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Top 10 Clutch Shots in UK History


Photo by USA Today

Today in the Lexington Herald, there were two very different stories about UK basketball. One was by the dark Lord Tipton, who did his normal “what can I say negative about UK basketball” column (a trademark of Senor Tip) and the other was an interesting list of the greatest “clutch” shots in UK history by Mark Story. I thought Story, who always does a stellar job of coming up with good offseason topics, did a strong job of coming up with the best clutch shots in UK lore and it was readily apparent that two facts are true about Wildcat history in this area. First, we haven’t been blessed with a ton of “clutch” game-winners in big games…for the most part, our best shots have come in games that we went on to lose, adding a dose of sadness to otherwise classic moments. And second, we just witnessed three of the best all-time, back to back to back in the same tournament BY THE SAME PLAYER. That is simply bizarre and amazing.

So with some apologies to Mr. Story, I have come up with my own list of the TEN MOST CLUTCH SHOTS IN UK HISTORY. The list includes eight shots that are the same as Story’s but in a different order. I left off his two Vernon Hatton vs Temple shots from 1958 for different reasons. His Final Four shot was a wide-open layup with 17 seconds left…not the difficulty or time crunch of some of the others…and the other was a regular season game…those simply don’t mean as much as these tournament shots that touch our soul. So without further ado, my list:

10. Brandon Knight 2011 First Round vs Princeton:

Kentucky played terribly all game and in Calipari’s second year, the Ivy League team probably deserved the victory after a late run. But with the game tied with just seconds remaining, Knight beat his man off the dribble and hit a contested layup. Amazingly, Knight had been held scoreless all game up to that point and the win began an improbable Final Four run that helped continue the Calipari train in his second year.

9. Jim Master 1983 Elite Eight vs Louisville:

No game in UK history has ever been as hyped as the Cats-Cards in 1983 in Knoxville. Master hit a jumper at the buzzer to send the game to Overtime, causing a fury in the Bluegrass state like no other. But points are lost because UK went down in overtime in what may be the most painful UK loss of any ever for those just a generation older than I.

8. Aaron Harrison 2014 Sweet 16 vs Louisville:

This was probably the third most hyped UK game of all time (behind the 2012 Final Four tilt) and the Cats were outplayed throughout most of the game. At many times most of us gave up, but with 39 seconds left, Aaron hit a deep corner contested three to ensure bragging rights over our rival that will stick for a long time. One shot changed how we looked at the Harrison Twins, the 2014 team and for some nationally, Calipari in general. If he misses it, who knows what happens…he makes it and we had one of the most exciting runs ever.

7. Anthony Epps 1997 Title Game vs Arizona

Often overlooked for great shots (not by Story, who had it #2), but Anthony Epps’ might have been the most improbable of all. Down three, Arizona chooses not to foul and Epps takes one of the oddest shots in UK history, a double pump three-pointer that somehow swishes clean through the net. I still don’t know why or how he took it, but it went in…I can’t rate it as high as Story however because we lost in Overtime.

6. Patrick Sparks 2005 Elite Eight vs Michigan State

The game was epic, but this shot is higher than other Epps/Master because of how it went in. Looking for a three to tie, Izzo again doesn’t foul and after two heaves that weren’t close, the ball bounces out to Sparks who hits a shot that still defies the laws of physics. It bounced high off the rim twice and hung on the edge before it fell. I have never jumped higher after a make and never smiled broader than when he ran and told Billy Packer what was up after. The best moment of Sparks’ career and one that might be at the top of this list had they won the game.

5. Brandon Knight 2011 Sweet 16 vs Ohio State

I don’t remember a good UK team given less of a chance in a regional than these Cats were in 2011. But after escaping Princeton, Knight put a dagger through the #1 seeded Buckeyes with a runner with 5 seconds left that was as full of cajones as any you will see outside a Harrison named Aaron. The fact that it was done on a full court sprint and over the alleged great defender Aaron Craft, made it even sweeter, as did the jersey pop that followed right after.

4. Scott Padgett 1998 Elite Eight vs Duke:

This shot happened with more time left on the clock than most of the others (40 seconds), but it basically ensured a win that at the time, may have meant more to UK fans than any other. The three exorcised the Duke 1992 demons and set off a great celebration by Padgett that is still one of my favorite UK moments ever. No individual win makes me happier and a UK guy hitting the shot only helps its historic nature.

3. Aaron Harrison 2014 Elite Eight vs Michigan

From a time standpoint, the most clutch of all of Aaron’s shots. It was contested as closely as any shot you will ever see and I still don’t know how he got it off. But he did, it went in and this Kentucky team went to a Final Four that almost nobody believed possible. It was then we knew the run was a special type that we had never seen before…it only got better.

2. Sean Woods 1992 Elite Eight vs Duke:

I take a break from my theory of ranking shots in losing games lower for Woods’ epic heave vs Duke in 1992. Yes I know we lost, but because of Woods’ shot (and of course the one after), this is the almost certain choice by everyone for best college basketball game ever played. That means something. Woods’ heave was ridiculous, he was one of the least likely players to take the shot and the elation after will probably never be replicated. The pain that followed is the only reason this is #2…but it remains an integral part of the most special game this sport has ever produced.

1. Aaron Harrison 2014 Final Four vs Wisconsin

I have no idea how this shot went in…when it left his hand, it looked dead left and somehow mid air, it seemed to take a swing right and rattle in for a three that was as amazing as any I have ever seen. The fact that it came with UK down 2 (and thus losing if he missed) and was so DEEEEP and followed TWO OTHER GAME WINNERS BEFORE IT, makes it to me, the biggest shot in UK history. Obviously it is slightly more special if we cut down the nets, but still there has never been a bigger shot to win a bigger game since Kentucky basketball began over a century ago. It is a deserving #1.

One player, three of the top eight most clutch shots in Big Blue history…what a year.

Article written by Matt Jones

60 Comments for Top 10 Clutch Shots in UK History

    9:23 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    …and he’s coming back next year!

  2. Tim
    9:26 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    You can’t have a top 10 clutch shot list without the Cameron Mills shot versus Duke in 1998. How is that even possible?

    • JVice
      10:04 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

      Yes! Everyone talks about the Padgett 3 from that game, but if you were watching it at the time, there’s no question that Cameron’s three was the bigger shot. It completed the comeback and gave us our first lead in forever. Revisionist history has made a bigger deal out of Scott’s shot than Cam’s.

    • By Gawd
      10:17 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

      Cameron Mills played at Dunbar, right here in Lexington. He hit that shot for the name on the front, not the one on the back….

    • Blackhawk
      9:20 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

      Gez people…kids play to win the game….not for names on the front or the back…but to win and further their career. It’s like going to college and saying…I took the test for the name of the school not for me to show what I can do and hopefully do well enough to have the career that I want someday.

  3. Flag City Cat
    9:28 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    Scott Padgett back-to-back 3’s against Kansas in 1998 we a little under three cannot be forgotten as we were down five and looked done!!! I still can’t believe we won that game while the Duke game in the regional was just redemption for “the shot”.

    • Kyle
      12:58 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

      The Kansas game was in the 1999 Tournament.

  4. old timer
    9:31 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    Ky basketball has been great for almost 80 years yet 9 of your 10 shots are from the last 20 years. Your article should be called,”The Greatest Shots in the last 20 years of UK basketball”. There were shots made by Vernon Hatton and Shelby Linville that led to national titles and other last second shots that won numerous NCAA games. I would count those as more important than several of your shots listed made in losing efforts.

    • Rupp
      12:31 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

      Amen brother!

    • Blackhawk
      9:23 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

      He did explain why he didn’t include those shots. I can see why he left off the regular season one of Vernon when there were other post season game but no matter if it was a layup or 20 footer….a shot to win the title should be on the list.

      My question is why isn’t Brassow’s shot on his or anyone else’s list? Beat Zona at the buzzer on a tip-in.

    9:33 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    If that Wichita player hits that 3 at the buzzer NONE of the Aaron shots happen. His shot seemed so improbable at the time, I didn’t really expect it to go in. Then Aaron hits 3 pretty similarly clutch shots in the next 3 games…how money is he?

  6. Jeff
    9:43 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    Freshman Ralph Beard’s free throws to win the 1946 NIT, The National Title at the time. Adolph saw the future and the team that became the The Fabulous Five won the NCAA in 1948, Olympics in 1948 and minus Kenny Rollins the NCAA again in 1949 with Dale Barnstable in the starting 5.

  7. I'm just saying what we're all thinking...
    9:44 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    Laettner, anyone???

  8. Cameron Mills
    9:49 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink


  9. Matt Jones
    9:56 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    The Cameron Mills shot was with 2:15 on the clock…a great and important shot but not “clutch” like these in the final seconds

    • JVice
      10:06 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

      A whole 2 minutes? It was the most important shot of the game, point blank, period.

    • Matt Jones
      10:10 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

      I said it was “important”….”important” is not “Clutch”

    • JVice
      12:36 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

      Everything devolves to semantics.

  10. FurdTurgason
    10:02 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    Cedric Jenkins

  11. Fred
    10:07 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    I disagree about your Mills perspective. We were down by freaking 19 points with 10 minutes left. That was a HUGE shot. It’s not like 2:15 is an eternity.

    • Matt Jones
      10:09 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

      When he made that shot, UK was down two and there were still two minutes to go…a “clutch” shot in my view has to be made or you lose (or go to Overtime..or in Woods case lose on another buzzer beater). All of the above apply. Cameron’s shot lives in people’s minds because it was Mills, etc…but a “clutch” shot has to be in the final moments of a game in my view (and most people’s view I would imagine)

  12. Fred
    10:07 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    Also, I never liked Patrick Sparks.

    • By Gawd
      10:20 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

      Patrick Sparks still doesn’t like you.

  13. Cameron Mills
    10:25 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    I weigh 300 pounds now. I can stop eating Reese’s Cups.

  14. Spencer Coan
    10:32 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    How can you leave off Liggins against UNC in the Elite 8? That has to be above Knight’s shot against Princeton.

    • schwing
      9:32 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

      should be somewhere on the list. sealed up the first trip to the final four in 14 years.

  15. Brow
    10:35 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    Wall’s butthole is tightening up again. Down 3 with 1 to go. Let’s see if he is a star or not. Time to step up.

    • Mustache Ride
      10:37 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

      Wall was wide open and passed. Geez!

    • CardFan502
      11:05 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

      how did siva do ?

  16. msnthrop
    10:41 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    What is the meaning of the word clutch? The meaning I prefer is that it is an act that is performed, exactly when it needs to be performed, by someone who is expected to performed that act. Who expected AH to hit any of those shots? Which of these players on this list were expected to hit those shots… Sean woods hit 47% of his 2pt shots that season, padgett 37% that season from 3, knight 42% from 2, sparks 38% for 3, epps 38% from 3, AH 35% from 3 for the season (, f the rest…so not a single player could be “expected” to hit any of those shots simply because none of their season stats where above 50%, wood was closest but that was a pretty wild shot, so maybe my preconceived notion of what clutch means is incorrect, but I still have the feeling that the word clutch has something to do with the performance of an act exactly when is one is supposed to perform it, and if the word clutch really doesn’t apply when luck is grandpa always told me you make your own luck, and though I haven’t found that to be exactly the case in my experience there certainly is something to be said for being prepared when an opportunity presents itself…against Wisconsin AH took and hit only one 3 point shot, while looking at the entire season prior to that, he should have had a 35% chance of making that shot when he took it, at least in competition, but who knows how may other 3 point shots he took in practice, 10K, 100K, more…I can only presume AH took a large number of 3 point shots in practice both as a UK player and beforehand…did he make a higher percentage of them then…shouldn’t the chance of success of an act include each and every time that act has been attempted?…I have no point except to say I’m not sure the word clutch applies to shooting a basketball in a competitive game (since the very best 3 point shooters in the NBA don’t even top 48%) because if the word “expected” isn’t part of the definition then it makes far more sense to say these were simply the top 10 luckiest shots in UK history…guess my definition of clutch must be wrong then

    • Rupp
      12:36 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

      We love short paragraphs and sentences. For reading.
      And talking. It is a human thing.
      Please hit return…

    • colbert
      12:38 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

      I had a seizure trying to read this

    • The meaning
      9:00 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

      Clutch is hitting it when it is do or die. Game on the line. For example Mills big shot was the one that finally got the lead but we were surging back and if missed did not determine the outcome. Padgett’s shot was a dagger that decided the game.

  17. Clank
    10:45 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    Wall would be better off shooting with his butt cheeks.

  18. Ky_Tom
    10:45 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    I have to agree with “”old Timer””, It ask about the top 10 shots in UK History, and you name 10 from the last 20 years….And even added shot that never won the game. Sure the shots helped UK win those games, but only a few last second shots dropped for UK to win a NCAA, NIT, game winning shot.. Only a couple had the meaning of this past season NCAA run…This years NCAA run, with Three Shots, in three straight games to win, …Never in UK history has that happened…so in my view, those 3 shots out do ALL the rest that wasn’t for the win in the final seconds…I mean I believe it D Casey ( ? ) hit a 60″ footer to win a NIT game, and that shot is not even on the list….

  19. Josh Weldon
    10:46 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    Youngs 3 to take the lead back against Wichita was pretty big. Not top ten, but one of my favorites.

  20. John Ellis
    11:26 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    Padgett’s Duke shot not only beat the then most-pro laden college team ever (check the draft that year), but lead to a title. In a H/L poll a few years ago that was picked the greatest win in UK history, and it was a major upset too. One of the reasons that I still bristle at the Tubby bashing – Rick doesn’t win that game. It should be first on the list.

  21. John Ellis
    11:27 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

    And Vernon Hatton’s shots against Temple – twice – leading to a very unlikely ’58 title, my father would have chimed in.

    • Morehead Cat
      11:39 pm May 11, 2014 Permalink

      Exactly what I was thinking

  22. Clay Weisenberger
    1:08 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Tony Delk’s 4 point play against Syracuse in the 1996 Final?

  23. Reality Check
    2:30 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Clearly a product of “this generation.” Giving him 3 of the top 10 is absurd.

  24. In the same vein
    3:01 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Games before the Harrison shots but still great to watch.

  25. xpac 360
    3:23 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    When are they gonna make a ncaa basketball game for any game platform? I mean didnt ed obannon get paid already??

  26. say whatttttt
    3:25 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    ^^^ what xpac said…. When??

  27. Dotdotdotlol
    4:45 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Hey, Matt. Hometown guy here. What about Patrick Sparks’ free throws against Louisville? One of my all time favorite games and it featured my all time favorite player hitting free throws to seal the deal. (My love for PS isn’t because of this game, but because of his passion and cold blooded ability to play for no one but UK on the court.)

  28. FurdTurgason
    6:25 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Roger Harden didn’t really get to play much until his senior year. That year he hit the game-winning shot at Alabama and at LSU. Name another player to hit two game-winning shots (final seconds) on the road in one season. That’s the year we beat Alabama in the Sweet 16 and lost to LSU in the Elite Eight.

  29. catstang
    6:29 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    What about Walter McCarty from the corner for the lead against LSU . Greatest comeback in UK history !

  30. Buckets
    7:50 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Great list. Aaron Harrison is a living legend at what, 19 years old? Three unforgettable shots in three unforgettable games. What a run, what a run!

  31. Dennis Foust
    8:01 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Glad you mentioned Jim Master’s shot against UL. That was the first game I ever had to miss as a student because of academic requirements (you understand about being a “1-L”), but while that was a painful loss, the last 31 years of UK basketball history which resulted from that game has more than made up for the pain of that loss.

  32. Old Cat
    8:07 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    How about Jeff Sheppard’s 3’s off the curl against Stanford in the 98′ Final Four? That game seems to be forgotten by many.

  33. asdf
    8:16 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Still think Roger Harden’s half-courter to win at LSU should be on the list. It wasn’t in the tourney, but how many last second half-court shots to win the game for UK do we see?

  34. Snowball
    8:17 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Do these shots have to come in the NCAA tourney? If not, how about Brassow’s tip in to win the Maui?

  35. Facts
    8:30 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Not to harp on the small things but Brandon Knight’s OSU shot was not on a full court sprint. They were in a half court set dribbling some time off the clock before he went. Yes he shot it on a sprint but from the half court not a full court.

  36. schwing
    9:35 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    we need a top-20 list.

  37. greek chris
    11:00 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    The most important? Vernon Hatton’s shot was the first great shot witnessed by Kentucky hungry basketball fans, who managed to find someone who was fortunate to have a black and white TV, and before that only could listen to, many times, broken up radio games. Not arguably, that was the spark that spread the fire, and the beginning of the Big Blue Nation.

  38. 2020
    11:45 am May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Roger Harden is by far the most un-heralded star in the past 50 years for UK. His buzzer beater vs Alabama was live on ESPN with Dick Vitale, back when ESPN didn’t air 60 games a night.

  39. Jeff Brasso
    2:36 pm May 12, 2014 Permalink

    Are we to young to remember my tip in Maui, AWESOME

    • Huh?
      12:38 am May 13, 2014 Permalink

      Oops, see comment 40.

  40. Huh?
    12:37 am May 13, 2014 Permalink

    Did you forget how to spell your own last name?

  41. Jim Harris
    1:21 pm May 13, 2014 Permalink

    I remember Brassow’s shot very well. I jumped up and down yelling ’til my family begged me to hush!