“Doing something over and over again and expecting different results” – this overused quote from Albert Einstein about the definition of insanity pops into my head as I turned off the DVD player. I had been watching the replay of the UGA vs Kentucky basketball game from January 12, 1970. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it over the years, but it’s usually when a current Kentucky game rolls around. I don’t believe I’m one of those people who unduly lives in the past. I will admit I have enjoyed attending UGA BB games over the past years and being recognized as a former player. It’s like the line from the theme song from Cheers, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.” I believe that feeling of belonging, of family, is human nature and universal. But, attending games has always been more about visiting old friends and enjoying basketball.
I’m invested in UGA basketball. I spent four years as a player, two years as a Grad. Assistant Coach, seven or eight years as a regular or part-time analyst for radio and TV and about fifteen years as a season ticket holder. UGA basketball is my second family. And, though my wife and I moved to Mexico over two years ago, I rarely miss a game on satellite. That is why, when I was asked to contribute to this blog, I viewed it as a way to continue my long love affair with UGA hoops. It will be a pleasure to cover the current Dawgs and at times share some stories of past years. It is easy for the fans today to ignore UGA basketball history, as so much has been disappointing. But, even before Durham’s, Tubby’s and Harrick’s teams enjoyed success, there was some very good basketball played by UGA. I look forward to telling you about it.
As the 1969-70 SEC season got underway, it was no surprise that Kentucky was the odds-on favorite to clinch another title (when are they not). After all, they had won 26 of 34 SEC titles to that point. They had a veteran team returning featuring consensus All-American Dan Issel and All-SEC performers in Mike Pratt and Larry Steele. They were ranked # 1 in the AP pre-season poll and never fell below #3. But, Ken Rosemond’s UGA team was touted by many conference coaches to give UK a run for their money. UGA had Bob Lienhard, a Helms Foundation All -American at center, along with ALL-SEC second team guards Jerry Epling and Lanny Taylor. Our seniors had no fear of Kentucky. We had been competing against Issel and company for four years since our freshman season. We had played an all-freshman game in Lexington in 1967 and lost 115-110 in a game folks still talk about. We knew we could play with them.
On January 12, 1970, UK rolled into Athens at 11-0, already having beaten West Virginia, UNC, Notre Dame, Duke, Kansas and Indiana, among others. They were blowing good teams out – averaging about 95 ppg. Dan Issel was getting 34ppg. We were 6-4 and had struggled in the early season. But, we had played a rugged, mostly road schedule against very good teams, and our record included a 2 point loss at #7 Davidson, an 8 pointer to LaSalle (#2 the year before) and a close one to a solid Illinois team. However, we were 4-0 in SEC play and UK was 3-0. We averaged 72 ppg.
The coliseum was packed with mostly UGA fans. We averaged 7,200 attendance that year and many more for SEC games. Unlike recent years, there were not many tickets available for UK fans. The game was a rugged defensive battle from the start. UGA 11-UK 7 at 14:01. We went on a small run and led 19-14 at 10:32. It was 34-34 at halftime. The second half was more of the same. UK led 54-52 at 10:50. UK led 61- 56 at 7:50 and 71-67 at 1:51. Then the fun began.
I chide folks all the time not to blame officiating for losses, but sometimes there is some merit. UK forward Mike Pratt drove and scored on Westbrook and absolutely extends his left arm for what should have been an offensive foul. I look at the ref, Bob “Poochie” Hartsfield, a former player for the Atlanta Crackers, that great minor league baseball team and not a racial slur, and a guy who officiated many of my high school games. I hoped for at least an honest call. I swear Poochie began to raise his arm for the charging call, glanced over at the “the Baron” Adolph Rupp, who grimaced slightly and almost imperceptibly shook his head. Well, Rupp ran the SEC at that time and more than once had officials sent packing from the conference. Poochie swallowed his whistle. Next UK possession Issel fumbled the ball out of bounds, but UK was awarded possession and scored. Believe me, I was there, and I’ve watched the replays. Final score UK 72-UGA 71.
Final statistics show: UK, 29-69 from the field, 14-21 free throws, 45 rebounds, 15 fouls. UGA, 28-67 from the field, 15-19 free throw, 45 rebounds, 15 fouls. Despite the low scoring, the game was fast paced. UK raced up the court every possession, and both teams had fast breaks throughout. The most amazing stat of all … each team played only six players the entire game.
We went on to lead the conference in late January at 8-1, but some key injuries and tough losses piled up, and we finished third in the conference at 11-7, but only conference champs went to the NCAA in those years. UK had a 27-1 regular season, won the SEC at 17-1, and, though they lost in the NCAA semi-finals to Jacksonville (with big Artis Gilmore), wound up #1 in the final AP poll, even though UCLA won the championship.
Now I’m gassed all over again. Is it any wonder I find it bewildering that Coach Fox sits guys after 2-3 minutes of action and played eleven in one half vs UK this year (and twelve quite often)? Anyway, I went through all of that to say that I know exactly how our guys feel after losing two extremely close games to Kentucky this year. The Dawgs went into the first game at Rupp still in the hunt for the post season. UK was ranked #8, but was playing without their All-SEC point guard Fox. And they had lost two games in a row, which some folks felt made them vulnerable, but I thought would increase their focus. The Dawgs got off to a great start and led 12-0 at 16:49. UGA led 19-5 at 14:11 and had ample opportunities to extend the lead considerably. As happens too often for UGA, turnovers hurt. UK climbed back to 29-29 at the half. The second half was tight. The lead was no more than eight points at any time. UGA went up 73-71 with 1:55 left. With the Dawgs in foul trouble, UK got two offensive boards in the last 31 seconds of regulation and got points off of each one. The second one was a killer at the 00:17 mark allowing UK an out of bounds play that sent the game to overtime. The last thing you want is to go overtime in Lexington. UK led the entire extra period and pulled away to win 90-81. Opportunity lost.
The second game in Athens was even more important due to UGA’s fading hopes of making the NCAA tournament. But, a win over UK would go a long way to increase those chances. Alas, it was not to be. UGA’s big man, Yante Maten, went down with a knee injury 95 seconds into the game, and to say things looked dim for the UGA crowd packed into the Steg is an understatement. But, the Dawgs bowed their necks, hunkered down, and played the Cats even, and trailing just 49-46 at halftime. It is only conjecture, at this point, what might have been had Yante not gone down early, but maybe it was a good thing in the sense that our other guys had to step up. JJ Frazier was at his all-time best making plays all over the floor and going for 36 points, making impossible shot after impossible shot. But, it was the efforts of other guys not used to having to step up and make plays that gave us hope in that game and for the future as well. Turtle, Toe, Mike Edwards and Pape Diatta all contributed big plays and had Dawgs fans wondering where that ability had been hiding earlier in the season. That is fodder for another column. Bottom line UK 82 -UGA 77. “Curses! Foiled again!!” Or is that deja vu, all over again?
I love you JJ, so my advice is – don’t watch the DVD for a few years and save yourself some pain.