By Justin Renck:
With the big game this Saturday between Louisville and Memphis, I thought it was important to revisit some of the more memorable games from the rivalry. Well, the game from March 1, 1986 is a special one to me, and I wasn’t even born yet. Here is the story…
Louisville and Memphis State (as they were called) were playing at Freedom Hall for the Metro Conference regular season title. The game came down to free throws when Louisville’s Milt Wagner was fouled with 1 second left. Known as the “Ice Man”, Wagner went to the line to shoot 2 with the Cards down by 1.
My mom was standing on her chair in Freedom Hall, 7 months pregnant with me, and said “If he makes these, I’m naming by baby Milt!” Well, he made the free throws, but something changed her mind because obviously I am not Milt! Haha. When Wagner returned to Freedom Hall as an assistant coach with Memphis, my mom and I found him after the game and told him that story and he loved it! I also told him the story again in Auburn, AL where he is an assistant basketball coach and where I lived from 2008-May 2012. So he should know the story by now!
I got a chance to speak with Wagner on the phone, which by the way is pretty surreal to me, even after seeing him in person almost everyday in Auburn (I worked in the basketball arena). He said it was a “big rivalry, and this one was for the conference championship. What made it bigger was this one came down to free throws.”
Wagner also said “Anytime we played Memphis State, it was always a big game and it was going to be a war. Plus this was my senior year. Players knew you had to bring your ‘A’ game in this rivalry.”
I went on to ask him about what it was like to be an assistant coach at Memphis when his son, DeJuan, was a player there. I asked if it was weird, or if none of that mattered because his son was there. “At first it was weird, definitely. The fans used to hate me, and they called me the ‘Tiger Killer’ because I always had big games against them. But they were happy I was on their side this time!”
Wagner asked me what time the game is this Saturday, and said hopefully he can catch some of it (Auburn plays too). He said he still keeps up with the Cards, and that they have a chance to have a big season!
Here is the official press release from that game in 1986 when Wagner made those famous free throws!
Louisville 70, Memphis St. 69
Mar. 2, 1986 4:41 PM ET
LOUISVILLE, KY. LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Senior guard Milt Wagner nailed two free throws with one second remaining as 13th-ranked Louisville defeated seventh-ranked Memphis State 70-69 Sunday to take the 1985-86 Metro Conference regular season crown.
Louisville upped its record to 24-7 overall and 10-2 in the conference in winning its ninth straight game and its seventh Metro Conference title. Louisville will have a first-round bye in the Metro postseason tournament, to be played in Louisville March 7-9.
Memphis State fell to 25-4 and 9-3 and will play last-place South Carolina in the first round of the tournament.
Behind freshman center Pervis Ellison, who scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half, Louisville led 68-65 lead with 2:34 left.
But the Cardinals went cold and baskets by Baskerville Holmes and Vincent Askew put Memphis State ahead 69-68 with 52 seconds left.
On Louisville’s next possession, Wagner missed a 22-footer and Ellison’s rebound shot was blocked by Memphis center William Bedford, giving the ball back to Memphis State with 12 seconds left.
Andre Turner, who finished with 18 points, was fouled with eight seconds, but the senior guard, a 72 percent free throw shooter, missed the front end of a one-and-one bonus situation.
Louisville rebounded and Wagner moved the ball up court. He was fouled taking a shot from the corner by Turner, setting up his last-second heroics.
Memphis State led by as many as 53-46 with 14:11 in the second half.
The 6-foot-10 Ellison, facing the 7-foot Bedford, fought to work himself free and keep Louisville in contention.
Wagner finished with 18 points, Billy Thompson 16 and Herbert Crook 10 for Louisville.
Holmes led Memphis State with 19, while Bedford added 15 and Dwight Boyd 12