Of the 12 NCAA championship games in which Kentucky has played, the most significant was the 1975 meeting with UCLA.
Reverse the outcome of that one game, a 92-85 UCLA victory in what was John Wooden's final outing as Bruins head man, and UCLA would have 10 national titles and Kentucky nine. John Calipari's impressive 2014-15 Cats would be poised to catch the Bruins in all-time titles won.
Instead, the championship count stands at UCLA 11, Kentucky eight.
On the week when basketball bluebloods UCLA and Kentucky will face each other in Chicago at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, consider that, 1975 notwithstanding, a realistic act of historical revision shows a haunting case of the "what might have beens" for UK basketball backers.
Were it not for two severe injuries and three games of horrible Wildcats foul shooting, UK already might have caught UCLA in NCAA championships.
1.) Mike Casey's car wreck. Adolph Rupp's last realistic chance at the fifth NCAA title the old coach so craved ended in the middle of the summer — July 30, 1969, to be exact.
On that day, Casey, Kentucky's star guard, was in a car wreck that left him with a badly mangled left leg. It meant that Casey, a 20.1 ppg scorer as a sophomore, did not get to play his senior year with classmates Dan Issel and Mike Pratt in 1969-70.
With a big three of Issel, Pratt and Casey, UK probably would have been favored over UCLA — which had lost dominant center Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to the pros and did not yet have Bill Walton — for the 1970 national title.
"Yesterday, we had a brilliant chance of going all the way," Rupp told the Lexington Herald on the night of Casey's wreck. "Tonight, it's not looking all that good."
Without Casey, Issel, Pratt and Co. were upset by Artis Gilmore and Jacksonville in the NCAA round of eight. Rather than the Cats claiming their fifth crown, UCLA and Wooden added their sixth.
2.) Derek Anderson's torn ACL. From 1996-98, Kentucky came achingly close to an NCAA championship "three-peat."
Rick Pitino's dominant 1996 Cats cut down the nets, as did Tubby Smith's 1998 "Comeback Cats."
The middle team, Pitino's final Kentucky squad, might well have won it all too if not for the torn ACL suffered by Anderson in a January game with Auburn. With a healthy Anderson (17.7 ppg) to go with fellow wing Ron Mercer, Kentucky appeared destined to win it all again.
After Anderson got hurt, UK managed to claw its way back to the NCAA title game.
During the 1997 NCAA tourney, Pitino told reporters that Anderson's knee was "fine." But rather than imperil the player's NBA future by risking reinjury, Pitino held the swingman from Louisville out of action. It was probably the coach's best moment as Kentucky head man.
Without Anderson in the championship game, UK lost a gut wrencher to Arizona in overtime.
The free-throw shooting
1.) Arizona, 1997 NCAA finals. Kentucky might have won the 1997 title game minus its best player — if it could have made foul shots. As a team, the Cats went 9-for-17. Sophomore center Nazr Mohammed, a 50.6 percent foul shooter in 1996-97, went 0-for-6.
After the game, addressing his team, Pitino deflected blame from Mohammed by telling him, "'You haven't hit free throws all year; what made you think you were going to hit them tonight?'"
2.) Connecticut, 2011 NCAA semifinals. The Final Four meeting between UK and UConn was the de facto national title game. Had Kentucky won, I think it would have done exactly what Connecticut did, beat Butler decisively for the championship two nights later.
Instead, UK shot 4-for-12 from the foul line and lost 55-54.
3.) Connecticut, 2014 NCAA finals. With its ninth national title within grasp, Kentucky was done in again by the Huskies — and foul shooting.
While UConn went 10-for-10 from the line, the Wildcats were 13-for-24 and were beaten 60-54.
Foul shooting is a vital part of NCAA Tournament games. So, too, is luck.
With a little more of each, UK, not UCLA, could be the school in Saturday's game with the most NCAA titles.