Sports

Mark Story: More Elite Eight heartbreak for Cats

Fast-break points from the March Madness withdrawal clinic:

21. NCAA Tournament regional finals. Historically, have been the place where UK basketball dreams go to die. Kentucky men's teams have fallen one victory short of the Final Four a whopping 19 times, including four in a row.

So, Cat fan, which of these UK Elite Eight defeats caused you the most pain?

20. 1970: Issel's last chance. Senior Dan Issel fouled out on a controversial charging call and Kentucky's greatest player never got to play in a Final Four after Artis Gilmore and Jacksonville beat Adolph Rupp's team 106-100.

19. 1983: The Dream Game. Kentucky's first meeting with Louisville since 1959 saw UK open a big lead, lose it, force an overtime with a last-second Jim Master shot and then get blown out in the extra period, 80-68.

18. 1986: Fourth time not a charm. Led by Kenny Walker, Eddie Sutton's first Kentucky team (32-4) had a fantasy season until it was stunned 59-57 by an LSU squad the Cats had already beaten three times.

17. 1992: "Now, here's a long pass to Laettner." As gutty an effort as has ever been put forth by a Kentucky basketball team was foiled by Christian Laettner's buzzer-beating dagger that gave Duke a 104-103 overtime victory over Jamal Mashburn and the Unforgettables.

16. 2003: Wade's triple-double. Tubby Smith's best UK team had won 26 in a row until it had the misfortune to run into Marquette on the exact day Dwyane Wade (29 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) blew up into a full-scale superstar and the Golden Eagles stunned the Cats 83-69.

15. 2005: Why couldn't they get that rebound? Patrick Sparks' three-pointer forced overtime against Michigan State and UK quickly seized a four-point lead in the OT. But Kentucky had a defensive possession in which it failed to get the rebound after four straight MSU misses. Given a fifth try, State's Shannon Brown hit a trey that turned momentum and the Men of Izzo prevailed 94-88 in double OT.

14. 2010: 'Zoned out' by Huggy Bear. Kentucky and its roster of future NBA players were foiled by the 1-3-1 zone West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins utilized. With journeyman guard Joe Mazzulla stealing the show, the Mountaineers stunned UK 73-66.

13. Kentucky roster attrition. With at least five current Wildcats players said to be planning to turn pro early and given the roster purge there was at UK after the 2008-09 season, they might want to put in revolving doors when they build that Wildcat Coal Lodge.

12. Behind the scenes with the Cats. The March 29 edition of The Sporting News has a six-page spread of photos of the Wildcats from New Orleans during the first two rounds of the NCAA with commentary provided by John Calipari.

11. Parallel worlds. The UK men's and women's teams essentially lost the same game in their regional finals: Start out well, build early lead, see opponent switch to zone defense, not make outside shots and go down to defeat.

10. Victoria Dunlap. Having seen the reigning women's SEC Player of the Year against Michigan State and Oklahoma in the NCAA tourney, the Kentucky star is even better than I thought.

9. UK Hoops' 'rank success.' Counting the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the UK women have been playing as a team ranked in the AP Top 25 for nine straight weeks. To put that in perspective, Kentucky women's basketball teams were ranked for nine weeks combined in the decades of the 1990s (four weeks) and 2000-2009 (five).

8. Rick Pitino's contract extension. I don't sense among the Louisville fan base quite the enthusiasm for the coach's new pact that the U of L administration showed.

7. Elisha Justice. Kentucky's 2010 Sweet Sixteen MVP and Mr. Basketball is pledged to walk on at Louisville. It's his life, but I don't understand why a player as accomplished as the Shelby Valley star is not insisting on getting a scholarship from somebody.

6. Home-school champions. Remember the Bluegrass United Bluehawks, the Lexington home-school boys' basketball team I told you about on Jan. 29? They went 5-0 in the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championship in Springfield, Mo., last month to take the Division II national championship.

5. UTEP hires Tim Floyd. The same Tim Floyd who was head man at USC during the O.J. Mayo mess.

4. Houston hires James Dickey. The same James Dickey whose 1996 Texas Tech team vacated its NCAA Tournament participation because of an academic scandal at the school (Dickey was also a Kentucky assistant during the Eddie Sutton era).

3. Major-college presidents. I don't ever want to hear another one run on about the importance of clean athletics programs. When it comes to hiring coaches, presiding over a rules-compliant operation is the last thing the presidents affirm.

2. NCAA Tournament expansion. The word along the tourney trail is that a 96-team Big Dance is all but a done deal. It's being done in order to create additional TV "programming inventory" to allow the NCAA to earn more money by adding a cable network to its tourney coverage.

1. What the NCAA should do to gin up more cash. Is not mess up the best thing it does, the current NCAA basketball tourney format. Instead, it could and should start a Division I ...

... college football playoff.

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