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The Kentucky Wildcats, who Saturday advanced in the NCAA Tournament via their 71-63 victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers, have a long and illustrious Big Dance history. Well-chronicled are the ‘Cats seven NCAA titles, and 13 Final Four appearances, but illustrating UK’s consistent excellence even more are the program’s 16 Sweet 16’s since the tournament field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Although the Final Four is where everyone wants to be — from fans, to coaches, to players — consistently making the Sweet 16 is a sure sign the program is consistently stocked with elite-level players (which is what it’s all about). And once a team gets this far, anything can happen — a fact which has been reiterated to a very high degree by this year’s NCAA Tournament results (don’t know about you, but my brackets are now lining the bird cage).
So in honor of UK’s 16th Sweet 16 appearance, I’ve decided to take a chronological look at how the ‘Cats have performed in their previous third (now fourth!!) round games. This is Part 1, with Part 2 scheduled for later in the week:
1985 — As a 12 seed, the ‘Cats surprisingly won their first two games in the tournament, advancing to face the No. 1 seed St. Johns Red Men (now known as the Red Storm) led by legendary coach Lou Carnesecca. Unfortunately, in Joe B. Hall’s final game as Kentucky coach (Joe B. belongs in the Hall!), the ‘Cats went down to St. Johns by a count of 86-70. That day, UK was led by All-American Kenny “Sky” Walker and his 23-points and eight-rebounds, along with point guard Roger Harden, who had 13-points and seven-assists. St. Johns was led by All-Americans Chris Mullins, who scored 30-points and dished out seven-assists, and Walter Berry who put up 22-points; point guard Mark Jackson also had a nice game with 12-points and four-assists. Kentucky ended their season with an 18-13 record.
1986 — No. 3 ranked UK (1 seed) beat No. 18 Alabama (5) for the fourth time that season, this time by a 68-63 margin. Once again, Kenny Walker led the Wildcat charge with 22-points and seven boards, Winston Bennett chipped in with 14 and 12 big rebounds, and Roger Harden handed out nine-assists in the Wildcat win. Wimp Sanderson’s club was led by Terry Coner with 20 points and Buck Johnson, who recorded 16-points and nine-rebounds. Kentucky, who ended the season with a 32-4 record, was knocked out of the tournament in the Elite Eight by the LSU Tigers, a team UK had bested three times during the course of the year.
1988 — In what can best be described as a mild upset, No. 6 ranked Kentucky (2) went down 80-74 to No. 11 Villanova (6) in Rex Chapman’s final game in a UK uniform. Chapman did not go quietly into that good night, though, as he scored 30-points and dished out five assists in the contest. Big UK forward Winston Bennett had another big tourney game, scoring 16-points and corralling seven-rebounds, and freshman guard Eric Manuel contributed nine-points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Rollie Massimino’s team was pushed to victory by the solid play of Doug West, who had 20-points, and Mark Plansky, who poured in 16-points and snagged eight-rebounds. The ‘Cats ended the season with a 25-5 mark.
1992 — In a game Kentucky coach John Calipari surely remembers, the No. 6 ranked “Unforgettables” (2) bested his No. 17 UMass Minutemen (3) by a score of 87-77 to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986. On that night, the ‘Cats were led by Jamal Mashburn’s 30-point performance as well as John Pelphrey’s 18-points, four-rebounds, and four-assists. Jim McCoy led the Minutemen with 21-points, followed by Willie Herndon’s 15. UK would of course go down in their next game in an epic battle (a game many call the greatest NCAA Tournament game in history) with Duke, 103-102 in overtime — That game marked the end of an historical era, as it was the last time Cawood Ledford would sign-on as the play-by-play voice of the ‘Cats. UK ended the season with a 29-7 record.
1993 — No. 2 ranked Kentucky (1) continued their steamrolling of Big Dance opponents by thrashing No. 16 Wake Forest (5) in the ’93 Sweet 16 by a score of 103-69. In a game the ‘Cats controlled from the opening tip, Travis Ford led the way with 26-points (making 5-6 three-pointers), followed by Jamal Mashburn’s 23-points, and Jared Prickett’s six-point, five-rebounds, and five-assists. The Demon Deacons were led that day by guard Randolph Childress’ 18-points, and All-American forward Rodney Rogers’ 14-points. UK would go on to lose (in ot) to Michigan’s Fab Five in the Final Four, ending the Wildcat season with an outstanding 30-4 record, and ending the outstanding UK career of Jamal Mashburn.
1995 — No. 2 ranked Kentucky (1) spanked the No. 16 Arizona State Red Devils 97-73 as the ‘Cats advanced to the Elite Eight for the third time in four years. Tony Delk, Kentucky’s legendary “2” guard, rocked the Devils with 26-points (3-5 threes), and Roderick Rhodes supplied the Wildcats with 16-points, eight-assists, and five-rebounds. Bill Frieder’s Red Devils were led by Ron Riley’s 20-points and nine-rebounds, and Mario Bennett’s 16-points and eight-rebounds. In the Elite Eight, UK started out strong in their contest with North Carolina, but a bad second half doomed the ‘Cats in their loss to the Heels. The ‘Cats ended the year with a 28-5 mark.
1996 — In the Year of the ‘Cat, No. 2 Kentucky (1) dismantled Rick Majerus’ No. 10 Utah Runnin’ Utes (4) 101-70. The Wildcat domination began with Antoine Walker’s 19-points and eight-rebounds, and Derek Anderson’s 18-points and six-rebounds; point guard extraordinaire (and current Marion County boy’s basketball coach) Anthony Epps gave the ‘Cats another solid performance with 14-points and eight-assists. Majerus’ club was led by Keith Van Horn’s 23-points, and Ben Caton’s 22-points and four-rebounds. Kentucky would go on to win the National Championship, beating a Tim Duncan-led Wake Forest team, along with UMass and Syracuse along the way to a 34-2 record and banner No. 6.
Well ‘Cat fans, that’s a good place to stop today. Look for Part 2 of the series later this week.
Joe B. belongs in the Hall!
Pre-Game Quickie Preview: NCAA Tournament 3rd Round (West Virginia)