The 1997-98 Kentucky Wildcats clawed their way back to a third straight title game, winning the NCAA National Championship over Utah 78-69. The road wasn't easy, however, with dramatic second-half comebacks against Duke and Stanford just to get to the final game (not to mention weathering the SI cover jinx and having Tim Higgins referee one of their games). Kentucky played through much adversity, including starting the season off with new coach Orlando "Tubby" Smith who replaced Rick Pitino. His inagural season was an unqualified success as he posted a 35-4 record.
This championship was especially sweet as not many fans in the Commonwealth truly believed that this Kentucky team had the talent to win the top prize. To many, it was viewed as a rebuilding year and a year for Coach Smith to implement his coaching style on the team. An early blowout loss to defending champion Arizona drove home the point that this team lacked much of the talent found over the previous years under Pitino. A home loss to a mediocre Louisville squad caused even the most optimistic fans to question whether this team had what it took to compete for a national title. But Coach Smith weathered the storm and regrouped his team. The seniors, Jeff Sheppard, Cameron Mills and Allen Edwards stepped up their leadership and the Cats depended heavily on the energy of newcomer Heshimu Evans and the experience of Scott Padgett, Nazr Mohammed and Wayne Turner. The squad gelled as a team during the SEC regular season and stormed through Atlanta on the way to an SEC Tournament Championship. Once in the NCAA Tournament, their leadership, desire and experience went into overdrive as their team concept led to a well-deserved championship.
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1997-98 Kentucky WildcatsNCAA Champions
Front Row (l to r): Assistant Coach Mike Sutton, Head Coach Orlando "Tubby" Smith, Saul Smith, Cameron Mills, Jeff Sheppard, Wayne Turner, Steve Masiello, Assistant Coach George Felton, Assistant Coach Shawn Finney.
Standing: Special Assistant Leon Smith, Administrative Assistant Simeon Mars, Equipment Manager Bill Keightley, Ryan Hogan, Heshimu Evans, Scott Padgett, Nazr Mohammed, Jamaal Magloire, Michael Bradley, Myron Anthony, Allen Edwards, Trainer Eddie Jamiel, Strength Coach Tom Boyd
|Jeff Sheppard||Cameron Mills||Allen Edwards||Nazr Mohammed|
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