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TOPIC: UK's basketball season
OUR VIEW: Season salvaged by late burst
A season that started with soaring expectations and talk of a perfect season ended in defeat Monday night for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament championship game against Connecticut.
The season was a roller-coaster ride from start to finish.
A highly heralded recruiting class and solid core of returnees lifted the expectation bar beyond the norm, even for Wildcat fans.
But this Kentucky club was slow to develop, which should have come as no surprise given their youth. There were losses to NCAA Tournament teams like Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina and puzzling defeats to Southeastern Conference also-rans South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas — twice.
The lone regular season bright spot was a win over state rival Louisville.
As losses mounted, so did confidence off the court that coach John Calipari’s team lacked what it took to survive even the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, let alone make any kind of run at the final.
A one-point loss in the SEC Tournament final to top-ranked Florida opened a glimmer of postseason hope and the Wildcats didn’t disappoint.
Following an opening win against Kansas State came a dramatic victory over No. 1 region seed Wichita State, a second win over Louisville in three months and then a 3-pointer as time wound down by Aaron Harrison to knock off Michigan and earn a trip to the Final Four for the third time in four years.
Harrison was back at it again in the national semifinals with a game-winning 3 against Wisconsin to set the stage for Monday’s tough loss.
What this Kentucky basketball team taught us this year is this: You can never count out young, talented players. They just need more time than most to mesh, find their roles and grow up in the big-time world of college basketball.
Kentucky’s unlikely run overshadowed the title game outcome or at least tempered the defeat. Most wouldn’t have expected to see UK in the championship game when the regular season ended, let alone when the NCAA Tournament started.
Kentucky’s impressive run extends a three-year streak of Bluegrass State teams in the title game. Louisville, of course, won the 2013 championship and Kentucky took home title No. 8 in 2012.
While UK was denied a ninth championship Monday night, the guess here is that most fans will remember the amazing and improbable run to the title game much more than the defeat.
Years from now, few will remember that Kentucky lost 11 games in the 2013-14 season. But what will be remembered is how a collection of kids finally got it, played to their abilities and made a postseason run like few others at the game’s winningest program.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.