REWIND | 1996 Final Four – The Untouchables

1995-96 Squad Front Row (l to r): Asst. Coach Delray Brooks, Head Coach Rick Pitino, Allen Edwards, Derek Anderson, Jeff Sheppard, Tony Delk, Anthony Epps, Cameron Mills, Wayne Turner, Assoc. Coach Jim O'Brien, Asst. Coach Winston Bennett Second Row: Equipment Mgr. Bill Keightley, Administrative Asst. George Barber, Jason Lathrem, Oliver Simmons, Nazr Mohammed, Mark Pope, Walter McCarty, Antoine Walker, Jared Prickett, Ron Mercer, Trainer Eddie Jamiel, Asst. Strength Coach Layne Kaufman, Strength Coach Shaun Brown

Monday April 1, 1996, might have been a normal April Fools for most of the country, but not for the Kentucky Wildcats or the Big Blue Nation.

Maybe the Greatest Team ever to wear a Kentucky uniform completed a remarkable season, on that day, with a victory over the hard Fighting Orangemen of Syracuse, 76-67.

Just two days before in the semi-finals, the Wildcats had defeated the Number 1 seed from the East, the John Calipari Coached UMASS Minutemen, 81-74.

Mr 00, Tony Delk led the Cats in scoring in both games with 20 against UMASS and 24 against Syracuse where he tied an NCAA Final Game record by making 7 three-point baskets. Tony was also named the NCAA Regional Most Outstanding Player and the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

The “Untouchables”, a name given the team by Rick Pitino after they defeated Syracuse for the National title, were the Number 1 seed in the Midwest Region, defeating San Jose State, Virginia Tech, Utah and Wake Forest to earn the programs eleventh trip to the Final Four at that time.

Here are some excerpts from the New York Times article from April 1st

No one can touch them now. The Kentucky Wildcats fulfilled the most burdensome demand in college basketball tonight. They overcame a persistent but outnumbered group of Syracuse Orangemen, a team that somehow narrowed a 13-point second-half deficit to 2 and swelled Continental Arena with the hope of one of the most memorable upsets in the history of the national collegiate tournament.

Kentucky won in a manner that was as impressive as it was uncharacteristic. The Wildcats won at the defensive end, not through offensive brilliance.

Kentucky had four double-figure scorers. Tony Delk tied a championship-game record with seven 3-point baskets, scored 24 points, and brought back memories of the 41 points Jack Givens scored to beat Duke for the 1978 title.

It was the Wildcats’ relentless defensive approach, a decisive factor for the second consecutive game, that earned them Pitino’s nickname, one that will stand with the Fabulous Five and the Fiddlin’ Five, champions from the Adolph Rupp era. Kentucky’s 21.5-point average margin of victory in the six games was the fourth-largest in the history of the tournament.

Syracuse went on a 10-2 run which brought the Orangemen within 2 at 64-6 with only 4:45 to play.

But one more time, Kentucky had an answer. Walter McCarty converted an offensive rebound on Delk’s miss to build the lead back to 4. Anderson made a 22-foot jumper from the left side after taking a pass from McCarty.

Jason Cipolla brought the Orangemen back within 5 with a 14-foot shot along the baseline. But Mark Pope made a 6-foot jumper in the lane with 3:03 to play, and the Wildcats were ahead, 71-64.

Then Wallace was called for an offensive foul, one created by Epps, with 2:48 to play. “We should have won the game,” Wallace said. “Personally, we got a couple of bad calls that could have gone either way. But calls are irreversible.”

Syracuse scored one basket in the last 3:23, a 3-point shot by Burgan that brought them within 5 with 2:01 to play. Wallace fouled out with 1:06 to go. Sims, having lost much of the feeling in his left hand, was limited. “I feel I let the team down,” Sims said. “I got them this far and didn’t capitalize. I feel I let them down. Aside from losing my father and grandfather, this is the worst feeling.”

Sim’s voice was soft, his eyes pointed toward the floor as he walked slowly to the dressing room for the last time in his college career. The Wildcats, walking the other way, stopped when they saw him. Delk embraced Sims, and so did Pitino, and then the Wildcats moved on.

In the end, this team placed nine Players into the NBA | Tony Delk, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Derek Anderson, Ron Mercer, Mark Pope, Jeff Sheppard, Wayne Turner and Nazr Mohammed.

Complete box scores of both game – UMASSSyracuse.




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