Cats have to regain their late-season magic to make a run

ANAHEIM, Calif. — UK was on a mighty magical run when a tornado blew away the Cats’ rhythm in the Southeastern Conference Tournament last week.

Georgia was the beneficiary of the twister, as the Bulldogs pulled a rabbit out of a hat by winning the tournament after finishing in a tie for last place during the regular season.

The Cats weren’t the same team in that game that had bounced back from a tough early season start to win 12 of 16 SEC games. The magic from the regular season was, at least for one game, gone.

Now, as the Cats open up NCAA Tournament play against Marquette today in Anaheim, Calif., home of Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the question is: Can UK regain the magic it had before the Georgia Dome disruption for NCAA play?

“We’ll be ready,” UK head coach Billy Gillispie said.

We’ll find out.

Several factors could go into UK getting its pre-tornado magic back.

Can Ramel Bradley shake his 4-for-17 shooting performance and perform at the All-SEC caliber he was playing at during the regular season? He has to, or UK is doomed.

Without Bradley, UK is magic-less.

Can Joe Crawford overcome the fatigue that has so obviously plagued him over the last few weeks? His numbers were typical Crawford against Georgia — he finished with 24 points — but it’s probably going to take all of a healthy and fully rested Crawford to win.

And can the Cats forget about the Georgia loss and galvanize around the second chance the NCAA Tournament selection committee gave them?

If the players are as focused about Marquette as Gillispie is, the Cats have probably already moved on.

Gillispie was asked yesterday about the irony of playing at the same site as his last team, Texas A&M.

“I am totally immersed in our team,” Gillispie said.

He’s obviously not thinking about the Aggies. Or the Bulldogs.

Whatever happens today, don’t forget just how magical UK’s run to the NCAA Tournament has been.

The Cats have freed themselves from locks while underwater without two keys, Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks, for multiple games this season. And that won’t change today.

Patterson (definitely) and Meeks (“very, very doubtful,” according to Gillispie) won’t be able to help the Cats against Marquette. Those losses are severe for UK, but they have proven they can overcome them, mainly because of everything else they’ve gone through this season.

Bradley and Crawford were asked during a news conference yesterday what was the lowest point of the season.

“We lost to Gardner-Webb and you’re like ‘this is ridiculous,’ ” Bradley said. “Things can’t get any worse at Kentucky.’ But when you lose to …”

Crawford cut him off.

“To San Diego,” Crawford said.

Bradley continued.

“… to San Diego. It can get worse. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it can.”

That was almost three months ago. Now, the season could last just one more game.

So will UK prevent it from happening today and perform one more magic act against Marquette?

Who knows? But I’m sure they have a few more tricks up their sleeves.

Jonathan Smith is a journalism senior. E-mail [email protected]