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Joe Biddle: Kentucky turns to Mildcats after season-ending injury

I’m not sure even the Vols fan with the orangest of orange blood coursing through his veins never, ever dreamed they would live to see the day their basketball team beat Kentucky by 30 points.

 

Football, yes. Hoops, never. Kentucky rules the roundball world.

 

The Vols’ chances of getting in the postseason discussion were upgraded after Florida roughed up the ‘Cats in Gainesville last week. Not only did the Felines get gobbled up by the Gators, starting post player Nerlens Noel was lost for the season with a torn ACL, suffered when he landed awkwardly as he tried in vain to catch up to a streaking Florida player going in for a run-out layup.

 

Knoxville provided a perfect storm setting for the Wildcats last Saturday.

 

The Vols chose to play their best game of the season and Kentucky had no defense as the raucous sold-out crowd pushed the Vols to new levels.

 

The 88-58 verdict was the worst loss Kentucky experienced in the 216-game history.

 

The Bluegrass is in mourning.

 

There’s a good chance they will have to settle for the NIT. No way? Way. A Lexington Herald-Leader columnist urged them to accept an invitation if offered. Blasphemy.

 

And while former UK coach Rick Pitino labeled his favorite Wildcat team the Unforgettables, current coach John Calipari said some of his players were “not real coachable,’’ after the loss to Tennessee.

 

The Uncoachables, suggested Lexington columnist John Clay.

 

After Calipari had time to cool his jets, he backed off his remarks during Monday’s teleconference.

 

“In the game, on the bench, there are a lot of things I say,’’ Calipari said. “We have a bunch of good guys that want to do well, but we’re very young and treading water.’’

 

Calipari professed the loss of the team’s best player damaged their already frail psyche.

 

Further south, Tennessee is on a modest three-game win streak. The Vols are 7-2 in their last nine games and could make postseason play with a strong finish in the regular season and staying hot during the SEC Tournament.

 

No one expected the Vols to hit 58 percent from the floor against UK. It was the highest field goal percentage by an opponent since Calipari arrived in Lexington.

 

The Vols didn’t miss a 3-point attempt. They could do no wrong.

 

Junior guard Trey Golden has been a catalyst in recent games. The past three games, Golden truly has been golden. He has averaged 17.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Golden shot 50 percent from the floor, 84.6 percent on free throws and now has more than 300 assists in his career.

 

And the force the Vols rely on in the paint is sophomore Jarnell Stokes. He leads the SEC in total rebounding at 9.8 boards a game, as well as getting an average of 4.1 boards off the offensive glass.

 

Stokes’ offensive game has improved and as long as he understands his motor needs to run hot from start to finish line, he can be even more of a presence.

 

After the LSU game Tuesday night, the Vols have five games left in regular season. They travel to Texas A&M, Georgia and Auburn and have Florida and Missouri at home. If there is a lock in that list, it would have to be Auburn. The other games will be up for grabs.

 

In Kentucky, everything is up for grabs.

 

“It’s one game,’’ Calipari said. “I want to see how you respond, how you come back.’’

 

Sports Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee and a 2013 inductee to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at joebiddle11@gmail.com


Posted on: 2/19/2013

 
 

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