Former LSU head coach Dale Brown is accompanying the Tigers on their trip to Lexington this weekend. In honor of Brown’s return, CoachCal.com contributor Ken Howlett pays homage to one of the all-time SEC coaching legends.
It is appropriately ironic that former LSU head coach Dale Brown’s birthday is on October 31, because through his 25 year tenure as the Tigers main man (1971-72 to 1996-97), he was a nightmare for UK fans. His teams were always prepared, athletic, motivated, and more times than not, challenged the ‘Cats long-standing dominance over the SEC. This fact made him both admired and abhorred by the Kentucky faithful. And I am no different.
In my formative years as a ‘Cat fan, Brown’s LSU Tiger squad was the team I despised the most. Regardless of how good UK was, regardless of either teams ranking, regardless of the game location, Brown had his team ready to play, ready to compete, ready to win. And I didn’t like it, one … little … bit.
Upsetting the Big Blue Apple Cart
LSU has beaten UK exactly 24 times since the initial contest between the two teams in 1933. Dale Brown, in his 25 years, is responsible for 18 of those wins, with 10 of those victories checking-in as upsets (based on the AP rankings). And, yes, it is the upsets which are the basis for many Kentucky fans’ “disdain” for the legendary master motivator of players.
It all started in UK’s championship season of 1978. Coach Joe B. Hall and his #1 ranked team traveled to Baton Rouge to take on Brown and his unranked Tigers. The ‘Cats left Louisiana with a 95-94 overtime loss, the ‘Cats second and final loss of the year. It was in that game that UK fans were introduced to Shawnee High School product Durand “Rudy” Macklin, as he poured in 23 points in the Tiger victory. (Macklin, too, is scheduled to be in Lexington this weekend – salt in the wound, say I!!!)
Eleven months later, this time in Lexington, Brown’s unranked Tigers came away with a 93-89 win over the #9 ranked Wildcats. This game the Tigers were led by ‘Cat-killer DeWayne Scales and his 25 points. And as if that wasn’t enough; just over a year after beating the ‘Cats in Rupp Arena, Brown once again brought his team to Lexington, this time ranked #11 in the nation, and beat the #5 ranked ‘Cats 65-60.
Understandably (especially for a teenager), my dislike for Brown grew, exponentially, as each LSU victory were piled, one on top of another. I began asking myself, “Who does this guy think he is?”
I was to discover the unpleasant answer to that question on March 1, 1980, when, in the SEC Tournament championship game in Birmingham, Brown’s Tigers, this time ranked #5 in the nation, knocked off the favored and top ranked Wildcats 80-78. Scales, Macklin and Ethan Martin combined for 56 of the Tiger points, unceremoniously sending the ‘Cats back to Lexington a runner-up. It goes without further explanation: Brown was now enemy No. 1 of UK fans from, as our current head coach likes to say, Pikeville to Paducah.
But, the carnage did not end in Alabama. For over the next three years, Brown’s LSU squad would pull off the upset of Kentucky three times, once each in 1981, 1982, and 1983 (UK was not ranked lower than #7 in each of those games).
But, the ultimate Brown-induced heartache, the ultimate Brown-induced heartburn, the ultimate slap in the face for the Big Blue Nation at the hands of Dale Brown occurred in the NCAA Tournament in March of 1986 in Atlanta, the town otherwise known as “Catlanta.” But, not on this night.
UK, ranked #3 in the country, boasted a team full of great players, including: All-America Kenny Walker, Winston Bennett, Roger Hardin, Ed Davender and James Blackmon. The ‘Cats had navigated unscathed to the Southeast Regional Final, had a 32-3 record, and had beaten LSU three times during the course of the season (by an average of five points per game), including a 61-58 defeat of LSU only 15 days earlier. The Tigers, at the other end of the spectrum, were the Cinderella story of the tournament, entering the game with a 25-11 mark, and with a fifth place, 9-9 finish in the SEC.
UK was looking for its sixth national title, and seemed positioned to take advantage of the opportunity. The Commonwealth was abuzz with excitement, preparations to attend the Final Four in Dallas were being made, and in the minds of many UK fans, banner number six was being prepared to be hung from the rafters in Rupp Arena.
But, said Dale Brown, not so fast my friends.
Led by John “Hot Plate” Williams and Ricky Blanton, LSU pulled off the miracle win, 59-57 (at the sounding of the final horn, I threw a shoe and broke my mother’s hallway mirror. Sorry mom). The Tigers had collectively entered the dreams of UK fans, turning happy thoughts into a nightmare scenario. It wasn’t UK, but rather LSU that marched on to the Final Four, while Sky Walker, one of the great players in UK history, had his career ended by Brown and his decidedly underdog Tigers.
I, for one, had had enough of Brown, and hoped he took a job in a far, far away conference. Say, the Mid-Alaska Athletic Conference. But, alas, he was going nowhere. And that turned out to be a good thing. For fickle karma, as it is wont to do, changed allegiances in the nick of time.
It was 1990. Kentucky was attempting to emerge from the dark shadows of scandal and probation with a seemingly under-talented roster of Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey, Derrick Millar, Reggie Hanson, and Sean Woods. But Rick Pitino, in his first season in Lexington, had his Bambinos motivated, and ready to rumble. And that night, against #12 LSU in a cosmically electric Rupp Arena, is when the ‘Cats turned the table on the pundits who predicted a decade of doom for UK, and announced to the college basketball world: It won’t be long, now!
Brown brought with him to Rupp that night two of the best college basketball players in America, in the form of Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Jackson. A guard/center tandem that would cause even the most talented teams to shiver in their Nikes at the thought of having to take on such a dangerously dynamic duo.
But on this night, February 15, 1990, UK shook up the world by besting Brown’s elite squad by a 100-95 count. David had slain Goliath, and liberated (some of) the demons of (LSU) upsets past. And although it was a regular season game, for many UK fans, the victory that night in a frenzied Rupp, erased the memory of losing to LSU in the ’86 NCAA Regional Final.
The win also helped in my personal transition from Brown despiser, to one who appreciates and admires the incredible job Dale Brown did at LSU. Both as builder and salesman of the program.
It seems the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve settled into an easy fondness for Brown. He did, after all, take a downtrodden LSU program, and elevate it to heights unseen. And he accomplished the feat in a relatively short period of time.
Now that I’m older, instead of holding Brown liable for theft for pillaging the Commonwealth of basketball talent (Owensboro’s Kenny Higgs and Shawnee’s Macklin), I respect his ability to recruit, even in enemy territory. Now, instead of blaming him for a number of upset losses, I admire his ability to prepare his teams for battle. Now, I know Brown has always held UK up as the program he most wanted to emulate. Now, I know Brown marvels at the sheer magnitude of the Kentucky program, and how the team is held as family in most fans’ hearts.
Now, what I most know, is that Brown was a master motivator of young people. But often overlooked is the fact that he could recruit talent to Baton Rouge, when before him, no one not named (Pete) Maravich or (Bob) Pettit was interested in attending LSU — The list of LSU greats under Brown is long and heralded: Macklin, Scales, Higgs, Martin, Williams, Jackson, O’ Neal, Blanton, Howard “Hi C” Carter, Leonard Mitchell, Derrick Taylor, Clarence Ceasar, and Ronnie Henderson, are just a few of the names etched into the (bad) memories of UK fans.
Brown could recruit, motivate, and prepare his teams with the best who ever tossed a clipboard. And even though he fought to his core to beat the ‘Cats every time they met on the court, someone who achieves what Brown achieved, deserves respect and admiration from even life-long foes.
And hey, Brown was the sacred “Y” at Rupp’s midcourt of the 2001 LSU game (an honor normally bestowed upon present/past UK athletes and coaches). After that, one has no choice but to admire the guy.
So, Coach Brown, now that I’m older, wiser and less bitter, let me welcome you back to the Bluegrass. Enjoy your stay. Just don’t enjoy it too much.
LSU GAME PREVIEW
Trent Johnson brings his 10-7 (2-0) LSU Tigers into Rupp Arena Saturday for a 4:00 pm afternoon tilt with the #13/15 Kentucky Wildcats (13-3, 1-1), hoping to best the ‘Cats for the fourth time in the last seven meetings between the two schools. The Tigers, coming off victories over Auburn (62-55) and Arkansas (56-53), enter the game in first place in the SEC West, and looking to continue their improved play. The Tigers, though, may be without leading scorer, 6-6 freshman Ralston Turner, who injured his knee just prior to the start of league play and has missed both of LSU’s conference victories.
So without further delay, let’s take a look at what the Tigers and ‘Cats will be bringing to Cawood’s Court on Saturday afternoon.
With the possible absence of Turner, 5-9 freshman guard Andre Stringer will be the man Johnson turns to for leadership and scoring. Stringer, averaging 13.4 points per game, becomes the team’s leader in scoring, assists (3.0 per game), and steals (1.2 per game) with Stringer on the bench. Giving help from the “2″ guard spot is the team’s leading three-point shooter, 6-4 sophomore Aaron Dotson, who has made 12-27 trey attempts on the year (44.4%). Although averaging only 7.4 points per game, Dotson will likely see increased scoring opportunities with Turner out. Coming off the bench for the Tigers is 6-1 junior guard Chris Bass. Bass, while averaging less than 20 minutes per game, is handing out 2.8 assists in his limited action.
Starting at one forward spot for LSU will be 6-9 junior Malcolm White. White is averaging 8.9 points per game, to go along with 5.6 boards per contest (2.3 offensive rebs per game). He also checks-in with 1.2 blocks per contest. Six-nine sophomore Eddie Ludwig, while not a scorer at only 3.2 points per game, plays terrific defense and will likely see time trying to stop UK’s Terrence Jones. Also seeing time in the backcourt is freshman forward Matt Derenbecker, a player improving with every game. Although Derenbecker is not making the three-point shot with great consistency (31.2%), that hasn’t kept him from taking 48 long-range shots on the year (2.8 per game).
A name UK’s fan should be familiar with, 6-7 junior Storm Warren (a one-time UK target), is LSU’s leading rebounder with 6.6 boards per game (2.7 offensive rebs per game), and top threat to steal possession (#8 in SEC with 1.4 thefts per contest). (Warren may not play in Saturday’s game but we’ve been fooled by pre-game injury reports before – Louisville, anyone?) Finally, 6-11 junior Garrett Green adds a real paint presence to the Tiger team, and is a body UK’s Josh Harrellson must account for at all times. Green is averaging a respectable 6.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
Tiger Trends, Stats, and Stuff
LSU has outscored their opponents by 102 points in the first half of games … As a team, the Tigers are shooting 41.8% from the floor, and holding their opposition to only 38.4% (10th in nation, 2nd in SEC) … The Tigers are shooting 34.9% from long-range, while holding their foes to a putrid 28.4% from beyond the arc (14th in nation, 1st in SEC) … In SEC play, the Tigers are making only 18.8% of their three-point tries (6-32), and in the last three games their long-bomb make rate drops to 20.0% (9-45) … In SEC play, LSU has made only 26-47 free throws (55.3%), and committed 32 turnovers … No team has made more than eight three-pointers against LSU … LSU is averaging 12.4 assists per game, but allowing a minuscule 7.3 dimes per contest (which leads the nation) for an assist % of 34.5 (1st in nation) … LSU’s offensive rebound% is 36.3 (7th in SEC), their opponents % sits at 33.7 (10th in SEC).
Top Cat Wants Commitment
UK coach John Calipari was asked about what type of improvement he wants to see from Tuesday’s win over Auburn, to Saturday’s game against LSU –
“Just play better. Just play better, more consistent effort. Guys come out with a sense of urgency, not being content with how they’re playing. We had a lot of guys content with how they’re playing and that just sets you up for failure. Be more committed.”
Wildcats in the SEC Rankings
Terrence Jones — 2nd in scoring (18.7): 2nd in rebounding (9.1): 7th in blocks (1.8): 1st in defensive rebounds per game (6.6).
Brandon Knight — 6th in scoring (17.4): 5th in assists per game (4.0): 10th in free throw% (77.0): 6th in 3-point shots made per game (2.4).
Josh Harrellson — 1st in rebounding (9.2): 2nd in field goal% (64.9): 9th in blocks per game (1.6): 1st in offensive rebounds per game (3.9): 5th in defensive rebounds per game (5.3).
Doron Lamb — 1st in 3-point% (50.0): 5th in free throw% (80.9): 10th in 3-point shots made per game (2.1).
DeAndre Liggins — t9th in steals per game (1.4): 6th in assist/turnover ratio (1.7).
Darius Miller — 2nd in 3-point% (45.8).
UK in the SEC Rankings
Kentucky leads the SEC in the following categories — Points per possession (1.16): 3-point field goal% (40.7): Block% (11.7): Defensive rebound% (72.1): Assist/Turnover ratio (1.23).
The ‘Cats are 2nd in the league in rebound% (54.3); 3rd in opponents points per possession (.91); and 5th in offensive rebound% (36.5).
The flip-side of the coin says the ‘Cats are 11th in the conference in assist% (49.1).
Terrence Jones has made 37-64 shots over the last five games (57.8%) … He has also made 6-10 three-point shots over the last two games (60.0%) … In the last two games Jones has scored 59 points (29.5 ppg) on only 35 shots.
Brandon Knight, since his four assist/five turnover game versus UofL, has handed-out 13 dimes to only five turns in the last three games … Knight has only one steal in the last six games … He has attempted only one free throw in the last two games … Knight has grabbed nine rebounds in the last two games … Knight, who has made 46.2% of his shots on the year, has made 10-24 shots from the floor over the last two games (41.7%) … Knight is making 38.8% of his three tries on the season, but only 3-10 over the last two games (30.0%).
Doron Lamb has made 20-36 three-pointers in the last eight games (55.6%) … Lamb dished out a season-high seven assists versus Auburn … He also had a season-high four turnovers against Auburn … Lamb, who has only 10 steals on the season, has four thefts in the last two games.
Darius Miller has attempted only three free throws in the last five games … Miller has at least one block for five straight games … He has snagged 17 rebounds in the last three games (5.7 pg).
DeAndre Liggins, since combining for 15 assists and only four turnovers versus Winthrop and Coppin State, has 10 assists and 11 turnovers in the four games since … Ligs has made only 3-15 long-range shots (20.0%) in the last five games, and 7-25 overall field goals (28.0%) in the last four games.
Josh Harrellson, since making 1-3 field goals versus Winthrop, has made 24-34 in the five games following (70.6%) … Harrellson is averaging 11.4 rebounds per contest in the last five games … Harrellson has recorded double-digit rebounds in six of the last eight UK contests.
Eloy Vargas has played only a combined 13 minutes in the last two games (6.5 mpg) — He averages 10.8 minutes per game on the year … In his 13 minutes he has two blocks and three rebounds.