INDIANAPOLIS — It's not the wins you remember, it's the losses.
For a program with most college basketball victories, the losses are both rare and hard to forget. And when it comes to the agony of defeat, now a devastating third has joined the all-time list of heartbreaks.
On my misery index, there is 1966 when Rupp's Runts lost to Texas Western in the national title game. Close behind is the 1992 East Region loss to Duke in the "greatest game ever played," decided on the famous Christian Laettner shot, still playing on an infinite video loop near you.
Those two stand out not just for heartbreak but for the significance those losses have taken over time.
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Entering the chart at No. 3, however, is Kentucky's 71-64 loss to Wisconsin in Saturday night's national semifinal, not just because the cut is fresh but because of what was at stake.
To be sure, there have been other maddening March moments in Kentucky basketball history. In 1970, top-ranked UK lost to Jacksonville in a regional final when Vaughn Wedeking drew an off-the-ball charge that fouled out Kentucky's best player, Dan Issel.
There was 1977 when North Carolina utilized the infuriating Four Corners to beat UK in a regional final. There was the 1984 Final Four loss to Georgetown when Kentucky shot the infamous 3-for-33 in the second half.
There was the 1995 regional final loss to North Carolina when a dejected Rick Pitino shook Dean Smith's hand and proceeded directly to the dressing room.
There was Derek Anderson's injury on a 1997 team that lost the title in overtime to Arizona. There were regional losses when Marquette's Dwyane Wade produced a triple-double (2003) and when Kentucky missed 20 straight three-pointers against West Virginia (2010).
Yet the top three stand out for both emotion and expectations.
Rupp's Runts remain among the most beloved Kentucky basketball teams because it was unique among Kentucky basketball teams. It had no starter over 6-foot-5. It was a surprise. (Its predecessor finished 15-10.) It was wildly successful, carrying one loss into the national final against Texas Western, which started five African-Americans.
For Kentucky fans, the disappointment had little to do with the "Brown vs. Board of Education" scenario so much as badly wanting the objects of their affection to be among the Kentucky teams that cut down the nets.
The Duke loss was more about expectations. Before the game, no one expected UK to beat Duke in that East Region final. The Blue Devils were defending national champs led by Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley. Kentucky was three years removed from NCAA probation. To be 2.1 seconds away from improbability was giddy stuff.
Instead, the rug was pulled. Duke wasn't as much a heartbreaking defeat as the ultimate heartbreaking moment. The perfect inbounds pass from the unguarded Hill to the lightly-guarded Laettner, who shot his way into immortality.
That was what was so disappointing about Saturday's outcome, the missed opportunity at immortality.
College basketball's history is full of great teams. It is not full of perfect teams. No team has ever finished 40-0. The 1976 Indiana team was the last to be crowned undefeated champs. This was Kentucky's chance to make history.
And at some point 40-0 morphed from hope to expectation. After 38 straight victories, 39 and 40 become expected, regardless the odds.
When a 38-0 team has overcome an eight-point deficit to take a 60-56 lead with six minutes remaining only to suffer three consecutive shot clock violations, it makes the pill hard to swallow.
It was understandable that in Saturday night's postgame and Sunday via Twitter, John Calipari pushed the "(we) had a historic year" story line, but the short-term reality is much more painful.
Over time, the appreciation of this team will grow; but as for now, the toughest memory in sports is what could have been. When your heart is set on 40-0, then 38-1 without a title proves one is the loneliest number.
For now, the one is the one we'll remember.