On Tuesday night in Rupp Arena, the Wildcats pulled out their first win of the year in a game decided by four points or less. UK’s 68-66 Senior Night win over Vanderbilt was thrilling, to say the least. UK fans watched as the Cats’ 13-point lead with 14:42 remaining evaporate as the game came down to the last few seconds.
When the Commodores closed to within 68-66 with :06 left, UK was hanging on for dear life. Trying to draw a foul, and earn a trip to the free throw line, Terrence Jones became trapped in the corner near the Vandy bench. The freshman was called for traveling, although video replay shows Jones actually may have double-dribbled. Either way, the referees got it right.
With 1.1 seconds remaining, Vandy fumbled away any opportunity to score, giving the Cats the win. It was the first time in six games that UK pulled out a win, when the game came down to the final play.
Finally. The Cats found a way to win a close game.
That UK has lost five games this season on the last possession is amazing. But what if the Cats had won those games?
Let’s play the ol’ iffin’ game.
Instead of being 21-8, the Wildcats would be 26-3, probably ranked in the nation’s Top 10, looking at no worse than a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. As it stands now, ESPN has the Cats a 5-seed in its latest bracketology.
Coach John Calipari would be trying to run his consecutive 30-win season to six, instead of staring at 10 losses for the first time since 2005.
UK likely would be the SEC East champs, claiming the top seed in next week’s SEC Tournament.
And Calipari would be celebrated as genius, after replacing five first-round drafts picks, not missing a beat and leading the Cats to another great season.
But, if “ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.”
21 wins is nothing to sneeze at. Unless you’re Kentucky. And it’s fun to speculate what might have been.
At North Carolina, the Cats found themselves up by two at the half. The lead see-sawed back and forth throughout the second half, and when Doron Lamb connected on two free-throws with :06 left, the Cats trailed 74-73.
Carolina’s Dexter Strickland missed the backend of two free-throws and Lamb’s half-court heave was wide left at the buzzer.
At Alabama, the Cats trailed by 20 with more than 15:00 remaining in the game. But UK rallied and when Brandon Knight connected for a three-pointer with 1:38 left, Bama’s lead was just 67-66.
Ben Eblen made a free-throw to give the Tide a two-point lead, but missed the second chance, giving the Cats one last shot. Literally.
Terrence Jones misfired at the buzzer and the Cats had lost their second straight on the road.
UK fans will want to forget the loss at Ole Miss. After trailing for most of the second half, the Wildcats battled back to take a one-point lead with just over a minute to play.
But Chris Warren threw in a long three with :05 left to give the Rebels a 71-69 win.
Four days later, the Wildcats fell at Florida. Late in the second half, a Jones dunk pulled the Cats to within 69-68. Chandler Parsons hit one of two free-throws to give the Gators a two-point lead, setting up another last-possession thriller for UK.
Knight’s off balance three attempt missed badly and the Gators escaped. UK had lost its third straight on the road.
UK’s trip to Arkansas represented an opportunity for former Wildcat John Pelphrey to end the Hogs’ 10-game losing streak to his alma mater.
Kentucky grabbed a six-point lead midway through the second half, but watched as Arkansas’ Julysses Nobles sent the game into overtime with a bucket inside. Knight missed a jumper at the buzzer that could have won it for the Cats.
In the overtime, Marcus Britt’s layup at :17 gave the Hogs a 77-76 lead. With :02, the Cats inbounded the ball under their own basket, couldn’t get the ball inside and had to watch as Knight’s off –balance three missed.
For the first time since 2006-2007, the Cats had lost four straight on the road, its fifth of the season.
Calipari takes his team back on the road this Sunday, to Tennessee, where the Cats will close out the regular season. Here’s hoping the close win over Vandy pays dividends this weekend.
Those are the highlights… Stay tuned.