How will this basketball team be remembered in the next 20 years? Is it possible that some good things can still happen for them? Do they believe those things can happen?
Believing is tough when things aren’t going so well. This past weekend after the tip off, it sure didn’t start out too pretty. The Kentucky Wildcats hosted the Auburn Tigers and the first few minutes found Auburn snatching offensive rebounds like pinballs bouncing off bumpers in Rupp Arena. The ball kept pinging their way giving them second and sometimes third shots. It was obvious, that this game, like most games this season, was not going to be easy for the Cats. The first half moved along with the team working hard, trying hard, and playing hard but still having those moments where they couldn’t find their rhythm.
The pattern of play was familiar, there were moments of brilliance and then moments when they fell back into playing like a struggling AAU team loaded with talent but not able to gel together and find a leader. Slogging through the opening half was tough but there were a few moments that caused the weariest of fans to sit up and take notice.
B J Boston stumbled at one point, then stood back up, and dropped a three that ignited a run that closed the deficit gap. The Wildcats had a pulse. During the furious final five minutes in the first half the team added a monstrous block by Olivier Sarr, a smooth three pointer drained by Dontaie Allen, and then Sarr adding another nice jumper. In the midst of the madness, Coach Calipari got popped with a technical foul and could easily be heard yelling at the referee “How about a warning Byron?” Another sign that things aren’t easy when you can’t even jaw at the official and get a break.
The Cats ended the first half trailing but some sparks left a few embers glowing as the team went in for the halftime break. The glowing hope of halftime became a fire as a different team emerged for the second half. Believe it or not, there was suddenly an unfamiliar flow to the offense that has been missing or misfiring for much of the season, there was a furious flurry of motion and the Wildcats suddenly erased the deficit and took control of the game. According to some observers, there was a five minute stretch of the second half that may have been the best five minute window of play all season long. At one point they led in double digits.
All of that was great to see and is a reminder of just how good this team can be. But believing they could win, well that has been more elusive. The last four minutes of the game has been the looming mountain that has been too tough for the Cats to climb in many loses this season. Auburn seemed to know that and was ready to make a push to see if they could knock the Wildcats back off the hill one more time. The lead dissipated and eventually there was a tie that needed a go ahead shot from Davion Mintz to help UK do something they have only managed to do five other times this year – win the game!
Believe it, nothing has been easy and this one was tough. Wins have been hard to come by and this team needed one badly. And they got one - believe it.
Coach Cal put it this way in his press conference. “I want this team to finish and be something people talk about for the next 20 years. I’m trying to get them to believe what I believe.”
Cal has seen enough to know his team. The raw material and talent are there – as we wind down toward the SEC tournament, we hope this Wildcat team can believe what they can be. And hopefully we will be talking about this team for the next twenty years for all the right reasons.