The fat lady hasn’t sang yet, but when she does we may all look back to the Tennessee beatdown on Rocky Top and thank the Vols for awakening a sleeping giant. That’s because the UK team we’ve seen the last two games, I haven’t seen this year until now.
There were 24,380 folks inside Rupp Arena Saturday night, and everyone was on their feet the entire second half and overtime period to help their beloved Cats bust that bubble that ESPN’s bracketology had placed them on earlier in the week.
A special thanks to ESPN Game Day in general, and “Digger” Phelps in particular, for helping create the Rupp Arena effect Saturday night for the Missouri Tigers’ first ever visit to Lexington as a member of the SEC. Coach Cal even gave mention on his post-game radio show at courtside that the Rupp Arena crowd may have been its best since his arrival in Lexington. It was an atmosphere that created a true home-court advantage and literally saved the Cats from being buried early in the first half when Missouri had a 13-point lead on two different possessions with an opportunity to extend it to 15 or 16.
After struggling through the first 13 minutes of the game, misfiring on its first six 3-point attempts, UK seemed to build a little confidence during the last seven minutes of the first half, cutting the Missouri lead to 35-31 at the half.
Anthony Goodwin’s 3-pointer from the left wing to begin the second half jumpstarted the comeback and set the stage for a wild and wooly finish. It was Goodwin’s first 3-pointer since the Texas A&M home game on Jan. 12. Goodwin was held scoreless in the first half but ended up with 18 points. As good as Goodwin was at times, he still reverted back to his old ways in a few possessions when he was responsible for seven of the Cats 14 turnovers. However, by the end of the overtime period and 45 grueling, gut-checking minutes of play, UK had overcome all odds and posted a 90-83 victory and placed themselves squarely back in the picture for another NCAA run into March.
Julius Mays, the lone senior leader of this team, had his finest game and definitely his longest, logging 44 of the 45-minute affair and leading the Cats in scoring with 24 points. Mays was four of eight from three-point range and eight of nine from the free throw line, hitting several clutch free throws late in the game and securing the lead on several possessions down the stretch.
UK Hot Topic On ESPN Bracketology
If ESPN personalities Bobby Knight and Digger Phelps don’t raise your dander enough with their negative comments at times concerning UK basketball, just pull up Joe Lunardi’s bracketology link on www.espn.com and you can fester on him the next few days.
On Friday Lunardi had the Cats listed in the first four out category with Ole Miss in the last four in category. UK is 19-8 overall while Ole Miss was 19-7, and UK had a one game lead over the Rebels in SEC games, plus UK had soundly thrashed Ole Miss by 13 points on their home court just a few weeks ago. Go figure.
Another head scratcher Lunardi had was omitting Louisville, Indiana, Cincinnati, and Ohio State from playing in Rupp Arena on the first weekend. The NCAA has to sell 24,000 seats at Rupp Arena, so you can bet on Louisville and either Cincinnati or Ohio State being at Rupp Arena and possibly Indiana. They only have to sell 12,500 tickets to fill the Dayton Arena, and either Indiana or Ohio State alone can more than take care of those ticket sales with their respective fan base.
Speaking of possible match-ups for the Rupp Arena teams, wouldn’t these four teams make for an interesting weekend of basketball: Rick Pitino and Louisville, Tubby Smith and Minnesota, Billy Donovan and Florida, and Travis Ford and Oklahoma State. There will be eight teams placed at each of the eight sites for the first weekend of the Big Dance, then they will play down to four for a double header on the Saturday or Sunday of the first weekend.
The Lexington/Rupp Arena site will be played on Thursday and Saturday of the first weekend.
Five Cat facts as we end February
1 - UK now sits at 19-8 overall and 10-4 in SEC play, and only one win away from that magic number of another 20-win season.
2 - Since ESPN started its very popular Game Day show back in the 90’s, this past Saturday was its fourth appearance at UK, and the Cats are a perfect 4-0.
2 - UK plays its final home game of the present three-game home stand this Wednesday against Miss. State at 8:00, and it will televised live on the SEC Network.
4 - UK shot 50.8 percent from the field for the Missouri game, its second game in a row above 50 percent. The Cats are 10-0 this year when making at least half their shots from the field.
5 - UK has four players averaging double figures in points per game, and only 2.2 points away from having seven players averaging double figures. Mays is averaging 9.9, Harrow 9.8, and Cauley-Stein 8.0.
Bat Cats kick off home slate this week at Cliff Hagan Stadium
The No. 8 ranked Kentucky Wildcats baseball team kick off their home schedule this week, weather permitting, with back-to-back home games at 4 p.m. Tuesday against Murray State University, and then their neighbors from over in Richmond at EKU on Wednesday at 4 p.m. as well.
Gary Henderson is bringing his highly ranked and multi-talented Bat Cats off two opening weekends of successful baseball on the road, planting the seeds for another NCAA tournament run with a record of 6-1. The Cats’ lone loss was to Kansas State in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, last weekend by a score of 7-5. UK beat a college baseball power Coastal Carolina Sunday on their field 8-2 scoring six runs in the ninth inning.
This coming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, UK will host its first weekend series entertaining the Akron Zips at Cliff Hagan Stadium with the first pitch set to sail toward home plate at 4 p.m. on Friday, followed by the first DH of the season at The Cliff on Sat. at noon and 3 p.m. The closing game of the weekend will be at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.