Mark Story

Ranking the 50 greatest UK basketball wins of all time: Nos. 10-1

Top ten Kentucky men’s basketball wins

Countdown of University of Kentucky men's basketball team's best wins.
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Countdown of University of Kentucky men's basketball team's best wins.

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.

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 top 10:

10

The game: No. 1 Kentucky 69, No. 17 Louisville 61, 2012 NCAA Tournament Final Four

The plot: Kentucky freshman phenom Anthony Davis had 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots as UK ended a Cinderella Final Four run for its intrastate rival in front of 73,361 at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Why the game is ranked: The first Final Four meeting ever between Kentucky and Louisville was longer on intensity than artistry but, in terms of magnitude, you can’t get much bigger in the commonwealth.

Kentucky coach: John Calipari

9

The game: No. 3 Kentucky 95, No. 5 Arkansas 93 (OT) 1995 SEC Tournament championship game

The plot: Kentucky trailed by 19 points in the first half, by 12 inside the final eight minutes of regulation and by nine in overtime yet won. Freshman Antoine Walker had 23 points as the Cats defeated the defending NCAA champions before 30,067 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

1995 Cats celebrate Arkansas win.JPG
Kentucky’s Tony Delk, left, Anthony Epps, center, and Walter McCarty celebrated after the Wildcats rallied to beat defending NCAA champion Arkansas 95-93 in overtime to win the 1995 SEC Tournament in the Georgia Dome. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Why the game is ranked: One of the epic, stand-alone victories in Kentucky basketball history.

Kentucky coach: Rick Pitino

8

The game: No. 2 Kentucky 81, No. 1 Massachusetts 74, 1996 NCAA Tournament Final Four

The plot: Kentucky avenged an early-season loss to John Calipari, Marcus Camby and the Minutemen behind 20 points from Tony Delk and 14 from Antoine Walker in front of 19,229 at the Continental Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.

Calipari in 1996 Final Four vs UK.JPG
Massachusetts Coach John Calipari had a word with star Marcus Camby during the second half of Kentucky’s 81-74 win over the No. 1-ranked Minutemen in the 1996 Final Four. cbertram@herald-leader.com LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Why the game is ranked: It was a Final Four showdown between the two teams that had dominated college basketball all season.

Kentucky coach: Rick Pitino

7

The game: No. 1 Kentucky 94, No. 7 Duke 88, 1978 NCAA Tournament championship game

The plot: UK senior forward Jack Givens exploded for 41 points as UK earned its first NCAA title in 20 years before 18,271 fans at the Checkerdome in St. Louis.

Joe B. celebrates in 1978.JPG
Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall greeted fans as the 1978 NCAA champion Wildcats arrived at Blue Grass Field (now Airport) from St. Louis after beating Duke 94-88 in the national championship game. Ron Garrison rgarrison@herald-leader.com

Why the game is ranked: An all-time individual performance from a homegrown Kentucky star, Bryan Station’s Givens, on the biggest stage in college hoops.

Kentucky coach: Joe B. Hall

6

The game: Kentucky 85, Temple 83 (3OT), 1957-58 regular season

The plot: Kentucky senior guard Vernon Hatton denied Temple victory when he hit a 47-foot shot at the buzzer of the first overtime to extend the game. In the third OT, Hatton scored UK’s final six points as the Cats won before a Memorial Coliseum crowd of 12,300.

Why the game is ranked: Even 60 years later, this remains one of the games that looms largest in the lore of Kentucky basketball.

Kentucky coach: Adolph Rupp

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Kentucky guard Vernon Hatton put up a 47-foot shot with one second left in the first overtime to tie Temple, 71-71, as the Owls’ Guy Rodgers, left, was too late to block the shot. UK defeated Temple in triple overtime, 85-83, in Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 7, 1957. E. Martin Jessee Herald-Leader Archive Photo

5

The game: No. 11 Kentucky 99, LSU 95, 1993-94 regular season

The plot: The 11,253 fans in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center watched LSU build a 68-37 lead with 15:34 left. What happened next really was “The Mardi Gras Miracle.” Kentucky started hitting treys and stormed back behind Walter McCarty’s 23 points. A McCarty three-pointer from the deep left corner with 19 seconds left put the Cats ahead to stay.

Why the game is ranked: When you win a game in which you trailed by 31 in the second half, the magnitude of the accomplishment speaks for itself.

Kentucky coach: Rick Pitino

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Kentucky’s Deron Feldhaus was guarded by Louisiana State’s Shaquille O’Neal as UK beat LSU 100-95 in Rupp Arena on Feb. 15, 1990. David Perry Staff File Photo

4

The game: Kentucky 100, No. 12 LSU 95, 1989-90 regular season

The plot: LSU had Shaquille O’Neal, the hoops artist formerly known as Chris Jackson (now Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), and another future NBA center in Stanley Roberts. With a roster ravaged by NCAA sanctions, Kentucky had eight scholarship players, none taller than 6-foot-7, and no business being within 20 points of LSU.

Yet behind 29 points from Derrick Miller and 24 from Deron Feldhaus, Kentucky produced magic and somehow won before 24,301 in Rupp Arena.

Why the game is ranked: The most inexplicable Kentucky basketball win ever. And, almost three decades later, still my all-time favorite UK game.

Kentucky coach: Rick Pitino

3

The game: Kentucky 78, No. 2 Wichita State 76, 2014 NCAA Tournament round of 32

The plot: Wichita State was 35-0, ranked No. 2 in the AP poll and a legitimate threat to win the NCAA championship. After an underachieving regular season, Kentucky was 25-10.

Before 19,676 at the ScottradeCenter in St. Louis, the Shockers shot 55.1 percent (27-of-49), hit 10 of 21 three-pointers and got huge games from stars Cleanthony Early (31 points) and Ron Baker (20) — and lost.

“Growing up” when it mattered most, Kentucky freshmen Andrew Harrison (20 points), Aaron Harrison (19), Julius Randle (13 and 10 rebounds) and James Young (13, the go-ahead trey inside the 1:30 mark) shocked the Shockers.

Why the game is ranked: In terms of two teams both playing at a high level, it’s the best NCAA Tournament game I’ve ever seen in person.

Kentucky coach: John Calipari

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Scott Padgett celebrated after making a three-pointer that gave Kentucky the lead for good in an 86-84 victory over Duke in the NCAA Tournament South Region finals in St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 23, 1998. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

2

The game: No. 5 Kentucky 86, No. 3 Duke 84, 1998 NCAA Tournament round of eight

The plot: Down 71-54 with 9:38 left in the game, Kentucky uncorked an NCAA Tournament rally for the ages behind the relentless penetration of junior point guard Wayne Turner (16 points, eight assists) and clutch three-point shooting from Heshimu Evans, Allen Edwards, Cameron Mills and Scott Padgett.

Why the game is ranked: In the first Kentucky-Duke meeting since Christian Laettner broke the hearts of The Unforgettables in the 1992 NCAA tourney, the 1998 Cats delivered an emphatic response to the Blue Devils on behalf of the Big Blue Nation.

Kentucky coach: Tubby Smith

1

The game: No. 5 Kentucky 92, No. 1 Indiana 90, 1975 NCAA Tournament round of eight

The plot: Indiana was 31-0 and had obliterated Kentucky 98-74 in a December meeting remembered for Hoosiers Coach Bobby Knight slapping UK head man Joe B. Hall in the back of the head in a gesture that was A.) playful (Knight’s version); B.) disrespectful (Hall’s).

With the Final Four at stake, Kentucky senior guards Mike Flynn (22 points) and Jimmy Dan Conner (17, five rebounds) came up huge to lead the Cats to sweet payback.

Why the game is ranked: In one win, Kentucky avenged an embarrassing prior defeat to an archrival. It spoiled the bid for a perfect season by a coach UK fans loathed. The Cats also earned a trip to the Final Four.

It’s going to be hard for any future Kentucky victory ever to top that.

Kentucky coach: Joe B. Hall

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Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall was carried off the floor after UK beat Indiana 92-90 in the 1975 NCAA Tournament Mideast Regional finals in Dayton, Ohio. The UK players, from the left were: Danny Hall, Rick Robey, Jimmy Dan Conner, Marion Haskins, Mike Phillips and Mike Flynn. E. Martin Jessee Staff File Photo

Previously

View games 50-41, 40-31, 30-21 and 20-11 on Kentucky.com.

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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