Dale Brown and his Louisiana State Tigers have been talking love and family and togetherness and a bunch of other drippy stuff this week, and today they again showed what it all means.
The 11th-seeded Tigers stared top-seeded Kentucky in the eye and it was the Wildcats who blinked. The final figures on the NCAA Southeast regional scoreboard in the Omni read 59-57, LSU.
"I told this team before the game," Brown said of his Tigers (26-11), who had lost to Kentucky (32-4) three times this season, "that in 1980, the U.S. hockey team lost seven times to the Russians, but when it counted for the gold, the Americans beat them."
Actually, that wasn't the gold medal game, but no one was begrudging Brown the feeling.
"I thought I did my best job of coaching and they gave their best on the court," Brown said. "I guess it's the highest moment I've ever had."
LSU, which went to the Final Four in 1981, moves its happy clan to Dallas to face West regional winner Louisville in next Saturday's national semifinals.
"It was the look in their Kentucky's eye," said LSU's Don Redden, who had 15 points, but more important, found teammate Ricky Blanton open for what would be the game-winning basket with 15 seconds left. "In the last four minutes, it was more a look of not wanting to lose than wanting to win, and that's when we took over."
Neither team really took over. Kentucky had the biggest lead of the game, but that was 11-4 with 3:35 gone. In the second half, no one led by more than four points.
Kentucky's James Blackmon hit two jumpers, the second with 5:51 left, to give Kentucky a 51-47 lead. Blanton countered for LSU. He scored after grabbing an offensive rebound, then again on a back-door feed from Redden to tie the game at 51 with 4:25 left. Kentucky all-America Kenny Walker missed the first of a one-and-one with 4:03 left, and Redden made a jumper for a 53-51 lead with 3:26 left.
Blackmon hit again from his niche in the left corner for a 53-53 tie, but again Blanton and Redden produced, putting LSU ahead to stay.
Blanton, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, made two free throws with 2:31 left. Then, after Blackmon missed from the corner, Redden followed up a miss by Derrick Taylor for a 57-53 lead with 1:25 left.
Walker, who had 16 points in the first half but only four in the second, made a one-and-one with 1:19 left, after which LSU called time. The Tigers wasted some time, then with 10 seconds left on the shot clock and 44 in the game, Kentucky's Ed Davender committed a nonshooting foul against Taylor.
"We probably should have fouled earlier," said Kentucky Coach Eddie Sutton.
"All I wanted was them not to foul or travel and shoot only if they had a layup," said Brown.
"We wanted the ball in Derrick's hands," Redden said. "I went to the base line after Blackmon left me to go double Derrick. Anthony Wilson passed to me, and I was going to take it to the hole, but I saw Ricky alone."
Blanton's basket made it 59-55.
Blanton -- who averaged only 6.1 points during the season and just 8.3 in the tournament -- added, with some sarcasm at the end, "We have three good guards that open the middle for John Williams and I. For some reason people are always leaving me open to go trap."
Kentucky immediately inbounded, Roger Harden taking it all the way to score, making it 59-57 with five seconds left. After a Kentucky timeout, Winston Bennett fouled Williams at :003 after he received the inbounds pass. Williams, who led LSU with 20 points, missed the front end of the one-and-one that would have clinched victory. Bennett rebounded and passed to Blackmon, who let fly with one second left from two steps inside midcourt. The ball hit the rim and bounded away.
"Blackmon and Ed Davender did a good job on Taylor who was held to four points after getting 23 Thursday night against Georgia Tech , and we knew Redden and Williams would score," said Sutton, "but Blanton was the biggest surprise. He hit a couple of big baskets."
The clutch baskets were only half of the Ricky Blanton story, whose opening chapters had him as a swing man in October while the conclusion has him as a post-up center in March. His play in LSU's freak defense -- a changing combination of 2-3, box-and-one and diamond-and-one zones, and man-to-man -- was as critical as his points.
Though Oliver Brown and Jose Vargas spent some time trying to stop the 6-8 Walker, it was Blanton who did the most, especially in the second half. In the first half, Walker hit seven of eight from the floor, including a 10-footer with two seconds left to give Kentucky a 34-33 halftime lead. But after intermission, Walker took only three shots from the floor, making one.
"We told Ricky that he would have to give his whole body," said Brown. "Kenny Walker is the most effervescent player in the world. He's so bubbly and always moving. He's the hardest-working superstar I've ever seen.
"When Kenny gets tired, he leans on you. But we told Ricky that he can't get into a leaning match because Kenny's the master. It's like a boxer, he had to keep away from him but also stop him."
After Blackmon's last-second miss, the LSU players swarmed one another and celebrated their "phenomenal upset," as Brown called it. Brown embraced them all like they were his children and then he embraced his daughter, Robyn, an LSU senior, who emerged from the stands crying from happiness.
The victors cut down the nets. They each took turns using a scissors to cut a strand of the net. Brown was hoisted up, but he didn't bother with the scissors. He used his teeth. A sweeter victory has yet to be had.