Kentucky finished the 1995-96 season with a 34-2
record. They defeated Syracuse University 76-67 in the National
Championship final. Senior Tony Delk came away with Most Outstanding Player
honors after tying a NCAA record for hitting
seven three-point shots in the game. Derek Anderson and Mark Pope made key plays
in the closing minutes to seal the victory. Freshman Ron Mercer was perhaps the
most important player as he came off the bench and sparked the Cats with twenty
points. Some highlights of the season included winning a school record 27
straight games, scoring 86 points in the first half against LSU on the road,
overtaking North Carolina in the all-time wins category, overtaking Syracuse for
the highest average attendance, moving ahead of Indiana to reassume sole possession of second place in national championships with six, finishing the SEC with a perfect 16-0 mark (the
first undefeated conference string since Alabama in the 1950's) and handing a
number of SEC rivals some of their worst losses ever.
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As for the place of this Kentucky team in terms of all-time teams of the past, the fact that UK shot only 38 percent in the final and won by only nine points may hurt them. Also, there was no one dominating All-American player on the team which some claim is required for a great team. (Others who value team play and unselfishness may consider this a virtue.) The only two games UK lost were to final four teams themselves (Mississippi State and Massachusetts). Their average point differential was an amazing 22 points. Since the Sagarin ratings have been in use, the 95-96 Kentucky ranks among the all-time best teams*:
*Note: The ratings have only been used since the mid-70's. Jeff Sagarin has gone back before this time and found that some of the UCLA teams under Wooden have higher ratings.
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1995-96 Kentucky WildcatsNCAA National Champions
Front Row L-R: Asst. Coach Delray Brooks, Head Coach Rick Pitino, Allen Edwards, Derek Anderson, Jeff Sheppard, Tony Delk, Anthony Epps, Cameron Mills, Wayne Turner, Asst. Coach Jim O'Brien, Asst. Coach Winston Bennett
Back Row L-R: Equipment Manager Bill Keitley, Administrative Assistant George Barber, Jason Lathrem, Oliver Simmons, Nazr Mohammed, Mark Pope, Walter McCarty, Antoine Walker, Jared Prickett, Ron Mercer, Trainer Eddie Jamiel, Assistant Strength Coach Layne Kaufman, Strength Coach Shaun Brown
This team tied the unofficial record of most players to have made the NBA with nine. [The other teams in question are the '81-82 UCLA Bruins (Mark Eaton, Ralph Jackson, Michael Holton, Darren Daye, Rod Foster, Brad Wright, Stuart Gray, Mike Sanders and Kenny Fields) and the '90-91 North Carolina Tar Heels (Pete Chilcutt, Rick Fox, Hubert Davis, George Lynch, Matt Wenstrom, Eric Montross, Derrick Phelps, Clifford Rozier and Kevin Salvadori)]. Incredibly, the 1946-47 Kentucky squad also had nine players play in the NBA. Below is a listing of the 1996 Kentucky players who made the league.
Player - Initial Team
Derek Anderson - Cleveland Cavs
Tony Delk - Golden State Warriors
Walter McCarty - New York Knicks
Ron Mercer - Boston Celtics
Mark Pope - Indiana Pacers
Antoine Walker - Boston Celtics
Nazr Mohammed - Philadelphia 76ers
Jeff Sheppard - Atlanta Hawks
Wayne Turner - Boston Celtics
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