By now, you’ve probably heard about Madison Central’s epic fourth quarter comeback to beat Ballard to win the Kentucky Boys’ State Championship. The Indians were down by as many as 16 in the third quarter, but stormed back behind Sweet 16 MVP Dominique Hawkins and Ken-Jah Bosley, who threw up the game-winning three with 2.2 seconds left in the game. It’s just the latest thriller in a weekend chock-full of great basketball, and another reminder that March Madness is finally here. The postseason has begun, and before the craziness ensues, let’s look back at the weekend that was in Kentucky sports:
1. The Cats find a pulse
We’ve rehashed Kentucky’s monumental win over Florida plenty this weekend, but it feels so good we’re going to do it some more. Heading into yesterday’s game, I think most fans had given up on the Cats’ chances of making the tournament. After losing to Georgia, the mood in the BBN was as low as it’s been since the Billy Gillispie era, but desperate times call for desperate measures. All season we’ve been waiting for the pieces to come together for this squad and the possibility of not reaching the Tournament finally snapped them out of their slump. Florida was bigger, stronger, and more experienced, but for once, the Cats were the team that wanted it more. At the last possible second, this group is finally showing some heart.
2. Alex Poythress started with the man in the mirror
There were a lot of key factors to yesterday’s win. From Willie Cauley-Stein playing eleven minutes with four fouls to Archie Goodwin’s never-give-up mentality and Julius Mays’ leadership, it was all great, but the resurgence of Alex Poythress may be the most important going forward. Prior to the game, Poythress told reporters that he knew it was time for him to step up and he did, scoring 9 points and grabbing 12 huge rebounds. Afterwards, a smiling Alex said that the night before the game, he looked into the mirror and realized that he hadn’t been giving his all this season and that it was time to “grow up.” I will refrain from using the phrase “he’s turned a corner” because it’s pretty much cursed at this point, but Alex’s attitude shift could mean wonders for this team’s postseason chances.
3. Rupp Arena gives the Cats another life
I’ve been fortunate enough to see many great games in Rupp Arena. I was there for Tayshaun’s five threes vs. North Carolina, Rick Pitino’s first game in Rupp as Louisville’s head coach, several huge games against Florida and UNC, and most recently, the Missouri game. But the last eight minutes of yesterday’s game will always stand out for me. Cal said that on Friday night, he knew the only edge Kentucky could have over Florida would be the crowd, and took to Twitter to challenge the crowd to stand up at the eight minute mark in the second half and cheer until the end. The fans responded, creating one of the most electric atmospheres I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. As Kentucky fans, we suck at giving up on our teams. Our faith and support for the Cats is as ingrained in us as the lyrics to “My Old Kentucky Home” and Keeneland. On Saturday, the team needed us and for once, we were finally able to repay them for the countless memories they’ve given us over the years. For eight minutes, Rupp Arena rose to its feet (blue hairs and all) and poured all of its energy into the team, who in turn, came back to beat Florida and possibly extend the season. As the buzzer sounded, fans and players rejoiced in cathartic chaos so overwhelming that this blogger was too stunned to leave her seat for a good ten minutes. Well done, Rupp.
4. There’s still work to do.
Although Kentucky is one of Joe Lunardi’s “last four in,” there is still some work to do. The SEC Tournament kicks off in Nashville on Wednesday and thanks to some truly ridiculous tiebreakers, the Cats ended up with a pretty favorable draw. As a two seed, Kentucky will play the winner of Arkansas and Vanderbilt on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. CT, and if they win, they’ll take on what will likely be the winner of Ole Miss and Missouri. Barring a major meltdown, the Cats should be able to handle Arkansas or Vandy (especially with strong fan support), and have shown they are capable of knocking off Ole Miss and Missouri. More importantly, the semifinal matchup could strengthen Kentucky’s resume, and if it’s Ole Miss, give Kentucky a crucial edge over them on the bubble. Despite the doom and gloom that surrounded this program after the loss in Athens, the Cats have a manageable route to the Tournament.
5. Nashville awaits
Who was happiest to hear about UK’s win over Florida? The bar owners on lower Broadway in Nashville. The afterglow of the Florida win has led several fans who were on the fence about coming to Nashville to resurrect their plans, and for the umpteenth year in a row, the SEC Tournament will be dominated by the Big Blue Nation. In the past, John Calipari has downplayed the importance of the SEC Tournament, but this year, it’s Kentucky’s last chance to make a good impression. I, for one, cannot wait for Kentucky fans to trickle in and take over Music City, because while this city is great any day of the week, it’s downright awesome when it’s full of blue. (I hear the bands at Tootsie’s are already practicing the fight song.) Matt, Drew, and I will be court side for all five days, along with countless other members of the KSR family like Aaron Flener and Kristen Geil. Friday’s morning show will be live from a bar downtown, and as we get closer (and plans become final), we’ll let you know where. Win or lose, the BBN will party.
6. The Women come up short
Texas A&M continued their improbable run to the SEC Women’s Championship Sunday evening with a 75-67 win over Kentucky. Wilder has a full recap below, but Matthew Mitchell’s squad simply couldn’t get into a rhythm offensively. The Cats’ main sharp shooter, Jennifer O’Neill, was cold from the outside all night, and Texas A&M’s Kelsey Bone was too much for them to handle. Texas A&M coach Gary Blair truly had the line of the night when he said: “When you get a hoss like Bone, you learn how to ride her.” Wow. I’m just going to leave that one right there.
The women find out their postseason path on Monday, March 18th. The loss to Texas A&M was disappointing, but merely a blip on the radar for what is sure to be a deep tournament run.
7. Kentucky may have found a new point guard for next year…and beyond
The biggest story out of the Sweet 16 for Kentucky fans was the UK coaching staff’s interest in Dominique Hawkins, the 2013 PG from Madison Central. Cal and his staff watched Hawkins throughout the tournament, and if they offer him a scholarship, he will likely be a Cat. While Hawkins earned MVP honors, James “Beetle” Bolden also turned some heads. Bolden is a sophomore at Holmes and his 29 point, 13 rebound performance against Hawkins and Madison Central impressed Orlando Antigua so much that he called Bolden’s home to express Kentucky’s interest. Cal will always have elite PGs coming in year after year, but if he can find a quality back-up to stick around for three or four, it will make the transition from season to season much smoother.
8. Spring football starts in one week
We’ve got an exciting and busy week ahead. On Monday, Jared Lorenzen will be in studio with Ryan Lemond to talk about the Cats, followed by the man, the myth, the ‘stache, Alan Cutler on Tuesday. Buckle up and get some rest.