Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

March 23, 2014

AARON SNYDER: Cats show up in time

ASHLAND —

Cleanthony Early was Christian Laettner. He just didn't get the ball.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said that Sunday's nip-and-tuck battle was more like a game with a Final Four bid on the line than one with a Sweet 16 spot at stake.
He was dead-on. Everyone watching felt the same way.
Twenty-two years after "The Greatest Game Ever Played" ended, a similar, yet distinctively different, scenario surfaced.
The clock read "3.2" instead of "2.3."
The ball was entering play from the sideline instead of the baseline.
Kentucky's opponent needed a basket to win — this time it was a 3-pointer instead of a 2.
In a sense, too, the experience aspect was on par with 1992's regional final matchup.
Duke, the defending national champion with a slew of returners, faced Kentucky, which was a team full of seniors but had zero NCAA Tournament experience due to three previous years of probation.
All season long, no one could draw a comparison, even remotely, between the 2014 Wildcats, who feature an all-freshman starting lineup, and "The Unforgettables" from two decades ago. That is, until two weeks ago.
The day after Kentucky was blown away by Florida in Gainesville, Calipari sat in his favorite chair in his Lexington home and it clicked.
Why hadn't I done it all along? he thought.
Right at that moment came "the tweak."
While the mystery epiphany was never fully divulged, the Wildcats have revealed the master's plan through remarkable results.
The latest was the most ironic and impressive.
Ironic because all the preseason talk surrounded Kentucky and its recruits and the prospect of going 40-0, but Wichita State, the "mid-major" from Kansas — another basketball state — brought the notion to near fruition.

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