The 1996-97 team hoped to repeat in winning the national title despite incredible adversity before and during the season. Beside losing three seniors to the NBA, forward Antoine Walker decided to forego his junior year for the NBA draft. Jeff Sheppard and Coach Rick Pitino mutually decided to redshirt. Oliver Simmons transferred to Florida State early in the season and then things started to get really bad ! Derek Anderson was having a fine season, even being considered the best basketball player in the country the first half of the season before blowing out his knee in midseason. Later, Allen Edwards was found to have a hairline fracture in his foot which sidelined him through much of the SEC and NCAA tournaments and limited his performance.
Despite this, Kentucky quite frankly had an amazing season. They amassed a 35-5 record and outscored their opponents by an average of 27.7 points in the games they won. (The five games they lost were by an average of 4.6 points.) They made an amazing run in the NCAA tournament, beating Iowa, St. Joseph's, Utah and Minnesota before bowing out to Arizona in the Championship game in overtime. The Cats can hang their heads high because they made it as far as they did on sheer guts and determination. Pitino said after the season that this is the proudest he has ever been of a team and it was one of his best season's as a coach.
Although the Wildcats came up second for the national title, they did repeat as first place in the Sagarin ratings, just barely edging out an incredible Kansas squad.
|Derek Anderson||Anthony Epps||Jared Prickett||Ron Mercer|
1996-97 Kentucky WildcatsNCAA National Runner-Up
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