Kentucky Basketball: 10 Most Memorable Games of Calipari Era
As John Calipari enters his fourth season as the Kentucky men's basketball head coach, there have been so many great memories that his teams have produced over the years. Each team has been extremely talented, resilient, gritty and successful on the court and has done so in its own way.
Before we get too far into the 2012-13 season, it is important to take a step back and admire the work that his teams have put in during his short but successful tenure. The following slides will go into detail about what I consider to be the 10 most memorable games of the Calipari era.
Please note that there are plenty of games that are worthy of consideration, and this list does not mean that other games are any less memorable. This list simply comes up with 10 of the best and does not have room to include all of them.
With that said, read ahead to rekindle some old memories of the previous three seasons for Kentucky! Each slide will contain one or two links to YouTube videos of key moments from the following games.
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"Wall Takes Down UNC": Kentucky 68, North Carolina 66 (2009)
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John Calipari's first team was absolutely loaded with talent, the likes of which had not been seen in Lexington in over a decade. He landed 5-star studs John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton and teamed them up with junior superstar Patrick Patterson to form one of the nation's most talented rosters.
Their first big moment on national television was this regular-season matchup against North Carolina. The Tar Heels were the defending NCAA champions and were the "it" program in college basketball. However, that torch was passed after this coming out party for the Wildcats.
John Wall led the way with two breakaway highlights that lit up SportsCenter and showed off how exciting Kentucky had suddenly become. He scored 16 points, dished seven assists, grabbed five rebounds and swiped three steals en route to a dominating 68-66 victory for Kentucky.
Patrick Patterson showed off his skills as well against one of the country's best frontcourts. Going up against Tyler Zeller, Deon Thompson and Ed Davis, Patterson lit them up for 19 points and seven boards.
This was the game that Kentucky really displayed its full potential and announced to the college basketball world that it was finally back.
Click here to view highlights of the game.
"Calipari vs Pitino I": Kentucky 71, Louisville 62 (2010)
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John Calipari and Rick Pitino had always been heated rivals during their days as Conference USA foes with Memphis and Louisville, respectively. That tension was now ratcheted up a notch as Calipari's team steamrolled to an undefeated record heading into its annual matchup against the Cardinals.
Pitino had finally been truly replaced, and Calipari wanted to prove to the fans and to his arch enemy that times were changing in Lexington. This game did that and more and is one of the most memorable games of his coaching tenure.
Perhaps most memorable of all was the scuffle near the beginning of the game between Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins and Louisville's Jared Swopshire. The two players hit the deck going after a loose ball and neither would give in.
Therefore, Cousins took matters into his own hands and dug into Swopshire, which nearly started a riot on the court. Cousins was not ejected from the game and went on to lead the team to victory by posting 18 points and 18 rebounds against the Cards.
This would be the first of four consecutive victories for Calipari's Kentucky team over Pitino's Louisville program.
"Cousins with the Putback!": Kentucky 75, Miss. St. 74 OT (2010 SEC Tourney)
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Mississippi State has always been a tough out for Kentucky during conference play. Their team is usually experienced, tough and extremely talented on defense. This year's team was no exception as it was led by Jarvis Varnado, one of the all-time great shot-blockers in NCAA basketball history.
They squared off against the Wildcats in the SEC tournament championship game with a conference title and automatic bid on the line. What ensued was arguably the most physical and back-and-forth game Kentucky had been in all season.
DeMarcus Cousins came ready to play, especially after the team's regular-season meeting that resulted in Cousins' now-famous "call me" gesture during the game. More was at stake now and he played valiantly against Varnado, notching a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Kentucky had a balanced attack that was led by Patrick Patterson, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe. They kept the score close but fell behind late in the second half. Heading into the game's final play, Kentucky needed a bucket to force overtime and win the SEC conference championship.
What ensued was one of the greatest plays during the Calipari era and a highlight of the 2009-10 team's season. Eric Bledsoe was at the free-throw line with his team down by three points. After converting the first free throw, Bledsoe missed the second and Patterson tipped the ball out to Wall, who picked it up.
Wall heaved up a desperation three-point shot and missed, but with a split second remaining, Cousins came out of nowhere and tipped the ball off the backboard and into the hoop to force overtime.
Kentucky went on to win the game and the SEC tournament championship in the extra period, but it was that tip-in that became one of the defining moments of the year for a historic Kentucky team.
"The Emergence of Josh Harrellson": Kentucky 78, Louisville 63 (2011)
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The 2010-11 team had a lot to live up to heading into John Calipari's second season at Kentucky. The previous year resulted in an Elite Eight appearance, but so much more was accomplished than that. The team put Kentucky back on the map as a national championship contender and re-energized a sleeping giant that was ready to take college basketball by storm.
Replacing the likes of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson was not easy, but Calipari landed another top-ranked recruiting class that was headlined by Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.
Meanwhile, a little-used senior named Josh Harrellson figured to play behind incoming freshman Enes Kanter at center. However, Kanter was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, which unexpectedly forced Harrellson into the starting lineup. Fans were worried that he was not talented enough to anchor the team in the paint, but he proved everyone wrong with one of the most improbable seasons by any Kentucky player.
All of that started with this game against Louisville. Kentucky played against the Cardinals' in the KFC Yum! Center, their new arena that the team was ready to debut with a victory over the hated Wildcats.
However, Harrellson had other plans. He was ready for a true breakout game and saved his best game of the year for the absolute perfect time. The senior Wildcat led the team to a dominating victory over the Cards with a dominating 23-point, 14-rebound game while converting 10 of his 12 shots from the field.
His effort became a national story, and from that point forward, Harrellson established himself as a Kentucky legend and one of the best stories in college basketball. However, his team had more stories to tell as you will see in the next few slides.
"Knight Hits the Game Winner!": Kentucky 62, Ohio State 60 (2011 NCAA Tourney)
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This is one of those games in which you remember where you were when you saw it. The Kentucky Wildcats entered the NCAA tournament fresh off an SEC tournament title but were facing Ohio State, the NCAA's top overall seed that year. The Buckeyes were led by dominant freshman big man Jared Sullinger and were the favorite to win the championship that year.
However, they faced a hungry, gritty Kentucky team who simply wanted it more. What ensued was an absolutely outstanding March Madness contest that became an instant classic that will forever live in UK lore.
There were two moments that really stand out for the Wildcats. First was the ultimate form of intimidation from center Josh Harrellson, who caught a ball going out of bounds and threw it dodgeball-style off Sullinger's chest. The play happened so fast and was so unexpected that Kentucky fans across the nation could not believe what they just saw—and loved every second of it.
As great as this display of toughness was, the best was yet to come. Coming down to the final seconds of the contest, Kentucky and Ohio State were tied at 60 with the game clock dwindling close to zero. Brandon Knight wanted the final shot of the game, and he drove in from the three-point line, pulled up and released the "shot heard 'round the commonwealth!" The jump shot went through the net and sent Kentucky fans into a frenzy.
His bucket put the Wildcats up for good as the Buckeyes final shot attempt clanged off the rim. Kentucky prevailed, holding off the Buckeyes and defeating the country's top-ranked team. The Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight for a matchup against arch-rival North Carolina.
"Back to the Final Four": Kentucky 76, North Carolina 69 (2011 NCAA Tourney)
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The 2010-11 Kentucky Wildcats were not expected to reach the NCAA Elite Eight that year, let alone the Final Four. Yet here they were one game away from exceeding everyone's expectations and leaving their mark as a truly memorable team in Kentucky's storied history.
After their thrilling victory over the Buckeyes of Ohio State, Kentucky found itself matched up with a familiar foe—the North Carolina Tar Heels—whom Kentucky lost to earlier that year in the regular season.
Revenge was on the mind, and Kentucky came out swinging. The Wildcats were in a fight all game long as each team was evenly matched and equally talented across the board. However, the Cats swung the scoreboard on their side by hitting 12 three-point shots.
The leading scorer was Brandon Knight, who poured in 22 points and five three-pointers in his best game of the NCAA tournament. Kentucky held the lead for most of the game, but North Carolina staged a furious rally in the final few minutes to keep the game close.
The last minute became the DeAndre Liggins show, as he blocked a shot on defense, hit a game-winning three-pointer on offense, then blocked another shot on defense to seal the victory. He cemented his place in UK lore that night and was a key figure in Kentucky's first Final Four appearance since 1998. The team would finally have another banner to raise and moved on to Houston, where they would fall to eventual champion Connecticut in the 2011 NCAA Final Four.
"The Block": Kentucky 73, North Carolina 72 (2011)
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Kentucky entered the 2011-12 season as one of the favorites to win the national title, due in large part to another top-ranked recruiting class that was led by freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer.
However, the Wildcats also returned three starters from the previous year's Final Four squad in Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. This combination of young talent and returning experience spearheaded the team to unprecedented heights as they capped off the year with a national championship.
Before that could happen, though, the team had to square off against North Carolina yet again in the regular season. This game was in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena and served as the coming out party for Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Throughout the course of the game, it was Kidd-Gilchrist who led the team. He poured it on and played a complete game, totaling 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Cats. However, as great as he was it was not enough to upstage the most memorable moment of the game.
Kentucky was in the lead 73-72 with a one-and-one opportunity at the free-throw line. However, guard Marquis Teague missed the first one and the Tar Heels grabbed the rebound. They had 20 seconds remaining to hit a game-winning shot.
They designed a play for Tyler Zeller in the post. However, Davis guarded him well and forced a kickout pass. Unfortunately, it was to a wide-open John Henson who shot an easy jump shot to win the game.
Not so fast my friends! Davis used his incredible arm span to leave Zeller, sprint to guard Henson and jump up to swat away the shot. No other player could have blocked the high-arcing shot than Davis, but he happened to catch a piece and derail the shot. Davis grabbed the rebound, passed the ball to Teague and the game was over.
Yet again, this was a statement game that this year's team was in it to win it all. To read more on that, move forward to the next slide.
"Heartbreaker": Indiana 73, Kentucky 72 (2011)
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As thrilling as the North Carolina victory was for Kentucky, this loss to Indiana was even more depressing and unexpected. Kentucky came to Assembly Hall as the heavy favorite to win this rivalry matchup, but it was also clear that Indiana had a legitimate team for the first time in years.
The nation's top-ranked team came in and simply got mauled by the Hoosiers in their home arena. Everything that could go wrong did for Kentucky. Anthony Davis was in foul trouble all game long and was severely limited in terms of playing time.
Meanwhile, forward Terrence Jones had perhaps his worst career game as a Wildcat and let down his teammates with a zero-effort, zero-energy game. At the other end of the court, Indiana converted on nearly every three-point shot and could not miss.
Despite all of this, along with one of the most raucous home crowds in Indiana history, Kentucky stayed the course and came back in the final few minutes of the game. In fact, the Wildcats held a 72-70 lead when Indiana came down the court for its final possession.
We all know what happened next. Indiana forward Christian Watford drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Hoosiers to a 73-72 win that was replayed on SportsCenter commercials thousands of times throughout the season.
Even though this ended in a loss, it was still one of the most memorable games of the John Calipari era, and it set the stage for Kentucky's revenge game in the Sweet 16 that same season.
"Dream Game II": Kentucky 69, Louisville 61 (2012 NCAA Final Four)
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The week of hype leading up to the Kentucky-Louisville 2012 Final Four matchup was one of the most stressful and amazing weeks of my life as a sports fan. Dubbed as the "Dream Game II," this incredible matchup had so much at stake for both teams and the rivalry had never been at this level of hype, excitement and national attention before.
Kentucky came into the matchup as the favorite to win the NCAA tournament, while Louisville was the surprise team of the bunch and had no pressure on its shoulders. The Cards played a tough game all the way against the Wildcats and truly played them closer than any other team during Kentucky's tournament run.
Leading the way for the Cats was Anthony Davis, who blew away the Cardinals with a stat line of 18 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks and two assists. He completely dominated in every facet of the game and showed why he was named the country's National Player of the Year in every major poll.
As for Louisville, it kept the game close with timely shooting and tough interior defense. In fact, it outrebounded the Cats to give themselves second-chance opportunities.
However, the game was won in the end by the sport's best player in Davis and the Wildcats prevailed to advance to the 2012 NCAA tournament final game. Not only did they do that; the team earned Kentucky fans years of bragging rights after the Wildcats won the "Dream Game II" and advanced to the final game of the 2011-12 basketball season.
"Crowning the Champs": Kentucky 67, Kansas 59 (2012 NCAA National Final)
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As crazy as it sounds, there seemed to be less pressure on Kentucky in the national final than there was in the Final Four. While a loss to Kansas in the title game would be horrible, a loss in the Final Four to Louisville would have been too much of a loss to bear for many Wildcat fans across the country.
Kentucky seemed to be a little more relaxed and started off against Kansas in great fashion. The Wildcats flipped the switch at an early juncture and raced out to a commanding lead against Bill Self's Jayhawks.
Led by guards Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague, Kentucky raced out to a 41-27 halftime lead that seemed to be insurmountable for any team. However, give credit to Kansas as it rallied and outscored Kentucky in the second half. The Jayhawks often closed the game to within five or six points, but they would not get closer than that.
This was in large part to the play of Anthony Davis, who stuffed the stat sheet unlike any player in modern memory. Yes, it is true that he only scored six points and only made one field goal all night. But he also hauled in 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals to lead the Wildcats to victory in the end.
His stellar play earned Davis the Most Outstanding Player award and it earned the Kentucky program a victory and its eighth national championship in school history. The 2011-12 team will go down as one of the greatest in school history and will always be fondly remembered for its unselfishness, lack of ego, talent and passion for the game.
Beyond everything else, this seemed to be a no-brainer as one of John Calipari's most memorable games. Now that his Wildcats have won a championship, it is up to the 2012-13 season to see how everything plays out!