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YouTube Gold: Duke-Kentucky 1978

What an amazing team Duke had in 1978.

University of Kentucky Jack Givens, 1978 NCAA National Championship
College Basketball: NCAA Final Four: Kentucky Jack Givens (21) in action vs Duke Kenny Dennard (33) and Mike Gminski (43) during championship game. St. Louis, MO 3/27/1978 
Set Number: X22239 TK2

Mike Krzyzewski has periodically said that there was Duke Basketball before he got there which is true. He took it to a completely different level, but Duke had made four Final Fours before Coach K got to Durham. Vic Bubas got there three times and in 1964 was the first team to lose to John Wooden’s UCLA in the national title game.

In 1966, Kentucky and Duke were both in the Final Four and while Duke was probably the better team, Bob Verga was ill and very limited. Duke lost to Kentucky which worked out okay in the long run. Both teams were still segregated but Kentucky went on to lose to Texas Western (now UTEP), with started five Black players in a game that changed both the perception and reality of college basketball. Fairly or not, Adolph Rupp became the face of segregated basketball in a way that Vic Bubas never really could have been.

Interestingly, Duke would probably have matched up better with UTEP than Kentucky did. The Blue Devils featured Verga, who averaged 26.1 ppg (he was very limited against Kentucky, scoring just four, Mike Lewis, who had 21, and Jack Marin, who got 29 in the loss.

Marin had a long and distinguished NBA career while Lewis was big enough to keep up with Texas Western’s Dave “Big Daddy” Lattin. Toss in a solid game from Verga and Duke would have had a better chance against the Miners than did Rupp’s Runts as UK started no one bigger than 6-5.

Of course, Duke would have had to deal with the quickness of Bobby Joe Hill and several other Miners. It’s just a question that can never be answered.

Duke and Kentucky met again in the Final Four 12 years later as the coltish Blue Devils squared off in the 1978 national championship game against the joyless but experienced Wildcats.

Kentucky would win 94-88 as Jack “Goose” Givens went nuts, scoring 41 against Bill Foster’s 2-3 zone.

Of course the teams would meet again in the NCAA tournament 14 years later, time in the Eastern Regional Finals when Christian Laettner would hit his iconic shot to send the Unforgettables home.

Duke’s team was on a joy ride that season that has never been matched in Durham. Foster started Jim Spanarkel, a 6-5 junior, John Harrell, a cross-town transfer from NCCU, Mike Gminski, a 6-11 sophomore, and Gene Banks and Kenny Dennard, both 6-8 freshmen.

Keep in mind in those days, freshmen rarely started and teams that young simply didn’t go very far.

This was a loss but it was a brilliant run by a highly charismatic team. Set some time aside and enjoy the entire game. It was a very special team.