Front Row: Coach Adolph Rupp, Johnny Stough, Ralph Beard, Kenneth Rollins, Cliff Barker, Jr., Dale Barnstable, Asst. Coach Harry Lancaster Second Row: Manager Humzey Yessin, Garland Townes, Jim Jordan, Joe Holland, Alex Groza, Wallace Jones, Jim Line, Roger Day, Trainer Wilbert Bud Berger
With a familiar four starters returning from the Fabulous Five, the 1948-49 Kentucky men’s basketball team appeared poised to make a second consecutive title run. The Wildcats raced through the regular season with only one loss, and only three teams throughout the year came within even 10 points of Kentucky. Alex Groza led the team in scoring in 13 of its last 15 games and he broke a UK and SEC record with 38 points in a 95-40 win over Georgia on Feb. 21.
The team concluded the regular season with a 70-37 win over Vanderbilt at Alumni Gym, including a last-second 65-foot shot by Cliff Barker. The Cats again swept through the SEC Tournament in nearby Louisville, winning their opening-round game over Florida, 73-36. Kentucky outscored its SEC Tournament opponents by a total of 123 points in a four-game span, including a 68-52 win over Tulane in the conference final.
After being surprisingly upset in the first round of the NIT, the Wildcats had no trouble in NCAA play. Kentucky defeated Villanova, 85-72, and Illinois, 76-47, to advance to the national title game. Groza, Ralph Beard and Wah Wah Jones were all named All-America and Groza was named the tournament’s MVP.
It was no surprise that when the first-ever Associated Press poll was released the following year, the Cats were ranked preseason No. 1.
Paced by Alex Groza’s 25 points and a defense that limited the Aggies to a mere nine field goals, the Wildcats were crowned NCAA Champions for the second straight year.
Groza, a unanimous selection as the “Player of the Tournament,” scored more than twice as many points as any other player. A&M’s Jack Shelton was the game’s only other player to score in double figures. He finished with 12 points.
The Aggies, coached by Hank Iba, led 5-2, but the Wildcats scored seven straight points, five by Groza, and never trailed again as they took a 25-20 first-half lead.
UK extended the lead to 31-21 early in the second half and coasted the rest of the way.
Most Outstanding Player: Alex Groza – finished with 25 points and nine made field goals