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Three weeks ago in South Carolina, a teary-eyed Aaron Harrison told reporters that this season was still going to be a “great story.” His words rang a bit hollow during the low point of the season, but tonight, after one of the greatest basketball games I’ve ever witnessed, I’m not only seeing that story, I’m believing it.
Everything was set up for Wichita State to win. Despite going to the Final Four and being a number one seed, the mid-major darling still got the Cinderella treatment, and at halftime, the media had their recaps written. “36-0 vs. the team that was supposed to be 40-0.” Even with all the talent in the world, Cal’s one-and-done’s were just freshmen, and would never stay in school long enough to develop the maturity and experience like Ron Baker’s, or Cleanthony Early’s. The leadership just wasn’t there, and because it’s Calipari and because it’s Kentucky, it never will be. Right, national media? Right?!?
Wrong. Kentucky came out in the second half and tore those recaps into confetti, not only withstanding Wichita State’s punches, but delivering ones of their own. The freshmen were no longer freshmen–down the stretch, they played with the poise of seniors, sinking free throws and tightening the noose on defense. A very good Wichita State team gave Kentucky their best shot, and unbelievably, Kentucky responded, coming together as the team we always knew they could be.
After the game, Willie Cauley-Stein said that three weeks ago, Kentucky would not have won this game. Since the regular season ended, the Cats have undergone an unbelievable transformation, bouncing back from their mistakes faster, and creating plays instead of waiting for them to happen. Suddenly, all those struggles Kentucky went through are actually helping them, as Cal said in the postgame press conference:
“You have to understand again, they have been through so much. They have been attacked, they have been bludgeoned, they can’t play, they’re not a team, you can’t do it this way. But they stayed together. It makes you strong. It makes you tough as nails. And we just hung around.”
It all starts with the player that many thought wouldn’t even play tonight. Sore elbow and all, Andrew Harrison stepped up and led the team, sinking shots and crucial free throws with the poise of a pro. Andrew admitted that he was close to not playing because of the pain, but fought through it because he “just had to”:
“Yeah, I wasn’t going to play at first, but I felt like I just had to. And I fought through it. The elbow, once you get your adrenaline flowing, it felt fine, but it was still a little painful.”
You couldn’t tell by his actions. Andrew finished with 20 points off 6-9 shooting from the floor and 7-9 from the free throw line. His brother Aaron wasn’t too shabby either, nailing some threes when the Cats needed the most. Those two have endured enormous scrutiny since coming to UK, and only in the postseason say they’re finally having fun. Had Andrew not played today, this would be a very different recap. He’s the leader this team needs.
Andrew’s leadership was essential, but Julius Randle’s presence in the second half was huge. After scoring only two points in the first half, Randle went to work, finishing with 13 points and ten rebounds. He had more offensive rebounds (5) and second-chance points (6) than the entire Wichita State team. He also had a career-high six assists, a very encouraging stat and one that speaks to how well Kentucky played down the stretch. Cal admitted that he’s struggled with coaching Andrew and Julius at times this season, but now, we’re finally seeing what happens when they buy in.
All season long, this team has been burdened with unreasonably high expectations, and only in the postseason, when it’s either win or go home, have they been able to focus on what matters. Willie Cauley-Stein said that when the buzzer sounded this afternoon, “it felt like five million pounds came off our shoulders.” Kentucky didn’t just beat a good team tonight, they beat a great one, and with that, confidence will continue to grow. Andrew said that the win was big because it was a validation of all the hard work they’ve done. Julius said it was proof that what they’re doing is working:
“All of the adversity we have been through all season, just to see us coming together as a team and getting better each game, and finally get a big win like that, just enjoyed it. Everybody was happy and we just have to keep building on it.”
One of Cal’s most popular phrases lately has been how far this team still has to go. Before today, that comment terrified me. After today, it excites me. Kentucky went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country today and won. You’re telling me this story gets even better??
What better twist than playing your arch rival in the Sweet 16? When the brackets came out, we saw the matchup with Louisville looming, and now it’s here. Defending national champs against last year’s defending champs. The last team to beat Louisville in the tournament? Kentucky. For the second game in a row, the pressure may be off the Cats again; they’ve beaten the Cards once this season. The matchups are still in our favor. As Willie Cauley-Stein said after the game, “I feel like we were a lot better than them then,” and this team’s ten times better than they were on December 28th. The Cats are riding a freight train of momentum into Indy, and with this win, I’m not sure they can be stopped.
It’s gonna be one hell of a week, folks.
By Ally Tucker on ©10:23 pm
Kentucky and Louisville will face one another in Indianapolis for the Sweet 16 on Friday night. The game time has been set for approximately 9:45 p.m. on Friday night, giving the game the prime time slot on CBS. The Cats and Cards will square off following Michigan and Tennessee in the early game.
UK Softball won 5 of their 6 games at John Crop Stadium over the course of the weekend. The cats outscored their opponents by a total of 20 runs over the course of their five games, scoring a total of 37 runs and allowing only 17.
The Cats defeated Kent State 9-2 in game one on Friday afternoon. Lauren Cumbess lead the Cats in the mound. Cumbess pitched seven strong innings, struck out seven and allowed four hits. The Cats produced in the bottom of the fifth inning, were they scored 7 of their 9 runs. Four of those runs came from pinch hitter Emily Gaines, who hit her first career grand slam, which was the second of the season for the Cats. Ginny Carroll and Emily Jolly both had a multi-hit game with Jolly recording one RBI. Kent State had three errors during the course of the game with two pitching changes. UK had 10 hits with 28 at bats, defeating Kent State on Friday.
The team took on Saint Frances in game two on Friday night with freshmen pitcher Shannon Smith on the mound. UK, who played as the away team, scored in the first inning after a single to right field from Griffin Joiner. Joiner had three hits and four RBI’s in the 10-2 win against Saint Frances. Shannon Smith walked in a run to tie the game in the bottom of the first. Sylver Samuel had her first career RBI in the second that put the Cats up 3-1. Samuel also had two stolen bases against Saint Frances, which recorded her 27th and 28th of her career. Sylver Samuel, Griffin Joiner, Lauren Cumbess, Emily Gaines and Massie Steed all had a multi-hit game with Joiner blasting her 8th homerun of the season. Freshmen pitcher Shannon Smith struck out three, allowed two hits and two runs before Kelsey Nunley came in to finish the game, striking out four, allowing one hit and no runs with a victory against Saint Frances.
Saturday afternoon the Cats took on Fairfield, who were 2-10 on the season prior to the game. Freshmen pitcher Meagan Prince, who was 5-1 on the season, took over the mound in game one on Saturday. Lauren Cumbess hit a 2-run double in the first to put the Cats up early, 2-0. Center fielder Sylver Samuel was the only Cat to have a multi-hit game and Ansley Smith belted a solo homerun in the sixth inning. Meagan Prince struck out five, allowed five hits and no runs through five innings pitched before being replaced by Lauren Cumbess, who finished the game with two strikeouts, two hits a no runs allowed in the 5-0 victory over Fairfield. The win was recorded as Lauren Cumbess’ first career save.
Saturday evening the Cats faced Kansas with Kelsey Nunley in the circle for the first time over the weekend. What looked like an ideal inning for the Cats with runners on second and third with one out came to a quick end with a 10-pitch at bat for Steed, who ended up striking out. The strikeout was followed by a ground out by Stokes for the third out, stranding 2 runners. However, the Cats took advantage of an error later in the game that put Samuel and Joiner in scoring position, followed by a 2-run double off the wall by Lauren Cumbess to score two unearned runs. Nunley held Kansas off in the top of the fourth, and Maisie Steed hit a leadoff homerun, her third of the season, to put the Cats up 3-0. Kentucky added one more run to the score in the bottom of the sixth before Kansas finally connected and hit a two-run homerun to cut the lead 4-2. However, Kansas could not push anymore runs across the plate in the seventh inning and the Cats took the 4-2 win.
Sunday the Cats split a doubleheader, falling short to Kansas 7-5 and defeating Kent State 4-2. Lauren Cumbess went 3-6 and Sagermann went 3-7 in UK’s two games. Cumbess, Sagermann, and Steed all recorded homeruns on Sunday. Emily Gaines had two multi-hit games on Sunday with 4 RBI’s. Lauren Cumbess started in the mound for the Cats against Kansas before being replaced by freshmen pitcher Meagan Prince. Cumbess allowed six hits and four runs in 4.1 innings pitched and Meagan Prince allowed eight hits and three runs in 2.2 innings pitched. Lauren Cumbess pitched a complete game in game two of the doubleheader against Kent State, allowing five hits and two runs. Prince is now 6-2 and Cumbess is 11-2 on the season in the circle.
The Cats will take on Auburn in a three-game series starting Friday, 3/28 in conference play at John Crop Stadium. Game one of the series is set for 6:00pm on Friday, followed by game two on Saturday at 3:00pm and game three on Sunday at 1:00pm.
By Ally Tucker on ©10:02 pm
The Kentucky and Wichita State Round of 32 match-up proved to be every bit as exciting as people hoped for all weekend. Two teams who shared very little in common on paper put on a great show for not only the fans in attendance, but for everyone watching at home as well. With all of the hype surrounding the game, here were some of the reactions from around the country to a statement win by the young Kentucky Wildcats.
“Kentucky, as a #8 seed at even close to its best, takes a back seat to no opponent left in the tournament.”
-Eamonn Brennan, ESPN
Jay Bilas says enough of the one-and-done criticism.
Rex Chapman is excited, and throwing out puns.
Many in attendance were quick to admit that this was one of the best games they’d witnessed in a long time.
“But those questions miss the point. Wichita State and Kentucky gave us college basketball at its finest Sunday. The Shockers had greatness in them, and it took a Kentucky team with as many as seven NBA players finding its own greatness to eliminate the Shockers.
This team bears scant resemblance to the shaky, disjointed group that was beaten by 14-20 South Carolina 22 days ago. John Calipari has worked an extreme – and extremely effective – makeover.
Where there was no confidence, it now overflows. Where there was no chemistry, it now thrives. Where there was no consistency, it now can be found in 40-minute supplies.”
Man that was a heck of a game to watch! Back and forth the score shifted and had me and all of Big Blue Nation on the edge of our seats with our hearts pounding. Kentucky made some keys play to pull out the well-deserved win. With that being said, which play was the biggest?
Aaron Harrison Banked-In 3
The score was 55-58. Kentucky had been held scoreless for a little over 3 minutes until Andrew Harrison made two free throws to pull Kentucky to within 1, at the 7:50 mark. The next possession, Cleanthony Early came down and made a layup to make the score 57-60 in favor of Wichita St. Kentucky came back and ran the shot clock down to about 5 seconds and Aaron Harrison was forced to put up a contested three that somehow found its way in.
James Young’s 3
After regaining the lead for the first time since the 9:57 mark in the second half, Cleanthony Early came down and made a jump shot to put Wichita St. back on top to make the score 70-71. Once again, Kentucky game down and almost ran the shot clock completely down. After reversing the ball around the perimeter, James Young was forced to take a semi-contested three point jumper and knocked it down. It gave Kentucky the 73-71 lead, which they never lost.
Late Game Free Throws by Andrew and Julius
After forcing a miss by Wichita St. at the 1:11 mark, the Shockers came down and fouled Andrew Harrison on a drive to the basket. He calmly made both. After a banked in three by Ron Baker, the Kentucky lead was just 1, 75-74. Kentucky inbounded the ball and ran a few seconds off the clock and got the ball to Julius Randle. He made both as well. On his next two attempts, Andrew was only 1-2, but was enough for the win.
The collective effort was there tonight. If you notice, each Wildcat made plays down the stretch, not just one person. That is a great sign as we advance to play Louisville on Friday.
What play was the biggest in your eyes?
(Via Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
John Calipari took to Twitter this evening to let it be known that Dakari Johnson’s offensive rebound was the biggest play in a game filled with big time plays.
Check out today’s #InstaJams brought to you by Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Alex Poythress. Just from re-watching all of them, you can tell the Wildcats meant business against the Shockers! That Willie stare….
Speaking of big slams, check out this posterizing dunk from a member of UK’s 2012 championship team, MKG. My favorite angle is around the 30 second mark, where Kidd-Gilchrist brought the house down in Charlotte!
Great day for Kentucky basketball, and monster dunks!
Don’t look now, but that “terrible” SEC league everyone was talking about has nearly 25% of the teams still left in this year’s NCAA tournament. The SEC will send 3 schools to the Sweet 16, with Tennessee joining Florida and Kentucky after a win tonight against Mercer. For a league that took a lot of heat, the SEC has represented itself well in March. A big congratulations to Cuonzo Martin, who was deflecting talk of being on the “hot seat” just a few weeks ago. His team has now won 3 games in a row to earn the right to play Michigan in a Regional Final.
The SEC moved to 7-0 in this year’s NCAA tournament tonight.
Everyone in the BBN is on cloud nine right now, but Calipari told reporters after the game that there’s no time for relief yet, because his team’s still playing:
“If wins are relief, it’s time for me to retire. This was great joy in seeing a group of young men come together and start figuring this out. It took longer than I’d hoped.
I told them after the game, I’ve been hard on you like I’ve been every team. It’s just been a longer process with you guys. But at the end of the day, you are seeing that they understand what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable.
I didn’t do as good a job in defining roles, that’s on me, not on these young people here. But I’m just proud. Listen, I was whistling and skipping out in the hallway. There is nothing about relief, we’re still playing.”
We’ll be relieved when we win #9.
The gentlemen in Vegas have already put a line on next week’s “sweet sixteen” rematch against Louisville. The opening line has the Cards as a 5.5 point favorite over the Wildcats. Do you agree or disagree?
Vegas has opening line as Louisville a 5.5 point favorite over Kentucky
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) March 23, 2014
It was a happy, happy locker room after the game. Willie Cauley-Stein said that three weeks ago, Kentucky couldn’t have won this game, and were only able to now because they’re finally playing more as a team. “We’re sharing the ball and everyone’s into their own role now. It’s coming together like a puzzle.”
How different are the Cats than when they played Louisville back on December 28th? “Completely different. We’re not even the same team as then. I feel like we were a lot better than them then, and they played really well. Now, everybody is playing on that level that we played on that day, so we’re just a better team.”
Dakari Johnson can’t stop smiling now, but said he was a “nervous wreck” on the sidelines when Wichita State had the ball at the end of the game. Now that they’re on their way to the Sweet 16? “It feels good. Today we’re just going to enjoy this win and enjoy the how we finished.”
Andrew Harrison was a big reason the Cats came out on top, and Dakari says his leadership was invaluable. “He showed great leadership even though his elbow’s bothering him, he stepped up real big and controlled our team.”
This victory was especially sweet for Alex Poythress, who called the win a “reliever,” and said it showed “what we came to do.” He said the locker room was “ecstatic, everyone was jumping up and down, jumping around, jumping on each other. It was really exciting.”
Imagine when we beat the Cards.
Ron Baker poured in 20 points on the Cats on 7-of-12 shooting, including a big three-pointer to keep his team alive in the final minute. After the game, Andrew Harrison let the Wichita State guard know how difficult he was to contain. Baker said Harrison shook his hand and told him, “You are a bad, bad, bad boy.”
Baker told Harrison he is too.
I’m perfectly OK with UK never having to face that kid again. Baker’s the real deal. He’s a bad, bad, bad boy.
“It felt like five million pounds came off our shoulders when the buzzer went off,” Willie Cauley-Stein told reporters in the locker room, following Kentucky’s win over Wichita State. He said he and his teammates felt the pressure and heard the criticism from the naysayers entering the tournament after a disappointing regular season.
“When you wear the Kentucky jersey, there is a lot of hate directed toward you,” he said. “But we didn’t listen to it.”
Cauley-Stein, who recently admitted he lost focus midseason, said he doesn’t believe Kentucky would’ve won this game three weeks ago. But this is a different Kentucky team than the one that struggled through SEC play late in the regular season. This team is scary, and this team just stole the seed in the Midwest.
Celebrate it, BBN.