Kentucky Experiences the Highs and Lows of the Game

By Dennis Berry

On April 2, 2012 Kentucky fans celebrated the school's eighth national championship after their Wildcats defeated Kansas 67-59 in the Superdome. Fans had waited 14 years for the title to return to Lexington. It was a great feeling.

Kentucky would lose six key players from that team to either graduation or the NBA. There was another top ranked recruiting class coming in to replace them, though. Like the previous three seasons, most fans and experts expected them to compete for another national title right away.

On March 19, 2013 Kentucky lost in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament. As the top seed in the NIT, they played at Robert Morris because Rupp Arena was hosting the second/third round games in the NCAA tournament.

They would lose to Robert Morris 59-57.

Even a day after the events, it is still hard to wrap your head about that statement. 

For students and fans it will be a night they will never forget. Of course Robert Morris rushed the court.

For Kentucky fans the past 351 days have been a long, strange trip.; from the top of the mountain, to the lowest of low's.

It was not supposed to be like this. Kentucky was supposed to keep rolling. Sure they were young, but they were talented. Just like the last three years. So why didn't it work out this season?

First and foremost there was a lack of leadership on this team. In Calipari's first three years in Lexington, he had veteran players he could rely on. In 2009-10 it was Patrick Patterson and Ramon Harris. In 2010-11 it was Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins.

The only upper classman on last year's team to play significant minutes was Darius Miller, Eloy Vargas did see some minutes in a reserve role. You still had Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones who had Final Four experience as well. Don't forget about the role that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had.

This year's freshmen came in and received the spoils of that team's run. They were given a million dollar locker room to use at Rupp Arena. They were featured on ESPN's three part All-Access show. They thought it was going to be easy.

The thing is, the rest of the country did not get that message. Other teams were ready to come after the defending champions – defending champs in name only – and take them down. They brought their "A" game every game. Kentucky just showed up.

Another setback happened right after the season started. After playing just 10 minutes in Kentucky's season opening win against Maryland, Ryan Harrow did not play in the next four games. He was either sick or hurt. All we know for sure is that he was not practicing.

That hurt the development of this team. When Harrow came back, Calipari had to take the next few weeks just getting him back into the game. He did not look confident on the court and Calipari had to build him back up.

It seemed like when Harrow came back, the team took a step back. The team had to readjust to him on the court. Throughout the rest of the season it seemed like Harrow never really got to the point many thought he would. He had good games, but he had too many games where he was a non-factor.

The final blow in the Kentucky season came on February 12th. That is when Nerlens Noel went down with an ACL injury. His season was done.

He was the heart and soul of this Kentucky team. He was the one guy that would play with maximum effort every game. He was the key to Kentucky's defense and was starting to put together a decent offensive game.

After losing Noel the Wildcats showed signs of life, though. They beat Missouri and Florida at home. On the other hand, they also suffered a 30 point loss at Tennessee, as well as losing to Arkansas and Georgia.

When Kentucky lost to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament, it punched their ticket to the NIT...where Robert Morris was waiting to take them down.

Now Kentucky has to watch as two of their biggest rivals, Indiana and Louisville, are favorites to win the NCAA Tournament. Louisville even starts their NCAA run in Rupp Arena.

Fortunately for Kentucky fans they got a bit of good news the day after getting knocked out of the NIT. Julius Randle, thought by many to be the top power forward in the class of 2013, committed to Kentucky. He becomes the sixth high school All-American in the 2013 class to be headed to Lexington next fall.

He will join Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, and James Young as part of one the best classes of all-time. The group also includes Derek Willis, a three star prospect from Kentucky. The Wildcats are also still in the hunt for the class top player Andrew Wiggins and could make room for point guard Dominique Hawkins, the MVP of the 2013 Kentucky High School Tournament.

So less than 24 hours after losing to Robert Morris, Kentucky got good news and fans started looking toward next year.

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