Kentucky-North Carolina All-Time Series History

[Link to All-Time Series Results]


The series between the two winningest programs of all-time (currently in favor of North Carolina 21-10) has been a long and eventful one, although only in the mid-60's was there a sustained series between the two which lasted through the early 1970's. That series was ended and another which began in the late 80's was aborted early, before the current series started.

The two programs have not played enough games and are not geographically close enough to develop a strong rivalry in the classic sense of the word. But UNC and UK certainly have a rivalry, and it is played out from afar, with the 'spoils' being far larger than what could be derived from most any individual game. Look at any major achievement list describing basketball history, and Kentucky and North Carolina are often 1 and 2 (and not necessarily in that order). Whether it is all-time wins, All-Americans, tournament appearances, number of weeks ranked #1 etc., the two are always in contention. The rivalry is also played out on many different levels, from the number of times each program is shown on ESPN, the number of highly rated recruits each signs, or the number of jerseys and ball caps each sell with their logo on it, the rivalry between UK and UNC often comes down to a fight for the hearts and minds of America's sport-loving public.

The attention paid to each is in large part owed to the longevity of both programs' success (no other programs in the nation have been as consistently good for such an extended period of time as UK and UNC have) and the drive of brilliant coaches who put their respective schools in the spotlight, changing basketball in the South and basketball in general along the way.

Game-by-Game Review

Some may not know that both UK and UNC were at one time part of the mega-agglomeration known as the Southern Conference. While the Southern Conference still remains today, it looks nothing like it did at one point in the 1920's. At that time, the league members spanned from Maryland to Louisiana and included nearly all of the major southern schools, many which today make up the ACC and the SEC conferences. Thirty-three schools were members of the SIAA at one point. The league was so large that the teams didn't necessarily play each other in the regular conference schedule. It was especially difficult, in those days before air travel was commonplace, to traverse the mountains between the Atlantic Coast and places like Lexington, Kentucky. The coastal teams tended to compete with each other, while teams like Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee honed their own rivalries and the teams of the deep south stayed in that region (and with the exception of a few places like Alabama and LSU, largely ignored the sport of basketball in sole deference to football).

While the conference was basically so large as to be unmanageable (and it eventually dissolved due to this problem), it did have one thing going for it. The people in charge had the foresight to utilize a post-season tournament where teams from the conference (and in some cases other southern schools) were invited to Atlanta to compete for a title. The creation of a tournament in Atlanta was championed by Al Doonan of the Atlanta Athletic Club (who was instrumental in preparing the facilities) and coaches such as Georgia's Herman Stegeman. And while the tournament was not necessarily designed exclusively for the conference, it did fit in well with its plans as southern league was in the midst of reconstructing itself.

The prize was the right to be named "The Champions of the South." This was a new concept for college basketball and it was met with great enthusiasm. The teams drew lots and were bracketed accordingly. Games were played from morning until night in a continuous stream, held downtown in the Atlanta City Auditorium. This facility was built around 1909 but had to be modified for basketball. A large elevated temporary floor was installed at stage height. Despite the preparations, the facility still left a lot to be desired. The gym was so packed for one of the Georgia-Georgia Tech clashes that reportedly spectators fell off of the girders suspended above the stands. One story about the gymnasium occurred during a UK game when a player planted his foot in anticipation of a layup but instead created and fell through a hole in the floor !

Kentucky won the very first title game (the first major conference tournament championship in college basketball history) staged in 1921, beating Georgia in the SIAA finals. (The SIAA stood for the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association and was the forerunner of the Southern Conference). North Carolina won the tournament the following year and began a string of impressive title game appearances, winning four of five Southern Conference Tournament titles between 1922 and 1926.

UNC's Jack Cobb
The first match-up ever between the two schools occurred in 1924. Kentucky was highly regarded, going 13-2 up to that point, however the Tar Heels were undefeated and were having one of the finest seasons any North Carolina team had recorded, before or since. Normally two teams like this would be seeded so that they meet each other in the semifinals or finals of the tournament, however they met in the first round. (Again, the field was determined by drawing lots, not seeded according to record etc. as would be done today) That UNC team, led by All-Americans Cartwright Carmichael (who scored 14 points) and Jack Cobb (who scored 17 points), thoroughly outclassed the Wildcats. No player for Kentucky scored more than eight points. The Tar Heels went on to sweep the tournament and end the season undefeated. It was that team which over a decade later was awarded an honorary Helms National Title for their achievements.

[Box Score] - 1924 SIAA Tournament

University of North Carolina - 1924 Champions of the South

Front Row (l to r): Jack Cobb, Bill Dodderer, Captain Winton Greene, Cartwright Carmichael, Angus 'Monk'McDonald
Back Row: Mayer Bretney Smith, Jimmy Poole, Donald Koonce, Billy Devin, Henry Lineburger

While technically the two schools were in the same conference, they met in the regular season only once over nearly a ten year span. That game was a matchup held in Lexington in 1929. During that era, travel over long distances invariably was by train and only made sense if a string of games could be scheduled. North Carolina was heading back from a road trip of the Midwest which included matches against Butler, Ohio State and Louisville. Before television and coast-to-coast matchups, whenever a team arrived from a different part of the country, it was often a mystery as to what style of offense and defense they employed and how good they were at it. Despite this, the capacity Kentucky crowd fully expected a victory, no doubt emboldened by the news that the Tar Heels had dropped all of their previous contests. Instead, UK was shocked to find the Tar Heels run away with the contest. Exceptional shooting from the perimeter typified the Tar Heels play, while Kentucky bumbled and fumbled their way through the game. North Carolina led at the half 14-4, and the final tally was 26-15.

[Box Score] - 1928-29

Forest "Aggie" Sale
The next matchup between the two schools occurred in 1932 in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference tournament. Kentucky was tabbed as the favorites entering the tournament, as they had won their first 13 games of the season, often in convincing fashion. However they faltered late in the season against Vanderbilt after their two best players John DeMoisey and Forest "Aggie" Sale were felled by the flu bug. By the time of the Atlanta tournament, these two stars were still recovering and although they saw action, they were not at full strength. Adolph Rupp was in his second year as head coach of the Wildcats.

The game was a hard-fought battle, with Kentucky running out to big leads in both the first and second halves, but the Tar Heels answered each time. Despite being double-teamed most of the night, and being completely spent in the latter stages of the game, Sale (who went on to be named an All-American that year) scored 20 points for the Wildcats.

Virgil Weathers and Tom Alexander each scored 12 points to lead the Tar Heels and North Carolina came from behind in the final minute to steal a 1 point victory, 43-42. Trailing by a point, the Tar Heels missed a shot, but the ball caromed out toward the free throw line where Weathers smacked the ball "handball" style into the hoop for the winning goal. Noted the 1932 Kentuckian yearbook about the shot which ended the Wildcats' season, "... the Wildcats met an inspired quintet of North Carolina Tarheels, and again found that, when she was needed. Lady Luck was out in the field picking daisies. Either that or she was just taking her seat atop the ball when it was batted by a Tarheel hand wildly and with a prayer, and the young man had undoubtedly lived in virtuous life, because the ball settled and dropped through as the gun went off. It was a great game; fought for by ten basketball giants. Kentucky lost."

The one-point margin proved critical to the Wildcats, as they had lost a point when DeMoisey was called for a technical foul late in the game and Alexander converted the free toss to put UNC ahead, 39-38. DeMoisey was substituting for a tiring Sale with four and a half minutes left. But he forgot to report to the scoring table and was assessed the technical.

Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp said after the game:

He was less charitable toward the tournament organizers, saying that "If my boys are undefeated next season, I won't take them there...We should have everything to lose and nothing to gain."

[Box Score] - 1932 Southern Conference Tourney
Note: (There's an interesting story of that game in a book about UK basketball which will be mentioned later.)

Interior of the Atlanta City Auditorium. Note that for basketball an elevated temporary floor was built at stage height

After that battle, the two programs went their separate ways. Kentucky joined the newly formed Southeastern Conference while North Carolina stayed in the Southern Conference which eventually split off into the ACC.

It should be noted that in the intervening years there was a brief matchup between UK and a former UNC great, that of George Glamack, the 'Blind Bomber' himself. During World War II, many of the young men in the nation found their way into the armed forces, and naturally that meant that some of the best basketball players were there too. One place which seemed to accumulate great athletic talent was the Great Lakes Naval Air Station outside of Chicago. This team was basically an all-star team with multiple former All-Americans and collegiate stars including Ernie Andres, Dick Klein, Bill Menke, Forrest Anderson and Bob Davies. In 1943, the team was coached by Butler legend Tony Hinkle who chose to use a platoon system where he replaced his starting five after ten minutes with a new set of former greats. Kentucky's coach Rupp said about the Great Lakes' squad "I've never seen a better basketball team - professional or amateur - than the Great Lakes club." Predictably, the 'Jackets' outclassed the Kentucky squad, winning easily 53-39. Glamack, who given his well-known eyesight problems would have seemed a natural to be able to avoid duty in the armed services, scored two points in the game.

Nearly 20 years after the game in 1932 would pass before the two schools would meet again. During that time, Rupp would build his program into one of the most formidable powers in collegiate basketball. By the early 1950's, Kentucky was riding high, having won two consecutive national titles and what promised to be more on the way. Kentucky was also in the midst of what would eventually become a 129-game winning streak at home, a record which still stands to this day.

When Tom Scott took his unranked North Carolina team to face the #2 ranked Wildcats, they didn't have much chance and predictably went back home with a forgettable drubbing 83-44. Kentucky was led by 7-footer Bill Spivey who scored 16 points along with Walter Hirsch who led all scorers with 18, 16 of them coming in the first half.

[Box Score] - 1949-50

1959 UKIT Program
Another nine years would pass before the two matched up again, this time in the UKIT (University of Kentucky Invitational Tournament) with Frank McGuire and his crew.

McGuire was very familiar with UK and Rupp, having had a number of high profile matchups with the team from Lexington while he coached St. John's (and McGuire would later compete against UK while at South Carolina). In fact, it was a St. John's victory over Kentucky in the 1952 NCAA Eastern Regionals in Raleigh, N.C. which likely led to McGuire being hired by UNC. The Wildcats had beaten then #1-ranked St. John's handily earlier in the season, 81-40, and assumed the #1 ranking themselves, and held on to for most of the season. When the two teams were matched up again in the tournament in Reynolds Coliseum, St. John's was a decided underdog. But the St. John's players played much better the second time around, and riding Bob Zawoluk's 32 points, scored the upset, 64-57. McGuire was interviewed over 25 years later by Billy Reed during his final visit to Lexington and stated, "That game was the reason they came after me at North Carolina."

The two teams might have met earlier in the 1957 UKIT, however Kentucky was upset in their first game to West Virginia and had to play in the consolation game against a Minnesota team which North Carolina beat 73-67. West Virgina beat UNC in the championship game 75-64 to take home the UKIT trophy.

Earlier that season the Kentucky and North Carolina teams crossed paths at Du Pont Plaza Hotel in Washington D.C. where Kentucky was preparing to face Maryland in Cole Fieldhouse while North Carolina was set to face George Washington University. The initial Associated Press poll for the season had just come out and the #1 rated Tar Heels did find time to attend the Maryland game to scout the #3 rated Wildcats. But it was not to be as West Virginia played the spoiler to both.

In the 1959 UKIT, the two schools finally did in the first round of the UKIT and North Carolina went down to defeat to Kentucky, 76-70. This despite Lee Shaffer's 22 points and 18 from York Larese. The Wildcats would go on the next night to face the West Virginia Mountaineers and their star guard, Jerry West, losing by nine points.

Kentucky returned the favor the next year by playing UNC in Greensboro. The Wildcats used a balanced attack to overcome 25 points from Doug Moe and 22 points from York Larese, winning 70-65.

[Box Score] - 1959-60
[Box Score] - 1960-61

Dean Smith at Kansas
North Carolina was scheduled to return to the UKIT the following season (1961-62) however fate intervened. In early August 1961, UNC Coach Frank McGuire resigned from the school with two years left on his contract to accept an offer to coach the Philadelphia Warriors and their young star Wilt Chamberlain. McGuire had been unhappy with his salary among other things at UNC, but there was another issue at hand as well.

Months earlier in May of 1961, a point-shaving scandal was revealed which implicated UNC players Lou Brown and Doug Moe. This was on top of a one-year probation handed down by the NCAA to the school for illegal recruiting practices.

With McGuire stepping down, the school chose to hire assistant coach Dean Smith on the advice of McGuire, rather than go outside and try to make a clean break from its past. In response to the scandal, the Consolidated University of North Carolina trustees ruled to limit the schedules for both UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State to 14 A.C.C. games and only two non-conference games. The University of Tennessee ended up accepting an invitation to replace UNC in the 1961 UKIT.

Later that season Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp approached first-year UNC coach Dean Smith with a long-term offer, which made the series a regular event. The men had some things in common, as both had attended the University of Kansas and played under the legendary Forrest "Phog" Allen. Incidentally, each player played on a Kansas team which was awarded a national title. Rupp was a little-used reserve on both the 1921-22 and 1922-23 Kansas teams which were retroactively awarded Helms Trophies. Smith was a little-used reserve on the 1951-52 Kansas team which won the NCAA championship. Those three teams were the only national title squads Allen ever coached.

Bill Spivey
It is known that Rupp had met Smith at least once at a coaching clinic in Furstenfeldbruck Germany when Smith was serving in the Armed Forces and stationed there. Rupp, Red Auerbach and Bob Cousy were in Europe to hold clinics for the military and Smith was called to serve as a demonstrator. Smith was also on the 1951 Kansas squad which sported All-American center Clyde Lovellette and traveled to Lexington for the first time in the school's history to play UK and their own big man, Bill Spivey. The game proved to be a coming out party for Spivey, who outscored his better-known opponent 22-10 en route to a 68-39 walloping of Allen's team by his former pupil Rupp. Dean Smith, who played in only 5 games that season for the Jayhawks, did not enter that game and it is not clear whether he even made the long trip to Lexington or not. (Smith was not listed on the Kansas roster of the game program.)

The offer Rupp made to Smith was a multi-year contract to play a series of games throughout the 60's. This came at a time when Smith had taken over for a UNC program which was at a low point due to scandals under Frank McGuire.

From Dean Smith's book A Coaches Life

During my first season I had gotten an interesting call. "Dean," the caller said, "we need to get our two schools together and play. I'm a nineteen twenty-three graduate of Kansas, and you're a nineteen fifty-three graduate, and we played for the same head coach. Let's do a ten year series, home and home, and that way neither of us will know what kind of team the other has." It was Adolph Rupp at Kentucky.

Rupp gave me some advice: He told me to beware of people who called up wanting to play one or two games right away. "That means they think they're going to be very good for a couple of years, and they figure you're going to be down," he said. Also, Rupp informed me, everybody called when they had great players. When Jerry Lucas went to Ohio State, suddenly the Buckeyes wanted to play Kentucky. Finally, he advised me, "As the flagship state university, don't play anybody from within your state that you don't have to. You'll be the target and they'll be aiming at you, and you'll soon learn that the last thing in the world you need is any more rivals. You'll have plenty as it is." Coach Rupp wouldn't play Louisville or Western Kentucky.

After I got off the phone, I went to Chuck Erickson and told him that Rupp had called to schedule a ten-year series between Carolina and Kentucky. Chuck said, "Oh, everybody's calling and trying to schedule us now. We're center cut. We've got a good name and no team." (We signed a contract for the series, and won seven of ten even through I unwisely agreed to play six times in Kentucky just four times in Carolina.)

Cotton Nash soars over
UNC's Billy Cunningham
Although at the time, Kentucky was considered the premier basketball dynasty in the country, Smith took the challenge and it became clear early on that the series wasn't going to be to Rupp's liking. Rupp, no doubt, fully expected to dominate the series against the young coach.

The first game of the series, Smith brought his young Tar Heels to Lexington to play in Memorial Coliseum, an arena where Kentucky held nearly a winning percentage of 90%. While UNC senior Larry Brown was breaking out in hives waiting for the game to begin, Coach Smith was giving his pep talk. "Look, when we go out there tonight, act like you're playing Tennessee. Forget about Kentucky. Just play 40 minutes of basketball," said Smith.

Charles "Cotton" Nash was a three-time All-American for Kentucky and their leading scorer. It was the Tar Heels' mission to shut him down. Yogi Poteet, undersized at 6-1, was assigned by Smith to guard the 6-5 Nash, however Poteet did a good job of denying Nash the ball, and anytime Nash got the ball inside, he was double-teamed. On the offense, UNC ran a ball-control offense (which was an early forerunner of the 'Four Corners' Smith would perfect later in his career). According to Poteet:

With Nash held to 12 points, UNC scored a surprising 88-86 victory over Kentucky. Said Lee Shaffer years later, "That was the best game of basketball anybody ever coached."

Prior to the game the Tar Heels were coming off a shaky season the year before and had just been blown out by Indiana. The Kentucky victory helped put the young coach in Chapel Hill on the map and solidified his position as coach at UNC.

[Box Score] - 1962-63

1963-64 Game Program
Through the intervening years up until 1975, a great series emerged between the two schools. Games were played 11 of the 14 years over that time period. UNC generally chose to hold their 'home' games in Charlotte or Greensboro while Kentucky played two games in Louisville's Freedom Hall while the rest were held on the Kentucky campus at Memorial Coliseum. Because of this, UK never did compete in Carmichael Gymnasium at the Chapel Hill campus. It should also be noted that the series did not occur every year, as UNC missed having to face UK's national runner-up "Rupp's Runts in 1966 and there was a stoppage of play between 1969 and 1972.

Many great players appeared in this matchup. In the early half of the series, great UNC players included among others Larry Brown, Billy Cunningham, Larry Miller and Charlie Scott. Kentucky countered with players such as Cotton Nash, Louie Dampier, Pat Riley, Dan Issel and Mike Casey.

The game in 1963 proved to be more to Rupp's liking. Five UK players scored in double figures, led by Terry Mobley with 21, and the Cats ran away with the game, winning by 20, 100-80. North Carolina held a 26-20 lead in the first half but Kentucky was able to punish North Carolina's zone defense by hitting from the outside and the Wildcats forged ahead to a 40-36 halftime lead. Kentucky held a 10-point lead with just over six minutes remaining in the game when UNC's Billy Cunningham fouled out of the contest with a game-high 32 points.

Carolina Coach Dean Smith lamented after the game that after Cunningham went out on fouls, " we lost our meal ticket." North Carolina went into a pressing defense but this only served to entice the Wildcats to carve up the scheme and extend the lead to its final margin. Smith noted about the Wildcat team, "This is a more typical Kentucky team than the one of last year. They keep the pressure on you. Their speed and the scoring ability of Nash are damaging."

[Box Score] - 1963-64

1964-65 Game Program
The following year, Kentucky travelled to Charlotte, North Carolina for the first time where they faced UNC in the old Charlotte Coliseum. Kentucky stayed close to the Tar Heels up to the half, and even led briefly in the second on two occasions, but the Wildcats' poor shooting proved their undoing. Kentucky shot a miserable 30 percent from the field and lost three players to fouls before losing by 15 points, 82-67. Sophomore Bob Lewis led the Tar Heels with 23 points and 14 rebounds while Billy "The Kangaroo Kid" Cunningham added 22 points and 13 rebounds.

Cunningham missed a good portion of the first half after picking up three personal fouls in the first 12 minutes of the game. He picked up his fourth two minutes into the second half but was able to stay in the game for the remainder of the contest, despite Kentucky continually working the ball to center John Adams in an effort to draw a fifth foul on the UNC pivotman. As it turned out, the efforts of Adams and later Larry Conley only landed themselves out of the game with five fouls apiece.

[Box Score] - 1964-65

A young Dean Smith
After a one-year hiatus, which fortunately for the Tar Heels allowed them to avoid one of Kentucky's most successful teams of all-time, the 1965-66 'Rupp's Runts', the two met again in Lexington. Returning in 1966-67 were the two stars from the 'Runts' team, All-Americans Pat Riley and Louie Dampier. However Riley had sustained a back injury that summer while water skiing and the loss of role players (such as Larry Conley) from the previous season proved the difference in the season. That Kentucky squad went on to post a disappointing 14-14 mark.

The game proved to be a master production, with Dean Smith orchestrating the movements to perfection. In a reversal of sorts, Kentucky started the game playing a 1-3-1 zone defense, while North Carolina utilized an aggressive man-to-man. Carolina was able to carve up UK's defense, as Rusty Clark, Bill Bunting and Larry Miller were able to get free for close shots. Late in the first half and leading by ten points, UNC went to a spread offense and maintained the lead for a 35-25 margin.

The second half saw Kentucky switch to man-to-man. For awhile, North Carolina ran with the Cats but the margin slipped to four points and the Tar Heels again went into a stall. Two key plays were made late in the game by a Kentucky native, Gerald Tuttle of Hazel Green, to seal the victory for the Tar Heels. In the first, he accomplished a three-point play to put UNC ahead by seven with a little over eight minutes remaining. Later, he intercepted a pass and scored to increase the lead to 9 points with a little over two minutes remaining in the game.

After the game, Coach Smith commented on his strategy. "We didn't really want to slow it down that much. But we had to control the tempo of the game. It wasn't a real slowdown, though, because we never stopped trying to score." Bob Lewis gushed about his coach "We did exactly what coach Smith said. We slowed it down to control the tempo of the game and that's how we won. Coach Smith is a genius."

Coach Rupp was less ecstatic with the outcome. Asked about the game, Rupp was heard to bemoan "They have five good boys and we don't."

UK's Pat Riley (42) defends against UNC's Larry Miller (44) while Bob Lewis (22) looks on

[Box Score] - 1966-67

1967 Game Program
The next year, Rupp tried his hand at controlling the game, but it backfired. After falling behind by seven points in the first half, Kentucky clawed its way back to trail by only 43-41 at halftime and went on to take a one-point lead, 58-57, with a little over 11 minutes remaining. But then Rupp scrapped his man-to-man defense in favor of a 1-2-2 zone which had been successful earlier in the season against Florida. Rupp later changed his offense to the "shuffle", which turned out to not help. Carolina responded to the changes and soon went ahead, pulling away in the end 84-77.

Smith had prepared his team for the defense, saying after the game that "We saw them use it the entire game against Florida. And we had worked against it all week in practice. We weren't surprised." Rupp was the one who was surprised, amazed that the Tar Heels had adjusted so quickly and scored so soon after the change. "Why, my Lord, that's just impossible," he said. "Why our boys let them do the impossible, I just don't know."

In the end, the difference proved to be North Carolina's defense. After a 55 percent shooting exhibition in the first half, the Wildcats were limited to 28 percent in the second. "We played our best defense of the year" noted Smith. Rupp, who built his legend on precise pattern offense (and who was known to demonstrate his offensive system directly to opposing coaches in coaching clinics during the summer, and then challenging them to stop it once the season came around), gave the North Carolina team some of his highest praise by admitting that UNC's defense "forced us out of our patterns."

Rusty Clark led the Tar Heels with 23 points while Larry Miller added 19 and Charlie Scott 15. Thad Jaracz paced UK with 19 points while Dan Issel and Mike Pratt each contributed 13.

[Box Score] - 1967-68

Larry Miller shoots over Kentucky's Mike Pratt (22)

Mike Casey and Charlie Scott
share the Sports Illustrated Cover
The following year, both teams were undefeated with North Carolina ranked #2 in the nation by the Associated Press and Kentucky not far behind at #3. But the result was starting to become familiar to Kentucky as Dean Smith notched his fourth straight victory over Rupp and Kentucky. The Tar Heels used their height and good shooting to win the game 87-77. UNC center Rusty Clark scored 17 points and hauled in 16 rebounds while his fellow front-court mates Bill Bunting and Lee Dedmon each contributed 13. Charlie Scott led the Tar Heel effort with 19 points, and it was his heroics at the start of the second half which put UNC out of reach. Scott made a steal and hit two jump shots within 21 seconds.

Kentucky began the game with a zone defense. This did not surprise Smith who claimed "I thought they would use it [the zone] only because I believed they felt they had no one to play against Scott." However, the defense allowed the Tar Heel big men to score 18 points in the half and the team to shoot 50 percent from the field. Kentucky junked the defense in the second half in favor of a man-to-man, however that too proved ineffective.

Mike Casey led the way for the Wildcats with 26 points while center Dan Issel contributed 19. At the close of the game, Rupp congratulated Smith on the victory and lamented "I thought it would be worse." To which Smith joked to the media, "I wish he had told me before - I'd have relaxed a little."

[Box Score] - 1968-69

1969 Game Program
The 1969-70 Kentucky team was expecting great things. Undefeated and ranked #1 in the country, seniors Dan Issel and Mike Pratt were not planning to go quietly and be shut-out against North Carolina for their careers. Asked before the game by UK legend Frank Ramsey whether he was ready for the game, Pratt responded "You bet I'm ready. This is our year."

Despite their confidence, Kentucky fell behind early in the game 15-0, but they shook this off and came back to take a 10-point halftime lead, 46-36. The key to the half was Larry Steele's defense of UNC All-American Charlie Scott, who had scored 9 points on 4 of 10 shooting by the intermission. Another key was Issel's ability to foul out the Tar Heel big men, Lee Dedmon and Bill Chamberlain in the second half. Issel said after the game "Our scouting report said Dedmon liked to jump and contest the shot on defense and that he was aggressive. Our plan was for me to drive on him and try to get him in foul trouble. I'm glad I was able to do that."

In the second half, Scott began to heat up and UNC had a chance late in the game. Trailing by six points with 2:45 left, a Steele jump shot was nullified by a three-second violation. North Carolina got a jumper from Scott and then their press resulted in a turnover. UNC's Steve Previs led a 3-on-1 break with a chance to cut the lead to 2 points, but lost the ball to a Kentucky player who promptly whipped the ball down-court to Issel which led to a three-point play. Instead of a two-point margin, the lead was back up to 7 and UK never looked back.

Issel tied his (up-to-that-time) career high with 41 points and Pratt added 27. Charlie Scott led UNC with 29 points, 20 coming in the second half in a valiant effort to get back into the game. Despite the second-half outburst, Rupp still pointed to Steele's defensive efforts as a key to the game. "Steele did a good job. That Scott is one of the best basketball players in the country, and you can't stop him forever." When Rupp and Smith met after the game for the customary handshake, the hobbling Rupp let out a sigh of relief. "It's about time," said the Baron.

Dan Issel grabs a rebound in front of UNC's Bill Chamberlain as Terry Mills (21) and Larry Steele (25) look on

[Box Score] - 1969-70

That game marked a lull in the series and also a passing of the guard. Two years later Rupp was forced by the University to retire and never faced Smith again on the court. Smith, despite having already achieved great things in Chapel Hill in the 1960's, was just starting to warm up for what would be a remarkable career.

During those years, Smith demonstrated how he was a student of the game, studying his opponents and finding ways to win. Quipped UK guard Phil Argento many years later about Smith's knack for besting Rupp and UK, "Dean Smith read Rupp's book and knew how to defend us. He must have been the only coach we played against that could read, no one else ever figured our offense out." To Smith's credit, he took on the challenge laid down by Rupp years earlier and succeeded brilliantly, winning 5 of the 7 games between the two Kansas alums. This emergence by UNC over UK in head-to-head matchups dovetailed nicely with UNC's rise to national prominence.

By that time, Rupp was firmly entrenched as the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history, eventually winning 876 and losing 190 for a winning percentage of 82.2%. It would be Smith who would eclipse that record, 25 years after Rupp retired, when he finished his career with 879 victories and 254 defeats for a winning percentage of 77.6%. Both men would also go down in history as tremendous innovators who helped shape the game of basketball.

One sidenote concerning the two men is that Rupp did take a personal interest in the man who eventually overtook him in the all-time wins category, and that Rupp had been one of Smith's idols growing up.

Rupp, who played for Phog Allen at Kansas, was Smith's boyhood idol. The Rupp family had lived in Lawrence while Smith attended Kansas, but Smith first met Rupp was when he was in the Air Force and stationed in Germany.

Rupp, Celtics' coach Red Auerbach and Bob Cousy flew overseas to give a clinic and Smith, who played for an Armed Forces selected team, was asked to demonstrate plays. Rupp also spoke at Carolina's banquet in 1960.

"He was always very nice to me," Smith recalled. "One time, when we were both playing in Charlotte, he even invited me up to his hotel room. He used to rest in the afternoons and I can recall listening to him tell stories while sitting on the bed in his red pajamas."

The year before Rupp retired, he came up to Smith at the 1971 Final Four and asked him to autograph a basketball for his grandson.

(by Dick Weiss, "877 Dean Nears Head of Class For All Time," New York Daily News, March 11, 1997.)

After the game in Charlotte, the series took a hiatus for three years. When it was resumed, a new man was at the helm. Joe B. Hall was a former player under Rupp and was serving as an assistant and top recruiter for Rupp before he was named head coach. Hall believed in strength conditioning and this helped usher in a new era of college basketball. This difference in philosophy was seen in the resumed series between UK and UNC, as many of these games took on a much more physical tenor than the matches in the 1960's.

In addition, the 70's saw the return of the big man to the Kentucky campus, as players such as Jim Andrews, Mike Phillips and Rick Robey squared off against the big men which Dean Smith favored, and benefitted greatly during the late 60's against what were often undersized Kentucky squads.

Besides those big men, Kentucky also sported such stars as Kevin Grevey, Jimmy Dan Conner and Jack Givens in the early half of the 1970's. For North Carolina, great players of the time included Bobby Jones, Walter Davis, Mitch Kupchak and Phil Ford among others.

George Karl
The first game of the renewed series was held in Louisville's Freedom Hall for the first time, yet Kentucky still found itself in familiar surroundings, on the losing end of the ledger against Dean Smith and the Tar Heels. In the early going, the game appeared to be a runaway, with North Carolina going on a run to close out the first half with a 46-26 lead, after outshooting the Wildcats from the field, 59 to 36 percent.

Kentucky did make a run late in the game, sparked by Ronnie Lyons who scored all of his 15 points in the second half despite playing with a kidney infection and anemia. Kentucky was able to cut the deficit to 6 with a few minutes remaining, but then had trouble hitting their shots and the Tar Heels capitalized. The game was rough to the end, with multiple technical fouls and players tackling and undercutting each other along the way. With only seconds left in the game, Jimmy Dan Conner and Bobby Jones nearly came to blows after Conner stepped in after a hard foul by UK's Jerry Hale on Jones. The final score was 78-70, with George Karl leading the way with 22 points. Jones added 15 and Ed Stahl 14 for the Tar Heels' cause. Kevin Grevey led UK scorers with 19 points.

Hall was philosophical about his now 1-3 team after the game, looking at the bright side of UK's second half comeback. "For the first time, tonight, we really hated to lose. Maybe we turned the corner. We got too far down, of course, and we didn't start playing soon enough ..." Smith, when asked about the comeback said "No, I don't think we ran out of gas in the second half. The credit belongs to Kentucky. They had nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain, and they played like it."

[Box Score] - 1972-73

Mitch Kupchak tips in a basket in front
of Kevin Grevey and Mike Flynn in 1973
The following year saw more of the same, with North Carolina taking a large first-half lead and leaving it up to Kentucky to attempt a comeback. North Carolina ran out to a 31-16 margin in the first ten minutes and this forced Kentucky to try a zone, which proved effective. The Wildcats were able to cut the UNC lead down to five points, 43-38, at the intermission.

But Dean Smith was able to adjust to the defense during halftime and North Carolina extended their lead in the second half, with Walter Davis and Darrell Elston hitting from the outside and Bobby Jones leading the way with 21 points on the inside. Kevin Grevey led Kentucky with 23 points.

[Box Score] - 1973-74

After a dismal 13-13 season, the Wildcats were hoping to turn things around in the 1973-74 season, especially Joe Hall who was feeling the pressure from the Kentucky faithful. After two early-season wins, Kentucky was blown out by an imposing Indiana team by 24 points, although the margin could have easily been much more. The Indiana game was particular embarrassing for Hall as he was cuffed on the back of the head during an argument with IU coach Bobby Knight. After the loss, it wasn't clear that UK had made any headway in turning around the program's fortunes. Heading into the game against UNC in Louisville, there was a lot riding on the outcome.

Things didn't look good for Kentucky early, as Carolina threatened to blow-out the Wildcats, with the Tar Heels leading 31-16 (the exact margin as the year before) midway through the first half. Joe Hall benched the starters, but had a change of heart after urging from senior Jimmy Dan Conner. Kentucky put on a run. This time, the Cats outscored their counterparts 26-3 over the course of nine minutes.

Leading the Wildcat charge was Conner who scored 35 points, including at one point five jump shots in a row. Dean Smith commented on Conner's heroics, "We had a hand in Jimmy Dan's face every time he shot. He was unbelievable - although I tried hard to recruit him and feel he has that capability." Conner was so hot, even the referee (Don Wedge) noticed as he commented to the official scorer "Boy, is that guy, Conner, ever hot ! Everything he throws up is going in."

Kevin Grevey added 16 points for the Wildcat cause while North Carolina was led by 18 points from Phil Ford and followed closely with 17 points each from Walter Davis and Mitch Kupchak.

This would prove to be Joe Hall's first and only victory against UNC and Dean Smith. Afterwards, it was confirmed how important the victory was for not only UK but the coach. According to a Dave Kindred article later that year, "'That might have been the biggest win Kentucky has had in a long time,' said a man who will have a say in whether Joe Hall gets a new contract of not. The man smiled." Kentucky did end up turning the season around with a 26-5 record which not only included a revenge victory of Indiana, but a runner-up finish for the NCAA championship title.

[Box Score] - 1974-75

Once again, the follow-up game was played in the state of North Carolina, this time in Charlotte. This time 7th ranked Kentucky did not fall behind in the first half and the intermission saw a 42-all tie with the #4 ranked Tar Heels. Kentucky had controlled the boards and gotten UNC into foul trouble.

This led Dean Smith to switch to a zone defense. The zone worked wonders as UK's offense stagnated and Mitch Kupchak (24 points) and Walter Davis (19 points and 12 rebounds) proceeded to put North Carolina on top 90-77. When Kentucky's Rick Robey left the game on fouls with over nine minutes remaining, Kentucky's chances were dealt a blow. Jack Givens led Kentucky with 24 points and 10 rebounds while Larry Johnson added 18.

[Box Score] - 1975-76

The Old Charlotte Coliseum

The following year, the series was not renewed as UK Coach Joe Hall and athletic director Cliff Hagan made the call to cancel the series, citing a punishing non-conference slate. However UNC and UK did soon match up again in a setting where the stakes were considerably higher than the regular season contests they had been playing.

Walter Davis scores
over Truman Claytor
The 1977 Eastern Regional finals were held in Cole Field House and matched the two teams, both ranked in the top 5 nationally.

North Carolina went on top in the first half with a 12-point margin, 53-41, thanks in part to an outstanding 64 percent shooting effort. Kentucky's Mike Phillips scored 12 first-half points to keep the Wildcats within striking distance.

The contest was rough, and left many players ailing. With the second half just begun and UNC holding an 11-point lead, UNC's Phil Ford charged into Larry Johnson and was called for his fourth foul. More damaging than the foul, however, was the fact that Ford was left barely able to raise his arm after the collision. Kentucky had the perfect opportunity to make a run with Ford (who was generally considered one of the best guards in the nation) ailing, but they never were able to get over the hump. John Kuester, a senior, took over the UNC offense and was able to run out the clock using North Carolina's now-perfected ball control offense (the Four Corners) and dash UK's hopes. Said Kuester, "We ran an offense called '4C' where we were delaying, then looking for back-door cuts to the basket. It helped us out when we forced Robey and Phillips to come out."

Larry Johnson, who most of the game was assigned to dog the UNC point guard, himself went out of the game with two minutes remaining on fouls, and North Carolina clinging to a one-point lead. No one on the Kentucky side was able to stop the inevitable after that.

The difference turned out to be UNC's ability to convert from the free throw line. They hit 33 of 36 tries (to UK's 16 of 18), with their final 14 points of the game coming from the charity stripe. The Wildcats decided to foul Steve Krafcisin, who at the time was a 65-percent foul shooter. However Krafcisin was able to convert 8-of-8 free throws for the game. "I remember them keeping on me because I was a freshman. But making the free throws was the most amazing thing to me. They just kept going in."

Kentucky took the loss hard, but it was through defeat that they refocused and the following year, went on to win the NCAA title.

[Box Score] - 1977 NCAA Tournament

1981 Game Program
The next meeting between the two teams occurred in, of all places, the New Jersey Meadowlands at Brendan Byrne Arena. A perfect made-for-TV matchup, the schools were ranked #1 and #2 in the country and both were undefeated. [This would be the first (and so far only) time that the two programs that were #1 and #2 in all-time wins (UK and UNC) faced each other while being ranked #1 and #2 (UNC and UK) in the country.]

On the team for #1-ranked UNC were Sam Perkins and James Worthy, along with a young freshman by the name of Michael Jordan. Also on that team were a pair of players Matt Doherty and Buzz Peterson who would far in the future cross paths with UK once again. Kentucky had some outstanding players in Derrick Hord and Dirk Minniefield, along with a young Melvin Turpin. However, they were awaiting the return of their All-American, 7-1 Sam Bowie who had yet to play that year while recovering from a leg injury. Unfortunately for UK, the wait would last two years.

Without Bowie, the Wildcats were overmatched inside by Worthy and Perkins while Doherty did a good defensive job to limit Hord's scoring on the wing. Kentucky coach Joe Hall tried to have his team limit UNC's inside game, but they had little success and that left the Tar Heel perimeter players with relatively open looks. "We did some gambling with their shooters," Hall said. "The different things their big guys can do inside forces you to concentrate on stopping them. Their guards hit those shots we gave them in the second half." Said UNC coach Smith, "We'll never have easier outside shots. But they accomplished what they wanted ... keeping the ball away from our big guys. Joe always accomplishes what he wants."

Kentucky held close through the first half and trailed by only 3 points at halftime. However the inside dominance of UNC continued to take its toll and the lead was expanded in the second half. Finally, trailing by 14 with 10 minutes remaining, Kentucky switched to a man-to-man defense in a last-ditch effort to get back in the game. However UNC was too athletic to be phased by UK's defense and the Tar Heels came away with a relatively easy 82-69 victory. Said UK point guard Dirk Minniefield, "We can't match them man-to-man. With Sam (Bowie), we can match them physically." James Worthy led the way with 26 points while Sam Perkins added 21 and the freshman Jordan contributed 19. Kentucky was led by Charles Hurt's 18 points.

After the game, the press was already looking down the road to the tournament, despite the fact that conference play had not yet begun. When asked about a potential rematch with UK, Smith said "If we meet again, they'll probably have Bowie. They'll probably have a psychological advantage." Minniefield was even more optimistic. "Right now they're definitely a better team, but we're going to meet up with them again, down the road ... I think this is a game we're going to keep in the back of our minds for the rest of the year."

As it turned out, Bowie never did return that year (or the next) and Kentucky was shocked in the NCAA Tournament by Middle Tennessee State. North Carolina, on the other hand, did make good on their expectations and beat Georgetown for the NCAA National title.

[Box Score] - 1981-82

Jimmy Black pushes the ball with Michael Jordan on the wing while Jim Master scrambles to get back. Charles Hurt, Sam Perkins, James Worthy, Melvin Turpin and Chuck Verderber look on.

That game was followed by yet another long drought which lasted throughout most of the 1980's. Only in the late 80's did the two programs get together to iron out a regular series. This time it was the veteran Smith who was helping out Kentucky when that program was trying to get back on its feet from a scandal.

1989 Game Program
Traditions Collide
The time-frame for this renewed series was especially tense for UK fans since not only were they trying to recover from severe NCAA sanctions, but in the intervening years, UNC was steadily making up ground in the All-Time wins department. In July of 1990, UK announced that they had 'discovered' a win against the University of Louisville from 1914. The game had actually been listed in the UK media guide for a number of years and had always been in the Louisville media guide, but no one had thought to compare media guides and even after they did correct the omission, no one thought to add the victory to UK's win total. This discovery was accepted by the NCAA and tied the all-time victory totals of the two schools at 1,479 each. The following year, North Carolina was doing research on their history and 'discovered' five victories and one defeat which had gone unreported. The opponents were the Durham YMCA, the Durham Elks and Duke University. This discovery increased UNC's lead over UK at the time from 7 to 12.

Reggie Hanson scores in front of Scott Williams, George Lynch and Kevin Madden
The first game of the revived series was held in late December of 1989 at Louisville's Freedom Hall. Rick Pitino was in his first year as head coach at Kentucky and was instituting a radical new offensive scheme, using the left-overs from the program after most of the 'Blue Chip' talent left the program in the fall-out from the scandal. Although Kentucky stuck to Pitino's philosophy of pressure defense, running and three-point shooting, UNC simply had too much talent and beat the Wildcats at their own game. The final tally was 121 to 110, in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated. Kentucky hit 21 three-point shots, but North Carolina shot an amazing 60% from the field, including 50% from the three-point line to secure the victory.

King Rice scored 22 points and Rick Fox added 20 to lead a balanced attack which saw seven Tar Heel players score in double figures. Kentucky was led by sophomore Deron Feldhaus with 27 points and 26 points from long-range bomber Derrick Miller.

[Box Score] - 1989-90

1990 Program
The following year, if North Carolina (who still held a distinct talent advantage) expected a repeat of the previous year's blowout, they were in for a shock.

Kentucky came to the Dean Smith Center for the first time ever and nearly came away with a victory over the tenth-ranked Tar Heels. Kentucky played a poised game and their press rattled the UNC team into committing 28 turnovers. Relying on the inside talents of freshman Jamal Mashburn and with 24 points from John Pelphrey, Kentucky held an eight point lead at halftime, but was unable to hold on in the end. North Carolina was able to capitalize enough on 32 free throw attempts (to Kentucky's 11) to pull out the three point win on their home floor.

Despite the loss, the game was a strong signal that the Cats were on the rebound to national prominence and would be back contending for national honors sooner than later. Kentucky under Pitino was well on their way to grabbing back the all-time victories title from Carolina (which they did later in the decade when they beat Wake Forest in the 1996 NCAA Tournament).

[Box Score] - 1990-91

However, just when the series started to get interesting, Pitino decided to pull the plug (much to many UK fan's disappointment). Shades of Joe Hall in the 70's, Pitino cited an overly aggressive non-conference schedule which included regulars like Indiana and Louisville among others, and asked that the series be cancelled. Smith agreed, however he warned Pitino not to come back asking for a series once he upgraded UK's talent level. Sure enough, the two coaches never scheduled another game. It has been reported that Pitino was indeed interested in renewing the series later in his tenure at UK, but Smith would have none of it.

Dean Smith
Despite this premature cancellation, the NCAA has a way of disrupting coaches wishes, and the two were forced to meet again in 1995 in a Regional Final, this time held in Birmingham, Alabama. As with the 1977 game, both teams were ranked in the top 5 in the country. The game featured a balanced and deep UK team on the one hand, while Carolina relied on an iron-five, two of whom were superstars in Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace. The other Carolina players, such as Donald Williams, Jeff McInnis and Dante Calabria each played important supporting roles for the Tar Heels that year.

Kentucky got off to an early start, however the momentum of the game was broken irreparably part-way through the first half when Andre Riddick and Rasheed Wallace got into an altercation which literally brought the game to a standstill while the officials attempted to sort out the mess. Technicals were called on each player, along with (inexplicably) UK's Walter McCarty, who wasn't a part of the altercation.

Rick Pitino
Once play finally resumed, Kentucky was never able to push the lead despite Wallace sitting on the bench for the remainder of the half. As the game wore on, Kentucky was unable to hit their shots, going an uncharacteristic 7 for 36 from the three-point line. Dean Smith's stated game plan was to guard only Tony Delk from the perimeter. This left many of the UK players (many of them excellent three point shooters) wide open from the perimeter. Unfortunately for Kentucky, all of these players had off shooting nights (on the same night) and UK simply did not capitalize on their open looks. In the end, UK became rattled and could never put together a sustained comeback. UNC was led by Jerry Stackhouse's 18 points along with 18 points from Donald Williams. Much like the aftermath of the 1977 loss, Kentucky was able to regroup from the stinging loss to the Tar Heels and came back to capture the NCAA title the following year.

[Box Score] - 1995 NCAA Tournament

UK players celebrate
After Rick Pitino had left Kentucky for greener (ie $$$$) pastures coaching for the Boston Celtics and Dean Smith retired (having finally surpassed Rupp's all-time victory mark), the slate was now swept clean for the two schools to again renew a regular season series (which many fans on both sides had long lobbied for). This time the Coach Smith in the series was Orlando "Tubby" Smith who took the position on Kentucky's sidelines after successful stints at Georgia and Tulsa, while a face from the past, Matt Doherty assumed command of the Tar Heels.

The first game of the renewed series, held in the Dean Smith Center, found Kentucky at a particularly critical time. Although the season was still early, UK was reeling from poor offensive execution and were saddled with a 1-3 record. Having dropped out of the top 25 ranking, the game on paper looked like a blow-out in favor of the Heels. Not a cheerful situation for Kentucky fans, especially since UK was at the time on the tail end of a 16-6 all-time series record with UNC and with UK not having beaten UNC for over 25 years.

The game was a blow-out, however it was Kentucky which did the damage. With Cliff Hawkins shredding the UNC defense with his penetration and previously-unknown Marquis Estill exploding for 19 points, UK rolled to an easy victory and went on to salvage the season. UK's Keith Bogans scored 18 points, but more importantly held UNC's high scoring Joseph Forte (who was also Bogans' former high school teammate at DeMatha (MD)) in check. The game came perilously close to surpassing North Carolina's worst home loss at the Dean Dome, and would have if not for two last-minute 3-point shots by Forte.

[Box Score] - 2000-01

2001-02 Game Program
The return trip the following year found the Tar Heels arriving in Lexington to play against Kentucky in Rupp Arena for the first time. North Carolina had played in Rupp twice before in the NCAA Tournament, but lost each time. The onus for the contest was now on the Tar Heels who came into the game with a 1-3 record and having dropped out of the poll, the exact same scenario Kentucky entered Chapel Hill the previous season.

The game was nearly over as soon as it began. UK Senior Tayshaun Prince hit five consecutive three-pointers over a two minute stretch to put Kentucky out in front. UNC's Kris Lang put on a valiant offensive effort to keep the Tar Heels within striking distance (they trailed by 12 at halftime), yet he became ill during halftime and could only play for short periods the second half, and even then below full strength. Without the services of their primary offensive threat, UNC slid into a 20-point deficit which Kentucky was able to hold onto, despite cooling off considerably from the field. Prince ended up with a career high 31 points, including seven three-point shots. Lang's gutsy performance topped UNC's scoring with 18 points, despite only playing 27 minutes.

[Box Score] - 2001-02

Tayshaun Prince shoots one of his five consecutive threes

Chuck Hayes battles Sean May
The following year saw the series return to Chapel Hill. Kentucky was 3-1 but looked vulnerable as they struggled in the preseason and were upset by Virginia in the Maui Classic tournament. Kentucky was also without the services of their point guard Cliff Hawkins who was declared academically ineligible for the first semester and Antwain Barbour, who was injured in Maui. There was some good news for the Wildcats as junior forward Erik Daniels returned to the squad after sitting out four games as punishment for mistakenly playing in more summer games than was allowed by the NCAA. The Tar Heels were looking considerably better, although they had been blown out by an experienced Illinois squad. Despite the setback and being extremely young, they looked impressive in the Preseason NIT and were hoping to rebound against Kentucky. Leading the charge were freshmen Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton and Sean May to go along with sophomore Jawad Williams among others.

The game promised to be a match of the experience of Kentucky versus the youth of athleticism of North Carolina. And for a half the spectators were not disappointed. The game was exciting and fast paced as the two teams went back and forth against each other. At the half, the Tar Heels had established a 43-40 lead. However it was after the second half began when the wheels came off. North Carolina's center Sean May (and only inside threat) picked up some quick fouls in succession and was forced to the bench. At the same time, Kentucky came out of halftime and made it a priority to pass the ball to Wildcat strongman Marquis Estill who failed to score at all in the first half. Estill responded with 20 second half points as he completely outmatched May and all other Carolina defenders.

While the inside game heated up for Kentucky, the outside picked up also as Keith Bogans and Gerald Fitch proved deadly from the perimeter. What looked to be a tight game at halftime was a blowout in the second half as the Wildcats turned up not only their offense but also their defense, leaving the Tar Heels confused and listless.

Fitch shot 70% from the field, including 4-5 from behind the three-point line, en route to a game-leading 25 point outburst. Bogans added 20 points for the victors. The Wildcats as a team shot a stellar 60% from the field. Freshman shooting guard Rashad McCants led the Tar Heels with 22 points while fellow freshmen Raymond Felton added 18 and Sean May 14.

[Box Score] - 2002-03

Gerald Fitch's game winner
North Carolina alumnus Roy Williams moved from Kansas (where he had reestablished a strong program in the 1990s for the historically rich program) back to Chapel Hill for the 2003-04 season. Williams had been the logical choice to replace UNC coach Bill Guthridge when he retired a few years earlier, but the timing proved to be right for everyone but Williams, who had built strong ties to the Jayhawks. But given a second opportunity and with North Carolina coming off two disappointing seasons in a row, Williams heeded UNC's call to return home.

The teams met in early January, and after highly successful non-conference slates, both squads were ranked in the top ten. After sprinting ahead 12-4, Kentucky's offense sputtered and North Carolina went ahead in front of the Rupp Arena crowd, holding a 28-20 lead at halftime.

Adjustments made at halftime led to a more efficient inside attack and helped Kentucky climb back into the game in the second half, where they forged into the lead with just over ten minutes remaining in the game. The gritty play of little used reserves Bernard Cote and walk-on Ravi Moss were instrumental in the helping Kentucky maintain the lead.

With just under a minute left in the game, UNC point guard Raymond Felton hit a three-point shot to put the Tar Heels within one point, 57-56. However with 25 seconds remaining, Kentucky guard Gerald Fitch provided the answer as he hit a clutch three pointer of his own. UK's Cliff Hawkins made a steal and hit a free throw to seal the win for the Wildcats, who swept the original four-game series.

Said Coach Williams about the late game heroics of the Wildcats, "I love college basketball and kids that play college basketball. The feeling that Gerald Fitch must have right now is a feeling that everyone wishes they could have."

Fitch ended the game as the high scorer with 21 points, while fellow senior Erik Daniels added 18 points and 10 rebounds. North Carolina was paced by Melvin Scott with 16 points.

[Box Score] - 2003-04

Raymond Felton guards UK's Cliff Hawkins

After a number of sub-par seasons at Chapel Hill, the Tar Heel fans and players were looking forward to big things in the 2004-05 season. Rashad McCants and others, stayed on for another season at UNC (rather than entering the NBA draft) in order to compete for a NCAA championship. The core group of returnees was joined by freshman phenom Marvin Williams, who provided a spark off the bench. After an early season loss to Santa Clara, in a game in which the Tar Heels were without the services of point guard Raymond Felton, North Carolina began to come around under the guidance of Roy Williams.

Eighth-ranked Kentucky was a perfect 4-0 to start the season and was also looking for big things, but the team was young and was looking to blend in a talented freshman class which included Rajon Rondo, Randolph Morris, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford.

The Tar Heels came quickly out of the gates before a capacity crowd at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, building a 8-0 lead to start the game and later a 24-6 lead over the Wildcats. Bringing energy to such a game was a point of emphasis for the UNC coaching staff. "I was really ticked off last year," Roy Williams said about the previous meeting in Lexington. "That was the least competitive, least focused, least energized team going into a big environment of any team I've ever coached."

In this game, it was Kentucky was that was not focused, as the Tar Heels repeatedly beat them down court for transition baskets and out-rebounded the Wildcats by 21. This was not helped when Kentucky senior Chuck Hayes picked up two early first-half fouls and per Coach Smith's practices, sat for the remainder of the half. Rashad McCants went on a tear, scoring 20 of his game-high 28 points in the first half.

Rashad McCants flies in for a dunk ahead of UK's Randolph Morris

The second half saw Kentucky make three runs to cut the North Carolina margin, but each time the veteran Tar Heels responded. Said UK coach Tubby Smith "We never gave up. But when we cut the lead a couple of times, we had a couple of ill-advised shots that didn't come out of our offense. The leadership that we needed at that point and time to set it up just wasn't there."

Kentucky was led by junior Kelenna Azubuike with 22 points. McCants led North Carolina with 28 while senior Jawad Williams added 19 and center Sean May added 14 and 19 rebounds.

The Tar Heels fulfilled their expectations when they went on to win the N.C.A.A. championship over a tough Illinois team. (The two teams came close to meeting in the Final Four, but Kentucky was beaten in an overtime thriller by Michigan State in the regional finals.) It was the North Carolina program's fourth N.C.A.A. title and the first for Coach Roy Williams.

[Box Score] - 2004-05

The following 2005-06 season, the tables turned, at least on paper. North Carolina lost the core of their national championship team, including promising freshman Marvin Williams to the NBA draft and were an extremely young, inexperienced and unproven team when they arrived in Lexington early in the season. The Wildcats, on the other hand, were a relatively experienced team with what was expected to be a talented sophomore class ready for a breakout season.

Roy Williams
The Wildcats began the game as most expected by taking a 16-10 lead, but the young Tar Heels weren't fazed by the crowd and went on a 15-3 run of their own to claim the lead. North Carolina hit seven three-pointers in the first half en route to a twelve-point lead at halftime 44-32.

Kentucky tightened the margin in the second half, scoring the first seven points after intermission, but could never get over the hump. UNC controlled the boards, mainly due to freshman sensation Tyler Hansbrough (a player UK recruited heavily) and senior David Noel. Other Tar Heels such as Reyshawn Terry (who led all scorers with 25), Bobby Frasor and Wes Miller all contributed key baskets throughout the game, keeping the Wildcats in check.

For their part, Kentucky kept the game tight throughout the second half but mental mistakes at key moments and other lapses such as an inability to keep UNC from getting offensive rebounds doomed them to the loss. Said senior Ravi Moss, "If you give a team like North Carolina second shots, nothing good can come of it. We've got to rebound the ball and we didn't do it. We have got to show more toughness. We've got to reach down and stop people. We got it to five a couple of times and then just made mental mistakes."

Noted UK Coach Tubby Smith, "Roy Williams had his team ready to play. They outplayed us. They outworked us. They shot the ball extremely well."

[Box Score] - 2005-06

David Noel makes a statement with a monster dunk

With the 2006-07 season, the once-young and inexperienced North Carolina was back in prominence with a heralded freshman class to go along with their upper-classmen who had gained important experience the previous year. UNC was ranked seventh in the country in the Associated Press Poll when they met unranked Kentucky in Chapel Hill.

UNC Freshman Brandan Wright shoots over Randolph Morris
The Wildcats entered the game with a 4-2 record, having lost two games to highly ranked UCLA and Memphis in the Maui Classic. Not much was expected of the Wildcats against their third ranked opponent, but the Wildcats had a lot of fight left in them.

Kentucky controlled the tempo for much of the game and this kept the Tar Heels within striking distance. The Wildcats concentrated on containing UNC star Tyler Hansbrough and held him to 2-10 shooting from the field and three rebounds. Meanwhile UK center Randolph Morris had one of the most efficient days of his career, hitting 11 of 12 field goals to lead both teams with 23 points.

But despite this, North Carolina received important contributions from their other starters, notably Reyshawn Terry (16 points) along with freshmen Brandan Wright (16 points) and Wayne Ellington (17 points) in keeping ahead of the Wildcats.

Kentucky trimmed UNC's 31-24 halftime lead down to three points early in the second half but the Tar Heels soon pushed the margin back out and Kentucky could never get over the hump as they failed to convert at critical times throughout the remainder of the half. Said coach Tubby Smith, "We got it to three in the second half and then kept taking ourselves out of it with turnovers and careless fouls. We have to be more disciplined."

[Box Score] - 2006-07

The following season saw a coaching change at UK as Tubby Smith left the program for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and Billy Gillispie was introduced as the new head coach of the Wildcats.

Billy Gillispie
The transition was a difficult one as Kentucky struggled early in the year to adapt to the hard-driving Gillispie while at the same time dealing with a string of injuries to key players. Smith had left the program with a dearth of talent in the frontcourt, in fact the evidence could be seen by looking at North Carolina's bench as Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson (to go along with Brandan Wright who had since turned pro after one collegiate season) had all been recruited unsuccessfully by Smith, but all ended up in Chapel Hill instead.

North Carolina, on the other hand, was enjoying the fruits of their recruiting fortunes, as they were undefeated and ranked #1 in the nation. Despite some uncertainty over whether their point guard Ty Lawson would play (he did), the Tar Heels did not disappoint as they ran away with a 86-77 win over the Wildcats, which was not as close as the score suggests.

Kentucky trailed 37-32 at halftime and opened the second half with a basket to cut the lead to three points, but just as happened the year before, they could get no closer. The Tar Heels soon went on a 13-0 scoring run to put the game out of reach. North Carolina was led by super reserve Danny Green who scored a career-high 20 points for the victors.

Kentucky, through a swarming defense, was again able to hold UNC star center Tyler Hansbrough to two field goals for the second year in a row. However Hansbrough was able to convert 10 of 12 shots from the foul line to score 14 points to go along with his game-leading 11 rebounds.

Hansbrough's counterpart at center, freshman Patrick Patterson, played well and scored nineteen points in a losing effort. However Patterson was saddled with foul trouble and had little help inside to go against UNC's deep frontline. Sophomore Perry Stevenson, who was Kentucky's only other frontcourt man with any experience, fouled out early in the second half, after only eight minutes of play.

[Box Score] - 2007-08

Perry Stevenson and Ramsel Bradley defend against a drive by UNC's Wayne Ellington

Recruits, Transfers and Near-Misses

Jason Parker
With two high profile schools, there are bound to be recruiting battles between the two programs. UK and UNC have off-and-on had a few run-ins, although not all were typical. For instance, most fans are familiar with Jason Parker, a player who was set-in-stone to go to UNC, but in a strange turn of events ended up being turned out of UNC at the last moment, at a time when UK was more than happy to pick him up. Parker would be the first player ever from the state of North Carolina to sign with UK. After a promising freshman season, Parker ended up injuring his knee (twice) which held him out of competition for what would have been his sophomore year. Later, he repeatedly violated team policy and was dismissed from the team. He transferred to the University of South Carolina, nearer to his home in Charlotte, but also left that program.

There was also the case of Makhtar N'diaye, who when looking for a school to transfer out of Michigan in the mid-1990's, considered both UK and UNC. UNC 'won' the recruiting battle, but when it was all said and done, UK certainly breathed a sigh of relief they didn't land the big man given the embarrassment he caused the program, both on and off the court.

In the early 1990's, Clifford Rozier was part of a highly touted recruiting class at UNC, but became disenchanted and decided to transfer. He was seriously considering UK, but due to a minor recruiting violation which occurred when Sean Woods drove Cliff to a party in Louisville (which was further from campus than a prescribed distance the NCAA stipulated), UK decided to drop the recruitment of the big man. Rozier ended up transferring to Louisville where he had big games against UK on the way to some All-American honors.

Again in the early 1990's, Missouri freshman and Kentucky native Travis Ford was looking to transfer from the Tigers. Being by-passed by UK out of high school, Ford proved enough in Columbia to warrant attention from the Wildcats who were still rebuilding after a damaging NCAA probation. Ford was interested in going to UK, and Kentucky coach Rick Pitino was eager to sign him. However at the last moment, Ford intimated that he would also like to visit North Carolina. Upon hearing this, Pitino told Ford that if he visited UNC, he could forget about an offer to UK. Ford cancelled his visit to Chapel Hill and went on to become one of Kentucky's most deadly outside shooter, helping the Wildcats reach the Final Four in 1993.

Rex Chapman
There's also the case of Rex Chapman, the school-boy legend who was torn between playing for UK and playing for UL, a place where the style of play at the time was a better fit for his skills. Chapman ended up signing with UK where he had a brilliant, yet short career, before bolting for the pros.

At the time of his recruitment, Dean Smith suggested that Chapman to come to Chapel Hill. Smith's pitch was no doubt presented as a third option which would allow Chapman to remove himself from the intense pressure of the Bluegrass, as whichever in-state school he chose, he was sure to disappoint the fans of either UK or UL. How strongly Chapman considered UNC is unknown, however if he had signed with the Tar Heels, it would have been a huge blow to UK at the time. This not only a talent standpoint but more importantly from a psychological standpoint to see a homegrown talent bolt for the light Tar Heel blue.

As mentioned earlier, one player who was heavily recruited by both schools was Jimmy Dan Conner, who torched UNC with 35 points in one of Kentucky's rare wins. I'm sure there were other recruiting battles over the years I'm unaware of.

Some of the biggest recruiting battles occurred over players who didn't suit up for either team. Kevin Garnett, being a recent example of someone who was recruited heavily by both, ended up bypassing college altogether for the NBA. Tracy McGrady, who prepped at nearby Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C., may have been another player who UK (and UNC ?) recruited, but went pro instead.

One important recruit was Ralph Sampson, who had both UK and UNC in his final four, but whittled his choices down to UK and the University of Virginia before announcing for the Cavaliers in one of the most discussed press conferences ever in NCAA basketball history. If the 7-4 Sampson had signed with UK, it would have formed one of the most intriguing and formidable front-courts in basketball history as Kentucky already had a commitment from another highly regarded big man, 7-1 Sam Bowie. As it was, Bowie became injured and was sidelined for two years. Kentucky could have sorely used Sampson's inside presence during that time. UNC, on the other hand, was saddled with competing against Sampson (who became one of the most dominating players in ACC history) and Virginia on a regular basis.

At around the same time as Sampson's recruitment, UNC and UK battled over James Worthy, who went on to All-American status as a Tar Heel and helped UNC win a national title in 1982. Worthy was bound for Carolina, but had a relative on the UK coaching staff (Leonard Hamilton) and gave the Wildcats serious consideration.

James Jordan at UNC
Going back a long way, there is the interesting story of James Jordan. The first All-American named Jordan at UNC, James was on campus at Chapel Hill in the mid-40's as part of his obligation to the armed services. He played under Ben Carnevale and helped lead the Tar Heels to the 1946 NCAA championship game, garnering All-American honors along the way. When Carnevale decided to leave for another school, Jordan (who had already graduated from UNC) also decided to leave.

James Jordan
Jordan approached UK Coach Adolph Rupp about transferring to UK. Despite being an All-American, Rupp tried to talk Jordan out of the idea, saying he didn't believe he was capable of playing the more up-tempo style Kentucky employed. Despite the resistance, Jordan came to UK anyway where he earned a Masters degree in education. Jordan played (sparingly) on some of the most talent-laden teams in college basketball history.

When people say Kentucky was so talented in the late 40's that they had All-Americans sitting on the bench, it was no joke. Jordan was one of them, and not the only one. He probably also holds some type of distinction by being on an NCAA-runner up team (UNC in 1946), an NIT-runner up team (UK in 1947) and an NCAA Champion (UK in 1948). His career certainly makes for an interesting trivia question.

Altercations and Misunderstandings

While the series hasn't consisted of a huge number of games, there have been some notable tense moments regarding UK, UNC players and in some cases the referees.

Most remember the altercation between Andre Riddick and Rasheed Wallace in the 1995 NCAA Regional Final in Birmingham, where referee Tim Higgins made one of the most boneheaded decisions ever. Higgins stopped play for at least five minutes to settle the combatants down and to review the video tape at length. He then proceeded to call a technical foul on Walter McCarty (?) (a player vaguely similar in looks to Riddick [at least to Higgins apparently]).

UK's Andre Riddick and UNC's Rasheed Wallace go toe to toe

Rick Robey tussles
for the ball
But that wasn't the only tense situation. In the 1977 showdown, again in the NCAA Regional Final, Dean Smith and UK player Rick Robey had a confrontation on the court after Robey committed a particularly physical foul on UNC's John Kuester to stop the clock. Dean Smith ran out onto the court to confront Robey. In the exchange, Robey claims Smith called him a 'cheap son of a bitch.' From an excerpt in Dave Kindred's book A Year With the Cats:

"On that Kuester foul, coach Smith came up to me and called me 'a cheap son of a bitch,' " Robey said later. "He said, 'All you do is throw elbows.' I told him to look at films and show me where I ever threw an elbow meaning to hit somebody."

Smith denied Robey's report of his language. "I did not swear. I do not swear. Every other bad habit, I have. But I don't swear." Then Smith smiled, "I was badly misquoted. My mom and dad will be mad if they hear I said those things."

By the time Smith declared his vocabulary antiseptic, Robey was on the UK team bus. Somebody told him about Smith's reference to his parents. "Well," Robey said, "my mom and dad are going to be mad he called me what he did."

Although Smith denied the accusation, he later apologized to Robey over the incident when Smith coached Robey in the World University Games.

Official Jim Bain eyes Dean Smith and Rick Robey's 'conversation' on the court

While that confrontation is fairly well known, perhaps less known (and one which might help explain Dean's reaction in the 1977 games) is that in a game prior in 1975, Smith also took exception to what he thought was overly physical play by Robey when UNC's Mitch Kupchak went to the ground clutching his stomach. Smith became incensed and started pointing and shouting at Robey during the game. As it turned out, it was not Robey but another player Dan Hall, who apparently was the person involved. Even then, there is disagreement about what Hall did or did not do as Kentucky claimed Kupchak flopped on the play and was faking the injury. Said Coach Hall after the game, "[Dean Smith] threatened Dan [Hall] and it isn't his place to do that. I wouldn't do that to another player." Dan Hall credited Kupchak with an "academy award" performance for flopping. Said the UK player, "Yeah, he faked the fall and his actions after that. I told him later it was an accident and he understood that it was."

Forest "Aggie" Sale
With these memorable incidents, maybe it's not surprising that these strange events actually goes much further back than the mid-70's. Remember the 1-point game from the 1932 Southern Conference tournament, won by UNC by a single point ? There's a passage in Russell Rice's book (Big Blue Machine) with an interesting letter concerning that game.

In the book, Rice often devoted chapters which consisted entirely of letters Rice received from players, coaches, etc. with their recollections of past events. Although the opponent is not identified by name in the passage, based on the information presented and by process of elimination, it is only the UK-UNC game which fits. Below is the excerpt:

Frank Lane, a noted baseball executive, was also a nationally known basketball official who "called" many games involving UK teams. He told the following story about a game involving the University of Kentucky in the early 1930s:

"I believe the oddest decision I ever witnessed in any kind of contest occurred in a basketball game in which Kentucky participated and, possibly, ultimately resulted in the Wildcats losing a very important contest. Because it is only human to err and the fact that the chap officiating that game is a very high-class gentleman, I refrain from mentioning in which particular game this rather dubious decision was made as it might identify him. However, it did not occur at Lexington so but a few of the Wildcat adherents witnessed the faux pas in question.

During this exciting and hotly contest game wherein any single play might have been the margin of victory or defeat, a Kentucky try for goal late in the game missed, and Aggie Sale and "Dutch" Kreuter "followed up" the unsuccessful shot. Sale was just a trifle ahead of the Newport Dutchman and was actually trying a shot for the basket when Kreuter's big mitts, in a belated attempt for the ball, slammed across "Aggie's" arms. "Hacking - two shots," rang out the official's voice, synchronizing with a shrill blast from the protesting whistle.

Sale perched himself on the foul line preparatory to pitching the fouls when the captain of the opposing five, awakened to the situation that neither he nor his teammates had fouled, asked who committed the infraction. The referee, still expectantly waiting for Sale to start the foul-throwing, casually pointed out the offender - Kreuter !

The referee then realized the fact that he had awarded two free throws because of a Kentucky player fouling (?) another teammate - of course, he knew this could not be. But the argument ended, which no one in the audience ever has gotten the straight of, with the referee calmly but firmly walking to the other end of the floor and giving Kentucky's opponents a free throw - which was made ! Quite likely Kentucky's amazed team said something untoward as to the official's eyesight or judgment that may have caused this penalty, but just the same the Wildcats lost the game by one point. No, this was not in the last few seconds or minutes of play when the odd decision was made - there was still about 10 minutes to play - but this point, the margin of the Wildcat's defeat, was certainly very pertinent no matter when the weird ruling occurred."

Please note that the following reference materials were consulted for the above. 1.) Lexington Herald 2.) Louisville Courier Journal 3.) Charlotte Observer 4.) Big Blue Machine by Russell Rice 5.) The Winning Tradition by Bert Nelli 6.) University of North Carolina Media Guide 7.) University of Kansas Media Guide 8.) Tar Heel by Ken Rappoport among others.

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Page written by Jon Scott. Please with any corrections or additional information.
Last Updated November 18, 2008