Kentucky’s history at Madison Square Garden in New York goes back decades and includes some of the most interesting and important games in program history.
The Cats (7-1) will make their third trip to the Garden in the last three years on Saturday when they face Seton Hall at noon on Fox.
Kentucky has played dozens of games at two of the buildings bearing the Madison Square Garden name dating to 1943, winning its first national title there in 1948.
But after the point-shaving scandal of the early 1950s swept up a number of teams who had become regulars at the Garden, including Kentucky, UK stayed away from MSG until 1976 when it claimed its second NIT crown in the relatively new building.
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While there have certainly been forgettable matchups like last season’s rout of Monmouth at MSG, there have also been other games of real consequence.
March 26, 1946: Kentucky 46, Rhode Island 45. The National Invitation Tournament held more prestige than the NCAA Tournament at the time and this game is sometimes considered Adolph Rupp’s first “national title.” It is his only NIT win. Ralph Beard hit a free throw with 40 seconds left for the victory.
March 24, 1947: Utah 49, Kentucky 45. Back-to-back was not to be as Beard was held to two points in this NIT finals loss.
March 23, 1948: Kentucky 58, Baylor 42. Alex Groza and Ralph Beard scored 14 and 12 points, respectively, to a lead the Cats’ rout of the Bears and their first NCAA championship. UK became only the second team ever to win both the NIT and NCAA titles.
March 22, 1949: No. 1 Kentucky 76, No. 4 Illinois 47. The Cats had gotten stunned in the first round of the NIT, but quickly recovered to roll into the NCAA title game after this semifinals rout of Illinois. The Cats went on to win their second NCAA title the next week in Seattle.
March 24, 1951: No. 1 Kentucky 76, No. 5 Illinois 74. The Illini had the misfortune of facing Rupp’s Cats again in the Final Four, losing again at MSG. The Bill Spivey-led Cats went on to win their third NCAA title the next week in Minneapolis. Kentucky would be banned from play the next season in the wake of the point-shaving scandal and wouldn’t play at the Garden again for 25 years.
March 21, 1976: Kentucky 71, No. 17 UNC Charlotte 67. With three UK stars, including Jack Givens, in serious foul trouble, backup guard Reggie Warford scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half to help UK to its second NIT title. UK missed the 32-team NCAA Tournament field after enduring the loss of star forward Rick Robey to injury midway through the season, but it won nine straight games to end the year.
Nov. 10, 2000: No. 17 UCLA 97, No. 12 Kentucky 92 (OT). In Tubby Smith’s fourth season, the Cats got off to an 0-2 start after back-to-back upsets in the Garden that included a loss to St. John’s the night prior. UK got 25 points from Keith Bogans and 20 from Tayshaun Prince but allowed the Bruins to put five players in double figures as the Cats blew a second-half lead. This UK team eventually recovered to No. 9 in the rankings and made it to the NCAA Sweet 16.
Nov. 15, 2011: No. 2 Kentucky 75, No. 12 Kansas 65. In what would be a November preview the NCAA title game months later, UK showed its incredible talent by seeing six players reach double figures, led by Doron Lamb’s 17 points. Anthony Davis had seven blocks. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led the team with nine rebounds. It was a glorious time for Cats fans as they got a glimpse of what would become UK’s eighth national title team.