In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
For the first time in two decades, the University of Kentucky is the champion of basketball after beating Duke 94-88 at the Checkerdome in St. Louis. The Wildcats coached by Joe B. Hall had lost the title game in 1975 to UCLA, while the Blue Devils coached by Bill Foster were in their first title game since 1964. Leading the way for Kentucky was Jack Givens, who torched Duke for 41 points in the final.
The 1977/78 season was a magic carpet ride for Kentucky, who spent most of the season ranked number one in the country. The Wildcats under coach Joe B. Hall posted a record of 25-2 in the regular season, with the only losses coming to Alabama and LSU.
Duke, coached by Bill Foster, went into the NCAA Tournament ranked number seven after winning the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils continued their momentum with a hard-fought 63-62 win in the first round of the 32-team tournament against Rhode Island. In the Eastern Regional Semifinals in Providence, Duke beat Penn 84-80; they would get to the Final Four for the fourth time in school history by beating Villanova 90-72.
Kentucky’s path to the Final Four saw them beat Florida State 85-76 in Knoxville, Tennessee, to reach the Sweet 16. In Dayton, Ohio, the Wildcats crushed Miami, Ohio, in the Mideast Regional Semifinals in 91-69. Moving on to the Regional Finals, Kentucky fought off a challenge from Michigan State 52-49. The Spartans, who were led by freshman sensation Ervin “Magic” Johnson, would win the NCAA Tournament in 1979.
In the Semifinals at the Checkerdome in St. Louis, Kentucky would beat Arkansas 94-59 while Duke beat Notre Dame 80-76. Kentucky, who had won four championships under Adolph Rupp in 1948, 1949, 1951, and 1958 won their fifth title beat Duke 94-88. The Wildcats got off to a strong start outscoring Duke 45-38. The Blue Devils had no answer for Jack Givens, who was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player scoring 41 points. Duke had a balanced scoring effort with Gene Banks, Mike Gminski, and Jim Spanarkle, each topping 20 points. Helping Givens in his efforts on Kentucky was Rick Robey, who had 20 points.