Finally, after writing and predicting for three weeks that Cal's Cats would reboot and finish strong down the stretch I can crow a little. The rest of the way it's "Neutral Court City" and time for Big Blue Nation to step up to the plate once again.
Not only did the cream finally come to the top in the last two weeks with wins against the only two SEC teams ranked above UK (Florida and Vanderbilt) but the cherry on the top was an even more impressive come from behind win 64-58 in Knoxville against a Tennessee team that had a classic underachieving season, possibly Coach Bruce Pearl's last. UK improves to 22-8 on the season while finishing SEC play with a 10-6 record in sole possession of second place in the East and more importantly can rest during the first day and entire first round of the SEC Tournament this coming week.
Kentucky's first game in this week's SEC Tournament will be on Friday at 3:30 p.m. against the winner of Thursday's game between South Carolina and Ole Miss. All SEC tournament games on Thursday and Friday will be televised on (WKYT Ch. 27 - Lexington and WYMT Ch. 57 - Hazard) as well as the rest of the SEC Television Network . Saturday and Sunday's action will be televised live nationally on the ABC network which is Channel 36 in Lexington.
Miller Time Down The Stretch
Let's give a little love to a player, Darius Miller, that in my opinion has been unjustly criticized on many occasions this year and a few times last year. Last year, Miller played on a team that had five first round NBA draft choices but occasionally was criticized for not bringing anything to the table. Never was mentioned that you can only play with one ball and it was going to be in John Wall or Eric Bledsoe's hand and then tossed inside to "Big Cuz" or Patrick Patterson. It's kind of hard to (score the ball) as they say these days if it's always in someone else's hands.
Then we drifted into this season and all Miller did was float through the first 10 games averaging double figure's 10.6 ppg. and 6.7 rpg. but somehow everybody established that double figures in points for the team's third option was bad on a team that already had two players averaging 17.5 and 17. 7 ppg. It began to grow on Miller mentally around the holiday break in my opinion. By that time freshman guard Doron Lamb had become a darling in the eyes of the fanbase and Coach Cal became more vocal in his opinions of Darius Miller.
As I watched Miller and Harrellson have a few private words before a game at Rupp Arena during pregame warmups in the early part of February it appeared to me that Miller finally got tired of the undue criticism and basically said "to !!!! with all of them it's me against the world" I'll sink or swim my way the rest of the way.
The last seven games Miller has averaged 16.5 points and finished the regular season in Knoxville with an effort of 15 points, four rebounds, and two steals. Not to mention a back breaking and game saving three against the Vols when the Cats clinched second place in the East.
Personally, I hate to see where this team stood today if Miller wasn't with them, probably headed toward another N.I.T.
Two Down and Two To Go
Most NCAA Division One basketball coaches break their seasons into four parts when they start official practice on Oct. 15th each year. The preseason, regular season, conference tournament, and NCAA Tournament .
We are about to embark on the least important one. The SEC Tournament.
I've never liked the conference tournament setup it's a cheap way for a team to get a cheap bid to the Big Dance. If you haven't earned a bid through a 28 game regular-season schedule I think you should be forced to hang up the ole jock strap and start planning and preparing for next year. However, in today's college sports world money has to be made in various ways to pay the ridiculous salaries of coaches and athletic directors among other athletic department personnel. So, conference tournaments came on the scene in the early to mid 90's and are here to stay it appears.
I know that Big Blue Nation loves the SEC Tournament and especially in Atlanta but this particular year even with winning the two seed bye it may come back to haunt UK.
Why? Because I think this particular UK team is tired.
Coach Cal has fussed, cussed, preached, chastised, and on occasion berated his players publicly until he's squeezed every ounce of energy possible out of them. They've looked extremely tired the last few games in particular to me when they had a 13 point lead against Vandy last Tuesday early in the 2nd half only to luckily hold on to a two-point win. Then against UT on Sunday they took complete control of the game midway of the second half with an eight point lead with two straight possessions but couldn't finish strong because they had no energy. Luckily, you can stand still and shoot free throws while giving your teammates a rest at the same time or the UT game may have had a different ending.
Call me crazy but I think the best thing that could happen for this team is an early exit from the SEC Tournament and five or six good days rest in the Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge before they start on that six game gauntlet it takes to win an NCAA championship.
But it won't happen because when Coach Cal and the players enter the Georgia Dome next Friday for their first appearance, trust me , Big Blue Nation will rise as one and probably about 35,000 strong then the competitive juices will start flowing in the players and the hunt for another conference championship will be on.
I just fear it may drain the last drop of energy left in this thin seven man rotation.
You can go online at www.combsbrothersonkysports.com for more UK basketball and football as well as KHSAA basketball and football.