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Revisiting all 16 Kentucky victories over Bruce Pearl

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After a new lifetime contract, more Pearl Calipari classics are inevitable

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

Bruce Pearl has been a big topic in Kentucky sports media over the past week.

Last Saturday, Pearl’s then No. 2 ranked Auburn Tigers took down a mostly TyTy Washington-less Kentucky team 80-71 and celebrated as if they had won the National Championship.

After one of the biggest wins in Auburn basketball history, their fans then took to Twitter and acted as if it was “no big deal”, Joe Cool style.

Almost overnight, Auburn basketball had become a blue blood (only in the mind of Auburn basketball fans).

Four days after Pearl’s big win, The Athletic’s Seth Davis reported that the University of Louisville and head coach Chris Mack had agreed on a 4.8 million dollar separation agreement four years after taking over for the legendary Rick Pitino.

Almost instantly, Pearl’s name came up as a possible replacement for Mack, along with Alabama head coach Nate Oats, LSU head coach Will Wade, and New York Knicks/former Kentucky basketball assistant coach Kenny Payne.

Auburn reporter Justin Hokanson reported Thursday morning that the “interest is real” between the two parties, and Twitter went into a hysteria, just thinking of the possibility of Bruce Pearl at Louisville.

Friday night however, Auburn beat writer Tom Green reported that Auburn had signed Pearl to a “lifetime contract”, similar to Calipari’s. It looks like Bruce will be staying at Auburn and will continue to be a thorn in the side of Kentucky’s SEC slate.

Let’s take a look back at all 16 times the Cats took down Bruce Pearl.

March 1, 2006: Kentucky def. No. 11 Tennessee 80-78

Although Pearl and his Volunteers took down the Cats earlier this season, this win was huge for the Tubby Smith led Wildcats, as it solidified them as an NCAA Tournament team after speculation that they would miss the tournament for the first time since 1992. Although Tennessee was up by 14 in the first half at one point, Randolph Morris and Rajon Rondo brought the Cats all the way back. C.J. Watson missed a three at the buzzer as the Cats avenged their earlier loss on Senior Night in Knoxville.

January 28, 2007: Kentucky def. Tennessee 76-57

Although the Volunteers led by one at halftime, Kentucky went on a 20-2 second half run that included five three pointers. The Cats nearly doubled Tennessee up in the second half en route to a 19-point victory. Tennessee was at a disadvantage as they were missing All-American point guard Chris Lofton, and it showed. Guards Ramel Bradley and Jodie Meeks combined for 37 off the bench as Tubby Smith finished his Kentucky career 2-2 against Bruce Pearl.

January 22, 2008: Kentucky def. No. 3 Tennessee 72-66

After a really rough start to the season (including losses to Gardner Webb, UAB & Houston) in coach Billy Gillespie’s first year at UK, a huge victory over the #3 Vols got the Cats back on track. Led by Patrick Patterson, Ramel Bradley & Perry Stevenson, the 8-9 Cats held Tennessee to just three field goals over the final 10 minutes. In a game where UT’s Chris Lofton set the SEC record for career three-pointers, the fighting Billy Gillespie’s were the big story. After this win, the Cats won 10 of their final 12 regular season games, finishing as the #2 seed in the 2008 SEC Tournament.

January 13, 2009: Kentucky def. Tennessee 90-72

The Jodie Meeks game. One of the single most impressive single game performances in the HISTORY of college basketball. Meeks was a blistering 10/15 from behind the arc, along with a perfect 14/14 from the charity stripe. Pearl was sending double, even triple teams but nothing was stopping Jodie that night. Meeks’ 54 points was the highest scoring SEC performance since LSU’s Chris Jackson dropped 55 against Ole Miss in 1989, and Kentucky’s highest scoring game since Dan Issel dropped 53, also against Ole Miss, in 1970. Bruce Pearl ended his press conference stating that “tonight [they] were not competitive.” They had no answer for the blistering Meeks.

February 21, 2009: Kentucky def. Tennessee 77-58

The Cats pulled off the season sweep of the Vols, and neither of the games were even close. The combined score of the two contests was 167-130, favoring Big Blue. Jodie didn’t quite have as good of a game as he had earlier that season in Knoxville, as he was an ice cold 0-7 from three. However, solid outings from Patrick Patterson (19 & 5) and Darius Miller (17 & 3/3 3PT) propelled Kentucky to a 19-point blowout at Rupp. Billy Gillespie ended his Kentucky career 3-1 against Bruce Pearl and the Vols.

February 13, 2010: No. 3 Kentucky def. No. 12 Tennessee 73-62

Kentucky basketball’s return to national prominence. John Calipari and Bruce Pearl were used to running college basketball in the state of Tennessee, but now things were different. Calipari made the jump to the Greatest Tradition in the History of College Basketball and brought in one of the swaggiest recruiting classes of all time, which included the likes of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins & Eric Bledsoe. In College Gameday’s return to Rupp Arena, freshman superstar John Wall dropped 24 points, one shy of his career high (UConn) as Kentucky pulled away in the second half to take down Tennessee in front of Rupp Arena’s largest crowd of the season.

March 13, 2010: No. 2 Kentucky def. No. 15 Tennessee 74-45 (SEC Tournament)

The start of Kentucky’s five game winning streak over Pearl. Exactly one month after Kentucky’s 11-point victory at Rupp and two weeks after the Vols evened the season series at Thompson-Boling, the Cats and Vols met in the SEC Tournament for their rubber match. This one was never even close. Kentucky never trailed in the game, held Tennessee to a season low 19 points in the first half and went on a 14-0 second half run to blow this one open. DeMarcus Cousins had a monster 19 and 10 game, as Tennessee had no answer for Boogie. Although the game was in Tennessee, Kentucky dominated nearly 77% of the crowd, and completely took away Tennessee’s home state advantage. The Cats built on this victory, taking down Mississippi State in the SEC Championship before falling to West Virginia in a disappointing Elite Eight matchup.

February 8, 2011: No. 18 Kentucky def. Tennessee 73-61

DeAndre Liggins and Kentucky ruined Bruce Pearl’s first game back after serving an eight-game suspension for NCAA recruiting violations. Liggins scored a career high 19 points as the Cats jumped out big on the Vols in the second half 52-34 and held on for a 73-61 victory. Kentucky was riding a two-game losing streak, and absolutely needed this win.

March 6, 2011: No. 20 Kentucky def. Tennessee 64-58

This would be Pearl’s final matchup against Kentucky for four seasons until he was hired at the University of Auburn and went out being swept. In the final game of the regular season, Brandon Knight, using a big second half, scored 17 of his 19 points to cement a win in Knoxville. Riding this momentum, the Cats would win the 2011 SEC Tournament and ride to the 2011 Final Four before falling to eventual champions UConn by one.

February 21, 2015: No. 1 Kentucky def. Auburn 110-75

For the first time in five seasons, a team topped 100 points in an SEC game, and of course it was this team. Bruce Pearl’s return to coaching against Kentucky was absolutely ruined courtesy of the 27-0 Cats on a pursuit of perfection. Kentucky led 52-26 at halftime before playing the second platoon for most of the second half. Kentucky had six players in double figures and cruised to a win at Rupp.

March 14, 2015: No. 1 Kentucky def. Auburn 91-67

These teams were just nowhere close in terms of talent. Although the Tigers were having a Cinderella SEC Tournament run, winning their first three games, they ran into Willie Cauley-Stein and a Kentucky buzzsaw. The Cats led 47-29 at halftime, as they began to look towards the title game, which they easily won as well. This team sadly fell two games short of perfection and will be looked at as one of College Basketball’s All-Time greatest teams.

January 14, 2017: No. 6 Kentucky def. Auburn 92-72

In a game where De’Aaron Fox fouled out with 7:23 you’d think Kentucky would have trouble winning that game, but that was not the case. Thanks to eight first half three pointers (they only made one the previous game), the Cats jumped out to a 51-39 halftime lead and cruised to a 20-point victory. Malik Monk led the team in scoring with 24, hitting four three pointers. The team finished with a phenomenal 11 three pointers made. Monk, Wenyen Gabriel and Isaiah Briscoe combined for eight of those 11 threes.

January 19, 2019: No. 12 Kentucky def. No. 14 Auburn 82-80

This was one of the greatest games of the Kentucky-Pearl rivalry, as these teams matched up so well. The Cats walked into a hostile Auburn Arena and led by eight at halftime, but Auburn climbed all the way back and took the lead on a Jared Harper three pointer with 32 seconds left. Tyler Herro was fouled and made both free throws giving Kentucky a one-point lead, and the Cats held on after a Jared Harper missed layup and a Samir Doughty half-court shot after an Immanuel Quickley missed free throw. It seemed like this Kentucky team played nothing but classics in what was one of the greatest SEC Basketball seasons of all time.

February 23, 2019: No. 4 Kentucky def. Auburn 80-53

The game where Kentucky blew out Auburn, but probably shouldn’t have. Two games after destroying #1 Tennessee, Kentucky had finally hit its stride and it continued in this one. PJ Washington was a blistering 5/8 from three and this one was just never close. It was only fitting John Calipari moved into second place on the all-time Kentucky wins list after a victory over rival Bruce Pearl. However, Auburn would get Kentucky back where it mattered most, in the NCAA Tournament. Fueled by 27-point blowout a month earlier and the loss of Chuma Okeke, the Tigers pulled out a resilient 77-71 overtime win over Kentucky in what was an all-time tournament game.

February 29, 2020: No. 8 Kentucky def. No. 15 Auburn 73-66

Three games before COVID-19 ultimately shut down what was a phenomenal College Basketball season, Pearl and Calipari battled in front of Rupp Arena’s largest crowd of the year. Led by SEC Player of the Year Immanuel Quickley, the Cats pulled away in the second half to clinch the SEC Regular Season Title, which they wouldn’t have to defend in the tournament as it was cancelled. Kentucky avoided a first ever season sweep at the hands of Auburn with a 73-66 victory.

February 13, 2021: Kentucky def. Auburn 82-80

Although the Cats had their worst season EVER, they still found a way to hand Bruce Pearl an L. Although they were down six at the half, Kentucky crawled all the way back to win by a basket and end a four-game losing streak thanks to a Davion Mintz go ahead three with 33 seconds remaining. Not much else to say about this one, as this season is extremely forgettable.

It looks like ole’ Brucey is sticking around in the SEC, so look forward to some more classics between Cal and Bruce in the near future.