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    Photo courtesy of Darrell Griffith's Facebook Page
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    On Monday night March 24, 1980 the University of Louisville men’s basketball team met UCLA in the national championship game in Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.  

    The game dripped in irony. UofL coach Denny Crum had played for the Bruins, under John Wooden, and learned his craft from “The Wizard of Westwood.” Just five years earlier it looked like Crum’s Cardinals might end his mentor’s career with a loss. Louisville led UCLA 74-73, and had the ball, in the final half-minute of the national semifinals in Los Angeles when reserve guard Terry Howard was fouled with 20 seconds to play. Howard hadn’t missed a free throw all season (going a perfect 28-for-28), however, he missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Bruins would win the game on Richard Washington’s turnaround with 2 seconds left. Two nights later UCLA, which had also ousted Crum's first UofL team in the '72 Final Four, beat Kentucky to win its 10th national title and send Wooden out on top.

    Five years later the Bruins (with Wooden in the stands) were seeking their 11th title, while UofL was in search of its first. UCLA, which was coached by Larry Brown, was No. 8 in the Associated Press preseason poll. The Bruins, who featured future NBA all-star forward Kiki Vandeweghe, won their first three games to rise to No. 7 in the poll. However UCLA lost its next two to Notre Dame and DePaul, a pair of Top 10 teams. The Bruins won their next four, but lost at Oregon State, 76-67, on Jan. 3. That was the first of four losses in five games for UCLA, which dropped out of the Top 20. The Bruins were 10-7 in late January before winning seven of their final nine games of the regular-season to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

    UCLA, a No. 8 seed in the West Region, outlasted Old Dominion 87-74 in the first round behind 34 points from Vandeweghe. Two days later the Bruins pulled off the upset of the tournament, knocking off top-ranked, and No. 1 seed, DePaul 77-71 in the rematch of the early-season game. The Blue Demons, who featured future NBA all-stars Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings, shot just 40.5 percent from the field while UCLA shot 52.6 percent and got 18 points from speedy point guard, “The Rocket” Rod Foster.

    The Bruins then knocked off fourth-seeded Ohio State, which featured future CBS broadcaster Clark Kellogg, 72-68 in the regional semifinals before ousting sixth-seeded Clemson 85-74 in the regional final behind 22 points apiece from Vandeweghe and Mike Sanders.

    In the national semifinals Vandeweghe scored 24 points to lead UCLA to a 67-62 win over Purdue.

    The morning of the national title game featured some drama for the Cards. Sophomore center Wiley Brown misplaced his prosthetic right thumb at breakfast. After some frantic searching the missing digit was finally located.

    Fittingly Brown hit the first field goal of the final, a turnaround 15-footer, to give Louisville a 2-0 lead before Vandeweghe tied it a short time later. That set the tone for a back-and-forth game. Neither team led by four points in the first half. The Bruins were up 28-24 in the final half-minute before UofL senior All-American guard Darrell Griffith buried a rainbow jumper from near the top of the key, then freshman forward Rodney McCray followed with a big blocked shot on the other end to keep the Cards within two.

    The game continued to be tight throughout the second half before UCLA surged to a five-point lead with 6 minutes left. That’s when Griff, the national player of the year, took over. He converted a three-point play, laying in a great feed from Brown then hitting a free throw to make it a two-point game. Then after the Bruins answered to go up four again Griffith buried a long baseline shot. Vandeweghe answered on the other end, to make it 54-50 with 4 ½ minutes to play, then stole a pass by Eaves and seemed to have an easy path to a layup which would’ve given the Bruins a six-point lead.

    Eaves, however, hustled back and forced Vandeweghe to adjust his attempt in mid-air. He missed, and UCLA missed its chance at No. 11.

    The Cards closed the the game on a 9-0 run.

    Eaves hit a 17-foot jumper off a feed from Griffith, then hit a tough layup in traffic to tie the game. Foster’s shot rattled in and out on the other end, then Griffith came down and drilled a pull-up 16-footer to give Louisville the lead for good with just under 2 ½ minutes to play.

    After a timeout UCLA turned the ball over and UofL went to its stall. Sophomore forward Derek Smith was fouled with 52 seconds then knocked down both free throws to push the Cards’ lead to four. After the two teams traded turnovers, Vandeweghe missed, then McCray hit one free throw with 14 seconds left.

    Griffith missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2 seconds left, but it didn’t matter, the game was over. Louisville 59, UCLA 54 the scoreboard read.

    “It’s a day of history,” Crum said told NBC’s Bryant Gumbel immediately afterward. “We struggled all day, but we still won it. When the going got tough we still hung in there. I don’t know how we did it, but we did it.”

    Griffith, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, finished a game-high 23 points. He was 9 for 16 from the field, including 5 of 8 from the free throw line, in 38 minutes.

    “It’s what I wanted when I came here,” Griffith told Gumbel of the national title. “We didn’t give up. At halftime we went in there and we said, ‘Hey we worked all year for this we can’t give up, we’ve got to dig inside.’”

    Smith added nine points, Brown and Eaves eight each and McCray tallied seven and a game-high 11 rebounds to join Griffith on the all-tournament team.

    Foster tallied a team-high 16 points (10 in the first half) while Vandeweghe added with 14 points on just 4 for 9 shooting for UCLA, which was just 19 for 52 (36.5 percent) from the field.

    After several close calls UofL was on top of the college basketball world. All that was left for Cards fans to do was sing “This Is It.”

    Remembering UofL's 1980 National Title Team, Part V - The Final Four

    Remembering UofL's 1980 National Title Team, Part IV - The Elite Eight

    Remembering UofL's 1980 National Title Team, Part III - The Sweet 16

    Remembering UofL's 1980 National Title Team, Part II - The Second Round

    Remembering UofL's 1980 National Title Team, Part I - Leading Up to the NCAA Tournament 

    Photo courtesy Darrell Griffith's Facebook Page

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