Kentucky basketball ends season with single-digit wins for the first time since 1927

Hayes Gardner
Louisville Courier Journal

As a high school sophomore, Davion Mintz led his varsity team to a 23-5 record. As a junior, he guided them to a 23-4 mark and, as a senior, 27-3. Then, in his four years at Creighton, he never saw a losing season.

Over his basketball career, the Kentucky grad transfer had grown accustomed to winning.

“I’ve never lost this many games in my life,” the 22-year old said after the Wildcats fell to Mississippi State 74-73 in Thursday’s SEC Tournament.

With the loss, UK finished its season 9-16. Like Mintz, few have experienced such a poor season; the 2020-21 season marks the first time UK has won single-digit games since the 1927 team went 3-13.

The Wildcats' season was shortened slightly by the coronavirus, and had they played a full schedule, they likely would have cracked the double-digit plateau, but that's hardly an accomplishment. UK has won at least 18 games — double its tally this year — every season for the past 30 years.

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UK began the season an embarrassing 1-6 and then put together a couple of small win streaks, but still finished with a losing record in both conference and non-conference play. The Wildcats entered the SEC Tournament in Nashville with hopes to reel off four-straight wins and punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, but that proved a pipedream.

They fell behind by 15 points in the second half, roared back to take a 5-point lead, before eventually losing as Dontaie Allen’s last-second 3-pointer bounced off the rim.

Coach John Calipari said that he was not disappointed in his players, but that he was “disappointed in the record.”

The .360 winning percentage is the worst by a Calipari-coached college team since his first year as a headman, when, as a 30-year old, Massachusetts went 10-18 (.357) in 1989. That’s the same year, UK posted its most recent losing season, finishing 13-19.

“My teams historically played like, if they lost, they were going to the electric chair. This team did not,” Calipari said Thursday.

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The Wildcats have had other disappointing years. Twice this millennium, the program missed the NCAA Tournament, but both of those years — 2009 and 2013 — the team finished with more than 20 wins. UK finished .500 in 1967, 1974 and 1990, but has not fared as poorly as it did this season since Basil Hayden led the team in 1927.

It was a different time then, nearly a century ago. During the 1927-28 season, it was boasted that UK had three six-footers, and an article noted that the team started "five sophomores — think of that."

However, the disappointment and deflation of a deficient year has not changed.

UK's final game of that 1926-27 season came at home against Tennessee, which had topped the Wildcats 19-14 in a previous contest. In the freshman game, the ‘Kittens’ beat the Woodland Athletic Club, despite the fact that their coach played forward for the opposing team.

Then, in the varsity game, Tennessee beat UK 30-21 in what was a “very rough” game according to a Courier Journal article.

“The University of Kentucky basketball team closed one of the most disastrous seasons in the history of the school here tonight,” the newspaper wrote of the game.

The Lexington Herald expressed a similar sentiment, one of consolation that the year was over.

“Most everybody gave a sigh of relief with the knowledge that this final score was the last of the season as far as Kentucky is concerned," the paper wrote. "The season having ended just as it began — disastrously."

Hayes Gardner can be reached at; Twitter: @HayesGardner.