With the race to 2,000 won, Kentucky's season takes a "U" turn. The Cats shift their sights toward achieving an undefeated record.
No Division I college team has gone undefeated since Indiana in 1975-76. Starting three freshmen in an era of increasing parity makes Kentucky an unlikely team to end the streak of imperfection.
Yet the Cats have been talking for weeks about finishing with a record that has a zero on the right side of the hyphen. The quest, apparently serious, resumes Wednesday against Long Beach State.
"We are really serious about it," freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said. "We take it one day at a time. But it's definitely a goal we're trying to reach and a part of history we're trying to make."
UK Coach John Calipari not only welcomes the talk of an undefeated season, but he practically initiated it.
"At the beginning of the season, he said, 'I want to go 40-0,' " Cousins said.
While clinging to the one-game-at-a-time coaching cliché, Calipari spoke approvingly of the long-range goal of an undefeated season.
"I'm fine with it," he said Tuesday. "I have no problem."
Calipari cited Muhammad Ali as an example he wouldn't mind the Cats following.
"He'd talk and say stuff," Calipari said of the heavyweight champion known as the Louisville Lip. "Then he'd back it up. ... He trained harder than any other athlete. He was more prepared than any other athlete. He did things at another level and wasn't afraid to speak about it."
Calipari said he wants the players to remain humble, "but to dream big dreams; I've been told that my whole life. ...
"Everything is day to day. Thinking day to day (and) preparing day to day even though you have a bigger picture in your mind."
Since 1938, only 12 Division I teams have gone through a season undefeated. Two teams — North Carolina in 1956-57 and Indiana in 1975-76 — had records of 32-0. No team has done better.
UK has had two unbeaten teams: The 1912 Wildcats went 9-0, and the 1953-54 squad finished 25-0.
UCLA has had four unbeaten teams: 1963-64, 1966-67, 1971-72 and 1972-73.
Other unbeaten teams were Long Island (1938-39), Seton Hall (1939-40), Army (1943-44), San Francisco (1955-56) and North Carolina State (1972-73).
"It's a hard task to do," Cousins acknowledged. "But, like I said, we have a chance to do it."
Kentucky will take a 12-0 record into its game against Long Beach State.
As noted in Ecclesiastes 1:9, there is nothing new under the sun. The last Kentucky team to begin a season with 12 straight victories set an even higher goal.
Not only did the Cats of 1983-84 want an unbeaten record, they wanted ultimate recognition.
"Our goal is to be the best team ever assembled," center Sam Bowie said after the Cats beat Purdue on Dec. 28, 1983, to improve their record to 8-0.
Like Calipari, then-Coach Joe B. Hall approved of the lofty goal. Asked whether his team could be the best that ever bounced a basketball, Hall said, "Yes, I see that potential."
Looking back 25 years, Bowie reflected on the confidence Kentucky's team had in 1983-84.
"Back then, you're young, you're talented," he said Tuesday. "You get filled with the confidence that, regardless of any situation, you'll be able to overcome."
Two weeks later, Kentucky went to Auburn and lost 82-63. Thinking back on the loss, Bowie reflected on the proverbial definition of hubris: pride goes before the fall.
"You come to a point that regardless of Joe B. Hall's X's and O's, you feel you can overcome anything," Bowie said. "Including not giving full attention to detail."
Obviously, that's a lesson for the current Cats.
Bowie sees an undefeated season as a strong possibility.
"I know people say it's unrealistic," he said. "But it's going to take a horrible outing by them to get beat."
When asked whether he meant to emphasize the self-defeating nature of any Kentucky loss this season, Bowie did not back off his statement.
"Not to belittle the rest of the nation and the rest of the universities out there," he said, "but we're going to have to do it to ourselves."