Both Kentucky & Vanderbilt Are Better Off With Sunday’s ResultsPosted by Brian Joyce on March 11th, 2012
Sunday’s SEC Championship game worked out exactly how it needed for both teams involved.
Kentucky walked in to the Big Easy with confidence and for good reason. Going into the championship game, the Wildcats possessed a 24-game winning streak, two straight SEC Tournament titles, and an almost certain assurance they would be the #1 overall seed in The Big Dance. With UK up 62-55, Vanderbilt ended all that by out-hustling and out-performing the Cats with a 16-2 run over the final five minutes and five seconds. Kentucky’s swagger had turned to arrogance, but the Wildcats left New Orleans humbled, with its tail between its legs.
Kentucky still received its #1 overall seed, but was handed a dangerous road to go with it. The Wildcats must slay demons of their past to advance to a second straight Final Four. Defending national champion Connecticut and earlier defeat Indiana potentially await in the Cats’ path. And the ultimate Kentucky enemy, the Duke Blue Devils, could be waiting in the Elite Eight to once again end Kentucky’s Final Four hopes twenty years after “The Shot” in a made for TV clash the Selection Committee has been drooling over for months. But Kentucky won’t make it out of the South region if it plays like the last five minutes and five seconds of Sunday’s game. Ironically, it may be that regrettable ending that ends up saving the Cats’ historic season.
Only time will tell if this timely loss motivates Kentucky to channel its overconfidence into the type of swagger that wins championships. “Maybe now everybody realizes we’re not invincible,” coach John Calipari said. “We’re like everybody else out there. We’re going to have to execute, play hard and with some aggressiveness and intensity or we will get beat.” These Kentucky freshman had forgotten what it was like to lose. And after Sunday’s loss, the Cats will be reminded to fight their hardest to avoid walking out of the arena with their heads down and their egos deflated.
Of course, Kentucky wasn’t the only team that walked out of New Orleans better off than when they entered. Vanderbilt needed confidence going into the NCAA Tournament, after being ousted in the first round three of the last four years. The Commodores entered uncharted territory even by making it this far on Sunday since they had not been to an SEC championship game since 1951. Even with a trio of upperclassmen and a positive outlook, the Commodores’ long list of doubters far outweighs their believers, and for good reason. Kevin Stallings’ club needed to prove it could win a close game in a pressure filled situation. And it did.
Vanderbilt beat the best team in the country not necessarily with its signature three-point shooting, but with its supposed weakness — a hard-nosed and tough defense. “We played really solid defense all game,” senior forward Jeffery Taylor said. “The coaches came up with a great game plan and we followed that for the most part. Also, you have to be a little lucky. They missed some open looks.”
Vanderbilt needed this win. Kentucky needed this loss. And now both teams have a better chance of making it back to New Orleans because of how this weekend’s SEC Tournament played out.