With news a bit slow today and my power still attempting to come back on, I decided to dust off a piece I wrote last year for a UK preview magazine. These are the Top 10 games of the Pitino and Tubby eras. No NCAA Tournament games, but just games that rocked the UK fanbase when they happened:
(10) UK 79 North Carolina 59 December 8, 2001:
The first game on the list is remembered primarily for the performance of one player, Tayshaun Prince, who began the game by making five straight three point field goals, the last of which was some 35-40 feet away from the goal and cause the entire arena to erupt with joy. Prince finished the game with 31 points and 11 revounds, but more importantly produced one of the classic “I cant believe what I just saw” moments in Rupp Arena history.
(9) UK 106 Vanderbilt 44 March 5, 2003:
The most dominating performance of the Tubby Smith era closed out the only undefeated regular season and conference tournament run in the history of the SEC. With the 2003 Cats firing on all cylinders, Kentucky completely overwhelmed the Commodores, causing Coach Smith to empty his bench early in the game. Most remember this contest for the coming out party of Kelenna Azubuike, who scored 16 straight points in mop-up duty, incluidng a put-back dunk that will forever be remembered as one of the best in UK history.
(8) UK 103 Maryland 91 December 12, 1998:
Coming off a National Championship in his first season, Tubby Smith began season #2 with a home game that is often remembered by its attendees as potentially the loudest day in Rupp Arena history. With No 2 ranked Maryland coming into town, led by All-American Steve Francis, Rupp Arena was rocking as it saw the defending champs deliver a knockout blow to its ACC foe. Kentucky was led by Wayne Turner and Scott Padgett, who helped give Cat fans hope that the dynasty could continue into the new millenium.
(7) UK 129 LSU 97 January 16, 1996:
If you want to see sheer dominance on a basketball court and near perfection at the college level, you play the first half of this game. Kentucky scored 81 points in the first half at LSU, in game that I still consider to be the best performance of my lifetime. Witht he outcome decided by halftime, the Cats played their entire bench for the second half and produced a beating that Coach Dale Brown called “the worst I have ever seen.” He was correct.
(6) UK 82 Louisville 62 December 29, 2001:
The unthinkable happened in 2001 when Rick Pitino, the beloved coach of the greatest era in UK history, left the Boston Celtics and showed up on the sidelines in Red, leading the hated Louisville Cardinals into Rupp. Kentucky fans greeted Pitino’s return with a reception fit for a foe, summed up with signs, the best of which said, “Joanne, we never liked you either.” The game continued the Big Blue party as the Cats took over late to overwhelm the undermanned Louisville team and officially make Traitor Rick’s return, a rude one.
(5) UK 80 Alabama 54 March 15, 1992:
No game signaled to the world that Kentucky basketball was back and here to stay quite like the dominating performance the Cats put on at the SEC Tournament in Birmingham in 1992. After being ineligible for the festivities the two previous years, the Big Blue Nation descended on Birmingham en masse for one of the best Tournaments in recent memory. With a field that included Shaquille O Neal, Chris Jackson, Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, Oliver Miller, Latrell Spreewell, Robert Horry and James “Hollywood” Robinson, the Cats nevertheless cruised to a victory. The tournament marked the first title for Jamal Mashburn and gave the Unforgettables their only tournament crown.
(4) UK 100 LSU 95 February 15, 1990:
If you look for a game that epitomized the early Rick Pitino era at UK, this is it. Led by Shaquille O Neal, Chris Jackson and Stanley Roberts, the LSU team came into Rupp to face UK’s makeshift roster of vagabonds, with no player standing over 6’7″. Nevertheless, Pitino’s Bombinos outfired the Tigers, hitting multiple three-pointers and causing O’Neal so much frustration that he received a technical for throwing the ball down in frustration. Because the game was not on television, it remains a treasured memory for those in attendance and could be the greatest upset in UK history.
(3) UK 70 Florida 55 February 4, 2003:
Still my personal favorite game of any regular season contest of my lifetime. With the entire country ready to pass the SEC torch from the Wildcats to the Florida Gators, the newly ranked #1 team came into Rupp Arena and watched as Tubby Smith’s Kentucky squad put on a basketball clinic at their expense. The Cats smothered Billy Donavan’s team, taking a 30 point lead in the second half and dominating a top-ranked team like never before.
(2) UK 95 Arkansas 93 March 12, 1995:
The greatest game in the modern history of the SEC Tournament saw a classic battle between the two titans of the SEC in Memphis, Tennessee. After falling down multiple times throughout the game, Kentucky had a chance to beat the defending NCAA Tournament Champions with two free throws by perpetual dog house occupier, Roderick Rhodes. After Rhodes missed both, his career at UK effectively ended and the classic game went into overtime, where UK once again fell behind and staged a late comeback to pull off its most exciting SEC Tournament Championship ever.
(1) UK 99 LSU 95 February 15, 1994:
The greatest comeback in the history of college basketball tops our list as the Wildcats best game of the post-probation era. Rick Pitino’s team was young and coming off a Final Four appearance the season before. Kentucky relied heavily on a group of sophomores that would later be the core of the 1996 championship team, but had yet to fully reach their potential. Playing in BAton Rouge, the Cats were ice cold at the beginning of the game, trailing by as many as 31 early in the second half. Then Pitino’s long bombers began chipping away, pressing and nailing three pointers, until coming back and taking over the game. When Walter McCarty’s famous three from the corner went in, the Cats took a lead they would not relinquish and completed the most improbably win in school history.
There you go…the top 10. Great memories all…..