LEXINGTON, KY. Exactly 313 months ago today, Kansas University suffered arguably the most excruciating defeat in its storied men's basketball history.
The date was Dec. 9, 1978. The site was Rupp Arena. The score was Kentucky 67, Kansas 66.
Over the years, I haven't seen many KU basketball players openly weep following a defeat. Oh, I've seen red eyes and sad faces, but the staggering loss to Kentucky that night produced tears up to half an hour after the shocking conclusion.
Why was it such a gut-wrencher? Because the Jayhawks led, 66-60, with just 31 seconds remaining in overtime. That's right. Kentucky outscored KU, 7-0, in the last half-minute.
Many in the crowd of 23,000-plus arose and departed after KU's Darnell Valentine drilled a couple of free throws to give Kansas a six-point lead with :31 on the clock. Those who did leave missed an improbable finish that has to rank among the greatest comebacks in Kentucky's ancient lore.
With 18 ticks to go, Kansas more or less conceded a basket to guard Dwight Anderson. But as KU tried to get the ball in to Valentine, the Jayhawks' talented sophomore guard was whistled for bumping Anderson. Later, Anderson admitted to the media he had taken a flop.
Moments later, Anderson missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity, but Kentucky rebounded and KU's Paul Mokeski fouled out when he hacked Anderson at :10. This time, the freshman guard nailed both charities to cut KU's lead to 66-64.
Then the ubiquitous Anderson stole John Crawford's inbounds pass, flipped the ball over his head to teammate Kyle Macy and Macy drilled a 12-foot jumper to forge a 66-66 tie with :03 on the clock.
The worst, however, was yet to come.
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At least three KU players begged for a timeout after Macy's basket. Oops, the Jayhawks had used their allotment. And so Macy, an 89 percent foul shooter, stepped to the line -- a technical foul was just one free throw in those days -- and hit it. UK then threw the ball in and the clock expired.
KU's players trudged to their locker room like they were at a funeral. Tears flowed. Coach Ted Owens, however, was more peeved than grieved. Owens, as he often did when his players had lost a tough one, targeted the officiating.
In a perfunctory postgame media session, Owens mentioned he thought KU players had been fouled a couple of times but no whistle sounded.
"When we had a six-point lead with 30 seconds left, the officials eased up," Owens said. "They had called a great game to that point, in my opinion."
Curiously, in the first half, Owens had been tooted for his first technical foul in nearly four years by Jerry Menz, the Big Eight official working the game. Owens went ballistic because Valentine was knocked down and no foul was called.
In those days, college games were worked by just two zebras, and in a big nonconference game it was customary to split the crew. The official from the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky's league, was Dale Kelley. Does that name sound familiar? Today Kelley, now retired from blowing whistles, is the Big 12 Conference coordinator of men's basketball officials.
If you're wondering, it was Kelley who called Valentine for the foul when Anderson staged his admitted fall-down act.
Still, the killer had been the phantom timeout. Owens had stressed to his players during a timeout at :10 that the Jayhawks had no more remaining, yet at least three players -- Valentine, Mac Stallcup and Moe Fowler -- held up the familiar T sign with their hands after Macy's game-tying basket.
Valentine, who had scored a career-high (at the time) 27 points while playing all 45 minutes, accepted the blame and was among the many Jayhawks with wet eyes afterward.
As you may know, Kansas has tangled with Kentucky seven times through the years in Lexington, Ky., and never won. The closest the Jayhawks ever came was that December Saturday night more than 26 years ago.