LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) – Kentucky found a life preserver in a season on the sink.
Maybe there’s still hope for the good ship Big Blue.
With talk of the three most dreaded letters in college basketball – NIT – ramping up with a loss, the Wildcats at least have a reprieve with an 81-71 victory over Alabama in what everybody in Rupp Arena was calling a “must-win” game Saturday.
Kentucky showed more do than die and maybe, just maybe, this team is starting to find itself in time for March. February sure hasn’t been a month of love for the Wildcats who were winless before Saturday’s spirited victory.
Whether this team is good enough for a March run is anybody’s best guess. But at least in this mid-February game, with the season tic, tic ticking away, the Wildcats came up with one of their better efforts. Maybe they needed the feeling of desperation that was heavy around this game on national television.
Kentucky was staring at its first five-game losing streak since 1989-90 – only the third in program history - and the first for John Calipari as a coach since 1990 when he was at Massachusetts.
UK has only four regular-season games remaining – two at home and two on the road – and an 18-7 record. They can still climb into fourth place in the Southeastern Conference standings that carries the double-bye in the SEC Tournament. The Cats have played the toughest schedule in the country. according to the RPI Index, and that will play in their corner when it comes to Selection Sunday.
Barring a total collapse in the last four games, which seems unlikely after how the Cats played against Alabama, a bid to the NCAA tournament should happen. How far Kentucky can go may be another question. But if they come in as a No. 8 or No. 9 seed, a second-round game against a top seed would await. In this year of basketball equality, does anybody believe that an upset couldn’t happen?
This has not been a Kentucky team that the fans have embraced, maybe became of the nine losses and some extremely poor performances. However, that can change in a hurry. The Cats didn’t look like a team ready to put up the basketballs on Saturday. There was urgency and purpose with every dribble and a 44-27 rebounding advantage showed effort was extra. Freshman Jarred Vanderbilt (11 points, 9 rebounds) is becoming the X-factor for a Kentucky team that still has a long way to go to live up to preseason potential.
The victory over Alabama took some pressure off these inconsistent freshmen. Now let’s see if they can build on that momentum the rest of the month and take it right into March Madness.
They’ve righted the ship, at least until Tuesday.
Kentucky fans aren’t over-expecting but there may be more life remaining in this team than any of us ever realized.