Kentucky basketball’s recent success has students divided


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari yells from the sideline during the Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt mens basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 69-53. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Tyler Russell, Reporter

Just over two weeks ago Kentucky basketball suffered a devastating loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks, which led students on campus to demand a change at the head coaching position.

Fans were fed up with head coach John Calipari, with many stating they wanted him gone.

That said, four days after the alarming loss, Calipari and the Cats stormed into the territory of the No. 5 ranked Tennessee Volunteers and beat them on their own court.

While one win could be a fluke, Kentucky then went on to win its next three straight, defeating Texas A&M and Georgia at home, and defeating Vanderbilt in Nashville.

While not all wins are created equal, the four-game winning streak and the huge 63-56 win in Knoxville leaves fans with a number of lingering questions, most of all: Are the Cats back?

Kentucky student and basketball fan Jack Powell seemed to think so.

“I think the Tennessee game was a major turning point in the season,” he said. “This recent win streak really makes me think Coach Cal has got this.” 

The four-game winning streak tied the largest streak of the season for the Wildcats, leading many fans to feel optimistic about the future ahead of another top 10 matchup, this time against No. 9 Kansas.

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari walks back towards the bench during the Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt mens basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 69-53. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

“I think it (the win streak) has brought light back into how legendary of a coach he is,” Kentucky student Max Brainard said. “Even in the midst of people doubting him, back against the wall, he is able to turn around and inspire a lot of confidence in his players.”

While students like Powell and Brainard are quick to believe the prestigious Kentucky Wildcats are back, others are less convinced in Calipari and his team.

“Four games in a row is good,” Kentucky student Omar Fakhoury said. “But if they can push it to six or seven, then I’ll be more sure about them.” 

For some students, Fakhoury included, it’s unlikely anything this season short of a national title will be enough to properly redeem Calipari in their eyes.

Many fans have reached their breaking point regardless of the recent success after the team has hardly had NCAA Tournament basketball in the last three years with the tournament being postponed in 2020, the 2021 team missing the ‘big dance’ entirely and the 2022 team being stunned in the first round by No. 15 seeded Saint Peter’s.

“There have been multiple instances where we’ve (Kentucky) gotten very far in the NCAA tournament (and lost) and there’s always been a coaching error,” Fakhoury said. 

Fakhoury was not the only one who felt that way, though.

“It’s not even just this season, it’s his mindset (that I hate),” Kentucky senior Jake Maynard said. “It’s been this idea of, ‘Kentucky fans are crazy’. When you’re winning that comes across as a joke and we give him the benefit of the doubt, but it’s been a decade since he’s won anything of merit so that benefit of the doubt is gone.”

Regardless of whether or not the entire fanbase could come around to be on Calipari’s side once again, one thing remains certain: if there’s anyone uncertain about Kentucky after the recent win streak, the Cats will have an opportunity to truly prove themselves on Saturday.

With the reigning national champions scheduled to take the court inside Rupp Arena, Kentucky will have a huge opportunity to sway some of its doubters with a win, but an equal opportunity to reaffirm in doubters’ minds that the Cats just don’t have it this season with a loss.

Kentucky and Kansas are set to tipoff at 8 p.m. EST on Saturday, Jan. 28, inside Rupp Arena. The game can be watched live on ESPN.