Time to grab your socks and pull ladies. There is no rest for the weary, and in the next couple of days, you have got to get your edge back. And remember this, "Big Girls Don't Cry".
The chances of seeing LSU in the NCAA Tournament are few and far between, so let's just leave that right there. But there are going to be other teams that follow their formula if they have the big bodies to do so. But for now, we are just going to do a little review of the three seasons that have now passed for UK. And look ahead at the one which is to come.
Follow after the jump for the season review to this point.
OK, Kentucky has had a wonderful season so far, and has quite a few accomplishments to show for it, but let's breakdown the season into four parts. Non-Conference, Conference, SEC Tourney, and NCAA Tourney. First up, Non-Conference.
Matthew Mitchell started out the season by shaking up things a bit with his best Michael Jackson tribute. And that was just the start. The ladies took a 10 game winning streak into the game against Notre Dame who was ranked #3 in the nation at that time. Now we are going to bring up something that is going to be a continuing theme here. Notre Dame is big in the front court. And they can shoot, and they can throw over a press. Hence the loss to Notre Dame who moved to the #1 spot in the rankings just a week later. But UK played some amazing basketball just to get there. Wins against nemesis Duke, and a pounding of Louisville by 20, had UK flying high, even though UK was only ranked #10 at the time. By the game against the Fighting Irish, Kentucky was up to #8 and looking to climb even higher. Notre Dame saw it differently.
UK bounced back against Samford with a crushing 29pt win, and then came the next game that no one could explain at the time, Middle Tennessee State. Mitchell saw the handwriting on the wall against Notre Dame and went big inside against the Blue Racers. Samantha Drake at 6'3" started alongside Samarie Walker at 6'3" to give UK a fairly imposing front line. The experiment did not pay off as UK collapsed and allowed their newfound #6 ranking to slip away 70-58. A loss that UK could not afford in an otherwise well-played Non-Conference slate.So UK left behind the Non-Conference portion of the season with a 12-2 mark, a #6 ranking and some things to work on as SEC play began.
SEC play was where the rubber was going to meet the road, and I put heavy emphasis on the word road. Coach Mitchell knew that UK was just about unbeatable at home, so when road trips rose up to meet the ladies, they were shaky games to try to feel out. But a funny thing happened on the way to the road in the SEC. UK started winning road games. For four weeks, from New Year's Day to February 5th. UK was unbeaten in SEC play. And in the stretch there were some wonderful moments. Florida went down both in Memorial and in Gainsville. Tennessee and Pat Summitt came to town, just to go home with a loss on their hands, and Georgia and a host of other usually top SEC teams went by the wayside. And then things got dicey. UK had a three game road trip to face. Coach Mitchell said he circled that on the schedule before the start of play and commented to someone that there would be when they found out what kind of a team they had. Well, they did, and it wasn't pretty. LSU made life miserable at first, although UK played well in the second half, that big front line of LSU's was the difference. And then we knew. Size was indeed going to be a problem for UK. But more than size, Kentucky's offensive execution was becoming suspect. They could not score in half court offense. They were missing open shots when they should have been hitting them. And while shooting % was not that bad, it was the open looks that were coming up as big zeros.
After LSU, came the game that would show UK where every hole in every line was, and Coach Mitchell made the most of it, saying that all teams usually have one game a year when they just lose all their composure and don't play well on both sides of the ball. A 91-54 ripping by the Lady Vols pretty much assured that UK had seen their weaknesses exposed and now could work on them. Unfortunately there was not enough time to get the ladies back on track before a trip to Tuscaloosa came up. And while Alabama was the league's worst team, they shared a trait with Tennessee, Notre Dame, MTSU, and LSU. They were big on the inside. And when you spot a team a 20+ pt lead in the first half, coming back to a 2 pt loss would seem like a victory in itself, but it definitely did not sit well with Mitchell and his ladies." They (Alabama) just played with much more hustle and much more effort and more desire, clearly wanted the game from the beginning. We just didn't respond very well," he said. That was an understatement.
So, with the road trip behind them, UK focused on doing something that just does not happen often in SEC play, and they finished the season undefeated at home for the second time in three years. when Mississippi State came calling on Feb. 26th. UK had managed to fall all the way to #13 in the rankings, impressed very few people who knew what their weaknesses were, and were ripe for the picking. UK made sure that another drop off just was not going to happen. The jumped out to a 19-7 lead and never looked back, ending the season with a 36pt waxing of MSU. So as the second season ended for UK they stood with a 24-5, 13-3 record and went into the SEC Tourney as the SEC Regular Season Champs. Something that had not been done at UK since 1982.
A #1 seed firmly in hand, and a new outlook on things would have seemed to give UK an edge going into the SEC Tourney. However, looking at the bracket, that #1 Seed did them no favors. To win it all, UK would have to face the probability of having to beat Florida for a third time, beat LSU, and beat Tennessee to win it all. And as we all remember how last night went, UK came up short again. When faced with size and strength underneath, UK folded to LSU for a second time, and ended the SEC Tourney short of where they wanted and expected to be.
And all of this brings us to now. The NCAA Tourney starts March 17th. That gives UK almost two full weeks to rest up, work out a game plan for the Tourney, and try to figure out what they are going to do the next time someone shows up with a front line bigger than 5'10". Coach Mitchell and the girls are going to have their work cut out for them in trying to repair an offense that at this point seems inept. Their amazing defense, the much vaunted "Forty Minutes Of Dread" is paying big dividends, but only when UK makes their shots. There is no time to rest, there is no time to squander on reliving the past. We can do that as fans just fine. UK has to get themselves righted quickly and make the best of the opportunity this break gives them. Five more wins on the season would give UK something they would have never dreamed of when the season started. But more important than getting those five more wins, is getting this team to start doing what they love to do, and that is shoot the basketball. Kentucky is 4-4 in their last 8 games. A .500 record is not going to look impressive to the committee, and it shouldn't make UK feel well at all going in. The Selection Show will tell the tale for UK, but do not expect Kentucky to get any better than a #3 seed, probably out in the WEST region. When an SEC Tourney Championship would have probably handed them a #2 seed in the SOUTH and a few games close to home, but them's the breaks. Gotta take what you are handed and get to it. So, here it is ladies, your 4th season is upon you. the last three are history and never more to be a concern, assuming success is achieved in this one. You worked really hard to get here, now it is time to take advantage of all that hard work.