By LARRY VAUGHT
The Elite Eight loss to Auburn that denied UK a Final Four berth — and maybe even a national title — stung so much because UK beat Auburn twice, including by 27 points in Rupp Arena without Reid Travis during the season.
However, that’s not the first time a SEC rival has done that in the Elite Eight. LSU did the same thing in 1986 after losing to UK three times that season. Kentucky won by two points at LSU, by 11 points at home and then by three points in the SEC Tournament before losing 59-57 in the regional final in Atlanta in Eddie Sutton’s first season as UK’s coach.
Point guard Roger Harden had 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting, five rebounds, five assists and one steal in 38 minutes in the NCAA loss. Teammate Kenny Walker had 20 points, seven rebounds, three steals and one assist in 38 minutes. Winston Bennett had eight points and 12 rebounds for UK but was just 3-for-13 from the field. Guard Ed Davender went 1-for-6 and James Blackmon 5-for-12.
Sound familiar to some shooting numbers UK had against Auburn?
“Of all the teams I played on, even today at (age) 55 that is still the game that gets the biggest emotional reaction,” Harden said. “We decided as a team that it was important for the program to have a great year in Eddie’s first year. From the team meeting we had after Joe Hall resigned, we all said we were sticking together and would bring a national championship to Kentucky and we were going to openly talk about it.
“We kept talking about winning a title and it was such a unifying thing inside Big Blue Nation. We knew what winning meant to our fans and we tapped into that. We all took it really personal when we lost to LSU just like our fans did. I sit here 33 years later and still get emotional talking about that game and probably always will.”