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1977: Kentucky 72 Princeton 58.

Bill Olmeltchencko guarded by the Wildcats' Larry Johnson.

It has been 34 years and two days since the Princeton Tigers and Kentucky Wildcats last met. The location was the Palestra in West Philadelphia and the circumstance was - like it will be again on Thursday - the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

I did research this afternoon on this prior postseason pairing and had Princeton's leading scorer that day, Frank Sowinski, flesh out a few of the details for me.

Despite having lost Armond Hill, Mickey Steuerer, Barnes Hauptfuhrer and Peter Molloy in the spring, Princeton would go 21-5 in 1976-77, defeating Notre Dame at home and claiming the Ivy League title with a 13-1 record. A 62-49 home win over Cornell was the program’s 1,000th overall victory.

"The night before the Kentucky game, several members of the team went to see a newly-released movie at the local theatre at Nassau Street and Washington Road," Sowinski recalled. "On our way to our seats, several people shouted out encouragement for the upcoming game. That movie was "Rocky." As the final credits began to roll, you began to hear a chant in the crowd."

"As it got louder and louder you can tell that they were yelling, "KENTUCKY, KENTUCKY, KENTUCKY."

The Tigers entered this tilt the winners of 12 straight while sixth-ranked Kentucky was victorious in 15 of their prior 16 games.

"The game was a David versus Goliath match up," said Sowinski, who had been honored as the 1976-77 Ivy League Player of the Year. "The newspapers ran a picture of me guarding Robey and I looked like a midget. Kentucky was a very deep team with eight or nine very physical, talented players. We made a run at them when we were down by five early in the second half making five of our first seven shots (31-26 with 18:36 to play - JS).

"The only problem was that we got burned by a back up guard named Truman Claytor who hit four bombs enabling them to go six for seven and we couldn’t close the gap."

Claytor had 12 points for the Wildcats on 6-8 marksmanship.

Princeton converted a season low 28% of their field goals in the first half and trailed 29-22 at halftime. The Wildcats extended that lead to 47-34 as they continued their hot shooting and made 11 of their first 12 attempts after intermission.

The 6'10" "twin towers" of Rick Robey (20 points, nine rebounds) and Mike Phillips took away Princeton's backdoor looks.

Princeton would fall behind by as many as 18 down the stretch.

Sowinski finished with a team-high 16 points on 4-11 shooting, but "The Polish Rifle" had six turnovers. Omeltchenko added 10, as did Tom Young in only seven minutes of action.

Said Pete Carril after the game "[Kentucky is] the best team we've played in three years. That's a great defensive team."

The Wildcats would get knocked out by North Carolina in the East Regional final but returned in 1977-78 to win the NCAA title over Duke behind MVP Jack "Goose" Givens.

Brian Martin said,

March 15, 2011 @ 10:06 am

Princeton had a really good team and in the current system would have been seeded into a much better first round matchup.

I was there and we were in trouble when the refs let Roby and Phillips be very physical inside. It was one of those games where touches were fouls but bodying in the paint was not. Bob Roma would try to block out Roby and would get bodied under the basket and then get called for a touch foul. Roma fouled out with 8 points and 1 rebound while Roby ended up with 20 and 9. Not blaming the refs, we shot more free throws than Kentucky and made 20 of 22, but we needed the game to be called differently inside to have a chance against their size. UK shot had a 30-19 rebound edge and made 58% from the field.

Jim Waltman said,

March 15, 2011 @ 11:31 am

Jon, Thanks for the memories. I was 12 years old and at the time thought that this game was the absolute highlight of my life. We had the Polish Rifle, Bill O, Bob Slaughter, and Bob Roma (apologies to those I am forgetting). All the more incredible a team considering the players that had graduated just the year before (Armond Hill, Mickey Steuerer, Barnes Hauptfurer, etc.)

I remember Philly being overrun by Kentucky fans and people with blue suits and blue hats and blue hair (Kentucky, as they say, travels well.) This was my first trip to the Palestra and I remember the noise was deafening. Kentucky's twin towers were impressive (I remember my dad telling me that Pete had used badminton rackets in practice to simulate their size but don't know if this was true or just a great story) but "Goose" Givens was incredible. Notre Dame played Hofstra in the second game and I remember fights in the stands when fans of the "Dutchmen" (which they were called at the time) stole the Irish mascot's hat.

I was also at the Princeton-Notre Dame game that year. Digger Phelps brought his #2 ranked Irish into a packed Jadwin and our Tigers just pummeled them I remember long passes over the top of the press for breaking layups catching Digger completely by surprise. I remember the Irish trotting out onto the court to shoot around before the game in one set of warm-up suits, heading back to the locker room for a few minutes, then returning in a different set of warm-up shirts. I thought this was really big time!

Wonderful memories!

Jim Waltman said,

March 15, 2011 @ 11:31 am

typo: It was "Billy O"

Mark Disler said,

March 15, 2011 @ 10:10 pm

I was there. Robey said after the game, paraphrasing: We've played more physical teams, but sure none smarter.

I remember Pete at the end of the half in conversation with the refs, and trudging off to the locker room to a standing ovation from Tiger fans.

A buddy was in the Palestra the day before when Ky was practicing; "scout" team imitating the Princeton offense. Ky coach: "No, no Roma, you pop out over there."

Didn't ND play in the second half of that doubleheader, or was that another year when I watched KState beat Penn? Somehow, whichever year it was, I was sitting right next to, in front of the Digger Phelps family. Digger used my back as a writing board. When a fan of ND's opponent grabbed the ND flag from the leprechaun, Digger's mother was horrified. "They couldn't do that to the American flag!" I thought it was cute, equating the American and ND flags.

Jon Solomon said,

March 15, 2011 @ 10:51 pm


Notre Dame and Hofstra played the second game of this doubleheader.


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