Can Wildcats give BBN something to cheer about this season?
Published 8:04 am Friday, January 29, 2021
It’s been a long winter in the Bluegrass and it’s not over yet.
Although the weather is making headlines because of an overnight snowfall that covered most of the state, the white flakes aren’t even a major topic of discussion throughout the commonwealth.
In addition to battling an ongoing pandemic that is approaching a one-year cycle, the Wildcats haven’t given Big Blue Nation much of an escape from reality this season because of its struggles on the basketball court.
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Normally, Kentucky basketball gives us some form of relief from the everyday ups and downs of life, not to mention problems within our small world. It’s not happening so far this year.
The Wildcats started the season with high hopes despite the uncertainty of a season even tipping off. Kentucky was even ranked in the Top 10 but quickly fell out of the poll within two weeks after suffering six losses in the first seven games, including a rare six-game slide.
Three straight victories to open the Southeastern Conference offered some renewed hope, but four losses in the past five games have placed the program in desperation mode and the upcoming schedule doesn’t offer any form of relief. The Wildcats need to start compiling meaningful wins instead of close calls that end up in disappointing setbacks, such as Tuesday’s 70-59 loss at No. 9 Alabama.
The Wildcats are halfway finished with the conference schedule and face long odds of even making the NCAA Tournament. If Kentucky is unable to piece together some kind of long winning streak in the next six weeks, winning the conference tournament could be the team’s only way of making the NCAA Tournament.
Traditionally, Calipari isn’t a fan of conference tournaments, but he may not have another option if he wants to be one of the 68 teams in the field.
“You guys know I love conference tournaments,” Calipari said in a sarcastic tone following the loss to the Crimson Tide. “That’s one of my favorite times of the year. So, I will be very disappointed if we’re not playing a conference tournament because I just love the conference tournament.”
The Kentucky coach remains confident his team can turn things around even with a heavy-duty schedule that awaits, starting with Saturday’s contest against Texas in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
“We’ve got all kinds of games left,” he said. “We’re going to have six or seven ranked teams. I mean, what happens to us, Terrence (Clarke) comes back and all a sudden, we’re a different team. My belief is let’s just put ourselves in a better position. This was one of them, right here, right here. Beating LSU, winning this game. Now, all of the sudden, all right, let’s go. And life changes.”
For that to happen, things need to click quickly and the Wildcats need to learn how to turn close calls into victories.
“We’re just not ready to finish a game off,” Calipari said. “We’re inexperienced, we don’t have the physical toughness, the mental toughness, to make shots late. My belief is that we’re going to breakthrough.”
The sooner that happens, the better. Big Blue Nation needs a reason to cheer again.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @keithtaylor21.