UK isn’t a team you want to play twice. Just ask the six teams that had to face the Cats for a second time this season.
UK lost eight times this season, the losses coming from Connecticut, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida, Vanderbilt and Arkansas.
After UK plays UConn for a chance at the title game, it will have had a chance to avenge every loss it has been handed this season, except for Arkansas. As of now, UK is a perfect six for six in revenge games.
“I like ‘Payback Cats.’ Something like that. I guess we are on the road to payback everybody, the only team we can’t get is Arkansas,” senior Josh Harrellson said. “It is pretty weird to think that every team we lost to, we have a chance to play them again. It is pretty relevant, and (the game against UConn) is going to be another tough test.”
This Saturday, the Cats get a chance at UConn to avenge their first game of the season. But the task will be their biggest yet. UConn handed them their only double-digit loss this season with a 17-point win in the finals of the Maui Invitational.
While statistically it is unclear exactly what it is UK is doing better when given the opportunity at a rematch, the team’s defensive effort has improved dramatically, as has team chemistry.
As the defensive leader of the team, junior DeAndre Liggins offered his opinion of why he believes the squad has been so good in revenge games this season.
“Just going together as a unit and playing great defense,” Liggins said. “That is how we beat teams we play the second time. We know the scouting report on them and we clamp down defensively.”
The Cats’ “Revenge Tour” began in the regular season after the loss to Arkansas. Since then the Cats beat Vandy in the regular season, Florida both in the regular season and the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game and knocked off SEC West opponents Ole Miss and Alabama in the SEC tournament as well.
UK then took to the NCAA Tournament where the Cats knocked off West Virginia in the second round to avenge the heartbreaking Elite Eight upset from last season. It was only the second time John Calipari has beat a Bob Huggins-coached team in his career. They’ve faced each other 10 times.
The most recent “revenge game” came to North Carolina, a team that beat Kentucky by two in the regular season.
UK is on a 10-game winning streak leading into the game, compared to UConn’s nine-game streak. However, UConn has yet to lose on a neutral site this season. But the Cats would love nothing more than to avenge their biggest loss of the season this Saturday, and they aren’t letting the Maui loss affect them. Each team is well aware that it has come a long way since November and know that the past means nothing in the NCAA Tournament.
All that matters to them now is winning Saturday to give them a chance at bringing home that eighth banner that the Big Blue Nation has waited a long 13 years to hang in the rafters of Rupp Arena. But doing so means they’ll get one last chance at a taste of revenge.
“‘Payback Cats,’” DeAndre Liggins paused. “I think that is a good one.”