History Came Back to Life in Memorial Coliseum

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Sure, it was the NIT. Nobody - NOBODY - saw this team playing in anything but the NCAA tournament when it was 16-4 (5-0 in the Southeastern Conference). We all saw Kentucky crumble down the stretch, as no team has in a long, long time.

Controversy already has settled on the shoulders of its coach. Billy Gillispie says he's a pretty tough country boy and that he can take it. Know what? I believe him. But that's not the issue.

The real issue is, can YOU take it? Kentucky fans are living it again, the uncertainty that comes with a program in flux. You lived it two years ago, although it gave way to elation after Tubby Smith left, and Billy Gillispie arrived.

Then it morphed its way into anguish - early last season, with eight losses in the first 14 games. Late in the season, when Patrick Patterson went down with an injury. At the end of the season, when a gritty UK team couldn't overcome a decent Marquette ballclub in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, despite an unbelievably couragous effort by Joe Crawford.

VMI spoiled any thoughts of a glorious run this season, although they began to creep back into the forefront as the Wildcats ran off to that spotless start in the SEC. Given the way the schedule lay ahead, it was not inconceivable that Kentucky could have been 9-0 before heading for Vanderbilt.

We all know what happened. We just don't know why.

Some of you think it's all about the coaching; another faction believes it's rooted in a lack of talent (starting, of course, with the point guard spot).

You're both right.

Gillispie's bizarre substitution practices, his team's infuriating propensity for turning the ball over, as well as surrendering offensive rebounds, have combined to cost the Wildcats at least five winnable games, an SEC Eastern Division title and a bid to the post-season tournament - the one you'll view on CBS, not ESPN.

And that's why we found ourselves in Memorial Coliseum Tuesday night, watching the Cats play in The House That Rupp Built for the first time (in a "real" game) since 1976.

Kentucky finished up that season 33 years ago by coming back in the final minute to force overtime against a Mississippi State team that featured a seldom-used guard named Joe Dean, Jr. The Bulldogs had led much of the evening and seemed to have the game locked away. A couple of players leaned over toward the MSU broadcasters and hollered into their microphones, "Hey Mom! We're beating Kentucky!" or something like that.

I was a college student at the time, broadcast the game for WBKY, the campus radio station. I saw the players huddled around the State broadcasters. I couldn't hear them, but I could tell they were celebrating.

And then, somehow, the Cats sent the game into overtime and pulled it out. Coach Joe B. Hall allowed as how Kentucky got some sort of "ghostly" assist from the spirits of all the players who had called the Coliseum home through the years.

Why not?

Gillispie might have been praying for similar help Tuesday night as his team blew most of a 20-point lead. But Kentucky eventually dispatched Nevada-Las Vegas and sent home thousands of Big Blue fans who learned, first-hand, why Memorial Coliseum was one of the greatest weapons in all of college sports, back when it was home to their Wildcats.

With the lower ceiling and concrete walls, the sound has nowhere to go but right down onto the court - great if it's your home, rather troublesome if you're a visitor, and you can't hear yourself think.

Yes, it took me back. And I'd like to see it again, but it's not likely. Should Kentucky score another home game, it likely would be in Rupp Arena, where more people will get a chance to watch.

What will they see? As we've all learned this season, it's anybody's guess. The M.O. of this team changes from week to week, game to game, minute to minute.

That's why this has been the most infuriating season I've ever covered.

(Former WKYT Sports Manager Dick Gabriel is a 20-year veteran of the UK radio and TV networks. He can be heard each evening from 6-8 p.m.ET on “Sports Nightly,” on 630 WLAP-AM.)

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