Today, the Kentucky Wildcats are headed out west to Anaheim, California, land of sunshine and opportunity. Thursday, two Midwestern teams will face each other and find out who is better. It's March. It's as it should be.
At this point, I don't really care much who Kentucky plays. It is a fact that we play Marquette, but it could be anybody in the nation. Yes, Kentucky has a history with Marquette and a losing record, but I really don't care. What I care about tonight is a quick look back at this year, and what it has meant to the Big Blue nation.
From then to now, A Sea of Blue has seen over 280 blog posts, the vast majority on basketball. The season started with great optimism -- new coach, top 25 ranking, all of the things that Kentucky fans had become used to were coming true again. One of the first posts I had of the season included this observation about Perry Stevenson:
From the hopeful to the astonished, we move right along to our shocking loss to Gardner-Webb in the second game of the season, a team and a school few people around here had heard of before. Gardner-Webb came into Rupp Arena like lambs to the slaughter, only someone forgot to tell them they were supposed to bow to the mighty Wildcats by a minimum of 20 points. Instead, they were the wolves, rudely dismissing Kentucky at home to the astonishment of the entire nation. From my post entitled "Scrugged!":
I'm not going to rehash every single game, just the high points, and ... the low points. After a one-game reprieve against Tennessee Tech, San Diego came to Lexington and set about making things worse. For me, this post was a very low point, after just losing to the Toreros:
But then came the Vanderbilt game at Rupp Arena and the opening of conference play, and Kentucky's fortunes changed for the better. We began to see the emergence of leadership and passion. Ken Howlett said this in the post-game thread after we defeated Vandy in double overtime:
Ramel Bradley's leadership abilities have been questioned by many, including myself, for a while now. But, Saturday he showed a little something extra.
Example-- After Kentucky failed to get off a game winning shot(second half), Crawford trudged to the bench. "My first reacton was, I was a little mad and frustrated," he said, "because I thought the game should be over. Ramel made me realize it's still a game, and we still have to win."
The winning continued, and amazingly, the Wildcats went on a tear and was on a 5-game winning streak when Kentucky cruised into Nashville one of the hotter teams in the land. Then, the optimism of the Big Blue Nation was unceremoniously ripped from them as the Commodores raped the Wildcats 93-52 in Memorial Gymnasium. Modcpa spoke for the Big Blue Nation in the post-game thread:
But thankfully, a dire devolution was not to be. Despite that historic 41-point massacre, Kentucky came back stronger than ever and won the next 4 in a row. Then came the devastating news that Patrick Patterson was lost for the year, and again, I found a moment of despair:
So now we have been there and back again, back to the giddy pre-season days, through the pain of Gardner-Webb and San Diego, the disappointment of Florida, the embarrassment in Nashville and the loss of Patrick Patterson. The pain, the angst and the ecstasy of one of the strangest and most memorable basketball seasons in Kentucky history.
With tournament time upon us, the stakes have changed. There is no longer a tomorrow, and if the season is to continue, the Kentucky Wildcats must defeat superior teams from here on. Barring something extraordinary, Kentucky will not be favored in any game they play from now until they lose. There are no expectations to reach, no crushing weight of a high ranking or powerful, under-appreciated ability. From now on, Kentucky will face teams that should beat them, and quite possibly will, starting with Marquette.
But whatever becomes of the rest of this season, this is one I will always, always remember. How could any true Wildcat fan forget it, or want to? It is almost a Rocky Balboa story, and for a school and a team more accustomed to being thought of as Apollo Creed than the underdog, it is something that we have rarely experienced in the Big Blue Nation. Not that I want to experience it again anytime soon, but I suppose once every decade or so is OK.