UK Men's Basketball

Ten Years of Coach Cal: Ranking Kentucky’s 10 best shots

Ranking the top 10 shots by UK players during the John Calipari era

The Herald-Leader Sports staff ranked the top 10 best shots by Kentucky men's basketball players.
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The Herald-Leader Sports staff ranked the top 10 best shots by Kentucky men's basketball players.

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Ten Years of Coach Cal

John Calipari’s first 10 years as head coach at the University of Kentucky were jam packed with memories. As Coach Cal embarks on his second decade under a newly signed “lifetime contract,” the Herald-Leader Sports staff voted on and ranked the biggest moments, best players, toughest losses, top recruits and more from the past 10 years and created this 12-part series.

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Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of 12 stories ranking the most memorable moments, teams and players of John Calipari’s 10 years as University of Kentucky head coach. Rankings were compiled through voting conducted by members of the Herald-Leader Sports staff. Watch for a new story every day between today and July 27.

Surely, the first basketball skill every aspiring player wants to master is shooting. It is elemental to the sport. Besides being the sole method of scoring, the ball going through the hoop is the surefire way to generate a response from fans, and make a lasting memory. It can be a form of immortality. No player is immune, from the superstar to the walk-on at the end of the bench who serves as a human victory cigar (no matter where the latter touches the ball, the fans will yell “Shoooot!”).

Ranking the top 10 shots of the John Calipari era at Kentucky:

1. Aaron Harrison versus Wisconsin, 2014 Final Four. After taking a pass from twin brother Andrew Harrison, he made a three-pointer from deep on the left wing with 5.7 seconds left to give UK a 74-73 victory in the national semifinals. It was his only three-point shot of the game. In more ways than one, this brought to mind the adage that good things come in threes (see Nos. 2 and 4).

2. Aaron Harrison versus Michigan, 2014 Elite Eight. Harrison made a three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left to give UK a 75-72 victory over Michigan in an Elite Eight game and a berth in the Final Four. Absent a block, Michigan’s Caris LeVert could not have contested the shot from the left wing any better.

3. Brandon Knight versus Ohio State, 2011 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. Knight’s pull-up jumper over Aaron Craft with five seconds left gave UK a 62-60 victory. Craft, who contested the shot well (see Caris LeVert in No. 2), blamed himself. “I let him go right, and that’s on me,” he said after the game. “He hit a game-winner during the tournament against Princeton going right (see No. 6), and that was my fault.” Knight made only three of 10 shots in the game.

4. Aaron Harrison versus Louisville, 2014 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. Harrison made a three-pointer from deep in the left corner with 39 seconds left to put UK ahead for good in what became a 74-69 victory. In his unlikely-to-be-duplicated streak of clutch shots in three straight NCAA Tournament games, Harrison made only 10 of 29 shots in those games. But he made up in quality what he lacked in quantity.

5. DeMarcus Cousins versus Mississippi State, 2010 SEC Tournament finals. With UK trailing by three points with 8.2 seconds left in regulation, Eric Bledsoe made the first of two free throws, then intentionally missed the second. John Wall got the loose ball rebound, then shot an air ball from the right corner. Cousins tipped in the miss at the buzzer to force overtime. UK ultimately won 75-74.

6. Brandon Knight versus Princeton, first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Knight had missed his first seven shots. But with two seconds left, he drove around 6-foot-8 Kareem Maddox for a layup that gave UK a 59-57 victory.

7. Malik Monk versus North Carolina, Dec. 17, 2016. Monk punctuated a 47-point performance in which he made 18 of 28 shots with an exclamation point. He made the last of his eight three-point baskets (in 12 attempts) in the final seconds to give UK a 103-100 victory. “I said, Drive the ball! Drive the ball!’” Calipari said after the game. “And he shot a three, and it went in. So, I said, ‘Great shot, kid. Way to shoot the ball.’”

8. John Wall versus Miami (Ohio), Nov. 16, 2009. As freshman debuts go, Wall’s would be hard to beat. Heightening the drama, Calipari’s first marquee recruit did not play until the season’s second game because of an NCAA ruling on his eligibility. The wait was worth it. With the score tied, Wall raced down the court in the final six seconds and hit a pull-up 15-footer to win the game 72-70.

9. James Young versus Wichita State, second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. By making the winning shot, Young became the decider in a game bursting with heroes. Wichita State was unbeaten and the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. Kentucky was — cover your eyes — the eighth seed. Young made a go-ahead jumper with 90 seconds left as UK held on to win 78-76.

10. Keldon Johnson versus Seton Hall, Dec. 8, 2018. Myles Powell’s pull-up jumper with 1.1 seconds left in the second half put Seton Hall ahead 70-67. After the clock was re-set to 1.5 seconds, Johnson took a guarded inbound pass from PJ Washington and heaved a shot from mid-court. It went in to send the game to overtime. Unforgettable shot! And never mind the devilish detail of Seton Hall winning 84-83.

Other shots receiving votes included James Young’s dunk through traffic in the national championship loss to UConn in 2014, Tyler Herro’s three-pointer with 25.8 seconds left that gave UK a lead against Houston in the 2019 Midwest Region semifinal and Julius Randle’s game-winning put-back against LSU in the 2013-14 season.

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About this series

A vote by the Herald-Leader Sports staff has generated lists of the biggest shots, the top individual performances and the best players of the Calipari era, along with the toughest losses and the biggest disappointments. We also ranked each of Calipari’s 10 teams, re-visited some of his biggest recruiting hits and misses and recalled the most indelible Cal memories of the past decade.

We hope you’ll have as much fun tapping into your Big Blue memories as we did compiling these lists as you read them in the coming days on Kentucky.com and in the Herald-Leader.

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