The Kentucky Wildcats defeated South Carolina 92-64 with a win that not only was badly needed, but felt fun, and came right on time for a season long struggling Big Blue ball club.
In a year where many of the basketball blue bloods have done some bleeding this year, the hemorrhaging stopped for 40 minutes as the Cats showed another sign of life that has teased, frustrated, and exasperated fans all season long. This add-on game was a great win to move into the SEC Tournament this week, where it is safe to say that there is no way to predict how the Wildcats are going to play.
But before we jump past the South Carolina win too soon, there are some observations that we need to make. In the first 20 minutes of the game the team displayed some of the streakiness that has characterized the entire year. The difference was that when the team went flat, they didn’t stay there. And that made a huge difference.
Jackson stayed out of trouble in the first half and having his presence on the floor makes the team much better. Boston had a strong first half, Sarr hustled giving the team a solid first half and the best news of the game was the lack of turnovers.
When the teams went into the locker room, Kentucky was up 36-28 and showed the ability to play together and string together some solid moments where they did what Coach John Calipari has been urging them to do all season long – “trust each other.”
As the second half cranked up, Davion Mintz almost single handedly shot SC out of Rupp Arena. As the Big Blue Nation cheered, the Cats rolled up the points by moving the ball, controlling the flow of the game, aggressively playing defense and challenging on the boards. By the time the final buzzer on the regular season sounded, the bench had been cleared, players who normally don’t see any game action picked up a few minutes, and the score was an impressive 92-64 victory.
With the SEC Tournament now here, this team moves into what is a one-game season. The only way this edition of the Wildcats scores a ticket to the Big Dance is by earning it. To earn it they have to play their way in one game a time to win the SEC tourney this week, which would get them the automatic NCAA Tournament, bid.
If the team we saw play Saturday shows up and they can build off of what they did to end the regular season, it could be very interesting. Each game is the last shot, each game becomes the entire season, and they have to tackle each one with the one and done mindset that plays like there is no tomorrow and no NCAA Tournament invitation, because… well, that is the way it is.
We have heard the quotes, the comments, and watched moments of brilliance, flashes of solid exciting basketball, and seen those long stretches where nothing has gone right. It is time to leave those stretches in the rearview mirror and embrace each game for the 40-minute season it is. If you are looking for a moment in the South Carolina game that might give you a glimmer of hope, there were a number of them as mentioned above.
Perhaps most telling was a moment that is easily forgotten or ignored, but may have been a heartbeat of blue blood pumping that we needed to see. It happened under the basket, it was a tussle for a ball in the key, the South Carolina player and the Kentucky player got tied up, twisted, and wrestled for the ball. It was then that Isaiah Jackson bounced out of the play jawing at the opposition. He was not backing down, not giving up, and not willing to give up the ball without a battle.
Why does that matter? Why is that important? Because it shows a spark, an aggressiveness, a toughness, and serves notice that this is a team that can be in it to win it.
Is that moment an indication of what we can expect next week? One can only hope.
But this tournament is a one-game season. How long the season lasts is now up to them. The One-Game Season begins tomorrow in Nashville vs. Mississippi State
The championship season is here.