With the annual series between Kentucky and North Carolina apparently approaching a hiatus at the very least, it makes one get a little bit reflective on things. This was the 12th consecutive season of the home-and-home series that saw dozens of future NBA players, five different head coaches and a host of close finishes over the years. The games at Rupp were always the best, as the last five games in Lexington ended with an average final margin of around four points. (The Cats were 3-2 in those games.) It was fitting, then, that this final version went all the way to the wire, with the last moments in Rupp creating an indelible image just like the first ones the Cats’ home floor hosted did almost ten years ago.
Of course, I’m talking about the unforgettable opening minutes of UK-UNC 2001, when Tayshaun Prince welcomed the Heels to Rupp Arena for the first time ever by canning five straight three-pointers to start the game, putting the place in a frenzy that was seldom, if at all, repeated before yesterday. When big-time programs get together, the games should have a big time feel. Tayshaun made sure people wouldn’t even have to wait for the first TV timeout before they knew that UK-UNC was big time. While that game wasn’t a classic in the same way that this year’s was (and neither was the first meeting, a 17-point win for UK at Chapel Hill in 2000), it set the tone that the Carolina game was one to be eagerly anticipated every year.
And so the series between college basketball powerhouses continued to deliver right down to the very end. Along the way we saw moments like Gerald Fitch’s fadeaway three in ’04 and the John Wall show two years ago, among others. Then, when Anthony Davis carved out the final, lasting image of the annual showdown it was an appropriately unforgettable end to a series that was unique in the landscape of college basketball. Historically powerful programs that aren’t linked by geography or conference rarely get together to play at all, and almost never in a home-and-home, so the fact that this series continued for as long as it did made it special beyond just being a big game for both teams. I understand the reasons that it may need to end, but from a fan’s perspective it will really only serve to leave a hole in the schedule where a huge game used to be. It’ll be missed.
A decade ago, the Heels were greeted in Rupp by a lanky, long-armed three-point barrage that no one will forget, and left it for the last time after an even lankier, longer-armed block that no one will ever forget. If the series really has to end, and it looks that way, it made sure that the games in Lexington delivered some of the most memorable moments that any of us have seen. Hopefully we’ll get some more down the road.