This year’s euphoric ride to the national championship may be over, but Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard’s game-winning three-pointer that sent Terrence Jones’ Houston Rockets home packing this weekend reminded basketball fans just how thrilling buzzer-beating baskets can be. Cure your offseason blues with 10 of Kentucky’s most exciting game-winners from the past 10 years:
Honorable mention— March 27, 2005: Patrick Sparks (vs. Michigan State, NCAA Tournament Elite Eight) [LINK]
The only reason reason this shot isn’t among the top of the list is because Kentucky did not win the game. After Patrick Sparks’ first attempt was partially blocked, and Kelenna Azubuike’s three-pointer fell short, Sparks corralled the ball at the top of the key, double pump faked, and nailed a long-range shot at the buzzer (through contact) to send the game to the first of two overtimes. However, the ‘Cats came up short, falling to Michigan State 88-94.
10. February 2, 2009: Jodie Meeks (vs. Florida) [LINK]
With the game tied at 65 apiece, Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks took a step-back jumper from beyond the three-point arc to seal a win over the Gators with under 5 seconds remaining. Florida’s Nick Calathes did drive the length of the court and draw a foul on an ensuing three-point attempt of his own as time expired, but Calathes missed all three free throws and the Wildcats held on, 68-65.
9. February 22, 2014: Julius Randle (vs. LSU) [LINK]
After falling behind by 1 to LSU with 11.5 seconds remaining in overtime, Andrew Harrison sped down the court and found swingman James Young for a game-winning layup attempt that fell short of the basket. Randle grabbed the rebound and sunk the put-back floater with 3.9 seconds on the clock. UK won the game, 77-76.
8. January 21, 2006: Rajon Rondo (vs. South Carolina) [LINK]
With under 10 tics remaining on the clock, Tubby Smith’s Kentucky Wildcats found themselves down by 1 point to the South Carolina Gamecocks. Joe Crawford inbounded the ball, and the the excitement immediately unfolded. Rajon Rondo drove the ball down the court past four different USC defenders and threw up a fadeaway three as he lost his balance and fell on his back. The ball went in, and the ‘Cats won 80-78.
7. March 17, 2011: Brandon Knight (vs. Princeton, NCAA Tournament round of 64) [LINK]
In the opening game of Kentucky’s 2011 run to the Final Four, the ‘Cats found themselves tied with the Ivy League’s Princeton Tigers 57-57. Leaving only 2 seconds on the clock, freshman guard Brandon Knight drove in for a game-winning layup to lift Kentucky to a 59-57 victory.
6. November 16, 2009: John Wall (vs. Miami of Ohio) [LINK]
The swagger that John Calipari and his inaugural recruiting class (consisting of future pro’s John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and Daniel Orton) brought back to the University of Kentucky cannot be understated. In John Wall’s first ever collegiate game (after sitting out Kentucky’s first game of the season for receiving “improper travel benefits” while on the AAU circuit), Wall zoomed down the length of the court with just over 6 seconds remaining to hit a step-back midrange jump shot to lift the ‘Cats over the RedHawks of Miami (OH), 72-70.
5. December 21, 2004: Patrick Sparks (at Louisville) [LINK]
Former Western Kentucky transfer Patrick Sparks was born with ice water in his veins. With 4.8 seconds to go (and UK down by 1 to Louisville on the road at Freedom Hall), Sparks inbounded the ball to Kelenna Azubuike. Azubuike initially pulled up for a wild three-point attempt, only to change his mind at the last second and dish the ball back to Sparks in the corner. Patrick pump faked and immediately attempted a game-winning three-pointer, but the 6’1″ guard drew contact and a foul as time expired. Sparks hit all three free throws with 0.6 seconds added to the clock, sealing the game for Kentucky, 60-58.
4. March 30, 2014: Aaron Harrison (vs. Michigan, NCAA Tournament Elite Eight) [LINK]
Aaron Harrison received the ball from his twin brother Andrew at the top of the key with 7 seconds to go. Kentucky was knotted up with Michigan at 72-72 with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Despite great defense from 6’6″ Wolverines guard Caris LeVert, Aaron pulled up behind the arc and sunk the game-winner, sending the ‘Cats to the Final Four for the 16th time in school history.
3. March 25, 2011: Brandon Knight (vs. Ohio State, NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen)
Brandon Knight may have played at Kentucky for only one season, but his team’s run to the Final Four included not one, but two game-winners from the Fort Lauderdale, FL native. In a Sweet Sixteen matchup with the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed Ohio State, the game was even at 60 with 20 seconds to go. Knight let the clock tic down to 7 seconds remaining before exploding for a pull-up jumper at the free throw line. The ball swished through the hoop, and Kentucky won 62-60.
2. March 14, 2010: DeMarcus Cousins (vs. Mississippi State, SEC Tournament championship)
After Eric Bledsoe’s free throw pulled the ‘Cats within 2 with under 5 seconds to go, Bledsoe successfully missed his second attempt to keep Kentucky’s hopes alive. John Wall grabbed the rebound, but air balled a three-point attempt to win the game. However, Cousins was there to grab the miss, and was aware enough to get the game-tying shot off under the basket as time expired— technically, not a game-winnner, but close enough to make this list. Kentucky handled the Bulldogs in overtime, winning the game 75-74.
1. April 5, 2014: Aaron Harrison (vs. Wisconsin, NCAA Tournament Final Four)
Aaron Harrison’s third consecutive late-game three-point dagger during one of the most exciting tourney runs in recent history will be remembered as one for the ages. The Wildcats were down by 2 with 8 seconds to go, when Andrew Harrison yelled at his brother to pull up for three. The shot went in, the ‘Cats won 74-73, and the rest is history.
If there were any game-winners I missed, or if you thought the list should be in a different order, let me know in the comments section.