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Greatest College Basketball Teams: Spotlight 1978 Kentucky
The 1978 Kentucky Wildcats basketball team went 30-2 and won the NCAA Championship. By the second week of the season, the Wildcats were ranked number one in the country, a ranking they did not relinquish for the rest of the year. The Wildcats were led by their terrific point guard, Kyle Macy, their great scoring small forward, Jack Givens and 6’10” center Rick Robey.
Senior Jack “Goose” Givens averaged 18.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game for the 1978 Wildcats. An excellent shooter, Givens shot 55.3 percent from the field and 76.1 percent from the free throw line in 1978. He was a High School All-American and a Second Team All-American for the Wildcats in 1978. Givens was the 16th overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft. Givens played two years in the NBA, averaging 6.7 points per game.
Senior center Rick Robey averaged 14.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for the 1978 Wildcats. Robey was the third overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft. He played eight years in the NBA, averaging 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Sophomore point guard Kyle Macy averaged 12.5 points and 5.6 points per game for the 1978 Wildcats. An outstanding outside shooter, Macy shot 53.6 percent from the field despite most of his shots being from outside and shot 89.1 percent from the charity stripe.
Macy transferred to Kentucky after his freshman year at Purdue. “He could run our offense better on the first day of practice than players who have been here for three or four years,” Kentucky’s coach Joe B. Hall said.
Macy was the 22nd overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft even though he still had one more year of college eligibility. After finishing his last year of college in 1980, Macy played seven years in the NBA. He averaged 9.5 points and 4.0 assists per game.
Kentucky started the season by pounding SMU 110-86. Givens scored 30 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. Macy scored 16 points and made 10 assists. SMU’s coach Sonny Allen said “I said they were number one before tonight and they didn’t do anything to change that as far as I’m concerned.”
After four more wins, Kentucky crushed St. Johns 102-72. St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca said “Kentucky is the Cadillac of college basketball.”
After five more wins, Kentucky beat up on LSU 96-76. LSU’s coach Dale Brown said “They have a great team and I think they really have a good shot at the National Title.” Brown complained about Kentucky’s physical play inside. The next game, Kentucky beat Mississippi 76-56. Mississippi’s coach Bob Weltich said, “They are a very aggressive, physical, tough-minded, hard playing basketball team and that’s what you have to be to be a championship team.”
After beating Mississippi State 75-65, Kentucky traveled to Alabama. Alabama handed Kentucky its first loss, 78-62. Alabama used their quickness to press the slower Wildcats. Alabama’s Reggie King scored 28 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. “We were never in the game,” Joe B. Hall said afterwards.
After three more wins, Kentucky traveled to LSU. LSU beat the Wildcats 95-94 in overtime in a physical game in which 65 fouls were called. LSU won by dominating the boards and beating Kentucky at its own game. Kentucky didn’t lose another game and ended the regular season 25-2.
In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 13th ranked Florida State used their quickness to jump out to a 39-32 lead at the half. At the start of the second half, Hall benched Givens, Robey and starting shooting guard Truman Claytor. With 12:54 left in the game, Kentucky’s reserves cut the Florida State lead to 45-44. When the starters returned, Kentucky went on a 14-0 run. Kentucky won the game 85-76. After the game, Hall said “I want our All-Americans to thank the subs for keeping us in this tournament.”
In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky crushed 19th ranked Miami of Ohio 91-69. After the game, Miami of Ohio coach Darrell Hedric said “They’re awesome. We couldn’t beat that team if we played them 100 times.”
In the third round of the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky faced number four Michigan State and their star freshman, Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Michigan State led 27-22 at the half. The Wildcats got the ball to their point guard Kyle Macy. Macy scored 18 points, including 10 free throws in a row at the end of the game. Kentucky won 52-49. Kentucky’s defense held Magic Johnson to two of 10 shooting from the field and forced him to make six turnovers. Michigan State’s coach, Jud Heathcote, said “We told our kids whoever won this game would win the National Championship. We could have won it. Now, I believe Kentucky will win the National Championship.”
In the Final Four, Kentucky faced number five Arkansas. Arkansas used their quickness to force turnovers and block shots, but Kentucky held on to win 64-59. Givens scored 23 points. After the game, Arkansas’ coach Eddie Sutton said “Anyone who said Kentucky doesn’t have quickness has their head in a well. They wore us down.” Kentucky’s coach Joe B. Hall said, “We’re not celebrating. We want to win the championship. We’ll celebrate when it’s over.”
In the NCAA Championship game, Kentucky faced number seven Duke. Duke kept coming back, but Kentucky won 94-88. Robey scored 20 points and had 11 rebounds. Givens poured in 41 points against the Duke zone. After the game, Kentucky forward James Lee said “We would never have permitted a player to get so many open shots right in the middle of our zone.” Givens said “I certainly didn’t expect to get the shots I did. I took 27 shots from the field and hit 18. I hadn’t taken that many shots in any other game in my four years at UK, but the shots were there against Duke.”
Robey and Givens were named to the All-Tournament team and Givens was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament.
Name Pos Class Pts Reb Ast
Jack Givens F SR 18.1 6.8 2.5
Rick Robey F/C SR 14.4 8.2 1.9
Kyle Macy G SO 12.5 2.4 5.6
James Lee F SR 11.3 5.3 1.2
Mike Phillips F/C SR 10.3 4.7 0.9
Truman Claytor G JR 6.9 0.9 2.3
Jay Shidler G SO 3.7 0.8 1.5
Chuck Aleksinas C FR 3.5 2.1 0.1
LaVon Williams F SO 1.9 2.0 0.4
Dwayne Casey G JR 1.9 0.7 0.8
How would the 1978 Kentucky Wildcats do against the teams of today? How would they handle the shot clock and the three pointer?
Kentucky averaged 84.2 points per game, so the shot clock would not be a problem. Kyle Macy was an outstanding outside shooter and would have been even more deadly had the three-pointer existed in 1978. Jack Givens was a slashing scorer, who could put points on the board from inside or outside. The Wildcats front line included 6’10” Rick Robey, 6’10” Mike Philips and 6’5” James Lee, all of which were beefy, physical players. The Wildcats were an outstanding free throw shooting team, hitting 76.1 percent from the charity stripe. In short, the Wildcats had all the ingredients of a winning college basketball team. On the other hand, none of the Wildcats’ players had much success in the NBA. It is therefore unclear whether the Wildcats hold their own against the best teams of today.
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