Mark Story: Three reasons you can't give up on Cal's Cats

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 17, 2014 

Fast-break points from the twizzle class:

21. Kentucky's Final Four hopes. Look fairly bleak after the Wildcats fell in Rupp Arena to Florida Saturday. With only six games left in the regular season, John Calipari's Wildcats still have only one signature victory — over Louisville at home.

20. Three reasons not to lose all hope. In men's college basketball, as long as you are going to make the NCAA Tournament, there is always a chance the "light goes on" for a team.

19. Villanova, 1985. Lost six of its last 11 regular-season games. Proceeded to make one of the all-time Cinderella runs, capped with the "perfect game" victory over Georgetown in the NCAA finals in Rupp Arena.

18. Kentucky, 1998. Tubby Smith's first UK team lost twice at home in February yet flipped the switch when it mattered and claimed perhaps the most unexpected of Kentucky's eight NCAA championships.

17. Kentucky, 2011. John Calipari's second UK team lost six of its first seven SEC road games. But Kentucky found itself in the season's final three regular season games with tough home victories over Florida and Vanderbilt and a road win at Tennessee. The Cats went on to upset Ohio State and North Carolina to make the Final Four.

16. The one-and-done debate. After Kentucky played in back-to-back Final Fours and won the 2012 NCAA championship, Calipari seemed to have "won" the argument. Yet not even two full seasons later, the issue has deservedly again become a point of contention.

15. Struggling against good competition. Since beating Kansas in the 2012 NCAA title game, Kentucky is 3-7 against ranked teams.

14. Saying no to charity. In its six losses this season, Kentucky has made 61.8 percent (110-for-178) of its "free" throws.

13. Bigger letdown? So far, would you say Kentucky or Louisville has produced a less satisfying men's hoops season?

12. Anthony Grant. I thought the former Florida assistant and VCU head man was a sure success as Alabama men's basketball coach. With the Crimson Tide (10-15, 4-8 SEC) struggling in Grant's fifth season, there are rumblings that he is on the hot seat.

11. Donnie Tyndall. The ex-Morehead State head coach has Southern Mississippi (21-5) one game out of the Conference USA lead. If the Golden Eagles make the NCAA Tournament, Tyndall might be able to parlay that into an SEC head coaching job.

10. Bruce Pearl. Speaking of potential SEC head coaches, the show-cause penalty Pearl received for lying to the NCAA while at Tennessee expires on Aug. 23.

9. Kentucky women. Will any team have a more confusing NCAA Tournament résumé than UK Hoops?

8. Three signature wins. After Sunday's stirring 75-71 victory at Tennessee, UK has beaten No. 3 Louisville, No. 6 Baylor and the No. 10 Lady Vols.

7. Perplexing losses. Matthew Mitchell's team also lost five of its first 10 SEC games, including being swept by Florida (17-8) and a home-court defeat to Alabama (11-14), which was playing without its best player.

6. Flipping perceptions? The attention-getting victory in Knoxville gives Kentucky a chance to close strong, starting with Thursday's home meeting with No. 4 South Carolina. If UK plays well down the stretch, it would be able to credibly say its mid-season struggles were mostly related to the leg injury that knocked standout DeNesha Stallworth out of five games.

5. Rajon Rondo. How did the Boston Celtics star and former UK point guard spend his time while recovering from a torn ACL? Apparently, shooting.

4. The 'new Rondo?' Over his full NBA career, Rondo is a 25.3 percent three-point shooter. In the 10 games he has played since returning from injury, he's making 37.9 percent from behind the arc.

3. John Wall's dunk. The ex-UK guard was voted "dunker of the night" in the NBA Dunk Contest by fans. In his winning effort, Wall jumped over the Wizards' mascot, who held a ball over its head. Wall took the ball, double-clutched and then slammed in a two-handed reverse.

2. Kenny 'Sky' Walker. The ex-Kentucky forward is the only other UK product to claim victory in an NBA dunk contest (1989).

1. Walker's verdict on Wall. "That dunk was amazing, really creative," Walker said Monday. "John Wall put the slam back in the slam dunk contest."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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