Yet as Luke Maye’s Sunday buzzer beater that sent North Carolina to the Final Four and ended Kentucky’s season reminded us, UK and its fans have endured a heaping share of March Madness heartbreak, too.
With Sunday’s 75-73 loss to North Carolina, UK has now lost more round-of-eight games (18) than it has won (17). Many of the most painful defeats in Kentucky basketball history have come in regional finals.
Here are the 10 Kentucky defeats in the Elite Eight that stung the most:
10. 2010. “Zoned out” by Huggins. Kentucky and its NBA-ready roster of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson were flummoxed by the 1-3-1 zone West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins employed. With UK shooting a horrid 4-for-32 on three-point tries, the Cats were upset by WVU 73-66.
9. 2005. Why couldn’t they get the rebound? With Michigan State up three, UK’s Patrick Sparks rimmed in a three-point shot at the end of regulation to force overtime. Kentucky opened a four-point lead in OT, then had a defensive possession in which it failed to rebound four straight MSU misses. Given a fifth try, Michigan State’s Shannon Brown buried a momentum-turning trey, and the Spartans won 94-88 in double overtime.
8. 1968. ‘Buzzer beaten’ at home. Led by sophomore stars Dan Issel, Mike Casey and Mike Pratt, Kentucky had a path to the Final Four that didn’t leave Lexington. However, Ohio State’s Dave Sorenson spoiled the Cats’ party by hitting a 6-footer with three seconds left to send the Buckeyes to the national semifinals with an 82-81 win in Memorial Coliseum.
7. 1977. Four corners. Facing Dean Smith and North Carolina in the pre-shot clock era, Joe B. Hall’s Wildcats did the one thing you couldn't do: They got behind. That allowed Carolina to employ its famous Four Corners delay game, with guards Phil Ford and John Kuester putting the ball in the deep freeze. Kentucky had to foul. The Tar Heels cashed in 33 of 36 free throws and won 79-72.
6. 2017. “Maye day.” North Carolina prevailed Sunday after a game of ebbs and flows thanks to Luke Maye’s jumper with 0.3 seconds left. The over-the-top reaction to the loss by some UK fans — directing inappropriate wrath at one of the game officials — is an indicator of how much this one hurt.
5. 2003. Meet Dwyane Wade. Tubby Smith’s best UK team had won 26 games in a row heading into a regional final showdown with Marquette. Unfortunately for the Cats, Kentucky encountered the Golden Eagles on the exact day Dwyane Wade became a superstar (29 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) as Marquette spanked the Cats 83-69.
4. 1986. Fourth time not a charm. Fronted by senior star Kenny Walker, Eddie Sutton’s first UK team had lost only three times (with 32 wins) heading into a round-of-eight matchup with conference foe LSU. Though the Cats had already beaten Dale Brown’s Tigers three times, LSU got the one that mattered, 59-57.
3. 1970. Issel’s last stand. There’s never been a more beloved Kentucky basketball player than Dan Issel, so as his senior year wound down, you can imagine how much UK fans yearned for him to make his first Final Four trip. Instead, Issel fouled out of the region final against Artis Gilmore and Jacksonville on a controversial charging call midway through the second half. UK went on to lose 106-100.
2. 1983. The Dream Game. Kentucky’s first meeting with Louisville since the 1959 NCAA Tournament was hyped relentlessly. UK opened a big lead, lost it all, then saw Jim Master hit a buzzer-beating jumper to force overtime. In the OT, U of L savaged the Cats for an 80-68 victory.
1. 1992. Laettner. After a major cheating scandal and a harsh NCAA probation, Kentucky — featuring four beloved seniors who had stuck with the Wildcats through the hard times — was on the verge of returning to the Final Four in its first year back in the NCAA tourney. Then Christian Laettner took a long pass from Grant Hill, spun, and ... you know the rest of the story.
NCAA Final Four
6:09 p.m.: South Carolina (26-10) vs. Gonzaga (36-1)
8:49 p.m.: North Carolina (31-7) vs. Oregon (33-5)
9 p.m.: Championship game