UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky’s most recent trips to Kansas awfully memorable

Kentucky vs. Kansas: Calipari nostalgic as Cats prepare for 'a war'

John Calipari excited to revisit his basketball coaching roots as No. 20 UK takes on the No. 4 Jayhawks in Lawrence on Saturday.
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John Calipari excited to revisit his basketball coaching roots as No. 20 UK takes on the No. 4 Jayhawks in Lawrence on Saturday.

It’s a good time to know that John Calipari’s most lopsided defeat as Kentucky coach came on Feb. 16, 2013: an 88-58 loss at Tennessee.

Good time to know because Kentucky plays at Kansas on Saturday. The last two times the Cats played in Lawrence, their coach suffered his most lopsided defeat leading a UK team.

On Jan. 7, 2006, Kansas beat Tubby Smith-led Kentucky 73-46. UK did not have an assist until six minutes into the second half. Ouch.

But that game was relatively encouraging compared to what happened in 1989-90

On Dec. 9, 1989, Kansas beat Kentucky 150-95. That was not only the most lopsided defeat suffered by Rick Pitino, who was in his fifth game as UK coach. It was the worst defeat suffered by any UK coach dating back to an 87-17 setback against Centre on Jan. 28, 1910.

“Worst butt-kicking ever,” Deron Feldhaus said without fear of contradiction.

For Feldhaus, who would go on to become one of UK’s beloved “Unforgettables,” he most vividly remembered halftime. Kentucky trailed 80-61.

“If I remember correctly, it was a pretty entertaining halftime,” Feldhaus said, his chuckle suggesting he had no trouble recalling the scene. “I think (Pitino) kicked out all the coaches and managers. Water coolers were turned over.”

When asked what made Pitino so mad, Feldhaus said, “I have no idea.”

If I remember correctly, it was a pretty entertaining halftime. I think (Rick Pitino) kicked out all the coaches and managers. Water coolers were turned over.

Deron Feldhaus, former Kentucky player

Then it got worse in the second half. Kentucky continued to press, which Pitino as a first-year coach wanted to established as the team’s signature style of play. Kansas, which was ranked No. 2 and destined to win its first 19 games, repeatedly and easily broke the press.

As Jayhawk after Jayhawk drove to the basket, it looked like a pregame layup line. “Exactly,” Feldhaus said. “Coach Pitino, I don’t know, he was being stubborn that game, I think.”

At his introductory news conference, Pitino stressed the need to establish a style based on full-court pressing and three-point shooting.

“We’re not going after close games,” he said. “I want to either win or lose by a great margin.”

Mission accomplished. No UK opponent before or since has scored so many points.

Feldhaus recalled Kentucky’s practice in Allen Fieldhouse the day before the game.

“Probably the hardest day-before practice ever . . . ,” he said while adding how fun it was to run and shoot in the workout. “I don’t know if the (Allen Fieldhouse) atmosphere, we got caught up in that. I just remember he wore us out the day before the game.”

Pitino’s style, which would bring memorable success and a national championship, was designed to wear down opponents.

“They definitely wore us down that game,” Feldhaus said. “That’s for sure. We thought we were in better shape than anybody. But in that game, that didn’t come into play at all.”

Jeff Gueldner, who played for Kansas, remembered the game as a “perfect storm” of converging factors. Kansas was at home. Kentucky was playing its first game on an opponent’s court. UK had no depth. Kansas started three seniors and two juniors. UK did not have the depth nor personnel to press and trap for 40 minutes.

“It was not like we caught lightning in a bottle that one game,” Gueldner said. “We were a good experienced team. And Kentucky was learning the ropes under a new coach. Everything was perfectly set up.”

Pitino and Kansas’ first-year coach, Roy Williams, parried the idea of the Jayhawks running up the score. Asked in the postgame news conference if Kansas ran up the score, Pitino snapped, “No comment.” Williams said UK continuing to press dictated that Kansas attack.

It was not like we caught lightning in a bottle that one game. We were a good experienced team. And Kentucky was learning the ropes under a new coach. Everything was perfectly set up.

Jeff Gueldner, former Kansas player

“When a team is coming at you,” Gueldner said, “you really have no choice but to continue to play.”

Five days later, Pitino said that Kansas had not run up the score.

The question reemerged in the run-up to the Kentucky-Kansas game the following season. Williams told reporters that Pitino had told him that star forward Mark Randall played too many minutes (28) in the 150-95 victory.

Williams then told reporters that UK’s leading scorer, Derrick Millar, played 32 minutes in a 111-75 blowout of Tennessee Tech three days before the 150-95 game.

Visibly miffed, Pitino said Williams was making “a lot of P.R. mistakes” by revealing details of the coach-to-coach conversation.

Of course, Kentucky exacted a measure of revenge by beating Kansas 88-71 the following season in Rupp Arena. Then, coincidentally or not, a Kentucky-Kansas series that featured games in 18 of the previous 22 seasons ended.

For Gueldner, the 150-95 victory is mostly ancient history. But it still plays on his mind occasionally.

“When I see us scoring a lot of points, I hope we don’t get to 150 points,” which remains a Kansas record, he said. “Stopping at 149 would be just fine with me. . . .

“When you get older, you start holding on to those little things that really don’t matter so much at the time.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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