In the euphoric aftermath of the University of Louisville's stunning 86-66 victory over Louisiana State in the NCAA Midwest Regional final in Houston, Coach Denny Crum smiled and said, "I've got no stomach upset, no headache, no tension neck aches."
It was Crum's way of saying that 1979-80 has been the most enjoyable season of his nine-year career at Louisville. It has been one of those seasons that coaches dream about when they first start drawing Xs and Os for a living.
And now the Cardinals are only two games away from giving the school -- and Crum -- their first national championship. The Cards will play Iowa on Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis' Market Square Arena. A victory would put them in Monday's title game against the UCLA-Purdue winner.
No matter what happens in Indianapolis, many people feel Crum should be the 1980 national coach of the year. One publication, Basketball Weekly, already has awarded him that honor. The National Association of Basketball Coaches' pick will be announced in Indianapolis.
In becoming the nation's winningest team (31-3), Louisville managed to go through the Metro Conference schedule unbeaten and then win its conference tournament. Only Alcorn State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference can make the same claim.
In non-Metro games, Crum's team has defeated outstanding teams from the Big Ten (Ohio State), Southeastern (LSU, Tennessee), Southwest (Texas A&M), Ohio Valley (Western Kentucky), Big East (St. John's) and Big Eight (Kansas State) conferences, in addition to major independent Marquette.
The overall balance of power has been underscored by what has transpired so far in the NCAA tournament. Of the 16 seeded teams, Louisville is the only one remaining.
The Cardinals also are the only final-four team that won anything in its conference. Purdue was third and Iowa fourth in the Big Ten, UCLA fourth in the Pacific-10. It also is interesting to note that Louisville is the only final four team that had to participate in a postseason conference tournament.
Crum's detractors, and there still are some left, might point out that he was not exactly bereft of talent this season. That is easy to say now, of course. Before the season, though, the Associated Press picked the Cardinals 10th. Sports Illustrated did not even have Louisville in the top 20.
The reason the Cards were not ranked higher was that, in the Darrell Griffith era, Louisville was only 2-3 in NCAA tournament games. In fact, they had not even gotten as far as a regional final.
In Houston, Crum gently chided the writers for having so little regard for his team. He also admitted, however, that on the night of Dec. 8, he thought privately that his team would be lucky to win as many as 15 games, much less the Metro title and the Midwest Regional.
That was the night that Scooter McCray, Louisville's fine sophomore forward, suffered a knee injury against Tennessee. A couple of days later, after surgery, he was declared out for the season.
The loss of McCray gave Crum and his players an excuse to give up. Instead, the Cards dug in and worked hard. Even with Griffith on the bench because of foul trouble, the Cardinals did not quit Sunday.
"We're not better than a lot of teams, but we know we can outplay 'em because we're going to play harder," Crum said.
Interestingly, the rap on Louisville as late as last season was that they didn't play hard enough in March. It was said that the Cards were a reflection of their California-cool coach. And that the Cards would not be serious contenders for the NCAA title unless Crum pushed his players as hard as, say, a Bobby Knight or a Joe B. Hall pushes his.
Of course, Hall and Knight also have won what so far has eluded Crum -- a national championship. Hall won the National Invitation Tournament in 1976 and the NCAA in 1978, while Knight took the 1976 NCAA and the 1979 NIT title.
No matter what happens in Indianapolis, Crum and another relatively mild-mannered coach, Lee Rose of Purdue, have taught us this much: the coach's philosophy and style aren't as important as chemistry: the right coach, the right players, the right system, the right time.
The rapport between Crum and this team has been excellent.
"We fight sometimes," said Crum after the LSU game, "but we always make up."
To a man, the players have confidence in their coach. Even Tony Branch, the senior guard banished by Crum to the bench this season, has nothing but kind words for the coach.
"He's done a good coaching job all season," Branch said.
Crum is a superb bench coach. He conserves his timeouts, substitutes intelligently, always seems to be a move ahead of the other guy. While some coaches waste their time ranting at officials and their players, Crum coaches. c
Crum's team might do something in Indianapolis to give him a headache or tension neck ache, but don't count on it. The Cards have to be regarded as the favorites now. And, as Crum told the fans who waited at Standiford Field for the team to return from Houston, "If anybody's going to beat us now, they're going to have to play awfully well."