It borders on unbelievable.
Kentucky won the SEC Tournament Championship Sunday, capping off a 25-8 regular season campaign with a solid 70-54 thumping of what has been until now the SEC’s best team, the Florida Gators. The win was the culmination of a three-day run in which Kentucky unquestionably played its best basketball of the year, getting a total team effort on both sides of the ball in wins over three teams (Mississippi, Alabama, Florida) that beat the Wildcats in SEC regular season play.
This from a team that only a month ago sat at .500 in the SEC, and had many of the Big Blue faithful questioning whether the Cats would even make the NCAA Tournament.
Even more improbable was the return to health by Doron Lamb, who 24 hours earlier had looked badly injured enough to cast doubt on whether he would play again this season. Lamb played fewer minutes than usual, but still managed to score 6 points and make Florida’s perimeter defense respect him.
The Cats won Sunday with stifling defense. Florida often looked confused and was never able to get any type of momentum going on the offensive end of the ball. From the start, Coach Calipari implemented a sound game plan, getting the ball to Terrence Jones and Darius Miller on the low block early and using an amoeba zone defensively that swallowed up UF’s interior and prevented the Gator guards from getting off clean perimeter looks.
UK received another balanced scoring effort, getting double figures from Miller, Jones, Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins, who was pretty much everywhere—getting 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block to go along with 10 points. As if the contributions couldn’t be more timely, the Cats also received a huge 10 minutes off the bench from much-maligned Junior Eloy Vargas, who chipped in 2 points, 4 rebounds in a steal while spelling Jones and Josh Harrellson.
The Wildcats were also clutch from the line, hitting 24 of 29 free throws. They only had 6 turnovers in the face of Florida’s pressure defense and played smart basketball down the stretch, often working the shot clock under 10 seconds before finding an open shooter or drawing a foul.
Overall, it’s tough to have anything to criticize. Kentucky just finished one of the more improbable seasons in the program’s storied history. Last year, the Cats saw five players drafted in the NBA first round. This offseason UK learned it would be without the services of another key contributor in Darnell Dodson. Then there was the coup de grace, when recruiting class gem Enes Kanter was ruled ineligible.
Despite this inestimable loss of talent and experience, Kentucky rebounded, learned and grew as a team. They battled through some tough times, including a woeful road record in conference play and the agony of losing multiple games on the final possession. But the kids never quit, finished with a top 10 RPI record, won the SEC automatic tourney bid, and finished by winning eight of nine games.
Regardless of what happens from here, we congratulate these Cats on a remarkable season, wherein they showed more heart, grit and determination than anyone could have possibly predicted. This season may stand as the best coaching job of Calipari’s career, and we hope that when the wave of high school All-Americans comes in next year, its large and looming shadow won’t eclipse the accomplishments of the 2010-2011 Wildcats, who have officially added another worthy chapter in the long book of Kentucky champions.go back