Once again Cameron Mills has asked me to go back in this old memory and recall some of my best Southeastern Conference Tournament memories as the Wildcats get set to start postseason play in Nashville.
So here are 10 of those memories in chronological order.
What a game this was as UK outlasted Alabama 101-100. The Crimson Tide was coached by C.M. Newton.
The first SEC tourney format gave byes to the semifinals to the top two teams. Kentucky was not one and had beat Mississippi in round one before facing Alabama. UK knocked off LSU in the semifinals and then lost 75-69 to Tennessee, which had the bye into the semifinals along with LSU, in overtime in the title game.
Truman Claytor, often overshadowed by Kyle Macy, had 25 points on 11 of 14 shooting while Macy had 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting. Dwight Anderson added 19 points, Fred Cowan 12 and Lavon Williams 10.
The game was an offensive showcase. Kentucky made 43 of 63 shots from the field. Alabama got a great effort from star Reginald King. He scored 38 points on 15 of 26 shooting and pulled off 11 rebounds.
The tourney was in Nashville at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym and I am guessing the finish still haunts Charles Barkley. Kentucky and Auburn met in the championship game after UK got two late free throws from Dicky Beal to beat Alabama 48-46 in the semifinals.
Remember, then UK coach Joe Hall was not a big fan of SEC Tournament play, but the title game was more like a home game for UK. It was a great game with 17 lead changes, including 14 in the second half.
The game was tied 49-49 when Kentucky got the ball for the final shot. Hall wisely went to Kenny Walker and he hit a 15-foot jump that bounced in to beat Auburn and Barkley. I’ll never forget Walker being mobbed by teammates and Barkley sitting on the gym floor crying.
I would guess that even today that loss stings Barkley and brings a smile to Walker’s face.
Kentucky routed Tennessee 101-40 in Rupp Arena and held Tennessee star Allan Houston, the son of coach Wade Houston, to 3 points on 1-for-15 shooting. Seven Kentucky players hit double figures, including walk-on Junior Braddy with 11 points.
Kentucky was red-hot from the field as coach Rick Pitino’s team made 39 of 71 shots from the field and 12 of 27 from 3-point range.
Kentucky set or tied 13 tourney records including most points, most 3-point shots made, most assists (30), most steals (19), opponent turnovers (30) and opponent field goal percentage (23.1).
The Cats rolled to a 14-0 lead to open the game and were up 41-17 at halftime.
What made the game even more memorable was the huge snow that hit Lexington the night before. I still remember getting up and being unable to open my motel room door because the snow was piled so high against it. But as one might expect, the snow didn’t keep UK fans away.
This was when the Kentucky-Arkansas rivalry was as good as any matchup in the country. Kentucky was ranked third and Arkansas fifth going into the SEC tourney title game and the Cas won 95-93 in overtime in Atlanta.
Kentucky looked down and out down six points with 38 seconds left in overtime but UK rallied to win its fourth straight conference tournament title under Rick Pitino.
This game was full of star. Antoine Walker had 23 points for UK and Corliss Williamson 22 for Arkansas.
Kentucky actually fell behind by 19 points in regulation thanks to Pitino’s pressing, aggressive style of wearing down opponents. But what made this game memorable was what happened to Rodrick Rhodes, a player I really liked.
The score was tied 80-80 when Rhodes made a steal and got fouled going to the basket with 1.3 seconds left. However, he missed both free throws and Pitino did not play him in overtime. If my memory is right, he sat with a towel over his head much of the time and it basically signalled the end of his UK career. Pitino had kept him on the bench most of the final 10 minutes before putting him back in the game late and then he missed the free throws that would have won the game.
This game sticks out because UK did not win. The 1995-96 team that Pitino had was loaded with talent, similar to what Kentucky had last year. The Cats were so good that two future NBA first-round draft picks, Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson, came off the bench. Nine players off that team played in the NBA and six were first-round draft picks.
But UK lost 84-73 to Mississippi State in the SEC title game to snap a 27-game win streak. The team’s only other loss came in game two against Massachusetts and coach John Calipari.
The Cats ripped State 74-56 during the season but lost 84-73 in the title game. Many national media members — along with a lot of UK fans — thought Pitino wanted his team to lose to take the pressure off going into NCAA play. Pitino benched Walker, who was 4 of 13 from the field and had just nine points.
Kentucky shot just 33 percent from the field but then roared through NCAA play to win the national title.
This memory was not about Kentucky, but rather my long-time friend — LSU coach Dale Brown. He invited me into the locker room to hear his presume speech before his team played Georgia in what turned out to be his final game as a college coach.
My job enabled me to become friends with the legendary coach who Kentucky fans once hated but now mainly love because of his respect and admiration for UK basketball.
There were so many great stories with him during his 25 years at LSU, including the 1987 SEC tourney where he refused to sleep as long as his team kept winning to the 1992 tourney where Brown ran off the court after Tennessee’s Carlus Groves shoved LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal.
After that 1997 loss, I went back to Brown’s hotel room and stayed up most of the night listening to him talk about his career — and admiration for UK basketball.
Today I am still proud to call him a friend — as is Kentucky coach John Calipari. Brown even says Calipari reminds him a lot of himself by the way he thinks with his heart, not his head, when it comes to his players.
Kentucky went into the title game in Atlanta against South Carolina minus star guard Jeff Sheppard, who had twisted his ankle in an earlier game, and starting center Nazr Mohammed had a slight separation of his right shoulder.
Still, UK had no problem rolling to an 86-56 win less than a month after the same team had fans boo in Rupp Arena when it lost to Ole Miss.
Kentucky scored the game’s last 15 points to give coach Tubby Smith his first SEC tourney title. The Cats made a season-high 13 3-point shots as seven players, including Cameron Mills, made a try. The Cats got 18 points from guard Wayne Turner and 15 from Allen Edwards.
This one was really not about the games. Instead, it was the tornado that will always make this event at the Georgia Dome so memorable for the wrong reasons.
A portion of the Georgia Dome fabric roof was blown out. Things in the ceiling were swaying. Something dropped out of the scoreboard and it, too, was swinging.
Mississippi State and Alabama were playing. State coach Rick Stansbury got so excited he went into the stands to hunt for his sons forgetting they had been on the bench and were in the locker room with his players.
The game was almost over and resumed in an hour. Kentucky was supposed to play Georgia in the next game. Officials debated what to do.
I was in the media room with no real idea what had happened. Then I saw Kyle Macy. He had just got to the Georgia Dome and talked about the chaos outside. The building next door, the Georgia World Congress Center, was flooded.
Eventually the UK-Georgia game was delayed and played the next morning at Georgia Tech. Only a few fans were allowed in, and most were Big Blue faithful. Kentucky lost 60-56 in overtime.
When I left the Georgia Dome that night, it was unbelievable. Downtown Atlanta was empty. There was damage everywhere. It was almost like walking through a war zone.
After the UK-Georgia game, I went back to the downtown Marriott only to learn another tornado was heading our way. Luckily, it veered another direction but I’ll never forget the fear I had.
That night I wanted something to eat. However, almost every business in Atlanta was closed. I finally found a restaurant and guess who was there — then UK president Dr. Lee Todd. He graciously let me join his party and we all counted our blessings that we were safe.
In Calipari’s first season, Kentucky did the expected and won the tourney again. However, it took overtime and an unusual finish to knock off Mississippi State 75-74 in Nashville.
DeMarcus Cousins’ putback with no time remaining sent the game to overtime and John Wall’s 3-pointer gave UK the win.
The game was close all the way but State had a 64-61 lead with 8.2 seconds left in regulation. State coach Rick Stansbury had his team intentionally foul Eric Bledsoe with 4.9 seconds to go to prevent a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
Bledsoe made the first shot and intentionally missed the second one. The loose ball rebound came to Wall, who missed a shot. However, DeMarcus Cousins got the rebound and barely beat the buzzer with his follow shot to force overtime.
Bledsoe had 18 points, Wall 17 and Patterson 15 in the win that to this day still haunts Stansbury.
Again, the big memory here is not that Vanderbilt overcame a 62-55 UK lead in the final five minutes to beat UK 71-64 and snap Kentucky’s 24-game win streak.
Kentucky had Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones, all now successful NBA players, and had already beaten Vanderbilt twice. Yet the Cats failed to get a field goal the final eight minutes, a mind-boggling stat seeing how Davis recently score 59 points himself in a NBA game.
Jones had 12 points and 11 rebounds. Davis had 12 points and 10 rebounds. But what made this SEC game memorable was Darius Miller scoring 16 and getting the start after Kidd-Gilchrist asked Calipari to sit him in favor of Miller.
Miller had been a two-year starter before settling into a sixth-man role on this team so Kidd-Gilchrist could start. But Kidd-Gilchrist knew Miller had been struggling and needed a confidence boost going into NCAA Tournament play.
It worked as Miller returned to form during UK’s national title run and Kidd-Gilchrist kept playing just the way he always had.
The sacrifice for a teammate by Kidd-Gilchrist is perhaps one of my best memories ever of covering UK basketball.
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