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    Photo courtesy University of Louisville Men’s Basketball Facebook Page
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    On Saturday, March 22, 1980 the University of Louisville men’s basketball team met Iowa in the national semifinals at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis.

    Lute Olson’s Hawkeyes were the only unranked team at the Final Four. They were also unranked in the Associated Press preseason poll, but won their first nine games to rise to No. 10. Iowa, however, lost four of its next five games to drop out of the Top 20. Just before that slide star guard Ronnie Lester - who TV analyst Al McGuire once said “Can stop on a dime and give you change” - suffered a knee injury, one of several key physical setbacks for the team that season.

    Lester eventually returned to the lineup and the Hawkeyes rebounded, winning five of their next six games to return to the Top 20 before a loss to Indiana on Valentine’s Day knocked them out of the poll again. Iowa would finish tied for fourth in the Big Ten and earn a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

    In the East Regional, the Hawkeyes got hot. They outlasted 12th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth 86-72 in the first round, behind 23 point from Kenny Arnold, before beating No. 4 seed North Carolina State 77-64 in the second in Greensboro, N.C. Iowa then ousted No. 1 seed Syracuse, and coach Jim Boeheim, 88-77, in the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia thanks to 52.7 percent shooting. The Hawkeyes shot even better in the regional final against third-seeded Georgetown, making 60.8 percent of their attempts. Still, it took a 14-point second-half rally, to overcome Eric “Sleepy” Floyd’s 31 points and John Thompson’s Hoyas. Steve Waite’s three-point play with 5 seconds left capped Iowa’s comeback and sent the team to the Final Four.

    The game was a battle of All-Americans early. UofL senior Darrell Griffith and Lester each tallied 10 of their team’s first 12 points. But Griff didn’t stop there. He scored 16 of the Cardinals’ first 18 and 18 of their first 22.

    It was 22-17 midway through the first half when Lester collided with UofL reserve Roger Burkman on a fast break. Lester reinjured his knee on the play. He would not return.

    Griffith, meanwhile, kept on rolling. He finished with a game-high 34 points, on 14 for 21 shooting from the field and 6 of 8 from the foul line, in UofL’s 80-72 win. Griff also finished with six assists and five rebounds in 36 minutes.

    Freshman forward Rodney McCray added 14 points and nine rebounds and sophomore forward Derek Smith contributed 13 points and eight rebounds for Louisville, which shot 59.6 percent (28 for 47) from the field and 77.4 percent (24 for 31) from the free throw line.  

    With the win the Cards earned their first-ever trip to the national championship.

    Remembering UofL's 1980 National Title Team, Part IV

    Remembering UofL's 1980 National Title Team, Part III

    Remembering UofL's 1980 National Title Team, Part II

    Remembering UofL's 1980 National Title Team, Part I

    Photo courtesy University of Louisville Men's Basketball Facebook Page

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