John Clay: Winning out isn't improbable for these Cats

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 23, 2011 

John Clay

Not much time left, just four regular-season games, so let's cut to the chase.

Kentucky can still accomplish plenty. Look at the schedule. Opportunity knocks. Wednesday night brings a road game for a team that has won just once in conference on the road. Then comes the division leader, the division runner-up and the division's mystery men.

Let's start with the road bugaboo, the Wednesday night game at Arkansas, the scenario that forced the media to ask the dreaded road questions on Tuesday.

"We've got a lot of confidence," freshman Doron Lamb responded. "We've won a couple of home games now. We've been having good practices so far, so we just got to continue it on the road."

Arkansas isn't the toughest road spot. Used to be; isn't now. Home attendance has plunged. Not even lining up a stellar recruiting class for next season has kept John Pelphrey out of the hot seat. In its last three league home games, Arkansas lost to Georgia and Mississippi before beating Louisiana State, a team everyone beats.

Let's say the Cats complete a road project. That improves the conference slate to 8-5 with first-place Florida headed to Rupp Arena on Saturday.

Could be a tired and depleted Florida, actually. The Gators have the dreaded Thursday night ESPN game. They play Georgia at home. Last time those two teams met, two overtimes were needed to decide a winner. Plus, Florida's best player, senior forward Chandler Parsons, is hobbled by a thigh bruise.

Let's say the Cats knock off the Gators. That improves the conference slate to 9-5 with second-place Vanderbilt booked for Rupp Arena next Tuesday.

The Commodores are good. The Commodores have the probable SEC Player of the Year in sharp-shooter John Jenkins.

But Vandy beat Kentucky in Nashville by just four points, in a game that was tied at 65 with five minutes to go. And Kevin Stallings' team has lost three straight games in Lexington. Two of those were when Billy Gillispie was the Kentucky coach.

Let's say the Cats down the Dores. That would improve the conference slate to 10-5 with a trip to Tennessee left on the regular-season docket.

The Vols have been college basketball's Dramamine team — up, then down, then up again, then down again. They played well through the early Bruce Pearl controversy and eight-game suspension, then not so well when Pearl returned to the bench. Scotty Hopson appears to have blossomed, but many of his teammates have wilted.

Plus, reports surfaced Tuesday that UT could receive its official letter from the NCAA this week. That's the letter that could tell what additional punishment, if any, Pearl receives for leading NCAA investigators on a wild goose chase last year.

So by the time the Cats descend on Knoxville March 6, Tennessee could be putting all its broken parts together, or the Vols could be tired of trying.

Let's say Kentucky wins that one, too.

Win out, and the Cats finish the year on a six-game streak, 11-5 in the SEC, alone in second place in the East and with a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament, (thanks to a little help from Vandy, which lost to Tennessee on Tuesday).

Not a bad accomplishment for a team that was once 5-5 in league play.

But first, the Cats have to beat the Hogs.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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