Georgia Tech is the answer to a Kentucky basketball trivia question.
Entering Saturday’s matchup at Rupp Arena, Kentucky has a 56-15 overall lead in the series. It’s the first time the two teams have met since the Yellow Jackets won 86-84 against Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans in 2000.
Once upon a time, Georgia Tech and Kentucky faced one another every year. The Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech were founding members of the SEC. A dispute between Bobby Dodd and the SEC office was the catalyst to Tech’s departure from the conference in 1964. Before they made the move, Tech’s football and basketball programs had their fair share of success. One of their greatest moments on the hardwood happened at Memorial Coliseum in 1955.
Fresh off an undefeated 1954 season, Adolph Rupp had three Wildcats that would eventually enter the rafters — Phil Grawemeyer, Bob Burrow and Jerry Bird. Kentucky had not lost a game since Memorial Coliseum opened in 1950. Facing a team that had only won 16 games in four seasons, the Cats were poised to coast past Georgia Tech. A kid from Louisville had different plans.
Valley High School product Bobby Kimmel scored 18 points for the Engineers and Joe Helms finished with 23 to lead the Engineers to a stunning 59-58 victory over Kentucky, the Wildcats’ first home loss in 12 years. The 129-game home winning streak is an NCAA record that will likely never be broken.
Sixty years after the loss, Helms admitted to the Dothan Eagle the win over UK was a “fluke.” Helms and Kimmel used a gimmick defense to shell-shock Kentucky down the stretch.
“All week before the game Bobby Kimmel and I had practiced what we called a scissors defense,” Helms said. “What Bobby would do when he (ball handler) brought the ball up the court is rush the ball. The natural reaction is to grab the ball and turn it away from him (defender) and then I would come from the other side and pick it off.”
The plan worked to perfection.
“They were bringing the ball up the court – their captain had it – and Kimmel rushed at him and he just automatically turned away from him and there was the ball right in front of me,” Helms said. “I just took it and took off down the court.”
Helms’ jumper from the elbow with 11 seconds left proved to be the game-winner after UK missed a couple desperation attempts.
The loss is one Kentucky could not shake. The Wildcats regained their No. 1 ranking a few weeks later, only to fall to Tech once more in Atlanta. It was the first time an Adolph Rupp coached team had ever lost to the same opponent twice in one season.
Saturday afternoon’s meeting between Georgia Tech and Kentucky does not have the same fire it once had more than 60 years ago. Instead of Rupp’s revenge, it will serve as a reunion for John Calipari and Josh Pastner. Time has changed, but Georgia Tech is still an enormous underdog against the powerful Wildcats.