UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: Putting 38-1 in perspective before turning the page

For Kentucky basketball fans, October means three things: Big Blue Madness, the start of preseason practice and the Blue-White Game. But before we dive into the possibilities for this coming season, let's reflect one final time on the 2014-15 season.

Of course, Kentucky experienced unprecedented success (a fourth Final Four in five years, 38 straight victories to start the season) and dispiriting misfortune (Alex Poythress tearing an anterior cruciate ligament, losing to Wisconsin in the national semifinals).

With that in mind, here's an attempt to put last season in perspective.

Where 2014-15 ranks among UK seasons that saw:

■ The national championship not, as radio play-by-play man Tom Leach might say, "come home to Kentucky!!!!?"

1. 1965-66. Rupp's Runts. Hollywood made a movie about the championship game loss to Texas Western. UK unwittingly played the heavy in a morality tale about the idiocy of racism. No other defeat burns so deeply into the soul of Kentucky basketball.

2. 1983-84. UK aimed to be considered "the greatest team ever assembled." But the Cats fell apart against Georgetown in a Final Four semifinal. The phrase "three of 33" (what UK shot in the second half) entered the Wildcat lexicon.

3. 2014-15. A loss to Wisconsin contained the classic elements of a what-might-have-been defeat: a bad call and failure in the clutch.

4. 1974-75. Another case of being on the wrong side of history. UK lost to UCLA in John Wooden's final game, which happened to be for the 1975 championship.

5. 1996-97. UK could overcome Derek Anderson's major knee injury, but not Nazr Mohammed's 0-for-6 free-throw shooting in an overtime loss to Arizona in the championship game.

6. 2013-14. UK rose like a phoenix after a late-season loss at South Carolina. UK added the improbable to the unlikely by making an NCAA Tournament run in which Aaron Harrison made winning shots in three straight games. But Connecticut's smaller, quicker guards outplayed UK's backcourt in the Final Four. Down four with 58 seconds left, UK chose not to foul in order to stop the clock and extend the game. Huh?

Comment: The loss to Wisconsin was disappointing, but weren't UK fans (and Coach John Calipari) saying before Selection Sunday that they'd interpret Wisconsin in the same region with Kentucky as a conspiracy by the NCAA to thwart UK? So while a sad punctuation to a memorable season, the loss to Wisconsin shouldn't have been all that surprising.

■ An opponent inflict lasting pain in a non-Final Four game?

1. 1982-83. To simply see basketball's version of cold warriors, Kentucky and Louisville, on the same court (in Knoxville, of all places) was like seeing Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz apply for a marriage license in Rowan County. Louisville's overtime victory denied UK a trip to the Final Four.

2. 1991-92. Christian Laettner didn't miss a shot in the East Region finals, and as countless replays hammer home, he never will miss a shot in the East Region finals.

3. 1985-86. After beating LSU three times earlier in the season, UK lost to LSU in the Southeast Region finals. Two days earlier, UK had beaten Alabama in the semifinals to improve its record against SEC teams to 21-1.

4. 2009-10. Like this past season, Kentucky expected to win the championship. But the Cats missed their first 20 three-point shots en route to 4-for-32 inaccuracy and lost to West Virginia in the East Region finals.

5. 1976-77. Kentucky had lost only two games since mid-December before losing to North Carolina in the East Region finals. Because of Dean Smith's Four Corners delay, UK felt tricked rather than honorably beaten.

6. 1981-82. Perhaps, UK was looking ahead to an NCAA Tournament game against Louisville when it lost a first-rounder to Middle Tennessee. Oh, the indignity.

Comment: With the king-sized exception of the Poythress injury, Kentucky had a pain-free 2014-15 season prior to the Final Four.

■ Big Blue hearts filled with joy?

1. 1977-78. Guided by Joe B. Hall, Kentucky proved it could still be Kentucky without Adolph Rupp as coach. UK did so by winning the national championship, its first in 20 years.

2. 1989-90. (Rick) Pitino's Bombinos won 14 games and lost 14 games. Seldom has a .500 record so effectively masked abundant joy. UK fans expected desolation in the wake of NCAA penalties and the Sports Illustrated Kentucky's Shame headline. Instead, perhaps for the first and only time, UK fans thrilled to great effort without even a trace of expectation or entitlement dulling the exhilaration.

3. 1974-75. Kentucky avenged a humiliating 24-point loss in Bloomington by ruining Indiana's quest for an unbeaten season. UK's 92-90 victory was the only game Bob Knight's Indiana teams lost in a two-year period.

4. 1997-98. Not only did Kentucky avenge the loss to Laettner, the Cats rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat Duke in the South Region finals.

5. 2011-12. Two years earlier, Calipari wondered aloud if his signature reliance on one-and-done players might be fatally flawed deep in an NCAA Tournament when playing a more experienced team (Wisconsin in 2015?). The 2012 championship proved the Calipari way could win a championship.

6. 1986-87. Eddie Sutton probably didn't mean to insult Louisville when he called UK the Big Brother in the rivalry and U of L the Little Brother. But it came across that way. Then-freshman Rex Chapman led Big Brother, er, UK to an 85-51 victory at Louisville. Condescension never felt so good.

Comment: Kentucky, which is supposed to be several cuts above your ordinary college basketball dynasty, looked the part last season in humiliating Kansas and UCLA in stunning fashion. UK will likely win several more national championships before it again embarrasses blue blood programs so totally.

■ High-caliber competition intersects with high drama?

1. 1991-92 and 1997-98. Kentucky and Duke automatically make for top-shelf competition. That was especially true when the teams played in the 1992 and 1998 NCAA tournaments. Simply put, those games are the standard.

2. 1982-83. The UK-Louisville NCAA Tournament game in 1983 could be (should be?) atop this category. The teams hadn't played in 24 years. U of L agitated for a series. UK resisted. The game lived up to its unparalleled hype and made a regular-season series mandatory.

3. 1994-95. If Laettner's shot capped the greatest game in college basketball history, the 1995 SEC Tournament finals between Kentucky and Arkansas was UK's most stirring league game of the last 30 years. The most vivid memory: Rodrick Rhodes, who everyone knew wanted so badly to be a hero, standing alone at the free throw line in the Georgia Dome with the score tied in the final seconds of regulation. He missed two free throws, and was so overwrought that Pitino kept him on the bench in overtime.

4. 2013-14. Kentucky ruined Wichita State's quest for an unbeaten season in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Both teams played to a championship level. UK happened to score two more points.

5. 1993-94. Both Kentucky and LSU played awe-inspiring basketball. Just not at the same time. LSU rolled to a 31-point lead with 15 minutes remaining. Then UK, which had lost its last two games (to Arkansas and at Syracuse), rode three-point shooting to a 99-95 victory. Hence, the Mardi Gras Miracle.

6. 1991-92. Arkan-came, Arkan-saw, Arkan-conquered. In its first SEC season, Arkansas made a statement by winning at Kentucky. Reflecting Coach Nolan Richardson's fearlessness, the Hogs announced they would not defer to UK.

Comment: No UK opponent last season played as well as Notre Dame. The Irish outplayed Kentucky for much of the Midwest Region finals. But not by much. When Notre Dame slowed the pace late in the game, its crisp execution wilted. When the Irish refused to put a second defender on Karl-Anthony Towns, UK eased ahead. Still, the Cats needed Jerian Grant to miss at the buzzer to advance to the Final Four.

Conclusion: The 2014-15 season is a hard — but not impossible — act to follow. Besides, having practically a brand new team every season makes it easier to scroll to the next page.

'Pretty scary'

UK freshman Skal Labissiere will always remember Jan. 12, 2010. That's the day an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale killed more than 200,000 people on Haiti.

The earthquake leveled his house, trapping Labissiere in the rubble.

"It was a pretty scary moment," he said. "It changed our lives forever."

Labissiere, his mother and a younger brother were trapped for about three hours. Once freed by his father and two others, Labissiere could not walk for a few weeks.

"I couldn't walk because I was stuck in the same position for so long," he said. "I couldn't walk for two or three weeks. Then, I was still limping after that."

From that experience Labissiere took a lesson.

"I'm very thankful for life," he said. "And I understand life can be taken away from me at any moment."

Home for sale

In case you missed it, the Los Angeles Times reported last month that former Kentucky player Chris Mills wants to sell his home in Tarzana, Calif. His asking price is $4.499 million.

As reported by Neal J. Leitereg, Mills' home is on about three-quarters of an acre. The property has a Mediterranean-style main house, a two-bedroom guest house, swimming pool and spa. The pool area includes a built-in barbecue and wet bar.

Two garages and a wide motorcade with a fountain can accommodate as many as 18 vehicles.

The main house was built in 2003. Mills bought the house in 2005 for $2.425 million. It has a library, a ballroom and a game room with a slate pool table.

There are five bedrooms and six bathrooms.

The master suite features such lavish details as a large soaking tub, frameless showers and canyon views. There are five bedrooms and six bathrooms in all.

Mills, 45, played one season for Kentucky. He transferred to Arizona. A first-round pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors. He averaged 11.2 ppg and 4.6 rpg for his pro career.

Happy birthday

To Sean Sutton. He turns 47 on Sunday. ... To Rex Chapman. He turns 48 on Monday. ... To Adrian "Odie" Smith. He turns 79 on Monday. ... To Junior Braddy. He turns 44 on Sunday. ... To Preston LeMaster. He turns 32 on Monday. ... To Sheray Thomas. He turns 31 on Sunday. ... To Kevin Stallings. The Vanderbilt coach turned 55 on Thursday. ... To Mickie DeMoss. The former UK women's coach turned 60 on Saturday. ... To Jeff Lebo. The former North Carolina guard and Auburn coach turns 49 on Monday.

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