Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

April 1, 2012

MARK MAYNARD: All eyes on Wildcats’ triumph

ASHLAND — Saturday night in Ashland was almost like a scene from a science fiction movie, or maybe like the empty streets of the Old West as two gunslingers stared each other down at High Noon.

In Central Park, the swings were moving but nobody was on them.

A visitor driving through would have thought something terrible had happened. There was little movement anywhere. All we needed were tumbleweeds rolling through the streets. If you listened closely enough, crickets could be heard chirping.

Except inside the homes, everybody was safe, even together, in living rooms, families transfixed on their little screens, middle-sized screens and big screens.

It was Final Four game time.

Not just game time but Kentucky-Louisville game time, the biggest game in state history.

It was basketball heaven.

Kentucky’s dream and Kentucky’s nightmare all rolled into the most suspenseful two hours you can ever imagine.

Satellite and cable companies from Paintsville to Paducah prayed for good weather. If there was an outage, they thought, please don’t let it be at 6:09 Saturday night. If it happened, their switchboards would light up like Christmas trees and probably spontaneously combust from the mere amount of traffic. Even if they could answer the thousands of callers, they wouldn’t want to hear that Southern-twanged, Big Blue or Big Red voice on the other end desperate for a quick fix. Talk about Armageddon.

Some were watching the game in HD and some in black-and-white with rabbit ears, some were watching on brand-new 80-inch screens and others on a portable television they’ve had for years, but all had the dial on the Louisville-Kentucky basketball game in the Final Four. It might as well have been a law.

NCAA president Mark Emmert joked that New Orleans would be the third-largest city in Kentucky on Saturday of the Final Four. He was probably right.

We do love our basketball.

The Wildcats, led by those fantastic freshmen, got an assist from the greybeard of the bunch, senior Darius Miller. The Maysville native made the big shots when they were needed most to derail mighty tough Louisville.

Kentucky defeated Louisville 69-61 for the “state championship” and now plays Kansas for the national prize on Monday night. As crazy as it sounds, only a national title will satisfy. That’s how it has been since before the season started, and here we are now, less than 40 hours from show time.

But years from now, you will remember where you were on March 31, 2012. It will be one of these special memories, whether you were cheering for the Blue or the Red. Maybe never again in the commonwealth will there be another game like this, this big, this important, for us to savor, dissect, fret over, pray over and make over.

When the game was over, Kentucky fans took a deep breath. They partied Saturday, will party again today and then hope to have the ultimate bash on Monday night.

But this one game captured the imagination of the entire nation, not just Big Blue Nation. Those on the outside looking in saw a glimpse of Kentucky like they’d never seen before. They saw the passion in their hearts and eyes. And I’m not just talking about the players.

If we could only carry that same passion over to everyday life. Can you imagine? We could move mountains. Basketball in this state is a religion. Life revolves around it. It matters (maybe too much?) in our little worlds.

And on March 31, 2012, we all paused for two hours of worship at our TV altars. It was a day like this state will likely never see again. But, mark it down, decades from now you will remember where you watched this game, whether it was in “Blue” Orleans or in your favorite recliner.

It’s another great landmark date in UK basketball history.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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