Sports

Final countdown is complete

The 25 most memorable University of Kentucky basketball games since 1983-84 started with Cedric Jenkins' last-second tip-in to avert a Louisville upset in Rupp Arena of a No. 1-ranked Kentucky in 1987.

My countdown ended with Christian Laettner breaking the hearts of the Unforgettables in the epic 1992 NCAA Tournament game with Duke.

We did this countdown — as well as our earlier listing of the 25 most memorable UK football games since 1983 — to promote the Blasts From The Past section of Kentucky Sports.com. There, you can read for free all Herald-Leader game stories since the 1983 football season and the '83-84 men's basketball season.

Below, in one place, is my complete list of the 25 most memorable men's hoops games with a bonus: the five games that just missed making the list.

No. 25. UK 76, Louisville 75Dec. 12, 1987; Rupp Arena

Leading 75-74, Louisville was on the verge of a stunning road upset of No. 1 and unbeaten UK. As the final seconds ticked off, Kentucky's Ed Davender tried an off-balance, contested 14-footer. It missed. As the Rupp crowd held its breath, the 6-foot-9 Jenkins tipped the ball once, then again and got it in the basket with one second left to save the Cats' skins.

No. 24. Gardner-Webb 84, UK 68Nov. 7, 2007; Rupp Arena

In Billy Gillispie's second game as UK coach, Gardner-Webb — a North Carolina school with an enrollment of some 4,000 that used to be a junior college — scored the most shocking upset of Kentucky in the history of Rupp Arena.

No. 23. UK 74, Houston 67Jan. 22, 1984; Rupp Arena

Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin, Kenny Walker for Kentucky. Akeem Olajuwon (he had not yet added the 'H' to his first name), Michael Young and Ricky Winslow for Houston. There probably has never been a more formidable collection of athletic big men on the Rupp court in one game.

No. 22. Louisville 65, UK 56Dec. 27, 2003; Rupp Arena

Kentucky was undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country. After Rick Pitino's 83-65 stomping of his old school the season before, the Rupp crowd was thirsting for payback. Instead, getting unexpected big games from reserves Otis George and Larry O'Bannon, U of L and Pitino hung another painful loss on UK.

No. 21. UK 60, Louisville 58Dec. 18, 2004; Freedom Hall

With Rick Pitino and U of L going for their third straight win over Tubby Smith and UK, the Cards rolled to a 16-point lead at halftime. In the second half, Patrick Sparks (25 points) led a dramatic Kentucky rally. With UK down one and 0:00.6 showing on the clock, the guard from Muhlenberg County went to the foul line and coolly drained three free throws to give UK one of its sweetest wins ever.

No. 20. Kansas 150, UK 95Dec. 9, 1989Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kan.

With only eight scholarship players, Rick Pitino's NCAA-probation-riddled first UK team was at a massive talent disadvantage against Roy Williams and Kansas. The Jayhawks kept slicing through Pitino's full-court press for layup after layup, yet Pitino would not call off the press. The result is still a jaw-dropper almost 20 years later: Regal Kentucky giving up 150 points and losing by 55.

No. 19. UK 51,Auburn 49March 10, 1984Memorial Gym,Nashville(SEC finals)

With the score tied, Kenny Walker's buzzer beating 14-foot jumper hit the front of the rim, turned over and went in the bucket. It gave UK its first SEC tourney championship in the modern era of the event. It left Auburn star Charles Barkley sitting on the gym floor sobbing.

No. 18. UK 70,Florida 55Feb. 4, 2003;Rupp Arena

Billy Donovan's Gators came to Lexington undefeated (14-0) and carrying the No. 1 ranking for this first time in school history. With a crowd so loud Rupp Arena literally shook, a suffocating Kentucky defense held Florida to six first-half baskets (on 30 shots), and Tubby Smith's Cats rolled to a 45-22 halftime lead.

No. 17. UK 79, North Carolina 59Dec. 8, 2001; Rupp Arena

With the hated pale blue in Rupp, Tayshaun Prince began the game in the ultimate shooter's zone. In the first 3:46 of the contest, the spindly UK forward hit one, two, three, four, five three-pointers in a row. It set a tone, and Prince scored 31 points as the Cats rolled the Heels.

No. 16. UK 85, Louisville 51Dec. 27, 1986; Freedom Hall

There might never have been a more intense Kentucky-Louisville recruiting battle than the one waged over Rex Chapman. Even though he grew up rooting for U of L, the Owensboro product cast his lot with UK. The first time Chapman played against the Cards, he dropped a 26-point tour de force on Louisville and sparked a Kentucky mauling of the defending national champions.

No. 15. UK 90, Tennessee 72Jan. 13, 2009; Thompson-Boling Arena,Knoxville

One of the most revered individual records in Kentucky basketball history was Dan Issel's single-game scoring mark of 53 points set in 1970. On a Tuesday night in Knoxville, Jodie Meeks erased the mark from the UK record book. The 6-foot-4 guard drained 15 of 22 shots, hit a school-record 10 of 15 three-pointers and cashed all 14 of his foul-shot attempts on the way to a historic 54-point explosion.

No. 14 Michigan State 94, UK 88 (2OT)March 27, 2005Frank Erwin Arena, Austin, Texas(NCAA Austin Regional finals)

Patrick Sparks' around-and-around-the-rim three-pointer at the end of regulation capped a near-miracle Kentucky rally and got the Cats into overtime. UK quickly seized a four-point lead and had Michigan State on the verge of submitting.

Then Kentucky had a defensive possession in which it failed to get the rebound after four Michigan State misses. On the fifth try, MSU's Shannon Brown hit a trey. Just like that, the momentum changed, and UK and Tubby Smith lost a golden chance to go to the Final Four.

No. 13. UK 95,Arkansas 93 (OT)March 12, 1995Georgia Dome, Atlanta(SEC finals)

In the greatest of the 1990s duels between Rick Pitino's Kentucky and Nolan Richardson's Arkansas, the Cats trailed the defending national champions by 19 points in the first half, by 12 in the second half and by nine with 1:33 left in the OT. But they just kept rallying until they won when Anthony Epps cashed a pair of foul shots.

No. 12. Marquette 83, UK 69March 29, 2003; Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome,Minneapolis

(NCAA Minneapolis Regional finals)

Tubby Smith's best UK team (yes that includes the 1998 national champs) had won 26 games in a row and was the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tourney. One step from the Final Four, the Cats ran into Dwyane Wade on the exact day he became a basketball superstar. The Marquette guard compiled a triple-double, 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, to break UK's heart.

No. 11. UK 82, Louisville 62Dec. 29, 2001; Rupp Arena

Rick Pitino's first return to his Old Kentucky Home as "The Turncat," produced an electric Rupp atmosphere and some nasty signs in the crowd. Once the game started, Cliff Hawkins' cross-over dribble and layup provided the signature moment in a UK beat-down of its former coach.

No. 10. Michigan 81, UK 78 (OT)April 3, 1993Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans(NCAA Final Four)

In its first Final Four appearance in nine years, Kentucky had a four-point lead over Michigan's Fab Five in overtime; then Jamal Mashburn fouled out. Without its star, UK couldn't score, and Jalen Rose, Chris Webber and Co. survived.

No. 9. UK 81, Massachusetts 74March 30, 1996Continental Arena, East Rutherford, N.J. (NCAA Final Four)

In a game that many believed was 1996's de facto national title game, Kentucky was ranked No. 2 in the nation, while John Calipari and Massachusetts were No. 1. The matchup proved to be one of the most intensely fought college basketball games ever played. Avenging an early-season loss to Marcus Camby and crew, UK prevailed with — of all people — Mark Pope making the game's pivotal two late foul shots.

No. 8. Arizona 84, UK 79 (OT)March 31, 1997RCA Dome, Indianapolis(NCAA championship game)

With UK vying for a national-title repeat, Anthony Epps hit a double-clutch three-pointer to get the Cats into overtime. In the extra period, Arizona got ahead and stayed ahead by hitting 10 of 14 free throws. No one knew it then, but it was Rick Pitino's final game as Kentucky head coach.

No. 7. Kentucky 76, Syracuse 67April 1, 1996 Continental Arena, East Rutherford, N.J.

(NCAA Championship game)

Tony Delk hit seven three-pointers and scored 24 points, and freshman Ron Mercer came off the bench to score 20 to allow Rick Pitino to put the exclamation mark on his epic rebuilding job at UK by leading the school from probation to its first NCAA title in 18 years.

No. 6. Kentucky 78, Utah 69March 30, 1998

The Alamodome, San Antonio

(NCAA Championship game)

Cementing their place in UK lore, The Comeback Cats of Jeff Sheppard, Nazr Mohammed and Scott Padgett rallied from 10 down at halftime to make Tubby Smith the fourth UK coach to win an NCAA title.

No. 5. Georgetown 53, Kentucky 40March 31, 1984

The Kingdome, Seattle(NCAA Tournament Final Four)

Kentucky raced to a 29-22 halftime lead against Patrick Ewing and the fearsome Hoyas. The second half became a UK nightmare. The Cats of Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin, Dicky Beal and Co. shot a horrid 3-for-33 from the floor after halftime as Kentucky endured one of its more head-scratching setbacks ever.

No. 4. UK 100, LSU 95Feb. 15, 1990Rupp Arena

Somehow, Rick Pitino's ragtag first UK team — the same one that lost by 55 earlier in the season at Kansas — with eight scholarship players and no one taller than 6-foot-7 beat an LSU with Shaquille O'Neal, fellow 7-footer Stanley Roberts and the sweet-shooting guard formerly known as Chris Jackson.

No. 3. UK 99, LSU 95Feb. 15, 1994Pete Maravich Assembly Center,Baton Rouge, La.

LSU led Kentucky by 31 points — 31! — with 15:34 left in the game. Then UK unleashed a rally for the ages, capped when Walter McCar ty buried a three-pointer from the deep corner with 19 seconds left to give the Cats the lead for good. A 31-point, second-half surmounted deficit was the greatest road comeback victory in NCAA history.

No. 2 UK 86, Duke 84March 22, 1998Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.(NCAA South Regional Finals)

If the Big Blue Nation carried psychic scars from Christian Laettner and six years earlier — and it did — Tubby Smith's first UK team supplied the healing salve. Down 17 points with 9:38 left, Kentucky rallied behind the penetrating drives of point guard Wayne Turner. With the game tied at 81 and only 39.4 seconds left, Scott Padgett buried a trey from the top of the key that put the Cats ahead to stay for one of their most savored victories ever.

No. 1. Duke 104, UK 103 (OT)March 28, 1992The Spectrum, Philadelphia(NCAA East Regional finals)

Want the recipe for an all-time classic? Take a defending national champion (Duke). Add a massive second-half rally (Kentucky). Feature two teams continually one-upping each other under tournament pressure with one stellar clutch play after another.

Have an amazing Sean Woods running bank shot to give UK a one-point lead with 2.1 seconds left in the OT. Counter it with a full-court Grant Hill pass that leads to Christian Laett ner's buzzer beater in response.

Put it together, you'll have what many say is the greatest college basketball game ever played.

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