Saturday was a day to remember for University of Kentucky athletics. It was a much-needed escape from losing.
A Gator Bowl victory is just what the doctor ordered to start the new year. Even though the season still concluded with a losing record (5-6), it was a perfect way to hit the finish line — that all-SEC schedule was unforgiving, too. The defense did its job with timely takeaways and the offensive line blocked extremely well as they paid tribute to their late O-line coach, John Schlarman. Schlarman died after battling cancer in November.
Kentucky football has enjoyed notable success under Mark Stoops. He’s guided the Wildcats to bowl games in five consecutive years, and he’s just the second coach in UK history to lead the Cats to bowl wins in three straight seasons — joining Rich Brooks. (Sidenote: Bear Bryant came close in 1949-51, going 2-1; and the appearances were in prestigious bowls such as the Orange, Sugar and Cotton).
Granted, there are more bowl games than ever before, but Stoops-led teams account for 25% of UK’s bowl appearances. The Wildcats’ first one occurred in 1947.
After the football Cats took care of business in Jacksonville, the basketball Cats hit the hardwood in Starkville, Mississippi.
Dontaie Allen, Kentucky boy and former Mr. Basketball in the Bluegrass, was the story — well, still is the story. Kentucky hoops fans, among the most rabid and unrelenting across the college basketball landscape, were clamoring to see an elusive victory.
The once 1-6 Cats are now 2-6 thanks, in large part, to the pride of Pendleton County. Allen drained seven 3-pointers to show he might just be the dependable long-range option Kentucky desperately needs; he finished with 23 points and five rebounds in a double-overtime win.
It takes a while for freshmen from other states to truly understand the meaning of “Kentucky” on the front of their jersey — as opposed to being too concerned with the name across the back. Allen, a redshirt freshman, gets it.
Coach John Calipari may have just realized the error of his ways by not playing Allen enough over the first six games. For Kentucky fans, they just hope it’s not too late to rectify the season.