Mark Story

Ranking the 50 greatest UK basketball wins of all time: Nos. 50-41

Kentucky freshman Malik Monk, with ball, sliced through the North Carolina defense for two of his 47 points in Kentucky’s 103-100 win over North Carolina in the 2016-17 CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas.
Kentucky freshman Malik Monk, with ball, sliced through the North Carolina defense for two of his 47 points in Kentucky’s 103-100 win over North Carolina in the 2016-17 CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

The University of Kentucky has won 2,263 men’s basketball games in its regal hoops history, 126 of them in the NCAA Tournament alone.

So trying to pick the “50 Greatest Kentucky Men’s Basketball Wins of All Time” is a fool’s errand. There have literally been hundreds of exceptional UK men’s hoops victories.

Still, for both the fun and the challenge of it, I set out this summer to pick UK’s 50 greatest men’s hoops wins.

What qualifies as a “great win?”

Obviously, Kentucky’s eight victories in NCAA championship games are the most significant wins in school history. If we were using “great” only as a measure of the magnitude of games won, this list would be the 50 UK victories that occurred deepest in the NCAA Tournament.

Instead, what I tried to do is rank the games that, as stand-alone entities, were the most compelling. That is why there are only four NCAA title games on my list of the 50 greatest UK wins.

Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox talk about Kentucky's win over North Carolina on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Any list such as this is subjective. My list of the 50 greatest Kentucky victories is filled by games that featured:

1. Both teams playing at an unusually high level;

2. High-scoring, up-tempo basketball;

3. Dramatic comebacks;

4.. Unexpected victories;

5. Unique historical import;

6. Significant wins over rivals;

7. Victories against teams with iconic star players.

On the countdown of the 50 Greatest Kentucky Men’s Basketball Wins of All Time, here are the games that rank Nos. 50-41:

50

The game: Kentucky 91, Tennessee 84 (OT), 1986-87 regular season

The plot: Kentucky was down 10 points to Don DeVoe’s Volunteers with 1:13 left in Rupp Arena when the Wildcats unleashed a ferocious rally. Rex Chapman hit a running 12-footer over 6-foot-11 UT center Doug Roth with three seconds left to force overtime —where UK won before 23,002 fans.

Why the game is ranked: One of the all-time miracle comebacks in Kentucky basketball history.

Kentucky coach: Eddie Sutton

49

The game: No. 5 Kentucky 103, No. 2 Maryland 91, 1998-99 regular season

The plot: In a scintillating, up-and-down matchup that had a Rupp Arena crowd of 24,321 rocking, UK seniors Heshimu Evans (31 points), Scott Padgett (25) and Wayne Turner (17) and freshman Tayshaun Prince (13) outdueled Maryland’s Terence Morris (26), Steve Francis (25) and Obinna Ekezie (19).

Heshimu vs Maryland.JPG
Kentucky’s Heshimu Evans drove past Maryland’s Steve Francis during No. 5 UK’s 103-91 victory over No. 2 Maryland in Rupp Arena in 1998-99. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Why the game is ranked: One of the most entertaining games ever played in Rupp Arena.

Kentucky coach: Tubby Smith

48

The game: Kentucky 72, No. 3 Tennessee 66, 2007-08 regular season

The plot: Patrick Patterson (20 points), Ramel Bradley (16) and Perry Stevenson (14) helped UK stun Bruce Pearl’s Volunteers and ruin the final appearance in Rupp Arena of Tennessee star and Kentucky high school legend Chris Lofton (22 points).

Bruce Pearl in Rupp in orange sportcoat.JPG
Kentucky’s 72-66 win over Bruce Pearl and No. 3 Tennessee in Rupp Arena in 2007-08 is, by ranking, one of the biggest upsets in UK basketball history. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Why the game is ranked: One of the biggest upsets, by ranking, in Kentucky basketball history.

Kentucky coach: Billy Gillispie

47

The game: Kentucky 35, Marquette 33, 1937-38 regular season

The plot: Joe Hagan electrified an Alumni Gym crowd of 4,000 by rifling in a 48-foot shot to beat Marquette. Then-Kentucky governor A.B. “Happy” Chandler sprinted onto the playing court at the final buzzer and drove a nail into the floor to mark the spot from which “Hagan’s heave” was launched.

Why the game is ranked: One of the most dramatic UK game-winning shots ever.

Kentucky coach: Adolph Rupp

46

The game: No. 6 Kentucky 82, Louisville 62, 2001-02 regular season

The plot: A Rupp Arena crowd of 24,330 was calling for vengeance when former UK Coach Rick Pitino returned to Lexington for the first time as head coach of the Cardinals. Tayshaun Prince (18 points) and Keith Bogans (17) led a dismantling of Pitino’s overmatched team.

UK fans for Pitino’s first game in Rupp as U of L coach.JPG
Kentucky fans released a lot of pent-up anger toward ex-Wildcats coach Rick Pitino during UK’s 82-62 victory over Louisville in 2001-02 in what was Pitino’s first trip to Rupp Arena as U of L head man. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Why the game is ranked: A game that allowed Kentucky fans to release pent up anger over Pitino returning to the commonwealth at UK’s archrival.

Kentucky coach: Tubby Smith

45

The game: Kentucky 94, Mississippi State 93 (OT), 1975-76 regular season

The plot: The final UK regular season game ever in venerable Memorial Coliseum seemed headed for a crushing letdown. Kentucky trailed Mississippi State 84-77 with 1:23 left in regulation. Lifted by a crowd of 12,200, the Cats fiercely rallied and, with eight seconds left, Jack Givens buried a short jumper to force overtime — where UK won.

Why the game is ranked: A stunning UK rally to pull out a game that, for reasons of sentiment, Kentucky fans desperately wanted the Cats to win.

Kentucky coach: Joe B. Hall

44

The game: No. 6 Kentucky 99, No. 8 Indiana 65, 1996-97 regular season

The plot: Before 20,074 fans in Freedom Hall, UK’s Derek Anderson (30 points) and Ron Mercer (26) led a Kentucky full-court blitz that annihilated Bobby Knight’s Hoosiers.

Knight and Pitino.JPG
Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino, right, shook hands with Indiana Coach Bobby Knight before the Wildcats pulverized the Hoosiers 99-65 in Freedom Hall in 1996-97. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Why the game is ranked: A devastating Kentucky display of up-tempo basketball against a top 10-ranked rival.

Kentucky coach: Rick Pitino

43

The game: No. 17 Kentucky 106, Austin Peay 100, (OT), 1973 NCAA Tournament round of 16

The plot: In UK’s first NCAA Tournament game without Adolph Rupp as its coach, senior center Jim Andrews scored 30 points, but it was senior reserve Larry Stamper who tallied the final six points in overtime as the Wildcats outlasted Austin Peay and its charismatic star, James “Fly” Williams (26 points), before 15,581 fans in Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym.

Why the game is ranked: Joe B. Hall’s first NCAA tourney win came in a frenetic-paced thriller.

Kentucky coach: Joe B. Hall

42

The game: No. 2 Kentucky 121, LSU 105, 1969-70 regular season

The plot: Dan Issel scored 51 points, Mike Pratt 27 and Tom Parker 18 as UK outgunned LSU star “Pistol Pete” Maravich’s 64-point performance before 9,000 fans in the John Parker Memorial Coliseum.

Why the game is ranked: The ultimate shootout between all-time SEC greats Maravich and Issel.

Kentucky coach: Adolph Rupp

41

The game: No. 6 Kentucky 103, No. 7 North Carolina 100, 2016-17 regular season

The plot: Kentucky freshmen Malik Monk (47 points) and De’Aaron Fox (24 points, 10 assists) lit up the Las Vegas Strip as the Wildcats won a run-and-gun affair over Roy Williams’ Tar Heels before 19,298 in T-Mobile Arena.

Why the game is ranked: The most entertaining game of Kentucky basketball’s one-and-done era.

Kentucky coach: John Calipari

Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox talk about Kentucky's win over North Carolina on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Coming next

Games Nos. 40-31.

Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

Rupp Arena celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Even as the arena works to re-invent itself for the modern sports age, take a look back at a remarkable run. Documentary footage from "Game Changer: The Lexington Center Story" courtesy Arthur

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