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Kentucky has had a long journey on their road to perfection in pursuit of 40-0 and a ninth National Title. The Big Blue Nation has been with them every step of the way, but not without a few bumps in the road. In preparation for the Cats’ Final Four game against Wisconsin this Saturday in Indy, let’s take a look back at three times you gave up on Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection this season, even if it was only for a moment.
Kentucky vs. Texas A&M
Coming off a close win in OT against Ole Miss at home, Kentucky fans were sure they’d been through the worst of scares for the season. And then the Cats went to College Station. The Aggies took a steady lead for the first five minutes of the game, leaving the Cats scoreless until a Devin Booker three at 14:39. Texas A&M’s nine point run was enough to get Kentucky fans’ heart rates up, but then the lead kept growing. With 5:34 to go in the first half, Alex Robinson made a jumper and gave his team their biggest lead of the game – up 11 – against the Cats. Kentucky finally came back and had a close back and forth battle with Texas A&M for the entire second half, and a foul on Aaron Harrison with 19 seconds to go in regulation gave the the Aggies a chance for a tie. Danuel House made his two clutch free throws and the game went into its first overtime. AS IF WE HADN’T BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH ALREADY. The first OT was looking terribly bleak for the Cats when they scored only two points, thanks to Devin Booker, within the first minute. The Aggies proceeded to fight for the lead that they kept for the final 2 minutes of the game…until Trey Lyles made some extremely clutch free throws that sent the game into, yes you are remembering it correctly, a second overtime. Free throws were the key to the Cats ending the battle with a victory in second overtime with Dakari Johnson’s four for four and Devin Booker putting the nail on the coffin to finish off the Aggies 70-64. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions. Fans across the country were in shock at how the Cats had performed in this game and were starting to get a little nervous about the road ahead. This was the first time that the Big Blue Nation was genuinely rattled by an opposing team, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Kentucky vs. LSU
Many would argue that Kentucky’s final road game against Georgia this season gave fans more of a reason to give up on the pursuit of perfection than their match against LSU, but for the sake of this post, I think we can all agree that we genuinely thought our perfect season was over when the Cats went to Baton Rouge.
The Cats knew going into this game that they had a lot to lose and were expecting LSU to play their best game of the season, so they had to come in ready to dominate. Cal had been extremely upset with the way the undefeated Cats had been playing up to that point and went as far as to say he hoped they would lose against the Tigers. Cal almost got his wish and the rest of the BBN almost drowned in tears of a perfect season that would never come. Kentucky went into halftime up 38-34 over LSU after getting off to a rough start and getting down 6-14 early in the first half, but the Tigers weren’t discouraged. LSU came out running in the second half and went on a 21-2 run against Kentucky that gave them a 66-60 lead with 7:28 to go in regulation. This is when Kentucky fans were starting to get antsy. Surely Cal didn’t jinx this team by wishing a loss upon them, but what Swaggy Cal says goes and we were convinced this time would be no different. With just under a minute to go the Cats had managed to cut the LSU lead to one, and a big play by Karl-Anthony Towns put the Cats up 70-69. Hearts pounding across the BBN, LSU had the ball with 6.1 seconds to go with Kentucky up 71-69. I think it’s safe to say that everyone was holding their breath until LSU missed their game winning three-point attempt and the buzzer signaled the Cats were still undefeated. It was the second time Kentucky fans had given up on perfection, but the first time the Cats proved that the law of averages simply didn’t apply to them.
Kentucky vs. Notre Dame
I think it’s safe to say that every Kentucky fan in existence would rule this as the #1 time they gave up on perfection. It’s hard to even write about this game because looking back it was one of the most stressful games I’ve ever had to witness. Going into the Elite 8 game against Notre Dame, Cats fans were feeling pretty good having just lived through the downfall of West Virginia in the game prior. Hopes were high and all were ready for another State Street celebration, and then the game actually started. This one was close from start to finish and the fact that the Cats almost went into halftime down didn’t help at all (shoutout to Trey Lyles for giving us something to hold onto with that tip-in at the buzzer). When Notre Dame came out of the half still prepared to battle for their spot in the Final Four, Kentucky fans started to get a little stressed. The Fighting Irish went up 61-56 with 5:22 remaining in the game, and it was by far the scariest moment of the tournament. Never before had Kentucky fans felt like they had so much to lose; the pursuit of perfection was slipping right before our eyes and all we could do was watch it happen. But, then the tides turned in favor of the Cats as the game started to wind down. We witnessed yet another Aaron Harrison clutch three pointer to put the Cats up one close to the three minute mark. Then Notre Dame had a shot clock violation with 34 seconds to go. Just as fans thought all hope was lost and UK would fall short of the hope of a perfect season, Andrew Harrison stepped in and eased our fears with the two most beautiful free throws any of us will ever see. And with that, Kentucky was once again victorious and still undefeated.
And to think, Kentucky fans almost gave up on this team three times before. The Cats keep us on our toes and bring us near tears, but always have a way of saying “just kidding guys” with another win. Now 38-0, all that stands between Kentucky and true perfection is Wisconsin and one more. If the Cats can make it to 40-0 and National Title #9 without giving us anymore reason to believe they won’t do it, that would be great. But honestly, as long as the Cats are winning, by one or by 20, we can sleep at night knowing that we are still in pursuit of perfection.