The waiting is the hardest part.
John Calipari couldn't bear to watch as Kentucky fell apart in the SEC Tournament (Mark Zerof/TCP)
Kentucky had its NCAA Tournament destiny firmly in its own grasp as it took the floor for the SEC Tournament quarterfinals before promptly laying an egg, leaving its inclusion in college basketball's main event tenuous at best. With a Friday night pummeling at the hands of a .500 Vanderbilt team the Cats face a difficult wait until Sunday night's selection show.
“Loooong. Really, really long,” UK junior guard Jon Hood said of the impending wait.
Kentucky has no one to blame but itself after sleepwalking through a 64-48 defeat in front of a heavily pro-Kentucky crowd at Bridgestone Arena. The Cats trailed the final 33 minutes and gave the NCAA Selection Committee very little reason to give them a chance to defend their 2012 national championship.
“They're going to be very long days,” freshman guard Archie Goodwin said. “We're all going to be tuned in because this is a very important thing to us, just to not be one of those teams that Coach Cal has had that didn't make the tournament. That's not a good look.”
It's been eight years since a John Calipari-coached team failed to slip on its dancing shoes. That Memphis squad lost 16 games before finding its way to the NIT Final Four, which isn't exactly the path Calipari's latest team – a preseason top five outfit – was hoping to emulate.
“I don’t think there’s that many teams in the country that are better than us – what is it, 67 teams better than us,” senior guard Julius Mays said. “We beat good teams. We went on our stretches. We also went on our bad stretches, but like I said, we had the opportunity to seize the moment and we didn’t. So we need things to happen in our favor and hopefully get a play-in game.
“It sucks. But it’s something I’ve gotta live with. There’s nothing I can do about it. We had our opportunities to keep it in our hands, but we didn’t seize the moment, didn’t take advantage of it, so all we can do is sit and wait.”
UK's night got worse when Missouri followed up the Cats' loss by blowing a late nine-point lead and, literally, throwing away a victory against Ole Miss. The Rebels jumped UK into the 'last four in' category on almost every national analyst's bracketology board with the victory. It was one of the few results around the country that hurt the Cats, but coming from the same conference dealt a critical blow to the defending champs.
“When you play a game like this, it hurts you,” Calipari said. “But the good news is everyone else is losing too so at the end of the day it will shake out and I trust the committee to put the right teams in. If we're in we'll play better and if we're not, we're not. I mean, there's nothing we can do about it. We had an opportunity. It was in our hands to take it out of everybody's hands and we didn't take care of business.”
As the Cats wait for Sunday night the goes on they will bear the weight of a season gone wrong.
“I'm going to try and keep my mind off it,” freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. “I feel like if I watch basketball i'm just going to end up getting mad and the day is going to go by slow so I'm just going to try and be with my family and kind of chill out and wait to see what happens.”
The wait won't be easy.
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