January 25, 2007

This Could be the End for Me

Gotta show me something.

In 2002, we as a fanbase of the Kentucky Wildcats were told that the meltdown occuring on the court would be the last time. Fed up with high-maintenance kids, Tubby Smith grew tired of the drama off the court and decided that from now on he would get "his kids". No more whining about playing time, no more moping, the Cats would be a bunch of overachievers ready to run through brick walls for the sake of playing for the "KENTUCKY" on the front of their jerseys.

The notion worked in 2003-2005. The 2003 season would see a 26-game winning streak and a 16-0 SEC record. The Cats would go out in the Elite Eight after an all-world performance by D-Wade and his Marquette boys. I could live with that. In 2004, a smallish UK team featuring 6'6" Chuck Hayes and 6'7" Erik Daniels manning the paint turned in a stellar year leading the Cats to a #1 seed. UAB came along in the second round and put out the Cats. Overachievement, fine, a second-round loss stings as a #1, but with that small of a frontcourt we could look the other way. 2005 saw a talented group of freshmen arrive on campus and UK flourished, getting to the Elite Eight as a 2-seed and losing in double overtime to 5-seed Michigan State. Double overtime, thanks to a circus shot by Patrick Sparks in regulation, we could understand with the talented freshmen looking to only improve heading into 2006...

Then the wheels fell off again. Sparks and Rajon Rondo would have a falling out over a girlfriend, Randolph Morris would turn pro, only to not get drafted and return midway in the season thanks to NCAA suspension for improper benefits while he was an NBA draftee, and the Cats would sink to an 8-seed, losing to Connecticut in the second-round.

We had been told once that it would never happen again, but lo and behold, the Cats were failures. Fast forward to this year and the Cats play an ever plodding style, but work their way to a 15-3 record, losing only to Memphis, UCLA, and North Carolina. To this point, the Cats' NCAA resume was panning out to a 3/4 seed. Definite improvement for sure, but then came Vanderbilt into Lexington, and for the second year in a row the Commodores walked out winners. Prior to the previous two years, Vandy had never won in Rupp (opened, 1973).

The players were quick to tell us that the game was a fluke. The team had gotten comfortable with an 11-game winning streak and that this upcoming game at Georgia would show a confident bunch of Cats taking the floor to erase the Vandy loss.

Mission accomplished... if basketball were a 20-minute game. UK led 43-30 at Stegeman Coliseum on Wednesday night, but would be outscored 48-26 the rest of the way for a 78-69 overtime loss.

UK now stands at 15-5 on the year, 4-2 in SEC play. It should be pointed out that the Cats still have home and away games with Florida and Tennessee, as well as a trip to Arkansas, Alabama, and Vanderbilt. Mind you they still get LSU and Georgia at home down the stretch. Only a home game against South Carolina, whom UK defeated 87-49 in Columbia, looks safe.

In gloom and doom it looks like another "Ten Loss Tubby" year in the Bluegrass. I can't see a win at Florida or Alabama, and Tennessee could be an iffy proposition if Chris Lofton doesnt return from an ankle injury. As of this day, Lofton is scheduled to miss the UK-UT game in Lexington this Sunday, a boost for UK's spirits. That would leave UK, at best and with a win over Florida at home factored in, with only seven losses. The Cats would have to win the SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament at that juncture to avoid the 10 loss mark.

Kentucky basketball is a powerhouse. The Wildcats are the Cadillac of the sport, amongst UCLA, North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas, and Duke. While all those teams mentioned have fallen on hard times in recent years, they all appear to have the ship righted - or have made changes to ensure that they were put back on track.

Sadly for me, the rest of this season, Tubby Smith will have to prove his worth to remain in Lexington. I want to go into games not fearing a loss, but rather expecting to have a shot to win. Tubby's next 10 games - until the end of the regular season are crucial. The fanbase is already divided and after Wednesday's collapse, I think I have switched camps to the side that isn't seeing results that UK fans expect.


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