Mark Story

UK sports mailbag: Cats’ fans have their say on UK’s 50 greatest basketball wins ever

Jimmy Dan Conner, left, Jack Givens, and Kevin Grevey, front right, celebrated after Kentucky defeated No. 1-ranked and undefeated Indiana, 92-90, in the NCAA Mideast Regional championship game in Dayton, Ohio, on March 22, 1975.
Jimmy Dan Conner, left, Jack Givens, and Kevin Grevey, front right, celebrated after Kentucky defeated No. 1-ranked and undefeated Indiana, 92-90, in the NCAA Mideast Regional championship game in Dayton, Ohio, on March 22, 1975. Staff File Photo

Mark’s note: This week’s Kentucky Sports Mailbag consists exclusively of UK fans responding to my list of The 50 Greatest Kentucky  Men’s Basketball Wins of All Time which was revealed last week on and in the Lexington Herald-Leader:

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

Some agreed with my number one choice for Kentucky’s all-time greatest win:

Some didn’t:

Mark’s note: I was glad to find out that I am not the only person who still goes on YouTube and watches Kentucky rally from 17 down in the final 10 minutes of what became UK’s 86-84 win over Duke in the 1998 NCAA Tournament South Region finals just to marvel at the improbability of the outcome.

That was the first meeting between the Wildcats and Blue Devils since the 1992 NCAA tourney overtime classic between the two that ended in overtime with Christian Laettner’s dagger to the hearts of The Unforgettables.

For the 1997-98 Cats to rally from so far down so late in the game to beat a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team for a berth in the Final Four was an epic moment of catharsis for the Big Blue Nation.

That said, I still feel that UK’s 92-90 upset of No. 1-ranked Indiana in the 1975 NCAA tourney round of eight was a more compelling outcome for myriad reasons.

Indiana had humiliated Kentucky 98-74 earlier in the 1974-75 season.

During the second half of that December game, Bob Knight and Joe B. Hall almost came to blows after Knight cuffed Hall in the back of the head after the two head coaches had been engaged in an interaction with the game officials near mid-court.

At that time in the UK-IU rivalry, Indiana had “the whammy” on Kentucky, having beaten the Cats five in a row.

On top of all that, Indiana entered the game unbeaten at 31-0.

It was all that subtext that made UK’s upset of IU in the 1975 NCAA tourney, in my opinion, the signature moment in Kentucky basketball history.

Mark’s note: I’m pretty firm on the top 10 games I chose, especially the top nine. I feel like there is a strong objective case that those nine are the most compelling wins in UK history.

That said, there is a saying that “the present obscures the past,” and that phenomenon is certainly an issue when you are evaluating in 2018 the merits of wins accumulated by a basketball program that has been playing since 1903.

Your choice is either to rank only games you actually recall (which, for me, begins in the 1970-71 season) or try the best you can through research to make credible evaluations of all games, as imperfect as that will be.

The latter is the path we took.

Mark’s note: The “Fiddlin’ Five,” Kentucky’s 1958 NCAA title team, had games ranked No. 28, No. 24 and No. 6 in my countdown. So I think that team fared pretty well.

Mark’s note: One thing I learned in compiling this top 50 list (which pretty well took over my summer) is that a “great game” or “great win” is, to some degree, in the eye of the beholder. Everyone’s list will look different.

Mark’s note: Of all the responses I got, this was the only one that brought up a game I did not consider for the top 50 (I eventually had a listing of more than 200 UK wins under consideration that I whittled down).

Kentucky’s 88-71 win over Kansas in 1990-91 was a major “revenge game” after the Jayhawks had obliterated the Wildcats 150-95 in Lawrence the season before.

Even with the payback factor, it didn’t seem a “top 50-caliber” game to me.

From Email: “Really enjoyed your countdown of the 50 best wins in UK history. Only in my early 20s, there are many games on this list I wasn’t even alive for. However, growing up and watching Kentucky basketball with my father and seeing the passion this program instills contributed to my inspiration to follow in his footsteps and attend UK. This gave me the opportunity to attend the Wichita State game in 2014, as well as the Final Four that same year.

The 2014 NCAA Tournament showdown between Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker and Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein and James Young more than lived up to its pre-game billing.

“Thankfully I will be able to take those memories with me wherever I go. It is truly amazing to be a part of this Wildcat community. Hopefully we can add to this list in the coming years.”

Signed, A Twenty-Something Cats Fan

Mark’s note: One of the best things about “the experience” of UK basketball is that it provides an interest that cuts across generations. I was happy that sharing in the 50 greatest wins in UK basketball history furthered that effect for some.

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