Whereas Pitino was the greatest SEC coach of his era, Houston was a loss waiting to happen. Still, Houston beat Pitino in three head-to-head meetings. I believe it only because I was there, watching from courtside on each occasion.
The first time was in 1990, Pitino's debut season with the Big Blue. The Wildcats had triumphed 95-83 earlier that year in Lexington but Houston's Vols avenged that setback by winning 102-100 a few weeks later in Knoxville.
Pitino swept the 1991 meetings, prevailing 78-74 in Knoxville and 85-74 in Lexington but – believe it or not – got hammered 107-85 in the '92 meeting at Knoxville. He got some revenge in the rematch at Lexington, winning 99-88.
That brings us to the 1993 season, which was the ultimate in bizarre basketball. Pitino's Wildcats rolled 84-70 in Lexington but Houston's Vols – well on their way to a 13-17 record that included a 4-12 SEC mark – stunned the second-ranked Big Blue 78-77 in the subsequent rematch at Knoxville.
To me, that '93 game at Thompson-Boling Arena ranks with Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson and David vs. Goliath among the greatest upsets of all time.
To say Pitino did not take the loss well would be a colossal understatement. His Wildcats came back just 20 days later to hand Tennessee the worst beating in program history – a 101-40 annihilation in the league tournament which, as fate would have it, was held in Lexington that March.
Pitino hasn't let up, either. Since that inconceivable '93 loss at TBA, he has beaten Tennessee 11 times in succession. Among the victories was a 90-50 thrashing of the Vols in 1996 that stands as the most lopsided home-floor defeat in Big Orange history.
What follows is a recap of Pitino's career vs. Tennessee, with the Vol coach and game site in parenthesis:
1990: Kentucky 95, Tennessee 83 (Wade Houston, Lexington)
1990: Tennessee 102, Kentucky 100 (Wade Houston, Knoxville
1991: Kentucky 78, Tennessee 74 (Wade Houston, Knoxville)
1991: Kentucky 85, Tennessee 74 (Wade Houston, Lexington)
1992: Tennessee 107, Kentucky 85 (Wade Houston, Knoxville)
1992: Kentucky 99, Tennessee 88 (Wade Houston, Lexington)
1993: Kentucky 84, Tennessee 70 (Wade Houston, Lexington)
1993: Tennessee 78, Kentucky 77 (Wade Houston, Knoxville)
1993: Kentucky 101, Tennessee 40 (Wade Houston, SEC tourney)
1994: Kentucky 93, Tennessee 74 (Wade Houston, Lexington)
1994: Kentucky 77, Tennessee 73 (Wade Houston, Knoxville)
1995: Kentucky 69, Tennessee 50 (Kevin O'Neill, Lexington)
1995: Kentucky 68, Tennessee 48 (Kevin O'Neill, Knoxville)
1996: Kentucky 61, Tennessee 44 (Kevin O'Neill, Lexington)
1996: Kentucky 90, Tennessee 50 (Kevin O'Neill, Knoxville)
1997: Kentucky 74, Tennessee 40 (Kevin O'Neill, Lexington)
1997: Kentucky 74, Tennessee 64 (Kevin O'Neill, Knoxville)
2004: Louisville 65, Tennessee 62 (Buzz Peterson, Knoxville)
2005: Louisville 85, Tennessee 62 (Buzz Peterson, Louisville)
For those keeping score at home, Pitino has an imposing 16-3 career record against the Volunteers. Incredibly, all three of the losses came at the hands of Wade Houston.
Given this bizarre circumstance, perhaps Bruce Pearl should consider giving Houston a seat on the UT bench when Pearl's Vols and Pitino's Louisville Cardinals collide tonight at 9:57 in the NCAA Sweet 16 at Charlotte Bobcats Arena.
Hey, it couldn't hurt.