There is something about waiting for the start of a new basketball season that gets you thinking about some of your favorite moments of the past.
Will this new season hold some moments that will become memories? Most fans hope so, and hopefully the memories will be good ones.
In the storied history of Kentucky Wildcats basketball, there are many moments worth remembering, many teams that hold a special place in the hearts of fans, and some players that are remembered for their hustle.
Let’s jump back in time to one of the most amazing finishes to any game ever held in Rupp Arena.
The year is 1978, it is December, and the Kentucky Wildcats are ranked tenth in the nation. The opponent was the fifth ranked Kansas Jayhawks, led by their star guard, Darnell Valentine, Tony Guy and a big named Paul Mokeski.
The Cats were led in the backcourt by Kyle Macy and Truman Claytor. There were veterans, Jay Shidler, Fred Cowan, and Tim Stephens who were returning with some experience. Super Freshman Dwight Anderson, who was one of the most amazing athletes ever in a Kentucky uniform, along with fellow freshmen Clarence Tillman and Chuck Verderber, rounded out the team.
The game was tight and went into overtime with both teams being tied at 56 apiece at the end of regulation. The start of the overtime didn’t fare well for the Cats and they fell behind the Jayhawks 66-60 after two Darnell Valentine free throws with 31 second left in the OT. Those seated in Rupp Arena had no idea that what they were about to see would be one of the most amazing comebacks in Kentucky Basketball history. It is the perfect example of heart and hustle and as we often hope to see, a team that will refuse to lose.
Here is how the 31 seconds began to tick away….
Anderson drives and makes a layup. The Kansas team is cautious and does not want to commit a foul. They don’t and that gives Anderson room to get inside to the basket. The lead is cut to 66-62, Kansas is up.
On the inbound play as Kansas is trying to find an open man to pass to, Valentine is called for pushing off against Anderson. It is a push and Anderson sells it. He flops to the floor and the referee calls the foul as no time has gone off the clock.
Dwight Anderson steps to the free throw line and missed the front end of the one and one. A missed follow up and a tipped ball allowed Anderson to get his hands back on the ball and draw a foul from Mokeski as he went up for a shot.
Six precious seconds have now passed as Anderson once again finds himself at the free throw line. This time the freshman made both shots. The score still finds Kansas on top 66-64, with 10 seconds left to tick away on the clock.
Once again as Kansas attempts to inbound the ball things go horribly wrong for them and heroically right for Kentucky. Anderson makes a steal on the pass, the ball gets loose and is headed out of bounds.
Displaying speed that would rival The Flash, Anderson lunged toward the ball, saving it, and gets the ball back across the court to Kyle Macy. Macy smoothly shoots a fifteen footer to tie the score. 66-66 with just 3 seconds left on the clock.
Now with the game tied, it seemed as if the miraculous play of the Wildcats led by Anderson was going to send the game into another overtime. It was then that Mac Stallcup of Kansas called timeout.
As the crowd roared in Rupp Arena at the comeback they were witnessing, the Jayhawks wanted a moment to regroup, but he made a game-ending mistake.
They were out of timeouts.
That resulted in a one shot technical foul shot with Kyle Macy stepping to the line for Kentucky. Macy didn’t miss many free throws in his sterling Wildcat career, and he did not miss this one.
In fairness, it looked like a miss as the ball danced all across the iron before dropping in.
But it did go in. The final score 67-66 Kentucky over Kansas.
The Jayhawks had lost their concentration, still with no timeouts, they committed a turnover on their last inbound pass and the game was over. One of the greatest and most spectacular comebacks in UK history had them able to come back from six points down with 31 seconds left in the game.
Long before the days of the three point shot being a weapon in the college game, these Cats did it with heart, hustle, and created a moment that the crowd in Rupp Arena would never forget.
A lot can happen in 31 seconds and the way you use each second can be the difference in winning and losing. But a bit of heart and hustle mixed into those few seconds can create something you will never forget.