As Kentucky Takes Aim at History, Wildcats Have Everyone’s Attention

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 9th, 2015

It’s not that Kentucky’s perfect regular season was never in doubt, because it often was. It took three overtime periods to dispatch the Wildcats’ first two SEC opponents (Mississippi and Texas A&M). LSU was a Keith Hornsby three away from ending the perfect season (ask Arkansas how that can turn out). And just earlier this week, Georgia had the ‘Cats on the ropes, leading by nine points in Athens with under 10 minutes to play. Kentucky was tested time and time again this season, yet the Wildcats found a way to outscore their opponents 31 times without fail. Fill in your own superlative here, because it’s been a truly historic run: No power conference team has completed a perfect regular season since Indiana did the trick on its way to a national title in 1976.

Kentucky's History-Making Season Continued Saturday. Up Next: The SEC Tournament. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Kentucky’s History-Making Season Continued Saturday. Up Next: The SEC Tournament. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Bids at perfection in college basketball – and in all sports, for that matter — are so often accompanied by a burdensome tension. As the wins pile up, the looming specter of history can turn the games into an exercise in survival. Kentucky has somehow avoided this transformation. No matter how sturdy the challenger or dire the circumstances, the Wildcats have steadfastly maintained control of their season. John Calipari has cultivated a respect for the process rarely found among groups of 18- to 20-year olds. Accordingly, Kentucky has yet to flinch in the face of a challenge — his team has never lost trust in either its coach or the plan. Lately, amid the discussion of Kentucky’s postseason chances, a tired cliché has been making the rounds. Some pundits have said, “the only team that can beat Kentucky is Kentucky.” If missing jump shots is somehow beating yourself, then sure, Kentucky might end up “beating itself.” But anyone familiar with the team’s entire of body of work within this 31-0 regular season will be quick to tell you that, more than anything else, these young Wildcats have always shown up. Expecting a deviation from that standard is silly, particularly when you consider the considerable motivational talents of Calipari.

The Wildcats still have to navigate their way through an SEC Tournament before bringing their pursuit of perfection to the NCAA Tournament. Three more wins this week in Nashville, though, and the 2015 version of March Madness suddenly has one of the most intriguing storylines in modern college basketball history. Not only has the sport gone almost 40 years without a perfect season (those 1976 Hoosiers), but the Wildcats will also be as overwhelming a pre-Tournament favorite (many Vegas sports books favor Kentucky against the field — meaning that they would give you all 67 other teams before they’d give you UK!) as we have ever seen. No need to further explain the unprecedented significance of a 40-0 season, but even if Kentucky’s season falls short of perfection, there will be an amazing story associated with it regardless. Wichita State’s 35-1 season last year will be remembered as much for the one as it was the 35 that preceded it; Sports Illustrated named its season-ending Third Round loss (to Kentucky, most ironically) as the best game of 2014. And with all due respect to the Shockers’ dream run a year ago, Kentucky’s bid at perfection is rightfully being taken far more seriously than Wichita State’s. With the Wildcats’ potential to make college basketball history now reaching a distinct tipping point, there’s no denying that Kentucky has everyone’s attention.

Stuff happens in March. Like, a lot of stuff. Championship week. Selection Sunday. The first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament. We learn about teams we never knew, put names to players once anonymous. Quick goodbyes are offered to teams with seasons that were seemingly destined to last far longer. And we say hello to teams whose seasons should have ended long ago. It’s a basketball whirlwind, and it’s usually hard to guess what will be left in the memory banks when all the dust clears. But if nothing else, Kentucky’s perfect regular season has ensured that we will remember these Wildcats. Lament the one-and-done culture that Calipari’s program has come to represent, but there’s no stripping his team’s regular season of its historical significance. When the buzzer rang out in Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon, a 31-game display of dominance officially turned into a slice of legend. Like it or not, that bit of history has predetermined the major — really, the only — storyline of this March: One way or another, Kentucky is the story of this year’s NCAA Tournament.

BHayes (244 Posts)

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One response to “As Kentucky Takes Aim at History, Wildcats Have Everyone’s Attention”

  1. Stefan says:

    Congratulations Wildcats! So far, you have been doing so well, and making it look easy, that it appears as if it’s another day at the office.

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