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The Kentucky Wildcats are the men's and women's athletic teams representing the University of Kentucky (UK), a founding member of the Southeastern Conference. At one time, women's teams and athletes were called "Lady Kats," but the women's programs adopted the "Wildcats" nickname in the early 1990s. Teams sponsored by the UK athletic program include football, men's & women's basketball, women's volleyball, baseball, softball, men's & women's cross country, men's & women's swimming/diving, women's gymnastics (known as the GymKats), men's & women's soccer, men's & women's track & field (indoor & outdoor), men's & women's golf, men's & women's tennis, and the coeducational sport of rifle. The men's soccer team competes in Conference USA because the SEC does not sponsor that sport for men.
The University of Kentucky cheerleaders have won the UCA Division I-A Cheerleading Championship 15 times, more than any other school.
UK has some of the most loyal fans in the country. The recent renovation to Rupp Arena has added the E-Rupp-tion Zone, a popular place for students during basketball games. The Wodie Crew, a popular staple of Internet message boards and UK sporting events, also adds credence to the loyal fan label.
The University of Kentucky men's basketball team is one of the elite NCAA basketball programs, having earned a total of seven NCAA titles. Its seven titles were won by four different coaches - Adolph Rupp - 1948, 1949, 1951 and 1958; Joe B. Hall - 1978; Rick Pitino - 1996; and Tubby Smith - 1998. Four coaches with national titles is a record for men's Division I basketball; North Carolina (3) is the only other school with more than two. UK is also the winningest men's college basketball program in the nation. Through the completion of the 2006 NCAA basketball tournament on 04/03/06, the Wildcats have a total of 1926 wins (North Carolina is second with a total of 1883 wins, and Kansas is third with a total of 1873 wins). UK's Rupp Arena has attained legendary status as one of the most difficult venues in the country for opponents to play.
The program has one of the largest and most loyal fan bases in the country, notorious for following the team anywhere in the world, often selling out its (frequently small) visitors' ticket allocation and sometimes buying the extra tickets left from the home team. The fan base often calls itself the "Big Blue Nation". The basketball program's popularity has spurred a number of websites for fans to talk about their beloved team in forums and chat rooms. The most complete gathering place is:
Another one is
One loyal fan and sports song singer/songwriter named Ryan Parker wrote an inspiring song about Kentucky Wildcat basketball that traces its entire history. It is called "I Bleed Blue" and is available at:
Several Wildcats teams have reached legendary status within the state, and even among basketball fans elsewhere:
- The Fabulous Five: The 1948 team not only won the NCAA title, but provided the core of the USA team that won the Olympic gold medal that summer in London.
- The 1954-55 Undefeated Team, which went 25-0 in the regular season and defeated LSU in a playoff to earn the Southeastern Conference bid to the NCAA tournament. However, several of the team's players had technically graduated during the 1953-54 season (when Kentucky was banned from intercollegiate play due to a point shaving scandal) and were prohibited from tournament play. Despite the wishes of the players, Adolph Rupp refused to allow the team to play in the tournament, thus leading to the team being called one of the best teams to not win the national title.
- The Fiddlin' Five: The 1958 team was given its nickname by Rupp due to his perception that they tended to "fiddle" early in games. However, they would right their ship in time to give Rupp his fourth and last national title.
- Rupp's Runts: The 1966 team, with no starter taller than 6'5" (1.96 m), was arguably the most beloved in UK history. Despite its lack of size, it used devastating defensive pressure and a fast-paced offense to take a 27-1 record and top national ranking into the NCAA final against Texas Western. However, the Miners would deny Rupp another title. For more details on the game, see the articles for Rupp and the Miners' coach, Don Haskins. Future NBA coach Pat Riley was a starter on this team.
- "The Season Without Celebration": Going into the 1977-78 season, the Wildcats faced perhaps the most suffocating expectations of any UK team. That year's senior class had, as freshmen, lost in the 1975 final to UCLA in John Wooden's final game as Bruins coach. The seniors had an outstanding supporting cast, and most Kentucky fans would have accepted nothing less than a national title. Despite its successful run to the title, the team was widely criticized, especially by its own fans, for being too serious and focused, giving rise to the "season without celebration" catchphrase.
- The Unforgettables: This refers to the 1992 team—more specifically, to the team's four seniors, Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey, and Sean Woods. They chose to stay with UK despite a major scandal, involving academic fraud and improper payments to a recruit, that engulfed the program in their freshman year of 1988-89. In their senior year, after a two-year absence from postseason play due to NCAA probation, they led the Cats to a deep run in the NCAA tournament, losing in the East Regional final to Duke in an overtime game often called the greatest in college basketball history. Making the group even more beloved was the fact that three (Farmer, Feldhaus, Pelphrey) were from small towns in the eastern half of Kentucky. The quartet's jerseys (not their numbers) were retired by UK immediately after the Duke loss; it is very unusual for any team to retire a jersey so quickly after a player's career is finished.
- The Untouchables: The 1996 team was arguably one of the most talented college teams in recent history, with nine players who would eventually play in the NBA:
- Since the Sagarin ratings have been in use, the 95-96 Kentucky ranks first among the all-time best teams:
- Kentucky (34-2) 1995-96 103.26
- Indiana (32-0) 1975-76 102.36
- UNLV (34-1) 1990-91 101.14
- Indiana (31-1) 1974-75 101.06
- North Carolina (34-4) 1992-93 100.10
- This team became the first SEC team in 40 years to go through the conference regular season unbeaten. After stumbling in the SEC tournament final against Mississippi State, they would make a dominating run into the Final Four. They avenged an early-season loss to UMass in the semifinals, and defeated Syracuse in the final. Many of these players, including Scott Padgett, another future NBA player who was academically ineligible in 1996, would be back for an encore with...
- The Unbelievables: The 1997 team that just missed repeating as national champions when they lost to Arizona in overtime in the NCAA championship game. The nickname comes from the fact that early on in the season, few Wildcats fans gave Kentucky much of a chance of repeating their magical 1996 season. It also gained in importance as (due to injury and people leaving the school) the team only had nine total players for the 1997 NCAA Tournament. Mohammed, Padgett, Sheppard, and Turner would be back the following season to play on...
- The Comeback Cats: The 1998 national champions earned this nickname in their last three games. In the South Regional final against Duke, they gained a measure of payback against Duke for the 1992 defeat, coming back from a 17-point deficit with 9:38 remaining. In the national semifinal, they came back from a double-digit halftime deficit again, this time against Stanford. In the final against Utah, they became the first team to come back from a double-digit halftime deficit in the final game.
The football team is typically much less successful than the basketball team, rarely achieving a winning season. In fact, the last Wildcats football coach to leave Lexington with a winning record during his tenure at UK was Blanton Collier, who was fired after the 1961 season. As a member of the football-heavy SEC, they compete against many of the top college football programs in the nation. They play at Commonwealth Stadium. Interestingly, Paul "Bear" Bryant was head football coach for eight seasons. Many believe the university was not large enough to overcome ego differences between the winningest college basketball coach, Adolph Rupp, and the winningest college football coach, Bear Bryant, who was twelve years younger than Rupp. However, much evidence suggests that most of the disproportion comes from the administration at the school favoring Rupp, even during scandals in the early 1950s; the "last straw" was at a year-end sports banquet where the two coaches received two different gifts: Bryant a lighter, Rupp a new car.
The team's current coach is Rich Brooks.
The baseball program, partly hampered by being the northernmost school in the heavily warm-weather SEC, has historically achieved only modest success at best. Wildcats baseball hit bottom at the turn of the 21st century, with only one winning season from 1997 through 2004, and last-place finishes in the SEC East division in every season from 2001 through 2005. In 2003, after the retirement of longtime coach Keith Madison, Kentucky hired Florida assistant John Cohen as head coach. Cohen was able to lead the Cats to a winning overall season in 2005, despite another SEC cellar finish.
Few could have expected the Cinderella season the Cats would have in 2006. They literally went from worst to first in the SEC, winning a regular-season conference title for the first time in three decades, and being ranked as high as fourth in the country by one major baseball poll during the season. However, the newly energized Kentucky baseball faithful saw the Cats crash out of the SEC tournament early and fail to make it out of the regionals of the NCAA tournament at home.
The University of Kentucky cheerleaders have won the UCA Division I-A Cheerleading Championship 15 times, more than any other school. They are the only school to win more than two consecutive championships, having won each year from 1995 through 2002 and from 2004 through 2006, and are the only school to win consecutive championships on multiple occasions, having done so three times (1987-1988, 1995-2002, and 2004-2006). They have won in championships in 1985, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006, have also placed second four times, and have finished in the top ten every year since the existence of the UCA National College Championships. The squad has been featured on the "CBS Evening News," Connie Chung's "Eye to Eye," and the "CBS Morning Show", NBC's The Today Show, in "Southern Living" and Gentlemen's Quarterly, "ESPN the Magazine," and "Seventeen" magazines.
- Official UK site
- Official UK athletics site
- WildcatNation.net - UK Athletics for fans site
- Jon Scott's Kentucky Basketball Statistics site
- Ryan Parker Songs - I Bleed Blue