The Cats are riding their swagger, and it’s working like a charm


Kentucky freshman forward PJ Washington celebrates after a dunk during the game against Alabama in the SEC tournament semifinals on Saturday, March 10, 2018, in St. Louis, Missouri. Kentucky defeated Alabama 86-63. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

There aren’t many teams in the nation with a higher swagger-to-youth ratio than the UK men’s basketball team.

For better or for worse, the Cats play with an attitude every time they walk onto the floor. Whether that attitude turns into shell-shock is up to the other team, and often dictates the outcome of the games. Against Alabama, their swagger carried them to a 23-point victory Saturday.

Recap: UK defeats Alabama to advance to the SEC championship game

From P.J. Washington’s snarl to Wenyen Gabriel’s laugh, the Cats make sure their feelings are known on the floor.

After his 23-point performance in which he made all seven of his attempts from deep, Gabriel assured media that he’s “had a game like that before.” The Cats will want him to have a few more like that for a deep run in the tournament.

Sometimes, those attitudes have gotten them in trouble. After their loss to UCLA in New Orleans, head coach John Calipari said the team had an “arrogance” that was unearned. The team saw that arrogance creep back up to them in their regular season finale against Florida, in which they only had six assists on top of 15 turnovers.

Now, the Cats are riding their attitude to yet another SEC Tournament Championship. During their drubbing of the Tide, Washington announced UK’s presence with a posterizing and-one dunk that sent the Cats’ fans in the arena to their feet about midway through the game.

Washington, of course, celebrated with his signature snarl and flex, something teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said he could never replicate.

The dunk didn’t even steal the show. As Gabriel drilled three after three, the crowd rose up in support of their team, encouraging the 6-9 forward to shoot even more.

“You could feel the energy in the crowd,” Gabriel said. “Almost like it was a home game out there. I was trying to get them riled up to help us push through that game.”

Read: Gabriel has record-setting performance in the semifinals

The confidence, Calipari said, isn’t stemming from the players themselves. It’s coming from a desire to play for each other, as well as their four-game losing streak.

“Me, I was ready to jump off a bridge,” Calipari said. “But I knew and I told them, I’ve been through this before. They needed that. They needed to be told you’re not good enough, and you’re not going to do this by yourself.”

The Cats will look to carry their swagger into the SEC Tournament Championship, against either Arkansas or Tennessee.