Peck can relax, Louisville finally surpasses WKU

Peck Hickman would have derived a lot of satisfaction from the University of Louisville basketball team’s 78-56 win over Western Kentucky University on Saturday, finally giving UofL a 40-39 lead in the all-time series.

Peck Hickman
Peck Hickman

Louisville hasn’t enjoyed an advantage since 1932 when it lost to WKU by a lopsided 37-14 score in Bowling Green. Over the next 12 years, Western Kentucky would be totally dominant, winning 20 of 22 games. WKU owned a 25-6 edge in the rivalry by 1944.

That was the year UofL would hire Hickman, a former four-year player at WKU, to be its first head basketball coach. He would lose his first game that season to WKU but win the second. He would go on to win six of the next seven games to end Western Kentucky’s dominance. Hickman, however, was 12-14 against the Hilltoppers when he retired in 1967.

Denny Crum, of course, owned an overwhelming edge, winning 12 consecutive games between 1974 and 1990. His teams beat Western 14 times while losing only twice to them.

Rick Pitino, who assumed the reins in 2001, has been credited with eight wins in nine games, indicated after the most recent win that he would like to continue the rivalry which began in 1926.


Milestone season for UofL basketball

The 1958-59 basketball season was a special one for one University of Louisville basketball fan (yes, I do go back that far).

Louisville would be invited to the NCAA basketball tournament for the first time that season. UofL would also make its inaugural trip to Final Four.

Getting there was only half the fun, however. First, Peck Hickman’s team would have to face the University of Kentucky in the tournament. The pundits and UK fans were predicting a blowout. Kentucky was a perennial power. UofL had lost 10 games, losing to teams like Georgetown College, Bradley, St. Louis and DePaul.

A week before, Louisville had beaten a good Eastern Kentucky University team in Lexington’s Memorial Coliseum to set up the game at Evanston, Ill. UofL and UK hadn’t played since the 1914-15 season. UK would never have even considered scheduling UofL in those days. A showdown loomed.

Surrounded by UK fans in Versailles, I had one hellish week leading up to the game, getting laughed at at every turn, absorbing one put down after another.  So when game time arrived, I locked myself in a room at the orphanage with a radio  so I could endure the inevitable beating without being harassed or disturbed while hoping, praying for a miracle.

I was shaking when my team was down 15 points after the first half. But the second half was a different matter.  UofL would completely dominate, outscoring the Wildcats by 30 points, winning the game in a 76-61 route. Even now, the reality of being the only UofL fan in an area dominated by UK fans is difficult to comprehend. How did the little guy even survive? Especially after all the fist pumping the next week or so.

Louisville would lose to Jerry West and West Virginia 94-79 in the semifinal game. The Mountaineers would fall to Cincinnati in the championship game. The Cards wound up with a 19-12 record that season, one that lingers as among the most memorable in the heart of this long-time fan.

*   *   *

Donald Goldstein

A member of that 1958-59 team was Donald Goldstein, a 6-foot-5 forward who averaged almost 14 points per game. He made honorable mention on several All America teams that year. Goldstein graduated from the UofL School of Dentistry and continues to practice dentistry today in Garden City, NY.

UofL was on probation during the 1957 season for its recruitment of Goldstein after the Courier-Journal reported that he had accepted apparel from a local men’s clothing store.

There’s a wonderful story about Goldstein’s experiences that every UofL basketball fan ought to read on the Garden City newspaper site.

Your Day John Wooden

[stextbox id=”alert”]Happy birthday to former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden who is celebrating his 99th today. University of Louisville connections abound. Denny Crum, one of his assistants, led U of L to two NCAA championships. Wooden announced his retirement a day after defeating Crum’s team in overtime in the semi’s of the 1974-75 Final Four. He suffered his only loss in a national championship game when his Indiana State team fell to Louisville and Peck Hickman in the 1948 NAIB final. [/stextbox]