John Clay

Weekend a prelude to greater things?

John Clay
John Clay

OK, OK, of course there are such things as hanging another national title banner at Rupp Arena, or pulling in another consensus No. 1 recruit, or beating another storied program to make another college basketball milestone.

Besides those blissful occasions, if you are a Kentucky basketball fan, it could not have been much better than the 24 hours of enjoyable hoops that stretched from late Friday night right through the Saturday night specials.

First there was Rick Pitino and Louisville losing to California 77-62 in a first-round South Regional game in Jacksonville late Friday night.

Not only did the Cardinals lose, but they fell behind the Golden Bears 22-4 early, an occurrence that appeared to freeze Pitino in his seat as the U of L coach watched in near disbelief.

Then early Saturday, OVC champ Murray State nearly pulled off its second straight upset, putting a mighty scare into Butler before losing 54-52 in that second-round game.

Even that was OK, considering that former Bryan Station High School star Shelvin Mack is a catalyst for Butler. After hitting seven three-pointers in Butler's first-round win over UTEP on Thursday, Mack contributed 11 points to the Bulldogs' Saturday win.

Mid-afternoon Saturday, the UK women began their NCAA march. Matthew Mitchell's team experienced early-game jitters, falling behind Liberty 13-4. Soon, however, hometown hero A'dia Mathies got it going with 32 points, leading the Wildcats to an 83-77 first-round victory and a Monday night date with Michigan State.

Said Liberty's Kylee Beecher of Mathies, "She has a big career ahead of her."

So may Elisha Justice, the heady and deceptively quick 5-foot-11 point guard who led Shelby Valley to its 73-61 win over Ballard in the Boys' State Tournament final.

Nothing against the losing Bruins, but there's something about a team carrying the trophy back to the mountains. Shelby Valley is the first team from Pike County to ever win the title, and the first team to win the All-A crown and the State Tournament crown in the same season.

Take that all you states with your basketball class systems. (Indiana, we're talking to you.)

Better still was the announced attendance of 15,048 at Rupp Arena for the finale. Never mind that Kentucky-Wake Forest was live on the tube opposite the Shelby Valley-Ballard showdown. Each and every year, the Boys' Sweet 16 holds its popularity, and with good reason.

Finally, there was the tour de force that was Kentucky's 90-60 whipping of Wake.

The fact that overall No. 1 seed Kansas had lost earlier in the day seemed good news/bad news. Good news was the talented Jayhawks were out of the tournament. Bad news was confirmation that in a tournament filled with upsets, any team and any seed was in danger. Including a No. 1 seed. Like Kentucky.

Didn't happen. A pumped-up Darius Miller — the former Mason County star must always play well on the night of the Boys' State final — opened the flood gates by starring early, and Kentucky kept its foot on the pedal.

"I've been in the ACC 10 years, and that's as good a basketball team as we've played," Wake Forest Coach Dino Gaudio told the media in the post-game.

There is more basketball to be played, of course. If the Kentucky women can knock off Michigan State on Monday night in Freedom Hall, the school could have two teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1985.

But if you are a UK basketball fan, the 24 hours between Friday and Saturday were (almost) as good as it gets.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader