OK, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way: Kentucky got Aaron Harrison’d on Sunday night.
I know. It stung and it’ll probably sting throughout the Big Blue Nation for a long while. Malik Monk hit another nonsensical 3-pointer to tie Sunday’s epic encounter between two of the greatest programs in college basketball history with just seconds left.
And then, bang.
Name a more exciting 10 seconds of college hoops pic.twitter.com/iNunAmjKep— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) March 26, 2017
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about good things, like this season for Kentucky.
Be honest: did you really think Kentucky would be a clutch shot away from a Final Four berth back in late January and into February? The ‘Cats had lost three of four games and it looked like the sky was falling for Big Blue on such a promising season already. They couldn’t beat Kansas. They couldn’t beat Louisville. They couldn’t beat UCLA.
Then, they “rebooted” and got hot.
There was the revenge beatdown Kentucky handed Tennessee at Rupp Arena after handing them one of their two conference losses.
There was the survival mission led by De’Aaron Fox that was beating Georgia in Athens four days later.
Then, Malik Monk erupted like a freakin’ volcano in the second half of that Feb. 25 rematch with Florida where Monk scored 30 in the half.
Thirty. In one half.
From there, it was a regular season SEC title (the school’s third straight), Fox taking over the SEC Tournament in (BB)Nashville (with Dominique Hawkins assisting him defensively) and the ‘Cats beginning their quest towards Phoenix.
The ‘Cats entered Sunday night on a 14-game winning streak — the longest in the country — with a sleepwalking victory over Northern Kentucky, Bam Adebayo not getting shut down by Wichita State and Fox outplaying Lonzo Ball once more in the UCLA rematch to be right on the cusp of the Final Four.
Sure, Sunday will sting for a while. All you’d have to do is see Fox and Adebayo’s post-game reactions with reporters. That’s a hurt those players won’t forget.
Very emotional Kentucky locker room as expected. pic.twitter.com/ksNn4iOGHW— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) March 26, 2017
But, it shows a couple things:
- These kids love Kentucky. They understand the pressure that comes with playing at Kentucky and they welcome it. It’s a testament to their character.
- John Calipari isn’t only recruiting good players, he’s bringing in good men for the Big Blue Nation to root for.
I know. Even as a fan who just watches from the stands or from home, losing sucks. It’s been five years now since Kentucky cut down the nets on that April night in New Orleans and yeah, people get impatient. It’s Kentucky after all.
But, this team has been one of Calipari’s best on and off the floor.
Look at Dominique Hawkins. Who expected him to be such a vital piece to the rotation down the stretch of this season? His defensive play and solid offensive production really sparked the ‘Cats at times when they needed it most.
Big sequence. Bam Adebayo eats up Moses and Dominique Hawkins gets the steal and bucket. pic.twitter.com/3AzghU0lUg— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 12, 2017
How about Derek Willis? From getting in trouble with the law last summer to becoming a senior leader this year and a soon-to-be married man. He became an x-factor for Kentucky’s attack.
Isaac Humphries, you’ve got to be kidding me. 12 points and five rebounds in the Elite Eight? Who do you think you are, Marcus Lee? He was fantastic for the ‘Cats on Sunday.
I haven’t forgotten about you, Isaiah Briscoe. He was frustrating at times this season for many. (Remember when he couldn’t stop stepping out of bounds against UCLA?) But, he had seven points, four rebounds and eight assists in a game where the four other starters hardly saw first-half minutes because of foul trouble.
Just like this season for Kentucky, the game was fun. It was an all-time NCAA Tournament classic. The ‘Cats battled and battled against the Tar Heels in a game that probably should’ve been a rematch in Phoenix for the whole enchilada.
(Seriously, put North Carolina on Kentucky’s schedule every year. These games are very enjoyable and raise everybody’s blood pressure to an insane level.)
Malik Monk became this year’s Marcus Paige. He hit the “THAT SHOT HAD NO BUSINESS OF GOING IN” shot of the tournament and it became an afterthought. That’s honestly amazing. He went from Aaron Harrison’s heir to ... “oh yeah, that happened, too”.
There’s also those that will say, “Where was Malik? Why didn’t he show up?”
You must have missed the first meeting when he dropped 47 on the Tar Heels. Or when he forced overtime in the Jan. 31 meeting against Georgia. Or when he lit Madison Square Garden on fire against Michigan State in the Champions Classic.
“Adebayo was a no-show!”
He struggled early against arguably the best front court in college hoops, but where would the ‘Cats be without him, too? Wichita State called him out and he delivered. He never complained. Except when Calipari brings up that one time he wanted the ball more this season.
I know. Losing sucks. We talked about that already.
But, don’t let a season-ending loss — an epic one at that — take away from the fact that you loved watching this team. I know I did. I’m probably not the only one.
You were probably frustrated with Aaron Harrison at times too, but he never has to pay for another thing in Lexington again. (He also became the most hated man in Wisconsin, Michigan and ... well, he’s not the most hated in Louisville, but you get the idea.)
The good outweighs the bad with this team. They were a fun bunch.