This from Tim Letcher at SEC News:
When Kentucky meets Louisville shortly after 6 p.m. on Saturday night in New Orleans, the Wildcats will be making their 15th appearance in the NCAA Final Four. That’s the third-highest total in the history of the NCAA Tournament, behind only North Carolina and UCLA.
Below is a look back at each of the storied program's appearances in the Final Four.
1942 (Final Four) - Kentucky’s first appearance in the Final Four came in 1942, which was Adolph Rupp’s 12th season at the helm of the program. Kentucky won the SEC Tournament championship, earning the right to play in the NCAA Tournament in New Orleans. Only eight teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament in those days, so Kentucky only needed to beat Illinois to make the Final Four. The Wildcats did just that, winning 46-44, marking the first NCAA Tournament win in school history. In the national semifinals, Kentucky lost to Dartmouth, 47-28. Junior guard Marvin Akers led the Wildcats in scoring that season, at 7.6 points per game. Junior center Mel Brewer averaged seven points per game and junior forward Milt Ticco averaged 5.8 points per contest.
1948 (NCAA Championship #1) – Kentucky’s first NCAA championship came in 1948, with a team called the “Fabulous Five” bringing the first title back to Lexington. After losing only twice in the regular season, Kentucky won the SEC Tournament, then won three straight games for the championship. Kentucky beat Columbia 76-53 in the round of eight, then beat Holy Cross 60-52 in the Final Four. In the championship game, Kentucky downed Baylor, 58-42. Kentucky went on to compete in the Olympic Trials, where they beat Baylor again. This team was also the core of the 1948 United States Olympic Team, which beat France 65-21 to win the gold medal in London, England. Alex Groza and Ralph Beard led Kentucky in scoring that season, averaging 12.5 points per game. Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones averaged 9.3 points for the Wildcats.
1949 (NCAA Championship #2) – Kentucky returned nearly all of the 1948 national championship team in 1949, and the Wildcats put together a 32-2 campaign behind a quartet of talented seniors. Alex Groza was the standout, averaging 20.5 points per game. His fellow seniors Ralph Beard (10.8), Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones (8.6) and Cliff Barker (7.3) all played their roles very well. After losing to Loyola of Chicago in the NIT, Kentucky turned its attention to the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky beat Villanova, 85-72 in the round of eight in New York, before pounding Illinois, 76-47, also in New York. In the NCAA Championship in Seattle, Kentucky got 25 points from Groza in a 46-36 win over Oklahoma A&M, bringing another title back to the Bluegrass.
1951 (National Championship #3) – In 1951, Kentucky turned to a “giant” to win its third NCAA Championship in four years. That “giant” was seven-foot junior center Bill Spivey, who towered over most of Kentucky’s opponents that season. The Wildcats posted a 32-2 record behind Spivey’s 19.2 points per game. In 1951, the NCAA Tournament field expanded from eight teams to 16, so the Wildcats had to win a fourth game on their way to the title. In round one, Kentucky downed Louisville, 79-68. In the second round, Kentucky beat St. John’s, 59-43 before beating Illinois, 76-74. In the NCAA Championship game in Seattle, Kentucky had only six healthy players, but got 22 points from Spivey and 10 from an ailing Cliff Hagan to beat Kansas State, 68-58. Kentucky trailed 29-27 at the half, but stormed back behind Hagan to win championship number three.
1958 (National Championship #4) – The 1958 Kentucky Wildcats were not one of Rupp’s best regular season teams. Kentucky was 19-6 in its regular season games, but the Wildcats got hot at the right time, during the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky hosted the Mideast Regional, and the Wildcats posted victories over Miami of Ohio (94-70) and Notre Dame (89-56) to advance to the Final Four in Louisville. Kentucky got a scare in the national semifinals before beating Temple, 61-60. Then in the finals, Kentucky faced perhaps the best player in the nation, Seattle’s Elgin Baylor. In the championship game, Baylor had a huge game, with 25 points and 19 rebounds, but Kentucky got 30 points from Vernon Hatton to win Rupp’s fourth national championship, 84-72. Johnny Cox had 24 points and 16 rebounds for Kentucky, while John Crigler added 14 points and 14 rebounds. Kentucky twice battled back from 11-point deficits and actually didn’t lead until 6:08 left in the game, when Don Mills hit a hook shot to give the ‘Cats a 61-60 lead.
1966 (National Runner-Up) – After a few lean years, Kentucky found its way back to the Final Four in 1966 with a team that became known as “Rupp’s Runts” due to their lack of size. Kentucky found itself in the Mideast Regional, where the Wildcats beat Dayton 86-79, allowing Rupp to pass Phog Allen as the winningest coach in Division I history. The next night, Kentucky beat Michigan 84-77 to advance to the Final Four in College Park, Md. In the semifinals, Kentucky beat Duke, 86-79 and advanced to the championship game, where they would meet Texas Western. This is the game made famous by the movie Glory Road, when Don Haskins’ team of five African-American players would beat all-white Kentucky 72-65 in the championship game. Texas Western’s Bobby Joe Hill led all scorers with 20 points, while Kentucky got 19 points apiece from Louie Dampier and Pat Riley.
1975 (National Runner-Up) – By the time Kentucky returned to the Final Four in 1975, several things had changed .Most notably, Kentucky was now coached by former Rupp player and assistant coach Joe B. Hall. The 1975 team was Hall’s third Kentucky squad, and the Wildcats were finally primed for a run back to the Final Four. This team got most of its scoring production from seniors and freshmen. Seniors Kevin Grevey (23.6 ppg) and Jimmy Dan Conner (12.4) led the team in scoring, followed by freshmen Rick Robey (10.4) and Jack Givens (9.4). Another change was that the NCAA Tournament field had expanded, so Kentucky had to win three games to make the Final Four. Kentucky got past Marquette (76-54) and Central Michigan (90-73) before beating heavily-favored Indiana, 92-90, breaking the Hoosiers’ 34-game winning streak. The Final Four was in San Diego, and Kentucky beat Syracuse 95-79 in the semifinals. In the championship game, Kentucky ran into UCLA and legendary coach John Wooden in what would be the Wizard of Westwood’s final game. Despite 34 points from Grevey, Kentucky lost 92-85.
1978 (National Championship #5) – The stage was set for the 1978 Kentucky team to do something special. Kentucky had not won a national championship since 1958, and Hall had assembled a team that was ready to bring the big trophy back to Lexington. Kentucky went 25-2 in the regular season, losing only at Alabama and at LSU. The Wildcats opened the 1978 NCAA Tournament by beating Florida State (85-76) and Miami of Ohio (91-69). In the Mideast Regional Finals, Kentucky met Michigan State and its outstanding freshman guard, Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Kentucky held Johnson to only six points and beat the Spartans, 52-49. In the Final Four in St. Louis, Kentucky beat future UK coach Eddie Sutton and his Arkansas Razorbacks, 64-59. Jack Givens had 23 points and James Lee added 13. In the NCAA Championship game, Kentucky faced Duke, and Givens had one of the greatest games in tournament history. The senior forward from Lexington hit 18-of-27 from the field and five-of-eight from the free throw line, scoring 41 points as the Wildcats beat the Blue Devils, 94-88.
1984 (Final Four) – The 1983-84 Kentucky Wildcats appeared to have a team that could win another national championship. This Kentucky team’s strength was inside, with the “Twin Towers” Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin, who were 7-1 and 6-11, respectively. Kentucky also had a pair of very good forwards, Kenny “Sky” Walker and freshman Winston Bennett. Kentucky went 23-4 in the regular season, then won the SEC Tournament in Nashville, beating Charles Barkley and his Auburn Tigers 51-49 in the championship game. In the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky stormed past BYU (93-68) before returning to Rupp Arena for the Mideast Regional. In the first game of the regional, Kentucky got past intrastate rival Louisville, 72-67 before topping Illinois, 54-51. Kentucky returned to the Final Four for the ninth time in school history. The Wildcats faced the Georgetown Hoyas in the national semifinals in Seattle. Things started well for Kentucky, as the Wildcats took a 29-22 halftime lead. But the second half was a disaster for Hall’s team. Kentucky hit only three-of-33 (9.1 percent) of its shots in the second half, and Georgetown rallied past Kentucky, 53-40. The 40 points was the lowest scored by a Final Four team since 1949. Kentucky was able to hold Georgetown standout Patrick Ewing to eight points and nine rebounds. Bowie was the only Wildcat in double figures, as he had 10 points.
1993 (Final Four) – After a nine-year absence, a pair of coaching changes and a recovery from probation, Kentucky returned to college basketball’s biggest state again in 1993. The previous season, Kentucky had been denied a trip to the Final Four by a guy named Christian Laettner and a shot you may have seen. So the 1993 Wildcats, under the direction of Rick Pitino, were determined to make the Final Four. After a 23-3 regular season, Kentucky won the SEC Tournament, then started their tournament run with a thumping of Rider, 96-52. The ‘Cats followed that with an easy win over Utah, 83-62. In the Southeast Regional in Charlotte, Kentucky blitzed Wake Forest, 103-69 and Florida State, 106-81 to make the Final Four. In New Orleans, Kentucky faced Michigan and its famed “Fab Five”. Despite 26 points from junior Jamal Mashburn, Kentucky lost in overtime, 81-78. Kentucky also got 16 points from Dale Brown and 12 points and six assists from Travis Ford, but foul trouble doomed the ‘Cats. Michigan’s Chris Webber led all scorers with 27 and Jalen Rose added 18 for the Wolverines.
1996 (National Championship #6) – Much like Kentucky’s team in 1978, the 1996 version of the ‘Cats was expected to do big things. After losing its second game of the season, 92-82 to UMass and a coach named John Calipari, Kentucky went on a 27-game winning streak, including a perfect record in the SEC regular season. Kentucky did fall to Mississippi State, 84-73 in the SEC Tournament Championship, and that seemed to motivate this group of ‘Cats. Kentucky opened its six-game run to the title by crushing San Jose State, 110-72. The ‘Cats followed that by thumping Virginia Tech (84-60) and Utah (101-70). In the Midwest Regional finals, Kentucky thumped Wake Forest and Tim Duncan, winning 83-63 in a game that wasn’t that close. Kentucky reached the Final Four in East Rutherford, N.J., where they had a rematch with Calipari and UMass. This time, Kentucky got 20 points from Tony Delk and 14 from Antoine Walker to beat the Minutemen, 81-74. UMass big man Marcus Camby scored 25 in the loss. Kentucky advanced to face Jim Boeheim and Syracuse in the championship. In the title game, Delk was outstanding again, scoring 24 points, while freshman Ron Mercer added 20 as Kentucky claimed the national championship for the first time in 18 years by winning 76-67.
1997 (National Runner-Up) – After losing much of its scoring from the previous season, the 1997 Wildcats weren’t expected to be able to contend on a national level. But Kentucky’s “Air Pair”, Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson, had other ideas. Kentucky wasn’t overwhelming in the regular season, losing four games, including a senior day loss at home to South Carolina. But when the postseason hit, the ‘Cats once again hit their stride. Playing without Anderson, who injured his knee earlier in the season, Kentucky roared through the SEC Tournament, winning all three games by at least 18 points. The Wildcats started their NCAA Tournament run by thumping Montana, 92-54 and beating Iowa, 75-69. In the West Regional in San Jose, Kentucky beat St. Joseph’s, 83-68 and Utah 72-59. The Wildcats advanced to a second straight Final Four, this time in Indianapolis. In the national semifinals, Kentucky downed Minnesota, 78-69 behind 19 points from Mercer and 13 from Anthony Epps. Kentucky met Arizona in the national championship game, and it was a classic. Epps hit a three-pointer at the end of regulation to tie the game at 74. But in overtime, Arizona’s Miles Simon took over, and his Wildcats beat Kentucky, 84-79. Scott Padgett led Kentucky with 17 points, Mercer had 13 and Nazr Mohammed had 12.
1998 (National Championship #7) – Following the 1997 season, Pitino left Kentucky to become head coach of the Boston Celtics. In his place, Kentucky hired former Pitino assistant Orlando “Tubby” Smith, who inherited a team led by seniors Jeff Sheppard and Allen Edwards, as well as juniors Nazr Mohammed, Scott Padgett and Wayne Turner. It took this group of ‘Cats quite a few games to adapt to Smith’s coaching style. After losing to Ole Miss on Valentine’s Day, Kentucky was 22-4 and this didn’tlook like a team that would make a title run. At that point, Smith and his Wildcats got on the same page. Kentucky won its last four regular season games, all three games in the SEC Tournament, then began another NCAA Tournament run. Kentucky beat South Carolina State (82-67) and St. Louis (88-61) to advance to the South Regional in St. Petersburg, Fla. Kentucky thumped UCLA, 94-68 in the regional semifinals, setting up another regional final against Duke, which had broken Kentucky hearts in 1992. In this game, Kentucky fell way behind. In fact ,the ‘Cats trailed by 17 in the second half before mounting a rally. When Padgett hit a three-pointer with less than a minute to go, Kentucky pushed past the Blue Devils and eventually won, 86-84. In the national semifinals in San Antonio, Kentucky fought from behind once again, and beat Stanford in overtime, 86-85 behind 27 points from Sheppard. And in the championship game, Kentucky found itself behind yet again, 41-31 to Utah. But the ‘Cats rallied in the second half and won their seventh NCAA Championship, 78-69 over Utah. Padgett had 17 points and Sheppard had 16 for Kentucky. The nickname “Comeback Cats” was given to this team, because of their ability to continually come from behind.
2011 (Final Four) – In only his second year at Kentucky, John Calipari got Kentucky back to the Final Four, ending the longest drought in school history without an appearance in the event. The 2011 team didn’t have the raw talent of the 2010 team that lost in the regional finals, but the 2011 ‘Cats eventually figured out how they needed to play. After losing at Arkansas on February 23, Kentucky was 19-8 overall, and the rest of the season could have gone either way. But Kentucky rallied to win its final regular season game, then three straight in the SEC Tournament for yet another title. Kentucky was seeded fourth in the NCAA Tournament, which was probably not good enough for this team. In Kentucky’s first game in the Big Dance, freshman guard Brandon Knight hit a game-winning shot, pushing the ‘Cats past Princeton, 59-57. Kentucky then beat West Virginia, 71-63 to advance to the East Regional in Newark, N.J. In the regional semifinals, Kentucky upset the region’s top seed, Ohio State, 62-60. Knight was the hero for the second time in the tournament, as his jumper with five seconds left in the game lifted Kentucky to a 62-60 win over the Buckeyes. Kentucky then beat North Carolina, 76-69 to advance to the Final Four for the first time in 13 years. In Houston, Kentucky fell behind Connecticut in the first half, and trailed 31-21 at the break. Kentucky rallied in the second half behind Knight (17 points), Doron Lamb (13) and Terrence Jones (11), but it wasn’t enough as the ‘Cats fell to the eventual national champions, 56-55.
There is still basketball left to play for the 2012 Wildcats, who are hoping to bring an eighth championship to Lexington.