By LARRY VAUGHT
All during the 1977-78 national championship season, Kentucky was labeled as a team that had no fun.
Jack Givens, the Final Four MVP after scoring 41 points in the title game win over Duke, remembers how the national media portrayed the Wildcats and blasted coach Joe Hall for putting so much pressure on the team.
“We had to endure all year having the national media labeling us as a team that had no fun, played with a lot of pressure on our backs and had a coach that was a tyrant and difficult coach — and that part I agree, he was tough to play for,” Givens said. We heard all year how we were having no fun and how we were brutalizing the the game.”
What the national media — and many UK fans didn’t know — was that the pressure was put there by seniors Rick Robey, James Lee, Mike Phillips and Givens.
“Coach Hall did a great job taking all the blame for that and insulating us from the media,” Givens said during the recent Ohio UK Convention in Franklin, Ohio. “He took all that criticism but the year before we lost to North Carolina (in the East Region final). The juniors said then we are coming in this summer, working every day and we are not going to go through this feeling of falling short again.”
The four seniors on that 1978 team had played in the 1975 Final Four in San Diego when UK lost 92-85 to UCLA in the title game.
“We had so much fun in San Diego in 1975. We went to the zoo, ate at the best restaurants. We went to the beach and spent some time there. We had fun but we didn’t win. The pressure on us (in 1978), we put on ourselves,” Givens said. “One of greatest jobs coach Hall did was when he stepped in to take the blame and the media didn’t come to us.
“That was 40 years ago and we still are having fun doing stuff. The fun comes from winning and I think our senior class knew that and that’s why any pressure we had, it was pressure we put on ourselves and nothing coach Hall did to cause that.”
Givens still believes Kentucky regular-season 95-94 overtime loss at LSU made the difference in UK winning the title that year because of what happened the next game when UK won at Ole Miss. Kentucky had lost its first game about three weeks earlier at Alabama and then lost at LSU when all five LSU starters fouled out in what former LSU coach Dale Brown still calls one of his most remarkable victories.
“As you can imagine, coach Hall was not real happy with us after that game. The next game we played at Ole Miss and we accused him of being crazy but he showed it that night,” Givens said. “The first half I think he made like 35 substitutions.
“If I glanced at bench and he didn’t like the way I glanced, he got me out. James might dunk with one hand and coach Hall would think he should have dunked with two hands and would get him out. He just killed us. At halftime we were ahead, but he screamed at us. He never used real profanity. He used fake profanity — James called it coach profanity.
“It’s hard to look at game where coach just ripped you as a positive but from that day on many days the coaches come to practice and we would already have practice going. They didn’t say a word. They knew our mind was set on winning. A coach would stand up to say something and coach Hall would grab his arm and tell him to sit down. He knew we were on a mission and trusted us to lead the team, and we did.”