In its epic hoops history, the University of Kentucky has had more than its share of shots made under the most excruciating pressure college basketball can offer. For the fun of it, I decided to pick the 25 greatest UK men's basketball clutch shots.
We're ranking buzzer-beaters and/or shots that directly provided the winning margin in games. We're evaluating shots both on difficulty and the magnitude of when they occurred (NCAA Tournament shots are given extra credit). Many of the most memorable late-game shots in UK's recent NCAA Tournament history came in contests the Cats ultimately lost. To my way of thinking, that does not detract from the "clutchness" of the shots.
Here is what we're not ranking: free throws. Some day we'll do another list with all-time clutch foul shots.
We're not ranking overall clutch performances, either. Jack Givens with his 41 points in the 1978 NCAA title game supplied the ultimate UK effort under tournament stress in my lifetime. Jeff Sheppard, who hit three pivotal three-pointers under Final Four pressure in the 1998 overtime victory against Stanford, delivered the best clutch performance by a UK player I've ever seen in person.
Neither game shows up on this list, however, because neither yielded that singular, late-game shot.
So rich is Kentucky's bounty of "clutch shots," I could put together a second list of 25 that didn't make the final cut that would be impressive. With those disclaimers, here is my list of the 25 greatest clutch shots in UK basketball history.
25. Jeff Brassow vs. Arizona, 1993 Maui Classic finals: Brassow's frantic tip-in milliseconds ahead of the buzzer gave Kentucky the Maui Classic championship and sent Rick Pitino on a hug-filled jaunt around the playing floor in celebration.
24. Cedric Jenkins vs. Louisville, 1987-88 regular season: With Louisville holding a one-point lead on No. 1-ranked Kentucky in Rupp Arena, UK guard Ed Davender tried a contested, 14-foot baseline jumper. It missed. The 6-foot-9 Jenkins got a tip, but it too missed. As the Rupp crowd held its breath, a second Jenkins tip fell through the basket with one second showing to give Kentucky a 76-75 win.
23. Rex Chapman vs. Tennessee, 1986-87 regular season: Capping a miracle rally from 10 down with 1:13 left in regulation, King Rex hit a running 12-footer over 6-foot-11 Doug Roth with three seconds left to send the game into overtime — where UK won.
22. Terry Mobley vs. Duke, 1963 Sugar Bowl Classic finals: Mobley, a 6-2 junior from Harrodsburg, hit a 15-footer with four seconds left to lift No. 2 UK past No. 8 Duke 81-79.
21. Joe Hagan vs. Marquette, 1937-38 regular season: Hagan rifled in a 48-foot shot to beat Marquette 35-33. Then-Kentucky Gov. Happy Chandler ran onto to the playing floor the second the game ended to pound a nail into the Alumni Gym floor to record the exact spot from which Hagan's heave was launched.
20. Kyle Macy vs. Kansas, 1978-79 regular season: UK seemed hopelessly beaten, down six with 31 seconds left. Then Dwight Anderson sparked a comeback. His steal set up Macy for a game-tying jumper with three seconds left. After the Jayhawks took a technical foul for calling a time out they didn't have, Macy rolled in the free throw to give the Cats a 67-66 win.
19. Walter McCarty vs. LSU, 1993-94 regular season. McCarty's three-point bomb from the deep corner with 19 seconds left capped UK's ridiculous comeback from 31 points down with 15:54 left in the game and put the Cats ahead for good in a game they won 99-95.
18. Jack Givens vs. Mississippi State, 1975-76 regular season. UK was down 84-77 with 1:23 left in what was to be its final regular-season game in historic Memorial Coliseum. Then the Cats rallied furiously. It all came down to Givens, who cashed a short jumper with eight seconds left to force overtime — where UK won.
17. Lou Tsioropoulos vs. LSU, 1952 SEC Tournament finals. Kentucky scored only three field goals in the entire second half against Bob Pettit and Co. But the final one, a Tsioropoulos layup with 1:41 left, made the Cats SEC tourney champions, 44-43.
16. DeMarcus Cousins vs. Mississippi State, 2010 SEC Tournament finals. With Kentucky down three with 8.2 seconds left in regulation, Eric Bledsoe hit a free throw, then missed the second on purpose. John Wall came up with the ball, but fired up an air ball from the right corner — which Big Cuz tipped in just ahead of the buzzer to force an overtime. UK went on to win 75-74.
15. Mike Phillips vs. Charlotte, 1976 NIT finals. The 6-10 Phillips tipped in a missed Larry Johnson free throw with nine seconds left to give UK an insurmountable three-point lead in what became Kentucky's second NIT title.
14. Kenny Walker vs. Auburn, 1984 SEC Tournament finals. Walker's 14-foot jumper from just right of the lane hit the front rim, turned over and dropped in just ahead of the buzzer to win the SEC tourney.
13. Kyle Macy vs. LSU, 1979-80 regular-season. The normally pressure-proof Macy missed two crucial free throws late in regulation, but was still the hero after draining an 18-foot jumper with one second in overtime to give Kentucky both a 76-74 win and the outright 1980 SEC regular-season title.
12. Brandon Knight vs. Princeton, 2011 NCAA Tournament round of 64. The UK freshman point guard had not made a field goal in the entire game — until with two seconds left he drove around 6-8 Kareem Maddox for a layup that gave Kentucky a 59-57 upset-denying victory over No. 13-seed Princeton.
11. Tayshaun Prince vs. St. Bonaventure, 2000 NCAA Tournament round of 64. With UK down three and on the verge of a first-round upset, Prince came off a double screen and knocked down a three-pointer with seven seconds left to force overtime. The Cats prevailed in double OT.
10. Scott Padgett vs. Kansas, 1999 NCAA Tournament round of 32. UK seniors Padgett and Wayne Turner scored 35 of the Cats' final 38 points, and Padgett hit the game's biggest shot. He nailed a step-back, three-pointer with 17.9 seconds left to force OT — where UK won 92-88.
9. Jim Master vs. Louisville, 1983, NCAA Tournament round of eight. In the massively hyped original Dream Game, Master, a 6-4 junior guard, hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer to force overtime. Alas, U of L blitzed the Cats in the extra period and won 80-68.
8. Shelby Linville vs. Illinois, 1951, NCAA Tournament semifinals. After Cats standouts Bill Spivey and Cliff Hagan fouled out, Linville, a 6-5 junior, scored UK's final six points. The last two came on a layup with 12 seconds left that allowed the Cats to escape 76-74.
7. Brandon Knight vs. Ohio State, 2011 NCAA Tournament round of 16. Knight's pull-up jumper over Aaron Craft with 5.4 seconds left gave UK a 62-60 victory over the NCAA tourney's No. 1 overall seed.
6. Patrick Sparks vs. Michigan State, 2005 NCAA Tournament round of eight. With UK down three as time ran out, Sparks retrieved a long rebound. Just before the final horn sounded, Sparks let fly with a three-pointer. The shot bounced off the rim, caromed off the backboard, hung on the left side of the rim — and finally dropped in to force overtime. Ultimately, UK lost to the Men of Izzo in double OT.
5. Scott Padgett vs. Duke, 1998 NCAA Tournament round of eight. Six years after Christian Laettner, Padgett gave Kentucky vengeance when he drained a trey from the top of the key with 39.4 seconds remaining. The shot gave UK — which had trailed by 17 with under 10 minutes left in the game — the lead for good in what became an 86-84 win.
4. Vernon Hatton vs. Temple, 1957-58, regular season. Hatton's 47-foot set shot with one second left in overtime tied Temple and forced a second OT. It may still be the most famous shot in UK basketball history. For good measure, the 6-4 guard scored UK's final six points in the third OT in an 85-83 Cats win.
3. Vernon Hatton vs. Temple, 1958 NCAA Tournament semifinals. The stakes were higher when Hatton hit a layup with 17 seconds to go that provided Kentucky a 61-60 Final Four victory over the very same Temple Owls.
2. Anthony Epps vs. Arizona, 1997 NCAA title game. Epps sent an NCAA finals into overtime with a contested, double-clutch three-pointer with 12.1 seconds left. Alas, his shot proved for naught when the "other" Wildcats prevailed in the OT.
1. Sean Woods vs. Duke, 1992 NCAA Tournament round of eight. Woods' 12-foot, running bank shot over Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner put UK ahead 103-102 with 2.1 seconds left in OT. Laettner trumped it with a buzzer-beater and Duke 104, Kentucky 103 stands for the ages. Still, given the magnitude of the game and degree of difficulty on Woods' shot, his runner deserves to be remembered as the greatest clutch shot in Kentucky's regal basketball history.