Last month, we asked Kentucky basketball fans to provide us with their all-time Wildcats “Dream Team.” Using this 12-man squad, we put the Wildcats up against an all-star group of former North Carolina players in advance of those teams’ Dec. 17 matchup in Las Vegas.
The results were mixed. Kentucky won a pair of games, but Michael Jordan and Vince Carter were simply too much to handle over a best-of-7 series.
So, with a top-10 matchup between the real-life Wildcats and the Kansas Jayhawks looming, we decided to give the UK Dream Team one more chance. Our third-party simulation system (WhatIfSports.com) does not have the full library of old-school KU stars, so Kentucky avoided squaring off against Wilt Chamberlain and Clyde Lovellette, to name a couple.
But there was still a murderer’s row of posts (Danny Manning, Nick Collison, Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey, Drew Gooden, Cole Aldrich, etc.) to complement Paul Pierce and Kirk Hinrich.
Unlike the UNC series, this one went to seven games. Here’s a recap:
Game 1: Kansas 97, Kentucky 83
Box score • MVP: Kirk Hinrich (22 points on 9-of-15 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists)
A 4-point halftime lead wasn’t near enough for the Wildcats, who bled out after allowing an 11-0 Jayhawks run midway through the second. John Wall got Rupp Arena excited with an amazing 1:28 stretch that featured 4 points, 2 steals and 2 assists to bring UK within 91-83, but the ‘Cats could not score over the final 2-plus minutes.
Game 2: Kansas 107, Kentucky 101
Box score • MVP: Thomas Robinson (22 points on 7-of-13 shooting, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals)
Kentucky blew this one. The home squad was up by 15 with 14:23 remaining, but could not hold back a fierce Kansas charge down the stretch. Kansas star Danny Manning tipped in an errant shot to break a 99-99 tie with 39 seconds to go, and then Robinson sealed the game with four consecutive free throw makes.
Game 3: Kentucky 111, Kansas 102
Box score • MVP: Jack Givens (21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, 6 rebounds and 5 assists)
The venue changed from Rupp Arena to Allen Fieldhouse, but we got the same formula: The home team built up an early lead, then faded in crunch time. Kentucky held Kansas without a field goal over the final 2:51, while Kyle Macy poured in 6 of his 12 total points to ice it.
Game 4: Kentucky 110, Kansas 107 (OT)
Box score • MVP: Jack Givens (15 points on 6-of-14 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks)
Facing a 3-point deficit with 19 seconds remaining in regulation, Wildcats forward Anthony Davis hit a contested turnaround and added a foul shot to send the game into overtime. Kentucky built a 7-point lead in the extra period, but nearly gave it away at the end when Nick Collison got an open look from deep with 4 seconds left (he missed). This 2-2 series is headed back to Lexington.
Game 5: Kansas 106, Kentucky 89
Box score • MVP: Paul Pierce (23 points on 10-of-16 shooting, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals)
With a chance to take their first lead of the series, the Wildcats let another Rupp “W” slip out of their hands. Kansas tore down Kentucky’s 7-point halftime lead, then stormed to a blowout win behind Pierce’s 16 second-half points. UK now faces elimination in Lawrence.
Game 6: Kentucky 108, Kansas 100
Box score • MVP: Jack Givens (22 points on 9-of-17 shooting, 8 rebounds and 5 assists)
Whaddaya know, another come-from-behind win for the road team. Kentucky was down as many as 10 points in the second frame, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Tony Delk and Tayshaun Prince helped the ‘Cats steal the lead away for good. Later, with the clock winding down, Prince and Dan Issel both hit a pair of free throws to sink the ‘Hawks and send this series to Game 7 at Rupp Arena.
Game 7: Kansas 99, Kentucky 89
Box score • MVP: Thomas Robinson (19 points on 8-of-10 shooting, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals)
It wasn’t going to end any other way. For the seventh consecutive game, the visiting team emerged victorious. Kentucky made a game out of it, at least. John Wall and Anthony Davis connected on consecutive shots to bring the ‘Cats within 91-89 with 2:42 to go. But the Jayhawks’ defense shut them out for the remainder of the game to claim our “Dream Team” series.
What will the score be on Saturday? Let us know in the comments section.