Monday, February 16, 2015

Kentucky 77 - 43 S. Carolina (No. 2,165)

One of the most baroque chapters in UK's long basketball history concerns the 1953 and 1954 seasons.  The Cats had won the National Championship in 1948, 1949, and 1951, and had gone 29-3 in 1952.  They were by far the dominant program in college basketball.  But the roof fell in on Kentucky, as they were caught up in a point-shaving scandal that had massive repercussions for college basketball, especially in New York.  When it was all said and done, both the NCAA and the SEC banned UK from playing in the 1953 season.

Many of the other schools caught in the point-shaving scandal, such as City College of New York, downgraded their basketball programs and never returned to national prominence.  Not Kentucky.  Rupp and the Cats waited for a full year, and then crushed everyone in the 1954 season.  The Cats went 25-0, and only two of their wins were by less than double digits.  They outscored their opponents by an average score of 87.5 to 60.3.  It seemed certain that they would win another NCAA Title -- but the NCAA held that several of UK's best players were ineligible to play in the Tournament (even though they had been playing all year).  Rupp responded by refusing to play in the Tournament, and promising that he would keep coaching until he got another NCAA title.  (Which happened in 1958).

So that team, the 1953-54 team that never played in the NCAA Tournament, ended up being the only UK team in the NCAA era to finish with a perfect record.  Until Saturday, they were the only UK team ever to post a record of 25-0.

But now, after 51 years, another Kentucky team has joined them.

Oh, my, did the Cats play well on Saturday.  UK led 20-6 after 10 minutes, and just kept pulling away after that.  With three and a half minutes left, the Cats were up 72-33, and I swear the game didn't seem that close.  UK had the good defense going on Saturday, and they were punishing South Carolina over and over on the interior.  Willie Cauley-Stein was particularly good:  6-10 from the field (including at least two jump shots!), 14 points and 7 rebounds in only 22 minutes.  But Karl-Anthony Towns (9 points, 4 rebounds), Aaron Harrison (11 points), Dakari Johnson (10 points), and Devin Booker (10 points) all looked good.  Meanwhile, the Cats out-rebounded South Carolina by the remarkable figure of 45-21, which gives you a sense of how great they were on the interior.

It was Valentine's Day, and there was a wedding party (in full regalia -- they had come straight from the church) at the game.  Dick Vitale danced with the cheerleaders.  Aaron Harrison hit a first-half three-pointer so that Tom Leach wouldn't have to worry about the three-point streak.  It was that kind of game.

25-0.  12-0 in the SEC.  Six games left.

The basketball season is a long slog, especially the 18 games in the SEC, and the Cats deserved a game like this after rough contests at Florida and LSU.  But the slog returns on Tuesday, as the Cats return to Knoxville for the first time since 2013.  I'm not looking forward to the game, but I'm sure that the Cats will give it the Old College Try.


  1. By the way, Julius Randle and James Young, who were on All-Star Break from their NBA responsibilities, were at this game -- they sat right behind the team. It was great to see them again.

  2. Tom Leach reported that John Wall's mother was also at this game, which was her first UK game since Wall graduated. According to Leach, she picked the South Carolina game because she wanted to see UK beat the team that beat her son. That's the spirit!