Rick Pitino once called Kentucky the Roman Empire of college basketball—remarkable considering the Wildcats’ humble beginnings. Legend has it that the First Five of J. White Guyn, R.H. Arnett, Joe Coons, H.J. Wurtele and Lee Andrus pooled their money to buy a $3 basketball. They lost their first game to Georgetown(Ky.), 15-6, on Feb, 6, 1903 and didn’t have a winning season until 1909. In 1912 they were “Southern Champions” and the rest is pure hoops history: most NCAA victories, 47 conference titles and 8 national championships.
Best Coach: Adolph Rupp (1930-1972) While a player at Kansas, he learned from the game’s seminal legends, Phog Allen and Dr. James Naismith. Rupp then became a legend himself, even though his Wildcats were the first recipient of the NCAA’s death penalty—barred from play in 1952-53 in the wake of revelations resulting from point-shaving charges.
Rupp’s final numbers:
- Wins 876
- SEC regular-season titles 27
- NCAA titles 4
- NIT championships 1
- Olympics 1 gold medal
Fiercest Rival: Adolph Rupp refused to play Lousiville again after losing to the Cardinals in the 1959 NCAA Tournament. When the teams were finally forced together in the 1983 Elite Eight, Louisville triumphed once more in an overtime classic. Since Rick Pitino took the Cardinals’ helm in 2001, things have gotten downright ugly. Once considered Kentucky’s savior, Pitino is now “Benedict Rick” and is booed mercilessly in Rupp Arena. Kentucky leads the overall series, 32-15.
Payback moment: A 15-year-old Louisville native named Scott Padgett was one of those UK fans who felt the thrust of Laettner’s dagger in 1992. Six years later, Padgett got his revenge on Duke, hitting the game-winning three with :39 left in the sequel.
Game For The Ages: With a Final Four spot on the line against Duke on March 22, 1998, Cat fans had to suffer through endless replays of Christian Laettner’s miracle game-winner six years earlier. But UK overcame a 17-point second-half deficit to win 86-84.
Best Squad: 1995-96 Tony Delk and Antonie Walker, a.k.a. the Untouchables, kept Kentucky at No. 1 for most of the season on the strength of a 27-game winning streak, then tore through the NCAA field. After the Wildcats avenged a regular-season loss to UMass in the Final Four, Delk tied a Final record with seven threes in the 76-67 title win over Syracuse.
TOP 5 Players
- Guard Ralph Beard (1945-1949)
- Guard Frank Ramsey (1950-52, ’53-54)
- Forward Jack ” Goose”Givens (1974-1978)
- Forward/Center Cliff Hagan (1950-52, ’53-54)
- Center Dan Issel (1967-1970)
Enrollment: 27,000 (18,434 undergraduate)
Colors: Blue and white
Current arena: Rupp Arena, opened in 1976 (23,000)
First Game: February 6, 1903
All-time record: 2,140- 670-1
Current conference: SEC (since 1932-present)
Conference titles: 48
Conference tournament titles: 27
NCAA Tournaments: 53
NCAA Titles: 8