Monday, March 19, 2001

UK fans looking forward to Duke

But USC is next for the Wildcats

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        UNIONDALE, N.Y. - The University of Kentucky's next NCAA Tournament opponent is the University of Southern California Trojans, a Sweet 16 game Thursday night in Philadelphia. But fans are focusing on what could be an East Regional final against UK tournament rival Duke on Saturday at Philadelphia's First Union Center.

        “Bring 'em on,” said Owen Bennett, a retired high school principal from Magoffin County, Ky., who was in New York to watch UK win its first two tournament games over Holy Cross and Iowa.

        “We're not afraid of them,” Bennett said. “We want to play 'em to show who's best.”

        In the 1992 NCAA Tournament, Duke and UK played in what many believe was the greatest college basketball game in history.Duke won 104-103 in overtime in a game decided on a last-second shot by Blue Devil Christian Laettner.

        That game was also played in Philadelphia and was an East Regional final. Duke went on to win the national title.

        Fans of teams playing UK continue to use that classic contest to taunt Wildcat players. As Kentucky pulled away from Iowa Saturday night en route to a 92-79 win a few Hawkeye fans began to chant “Christian Laettner” during timeouts.

        “I'd like to see a game that good if Duke and UK play,” said Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, who was in Long Island to see Saturday night's game. “But naturally, I want a different outcome.”

        UK avenged that loss in the 1998 tournament, whipping Duke 86-84 as the Wild cats marched to a national title that season.

        Kentucky beat Duke in the 1978 NCAA championship game when UK forward Jack “Goose” Givens had one of the most memorable performances in the history of the tournament, pouring in 41 points as UK won 94-88.

        Though Duke spent time this year ranked No. 1 in the nation - Kentucky goes into the game ranked ninth, its highest ranking of the season - Wildcat fans say they believe their team can beat the Blue Devils.

        “Hey, I know they're tough, but so are we,” said Bill Mattingly, a health care worker from near Bardstown in Nelson County. “It will be a great game if they both get there.”

        UK coach Tubby Smith wants no talk of Duke, concerned that his team won't focus on the task at hand, playing USC Thursday.

        “I know Duke is a great team and they are in the same region,” Smith said after Saturday night's win over Iowa. “But USC is a good team. We need to start worrying about them because we play them next, not Duke.”

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