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Former UK point guard Roger Harden understands how much loss to Auburn will haunt Cats

Keldon Johnson shows the pain of the season-ending loss to Auburn. (Vicky Graff Photo)

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.”

3 comments

  1. When you look at all the games Kentucky has lost down through the years, when we were so close to making the Final Four, it’s no wonder we are the Gold Standard. Kentucky is “consistently in the mix”, “almost always in the conversation”, and has the recorded history to back up the pedigree. Throw in the NIT championships when it was bigger than the the Big Dance, not to mention, not allowing the Hagan/Ramsey crew to play in the Dance and it isn’t even close.

  2. First, the Elite 8 is the only round of the NCAA tournament in which UK has a losing record. It represents the most difficult hurdle that UK teams have had to clear on their quest for national titles. Most of us can recite a lengthy list of disappointing Elite 8 outcomes, including the LSU loss described here.

    Whether the loss comes at the hands of a familiar opponent such as LSU or Auburn, or at the hands of long time blue bloods like UNC or Duke, they all sting, and we all remember Phil Ford running the 4 corners, or Laetner’s shot and perfect game, or the Michigan State possession that ended with multiple offensive rebounds until the Spartans scored and sent Tubby’s Cats home, or the robbery of the officials that advanced UNC at UK’s expense, and all of those were just as painful to the big blue psyche as the LSU or Auburn losses.

    But then, there are the memories of the 1975 win over undefeated Indiana, or the 1966 win over Cazzie Russell’s Michigan team, or the 1996 team disposing of Duke, or the 1984 team disposing of UL at Rupp, or …..

    There is one Elite 8 loss that has hung in my current memory for over 50 years, since I was a student and it occurred in Memorial Coliseum in 1968 against Ohio State on a last second offensive rebound basket by Sorenson as he fell backwards toward the floor. That was the Casey-Issell-Pratt sophomore team that was simply spectacular.

    I had an occasion to meet Mr. Sorenson many years later in a business setting, and I did not have the heart or courage to discuss that basketball game with him. I am not sure I could have controlled my emotions, so I let the opportunity pass.

    I was a sophomore at UK at the time, and I attended that game.

    The LSU loss was clearly a very personal experience for Roger Harden, and I would expect nothing less from him about that game, or Kenny Walker, or any of the other of those Wildcats. But, I would also think that every group of UK players who ended their seasons/careers in similar ways would carry the hurt of those endings with them, just as I still sting from the vision of that ball leaving Sorenson’s fingers and finding its way into those white nets.

  3. 1998 not 1996

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