The Kentucky Wildcats capped off an impressive run in the SEC Tournament with a gutsy victory over the Tennessee Volunteers on Sunday.
Since losing four games in a row in February, the Cats have turned into a completely different team. They won six of their last seven, played their way into the valuable fourth seed in the SEC Tournament to get a double-bye, then went on a tear to win their 31st SEC Tournament title.
In an article by Kyle Tucker for SECCountry.com, Kenny Payne called this season John Calipari’s “finest coaching job yet”.
“What we just witnessed was a group of young kids coming together and becoming a team. The maturation of one of the youngest teams in the country, a bunch of kids who had a bunch of success in high school, that didn’t understand college basketball, the intensity, the work ethic, the fight you gotta have to be a great team and also a great player, the ownership of mistakes.”
This team came in with lots of expectations. At times this season they have looked like the team everyone expected; at other times, they’ve left everyone scratching their heads trying to figure out why this team is having so many struggles.
A month ago, Calipari himself was saying he was feeling like jumping off a bridge following the toughest stretch of the season.
“A month ago, I wasn’t sure we’d be in the [NCAA] tournament. And then I had to ask [UK’s deputy athletic director], ‘Does everybody get to go to the SEC Tournament? I wasn’t even sure we’d get here. But I come to this: We needed to lose those games. We needed to lose four in a row.”
Now, the Wildcats are SEC Champs (for the fourth consecutive season), they won their last three games in convincing fashion with big contributions from a variety of players, and they look poised to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
The turnaround from Calipari’s longest losing streak to being the top team in the SEC makes this season one of the most special in Cal’s nine seasons in Kentucky.
Kentucky is playing its best basketball of the season and they stand six more wins away from cutting down more nets in April. Calipari has done a fantastic job working with this group of kids and in a season as crazy as this one has been in college basketball, the NCAA Tournament is wide open.
I can’t wait to continue watching this team grow up.