By Ashley Scoby
Whether the Kentucky Wildcats like it or not, they’re halfway there.
With a 69-53 win at Missouri Thursday night, Kentucky moved to 20-0 – officially halfway to the much-whispered-about, once seemingly-impossible 40-0 mark.
Head coach John Calipari and his players have all downplayed the possibility of perfection throughout the season.
But after hitting the 50-percent-there mark this week, the talk is sure to heat up. This team is too good to not think about making history.
Even though Willie Cauley-Stein, arguably Kentucky’s best player, had a nearly invisible night (2 points; no blocks or steals), the Wildcats still beat a conference opponent on the road by 16 points.
You’ve heard a similar story before: In a tough environment at South Carolina, Kentucky put together a 15-point win even though Karl-Anthony Towns had only four points, Andrew Harrison went 1-for-5 from the field, and the starters generally struggled.
The depth was too much for teams then; it’s too much now. So far, nothing is changing for this Kentucky team other than which players decide to step up on any given night. It’s been an ever-revolving door of players who have had their best games to lead Kentucky to victory.
With the win at Missouri, Kentucky became the first SEC team to start a season 20-0 since Rupp’s Runts did it in 1965-66. That team, of course, is known for losing to a school that was then known as Texas Western in the national championship game.
This year’s squad will inevitably be compared to former Kentucky teams – only three have won their first 20 games. And they will be compared to the other teams that have gone undefeated in men’s college basketball, most recently Indiana in 1975-76.
But Kentucky’s greatest strength this year – its never-ending depth – is what makes it unique. This team has a chance to record only wins, whether the team (and Calipari) like the pressure of those possibilities or not. And it’s because of Kentucky’s steady stream of athleticism and fresh legs off the bench.
As the Wildcats pass the halfway point to the mythical 40-0 season, if they thought they were every team’s Super Bowl before, it’s about to get a lot worse. It’s the same for also-undefeated Virginia: Every team will want to step up and be the one that puts that first blemish on a perfect record.
“Everyone’s playing us rough,” Calipari said to ESPN’s Seth Greenberg after the Missouri game. “You got to play through it.”
The Wildcats did just that in Columbia. And they’ll have to keep playing through those constant barrages from other teams, because they will only get worse. Not only will Kentucky have to play against teams who just want to beat the No.1 team in the country (and a traditional power like Kentucky). The Wildcats are fighting against teams who want to be on SportsCenter for ending an undefeated run. Streaks make news, but streak-busters become even bigger stories, and every team in the country will want to be a part of that.
So yes, Kentucky is officially halfway to a 40-0 mark, and has entered the “high risk/high reward” stage of the season. With each win, the Wildcats will inch closer and closer to history, with a majority of the season already behind them.
But the games standing in front of them? The difficulty level will only increase.
Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a sports writer for KyForward.com. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com and kysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. She will join Sports Illustrated magazine as a summer intern in June.
Courtesy of KyForward