Five weeks ago, Kentucky looked like a team who would limp into the NCAA tournament. Kentucky sat at 1-5 on the road in the SEC with road games looming at Arkansas and Tennessee. Also remaining on the schedule were home games with Florida and Vanderbilt, two teams who had previously defeated the Wildcats this season.
Things didn’t look completely bleak, but they weren’t rosy either.
Kentucky’s less than stellar road record stood out to Wildcat supporters and detractors alike. Many questioned how Kentucky would perform in a tournament atmosphere. Even more than that, people wondered where Kentucky would wind up being seeded.
Kentucky managed to finish the last four regular season games 3-1 before ripping through the SEC Tournament. The Wildcats came into the NCAA Tournament riding a five game winning streak and winning eight of their last nine games.
John Calipari’s squad was awarded with a four-seed in the tournament and placed in the bracket with the tournament’s top seed Ohio State. Other notable teams in the bracket were West Virginia, who defeated Kentucky in last season’s elite eight, long time tournament nemesis Marquette, fellow college basketball royalty North Carolina and PAC-10 Champion Washington.
Calipari wasn’t pleased with Kentucky’s seed, but he got his team ready for their first game against Princeton. That game almost became their last, as it took a last second layup from Brandon Knight to seal the win.
Kentucky went on to defeat West Virginia, Ohio State and North Carolina to reach the Final Four.
While business is not yet completed, this is quite the accomplishment for the 2011 Wildcats. Last time Kentucky was in the Final Four was 1998. Kentucky’s oldest player, DeAndre Liggins, was only ten years old. John Calipari was leading the New Jersey Nets into the NBA playoffs. Minnesota coach Tubby Smith was leading Scott Padgett, Jeff Sheppard and Cameron Mills to Kentucky’s seventh national title.
There’s a great opportunity for Kentucky to pick up championship number eight, but Wildcat fans should savor the improvement this team has shown this year. Just three weeks ago most people figured Kentucky would top out in the Sweet 16.
But upperclassmen DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller have taken a leadership role with this young team, building chemistry and carrying the Wildcats on both ends of the court.
This Kentucky team has talent, but they only go six deep, consistently. They lost Enes Kanter before the season and they replaced eight players from last year’s team.
With all the losses suffered and the turmoil, nobody thought Kentucky would be in the Final Four. However, very few people picked the other three national semi-final teams either. So for that reason, Kentucky fits in.
So after limping towards the end of the regular season, Kentucky has made a mad dash to Houston where they’ll compete for the sport’s top prize, the national championship.
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