Cats clicking at right time


The UK men’s basketball team members celebrate together during the second half of UK’s second round win, 90-60 over Wake Forest in the NCAA tournament at New Orleans Arena on Saturday, March 20, 2010. Photo by Britney McIntosh

The youthful Cats’ birth certificates may still say they are 19 and 20 years old, but the way they’re playing basketball says anything but that.

After 29- and 30-point demolitions of East Tennessee State and Wake Forest in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the Cats are flying high going into the Sweet 16 and are the favorites to win the 2010 national championship in many analysts’ eyes.

“We feel like we’re a team that could make it there,” freshman guard John Wall said after the Cats’ 90-60 win over Wake Forest on Saturday. “We have a chance to do something special.”

That “something special” would be raising an eighth championship banner into the rafters of Rupp Arena, the same arena that saw more fans file through its turnstiles this season than any season in the history of the program.

For the Cats to do that, a big key could be the continued support of so many different players, and season and career highs becoming almost the norm.

Against East Tennessee State, the Cats hit a season-high 15 3-point baskets and got a career-high 29 points from freshman guard Eric Bledsoe.

Perhaps overlooked in the game though, was the play of freshman forward Daniel Orton, who had possibly his best game of the season with eight points, seven rebounds and three blocks in only 14 minutes of game action.

Against Wake Forest in the second round, the Cats hit 23 of their first 25 field goal attempts, and were shooting over 76 percent from the floor with 12:41 left in the game. Their field goal percentage of 60.3 was tied for the highest of the entire season. UK also received a career-high 20 points from sophomore guard Darius Miller.

“I don’t know how far we can go with a team this inexperienced,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “But I’ll tell you, if they’re having fun, it will be as far as they can possibly go.”

They say they’re having a blast.

“I can’t stop smiling, I can’t stop joking around with my teammates,” junior forward Patrick Patterson said. “I’m loving this right now.”

They also know in their quest to “land the plane,” as Calipari has so frequently said, one bad outing can cause their entire season to come to an unexpected crash landing.

Prior to their second round game, tournament favorite Kansas fell to Cinderella-to-be Northern Iowa. Though the Cats didn’t know the outcome until the final buzzer sounded in their own game, the message was sent: anything can happen in March.

“Anybody can lose,” freshman guard Eric Bledsoe said. “It’s the tournament, we just have to focus on us right now.”

In their first two games of the Big Dance, the Cats defeated their opponents with more conviction than any of the other 15 remaining teams, averaging 95 points and shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range.

After the game, DeMarcus Cousins said he still wasn’t sure if the Cats had reached their peak yet, nor was Patterson.

“We’re still better than what we played (against Wake Forest) I think,” Patterson said. “We can still rebound a little bit better, communicate a little bit better.”