By Ricky Blair
The Kentucky Wildcats let an opportunity for the championship of the SEC tournament slip away on Sunday afternoon, March 16. Going against the #1 ranked Florida Gators and falling down by as many as 16 points, the Wildcats fought their way back to within one point when they called a time-out with 14 seconds to go in the game. The Cats set up a play for Andrew Harrison to drive and give the ball to a cutting James Young for a running layup. But as Young took the ball from Harrison, his feet slipped out from under him, and with it, a chance for the championship.
Despite losing the game by a score of 61-60, the Wildcats showed improved play throughout the tournament. It was this young team’s third game within a 48-hour period, but they showed a resilience that had been lacking all season long.
A poor shooting night did not help the Wildcats cause – they only made 35 percent of their shots from the field and 27 percent from behind the three-point arc. Even though the ball did not consistently go in for the Cats, these young Cats kept chipping away at the Gators’ lead by playing tenacious defense. After giving up 40 points in the first half, the Wildcats held the Gators to only 21 points in the second half, which helped set up the last second opportunity.
Kentucky saw contributions from several players. Aaron Harrison led the Wildcats for a second straight day in tournament play, pouring in 16 points, while Willie Cauley-Stein recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Wildcats will enter NCAA play with a 24-10 record on the season and a number 8 seed, as they battle Kansas State in the first round of the tournament.
By Ricky Blair
This is what the Kentucky fan base has been waiting for all year long, a team that plays with confidence and swagger. For the second straight game in the SEC tournament in Atlanta, GA, that is exactly what the fans received.
The Wildcats disposed of the third seeded Georgia Bulldogs 70-58. This time, it was the Harrison twins that led the way. Aaron finished with 22 points, 15 of those came in the first half. Andrew, who is playing his best basketball of the season, had 12 points and set a career high in assists for the second straight game with 9.
Kentucky went up by as many as ten during the first half, but settled for only a 36-32 lead going into the locker room. Georgia cut the lead down to two early in the second half and this young team started to pick up some of their old habits according to Coach John Calipari, who said “when the lead was cut, they came to the sidelines and were pouting……I told them to just go out and have fun”. The team responded to the message and went on a run that put them up by double digits. Once the Wildcats went back to work, they put the throttle down and looked sharp, finishing with an 18-point victory.
This was a total team effort. In addition to how well the Harrison’s played, Julius Randle had another double-double, going for 12 points and 11 rebounds. James Young was also solid again, putting in 14 points, going 6 of 8 from the field.
Kentucky moved on to play Florida in the SEC championship game.
By Ricky Blair – Fear the tweak! After hearing all week about this big tweak of change the Wildcats had made since their last regular season game, all eyes were on the lookout to see what this big change could be. If the tweak was not obvious the change in attitude and hustle were evident. After a slow start to the game for the Wildcats, this young team showed some of the enthusiasm that they have been missing all year long. Led by James Young’s 17 points and Dakari Johnson’s 9 rebounds the Wildcats went to the locker room at halftime with a 42-32 advantage.
The Cats came out of the locker room and held the lead for most of the second half, but a run by LSU with 14 minutes to go closed the gap to six and challenged this young group to see if this new found confidence could stand this test. The Wildcats did steady the ship and cruised to an 85-67 win over the Tigers. Julius Randall who had missed several easy shots during the contest finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds, Young finished with 21 points.
Coach John Calipari said ‘this was not the tweak” after Andrew Harrison had said more team work and having fun had made a difference, so there may be more to come. The first step in tourney play was successful; hopefully this is just the beginning.