BOZICH | Louisville beats Duke, parties like it's 1986 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Louisville beats Duke, parties like it's 1986

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Milt Wagner and Denny Crum addressed the crowd as Louisville honored its 1986 NCAA champs Saturday. Milt Wagner and Denny Crum addressed the crowd as Louisville honored its 1986 NCAA champs Saturday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The highlights from the 1986 NCAA championship game  played on the video board at the KFC Yum! Center Saturday afternoon, and the players from that Louisville team crowded around Milt Wagner.

Two seconds to play. Louisville 70, Duke 69. Wagner at the line.

“Swish,” Billy Thompson said.

Wagner took four crisp dribbles and made the free throw.

“Swish,” Herb Crook said.

Wagner did it again.

Over? Yes, the game was over. There was no three-point shot in 1986, so the Blue Devils were beaten. Now the Cards huddled around Jeff Hall to watch the finish. Hall stepped in front of the inbounds pass, intercepted it and surged toward the rim.

He was stopped in mid-air by Danny Ferry’s left forearm – and the look on Hall’s face suggested he remains likely to fire a basketball off Ferry’s noggin if Hall is ever given the opportunity.

Have you ever talked to Ferry about that move?

“No,” Hall said. “But I’d like to.”

For the University of Louisville basketball program, the joy of defeating Duke does not come wrapped in an expiration date. The Cardinals celebrated their 71-64 victory over Mike Krzyzewski’s current team Saturday afternoon just as enthusiastically as they’ve been celebrating their 72-69 NCAA title game win over the Blue Devils in Dallas for the last 30 years.

“Every time I see (former Duke guard) Johnny Dawkins, he says, ‘You’ve got my ring,’ “ Wagner said. “Tommy Amaker (Duke’s other guard) says the same thing.

“I tell them, ‘You’ve got that wrong. I’ve got my ring. You want to look at it?’ “

“Too bad (former Duke center) Jay Bilas wasn’t here,” another former Cardinals’ player said.

Actually it was too bad that Final Four Most Outstanding Player Pervis Ellison, Kenny Payne, Mark McSwain and several other key reserves could not attend the 30-year anniversary halftime ceremony.

Ellison was coaching his high school team in New Jersey. Payne was assisting John Calipari during Kentucky’s game at Texas A&M. Mark McSwain operates a string of sandwich shops in Belgium, his adopted home.

Denny Crum, the Cards’ Hall of Fame coach, made the crowd roar. He shared his trademark story about the post-game conversation he had with former Indiana coach Bob Knight after the game.

Krzyzewski is a Knight protégé. Crum was not stunned to hear Knight say that “the best team didn’t win.” Duke, for the record, was ranked Number One.

Crum was ready with his comeback. He always was.

“Maybe so,” Crum said, “but the best team tonight won.”

Wagner thanked the fans, telling them they were the best in the nation. “We wanted to win the championship for you,” he said.

Wagner showed his love for Louisville by moving back to town last summer. This is where he will retire. Others from that team – David Robinson, Herbert Crook, Mike Abram, Chris West, Keith Williams, Tony Kimbro, Robbie Valentine, Will Olliges – also call Louisville home.

Billy Thompson serves as a minister in Boca Raton, Fla. Hall is a teacher and retired high school coach in Glasgow, Ky.

“When we get back together it’s almost like we’re in the locker room again,” Thompson said. “That team really became close as the season went along because we were mature enough to overcome some adversity.”

Indeed. The Cards lost two of their first four, three of their first nine and six of their first 17. After Louisville went to North Carolina State and lost by a dozen points on Feb. 8, they were 15-7 and fortunate to be ranked 19th in the nation.

“I don’t think anybody was picking us to win it all then,” Herbert Crook said.

Nine consecutive victories with an average winning margin of nearly 12 points changed that perception. But Louisville was only ranked 11th when the Cardinals began their NCAA run after winning the Metro Conference Tournament.

“After we got beat by N.C. State we just decided we were better than that,” Crook said. “We knew we were better than that. We just had to play like it. And I think we did prove how good we were.”

Thirty years of celebrating that magical night against Duke has also confirmed that.

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