The roller coaster of a season for the Kentucky Wildcats came to a final free-fall in Moon Township, PA on Wednesday. The Colonials lead for most of the game, while the ‘Cats looked disinterested. Robert Morris jumped out to a 10-0 lead to begin the game, and never looked back. Despite numerous Calipari timeouts, the ‘Cats rarely showed any signs of life. The one guy that was really putting forth the effort was Jarrod Polson. He drove to the basket with a purpose, and lead the ‘Cats in scoring for much of the half. Only until the 2nd half, when Archie Goodwin figured out he could beat anyone from Robert Morris off the dribble, was Polson’s effort overshadowed. For Polson, Goodwin, and the ‘Cats, it was all too little and too late. After a couple of made free-throws to make it 59-57, Kyle Wiltjer launched a three for the win. The ball bounced off the back of the rim, and tipped in the air as the final buzzer goes off. As I always say, ball game.
Whether you are relieved the season is over, or saddened it can’t continue, I personally did not enjoy watching this team get outworked, outplayed, and out hustled by inferior opponents. I’ve watched Billy Gillispie lose to Gardner Webb and VMI, and now you can add Robert Morris to those unfathomable losses. The lack of focus, the mental errors, and the unwillingness to be coached has been frustrating for me as a fan to watch, I can’t imagine being on the coaching staff. Calipari pointed to the lack of competition in practice and “giving in” to this team way too much.
When Nerlens Noel went down at Florida, so did Kentucky’s season. We all knew that this team would be crushed without him, and the possibilities were there for an NIT birth. I didn’t think Kentucky would go to the NIT, and lose in the first game. Give credit where credit is due. Robert Morris played better basketball, and their fans were tremendous. The Sewell Center sounded like an angry wasps nest, and the ‘Cats were stung until eventual death. Noel had that swagger about him, had that confidence that Kentucky could overcome the adversities of the game. I believe that Noel could have helped the ‘Cats secure an NCAA bid, but I couldn’t see them getting past the Sweet 16. I’d take that right now over a loss to Robert Morris, that’s for sure.
Calipari said in the post-game the loss was humbling. You’re expected to win 30-35 games a year, go to Final Fours, and win National Championships. The 2012 ‘Cats made it look so easy, but they worked for it. They had the talent, the depth, did the work, and listened to the coaching. Because of those things, the 2012 ‘Cats will forever be in Kentucky lore as a championship winning team. As a coach, John Calipari as a coach, hasn’t been in the NIT since his early days at Memphis. His staff reeled off year after year of conference championships, undefeated conference seasons, top seeds in the NCAA’s, and a national title game appearance. In his first few years at Kentucky, he immediately took Kentucky from the NIT to at least the 8th best team in the nation by the end of the season. He then lead the ‘Cats to the Final Four in 2011, and then a National Championship. When you hit the top of the mountain, the hardest thing to do is stay on the peak. Right now, the avalanche is over and the pieces will need to be picked up, changed, and improved for another climb to the rightful place atop the college basketball mountain.
This team came into the season as the #3 team in the nation, and projected to be a Final Four participant. Having to fill the shoes of Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Jones, Lamb, Miller, etc., was too tall of a task for this group. The expectations were way too high, along with the pressures of repeating as national champs. The emotional toll of the season has crushed this young group, especially after losing Noel. I personally believe this team was on the way to over-achieving, like the 2011 ‘Cats did. However, Noel’s injury, the lack of development, and the mental toll on the season was the fatal blow. I personally wish each and every player the best in their future endeavors, whether they be with the University of Kentucky, the NBA, or elsewhere. Thank you for putting in the work on the court and in the classroom to be Kentucky Wildcats. #WeAreUK #BBN