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    Photo courtesy Louisville Cardinals Basketball Facebook Page
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    On Saturday, March 8, 1980 the University of Louisville men’s basketball team met Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Lincoln, Neb.

    The Wildcats had finished second (behind Missouri) in the Big 8 Conference during the regular season, which they closed out with four consecutive losses. Kansas State, though, caught fire in the Big 8 tourney, beating Iowa State, Nebraska and Kansas on its way to earning the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAAs.

    The Wildcats were given a No. 7 seed and a first-round matchup against 10th-seeded Arkansas. K-State routed Eddie Sutton’s Razorbacks 71-53 behind 15 points from junior guard, and future NBA All-Star, Rolando Blackman.

    The Wildcats gave the second-seeded Cardinals, who hadn’t played since beating Florida State 81-72 in the Metro Conference Tournament final, all they wanted, and then some.

    Louisville led 39-37 at halftime, but Kansas State outscored the Cards 30-28 in the second half. Blackman’s short jumper with seconds to play sent the game into overtime.

    In the extra session, however, the Cards’ star guard, Darrell Griffith, fouled out. That’s when U of L coach Denny Crum called on reserve Tony Branch. The senior guard had been a starter for much of the previous season, but had taken a backseat in his final year due to the emergence of sophomore Jerry Eaves. With the game tied at 69 and Griffith on the bench, Crum turned to Branch, who ran Louisville’s delay game to perfection. Branch helped the Cards kill the final two minutes of the extra session.

    With six seconds left, he found himself with the ball 30 feet from the basket. Branch put the ball over his head, dribbled once to his right, then spun back left. He took a couple of dribbles to get to the free throw circle then, as a double-team came, Branch stepped through and launched a shot. It bounced off the front of the rim with two seconds to play, bounced off the backboard, then dropped into into the net with one second left to give UofL a 71-69 win. 

    Branch’s only basket of the game - on only his 30th shot of the season - lifted Louisville into the Sweet 16.

    Sophomore forward Derek Smith scored a game-high 20 points, on 9 for 14 shooting, and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds for U of L. Griffith finished with 18 points, even though he didn’t shoot well (8 for 20), eight assists and six rebounds while sophomore guard Poncho Wright tallied 10 points off the bench for the Cards, who shot 55.4 percent (31 for 56) from the field in the win.

    Blackman, who averaged 17.8 points per game that season, led K-State with 19 points, but was only 6 for 18 (33.3 percent) from the field for the Wildcats, who shot 45.2 percent (28 for 62).  

    Remembering the 1980 National Title Team, Part I

    Photo courtesy Louisville Cardinals Basketball Facebook Page

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