A look back on Kentucky basketball’s most notable Champions Classic performances


Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) celebrates after drawing a foul on a rebound during the UK vs. Duke men’s basketball game as part of the State Farm Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. Duke won 79-71. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Drew Johnson, Reporter

The 2022 Champions Classic is set to mark the 12th annual edition of the event this Tuesday with the event kicking off with No. 4 Kentucky facing Michigan State in Indianapolis.

The matchup is Kentucky’s first true test of the young season, with its two previous matchups being against less high-stakes opponents in Howard and Duquesne.

 The Champions Classic is an early season tradition between blue-bloods Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and Michigan State, which features the programs playing each other every year in a neutral site. Last season, Kentucky faced off against Duke in a 79-71 loss.

As excitement for this matchup and the season ahead continues to build with just hours remaining before tipoff, it’s important to take a deep dive and pick out some of UK’s best performers in the annual event.


Anthony Davis (2011 vs. No. 12 Kansas) 14 points, 7 blocks, 6 rebounds, 2 steals

In just the second game of the young 2011-12 season, the world was introduced to future college basketball legend Anthony Davis.

The young center led Kentucky to a 75-65 win against No. 12 Kansas, with his high energy plays sparking the team to an electric second half to pull out the victory after a slow start.

Notable plays include the one in which Davis followed teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on a breakaway and secured the put-back dunk after Kidd-Gilchrist missed the layup.

Davis was also the recipient of multiple highlight-reel alley-oop dunks.

Davis would later go on to lead the Wildcats to the first, and currently only, National Championship of the John Calipari era, winning the Naismith National Player of the Year award as well as the 2012 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award.

He was drafted No.1 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Pelicans and now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.


Malik Monk (2016 vs. No. 13 Michigan State) 23 points, 6 rebounds, 7-11 3-point shooting

On Nov. 15, 2016, Malik Monk put up a three-point barrage against Michigan State in a 69-48 drumming of the Spartans inside Madison Square Garden.

Monk took shots from over 22-feet away with defenders in his face to help an otherwise struggling Kentucky offense over MSU.

Despite the prolific performance, Monk was only 3-13 with 3-point shots going into the game and, in the game itself, he was the only player on either team to make more than one 3-pointer and the only wildcat to make any from beyond the arc.

It’s safe to say this performance was vital for Kentucky’s eventual win.

The defense was also notable in the win, holding Michigan State to a measly 48 points with a 32% field goal percentage and a 19% 3-point percentage.

Kentucky would eventually go on to make the Elite Eight before falling to the North Carolina Tar Heels in a heartbreaking 75-73 nailbiter loss.

Monk was drafted No. 11 overall in the 2017 NBA draft by the Charlotte Hornets and currently plays for the Sacramento Kings.


Tyrese Maxey (2019 vs. No. 1 Michigan State) 26 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 7-12 shooting percentage

In a highly anticipated matchup between the No.1 and No. 2 in the country at the time, freshman Tyrese Maxey came off the bench and led Kentucky to a 69-62 victory over No. 1 Michigan State.

In just the first game of his college career, Maxey introduced himself as a fun and energetic guard that loved big moments and clutch shots.

The highlight moment of the game came with about a minute left when Maxey hit a long 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 59 seconds left to all but seal the victory.

Just one day after turning 19 years old, Maxey celebrated his birthday with one of the most clutch shots in the history of the Champions Classic.

Unfortunately, Kentucky’s overall season would be tragically cut short due to COVID-19 and the cancellation of both the conference and NCAA tournaments. UK had the best record in the SEC and was ranked No. 8 in the AP poll at the time of the cancellation of the season.

Maxey went on to be drafted No. No. 21 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, where he still plays today.


Oscar Tshiebwe (2021 vs. No. 9 Duke) 17 points, 20 rebounds, 12 offensive rebounds, 2 blocks 

Despite the performance being the only of the four to not lead to an eventual victory, Tshiebwe’s performance in the matchup against Duke is one of the best in program history.

Following one of the most disappointing seasons in Kentucky history, there was immense pressure on the Wildcats to start the season hot and establish some new stars on the roster.

Tshiebwe immediately stepped up and introduced the world to the rebounding menace that would terrorize college basketball for the next year.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo native had his way with Duke’s bigs on the offensive end, notching 17 points and 12 offensive rebounds in just 29 minutes.

He also grabbed eight defensive rebounds and nabbed two blocks on the other side of the floor for one of the best complete-game showcases in Champions Classic history.

An impressive 20 rebounds against a fairly large Duke Blue Devils squad sent shockwaves around college basketball and earned mountains respect for Tshiebwe.

This would be far from an outlier performance from “Big O” either, as he would eclipse 20 rebounds five times throughout the course of the season, including setting the UK single game rebound record with 28 against Western Kentucky

Despite the loss, many Kentucky fans walked away confident in their team and believing in the star power down low.

Kentucky would go on to lose in the opening round of the NCAA tournament against Saint Peter’s that season, a disappointing end to an otherwise impressive season.

Tshiebwe was eventually named consensus national player of the year and decided to return to Kentucky, making the trip with the team to the 2022 edition of the event, though his playing status is up in the air.