Everyone loves March Madness. You don't even have to be a basketball fan to enjoy the drama and the excitement of the NCAA basketball tournament. It never disappoints. It's even better when your favorite team makes a run at the title.
I remember the first time my dad let me stay up and watch the championship game. It was 1978. Kentucky beat Duke. The "Goose was Golden"! It's the night I became a UK basketball fan. There was no doubt I was going to be the next Kyle Macy.
This year now marks my 20 year anniversary of covering the Kentucky Wildcats as a member of the media. I moved to Lexington in 1996 just months before UK won the NCAA championship. So in honor of my 20 years of covering the Cats, I thought I would rank my "Top 20 Most Memorable Moments" from the NCAA tournament.
20) Dwight Perry starts - It happened in the 1st round of the 2007 tournament against Villanova in Chicago. UK assistant coach David Hobbs accidentally inserted Dwight Perry in the Cats starting line up instead of his cousin, Bobby Perry. Dwight didn't even have his name on the back of his jersey. Dwight started, immediately committed a foul and was taken out of the game.
19) Cats play in Memorial Coliseum - I know it was the NIT tournament, but there was something very special about the Cats playing UNLV in their opening round match up in the NIT tournament in 2009. The game gave us a glimpse of what it was like back in the Adolph Rupp days when UK played all of their home games in Memorial. Plus, Perry Stevenson provided one of the best dunks in the modern era.
18) Ramel Bradley vs Andrew Bogut - Ramel was a 6'1" freshman. Bogut was a 7'0" player of the year candidate. During the Cats Sweet 16 match up with Utah in 2005 tournament in Austin, Texas, Bradley wasn't about to let Bogut push him around. UK's game plan was to be as physical as possible with Bogut, and the defining moment was when Ramel "manned up" to the 7 footer.
17) "Snownado" - While the Cats were preparing to play Maryland in the Sweet 16 in 2002, the media was all set up outside the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. WKYT's Kenny Harvener spent over an hour in freezing temperatures setting up a tent for all of WKYT's news coverage of the game. Just minutes before the newscast began, a rare "snownado" blew through and wrapped Kenny's tent up like a pretzel forcing Rob Bromley and company to broadcast outside in a blizzard.
16) Bledsoe who? - After spending the entire season in the shadows of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson, freshman Eric Bledsoe cemented himself as a bona fide "one and done" when he set a UK NCAA tournament record by hitting eight 3-pointers in the Cats opening round game of the 2010 NCAA tournament in New Orleans.
15) "Twin to Twin" - This game ended up being a heartbreaking loss for the Cats, but it is still one of the most memorable moments in recent UK and NCAA tournament history. UK was the overall #1 seed playing UAB, a #9 seed, in the 2nd round of the tournament in Columbus, Ohio in 2004. The poignant moment came when UAB's Ronell Taylor stole the ball and blindly threw it over his head nearly the length of the court which hit his identical twin brother, Donell Taylor, in stride for an easy dunk. UK could never recover.
14) WCS dunks - UK's quest for an undefeated season and the school's 9th NCAA title in 2015 provided a ton of fun and highlights. None bigger than when Willie Cauley Stein threw down some massive dunks. He had a couple ally-oop dunks against West Virginia in the Sweet 16 in Cleveland, but the one everyone will remember is when he posterized Cincinnati's Quadri Moore in the 2nd round in Louisville.
13) Tayshaun beats St. Bonny - This one is easy to forget, but the Cats were nearly knocked out of the first round of the tournament by lowly Saint Bonaventure in 2000. UK was down 3 with 7 seconds to go when Prince hit a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime, which the Cats won in double overtime.
12) Padgett beats Kansas - Another easy one to forget is Scott Padgett's heroics against Kansas in the 2nd round in 1999. Down 3 points with 17 seconds left, Padgett hit a step back 3 to tie it and send the game in overtime. The cats then won it in OT.
11) Sullinger eats Spalding - During the 1st half of UK's upset win over #1 seed Ohio State in New Jersey, Josh Harrellson sent a message early that the Cats were not intimidated by the favored Buckeyes or their prized big man, Jared Sullinger. With the ball going out of bounds after a missed shot, Harrellson not only beat Sullinger to the ball, but also threw it off his chest as he was going out of bounds to give the ball back to the Cats.
10) James Young beats Wichita State - Not only did James Young hit the big shot to help give UK the upset win over undefeated and #1 seed Wichita State in 2014 during the 2nd round in St. Louis, but it's the back story that makes this even more memorable. Young admitted later that he wasn't listening during the time out to set up the play, so when he walked back out on the court, he didn't know what to do. So when he got the ball, he said, "I just decided to shoot it, and thankfully it went in."
9) "Anklegate" - After sweeping the SEC regular season and the SEC tournament, no team was hotter than UK going into the 2003 tournament. During UK's win over Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 in Minneapolis, the unthinkable happened - star Keith Bogan's sprained his ankle. For the next 48 hours, the entire commonwealth was consumed with, "Will Bogans be able to play against Marquette and their start Dwayne Wade?". UK used covert operations to hide Bogans injury from the fans and the media. TV stations were going undercover to try and get some footage of Bogans walking around in his protective boot. Alas, Bogans did play, but UK could still not win the game.
8) Prince is King - Tayshaun Prince's 2002 NCAA tournament game in the 2nd round against Tulsa was truly magical. Prince lit Tulsa up for 41 points and seemed like he could have easily scored 81. The great story line was that Prince's 41 points brought back memories of Jack Givens scoring 41 in the 1978 NCAA championship game. Both players are left handed. Both players wore #21, and both games happened in St. Louis.
7) Bounce, bounce, bounce - If you're a UK fan, no ball hung on the rim longer than Patrick Sparks 3 pointer at the end of regulation against Michigan State in the Elite 8 in Austin, Texas. Trailing by 3, the Cats needed a miracle, and they got one. Sparks 3 pointer bounced 4 times before falling through. The officials then took over 5 minutes looking at replays to determine if Sparks' foot was on the line. The bucket was ruled good, but the Cats ended up losing the game in double overtime. Senior Chuck Hayes slumped in the locker room for hours after the game with his uniform still on not wanting to take it off for the final time of his UK career.
6) Epps for 3 - UK was trying to win back-to-back NCAA tournament titles. There was a lot of drama in Indianapolis surrounding UK's final four appearance. Would Rick Pitino leave for the NBA? Would Pitino let the injured Derek Anderson play? At the end of regulation, it looked like the Cats were out of magic, until Kentucky's own Anthony Epps stepped up and hit a 3 pointer to tie the game and send it into overtime. It is maybe the biggest shot a UK player has ever hit in an NCAA championship game. The RCA Dome exploded! Arizona did win in overtime, but this moment would obviously be ranked higher if UK had won the game.
5) Knight does it twice - One of the best NCAA tournament runs a UK basketball team has made in the last 20 years was in 2011, and it looked like it might not even happen from the first game. It took a last second shot from freshman Brandon Knight for the Cats to beat Princeton in the first round. It was Knight's only field goal of the game. Two games later in the Sweet 16, Knight was the hero again when he hit another game winner to beat #1 seed Ohio State.
4) 2012 National Championship - The 2012 National Championship team was special. UK got sweet revenge by beating Indiana in the Sweet 16. They also beat Louisville for the 2nd time that season in the National semi-finals before beating Kansas in the title game. Six players got drafted after the season, including #1 pick Anthony Davis and #2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
3) 1996 National Championship - No team has dominated college basketball in my opinion in the last 20 years quite like UK's 96 team. The Cats steamrolled people. In the Final Four, UK got revenge on John Calipari's Massachusetts team in the semi-finals before blasting Syracuse in the championship. Tony Delk tied the record with seven 3 pointers, including the signature moment - a 4 point play right in front of the UK bench. Nine players off that team ended up playing in the NBA
2) 1998 National Championship - The 98 team may not have been the best of UK's 3 National Championship teams during this 20 year run, but they definitely provided the best moments. The "Comeback Cats" had to overcome double digit deficits to come from behind to beat Duke, Stanford and then Utah in the championship game, which included being down 10 at halftime.
1) He did it again - It may not be fair, but we've lumped all 3 of Aaron Harrison's last second heroics into one moment for this Top 20 list. No player in UK history, and most will argue, no player in NCAA tournament history has ever accomplished what Harrison did during the Cats run in the 2014 tournaments. To hit game winning last second shots in 3 straight games is what fairy tales are made of. He beat arch rival Louisville with a 3 in the Sweet 16. He then beat Michigan with a 3 from virtually the same spot in the Elite 8, before hitting another game winning 3 against Wisconsin in the semi-finals. Every time I think about Harrison's heroics, all I can hear is Tom Leach's now famous call, "He did it again!"