On this day 65 years ago, Kentucky couldn’t keep its streak alive.
On Jan. 2, 1943, the Wildcats lost at home to Ohio State, 45-40. It would be their final loss in Lexington for 12 years.
From that point on, Kentucky won 129-straight home games at Alumni Gymnasium and Memorial Coliseum, the longest triumphant home run in NCAA history. During that span, the team won three national championships (1948, 1949, 1951) and was ranked No. 1 with a 25-0 record in 1954, but head coach Aloph Rupp boycotted the NCAA Tournament after the NCAA ruled some of his players ineligible.
But all good (or bad, depending if you’re from Louisville or Bloomington) things must come to an end, and on Jan. 6, 1955, it did.
Georgia Tech waltzed into Memorial Coliseum that night having lost to the Wildcats twice in the previous season by 52 and 51 points. The Yellow Jackets brought with them a 2-4 record, including a loss to Sewanee the game before. The Kentucky play-by-play announcer, Cawood Ledford, spent much of his pregame prep on the Wildcats subs as Georgia Tech was considered a pushover for Kentucky that day. Two days later, Kentucky was set to play DePaul, a much more highly-anticipated game that Wildcats players eventually admitted caught their eye over the task at hand when GT came to Lexington.
“A lot of people in the crowd that night had never seen Kentucky lose,” Georgia Tech head coach John “Whack” Hyder told Sports Illustrated. “The games weren’t on TV in those days, and the fans didn’t travel with the teams like they do now.”
Georgia Tech led by as many as eight points in the second half, but Kentucky did wake up, cutting the margin thinner and thinner until eventually overtaking the Yellow Jackets with 1:12 to play, up 58-55. Tech nailed two free throws to come within one but still no one thought a Kentucky loss was possible.
Kentucky captain Billy Evans received the inbounds pass with 18 seconds left, then promptly lost the ball to tight Georgia Tech defense. Yellow Jacket Joe Helms found the rock and drilled a 12-foot jumper to give his team the one-point advantage with 12 seconds remaining. Kentucky got a couple looks at the basket before the final horn sounded, but nothing would go down, giving Georgia Tech the all-time upset, 59-58.
“I remember losing the ball, but what I remember most is the total silence when it was over. Just nothing,” Evans told Sports Illustrated. “It took people awhile before they finally got up and started filing out.”
After the game, Rupp supposedly was not enraged but rather shocked that his team came up short. John Brewer, a player for that Kentucky team, remembered part of what he told the Wildcats that night.
“From this time until history is no longer recorded, you will be remembered as the team that broke that string,” Brewer recalled to Sports Illustrated. “Even if you go on to win the NCAA championship, you must carry this scar with you the rest of your lives.”