UK still has unfinished business


UK guard Jamal Murray puts up a 3 point shot while Georgia guard Brandon Young at the University of Kentucky vs. University of Georgia basketball game on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 in Louisville, KY. Photo by Cameron Sadler | Staff 

Josh Ellis

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Despite back-to-back blowout wins against Florida and Georgia, there should still be an uneasiness flowing throughout Big Blue Nation.

Why? Because they’ve seen this before – all year actually. 

What they haven’t seen (since November) is the Cats string together more than three consecutive wins, something UK will have to accomplish in order to hoist an SEC Tournament trophy in March and an NCAA Tournament trophy in April.

It started Dec. 3 in Los Angeles, California. UK suffered its first loss of the year on the road, which is not something unusual for young teams. The Cats bounced back with convincing double-digit wins against Eastern Kentucky and Arizona State.

But then Ohio State stunned the highly-ranked Cats in Brooklyn, just a week after the Arizona State win. UK rebounded once again with impressive victories over in-state rival Louisville and Mississippi.

UK then played away from Rupp Arena once more, and once more lost after threading together back-to-back wins. This time it was another embarrassing loss, to an LSU team that lost to College of Charleston earlier in the year.

Big Blue Nation began to get anxious trying to figure out what type of UK team this year’s team is. Is it the 2013-14 team who earns an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but pulls together to make a championship run? Is the 2010-11 team with a star point guard (Brandon Knight) who carries a 4-seeded UK team to the Final Four? 

Cats fans all over thought they had their answer when UK won its first road game against Alabama, following the LSU loss. Senior Alex Poythress poured in a career-high 25 points to go along with seven rebounds. Jamal Murray had his second straight game with 20-plus points, and the Cats seemed to have found their groove.

Then they played at Auburn. And lost.

It was back to the drawing board for UK, as minimized post-presence and poor free-throw shooting began to stick out like a sore thumb. But as it has all season, UK bounced back. 

This time, UK molded together a three game winning streak. It beat Arkansas in Bud Walton Arena, then proceeded to breeze past Vanderbilt and Missouri at home. It finally began to seem like UK had “turned the corner.” 

But not so fast.

In an instant classic in Lawrence, Kansas, against the No. 4 ranked Jayhawks, UK nearly pulled off its much-needed resume-boosting win. It took overtime to settle the battle of the basketball blue-bloods, but would ultimately not end in UK’s favor – Kansas won 90-84 in overtime.

Although the Cats lost, it still felt like UK was beginning to peak at the right time. The trio of Ulis-Murray-Isaiah Briscoe proved the Cats would still be a tough out in March, thanks to some of the best backcourt play in the country.

Subsequently, after the Kansas loss, UK had another jaw-dropping performance against Tennessee. The Cats held a 21-point lead in the first half in Knoxville, but allowed the Volunteers to not only get back in the game, but win the game.

The air quickly disappeared from the balloon and left UK on the edge of the list of the top-25 teams across America.

UK did respond, though (as usual). The big wins over Florida and Georgia continued the trend of two/three wins, followed by a loss.

Now, with Saturday’s matchup at South Carolina, the Cats have a chance to answer the bell. But it doesn’t end there. They’ll have to continue winning beyond South Carolina, beyond Tennessee on Feb. 18 and beyond Texas A&M on Feb. 20.

UK has to prove it can win more than just three in a row, then go on the road and take yet another step back. It will take at least three in the SEC Tournament, and six in the NCAA Tournament.

The time is now for UK to prove to all those watching that they’re capable of building big winning streaks. All the big boys have done it (Oklahoma, Iowa, Villanova, Maryland), now it’s their turn.