Reader Glen Story of Lincoln County does not agree with a reference I made in a recent column about Duke’s Christian Laettner “stomping” on Kentucky’s Aminu Timberlake during the memorable 1992 NCAA tournament game that Duke won in overtime on Laettner’s buzzer-beating shot.
Here’s what Story sent me: “I still believe that Laettner should have been tossed for stepping on Timberlake, but he wasn’t. I do believe that if he had literally stomped on Timberlake that the referees would have done no less than remove him from the game.
“That episode still gets (UK fans’) dandruff up. Duke isn’t very popular with UK fans. Someone once said, ‘The human race must find the equivalent of war if we are to survive.’ Sports is a great outlet for that. We don’t even have to sensationalize when talking about Kentucky basketball. Just bring up the subject and an audience is quickly gathered.”
Story certainly is right about Kentucky basketball quickly igniting passion in fans, just as mentioning the Laettner stomp does even 20 years later. Was it a stomp? Was it merely stepping on Timberlake without any malice? Should he have been ejected from the game?
I was sitting courtside for the game, and it still seems to me that if it had been any player other than Laettner he would have been ejected. But since Laettner was the face of Duke basketball and the Blue Devils were the nation’s No. 1 team, I’ll always believe he got a break that someone like Kentucky’s Deron Feldhaus would not have gotten if he had done the same thing to Laettner that night in Philadelphia.
That’s one thing I am hoping to ask Tom Clark next month. He’s a former college basketball official who worked that 1992 Kentucky-Duke game, and he will be one of the speakers at the annual Ohio UK Convention on July 21 in Franklin, Ohio. It’s always one of my favorite days of the year, and having a chance to hear him talk about this historic game from an official’s perspective is going to be interesting to say the least. Maybe he’ll have a different take on what the officials saw than I did. Maybe he’ll have a logical reason for why Laettner wasn’t ejected. Maybe he’ll admit now that Laettner should have been tossed.
But I also want to get his take on the game’s intensity, whether he ever expected anything close to the type of game he was part of and how much he thinks back to that particular game.
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Two readers are not sold on Kentucky football going into this season.
Jim Williamson of Pikeville is not happy that ESPN.com’s Chris Low rated UK’s football facilities as only 13th-best in the Southeastern Conference.
“Interesting article among all the talk of Barnhart not able to upgrade UK football due to legislative restrictions. UK is ahead of only Vandy. Both new additions (Missouri and Texas A&M) to the SEC have facilities ranked better than UK’s, a lifelong member of the SEC. UK fans should be livid, but they’ll barely yawn at it. That’s why we’re at this point,” Williamson wrote.
While Kentucky goes to great strides to point out all the improvements to its football facilities, those improvements obviously pale in comparison to what has been done and will continue to be done for basketball.
Mick Murrell of Birmingham, Ala., a season-ticket holder who rarely misses a home game, was stunned when he did a little digging to find out just how inept UK’s offense was during its 5-7 season last year.
“Our passing offense was much more prolific under (former offensive coordinator) Elliott Uzelac than last year's version under Joker (Phillips) and (Randy) Sanders. Seven hundred-plus more yards in 1996 with one less game. Any wonder season ticket sales are down? Just when you think you know where the bottom is, a sinkhole develops,” Murrell wrote.
Rememer, Uzelac worked under Bill Curry and wanted Tim Couch to run the option. Those were some of the most boring offensive teams ever at Kentucky — or so it seemed — and to see that Uzelac’s 1996 offense threw for more yards than UK’s 2011 offense did surprise me. As for ticket sales, numbers speak for themselves.