The ACC-Big East Challenge isn't the only such high-profile event to recently fall apart. Last Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis, Kentucky held on for a 76-74 victory over Indiana in a sawed-off version of what had once been known as the Big Four Classic, a big-bucks doubleheader that for four years had also featured Louisville and Notre Dame. This year, that duo played two nights earlier in South Bend, with the Cardinals pulling out an 84-81 win.
The Classic had been an artistic and financial success, annually drawing crowds of some 40,000 to the Hoosier Dome, with national TV coverage on ABC for games played in a Final Four-type atmosphere. But it began to come unraveled two seasons ago when Kentucky couldn't appear on television because of NCAA sanctions. ABC wanted to dump the Wildcats in favor of another team, but the notion was squelched by Indiana coach Bob Knight, who insisted on playing Kentucky because of his long-standing friendship with Wildcat athletic director C.M. Newton.
The network's contract expired after last year's doubleheader, and when negotiations began on a new deal, ABC asked the Classic to change its usual first-Saturday-in-December date to avoid future conflicts with college football telecasts (the Southeastern Conference plans to have its new championship playoff on that day, starting next season). At that point Knight, already upset with Louisville and Notre Dame for having agreed to jilt Kentucky, decided to chuck it all and cut a two-year contract with CBS that calls for the Hoosiers to play the Wildcats again in 1993 (the two schools are scheduled to play each other through 1994).
The absence of the Cardinals and the Irish meant that more tickets were available for Indiana and Kentucky fans, and the crowd of 34,704, split evenly between Hoosier red and Wildcat blue, was close to last year's doubleheader attendance of 38,043.
Just before tip-off, Knight walked across the floor and presented a red Indiana sweater to Cawood Ledford, the legendary Kentucky broadcaster who is retiring at the end of this season, his 39th covering the Wildcats. The gesture was fitting because the game was a sweat-er, all right.
The Wildcats figured to be hurting without starting guard Jeff Brassow, who will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his right knee last Thursday. However, 6'7" redshirt senior Deron Feldhaus plugged that hole, coming off the bench for 19 points.
Feldhaus, whose class had gone 0 for 3 against Indiana, gave Kentucky the perimeter presence that opened the way inside for beefy 6'8" sophomore Jamal Mashburn, who scored 21 points, had eight rebounds and played extremely tough defense on forward Calbert Cheaney, Indiana's best player, and center Eric Anderson.
The Hoosiers so far haven't developed an inside presence to match Mash-burn's, meaning that Wildcat coach Rick Pitino was able to pressure Indiana's perimeter game. The Hoosiers shot only 43.1% from the floor and were 0 for 5 from behind the three-point line. "I think we played as intelligent a game on defense as we have in my three years here," Pitino said afterward. Kentucky, meanwhile, used the three prolifically, sinking 11 of 23 to counteract the Hoosiers' 30-9 edge in free throws.
The most crucial part of the game came late, after Indiana, which had trailed by nine with 7:34 remaining, cut the margin to 76-74 and gained possession when Mashburn made a bad pass with 20 seconds remaining. After a timeout, the Hoosiers tried to work the ball to Cheaney, but the Wildcats forced Indiana to settle for a three-point attempt by junior guard Greg Graham with two seconds to go. It wasn't the shot—or the shooter—that Knight wanted, but Graham's effort nevertheless looked good as it headed toward the rim. "It seemed to stay in the air forever," said Wildcat forward John Pelphrey. "I didn't think it would ever come down." When it did, the ball clanged off the rim and into the hands of Kentucky's Richie Farmer, who tumbled to the floor as the buzzer sounded, touching off a jubilant celebration in blue.
"When you sec 0:00, you've got to start doing the Toyota commercial," Pitino said. "Everybody goes out, jumps up and down and then gets in the shower before the officials can say they want to put another second back on the clock."
The teams were as evenly matched as Matt Nover (24) and Feldhaus on this rebound.