ON  THIS DAY: In 1975, Kentucky Steals Indiana's Shot at History

Tom Brew

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — We know all about Indiana going undefeated in 1976 and winning the national title. They're still the last college team to go unbeaten, a whopping 44-year streak of immortality.

They should have done the same thing a year earlier. But Kentucky, the Hoosiers' hated arch-rivals, spoiled the party, beating Indiana in the regional final 92-90 in one of the great college games ever played on March 22, 1975.

“In all my years, that was the best college basketball I ever saw,’’ longtime Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Billy Reed told me in 2016 for our book, "Missing Banners.'' “It might have also been the most physical. It was a war out there, it really was. Kentucky was balanced and they had so much depth, they didn’t care how many fouls they committed. They just pushed and shoved Indiana as much as they could and tried to make it very difficult for them. 

"That Kentucky team, they were on a mission. They took the approach that ‘we might lose but we’re not going to get pushed around.' They did the pushing. They have fouls to give and they used them.''

We all know the back story, of course, by rote. Indiana's best player, Scott May, had broken his arm a month earlier in a win at Purdue, and the Hoosiers remained unbeaten as they forged on without him. May tried to play in the Kentucky game with his arm wrapped, but he only lasted seven minutes.

Indiana's players, however, never used the May injury as an excuse. They felt like they should have won the game anyway, but simply didn't play well enough to do so.

Giving up 92 points tore at them for years.

“They were ready for us right from the start. We had embarrassed them (in a December blowout) and they were really mad. They were ready to get back at us,’’ said Indiana super-sub John Laskowski, who was put into the starting lineup after May was hurt. “Coach thought Scott was well enough to start and we were really confident going into that game. It was nice having Scott back, but even if he couldn’t go we still thought we were good enough to beat them. Scott had that big bandage on his arm and it just didn’t play out well. He had to come out after just a couple of minutes and I think that really fired up the Kentucky team, too.

"We just don’t give up 92 points in a game. That’s not us. But they were so jacked up and they just kept making shot after shot. Even without Scott we figured we could do it. But you have to give credit to them. They just had that mindset that they weren’t going to let us beat them again, and for that one night they made it happen.''

Kentucky had lost five straight to Indiana in this heated rivalry, but they changed up their style of play for this one on orders of Coach Joe B. Hall, who had never beaten Knight and was angry after that December loss when Knight slapped him in the back of the head.

The Wildcats shot quickly on every possession the first time they had a good look. Senior guard Mike Flynn, a Jeffersonville, Ind., native who had never beaten Indiana, led the way with 22 points and, after cutting down the nets, waved it vigorously toward the Indiana fan section.

“Coach Hall knew how good Indiana’s half-court defense was so he just wanted us to come up and shoot as fast as we could,’’ Kentucky’s Mike Flynn said. “He turned me loose, and Jimmy Dan (Conner) and Kevin (Grevey) too. I loved it. I mean, you don’t usually hear something like that from your coach, to just shoot away. 

"I had my best college game that night, no doubt about it. I scored 22 and we played great against a really good team. We really wanted to teach Coach Knight a lesson that game. We really thought he was arrogant and had gotten too big for his britches. And we never forgot what he did to Coach Hall.’’

Indiana would finish the season 30-1 and, of course, go 32-0 the following year to claim Knight's first title in 1976. It was, without question, the greatest two-year stretch in Indiana history and most surely will not ever be repeated.

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Worth a note: Beating LSU in 1987 to get to Final Four

Steve Alford had dreamed of getting to the Final Four since he was a little boy growing up in Indiana. Dean Garrett and Keith Smart had just shown up in Bloomington out of junior college for the 1986-87, and that was their goal too — to get Alford that Final Four.

They did it by beating LSU 77-76 in a riveting thriller worthy of a regional final stage in Cincinnati. It took a second-half comeback for the ages, too. "LSU was very good, and very athletic, and they really took it to us,'' Indiana center Dean Garrett said recently. "It was night and day from playing Duke a few nights earlier.  They were all over us — and then they stopped.''

The closing stretches of this game were pure Bob Knight, who completely outcoached Dale Brown. The Hoosiers started getting good shots — and making them — and LSU kept turning the ball over while trying to slow the game down, which wasn't their style.

Indiana just kept playing, and never panicked. "We had faith — all five of us — that we could get it done,'' Garrett said. "We just needed to keep making plays, and you could tell they were playing scared, like they were playing NOT to lose. That was perfect for us.''

Knight loved the character of that '87 team, one that played with calmness even in the most intense moments.

“The greatness in this team may be the greatness no other team here has had, to the degree that this one had an almost total resolve not to recognize or be a part of defeat,'' Knight said of that 1987 team. "This team played the last five minutes of critical games as well as I’ve ever seen a team play.”

Alford had 20 points on just nine field goal attempts, making all 10 of his free throws. Garrett had 17 points and was 8-for-10 from the field. Daryl Thomas had 16 points, Smart had 10 and Ricky Calloway had 11, including the game-winner on a rebound put-back after a Thomas miss. Those five played 193 minutes out of a possible 200.

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In town for Bob Knight's return to Assembly Hall in February, 1987 heroes Keith Smart (left) and Dean Garrett pose for a picture with Sports Illustrated Indiana's Tom Brew during dinner at Nick's English Hut.

Other great March 22 moments 

  • 1984 — Beat Michael Jordan and No. 1 North Carolina in regional semifinal
  • 1940 — Beat Springfield in first round of NCAA tournament in Indianapolis.
  • 2013 — Beat James Madison in first round of NCAA Tourney
  • 1981 — Beat St. Joseph’s in regional final of NCAA Tournament in Bloomington.

Order your copy of 'Missing Banners' here

The book "Missing Banners'' written by Terry Hutchens and Tom Brew, is the ultimate source for reliving the 1975 season that fell short in hanging a banner in Assembly Hall. The award-winning book also goes in depth on the 1980, 1993, 2002 and 2013 seasons. You can order the book  the following ways by clicking the link:

AMAZON.com  *** BARNES & NOBLE 

If you prefer an autographed copy, email Tom Brew and tombrew@hilltop30.com.

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Related 'ON THIS DAY' stories

  • March 16, 2017: Indiana fires Tom Crean after nine seasons. CLICK HERE
  • March 17, 2000: Indiana loses to Pepperdine 77-57 in Bob Knighjt's final game as coach of the Hoosiers. CLICK HERE
  • March 18, 1953: Hoosiers win their second NCAA championship on Bobby Leonard's last-minute free throw. CLICK HERE
  • March 19, 201
  • March 19, 2016: Indiana knocks off Kentucky in second round in Des Moines in Tom Crean's final NCAA tournament win for the Hoosiers. CLICK HERE
  • March 20, 1987: Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski meet in the postseason for the first time, and IU prevails. CLICK HERE
  • March 21, 2002: Indiana's huge second-half comeback helps take down No. 1-ranked Duke in regional semifinals. CLICK HERE

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