Rick Pitino Admits He Wanted UK to Lose ’96 SEC Title Game
As of this writing, the 2021 NCAA Tournament is down to the Elite Eight. Two games tonight. Two games tomorrow night.
One of those teams, Gonzaga, is hurtling toward the immortality that completing an undefeated season brings. But they have to get there first.
The Bulldogs' head coach, Mark Few, says it isn't something the team discusses, and it shows, I think, as the Zags have won each of their first three tournament games by an average of 26 points.
But six years ago, Kentucky, at this point, had one ITS first three NCAA Tournament games by an average of 25 points. Like Gonzaga this year, the Wildcats were steamrolling. Then they hid a Wisconsin-shaped wall in the Final Four and finished the season 38-1.
At the beginning of that tournament, I'd wondered if it might be a good idea to lose a game beforehand. I wondered the same thing again this year.
In the 45 years since the Indiana Hoosiers finished the 1975-76 season with a national title and an unblemished record, no team with fewer than two losses at the beginning of the NCAA Tournament, has won the championship.
So Gonzaga is playing with history.
In 1996, Rick Pitino had ZERO interest in messing with history. His '95-'96 Wildcats--dubbed The Untouchables--got to the title game of the SEC Tournament with one loss, to Massachusetts. In that conference tourney title tilt, UK lost by nine to Mississippi State, who later joined UK in the Final Four.
Now, it seems, Pitino felt the same way I do about going into the NCAA Tournament with one or NO losses...it is a whole lot of PRESSURE.
He told 247Sports that he actually WANTED Kentucky to lose that SEC title game. The 'Cats were on a 27-game winning streak and Pitino said that he didn't want his team to embrace an "aura of invincibility" which could have had a detrimental effect deep into UK's tourney run.
He said he didn't want to DELIBERATELY lose that game, but he wanted to lose it. Sitting Antoine Walker for the entire second half has always made Big Blue Nation suspect, or even BELIEVE, that it was on purpose so they could lose.
Count me among them. And now Pitino has come clean 25 years later.
I knew it.
And now we wait and watch to see if Gonzaga can break that "fewer than two" curse and ride into history.