By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel
The theme of this UK men’s basketball season has changed repeatedly. Ranked No. 3 in the country back in November, the Cats have fallen all the way to a point that is fairly unfamiliar.
UK fans aren’t used to cheering for Cinderella.
With two games left in the regular season, UK is a bubble team in the eyes of nearly every pundit around the country. The team still feels, though, that they have the ability to shock them all.
“I believe in the team,” head coach John Calipari said. “I’m going out with the whole idea that we’re going to write a heck of a story. This is going to be a heck of a story when it’s all said and done. If you want it to be.”
The next chapter of that story is a road matchup Thursday night at 7 p.m. with the Georgia Bulldogs. The Cats are coming off their fifth double-digit loss of the season at Arkansas Saturday, a game where they played good enough defense to win, but couldn’t overcome the Razorbacks’ ruthless defensive pressure.
“During the game you don’t feel like you were playing the way everyone was saying we played,” freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “But if you go back on film, you can definitely see that they were playing with more intensity. They were tougher, they were punking us.”
Georgia comes into Thursday’s game after beating Tennessee by 10 on Saturday. They’re just 8-8 in SEC play, but boast the league’s second-leading scorer in sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who’s averaging 18.0 points per game. He’s one of 11 D-I players to score in double figures in every game this season.
They don’t have another player averaging more than seven points per game.
“I think they’ll be aggressive,” Calipari said of Georgia. “They may not spread the court like Arkansas, but they’re still going to be aggressive and physical. They’re going to pressure us when they have the opportunity to.”
Cauley-Stein could be a key to Thursday’s game against a Bulldog frontcourt that has lacked major productivity this season.
The freshman center has come on of late, averaging 12.5 points and eight rebounds in the last two games while shooting 11-of-14 from the field. He’s reached double-digit points in six of his last eight games.
The tone for the Cats has been a bit more panicked lately, as time continues to tick for a team that is pressing to come together the way they want.
Through it all, Calipari has never wavered in his optimism.
“At some point, the lights have to go on,” he said. “And when it does, you are going to see a team, and you have seen it at times. But, we don’t have a whole lot of time.”
For a group that has had to recover from so many setbacks, having to re-focus after a difficult loss has been a necessary trend. Going forward, though, UK has taken on an underdog role, and they’re determined they can ride it further than anyone thinks.
“You see all these Cinderella teams in the tournament that are playing their best at the end of the year,” junior guard Jon Hood said. “We just need to come together, play like a team and play tough and we’ll be fine … Any team can do it, so why can’t we?”