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Are You Smarter Than Oscar Combs?

By Dr. John Huang

First things first. When it comes to Kentucky Basketball, there’s NO ONE smarter than Oscar. The Guru of UK sports has forgotten more facts and figures about the Big Blue than any of us will ever profess to know in our lifetimes. From Basil Hayden to Anthony Davis, the “Big O” remains the “go-to” authority on everything Kentucky related.

Oscar joined Michael and Shannon on the show this morning from the serenity and isolation of his back deck. He was itching to talk specifically about Kentucky’s 1978 Championship game against the Duke Blue Devils. The UK Sports Network will rebroadcast Cawood Ledford’s legendary call of that game tonight at 7:00 pm as part of the Kentucky Classic series.

For those of you old enough to participate, here’s where you can match wits with Oscar. He brought up five tidbits about that championship matchup that should tickle your memory banks. How many of these salient points do you recall?

Once upon a time, the media were embedded with the basketball team

As the editor of the Cat’s Pause, Oscar traveled with the team up through 1997. Media were actually allowed to purchase a seat on the team plane back then. In this day and age, I can’t even get within 50 feet of the team bus. No wonder Oscar has so many personal stories to tell.

Joe B. Hall’s career could have easily ended prior to the Duke game

On March 11, 1978, in the first round of the NCAA Mideast Regional against Florida State, Kentucky found themselves trailing the Seminoles by 7 points at the half. Coach Hall benched his starters in a move that could have easily backfired and that could have literally cost him his job. Fortunately, the Cats rallied to win. Had they not, then Joe B. would have had not been the beloved grandfatherly figure he has since become.

The championship game versus Duke would not have been played had it taken place today

Prior to the game, there were two or more death threats made against Gene Banks, Duke’s fabulous freshman player. Both coaches were summoned by the tournament manager and the St. Louis Police Department and told of these developments. In today’s climate, the risks would have been huge, and that game probably would have been cancelled.

Oscar claims that Kentucky was still very despised by the rest of the basketball world. “The very next day,” Oscar said, “One of the headlines in the NY Times by a writer named Vecsey–who was a great sportswriter at the time–wrote an entire column sort of degrading the win…that there was probably some hick in Eastern Kentucky laughing about phoning in the death threats.”

What Vecsey didn’t mention was that Banks had gotten several other death threats throughout the regular season also. It wasn’t just a Kentucky thing. Imagine a media member jumping the gun without thinking it through.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

The Goose should hold the record for the most points in a Championship game

Jack “Goose” Givens was golden that night after scoring 41 points. If Joe B. had known how close he was to Bill Walton’s record of 44, he probably would have left him in the game. As it was, Goose was pulled out with about a minute and a half to go because Joe thought the team had the victory wrapped up. When that comfortable lead was whittled down to 4, Givens was quickly reinserted. By then, it was too late for a run at the record.

The 1978 Championship game was played on Indiana’s home floor

If that isn’t the ultimate in domination, I don’t know what is. Evidently the Hoosier floorboards were transported from Assembly Hall to St. Louis because the Checkerdome did not have a playing court. If you watch the replay, the logo at centercourt says “IU.” Do you think that’s why Bobby Knight holds such a big grudge?

Well, how’d you do? Are you smarter than Oscar?

Dr. John Huang
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist and military veteran. As a lifelong Wildcat fan, a fledgling author, and an occasional guest host of Just the Cats Radio, he's now living out his dream as a UK Sports columnist. Dr. Huang also covers professional sports on a regional level. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs or contact him If you enjoy his writing, you can also read more at

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