Kentucky 99 - 64|
Game Writeup - Courtesy of Dr. Jeffrey Neil Burch; Dr. J's UK Newsletter, Vol. 7 No. 30. (All Rights Reserved)
Comeback Cats Usurp Utes Undeniably:
The University of Kentucky Wildcats won their 7th NCAA Championship (and 2nd in 3 seasons) as they defeated Utah in the national finals of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament, by a score of 78-69. Kentucky was the #2 seed in the South, with Utah the #3 seed in the West (the Cats had been ranked #5 in the last AP poll, with Utah coming in at #7). In winning, Kentucky set a record - no team had ever won the NCAAs after trailing by more than 8 pts at halftime, yet Kentucky trailed by 10 and came back to win the game by 9. Coach Tubby Smith, by achieving this feat, has become the NCAA's winningest 1st year coach at any school. Tubby also became only the 3rd coach in NCAA history to win the national championship in his 1st season at a school (Steve Fisher of Michigan did it in 1989, but Fisher only coached for the NCAA Tournament games), and is the 2nd such coach to do so while coaching the entire year (Ed Jucker was the new head coach at Cincinnati in 1961 when he won an NCAA title). In the UK Radio Network discussion following the game, it was mentioned by Cameron Mills that Nazr Mohammed coined the name "The Undeniables" for this squad, which is what the team calls itself during the end of the season.
Kentucky got the opening tap, and Mohammed sank a left handed hook shot to open the scoring. Doleac came right back with a 6 ft shot. Edwards missed a 3, but Turner stole the ball and this led to a Padgett layup. Mottola [JNB note - whose name included umlauts which I shall omit] hit a 16 footer to knot the score at 4-4. Mohammed missed inside, and a jump ball was forced on the rebound, but UK got another steal, and Sheppard had a smooth drive to make it 6-4 UK. Following another pair of steals and a Padgett missed 3, Mohammed got a layup inside to make it 8-4. Utah then scored the next 4 pts to tie the game at 8-8. Magloire completed an old-fashioned 3, but Johnsen hit a 3 to tie the score at 11-11. Edwards and Evans missed shots, and Magloire had a solid block of a Jensen shot, but Kentucky fell asleep on the inbounds play and Jensen had an uncontested layup under the basket to put the Utes up 13-11. Sheppard tied the game immediately, but Mottola had a layup following a scramble for the ball. When Mottola put back a missed Jackson 3, Utah led 17-13 and there was a TV timeout.
Following several misses and steals, Mohammed decided to try an 18 foot shot which hit nothing but air. After a Utah foul, however, Nazr got a nice book shot and cut the lead to 17-15 Utah. Miller made 1 of 2 FT attempts, Padgett hit a high bank shot, Doleac hit an 8 ft turnaround shot, and Edwards hit Mohammed for a layup to make the score 20-19 Utah. Doleac made a putback, Padgett had a putback, and Mohammed picked up his 2nd foul against Doleac just before the next TV timeout. Mottola hit 2 FTs when play resumed after a Magloire block (which appeared pretty clean) was called a foul. Sheppard had an airball jumper (he might have been fouled), UK had a steal and a Turner layup ensued to make it 24-23 Utah. Kentucky got a 5 s defensive call, but after a miss, Jensen made a layup for a 26-23 lead. Doleac was left unguarded outside, and he hit a 3 to give Utah a 29-23 lead with around 5.5 minutes left in the half. The Utes continued on their spurt, as Evans got twisted around and lost control (and the ball), and Jackson made a layup past the defense for a 31-23 margin. Coach Smith decided not to call a timeout, however, and when Sheppard missed a 3, Jensen complete an old- fashioned 3 pt play (the foul being totally unnecessary for UK) and a 34-23 Utah margin with around 4.5 minutes to play. Finally Magloire hit a long hook, but Miller made 1 of 2 FT tosses on the next Ute possession. Padgett hit a long hook, and Edwards followed with a beautiful drive to make it 36-29 Utah with 3 minutes to go. Bradley fouled Doleac, who hit 1, then Mills was fouled and made both of his as the next TV timeout occurred.
Kentucky stole the ball when play resumed, but turned it right back over again, and Johnsen hit an 8 footer. Hansen hit a long 2, and it was 41-31. Edwards and Hansen both missed shots, and the halftime score stood at 41-31. Utah might have felt confident - no team in NCAA history had come back to win the national title after trailing by more than 8 pts at the half (this was accomplished by Loyola in 1963, when they trailed 29-21 to Cincinnati at intermission but came back to win 60-58 in OT). The Utes might also have taken comfort in the fact that they had not trailed at all in any 1998 NCAA game in the 2nd half. Utah had an amazing 24-6 halftime lead in rebounds. Utah had 12 turnovers at the break, while the Wildcats had 6.
The Utes stole the ball to begin the 2nd half, and when Mohammed goaltended a Miller shot, Utah had a 43-31 edge, their largest margin of the game. Padgett connected on an alley-oop, then Miller blew past the defense to make it 45-33. Sheppard hit a leaner, and then Utah had a turnover when Doleac failed to move to catch a pass (an early sign that the Utes were beginning to tire). Sheppard drove the lane and connected, and it was 45-37 Utah. Mohammed picked up his 3rd foul against Mottola, who hit both attempts. Evans connected with a 3 with around 16 minutes left in the game, and it was 47-40 Kentucky. Mottola hit a 3, and Magloire missed with a hook as the 1st TV timeout of the 2nd half occurred.
Evans hit yet another 3 to close it to 50-43 Utah, and then both Utah and Edwards missed 3s. Evans sliced to the basket and made a FG which cut the Utah margin to 50-45 with 13.5 minutes remaining. Johnsen walked, but UK made a bad pass for a turnover. Miller could not complete the old fashioned 3, but Utah got 2 more tries on rebounds from the missed FT. Padgett eventually nailed a 3, to make it Utah 52-48. Johnsen had a wide open layup, but Sheppard put back his own miss to make it 54-50 Utah, and the Utes were definitely dragging up and down the court. When Magloire fouled Jensen, he made both FTs, and it was 56-50 Utah at the next TV timeout.
Turner made 1 of 2 FT tosses, and Doleac made both of his when fouled by Magloire for a 58-51 lead with 10 minutes left in the game. But Edwards hit a driving shot, Mohammed bobbled the ball yet laid it in, and Mills hit a 3 which tied the game at 58-58. UK got its 1st lead of the 2nd half as Sheppard stole the ball and went in for a dunk, causing Utah to call a 20 s timeout to try to regain composure. Mottola was fouled, and his FTs tied the game. Miller had a driving shot after a UK turnover, and Jensen had a layup after a Padgett 3 miss, to make it 64-60 Utah. After a Kentucky timeout, Mills hit a 3, and Sheppard made an 8 footer to give the Cats a 65-64 edge. Kentucky never trailed again, with Magloire making a pair of FT tosses after Mottola's 4th foul. Doleac made 1 of 2 FT shots, and Padgett made 2 FTs, to make it 69-65 Kentucky with 4 minutes left. Miller picked up his 4th foul, and Turner made 1 of 2 from the line. UK ran the clock down low but got off a lousy shot with 2 minutes left, with Miller making 1 of 2 from the charity stripe to cut it to 70-66 UK. With 34 seconds left, Padgett made 2 FTs, and when Doleac got his 4th foul, Evans did the same, for a 74-66 Kentucky lead. Miller bricked a 3, and Turner got a dunk for Kentucky's largest lead of the game at 76-66. Jensen hit a 3 with 10 seconds left, cutting it to 76-69. Sheppard was fouled during inbounding, and he made both his throws for a 78-69 edge. Jensen missed a final shot, and Kentucky had reeled in their 7th NCAA championship (with a score rather reminiscent of the 76-67 margin against Syracuse in 1996).
Utah managed only 4 FGs in the game's last 16 minutes, and 1 of these (by Jensen) occurred with only 10 seconds left in the game and the outcome no longer in doubt. UK for the 1997-98 season was 10-2 when trailing at the half. The Utes had only twice all season given up as many as 70 pts to an opposing team (beating Weber State 87-72 and losing to New Mexico 77-74), and Kentucky's 78 pts were the most scored against the Utes this season. The final rebounding margin (39-24 in favor of Utah) was the largest ever for a losing team in a national championship game. Kentucky's 15 of 17 FT shooting was the 5th highest percentage for a title game [JNB note - who, if anyone, would have thought UK would have done this well in the FT department? :-)]
The NCAA Final Four All-Tournament team consisted of MOP Jeff Sheppard, Scott Padgett, Michael Doleac of Utah, Andre Miller of Utah, and Arthur Lee of Stanford.
Kentucky set an NCAA Tournament record for blocks in a tournament, surpassing the old record of 37 held by UMASS!!! in 1995 (in 4 games). The Cats had 48 total blocks through 6 NCAA games (6 vs Utah, 7 vs Stanford, 1 vs Duke, 14 vs UCLA, 9 vs St Louis, and 11 vs SC State) .
Jeff Sheppard's 1091 career pts at Kentucky put him 36th on UK's all-time scoring list. Sheppard also had 288 career assists, good for 12th place on the UK all-time list (just behind Larry Conley).
Heshimu Evans flies in to defend
Jeff Sheppard eyes the basket
Allen Edwards tries to score against Utah's Michael Doleac