Louisville CardFile: Duke ’86

To help combat March Sadness, this is the sixth of a series of recaps of significant games in Cardinal history, contemporaneously rewatched, said freshly minted posts to be presented as if the games were played the night before. — c d k

All’s well that ends with nets around the neck. At least in college basketball.

The University of Louisville captured its second national title in a 7th Final Four appearance with a 72-69 win over favorite, highly heralded Duke, to establish beyond peradventure that the Cardinals are the Team of the 80s, arguably, the premier program in all of college hoops.

But . . .

. . . with 12:18 left, the situation was dire. To say the least. Peril was afoot.

Twelve seconds earlier, Billy Thompson committed his fourth personal while hitting the boards for a rebound. Dave Henderson made two FTs, increasing the Blue Devils advantage to 4, 52-48.

Then Milt Wagner perpetrated his fourth. Mark Alarie netted a couple more charity tosses, increasing Duke’s margin to six.

Plus, and no less important, at least to me, my husko gordo largesse of Beer Nuts® (3 Party Sized Jars) which had fueled the Cards and this writer through the tourney to that juncture was fully depleted. After I had tossed back an especially large handful in a state of advanced stress. I had even wetted my finger in an attempt to get every last salty, sweet piece of peanut skin out of the jar.

(Professional obligations prevented me from following the Cards in person, forcing me to watch on TV, powersnacking to assuage tension along the way.)

So, the Cards two experienced leaders were on the pine. And the tank was empty. Hope, frankly, was scurrying toward the door of my pad. My buddies were pacing the premises.

But . . .

. . . the Cardinals then did what the Cardinals have done, since Denny Crum really got his mojo workin’ in town.

Until Milt and Billy T could return from the pine to help seal the deal, Crum stole clock with Mark McSwain and future superstar Tony Kimbro, while “rookie” precocious Pervis Ellison was holding things together, dominating in the paint.

Yet Milt’s gonna be Milt.

Wagner, not fashioning one of his more memorable games, hit his first FG of the title tilt with 5:32 remaining, and converted the +1 when fouled by Jay Bilas on the shot. It pulled the Cards within a penny at 60-61.

Wagner’s layup at 3:22 gave the Cards the lead, 64-63.


When Johnny Dawkins, who’d essentially been held in check for a long while thanks to Jeff Hall’s hounding in a box and one, hit a couple FTs, Duke was back on top.

Woe unto me.  A Beer Nut®, a Beer Nut®, my kingdom for a Beer Nut®.

Then the Cards championship cred showed up. Thompson’s post up, eight foot J with 2:49 left gave U of L the lead. For good this time.

Pervis got in touch with his inner Lorenzo Charles, grabbing Hall’s errant jumper out of a timeout, for a 68-65 advantage with :41 left.

Alarie was called for an offensive foul on the ensuing possession. Ellison drained both FTs.

The lead was five, but Duke didn’t win the most games in a season by any school ever by laying down. Bilas and Danny Ferry hit layups, pulling the Blue Devils within a digit.

But, with just a couple of ticks left, they were forced to foul Milt.

Silly boys, they.

Was there ever a doubt, when Wagner stepped to the line?

Correct answer: No.

Net. Net. 72-69.

Cards wear the crown.

 * * * * *

This title is sweet for any number of reasons.

Sure, there are the t-shirts Cardinal fans are going to wear daily for the next 365.

Also: Patience has been rewarded. An injury proved a benefit in the long run. Plus vindication.

Billy Thompson has led the Cardinals through this 17 game winning streak and title. Good for him. He frankly has been a disappointment for many fans since, as the nation’s #1 recruit, he announced his intention to continue his education on the Belknap Campus.

On national TV. To Al McGuire.

Then there was that miss against Houston in the ’83 semi-final, for which some boobirds never have forgiven him.

He’s been steady throughout the Cardinals’ entire drive to national relevance, and the title, which seemed but a silly dream midseason.

So, how cool is it for him. He’s a national champion, and, despite the setbacks he suffered, has handled his strange, straied situation with class and aplomb.

Milt Wagner’s foot injury early last season deep sixed him and a season of promise, He never returned. Until this campaign, when the hopes of Cardinal faithful were ratcheted up, and, glory be, met.

When he walked to the line late to secure the victory, anyone who has any sense of these Louisville Cardinals knew the deal was done. (Andre Turner certainly did.)

7 points in the last five and a half minutes.

Herbert Crook played the best game ever by a Cardinal who committed nine turnovers. He scored 10, grabbed a game high 12 rebounds, dished out five assists, and was stalwart as part of the Cards’ exemplary D.

Lest we forget, he only got his scholly at U of L, when John Williams chose to play for Dale Brown at LSU. And, nobody saw him as a starter entering the season. Truth: He turned into one of the great Cardinal second forwards ever.

Nobody knew much about Pervis Ellison before the campaign. Long and spindly — and really really good — the neophyte pivot never made the same mistake twice over the course of the season, as he inexorably turned into a force.

Joining Rodney McCray as a freshman center for a U of L national champ, Pervis was named MOP of the Final Four. He had 25 points and 11 rebounds, and his put in off Hall’s miss with :41 left will always be a part of Cardinal hoops lore.

Jeff Hall played D. Lots of D. Championship quality D.

Mark McSwain and Tony Kimbro provided 31 solid minutes of relief.

 * * * * *

There was lots of talk before the game about how important guard play would be, perhaps where the game would turn.

Well, so much for that. The Cards dominated underneath, where it mattered most. Rebounding advantage: +15 at 38-23.

 * * * * *

Here’s the stat that proves the Cardinals were ready when it really counterd on their six game charge to the 1986 NCAA basketball title.

In the last four minutes of their games against Drexel, Bradley, North Carolina, Auburn, LSU and Duke, Louisville outscored those vanquished foes, 114-56.

That’s 24 minutes of clock. Louisville was +58. That’s +9.7 per game.

When it mattered, the University of Louisville Cardinals averaged 19 points over the last four minutes of six consecutive NCAA tournament tilts.

Call them steely. Call them ready. Call them clutch at crunch time.

Call them national champions.

— c d kaplan




One thought on “Louisville CardFile: Duke ’86

  1. The most talented team we ever had. Mark McSwain was a 7th man! Went on to play forever in Sweden and own half his adopted town.

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