History: Vandy wins over UK

In Southeastern Conference basketball, there are 11 Davids and one Goliath. More often than not, Goliath has proven too hard to defeat. Vanderbilt found that out the hard way earlier this season, when Kentucky burst the black and gold bubble at Rupp Arena yet again.

For many reading this, they were not alive the last time Vanderbilt beat Kentucky in Lexington. But, under former Kentucky inhabitant Roy Skinner, there was a time when beating Kentucky was not unordinary, and beating them in Lexington was in fact possible. Skinner's Vanderbilt teams slew Goliath on his home turf five times and nine more times in Memorial Gymnasium.

Let's take a look at some of these big wins over the Wildcats.

Skinner Beats Rupp In His First Attempt

Commodore head coach Bob Polk suffered a heart attack prior to the 1958-59 basketball season, and assistant coach Roy Skinner took over as coach for the season. On January 6, 1959, defending national champion Kentucky came to Nashville ranked number one in the nation in both the AP and UPI Polls, sporting a record of 11-0. Vandy was just 5-5 and in the second year of a major rebuilding project following the 1957 graduation of Al Rochelle, Babe Taylor, and Bobby Thym.

This Vanderbilt squad had four capable scorers led by dynamite guard Jim Henry. Also averaging in double figures were forward Ben Rowan (who matriculated across the street from Peabody Demonstration School {known today as University School of Nashville}), forward Don Hinton and center Bill Depp.

Coach Skinner decided to employ a full-court pressure man-to-man defense with switching on all screens. His plan was to wear down Kentucky quickly, as he thought his squad was in better condition. He was right.

Kentucky started the game beating the pressure for some quick buckets, as the Cats assumed a 7-4 lead after four minutes of action. Then, the pressure started to pay dividends. Kentucky began to hurry their shots, and they missed several in a row. Rowan and then Hinton shadowed all-American Johnny Cox. He couldn't get open. Meanwhile, Henry repeatedly beat Kentucky's tight man-to-man defense for close in shots, and he was on target. Vandy took the lead at 8-7 and never relinquished it.

The lead ballooned to 38-19 before UK ended the half on an 8-3 run to cut it to 41-27 at the half. The Vandy defense had held the Cats to only 9 of 39 shooting from the field, while Vandy connected on better than 50%.

In the second half, Kentucky tried their version of full court pressure. Vanderbilt turned the ball over a few times and missed some hurried shots, and Kentucky mounted a run to cut the lead to six on a 14-6 run. But, the Cats paid a price for this strategy. First, the personal fouls began to mount; second, the little bit of reserve energy began to be spent, and with it, the blue and white began to stand a little flat-footed. Vandy responded with a 12-1 run to put the game away at 59-42. The Wildcats clawed back and cut the lead to single digits a few times, but Vandy held on for the upset of the year, winning 75-66. In the game's final moments, Henry held the ball forcing UK to foul, and he calmly sank 10 of 12 at the line to finish with 29 points. Rowan, the defensive star of the game, contributed 16 points, while reserve Warren Fiser came off the bench to add 10.

Bob Polk, under doctor's orders was not allowed to listen to the game. Sitting at home in his house near the corner of Esteswood Drive and Trimble Road, he had to rely on his wife's reporting to know what had happened.

John Ed's Heroics

Roy Skinner became the full-time coach at Vanderbilt in the fall of 1961. By the 1963-64 season, he had turned the Commodores into one of the top programs in the land. Over the next five years, his record of 106-25 would rank second only to UCLA's John Wooden who was 135-11. On January 6, 1964, Vandy hosted Kentucky in the nation's top game of the night. This Monday night game was delayed until 8:30 PM to accommodate a TV audience. Both Vandy and Kentucky came into the battle with one loss apiece.

Kentucky's strength was in its front line. All-American center (and future major league baseball player) Cotton Nash and power forward Ted Deeken each averaged more than 20 points and 11 rebounds a game. Small forward Larry Conley (the current television color analyst) rounded out the fine trio.

Vandy countered with an even bigger, but younger front line of Clyde Lee at center, Snake Grace at power forward, and Wayne Taylor at small forward. In the backcourt, guards Roger Schurig and John Ed Miller were considered among the tops in the league.

The evening started out surprisingly as Kenny Campbell and Jerry Southwood led the Vandy freshmen to an upset over the Kentucky freshmen, which included Pat Riley, Louie Dampier, and Wayne Chapman.

The varsity game started out like it was a battle between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. The two teams came out firing quickly, and after seven minutes, both teams were on pace to top 120 points. Over the next four minutes, Vanderbilt's fast break and pressure man-to-man defense took advantage of a Wildcat cold spurt. Vandy reeled off five quick baskets to take a 35-23 lead with streaky Roger Schurig having one of his patented hot nights. Only the equally hot shooting of Kentucky's Conley kept the game from becoming a blowout in the first 11 minutes of the half.

Once ahead by 12 points, the Commodores began to slow down. Skinner later admitted he left his starters in too long during this stretch. Kentucky, with the aid of substitute Mickey Gibson, began clawing the Vandy lead away. Just before the half, the Wildcats took over the lead and extended it to four points. Vandy hit a foul shot and basket to cut it to 49-48. Nash missed a short shot and Snake Grace rebounded, firing a quick outlet pass to John Ed Miller. Miller drove quickly down the lane, drew two Wildcat defenders to him, and then fired a perfect behind-the-back pass to Keith Thomas. KT was wide open and hit a layup as the clock showed one second. Vandy led 50-49.

Both teams cooled off in the final half. Lee's brilliant defense held Nash without a basket in the final 20 minutes, but Kentucky's Gibson, Ted Deeken and Charles Ishmael took up the slack; Gibson would later leave the game when Commodore hatchet man Snake Grace delivered a knockout blow to Gibson's groin area. Nevertheless, the Wildcats took the lead and held onto it. With five minutes to go, UK led 79-75 and had the ball. After a missed shot by Nash, Vandy ran the fast break to perfection with Thomas hitting the short jumper, cutting the deficit to two. Kentucky hit a basket, and Vandy countered to cut make it 81-79 with two minutes left. After a Wildcat miss, Thomas was fouled and went to the line for one and one with 80 seconds to go. He calmly sank both to tie the game.

It appeared as though Kentucky was playing for one shot in the final minute, and the Commodore guards turned up the pressure. The Wildcats' Ishmael dribbled the ball near mid-court, when Miller reached in and stole the ball. He drove the lane, and for the second time in the game delivered a perfect behind-the-back pass to Thomas. Thomas stopped on a dime and fired a five footer for the go ahead by two points. Vandy led 83-81 with 20 seconds to go.

Kentucky took a time out, and Coach Rupp designed a play to free Conley under the basket on a flex cut off Nash. It worked to perfection and Conley hit the easy basket to tie the game at 83 apiece with 12 seconds to go. Coach Skinner called time out to set up one last play. He called for Miller to drive hard toward the lane with his teammates spread out. Knowing Kentucky would drop off to stop the drive, he told Miller to pull up just inside the free throw line and shoot a jumper. Skinner's genius proved out, as the play developed exactly like he told Miller it would. Miller drove quickly down the lane with Ishmael hanging tightly to him. Just as Conley came in to help stop the drive, Miller stopped and jumped to shoot; three seconds remained. Both Ishmael and Conley were fooled and couldn't recover to get a hand in the way. Miller's 14-foot jumper from just inside the free throw line left his hand with two seconds showing on the clock. Clyde Lee, anticipating where the shot would be released, maneuvered by Nash and had established the perfect offensive rebounding spot. The one second it took for the ball to decide the fate of the game felt more like a minute. The high arching shot fell right through the middle of the rim. The clock ticked to one and then struck zero, and the capacity crowd in the gym went wild. Vandy won 85-83. Lee matched Nash point for point with 15, but he out rebounded him 25 boards to 13. Schurig's early hot hand led to his high point mark of 22, while Miller's last bucket gave him 18.

Clyde Becomes an All-American

After beating Kentucky on Miller's last second heroics, Vanderbilt ventured for the rematch in Lexington ranked number seven in the nation. The Cats spanked the black and gold by 31 points with Nash dominating Lee on both ends of the floor.

Vanderbilt returned to Lexington in January of 1965 with something to prove. Vandy had just edged Tennessee in Knoxville 77-72, while this was the conference season opener for Kentucky. A Vandy win would put the Commodores in the catbird's seat after just two SEC games.

Adolph Rupp's runts became famous in 1966, but they existed in 1965 as well. Kentucky's 1965 starters consisted of 6-00 Louie Dampier and 6-05 Tommy Kron at the guards; 6-03 Pat Riley and 6-03 Larry Conley at the forwards; and 6-06 John Adams at center. Vandy countered with 6-04 Roger Schurig and 6-01 John Ed Miller at the guards, 6-04 Wayne Taylor and 6-08 Snake Grace at the forwards, and 6-09 Clyde Lee at center. Coach Skinner told his squad that Kentucky shot the ball extremely well, especially the two fabulous sophomores Riley and Dampier. He believed his team could win if they controlled the boards and played aggressive defense.

This would be the night that made Lee famous. By the next day, the junior from Nashville's David Lipscomb High School would be at the top of the list of the nation's star pivot men. Kentucky double teamed Lee under the basket early, so Clyde stepped out and fired early from mid-range. Quickly, he got the hot hand. Kentucky tried two or three other defenses, but nothing could stop Lee. He kept hitting from six to eight feet out. Meanwhile, the Wildcats were matching Vandy point for point. In what looked like a repeat of 12 months earlier, the scoring was at a 100-120-point pace through the first 15 minutes. Conley and Kron connected on several jumpers to keep the game close. Kentucky hit 14 of their first 25 shots, before cooling down to end the half at 17 of 34; Vandy led 50-46.

Midway through the second half with Vandy holding a six-point lead, Coach Skinner ordered his troops to spread the floor and force Kentucky out of its 1-3-1 zone defense (in the pre-shot clock days, if the team in the lead held the ball outside, the trailing team had to come out and play man-to-man or be assessed a technical foul). Once the Cats were forced into man-to-man coverage, the guards started hitting Lee inside. Neither Adams nor backup Brad Bounds could prevent big Clyde from scoring. Lee hit for 12 straight points, while at the defensive end, he blocked a couple of shots and grabbed six consecutive Wildcat misfires. In this little stretch, the Commodores put the game away. They cruised to a 97-79 victory, the worst ever home loss for Adolph Rupp.

Lee set a school record with 41 points along with 17 rebounds and became the first individual opponent ever to top 40 points against Kentucky. Vandy connected on 39 of 76 shots from the field, but the second half defensive effort was the key. Kentucky was held to 10 of 36 shooting in the final half.

Vandy Delivers a Televised Cat-Whipping

Prior to the start of the 1966-67 season, national runner-up Kentucky coming off a 27-2 season and returning Louie Dampier, Pat Riley, and Thad Jaracz from its starting five, was picked as the overwhelming choice to repeat as SEC champs. Vanderbilt, minus Clyde Lee, Keith Thomas, Ron Green, and Wayne Calvert, was expected to struggle to finish above .500 both in the league and overall. Instead, as the season wound down, the Commodores found themselves competing with Tennessee and Florida for the SEC championship, while Kentucky fought to stay above the break-even mark.

On a March afternoon that felt more like June (temperatures around 80 degrees), Kentucky came to Memorial Gym for a televised game. Having just lost at Alabama and at Auburn, Rupp's squad was 7-9 in the league and 12-12 overall. Vandy was 12-4 in the league and 19-5 overall, tied with Florida in the loss column (Fla was 13-4 at the time) for second place, just one game behind the slumping Vols, who had lost two games after seemingly having the title wrapped up. Wins over the Cats and a very weak LSU squad, a Florida win over weak Georgia, and a loss by Tennessee at vastly improving Mississippi State would cause a logjam at the top of the standings and force a three-team playoff for the NCAA bid.

Vanderbilt needed little motivation to get up for this game. This group of Commodores was the school's best ever shooting edition. The black and gold starting lineup consisted of Tom Hagan and Jerry Southwood at guard, Bob Warren and Bo Wyenadt at forward, and Kenny Gibbs at center. Off the bench, Kenny Campbell and Gene Lockyear were the two principle contributors, with Bob Bundy, Ron Knox, and Dave Boswell rounding out the second five.

As good as Vandy's shooting touch had been to this point, nobody could imagine just how hot a team could be for a full forty minutes. Kentucky's fine marksmen came out and hit half of their field goal attempts in the first half and found themselves looking at an 11-point deficit. Vandy hit 21 of 35 in the first half for 60%! The Commodores led 45-34. The thought among the more than capacity crowd in attendance was that Vandy would cool off in the second half and have to battle Kentucky to the wire. We were all wrong. Vandy's players revealed to us that we "a'int seen nothing yet." The Commodores did not cool off; they shot even better in the second half. The Goldmen hit six of their first seven shots in the final stanza to salt the game away. Kentucky took a time out to try to stop the hot streak, but with a 57-41 lead, Skinner's troops were loose.

Kentucky's press caused a few turnovers and allowed them to cut into the lead, but Vandy responded with another run to top the century mark and put the game out of reach. Skinner emptied the bench, and the reserves continued the hot shooting. Kentucky added a couple baskets late to cut the final margin to 16, as Vandy won 110-94.

In the torrid second half, where Vandy scored 65 points, they hit 23 of 37 from the field for 62.2%. Warren led the way. He started slow, connecting on only one of his first five shots but ended by sinking seven in a row to go with seven for seven at the charity stripe for 23 points. He gathered in a game high 11 rebounds to boot. Gibbs hit his career high with 22 points on nine of 13 shooting, while Wyenadt also scored 22 points on 10 of 14 shooting. Hagan was the fourth double figure scorer with 17.

Beating The Unbeaten

In the summer of 1969, most basketball experts figured Kentucky would end UCLA's three consecutive and five of six run as national champions. Gone from the Bruins was Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Lew Alcindor). Meanwhile, Kentucky returned four all-stars to its starting lineup in Dan Issel, Tom Pratt, Larry Steele, and Mike Casey. The frontcourt of Issel, Pratt, and Steele may have been the best ever to grace the SEC. Casey, a former Mr. Basketball from nearby Shelbyville, Kentucky, was a Jerry West clone. He was an expert marksman from outside, and he could beat every other guard in the SEC to the hoop off the dribble.

Just a week or so after Senator Edward Kennedy made national headlines with his automobile accident off Chappaquiddick Island, Casey made headlines in Kentucky for a terrible crash off I-64. He hit a concrete stand that was holding up a light pole and emerged with a compound fracture of his tibia and fibula. He would miss the 1969-70 season, and with it Kentucky's chances for a national title looked slim.

Kentucky rebounded from the loss of their one true outside threat and managed to physically overpower teams through muscle and speed. Issel took up the slack for the missing Casey by becoming both an inside and outside force, averaging over 30 points per game. Guard Bob McCowan, a long-time resident of Adolph Rupp's doghouse, returned from exile to provide an additional outside shooting threat. Running this blue machine was fine point guard Jim Dinwiddie. Sophomore forward Tom Parker (from Kevin Stallings' hometown of Collinsville, IL) was on the cusp of breaking out into a star player.

Heading to Nashville to face a slumping Vanderbilt squad, Kentucky sported a perfect 15-0 record, which included impressive victories over Kansas, North Carolina, Indiana, Duke, and Notre Dame. The Commodores were in the middle of Roy Skinner's worst season at Vandy. Sporting a record of 8-7 overall (including a home loss to Dartmouth), the odds makers listed the Commodores as double-digit underdogs on their home floor.

Vanderbilt's starting lineup for this game included 7-04 Steve Turner at center, with 6-08 Thorpe Weber and 6-05 Perry Wallace at forward; this trio was responsible for the Commodores leading the conference in rebounding to this point. 6-02 Tom Arnholt, who once scored 51 points in a Vandy freshman game, and 6-03 Ralph Mayes started at guard. Muscular forward Chris Schweer was the lone reserve seeing appreciative minutes at this stretch of the season.

A full house of around 15,600 showed up for this game, and they got their money's worth. The pace of the game was like most other Skinner-Rupp confrontations--the same pace as an NBA game. Vandy jumped out to a quick lead and never relinquished it. In the opening four minutes of the game, all five field goal attempts and the lone free throw attempt were true as Vandy took an 11-4 lead. Arnholt, Wallace, Weber, and Turner all played brilliantly in the first half, as Vandy maintained a five to eight point lead throughout the period. The two clubs went to the locker with Vandy ahead 46-43. Arnholt hit a pair of shots at the beginning of the second half, and Wallace, Mayes, and Weber followed, as Vandy opened a 56-45 lead. Issel and Pratt responded with baskets, and Kentucky quickly cut the lead to 59-57. After a timeout, Schweer drove down the side of the foul lane and hit a shot while being fouled. He completed the three-point play with a made free throw, and Vandy led by five.

The lead stayed between five and seven for the next several minutes, when Kentucky mounted its final charge, trailing 79-72 with four minutes to go. Dinwiddie hit two baskets and a free throw to cut the lead to two, when Skinner called time out. Vandy went to the stall, and Kentucky fouled Arnholt. He hit both ends of the one and one. Over the next two minutes, Kentucky shot and missed, while Vandy rebounded and got the ball to Arnholt. The Wildcats continued to foul him, and Arnholt made every foul shot in the last few minutes. The lead ballooned to 85-79 with less than a minute to go.

Kentucky quickly took a shot and missed. Mayes rebounded the ball and was fouled. He went to the line and sank two to make the score 87-79 with only 30 seconds to go. Issel finally hit a basket to cut the lead to six, but time was quickly running out. Vandy got the ball inbounds and broke the press. Kentucky couldn't foul the man with the ball, as Vandy threw it around like a beach ball at Dodger Stadium. Finally, with three seconds to go, Weber took a pass from Mayes and drove the lane for an exclamation point layup. Vandy won 89-81 over perhaps the greatest Kentucky team since the days of Cliff Hagan and Tom Ramsey.

Vandy dominated the Wildcats on the glass, winning the rebounding war 57-41. Wallace led the way with 19 rebounds, while Weber grabbed 16. Thanks to a magnificent 14 of 15 at the charity stripe, Arnholt led all players with 28 points. Wallace scored 20 while Weber added 16.

Pitino Brings #1 Cats to Memorial

Rick Pitino guided Kentucky to an 11-0 start in 1992-93. The AP and Coaches polls just prior to his team coming to Nashville awarded him his initial number one ranking in his coaching career. This UK squad was loaded with talent. Starting at forward were a pair of future NBA players. Junior Jamaal Mashburn and freshman Rodrick Rhodes were both Parade high school All-Americans and Mr. Basketballs in their home states of New York and New Jersey respectively. At center, Rodney Dent was a bruising 6-11 muscle man. At the guards were Dale Brown and Travis Ford, two guys who could drain the three and pick your pockets on defense. Ford was a super point guard, capable of scoring 20 points and dishing out 10 assists in the same game. A deep bench led by Gimel Martinez, Andre Riddick, Junior Braddy, Tony Delk, and Jared Prickett meant Kentucky could go 10 deep with little drop-off.

Vanderbilt entered this game with an 11-3 record. The Commodores had lost two in a row after winning 10 in a row and cracking the top 20. In a loss at Memphis State, Vandy couldn't solve the Tigers' full court press and committed 30 turnovers. Kentucky's big defensive weapon was a combination match up press that wrecked havoc on poor ball-handling and less conditioned opponents.

This Vandy squad was almost as deep as Kentucky but not as talented. The glaring weakness was a lack of quality big men. Out of necessity, Commodore Coach Eddie Fogler relied on four guard-forwards and a center. Starting at center was Indiana transfer Chris "Red" Lawson, a 6-10 wide-body. The other four spots belonged to Bruce Elder, Ronnie McMahan, Kevin Anglin, and Billy McCaffrey. All four of these perimeter players could take it inside and hit the three. Off the bench, Fogler regularly called on three reserves; Bryan Milburn and Dan Hall were two inside tough guys from Kentucky who knew how to set painful screens. Frank Seckar was a 6-02 guard out of Wisconsin who could play the point or the shooting guard.

At the outset of the game, Kentucky's press bothered the Commodores. Vandy either broke the press and then couldn't establish its offense, or turned the ball over and gave up quick points to the Wildcats. Just a little over four minutes into the game, Kentucky had bolted out to a 16-8 lead. Ford and Rhodes did most of the damage, combining for early success behind the arc.

Coach Fogler inserted Hall into the game for some added muscle, and the Commodores quickly rallied. Breaking the press, the fast break worked to perfection, and when McCaffrey drove the lane for a layup, the score was tied at 24-24 just eight minutes into the game, a 120-point pace for both teams.

The lead changed hands a few times over the next seven minutes, until a few well-timed up-screens freed Lawson and Anglin for baskets to put Vandy up 46-42 with 90 seconds to go in the half. After a Junior Braddy jumper cut the lead to two, Vandy tried to play for one but turned the ball over. On the ensuing fast break, Rhodes sank a short jump shot off the glass to knot the game at 46-46 after one half.

The score remained close in the opening minutes of the second half, with the Commodores leading 61-60. Vandy then hit two baskets and three foul shots to forge ahead by eight, forcing Pitino to call timeout. The Wildcats used the trey to crawl back in the contest, and when Braddy hit from 20 feet, the Cats took the lead at 75-74 with just a little over six and a half minutes to go. McMahan tied the score when he hit the front end of a one and one but couldn't hit the second. After a Kentucky miss, McCaffrey scored off the break to give the 'Dores the lead once more. Moments later, Danimal (Hall) ripped home a thunderous dunk to put Vandy ahead once more, this time for good.

Down the stretch, Kentucky fouled Vanderbilt nearly every possession. Fouling this squad was an ill-advised ploy. The Commodores were the best foul shooting team in the league and one of the tops in the nation. Every time a black and gold-clad shooter went to the charity stripe, the scoreboard changed. Vandy began to average more than one point per possession in the final five minutes, while Kentucky began to hurry shots. The lead grew from four points to double digits. In the final minute, Vandy lit up the third digit and won 101-86. 15,400 rabid fans cheered loudly as yet another number one team fell in the friendly confines of Memorial.

All five Commodore starters hit for double figures. McCaffrey led the way with 22 and dished out a school record 14 assists (many of those brilliant fast break passes). Lawson followed with 19. McMahan and Anglin added 16 each, while Elder tossed in 10. Hall, held scoreless in the first half, scored eight points in the final half and led the team with nine rebounds.

The Commodore motion offense worked to perfection. On almost every half-court offensive possession, there were eight or more passes, very little dribbling, and constant player movement. Kentucky was forced to foul as Vandy screens continually freed players for open looks. For the game, Vandy hit 31 of 49 field goal attempts for 63% and a magnificent 28 of 39 from inside the arc for 72%. At the foul line, the Goldmen went 36-43 for 84%.

Meanwhile Kentucky hit 41% of its shots and only 10 of 19 at the foul line. Kentucky made 14 three-pointers to only three for Vandy, as the Commodores outscored them 98-72 not counting the extra point on the treys. Mashburn, averaging over 23 points per game, was held to 14 points on 6 of 18 shooting. Rhodes led the Cats with 19, while Ford added 18.

Note: Some info and stats for this story came from the Nashville Tennessean, Nashville Banner, Louisville Courier-Journal, and Lexington Herald-Leader

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