By Alex Forkner | @KyKernelForkner
This series counts down the greatest UK basketball teams of all time. No. 1 will be revealed in the Kernel’s basketball season preview edition on Nov. 7. Here is No. 4: 1948-49.
Even when the Fabulous Five was reduced to the Fantastic Four, the results at season’s end were the same. Holdovers Alex Groza, Ralph Beard, Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones and Cliff Barker returned to add a second national title.
After capturing the 1947-48 national championship, the Cats would become the second team to successfully defend a NCAA title. Since then, only six other schools have accomplished this feat.
Adolph Rupp’s 19th season at UK started where his 18th left off, with the team tallying eight straight victories. UK’s first of only two losses on the year would come in a 42-40 defeat at the hands of St. Louis in the Sugar Bowl Championship tournament in New Orleans.
After the heartbreaker in the Big Easy, the Cats would cruise to 21 straight victories, going undefeated in the Southeast Conference on the way to both the regular season and tournament titles, as well as a No. 1 ranking.
UK’s second loss would prove controversial. The Cats fell to No. 16 Loyola (Chicago) in the NIT quarterfinal (back when teams played in this tournament as well as the NCAA tournament). The game would years later become the object of a point-shaving scandal.
Former players Groza, Beard and Dale Barnstable were arrested for accepting bribes from gamblers to affect the outcome of the game against Loyola. As a result, UK canceled the 1952-’53 season after being banned from competition by the conference and NCAA. Groza and Beard received a lifetime ban from the NBA.
The ’48-’49 season was left untouched in the record books, allowing the Cats’ romp through the NCAA tournament to stand. UK won all three tournament games by double digits, including a 10-point margin in the title game.
Groza led UK with 25 points in the 46-36 victory over Oklahoma A&M, scoring more than twice as much as any other player in the game. Groza’s nine field goals equaled A&M’s team total. The senior center was named most outstanding player of the tournament for the second year in a row.
Beard and Groza were consensus first-team All-American selections, and Jones was a consensus second-team selection.
After the season, the four star players were drafted by NBA teams — three in the first two rounds. Groza was selected second overall by the Indianapolis Olympians, Jones at eighth overall by the Washington Capitals, Beard at 22nd overall by the Chicago Stags and Barker at 55th overall by Washington.
The year ended a storied run by the team, a run that included three SEC titles, two NCAA titles and an Olympic gold medal at the 1948 Summer Games in London; a run that established UK as a college basketball powerhouse.