Louisville could barely stand its own joy tonight.
On the fifth shot of a remarkable sequence, Scooter McCray and Charles Jones each got a hand on the ball to tip it in and give Louisville a 65-63 victory over Arkansas in a Mideast Regional semifinal.
"I guess turnabout is fair play," said Louisville Coach Denny Crum, refering to a NCAA tournament game two years ago in which Arkansas eliminated Louisville on a 50-foot shot at the buzzer by U.S. Reed.
"Theirs was 60 feet, ours was six inches, but they count the same," said Crum. "It was just our turn."
The final basket was credited to McCray, but he said he thought Jones also got his hand on the ball.
Best of all, the victory sends Louisville into a regional final against Kentucky at 12:45 p.m. Saturday, for the first game between these schools since 1959.
Kentucky advanced by beating Indiana, 64-59, in the first game of this doubleheader. That game, too, was superbly played, with Indiana coming back from a 10-point deficit to trail by two in the final seconds.
But Louisville-Arkansas was even more dramatic. The final sequence will be replayed a thousand times, and it seemed like the Cardinals (31-3) had that many shots in the final 13 seconds.
After trailing by 16 points in what Crum called "a lackluster first half for us," Louisville pressed and trapped its way into a two-point game in the final five minutes as Arkansas (26-4) failed to score a field goal for seven minutes.
With 37 seconds left and the score tied at 63, Razorback forward Charles Balentine was called for walking. Louisville called time at that point, and again with 13 seconds left to set up the final play.
Guard Milt Wagner drove the lane and took a jumper over Alvin Robertson and 6-foot-11 Joe Kleine that missed with about seven seconds left.
But Jones, the 6-8 center, tipped the ball up. It missed. McCray, the 6-9 forward, tipped it up. It missed. McCray tipped it up again. It missed again.
Finally, McCray and Jones pushed it up one last time. And it fell. No time left. Game over. Bring on Kentucky.
"I just kept tipping," said McCray, who finished with a team-high 17 points.
Afterward, Crum and the Louisville players refused to be drawn into any emotional conversation about Kentucky, despite a barrage of baiting questions.
"At this stage, all it means is getting a chance to play for making it to the final four," Crum said.
The Kentucky players, not surprisingly, had long gone. Or at least they were hiding and savoring the victory over Indiana, a team that had beaten them by three in December.
Opposing teams have not often shot 63 percent against Coach Bob Knight's Hoosiers--especially in games of consequence.
But tonight, Kentucky ignored history and shot through the typically brutish Indiana man-to-man defense as a team with such extraordinary talent is capable of doing. The No. 12 Wildcats made 27 of 43 shots.
Even with such phenomenal shooting, Indiana (24-6) came close in the final minutes to winning this game, a contest that more than justified its advance billing.
As Knight said afterward, "In a game like this, we're not talking about fatigue or shot selection or depth. We're talking about three or four particular plays that decide the outcome."
Those plays were not hard to find.
Indiana, ranked fifth, had scored 12 of 14 points in the final eight minutes to pull within 59-57 with 2:49 to play on a running, one-hand push shot from the left base line by guard Randy Wittman.
Kentucky (23-7) called time with 1:56 to play and ran the clock down to 35 seconds, when guard Dirk Minniefield was fouled. Minniefield made the front end of the one-and-one bonus free throw set for 60-57, but missed the second shot.
Important play No. 1: Wildcat center Melvin Turpin tipped the ball back to Minniefield, who was fouled again. Minniefield then missed the front end.
Important play No. 2: Jim Master, the 6-foot-4 Kentucky guard, lined up in the fourth slot on the foul line, ran around taller players and grabbed the offensive rebound, passing back out to Charles Hurt.
Hurt made both free throws with 21 seconds left to put Kentucky ahead, 62-57, and end the suspense.
It was somewhat surprising that Indiana was that close at the end. The Hoosiers were en route to a 50 percent shooting performance, but Kentucky's 13-for-19 pace in the second half enabled the Wildcats to move ahead, 49-39, with 12 minutes left in the game.
Turpin, Kentucky's 6-11 center, was in the process of making eight of 13, including an impressive dunk off an alley-oop pass in the first half that could wind up on every highlight film. He led Kentucky with 16 points.
It was a 15-foot jumper by Master that put the Wildcats ahead, 57-47, with eight minutes left.
But Jim Thomas cut it to 57-49 with a jumper. Mike Giomi, a reserve center, came in for the foul-prone Uwe Blab and made a hook for 57-51. After a five-second violation against Hurt, Wittman (18 points) closed it to 57-53 on another jumper. After a basket by Kentucky freshman Kenny Walker, Blab (17 points) scored to make it 59-55.