With 6.5 minutes to go in today’s UofL basketball game against Marquette, I had thrown in the towel. I’d seen this story many times before. I sent a text message to Noelle and told her it was over. Then Van Treese got a steal and dunk. Preston Knowles decided that the rim was no longer too small and started draining 3-pointers and I sent 4 or 5 more text messages to Noelle (because she was at a party and would be interested in these turn of events.) As it turns out, the response I got (That’s nice, but UK is better) was not really what I expected from her. I was sending these messages to my nephew, Austin. Oops. So, instead, I called and told Noelle the final events of the game. What was it? With 12.2 seconds left, UofL’s Preston Knowles got the ball, drove the lane, jumped to shoot; but, being triple defended, dished the ball to an open Kyle Kuric who scored a ring around the basket. UofL leads by 1, 71-70, with 4.0 seconds left. Marquette failed to score and UofL capped, what columnists are writing, a furious win.
Coach Pitino, in his post-game interview, called it a top 5 comeback win. Of course, we all know about UK’s epic win over LSU in 1994. UK was down by 31 points with 16 minutes left in the game. UK turned on their A-game and outscored the Tigers 62-27 to win the game 99-95.
This got me thinking. UK’s win is epic. It is still talked about in Kentucky. But how do these two games compare? Coach Pitino gets to notch his cap with another epic comeback win, sure, but if we analyze the numbers which is the greater comeback? UK allowed LSU to score 27 points in the final 16 minutes, UofL held Marquette to 7 points in the final 5. minutes. That’s 1 point every 35.6 seconds in UK v LSU compared to 1 point every 55.7 seconds in the UofL v Marq. Advantage UofL defense. On offense, UK scored 62 points in the final 16 minutes, or 1 point every 15.5 seconds. UofL scored 24 points in the final 5.2 minutes, or 1 point every 14.8 seconds. Advantage UofL offense. (Originally, I started counting at 6.5 minutes with Van Treese’s steal and UofL scoring 26 points. That’s 1 point every 15 seconds. But UofL was still down 18 with 5.2 minutes left.)
In other areas, LSU lost their point guard and missed free throws. Marquette had UofL in foul trouble the whole game, but couldn’t capitalize on it during the end. They also missed an important free throw series, scoring 1 of 2. I give the advantage to UofL on this, they were in foul trouble and were battling the full force of Marquette.
In both cases, the game came down to the last seconds. LSU made an errant baseball type inbound pass that was picked off and UofL was able to trouble Marquette’s lane running shooter enough that his shot was short. Both of these games were won by the same coach using similar tactics: pounding defense and tenacious pressing. It helped that the players started knocking down shots.
Being down by 31 points with 16 minutes left is usually a time when a coach or team throws in the towel and says, “Here’s a practice game, let’s make the best of it,” UK didn’t do that. Being down 18 points with 6.5 minutes left caused a large number of UofL fans to head to the door.
UK’s 1994 win over LSU is totally epic, but I think Pitino is right, today’s UofL win over Marquette should stand as a top 5 comeback win in NCAA Men’s Basketball – it may even be a bigger win than the UK game. The raw analytical numbers bear it out.