After Dale Brown had coached his Louisiana State team past Kentucky, 59-57, in the final of the NCAA Southeast regional at the Omni, hugged his troops, helped them cut down the net with his incisors instead of scissors, he went looking for his daughter. Though lacking the patriotic angle, the scene Saturday was not altogether different from Jim Craig looking for his father after the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team had won the gold medal, which was an event Brown had used to inspire his players two hours prior.
Robyn Brown, a senior at LSU, had moved down to within a couple rows of the court. Her dad, a bright smile spread across his 50-year-old face, was motioning to her to jump over a couple of tables and join him on the court. You had to forgive the happy father for forgetting that 21-year-old daughters, in skirts, don't like jumping over tables with lots of people watching. Anyway, she made it to the floor and into dad's arms.
"Oh, Daddy, I love you," she said.
But dad had to do the obligatory network television interview, and as the production assistants were trying to get the right bodies in the right spots, Brown grabbed his daughter's arm and said: "Come on."
She declined. So in stepped Ricky Blanton -- the guard-turned-center who scored what would be the winning basket on a feed from the regional's outstanding player, Don Redden, and helped control Kentucky all-America Kenny Walker. If you had a nickel for every time Ricky Blanton was the star of the game and subject of a network TV interview, you probably wouldn't have enough change to call his mom and tell her to watch. But on Sunday, none of that mattered because, after a season of turmoil and tumult, LSU was going to the Final Four. Blanton's basket had come with 15 seconds left, giving LSU a 59-55 lead.
Before the rest of the nation was switched in for the interview, Brown hugged Blanton once more and told him: "We took a lickin' but we did it."
Brown had taken a mental beating from the pressures of the job, a continuing NCAA investigation, the comings and goings of Tito Horford, the loss of Nikita Wilson to academic failure, injuries and illness. Remember, this was Chicken Pox University in late January.
Blanton, a sophomore from Miami, had 12 points on five for five from the floor and two for two from the line, and eight rebounds. He was also tired and sore, having played another game as an undersized center, this one against an all-America who once he has the ball inside is next to impossible to stop.
Walker had 16 points in the first half, on seven for eight from the floor. After intermission, he got just three shots, and his one field goal came when he broke up a pass at midcourt and went in solo for a layup.
"I don't know if Kenny is, but I'm sore," Blanton said. "It was a big adjustment to go from playing James Blackmon Kentucky's shooting guard to playing Kenny Walker this year. When you're playing post defense, you take such a physical pounding. Those guys are deceptively strong."