The popular adage is that March comes “in like a lion and goes out like a lamb”. That adage may hold true for the Farmers Almanac, but John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats have flipped that old wives myth as well as a couple of other ones en route to tonight’s NCAA Championship game.
Entering the month of March, Kentucky was anything but a lion or a Wildcat even. After a 72-67 loss to then 10-18 South Carolina, Calipari’s Cats were left for dead. Pundits assumed that the players were more concerned with the NBA rather than hanging banner number nine and Kentucky would be an early game flameout in the NCAA Tournament.
The first half of the game at #1 Florida did nothing to reverse that thought as the Gators bullied Kentucky to the tune of 49-28. The Gator faithful were opening mocking John Calipari and it seemed like this team would go down without a fight. Florida had a 53-32 lead in the second half when the light finally flickered for John Calipari’s young Cats. With nothing to salvage but their pride, Kentucky gave Florida their best and fought back. And dominated on both ends of the court going on a 15-0 run to cut the lead to six.
Kentucky was not ready at that time, and Florida asserted themselves, but the spark was lit. In front of a pressroom that thought their run was nearly over, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson answer questions in the most somber of tones, barely even looking up. I was in that pressroom and I saw how much these players cared about winning. And how much losing ate them up inside. I went on Twitter and dared defy anyone that thought these players were more concerned about the NBA than winning at Kentucky. And although the evidence was not there, I had faith that this team could turn it around.
If you read any of the national media, John Calipari was the worst person in the world. Pat Forde savaged him for his one and done philosophy and continued to proclaim that Calipari’s players cared only about the NBA and that you could not win with a freshman starting lineup. John Calipari promised a tweak and his critics scoffed.
But then it became time to stop talking and just shut up and play basketball. And the Wildcats did.