Mark Story: Forget Duke; UConn is the school bringing the pain for UK fans

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 10, 2014 

Connecticut's Niels Giffey yelled as time ran out on the Cats in Monday's national title game in Texas. The Huskies' 60-54 win was the third time since 2006 that UConn has turned back UK in the tournament, the latest two the most painful.

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When Sports Illustrated commissioned a scientific survey of sports fans in Kentucky back in 2003, it found that the "most hated opponents" in the commonwealth were Duke (26 percent) and Tennessee (20 percent). If someone were to conduct a similar poll in 2014, an unexpected name should be on the top of that list.

For the sizable majority of the commonwealth's sports followers who swear allegiance to the basketball team(s) of the University of Kentucky, no one in recent years — not Duke, not Louisville, not North Carolina, certainly not Tennessee — has been responsible for more heartache than the Connecticut Huskies.

In men's basketball, Connecticut just flat has Kentucky's number.

Three times since 2006, UConn and UK have met in NCAA Tournament matchups. Three times, Connecticut has won.

In 2006, in a round of 32 matchup, Jim Calhoun's Huskies vanquished Tubby Smith's Wildcats 87-83. Given that UConn was a No. 1 seed and UK a No. 8 seed that finished with 13 losses, that particular defeat was neither surprising nor especially painful.

However, the two most recent UConn vanquishings of UK in the NCAA tourney have cut to the core.

A national semifinals matchup between John Calipari's Cats and Calhoun and Connecticut in 2011 ended in a 56-55 victory for the Huskies.

Had Kentucky prevailed, I believe it would have proceeded to do exactly what UConn did in the 2011 national title game, which is beat Butler. So the 2011 loss to Connecticut arguably cost UK an NCAA title.

There's no argument about Monday night's 60-54 national championship game loss to Connecticut and second-year head man Kevin Ollie: It definitely kept the Wildcats from cutting down the nets.

Were it not for UConn, it's possible Kentucky would now have 10 men's basketball NCAA championships and be breathing down the neck of UCLA's 11 all-time titles. If not for Connecticut, it's possible Calipari would have won three national championships in his five years as Kentucky coach and be in the midst of an epic coaching run.

The pain UConn has doled out to Kentucky basketball has not been exclusive to men's hoops, either.

In both the 2012 and 2013 women's NCAA Tournaments, Matthew Mitchell and UK Hoops stood one victory from Kentucky's first-ever trip to a Final Four.

Not once, but twice, Geno Auriemma and his Connecticut women's hoops dynasty put the smack-down on UK's Final Four hopes, winning 80-65 in the 2012 region finals and embarrassing Kentucky 83-53 in the '13 Elite Eight.

In women's college basketball, where the depth of talent and therefore the parity is not as great as in the men's game, the UConn juggernaut puts beat-downs on lots of teams' dreams. Still, one school denying you your first-ever Final Four trip two different times, well, that stings.

Even though a good chunk of Connecticut's hoops success seems to be coming at Kentucky's expense, we should step back and give the Huskies their historical due.

In NCAA basketball tournament championship games, the University of Connecticut is now a staggering 13-0 — men 4-0 and women 9-0.

With Auriemma and the UConn women completing an undefeated season with Tuesday night's 79-58 plastering of previously unbeaten Notre Dame, Connecticut's nine women's championships exceed the eight claimed by the legendary Pat Summitt during her reign at Tennessee.

The Connecticut men did not win their first national championship until 1999. Yet now with four titles, UConn has won as many men's NCAA championships as traditional hoops royalty Duke — and has won one more than longtime powers Kansas and Louisville (three each).

Sports "hate" is often a visceral thing. Connecticut has not stomped on the chest of a Kentucky player, cuffed a UK coach on the back of the head or played Rocky Top 78 billion times while beating Kentucky in football a humiliating 26 years in a row.

Still, if someone calls you this summer, Kentucky fan, conducting a survey of which sports team you most hate, think about this:

If you want to pick the school that has done the most damage to UK basketball in the 21st century, you won't say Louisville, Duke, Florida, Tennessee or any of the Wildcats' traditional rivals.

You will say Connecticut.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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