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EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK: Wildcats Are Hungry For First Victory In Knoxville In Three Decades


By Jamie H. Vaught

Editor

On the date of November 24, 1984.....

Ronald Reagan was the president. Stevie Wonder's popular song, "I Just Called To Say I Love You," had reached No. 1 on the chart. Jerry Claiborne, a Bear Bryant disciple with winning credentials at Maryland (seven bowl trips) who was hired to rebuild the UK football program, was finishing up his third season at the Wildcat helm.

And his 7-3 bowl-bound Kentucky club was facing a good Johnny Majors' Tennessee team at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville before a sun-splashed crowd of nearly 94,000, including approximately 7,000 faithful UK fans.

History will show that November day was a very memorable one in the Big Blue Nation.

As you may recall, Claiborne had a nice victory ride on the shoulders of his players on the field as they approached the dressing room after his Wildcats defeated Tennessee 17-12, improving their mark to 8-3.

Moments later, a jubilant Claiborne -- who wore a Kentucky blue sweater and a tie along with a Kentucky blue "K" cap -- and his team accepted a Birmingham-based Hall of Fame Bowl bid.

But the thrilling matchup earlier, with UK holding a five-point lead, wasn't over as the Vols were threatening to score in the final seconds.

Thankfully, the time ran out for UT quarterback Tony Robinson and his Vol teammates, who eventually went to the Sun Bowl.

Like many Kentuckians who were there, it was a beautiful day that I'll never forget as I was on the field, taking photos for a daily newspaper in Somerset and writing a column for The Cats' Pause.

The Wildcats, however, haven't won a single game in Knoxville since then.

That's 30 long years.

So will this Saturday be a good day on the road for coach Mark Stoops and his 5-5 Wildcats when they face the improving Vols (SEC Network, 4 p.m.)?

It may take another Matt Roark-like performance to beat Butch Jones' Volunteers this time. It was Roark, the wide receiver who had quarterbacked Kentucky to a stunningly 10-7 win in 2011 in Lexington, breaking a 26-game losing streak to UT.

A fearless forecast: Tennessee by 10. Since that 1984 November day, the Vols are 28-1 in the series.

* * *

Kentucky losing by several touchdowns to Georgia in a blowout?

Yes, that's what happened last Saturday afternoon.

As Mark Stoops said in a post-game news conference, it was a very embarrassing performance by the Wildcats, who have lost four straight games after a remarkable 5-1 start.

As noted in my column last week, I had even predicted the Cats would win by 3. How wrong I was.

In the recent past at Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky had done fairly well against the Dogs by keeping the games close as well as coming up with a handful of home victories over Georgia (in 2006, 1996, 1990 and 1988).

Oh, well. I'm glad I'm not working for a Las Vegas casino.

* * *

Looking ahead in basketball, coach John Calipari will tip off his sixth year at Kentucky on Friday night, Nov. 14 when his Wildcats host Phoenix-based Grand Canyon University in a game televised on SEC Network (8 p.m.).

Grand Canyon, a private Christian university, has a couple of individuals that you probably have heard of.

Its head coach is Dan Majerle, a former three-time NBA All-Star performer who also spent five years as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns before taking over at GCU in 2013. Majerle also was a member of Dream Team II, the U.S. basketball squad that won gold at the 1994 World Championship of Basketball in Canada.

Majerle is beginning his second year with GCU. Last season, he was a finalist for the 2014 Joe B. Hall award given to the most outstanding first-year Division I head coach after guiding the squad to a 15-15 overall record.

And Todd Lee is the associate head coach for the Antelopes. Before coming to Phoenix in 2013, he served as the head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan in Owensboro for eight years, including five NCAA Tournament appearances and four Top 25 final rankings.

According to three preseason college basketball yearbooks, Grand Canyon is expected to finish either first or second in Western Athletic Conference this winter.

Also, the Antelopes were tabbed to finish third in the coaches poll and second in the media poll at recent WAC Media Day festivities.

Grand Canyon, a former NCAA Division II member, joined WAC in 2013.

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of the growing KySportsStyle360.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. Reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle360@gmail.com.

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