Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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April 8, 2014

AARON SNYDER: March Madness, sadness for Cats

ASHLAND — It’s just another game. That’s the message John Calipari preached profusely throughout the 2014 NCAA tournament. It’s typical coachspeak, but Cal’s young Kentucky team clung to the step-by-step approach to produce atypical results.

It wasn’t just another great tournament run.

The Coronary Cats had Big Blue Nation — or perhaps the entire nation — on the edges of seats, a captivated audience that couldn’t bear another second of the gut-wrenching, pulse-pounding action, but also couldn’t get enough of the stomach-twisting, heart-thumping 3-pointers and defensive stops as they put capper after capper onto classic after classic.

This bunch was special. They pieced together a compelling script. UConn just chose to write an alternate ending.

Just two years removed from its last national title, the Cats embraced a rare underdog role to achieve unimaginable heights. A ninth national title seemed but a pipe dream upon entering the tournament as an 8-seed buried by other big-name programs with much better season resumes. However, they were just one win away from making it a reality.

With a preseason No. 1 ranking no longer visible in the rear-view mirror, the Cats took the college basketball world by storm, rolling off a five-game string that once looked like a stretch.

Here are nine number-coordinated reasons why 2014 will be impossible to forget, even though NCAA title No. 9 will have to wait:

9 — Games played following “the tweak.” Prior to the SEC Tournament, Calipari claimed that he and the Wildcats made a tweak, but the mysterious alteration was never vocally revealed. What followed, though, was a totally different team that appeared to be on a mission. Kentucky went 7-2 over the last nine games.

8 — Points on four dunks by “Marvelous” Marcus Lee against Michigan. The Cats’ secret weapon, who had tallied four made buckets throughout 21 games of SEC play, converted five big baskets — a quartet of them dunks — in the initial 20 minutes of the Elite Eight victory.

7 — The combined seeding of the three 2013 Final Four teams Kentucky had to hurdle. The loaded Midwest region didn’t prove too tumultuous for the fearless Wildcats. Wichita State (1), Louisville (4) and Michigan (2) were true heavyweights, but Kentucky strategically jabbed and blocked blows before landing the knockout punch in every bout.

6 — Eyes of proud parents cheering from the stands in their home state. The Harrison twins’ father and mother, Aaron Sr. and Marian, became frequent visuals on TVs during the Final Four, while Julius Randle’s mom, Carolyn Kyles, was able to enjoy watching her son after having to leave the Michigan game early. Randle is from a neighborhood close to Dallas. The Harrisons hail from Richmond, Texas.

5 — Freshman starters. Over the final 17 games of the season, the starting lineup consisted of only freshmen. Julius Randle, James Young, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Dakari Johnson nearly accomplished something the "Fab Five" from Michigan never could, but instead settled for a replicated runner-up finish.

4 — Opposing players who attempted potential game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final seconds. Wichita State’s Fred Vanvleet missed a 3-pointer (that would have won it) as the buzzer sounded. Louisville’s Russ Smith misfired on a 3-pointer (that would have tied it) with 6 seconds left. Michigan’s Nik Stauskas heaved a halfcourt toss (that would have tied it) that caromed off the glass at the horn. Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson’s last-second jumper (that would have won it) bounced off the backboard and rolled off the rim.

3 — Permanent lead-seizing 3-pointers sank by Aaron Harrison. The March Marksman’s barrage of clutch 3-pointers began with a good omen. The shooting guard somehow banked in a game-tying bomb against Wichita State with 6:54 to go. James Young actually hit the go-ahead trey later, at the 1:40 mark, in that one. After that, any time seconds flashed on the clock, it was No. 2’s time. His late 3s against Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin all put the Wildcats ahead for good.

2 — Times Kentucky beat Louisville this season. The win on Dec. 28 brought to light Kentucky’s capability, and the win on March 28 was even sweeter for the Wildcats.

1 — More banner to be unveiled at Rupp Arena. Kentucky hangs them for Final Four teams, runners-up and champions. Even though only the latter really matters in the heart of the Bluegrass, the 2014 runners-up will be remembered in the rafters.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at

asnyder@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2664.

 

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