Top 10 Kentucky 'payback' games of all time

mstory@herald-leader.comMarch 22, 2012 

For Kentucky, it was bad enough to lose to Indiana on a last-second dagger by Christian Watford on Dec. 10.

Then there were the months of reliving it thanks to ESPN's constant running of a commercial built around Watford's buzzer-beater.

All of which is why Friday night's UK-IU NCAA Tournament round of 16 matchup has become a "revenge game" for many in the commonwealth.

UK men's hoops history is filled with "payback victories." For fun, here is my list of the top 10 Kentucky "revenge games" from the Joe B. Hall era (when my firsthand memory of Kentucky hoops begins) till now.

10. Kansas, 1990-91 regular season

How the Big Blue was angered: With only eight scholarship players, Rick Pitino's first Kentucky team in 1989-90 went to Lawrence and pressed the entire game. Roy Williams' Jayhawks continually sliced and diced the outmanned Cats to the tune of an astounding 150-95 defeat. 150-95! That day, Kansas guard Kevin Pritchard predicted UK would "be after blood (the next season)."

The Big Blue payback: When Kansas entered Rupp Arena, a fan held a sign proclaiming Judgment Day Is Here! Kentucky point guard Sean Woods rendered the verdict, hitting the Jayhawks for 25 points, eight assists and six rebounds and the Cats won going away, 88-71.

9. LSU, 1980-81 regular-season finale

How the Big Blue was angered: LSU beat Kentucky 81-67 earlier in Baton Rouge. But Dale Brown and Co.'s real offense against Kentucky sensibilities is that they were one victory from finishing an undefeated SEC regular season.

The Big Blue payback: In a roaring Rupp Arena, Sam Bowie blocked Howard Carter's potential game-tying jump shot to preserve a 73-71 Cats victory.

8. Arkansas, 1993 SEC Tournament semifinals

How the Big Blue was angered: When Nolan Richardson and Arkansas joined the SEC for the 1991-92 basketball season, the Hogs had the effrontery to win their first two games against UK.

The Big Blue payback: Kentucky made its final 16 free throws and held off a second-half Arkansas charge to win 92-81.

7. LSU, 1989-90 regular season

How the Big Blue was angered: LSU beat Rick Pitino's first Kentucky team 94-81 in Baton Rouge. Pitino and Tigers Coach Dale Brown had to be separated after almost coming to blows in a confrontation late in the first half. Brown raised the temperature more by accusing Pitino of staging the confrontation as a motivational ploy.

The Big Blue payback: Pitino's eight scholarship players, none taller than 6-foot-7, outlasted an LSU that featured Shaquille O'Neal, fellow 7-footer Stanley Roberts and the guard formerly known as Chris Jackson, 100-95.

6. Massachusetts, 1996 Final Four

How the Big Blue was angered: UK entered the 1995-96 season with a stacked roster and dreams of an unbeaten season. UMass and Marcus Camby put the latter to bed in the second game of the season with 32 points in a 92-82 Minutemen win.

The Big Blue payback: When the teams met again in the Final Four, UK "held" Camby to 25. Kentucky's vast depth mattered after UK leading scorer Tony Delk (20 points) cramped; his backup, Jeff Sheppard, came on and scored seven crucial points to help the No. 2 Cats over No. 1 UMass 81-74.

5. West Virginia, 2011 NCAA Tournament

How the Big Blue was angered: By a stunning 73-66 WVU upset of Kentucky in the 2010 East Region finals.

The Big Blue payback: Kentucky scored the first 11 points of the second half to wipe out an eight-point West Virginia halftime lead. UK freshman Brandon Knight scored 30 points, Josh Harrellson had 15 points and eight rebounds and DeAndre Liggins shut down Cat-killer Joe Mazzulla — the hero of WVU's 2010 upset — in the second half to spark a 71-63 victory.

4. Louisville, 2001-02 regular season

How the Big Blue was angered: Rick Pitino, the head coach at Kentucky for the modern golden age of UK basketball, took the head-coaching job at Louisville.

The Big Blue payback: In a super-charged Rupp Arena, Tubby Smith, Tayshaun Prince and Co. hung an 82-62 pasting on the 'Turn-Cat.'

3. Louisville, 1983-84 season opener

How the Big Blue was angered: In the first Kentucky-Louisville men's basketball game since 1959, U of L blitzed UK in overtime to score an 80-68 win in the NCAA tourney Mideast Region finals.

The Big Blue payback: After post-Dream Game political pressure forced a yearly series between UK and U of L, the Cards came to Rupp Arena to open the following season. With Sam Bowie returning to the Kentucky lineup for the first time in two years after a series of leg injuries, the Cats obliterated the Cards 65-44.

2. Duke, 1998 NCAA Tournament

How the Big Blue was angered: In the 1992 NCAA Tournament East Region finals. Christian Laettner 1.) stomped on the chest of prone Kentucky player Aminu Timberlake, but was not ejected; 2.) broke the hearts of UK's beloved Unforgettables with a buzzer-beating jumper that gave Duke a 104-103 overtime victory over Kentucky.

The Big Blue payback: Down 17 to Duke inside the last 10 minutes of the South Region finals, Wayne Turner, Scott Padgett, Jeff Sheppard and Co. unleashed a furious rally that ended with Kentucky slaying the ghost of Laettner with an 86-84 win.

1. Indiana, 1975 NCAA Tournament

How the Big Blue was angered: In an early-season 1974-75 meeting, Indiana obliterated Kentucky 98-74 in Bloomington. To add insult to injury, IU Coach Bob Knight slapped Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall in the back of the head in what was either a playful gesture (Knight's version) or a bullying show of no respect (Hall's version).

The Big Blue payback: Behind the hot shooting of Kentucky guards Mike Flynn and Jimmy Dan Conner, UK defeated Knight and the previously unbeaten Hoosiers 92-90 for what is, even now, arguably the sweetest win in school history.

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