The 2011 version of the Kentucky Wildcats was a complete mystery to Big Blue Nation before the season started. We had just come off a team that made it clear to the world that Kentucky was back, but at the same time it was bittersweet because of the West Virginia loss.
The total amount of players that were on the 2010 team that would NOT be on the 2011 was NINE... NINE players were gone. The 'Cats lost five to first round NBA picks, three graduated, and another one left the team. To make matters worse, nobody knew if phenom Enes Kanter was going to be ruled eligible to play.
Ultimately, Kanter was ruled ineligible and Kentucky lost a few games they probably would not have normally. The regular season was not a great one. Kentucky finished second in the SEC to Florida and third overall behind Alabama. They ended the regular season 22-8 and visions of 10 losses were in our heads.
Calipari and the 'Cats would turn it on from that point on an put it all together for a magical run. The 'Cats would breeze through the SEC tournament by an average margin of 13 points to win the tournament and earn a 4-seed in the NCAA tournament.
Kentucky would survive Princeton, exact revenge on West Virginia, destroy overall #1 Ohio State's dreams, and then upset #2 seed North Carolina to break a streak of 13 straight seasons without a final four. The unexpected run made it that much more sweeter and displayed the collection of talent coming together as one and playing for each other.
This was the season that solidified Coach Cal's legacy in my opinion. If they lose that Princeton game, who knows what trajectory the program would be on right now.
THE MOMENTS THAT DEFINED 2011
Big Blue Nation Invades Canada
Every four seasons teams are allowed to take a summer tour and play some actual games against competition. This season was the season that UK invaded Canada and won three games over three days. UK dominated Windsor and Western behind an excellent team effort. However, it was also the Brandon Knight show... He went for 31 points in game one and then 12 assists in game two, then 27 points and 9 assists in the finale.
Maybe the best part of the trip for BBN though... Dom Papa. Dom Papa was hired to provide sideline color and commentary as a local component. Papa did not quite know how to pronounce the player's names and had an oblivious charm to him. Papa actually wore an opposing team's shirt the first night, but got it right the last two by throwing on some UK gear. Remember the Dom below:
Enes Kanter comes out as The Undertaker at Big Blue Madness
Only John Wall has a better entrance to this day, it is such a shame we did not get to see the big fella wear the blue and white.
Josh Harrellson twitter trouble
'Jorts' grabbed 26 rebounds in the blue-white game and then took to twitter to vent some frustration at Coach Cal. Cal downplayed the stat in a sarcastic manner and Harrellson responded in kind.
""Either we are the worst offensive rebounding team or he had gotten better"!!! Just amazing to me I can't get a good job or way to go""
"yes he has been working hard this off season... It is just amazing to me but I look past it and keep trucking! You can't stop this train!!!"
Cal would discipline Josh by making him quit Twitter and by A LOT of extra conditioning. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him later in the season.
Jorts shocks the world and dominates Louisville in the Yum Center
Kentucky went into the Yum Center to face the 11-1 Louisville Cardinals and visions of upset filled the Jefferson County air. The Cardinals focused their efforts on Terrence Jones and Harrellson took advantage. He ended up with 23 points and 14 rebounds (both career highs).
Kentucky Completes the SEC tourney sweep for the title
Kentucky finished third in the regular season but ended up dominating the SEC tournament in what would be the beginning of a great post season run.
Brandon Knight saves the collective hide of the BBN
Knight struggled mightily in his first NCAA tournament game and even got benched in the final two minutes. Calipari decided to get the freshmen back in the game for the last run and it paid off with a game winning highly contested layup.
Brandon Knight absolutely dominates West Virginia
Knight dropped 30 on the Mountaineers and exacted a measure of revenge for BBN.
Josh Harrellson is better than Jared Sullinger at Dodge Ball
During the Ohio State game, Jorts decided to save a ball going out of bounds by throwing it off a player, and by throwing it off a player I mean he PELTED Jared Sullinger in the chest with the ball. Whether there was malicious intent there or not remains to be determined :-)
Brandon Knight game winner takes down the #1 overall Buckeyes
A lot of Kentucky fans thought the Ohio State game would be the end of the road, but Kentucky had other thoughts in mind. They handled the fighting Aaron Crafts and took them to the wire as Brandon Knight hit a jumper to seal it.
Ding-Dong the Streak is dead
After 13 seasons the Kentucky Wildcats advanced to a Final Four by beating rival North Carolina
Jay-Z visits the 'Cats after the North Carolina game
After the aforementioned win vs. North Carolina to clinch the final four berth, mogul Jay-Z visited the 'Cats in the locker room after the game.
Haters scrambled feverishly to spin it into an NCAA violation.
Calipari has 4 more drafted
The 'Cats had four more 'Cats be drafted, bringing the total to nine over the past two seasons. Kanter and Knight went 3rd and 8th respectively while Harrellson and Liggins went late in the 2nd round.
Enes Kanter becomes first "none and done"
Cal gets so much hype for the 1-and-done player but he took it a step forward by having Enes Kanter drafted 3rd after not playing a minute for the 'Cats.
While the regular season had it's challenges and frustrations, to see this group come together the way they did and get to a Final Four was sweet. I am, however, still haunted by how good we could have been with Enes Kanter. It is very fair to think we would be shooting for Championship number 10 this season instead of 9.