Kansas State’s Sweet 16 win over Kentucky late Thursday night at Philips Arena delighted the millions who don’t mind seeing the mighty Wildcats (of Kentucky) stumble, not to mention the diehard fans of the other Wildcats. But perhaps no one was as elated as a former Kansas State basketball player who had been waiting for this moment for 67 years.
In 1951, Kansas State played Kentucky in the NCAA championship final. Ernie Barrett was the Wildcats’ star, but a shoulder injury kept him out of the second half. Without Barrett, who was drafted seventh overall in the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics later that year, Kansas State lost 68-58.
Barrett went to serve Kansas State as an athletic director and fund-raiser, among other posts, and came to be known as “Mr. K-State.” A statue of him graces Kansas State’s athletic complex.
Until Thursday, though Kansas State had never beaten Kentucky, losing all nine meetings. Barrett, 88, was in the Philips Arena stands and after the game was called down to the Kansas State locker room to help celebrate.
“I was so pleased to win this game because it brings back memories of my time when I played in 1951, and you weren’t even born,” Barrett said, accurately.
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said after the game that Barrett called him after the Wildcats beat UMBC in the second round to set up the matchup with Kentucky.
“He said, ‘Coach, you’ve got to get revenge for us,’” Weber said.
Weber said Barrett “hugged everybody, and when he hugs you, you might be hurt after he hugs you. It doesn't matter, whatever he is, 80, whatever he is, that dude has some strength. But it was great for him. I don't know if he had tears, but it sure looked like it.”