At last, game day. After a week’s worth of hype and unparalleled buildup, Kentucky’s Final Four matchup is finally upon us. Before we get to tip, let’s look at some of the great Final Four moments in UK history, as well as the individual tournament performances which stand out above the others.
Four outstanding individual Final Four performances
- In 1978, Jack “Goose” Givens exploded on the Duke Blue Devils in the national title game, netting 41 points (18-of-27 field goals) and snaring eight rebounds, as the pride of Bryan Station High School led the Cats to a 94-88 victory in the Checker Dome in St. Louis.
- In the 1949 title game, Alex Groza, one of the truly iconic UK basketball figures, scored 25 of UK’s 46 points as the Cats won their second straight national championship over Oklahoma A&M 46-36. Magnifying Groza’s accomplishment: No other Cat scored more than five points in the contest.
- In the 1958 NCAA title tilt, UK All-American Johnny Cox, a Hazard, Ky. native, scored 24 points as the Cats beat Seattle and its All-America center Elgin Baylor, 84-72. Cox, who also had 16 rebounds, aided mightily in helping UK control the boards against the dangerous big man Baylor.
- In the national semifinals in 1998, Final Four MVP Jeff Sheppard helped propel the Comeback Cats from a 10-point second-half deficit, netting 27 points on the strength of 4-of-8 3-point shooting, as UK defeated Stanford 86-85 in overtime. Sheppard also grabbed six rebounds and recorded four assists, nicely rounding out his stat line.
Four memorable UK Final Four games
- Kentucky won the first of its seven national championships in March 1948. It was the Fabulous Five — Ralph Beard, Groza, Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones, Kenny Rollins and Cliff Barker — who brought the hardware home first, with their 58-42 romp over Baylor in old Madison Square Garden in front of 16,174 basketball fans. The win was the team’s 36th (against three losses), a record the 2012 team tied with its victory over Baylor on Sunday.
- In the 1975 national semifinal game against No. 6 Syracuse, the Wildcats put together a total team effort as five Cats scored in double-figures led by freshman Jack Givens and his 24 points. The other four Cats in double digits included Givens’ fellow frosh Mike Phillips with 10, while upperclassmen Kevin Grevey scored 14, Jimmy Dan Conner 12 and Mike Flynn 11 points.
- In College Park, Md. in the 1966 national semifinal, No. 1 Kentucky advanced past No. 2 Duke, coached by Vic Bubas, 83-79. Both squads made 32 field goals, but the Cats connected on 19 free throws to the Blue Devils’ 15. Rupp’s Runts were led in scoring by All-America Louie Dampier, who made 11 of 20 from the field, good for 23 points. Fellow All-American Pat Riley accounted for 19 points, and guard Tommy Kron grabbed a game-high 10 boards.
- The 1958 national semifinal contest between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 5 Temple ended in an eerily similar manner to UK’s win over the Owls three months earlier. UK All-American Vernon Hatton, a graduate of Lafayette High School, sent Temple home with a loss after making a 47-foot shot as time expired giving Kentucky the win in a December matchup. In the two schools’ Final Four battle, Hatton broke free on a screen from teammate Ed Beck and drove the lane for the game-winning layup with 16 seconds remaining, as UK won 61-60. The Fiddlin’ Five, one of Adolph Rupp’s all-time favorite teams, went on to give The Baron his third NCAA championship in 10 years.
Wildcat NCAA Tournament quick facts
John Calipari is 36-13 in NCAA tourney games (73.5 percent) … Coach Cal has played in a title game (’08), three Final Fours, eight Elite Eights and 10 Sweet 16s … The Cats are 17-7 in the Final Four, the second-most Final Four wins in college basketball … Kentucky is 5-2 in NCAA tourney games played in New Orleans … UK is 7-2 all-time in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Let’s play ball: Cats anxious to finally hit the floor