Kentucky is 21 games and 78 days into the 2017-18 season, and for the first time we can definitely say that we’ve seen why this group can get to a Final Four.
Down by 17 points with 17 minutes left, playing against No. 7 West Virginia on the road, having turned the ball over 10 times in the first 10 minutes of the game, the Wildcats looked dead in the water.
And then proceeded to reel off a 21-2 run, pulling away down the stretch on the back of 34 points from Kevin Knox in an 83-76 win over the Mountaineers.
It was one of the most surprising and unexpected come-from-behind wins that I can remember seeing, and the question now becomes whether or not this was a fleeting moment of greatness in an otherwise underwhelming season for the Wildcats, or if this was ‘the moment,’ the turning point for a young-but-talented, flawed-but-still-learning roster.
And that is a question that I don’t think we’ll have an answer to anytime soon, which is part of the intrigue here.
For the first time since John Calipari showed up in Lexington, Kentucky feels like a team of underdogs. Yes, this is a roster that is full of five-star recruits and has a handful of players that will likely end up playing in the NBA. I understand that. They are never going to be a Cinderella. This is not the plot of Hoosiers.
But not all five-star prospects are created equal. Some are Marvin Bagley III or Deandre Ayton or Trae Young, and some are guys that need some seasoning before their find their footing at this level, guys like Nick Richards, or Wenyen Gabriel, or Hamidou Diallo or, hell, everyone on this Kentucky roster, save for maybe Knox.
In hindsight, it was silly to think that this group would dominate this season. An uninspiring start to the year led to an unimpressive non-conference slate which led to SEC play, where Kentucky lost three of their first seven games, and we should have seen it coming. Many did, but not to this extent. As the weeks passed, it looked more and more like this was just who Kentucky was.
Which led us to Saturday’s second half, where the youngest team in the country, a team that hasn’t handled pressure well, a team that turns the ball over on more than 20 percent of their possessions was down by 17 on the road in one of college basketball’s best environments against Press Virginia.
And they won.
If Kentucky’s season was the plot of a movie, this would be the turning point.
Knox, the guy that entered the program with all the hype in the world, finally played like a superstar. Gabriel proved to the college basketball world just how important he is to this team, with his energy and leadership. Jarred Vanderbilt showed off the dynamic he can bring to this team. Richards, who has spent the last two and a half months looking somewhere between lost and clueless, powered home the tip-dunk that sealed the win.
In that movie, the next five minutes would be a montage of powerful dunks and swished threes as the Wildcats won game after game before a dramatic victory at the end of the movie sending them to the Final Four with a win over their nemesis, those Big Bad Duke Blue Devils.
Saturday in Morgantown was the “left side, strong side” scene in Remember The Titans. It was the moment when Billy Hoyle and Sidney Dean realized they could win $5,000 if the played in that 2-on-2 tournament together in White Men Can’t Jump.
Whether or not that is how this narrative plays out remains to be seen.
West Virginia has now lost four of their last five games, and in three of those losses they led by double-figures in the second half.
Maybe Kentucky just got West Virginia at the right time.
Only time will tell us the truth.
But I will say this: I’m entirely more intrigued in how Kentucky’s season will play out than I was 12 hours ago.
And hopefully, Big Blue Nation didn’t abandon ship when I did.