Time was dissolving and so too, perhaps, was Kentucky’s shot at a four seed or better in the NCAA basketball tournament. LSU, a 12-and-a-half point underdog, once again had bullied and badgered the Wildcats for more than 40 minutes – this time, in Rupp Arena. The Tigers already had slapped them down once before, in Baton Rouge. And now they were a few heartbeats away from an overtime upset and a sweep of the mighty, mighty Wildcats.
The ball flew from the hands of James Young and somehow found its way to Julius Randle, who already had seized 14 rebounds but had managed to sink just two of seven shots. Rebound number 15 didn’t stay in his mitts long. Randle flipped the ball into the basket with three ticks left.
The joint exploded, and the noise sustained through the final moments, when LSU threw the ball away and the Cats secured their 21st victory and avoided a loss they could not absorb.
As Randle’s shot slipped through the nets, another team of Wildcats was working on a comeback as well. Nearly 600 miles away, in Norfolk, Virginia, Kentucky’s baseball team trailed Old Dominion, 5-4. The Cats had opened the weekend with a 16-2 laugher over St. Joseph’s, but ODU was the real deal and the Monarchs had roughed up UK’s starting pitcher, Chandler Shepherd.
Old Dominion had erased a 3-1 UK lead with four runs in the fifth inning. The Wildcats got one back in the sixth, but they trailed 5-4 entering the seventh.
Just as the basketball moment found Kentucky’s All-American, so, too, did the baseball game. A.J. Reed was at the plate. The day prior, the 6-foot-4 junior had done heroic double duty, picking up the victory on the mound and, while at the plate, matching a UK record with a pair of home runs in one inning. Now there were two outs, with nobody on base, but already this season the Cats have made a specialty of scoring with two down.
Through some odd coincidence that at least SUGGESTS the fabric of the universe has a blue tinge to it, just as Julius Randle released his final shot of the day, Reed took aim at a 2-0 pitch.
And like the basketball Randle sent toward the rim, the baseball Reed launched into the Norfolk sky found its mark. Basket – good. Two points, game over. Fly ball – gone. Home run, score tied.
As nearly 24,000 fans in Lexington reached a roar that could have caused ear bleeds, 33 baseball players, plus coaches and staff, took turns pounding Reed on the back. The size of the celebration was just a bit smaller, but no less intense.
Two special moments, sharing the same sliver of time.
We know this because of alert Kentucky fans who were balancing the two sports -- watching basketball on their big screens and listening to baseball on the radio. Thanks to the Twitterverse, word spread quickly of the Big Blue Exacta.
Of course, Randle’s shot basically ended matters for the basketball Wildcats. Their classmates in Virginia had some more work to do, which they took care of quickly. Shortly after Reed’s heroics, later in that same inning, designated hitter Storm Wilson, making his first career start, fought off the memory of three wobbly at-bats in earlier innings and delivered a two-run single that broke the tie and turned out to be the game-winner.
Kentucky finished off ODU 7-5 on Saturday and then followed up Sunday with a 13-0 rout of St. John’s. Reed hit two more homers, giving him five for the weekend, along with 11 RBI. He was the most dangerous part of a UK offensive attack that averaged 11 runs per game for the weekend.
Two of the three victories were blowouts, which often happens in non-conference games, no matter what the sport. UK basketball fans saw their share of laughers in Rupp earlier this season, before SEC teams began to dot the schedule.
That happens soon enough for the baseball team as well. In fact, conference play begins in the middle of March, right about the time the basketball Cats will be hip-deep in tournament play. It might be too much to ask, but perhaps a similar perfect storm of basketball/baseball joy might converge again. And if it does, we’ll know about it.
The Twitterverse abides.
(Dick Gabriel is in his 25th season with the UK TV and Radio Networks, and can be heard on the Big Blue Insider Monday through Friday from 6-8 p.m. ET on 630 WLAP-AM and wlap.com.)