As the season progressed, much was made over Kentucky’s shaky hands when playing away from Rupp Arena. Losers of seven of 10 on the road, the Wildcats had only two SEC road victories this season, leading many to believe this latest crop of precocious freshman weren’t cut out for a deep run in March.
Au contraire, mon frère.
Taking a more defensive approach in which they kept all opponents under 70 points (highlighted by a 54 point output by Florida this afternoon) Kentucky won the SEC Conference Tournament in convincing fashion, erasing any doubt that John Calipari’s kids don’t have the cajones to win at the most important time of the season.
While in Atlanta, the Wildcats looked their sharpest all season, holding opponents to 38 percent shooting from the floor, coughing up the ball only 24 times all long-weekend. Additionally, each of the Wildcats three conference games were played at substantially different paces – but all resulted in a W for Big Blue, something fans have to take solace in. Somewhat overlooked as part of this team’s season record is their 7-1 neutral court record. That lone loss was way back in November in the Maui Invitational to UConn. And nobody was slowing down Kemba in Lahiana.
Road woes aside, UK’s lack of depth has also been a topic of concern among pundits. They only go about seven deep and with Doron Lamb not at 100 percent, calling Cal’s options limited would be a grave understatement. Somehow, however, this team was able to maintain composure, and avert foul trouble – a sure sign that’s this team’s defense has made great strides in recent weeks in preparation for the NCAA Tournament
I’m impressed watching this all come together for Kentucky club. It’s clear that the talent level just simply isn’t there when compared to when John Wall ran rickshaw all over the court and DeMarcus Cousins threw his weight around down low. Cal has had to be much more tactful with his approach this season, ensuring that his players are given the ball where they can be effective, and maximizing the gas tank on all these kids.
Now that the nets have been cut down in Atlanta, it’s fairly inconsequential to me that these guys couldn’t get a win in arenas like Coleman Coliseum or the Tad Smith Center. Kentucky fans ability to travel is unparalleled in college basketball, and these upcoming “neutral court” match-ups will have a strong bias towards the Bluegrass State, preventing any sort of crowd intimidation factor and making the Wildcats almost feel right at home.