Mark Story

Ten Years of Coach Cal: Ranking the 10 most thrilling wins

The 10 most thrilling wins of the John Calipari era at Kentucky

Photos from the 10 most thrilling wins of the John Calipari era at Kentucky as voted on by the Lexington Herald-Leader Sports staff.
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Photos from the 10 most thrilling wins of the John Calipari era at Kentucky as voted on by the Lexington Herald-Leader Sports staff.

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Ten Years of Coach Cal

John Calipari’s first 10 years as head coach at the University of Kentucky were jam packed with memories. As Coach Cal embarks on his second decade under a newly signed “lifetime contract,” the Herald-Leader Sports staff voted on and ranked the biggest moments, best players, toughest losses, top recruits and more from the past 10 years and created this 12-part series.

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Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of 12 stories ranking the most memorable moments, teams and players of John Calipari’s 10 years as University of Kentucky head coach. Rankings were compiled through voting conducted by members of the Herald-Leader Sports staff. Watch for a new story every day between today and July 27.

Kentucky’s unexpected run through the 2014 NCAA Tournament did not produce the ending Wildcats backers desired.

Yet even allowing for the disappointment of UK’s 60-54 loss to Connecticut in the national title game, the 2014 NCAA Tournament might have been the most exciting ride on which a Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team ever took the Big Blue Nation.

Fueled by an upset victory over undefeated Wichita State in an all-time classic, plus three last-minute Aaron Harrison game winners, the 2014 NCAA tourney alone supplied four of the 10 victories voted the most thrilling of the first 10 years of the John Calipari coaching era (2009-2019).

1. Kentucky 67, Kansas 59 (April 2, 2012) — Doron Lamb’s 22 points, Anthony Davis’ all-around brilliance (16 rebounds, six blocked shots, five assists, three steals) and a crucial late-game blocked shot from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gave John Calipari his sole national title to date before 70,913 fans in New Orleans.

2. Kentucky 78, Wichita State 76 (March 23, 2014)Wichita State was 35-0 and a legitimate threat to win the NCAA championship. After an underachieving regular season, Kentucky was 25-10. Yet “growing up” when it mattered most, UK 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 before 19,676 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

3. Kentucky 74, Wisconsin 73 (April 5, 2014) Kentucky freshman guard Aaron Harrison buried a contested three-pointer from the deep left wing with 5.7 seconds left — his third straight NCAA Tournament game winner — to send UK to the NCAA finals before 79,444 in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

4. No. 1 Kentucky 68, No. 8 Notre Dame 66 (March 28, 2015) — With its 37-0 record on the line, Kentucky trailed Notre Dame 59-53 with 6:14 left. UK rallied in front of 19,464 fans in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena and preserved its perfect season thanks to a crucial blocked shot by Willie Cauley-Stein and two game-deciding free throws from Andrew Harrison in the final seconds.

Kentucky players celebrated after defeating Notre Dame to remain undefeated and advance to the 2015 Final Four. Charles Bertram

5. Kentucky 62, Ohio State 60 (March 25, 2011)Brandon Knight’s pull-up jumper over Aaron Craft with 5.4 seconds left allowed UK to oust the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in front of 18,343 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

6. Kentucky 73, North Carolina 72 (Dec. 3, 2011) Kentucky freshman big man Anthony Davis blocked North Carolina forward John Henson’s 10-foot jumper with around five seconds left in the game to secure a UK victory before 24,398 in Rupp Arena.

Kentucky’s Anthony Davis blocked a last-second shot attempt by North Carolina’s John Henson to preserve top-ranked UK’s 73-72 win over North Carolina in Rupp Arena in 2011. 2011

7. Kentucky 69, Louisville 61 (March 31, 2012)In the first Final Four meeting ever between UK and U of L, Anthony Davis had 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots as the Wildcats ended a Cinderella Final Four run for their intrastate rival in front of 73,361 at the Superdome in New Orleans.

8. Kentucky 75, Michigan 72 (March 30, 2014)Aaron Harrison sent Kentucky to the Final Four by draining a contested trey from the deep left wing to break a 72-72 tie with 2.3 seconds left before 35,551 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

9. Kentucky 74, Louisville 69 (March 28, 2014) — In the second UK vs. U of L NCAA Tournament game in three seasons, Aaron Harrison buried a three-pointer from the left corner with 39 seconds left that put UK ahead to stay before 41,072 in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

10. Kentucky 103, North Carolina 100 (Dec. 17, 2016) — In a scintillating display of high-tempo basketball, Malik Monk scored a UK freshman record 47 points and hit the go-ahead three-point shot with 16.7 seconds left to beat UNC before 19,298 in the T-Mobile Center in Las Vegas.

Other wins receiving votes: Kentucky 75, Mississippi State 74 (OT), 2010 SEC Tournament finals; Kentucky 76, North Carolina 69, 2011 NCAA Tournament East Region finals; Kentucky 93, West Virginia 76, 2017-18 regular season; Kentucky 72, Kansas 40, 2014-15 regular season; Kentucky 83, UCLA 44, 2014-15 regular season; Kentucky 85, UCLA 75, 2017 NCAA Tournament round of 16; Kentucky 78, West Virginia 39, 2015 NCAA Tournament round of 16; Kentucky 86, Tennessee 69, 2018-19 regular season; Kentucky 59, Princeton 57, 2011 NCAA Tournament round of 64.


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.