There is one game that stands out above others as my favorite regular season game. There are many worthy games that I’m sure many of you readers and bloggers will choose as your favorite. Tayshaun Prince’s five three pointers to open up against North Carolina in 01, Meeks 54 against Tennessee just last year and the comeback against LSU in 94 remains an amazing spectacle, but for me there is one game that still stands out above those great games, the February 4 2003 pasting of Florida.
Before Joakim Noah was wearing a dress and getting benched by his teammates:
There was an offensive 2003 version of the Florida Gators that included Matt Bonner whose mom got him a 1-800 number so that little Matthew could call home when he was lonely, Anthony Roberson whose nickname was “Peeper”, well actually I think that’s a pretty cool nickname, the seldom used Bonell Colas who wore “RIP FGN” on one shoe to honor a friend, “305” on his other shoe for his Miami friends, and “YNI” on his headband for his high school friends. Overkill? And then there was Evil Matt Walsh who dated Playboy Playmate Laurel Anderson in college and wore a rubber band on his left wrist for good luck. It was also handy just in case his scrunchy fell out of his fro. And this group had just been voted number one in the nation.
By contrast Kentucky was coming off of three straight ten loss seasons and Tubby had been newly christened “Ten Loss Tubby”. Prior to the 02-03 season Kentucky lost Tayshaun Prince to graduation, Rashaad Carruth to transfer, Jason Parker to dismissal for violating team rules. This along with Marvin Stone’s transfer to Louisville at midseason the previous year left a huge hole in the frontcourt.
Things only got worse. Kentucky opened exhibition play 1-1 and turned in a horrendous 2 for 22 three point shooting performance in a loss to Virginia , an 18 point loss to Louisville , Erik Daniels missed the first four games of the season, Antwain Barbour broke his hand, and Cliff Hawkins was academically ineligible for the first semester. It looked like 2002’s “Team Turmoil” was carrying over into 03. Kentucky opened the season 6-3 and things weren’t looking good. Everyt Vandy game where Tubby challenged his players to take pride in their defense. From that point on Kentucky went on a tear and they ended up winning 26 straight before falling to Marquette in the regional final of the NCAA tournament.
The over confident Gators came into Rupp Arena facing a record crowd of 24,459. They were loud rowdy and excited throughout the entire game. Every thing Kentucky did right and every thing Florida did wrong was greeted with such uproarious glee as Rupp Arena has seldom seen. Marquis Estill won the tip setting Erik Daniels up for a lay-up about 3 seconds into the game and from there Kentucky sprinted to a 70-55 finish that was no where near as close as the score would have you believe.
At one point Kentucky went on a 22 to 2 run during which Cliff Hawkins made an uncontested lay-up after Florida ’s Brett Nelson saved the ball under UK ’s basket. Keith Bogans followed this with a steal and dunk and then an alley-oop pass to Chuck Hayes for a dunk.
The halftime score was 45-22 and the lead was as much as 60-31 early in the second half. It was beautiful basketball and the dominant performance was reminiscent of the far more talented 96 championship team. And in the words of my brother Mark “You have to enjoy any game were UK took a dump on Matt Walsh’s ‘fro”. If you weren’t out of your seat during this game then you don’t know what exciting basketball is.
This game represents the zenith of the Tubby Smith era. Yes he won a championship, but the argument about Pitino’s players may never be put to rest. In 2003 these were all his players totally buying into his system. This game was played beautiful from start to finish. Billy Donovan put it this way, “All I can say is that Kentucky outplayed us the entire night, in every facet of the game.” Strangely he also said, “Their pressure wasn’t as good as Kansas ‘ pressure the way I looked at it,” Billy, nobody’s pressure was as good as Kentucky ’s in 2003. Since this game game Kentucky is only 6-8 against Florida , including 2-8 in the last ten.
When you consider all of their offseason and early season setbacks, this team had no business being as good as they were. This game was the 11th win in what would become a 26 game winning streak during which Kentucky won by an average margin of 17 points a game including a 62 point win over Vanderbilt. Kentucky earned a number one seed in the NCAA tournament where had it not been for a Keith Bogans ankle injury, Kentucky would have won number 8 and Tubby would still be our coach with two championships under his belt. Whether getting Calipari after the Billy Gillispie experiment is better than still having Tubby is debatable, but you can not deny that this was one of the better coached UK teams in the last 20 years. This was the last truly dominant Kentucky team and I will always remember 03 for this game and the championship that should have been.
So what say ye Big Blue Nation? What is your favorite regular season game and why?
Mosley’s Take: I liked it, Jared. I didn’t LOL (this means “laugh out loud” for those without fax machines or beepers), but the write-up was generally solid. I think the best part of the piece, at least for me, was the position your position regarding the ramifications of Keith Bogans’ ankle injury to the history of Kentucky basketball. That’s the kind of argument that is perfect for the comments section and you set it up nicely. You alo kept your readers in mind by inviting them to participate in the discussion. Very thoughtful. On the downside, you could have proofread your work before submission (I allowed the typos to remain), though I’m certainly not one to talk. Overall a fine effort and we’ll see how you stack up. Buena Suerte.