There were 42 seconds left to play and Louisville had an insurmountable 14-point lead, but the Cardinals kept jumping, trapping and pressing proud Kentucky today all over the brown tartan floor of Stokely Center.
"Pressing is so much a part of our blood, that we just couldn't stop," said Louisville's Scooter McCray. "We couldn't hold back. We wanted them never to get the ball in bounds again."
That relentless, suffocating press and 22-of-27 second-half shooting carried Louisville to an 80-68 overtime victory over Kentucky in the NCAA Mideast Regional final, sending the Cardinals to Albuquerque next week for their third trip to the final four in the last four years. They will play the winner of Sunday's game between Houston and Villanova.
It was one of the few games in recent history where performance actually exceeded hype in a matchup of two teams that had not played each other since 1959. The 12,489 saw enough great plays to fill a lifetime.
They saw basketball at a level so high that the losing team could shoot 56 percent.
They saw Kentucky (23-8) shoot 62 percent in the first half and run up a 23-10 lead in the first 10 minutes. They saw Louisville (32-3) go to its 2-D press and force six turnovers in the first four minutes of the second half to turn that 13-point deficit into a 50-49 lead with 11 minutes to play.
They saw Jim Master hit a wide-open 15-foot jumper at the very end of regulation that tied the score at 62 and forced what everybody wanted to see: five more minutes of basketball.
And in those five minutes, Louisville was sizzling. The Cardinals scored 14 straight points before Wildcats senior guard Dirk Minniefield made a meaningless layup with 34 seconds left.
"I thought if we could just get the jump ball, we could sustain the momentum from my last shot," said Master.
But the Cardinals controlled the overtime tap and found Lancaster Gordon open for a 12-foot jumper and a 64-62 lead. Then Gordon stole the ball from Wildcats center Melvin Turpin and went in for another basket.
Kentucky tried to push the ball up quickly. Charles Hurt, the sleek forward of Mr. Atlas proportions, dribbled down the right side. He never saw 6-foot-9 Scooter McCray sneaking up from behind for the steal. Charles Jones hit the subsequent foul shots for Louisville, which was now ahead, 68-62, with three minutes still left in overtime.
The Wildcats tried to go inside, but Kenny Walker, a 6-8 leaper extraordinaire, got his shot rejected by Scooter McCray. Master, who had hit five straight from the perimeter, tried to go back inside, only to have his shot blocked by Jones out to Milt Wagner, who scored for a 70-62 lead.
Wagner also stole the in-bounds pass and hit two free throws for a 72-62 lead. Not a word from the Kentucky bench. Some were wondering whether Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall was still alive.
"I could have called time out," Hall said afterward. "But I only had one. And I don't know if it would have stopped the onslaught."
So the onslaught continued in the form of a dunk show. Cardinal steal, Cardinal dunk.
"People hear about all this defense and they think we've lost the ability to be the Doctors of Dunk," said Scooter McCray. "It was show time. We're still the doctors."
Of that, Hall and the Wildcats were very aware.
"I think Louisville is the best team in the country," Hall said. "I couldn't ask any more of my players; (the Cardinals) don't worry about being down 12 points because they know they can press their way back."
"We hustled a lot in the second half," Gordon agreed. "Pride really brought us back. It's just like when you think practice is over and you have to go practice for five more minutes."
"I think we really confused them," said Wagner.
The defeat was bitter for Kentucky, not so much because they lost to an in-state school, but because the Wildcats had a good chance to win the game in regulation on a play that will be discussed and replayed for years.
Kentucky had tied the score at 60 on a free throw by Derrick Hord and Hurt's follow-up of the second free throw, which Hord missed. There were three minutes left and for some reason Louisville was running the clock down.
But a Wagner pass to Gordon went out of bounds, giving Kentucky the ball with 2:20 to play. The Wildcats called time with 1:48 left and again with 49 seconds left. The last time, Hall called for his team to lob the ball in to Turpin, who had pounded his way inside for 18 points and nine rebounds.
But Louisville surrounded Turpin, and Minniefield saw a clear path to the basket. He lost Gordon with one giant first step and dribbled around the left side and put the ball up with about 17 seconds left. But Jones, Louisville's 6-8 center, swatted it away.
Gordon scored to give Louisville the lead, 62-60, and set up Master's game-prolonging heroics. There was no second-guessing from Minniefield.
"I laid the ball off glass and it was up to the official to make (the goal-tending) call," Minniefield said. "I would definitely take that shot again. The whole team would want me to take that shot again. I wouldn't hesitate."
Jones had to leave his man (Turpin) to go after Minniefield. "I was worried about getting there before the ball hit the glass," Jones said. "But I got there in time."
And in less time than that, all that has been said over the years about Kentucky refusing to play Louisville during the regular season seemed to have been forgotten.
"It's too bad we all can't go to the finals," said Louisville Coach Denny Crum.
"It's no disgrace to lose at this stage in this tournament. There are just too many great teams at this point for it to be a disgrace to lose."
"I'd kind of like to see Kentucky in the final four," said Scooter McCray, quickly reminding the reporters gathered that he is from Mount Vernon, N.Y., not Kentucky. "Then, we could have two representatives from the state. The way this game went today, I think we almost deserve it."