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From the Pressbox: Travis Ford reflects on '93 Final Four run

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Final Four teams get a special spot in the hearts of Big Blue fans and it's hard to believe it's been 20 years since the 1993 Kentucky teams took Wildcat fans on an incredible 30-4 run.

It had only been five years since the last Final Four trip when probation hit the UK program in 1989. At that point, no one knew how long it might take to get Kentucky's program back to its customary elite level.As it turned out, not nearly as long as many thought.

Fueled by "The Unforgettables," the '92 Cats came within one infamous Christian Laettner shot of returning to college basketball's promised land. But a year later, they took the next step.

Oklahoma State coach and Madisonville, Ky., native Travis Ford was the point guard for that club and I recently asked him if the players on the team at that time were able to realize how much that season meant to the UK fan base.

"Yes, we did," Ford acknowledged. "We felt the expectations and excitement around the basketball team and it was not easy to live up to expectations but I think that team really did it. We made it to the Final Four with the record we had and only losing four games that season and winning the SEC and things like that it was an exciting year for everybody.

"It's been a long time. It was a lot of fun games and a lot hard work, but a lot of fond memories, a lot of great memories and great teammates," he added. "It was an absolutely enjoyable year. We had a really good team, a lot of big games and us making it to the Final Four is always a dream of any college basketball player."

An 11-0 start sparked those high expectations and it included an 88-68 rout of rival Louisville in a matchup of teams ranked in the top 10. The Cats' leader, Jamal Mashburn, was sensational, scoring 27 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 31 minutes at Freedom Hall.

A dose of "Memorial Magic" handed the Wildcats their first setback (101-86) on January 13 at Vanderbilt but they responded with six straight wins, before a seven-point loss at Arkansas - at a time when the Hogs were battling UK for the title of the SEC's best.

The only other loss on the way to the Final Four came at Tennessee in late February, on an unusual four-point play. But the Cats got a healthy dose of payback in the SEC Tournament with a 101-40 rout at Rupp Arena.

From there, UK's closest call was in the next SEC Tourney game, an 11-point revenge win over Arkansas. In the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament, UK won by margins of 44, 21, 34 and 25 and took the role of favorite into the Final Four at the New Orleans Superdome.

Michigan, in year two of the "Fab Five," edged Kentucky in overtime 81-78 - a game which saw the Cats lose starting guard Dale Brown to second-half injury and Mashburn to fouls. I will always believe Kentucky would have won the title if not for those unfortunate breaks and as you might expect, Ford agrees.

"We have talked about that often. There were two things that happened. Dale Brown was off to his best game of his career and was diving for a loose ball and ran his shoulder into one of the media tables and he was out of the game while he was having an incredible game. Then, obviously when Jamal fouled out, that made it tough for the rest of us but if he hadn't fouled out, I think it would have been a completely different story," Ford said.

What does he remember most about that season?

"I think the first thing that stands out is that as a team, we all got along extremely well. We were close and when your best player is Jamal Mashburn and your hardest working player is the nicest guy on the team and everyone loved him, that really stands out," Ford noted. "Coming out of the SEC Tournament, winning the SEC Tournament and then going into the NCAA and how well we were playing going into the Final Four and the margin of victory, it really stands out."

Ford recalled how hard head coach Rick Pitino pushed them to reach their goals and how good it felt to get there. Those lessons helped shape the kind of coach Ford became.

"There is a lot of things that I was taught by Coach Pitino that I still use today. First and foremost is how hard I coach at it and how hard my assistant coaches go at it," Ford said.  "I try and tell my players, what I put them through, I have been through it and more playing for Coach Pitino."

Ford's current Oklahoma State team stands at 11-3 and was ranked in the top 25 for much of the first two months of the season.  

"It is not how you start, it is how you finish. And we have extremely tough teams in the Big 12. We have some really, really good basketball teams in this league and some tough places to play," said Ford.  "We play six guys and three freshmen in our top six, so we are a relatively young basketball team but we play hard, play great defense but still have a lot of room for improvement."

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