With our new Wildcats arriving in Lexington this weekend, I am feeling a bit nostalgic. I’ll admit it.
Since John Calipari took the head coaching job at Kentucky in 2009, the Big Blue Nation has watched some pretty unforgettable games – both wins and losses. We have experienced tremendous highs and heartbreaks. Championship games and NIT games…or game, I guess. Entering our 13th season with our fearless leader at the helm, I decided to reflect on some of my personal favorite regular-season games of the Cal era – the ones UK won, of course.
#10 – Kentucky v. UCLA, 2014-15
While this game might not have had an exciting last-second ending, I think I speak for all of the Big Blue Nation when I say this was an epic win. We might yell ‘Cats by 90’ as a joke, but at one point in this game, it felt like it could become a reality. The Wildcats scored the game’s first 24 points, ending the first half with a 41-7 lead. This dominant performance from the Wildcats secures this game a spot on the unforgettable list.
#9 – Kentucky v. Mississippi State, 2009-10
After Kentucky big man and fan-favorite DeMarcus Cousins’ phone number was leaked, he spent two days receiving racist text messages and voicemails from classy Mississippi State fans. Consequently, this game became a highly anticipated event. The 18-8 Bulldogs forced the Wildcats into overtime, but couldn’t stop a vengeful Boogie who finished with a double-double and a shot at the MSU fan base with his iconic “call me” moment.
#8 – Kentucky v. North Carolina, 2009-10
All eyes looked to Rupp Arena as No. 5 Kentucky star John Wall faced his home-state No. 10 North Carolina Tarheels. Wall put on an absolute show for fans in attendance, ending the game with a full highlight reel of dunks and crafty layups. Shockingly, the Heels never offered Wall, a Raleigh native, a scholarship – and he sure made them regret it that day. To put it simply, he flexed on ‘em.
#7 – Kentucky v. Tennessee 2018-19
Beating Tennessee is always fun, right? Well, this one was extra fun. Vols fans couldn’t have been happier with their No. 1 ranked team that came into Rupp with just a single loss. Not so fast, though – P.J. Washington would like a word. Washington led the Wildcats with 23 points, while Tyler Herro added 15 points and 11 rebounds in the Wildcat smackdown that ended a 19-game Vol winning streak.
#6 – Kentucky v. LSU, 2013-14
When many think of this season, they think of the exciting tourney run the Wildcats made thanks to some unforgettable last-second three-pointers from Aaron Harrison – and rightfully so. But there were some thrillers before March, too. The Tigers and the Wildcats went back-and-forth all game, leading to an intense overtime. A crucial put-back from Julius Randle sealed the victory for Kentucky in front of a roaring Rupp crowd.
#5 – Kentucky v. West Virginia, 2017-18
After a slow start to the season, the Wildcats fell out of the top 25 shortly before heading to Morgantown to face the No. 7 Mountaineers. I love John Denver and all, but those country roads weren’t quite enough to overcome an impressive second-half effort from Kentucky. The scrappy Wildcat team led by Kevin Knox’s 34 point performance came back from a 15-point halftime deficit to upset the ‘Neers on their home court…but this still doesn’t feel like sufficient revenge for them ending our 2009-10 tournament run.
#4 – Kentucky v. Louisville, 2014-15
When people ask why I believe the UK/UofL rivalry is the best in college basketball, this is one of the games I point to. With help from their superb freshmen stars Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, the Wildcats gained Bluegrass bragging rights for the year. This top-5 matchup was about as intense as it gets – I still see Ulis with blood running down his face when I close my eyes. Or how about WCS dunking all over Montrezl Harrell and then giving him a stare-down for the ages? Iconic.
#3 – Kentucky v. North Carolina, 2016-17
The Wildcats would lead by as many as 10 in the first half of this contest, but the Heels took the lead with a minute and a half remaining. Not so fast though – Malik Monk, baby. The freshman star recorded an outstanding 47-point performance in this nail-biter from Vegas. A three from the freshman with 17 seconds left secured the win for the Wildcats. The Tarheels would get their revenge in the Elite 8 a few months later, but we’ll just act like that didn’t happen (and I still hate Luke Maye).
#2 – Kentucky v. Louisville, 2019-20
Another instant classic in the iconic rivalry. Brand new head coach Chris Mack brought the No. 3 ranked Cardinals into Rupp Arena with a certain confidence, but the Wildcats responded with a stellar performance from the lethal Maxey/Quickley duo. A Hagans steal, dunk and flex to end the game was the icing on the cake. Let’s just say I was almost kicked out of this one for chirping at the Louisville bench – just wanted to give Mack a warm welcome. It’s forever L’s down.
#1 – Kentucky v. North Carolina, 2011-12
“Henson has it…HE’S BLOCKED BY DAVIS!” Those hallowed words still give me chills to this day. Roy Williams and company came to Lexington to take on the top-ranked Wildcats in what would become a legendary Rupp Arena game. Led by a double-double from MKG, Kentucky fought back from a nine-point first-half disadvantage. Davis was relatively quiet offensively, but he showed up when it mattered with a monster block in the final seconds to secure the win.
Almost 10 years later, the play is still haunting Henson. Just a few months ago before Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Lebron James himself recalled the famous block.
"You just look at his run throughout that whole March Madness, he was just beyond the best player in college basketball."@KingJames has seen something special in @AntDavis23 since his @KentuckyMBB days. pic.twitter.com/LlNG3bZQ22
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) October 8, 2020
Maybe one day everyone else will forget, John…but I certainly won’t.
So what do you think, BBN? What are your favorite regular-season moments of the Cal era?