Kentucky’s roller coaster of a basketball season didn’t straighten out on Friday night.
Why would it be at this point?
A Wildcats team that has experienced more ups and downs in recent memory hit another bump on the road in its opening run of the post-season, a 80–73 loss to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The defeat came shortly after the Cats traveled to Fayetteville and – without a point guard – managed upset the arkansas razorbacks on his home court. The win came three days after the same Vanderbilt team that defeated Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Ruined the Wildcats’ Senior Night In Roop Akhada. And so on.
UK will hear its name on Sunday evening, when the NCAA tournament field is revealed. It was a month in doubt before the Cats – on the wrong side of the bubble – won four straight games to get their season right on the mend.
John Calipari and his Wildcats have been talking about writing their own story for the past few months. And which Kentucky team will appear in March Madness will be the story of this season.
On Friday night, some of the same weaknesses that plagued these cats flared up again.
UK made just 11 of 20 free throws. Vandy was 18-for-20, outscoring the Cats by seven points over the line, the final margin of victory. Kentucky gave up drive after drive on the perimeter, allowing the Commodores to get into the paint and score. The Cats had trouble defending the three-point shot, especially in the first half, then could not make threes of their own on the other end, going just 6-for-25 from deep.
In the end, Vandy hit the big shots at the right time. Kentucky, not so much.
UK’s Jacob Toppin said, “He hit the dagger plays.” “We couldn’t hit the dagger plays. That’s why they won the game.
necklace fell Kentucky 21–11 on the season, The Cats are now 1-4 in their last five SEC Tournament games. But it is not the tournament that matters. That starts next week, and if there’s any silver lining to Britain’s early departure from Nashville, it’s that this battered roster will now have two extra days — and two fewer games of wear and tear — ready for the big one. to happen.
“It sucks to lose. Obviously, we wanted to win,” said Toppin. “But yeah, you can look at the bright side and say we have more time to recover and work on our bodies. We can watch the film, understand what we should be better at. Should happen so that we can be ready for the tournament.”
Another plus for Kentucky: Freshman point guard cayson wallace Returned to court on Friday night. Wallace sat out the Arkansas game last weekend after injuring his ankle in UK’s home finale loss to Vanderbilt.
Wallace, a projected NBA lottery pick, could also sit out Friday’s game. He did not. Why not get extra rest to get ready for the NCAA Tournament?
“Because I want to play every game that I can,” Wallace said. “I think I’m a good piece for the team, and I’ll do whatever I can to help us win. … I think if I can play, I’ll play. I play games like that.” I’m not going to sit out in which I can play.”
Wallace played 37 minutes on Friday night. At one point he limped to the bench after kneeling with a Vanderbilt player but – after receiving some treatment there – returned to the court at the next timeout. Physically, he said he would be fine for UK’s first match of the NCAA tournament.
He said, “More than anything I’m disappointed that we lost.” “I’m fine, though.”
CJ Frederick continued to play despite a painful rib injury, playing 14 minutes off the bench. Toppin also suffered an undisclosed injury earlier in the week — Calipari said he took a one-off practice just before Friday’s game — and managed 21 points and 11 rebounds in 38 minutes.
Sehveer Wheeler remained on the sidelines for the ninth consecutive game. Wheeler injured his ankle last month and has not played since. He also had a “minor procedure” — as Calipari described it — unrelated to his ankle injury last week, which extended his recovery timeline. The UK coach said Wheeler had “watched some practice material” earlier in the week.
“So I think he’s getting closer,” Calipari said. “Hopefully he’s going to be able to give us a few minutes.”
Obviously, time is running out. And this is where the season ends with a defeat.
Calipari said after Friday’s loss that this Kentucky team plays better when it has nothing to lose.
“You can’t worry about how you’re playing, missing a shot,” he said. “You just lock into the team, do what the team needs you to do. When we play like this, we’re as good as anybody else in the country.
Calipari smiled for the first time all night when it was pointed out that some of Kentucky’s biggest wins this season came after the loss.
He said, “That’s what we’re going to talk about right there.” “Every time we get spooked — and the whole country pounces on us — it’s like they come back with a vengeance. That’s the plan. We got beaten up. And a few games we lost, it’s not like we Lose a hundred. It’s a bucket here or a bucket there, and you get beaten up.
“But learning to win is also a big part of it. We’ve won some really good matches against really good teams.”
Going forward, that’s the only thing that will keep Kentucky’s season going.
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