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By Les Johns | @KernelJohns
Willie Cauley-Stein rocked back-and-forth. Julius Mays incessantly rubbed his thighs. Ryan Harrow buried his head in a towel as tears welled up in his eyes.
The scene in the UK locker room was a mixture of nervousness and devastation for a team that no longer would decide its own post-season fate.
A team that had defeated two presumed NCAA tourney-bound teams in its last five games now had suddenly lost yet another game to a team with more losses than wins.
UK head coach John Calipari gave credit to Vanderbilt and head coach Kevin Stallings for winning six of their last seven.
“They’re playing great right now, and it was us laying an egg,” Calipari said. “Vanderbilt is playing great basketball right now.”
The NCAA Tournament selection committee won’t be as gracious.
They will see that the Cats lost to a sub .500 team with an RPI Ranking of 127. And they did so in front of more than 15,000 screaming, partisan UK fans.
A bad enough loss to toss out wins over Missouri and Florida? Maybe.
“When we play as a team and does what they are supposed to do, we can beat anybody,” freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein said.
With bubble teams across the country taking it on the chin Saturday, the Cats would have won the war of attrition with this one win. Beat Vandy and you are in — no further questions.
“The good news is everyone seems to be losing, and I just hope we’re the best of the bad right now,” Calipari said.
Because of the loss, however, now everyone gets to play the waiting game.
Fans, coaches and players will now nervously fidget until the brackets are unveiled Sunday at 6 p.m.
And regardless of the outcome, the Cats have nobody to blame but themselves.
In a game of such magnitude, they were stifled offensively, scoring a season-low 48 points.
Guard play was especially suspect, with graduate student guard Julius Mays and junior guard Ryan Harrow going a combined 4-of-23 from the field.
Harrow specifically got to the rim repeatedly but just couldn’t finish.
“You getting to the rim, it’s just not falling,” Cauley-Stein said he told Harrow, believing that the shots would eventually go down.
While fighting back the tears, Harrow said the loss hurt that much more because the Cats were in a “one game season,” indicating the team was aware of the precarious position they were in.
Their chance to battle out of that precarious position has now passed.
Now all they can do is nervously wait.