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Impromptu halftime adjustment by Leonard Hamilton enabled Kyle Macy to help Cats beat Michigan State in 1978 NCAA

Former UK All-American Kyle Macy shares a laugh with Alabama coach Avery Johnson during SEC Media Day in 2016.  (Larry Vaught/Verizon Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

One of the most dramatic NCAA Tournament wins Kentucky has had came in 1978 when the Cats beat Michigan State 52-49 in the Mideast Region final to advance to the Final Four. That game sometimes gets overlooked but coach Joe Hall’s team needed a daring adjustment by coach Leonard Hamilton right before the start of the second half that led to the win.

Kyle Macy, a transfer from Purdue playing in his first NCAA Tournament, had 18 points and played all 40 minutes without making a turnover against Michigan State’s 2-3 zone defense. The Spartans had a known star in Greg Kelser (19 points, 13 rebounds) and a rising star in Earven “Magic” Johnson (6 points, 6 turnovers, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals).

“We had Jack (Givens) guarding Magic and Jack was doing a great job because Magic really couldn’t shoot back then but we were having trouble scoring,” Macy said.

Kentucky, a high scoring team that season, trailed 27-22 at halftime. The Cats were going through second half warmups when Hamilton and Hall called Macy and Rick Robey over.

“It was kind of like in sandlot ball where you put chalk in your hands and just draw a play up on the court to run,” Macy said. “Coach Hamilton told coach Hall to run a play where we would reverse the ball, Rick would come up and set a pick and I would drive off the pick.

“If they came up to me, I would hit Jack. They didn’t want to give Jack open jumpers, so they stayed with him. I had open shots or they would foul me, so it worked out. I made some free throws down the stretch.”

Macy had nine points in the final 6 minutes, 16 seconds and was 7-for-7 at the foul line in that stretch. He was 10-for-11 from the foul line in the game.

Of course, two games later Givens had 41 points in the national title game win over Duke to show why Michigan State didn’t want to give him open shots, but Hamilton’s adjustment enabled Macy to get free enough to propel the Cats to a win and a national title.

2 comments

  1. I very well remember that game . For a while it didn’t looked good until Kyle made the shots down the stretch of the that game. Of course everybody knows what happened in that first game of the final four when Hall yank his starters out , probably the best coaching move he made at time.

  2. Magic Johnson has been a total crybaby about that game for 40 years. When he talks about it he goes on and on how they were a better team and should have won. That’s pure bunk of course. The 1978 team was special. It had all the ingredients a team needs to win and they did as planned. It was called the season without joy because they had so much pressure to win because everyone thought they were the best so they should win. A lot of teams fold under that kind of pressure. Those Cats didn’t. The exhibition put on by Givens in the title game was plenty of proof of that. They stepped up even against quality opponents. Mich. St. really didn’t impress me all that much at the time. I knew they were good but I knew UK was better. And the record stands. Shoulda and coulda are both loser words. Magic should deal with it. I really think he had a problem with UK for “other reasons”. But that’s just how I read it.

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