Rarely is a game so good the losing team can appreciate the artistry. There were teary eyes in the Kentucky locker room today, lots of them. But somehow, several players didn't let defeat alter their perspective.
"You couldn't script a game better than this," said guard Jim Master, his eyes still red, the hurt still fresh from the 80-68 defeat by Louisville. "So much happened out there, I have trouble remembering it all."
Master was a shooting master this day. He made nine of 13 shots, all from 15 feet or farther. But what stuck with him and his teammates most was that they were helpless against the Louisville press.
Kentucky committed 18 turnovers; it seemed like twice that many. During the first four minutes of the second half, the Wildcats failed to get the ball inbounds four straight times.
"They get in front of you and body-check," Master said of the Louisville press. "They don't even look at the ball. They just watch you wherever you go."
In the first half, Kentucky had little problem getting the ball upcourt. But Master had watched Louisville on television before. He knew the routine.
"They don't play as hard in the first half," he said. "They try to lull you into thinking the whole game will be relaxed, then they come after you in the second half and deny you the ball. What they do is amazing."
It was also somewhat amazing that Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall could talk about how well Master's back court mate, Dirk Minniefield, played.
"Dirk turned in one of the finest jobs of protecting the ball I've seen from a Kentucky guard," Hall said.
According to the stat sheet, Minniefield committed a game-high six turnovers in 37 minutes.
(The same official statistics showed Louisville having only 11 steals, which prompted Cardinal guard Milt Wagner to say, "How many? I think I had 11 by myself.")
Those who predicted Kentucky would win based their contention on the notion that the Wildcats have a superior bench.
The theory was that Kentucky's reserves would take control midway through the second half, when Louisville's Lancaster Gordon (game-high 24 points) and Rodney McCray (seven for seven from the field, 15 points) had to be helped to the bench because they were so tired.
But Kentucky's reserves--Kenny Walker, Bret Bearup, Dicky Beal and Roger Hardin--did little to justify their being in the game.
In 15 minutes, Beal had four assists, but didn't take a shot and committed two turnovers. Bearup took, and made, only one shot in nine minutes.
Walker, who had been averaging 12 points and seven rebounds on 60 percent shooting the last 15 games, had two points and one rebound in 26 minutes today. Walker, however, had been suffering from back spasms.
Still, Kentucky came close to advancing to the final four.
"When you get to this stage," said Master, "it's no disgrace to lose, especially in a game like this to a team like Louisville. I still think we had a great season. If we had won, it would have been a super-great season."