Kentucky has won a lot of Championships. A lot; 8 total. And I know that it’s hard not to sound like someone is bragging when they say that, but it really is amazing that a school – any school – has achieved that (and UK doesn’t even have the most! It’s UCLA, with 10). And, I mean, it happened; there’s no denying it. And now, they are, once again, in the running for another title, and possibly a perfect season to boot. Now, anything can happen in the tournament, and this no way claiming that Kentucky will go all the way, but, let’s take a little retrospective on UK’s titles anyway, and, hopefully, provide some fun factoids you may never have known.
While this may not count as an NCAA title, since it didn’t even exist back then, I’m still going to include it. Back in 1921 George Buccheit and his “Wonder Team,” who I talked about in the previous blog post, went on to win the first ever Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament against the Georgia Bulldogs. The team comprised of all Kentucky natives and was led by Basil Hayden, UK’s first All American. He also returned to coach UK in 1926, but had a dismal 3 – 13 record.
1948 – 1949 Back to Back Champions
Kentucky’s first championship was also the second time, ever, that a college team had won both the NCAA and NIT title. They played against the Baylor Bears, defeating them 77 – 59. And while the game was not as dramatic as others, the team went on to play in the Olympics, afterwards, in London, winning gold – the first college team ever to do so. The next year, most of The Fabulous Five returned, winning one more game than the previous year, and went on to win another championship against Oklahoma A&M, defeating them 46 – 36.
With a championship omission in the 1950 season, Kentucky came roaring back to defeat Kansas State 68 – 58 in 1951 to claim the title. Victory was not celebrated for long however. Scandal rocked the school; Kentucky players, Alex Groza, Ralph Beard, and Dale Barnstable were accused of taking bribes to shave points in the 1948-1949 season against Loyola. As a result, Kentucky cancelled the 1952 – 1953 season.
The Undefeated in 1954
I’m also just including this one just because it’s interesting. In 1954, Kentucky went undefeated in the regular season; they had a perfect 25 – 0 and were also ranked the number one team overall. But Rupp, following a decision that excluded some of his star players from participating in the tournament, in protest, backed out of the tournament.
Both UK’s and Rupp’s fourth title, this season showed the Cats play against Seattle in Louisville. This team, also known as the “Fiddlin’ Five,” who was also mentioned the previous blog post, dropped as low as thirteen in the overall rankings. But, despite their “fiddlin’” they still brought home the championship, defeating Seattle 84 – 72.
Kentucky’s next championship would not be for another twenty years. The pressure mounted each year UK did not win a title, so by 1978, they were known for almost never breaking composure during their games. Hence, this season was known as the “Season Without Celebration.” Their dedication paid off however, as they won 30 out of 32 games and went on to defeat Duke 94 – 88.
It would almost be another twenty years though before Kentucky won their sixth championship. Pitino, in ‘96’, however, coached “The Untouchables” to the Finals. They defeated Syracuse 76- 67, and almost went on to win the championship two years in a row, but, lost to Arizona, one of the two games “The Untouchables” lost, in ’97, partially due to Derek Anderson tearing his ACL.
After Pitino, Tubby Smith came to Rupp arena and took the Cats to the finals in his very first season with the Cats. This team played “Tubbyball,” a defense oriented, slow tempo type of playing, This caused them to never truly dominate the court, as Kentucky fans usually prefer, but always come from behind and pull off amazing comebacks, such as the Duke and Stanford games during the season.
And then the Wildcats didn’t make to the Final Four again until 2011. They lost to UConn however, that season, but bounced back the next year, only losing two games, and wound up defeating Kansas 67- 59 in New Orleans, earning their eight national championship. The team lost six players to the NBA after this season, leading Calipari to recruit, arguably, one of the best recruiting classes of all time.
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