By Ashley Scoby
There was no confetti, no streamers falling from the rafters. No trophies or rings.
But there were T-shirts, and an aura of history, nevertheless.
With a 67-50 win over Florida Saturday in front of 24,428 at Rupp Arena, Kentucky did what no Power Five conference team has done since 1975-76: Finish the regular season still basking in the glow of perfection.
The Wildcats took their final possession with about 25 seconds on the clock, and for those final ticks, Andrew Harrison dribbled at midcourt, waving his other arm towards the crowd. He was on the court with Karl-Anthony Towns, who finished with 13 points, and senior walk-ons Brian Long, Tod Lanter and Sam Malone – the same lineup UK started the game with because of Senior Day.
And UK finished the season the same way it started it: with a zero at the end of its record.
After the clock finally ran out on the first 31-0 season in both Southeastern Conference and school history, the team gathered at midcourt to collect their “31-0…Not Done” T-shirts; Willie Cauley-Stein and Andrew Harrison both addressed the crowd, thanking fans for their support all year.
With that, one chapter of the history book was closed, and the potential for another opened.
“For us, the perfect season hasn’t mattered to us,” Towns said. “It matters if we can win the national title. That’s all that matters to us. That’s where our goals are set at.”
Towns, although going 4-of-10 from the field on Saturday, took over on every other aspect, recording nine rebounds, six blocks, three assists and a steal.
When Kentucky couldn’t shake Florida, and held onto a three-point lead with 10:28 remaining, Towns popped the ball to Devin Booker, whose three-pointer kicked off a 7-0 run that stretched the margin to double digits for the first time all day.
After his assist to Booker, Towns grabbed a couple of rebounds during the stretch, and laid it up with 8:12 to go. His block at the 7:15 mark sent Rupp Arena into a frenzy.
“My sister always told me, if one aspect is hard for you, make sure all the other aspects work,” Towns said. “So I was just trying to be a defender out there also.”
After Kentucky took that 10-point lead with 8:12 to go, Florida scored nine points the rest of the game. The Wildcats finished the season still having played zero teams that shot better than 50 percent against them, after the Gators shot 42.9 percent (including 5-of-11 from behind the three-point arc).
And offensively, the Cats were as well-balanced as ever, with nine players in the scoring column, including Towns’ 13 and Trey Lyles leading the way with 14. Five different players recorded at least one assist.
“I would tell you what these kids have accomplished, and as young as they are, it’s not winning every game,” said head coach John Calipari. “It’s that they shared. … This is a great story for college athletics, for society. Instead of me, me, me, it’s us, us, us.”
That mentality will carry on into the next phase of the undefeated operation: The SEC tournament begins Wednesday, with top-seeded Kentucky set to play its first game on Friday.
And while the perfect regular season is now under this team’s belts, the T-shirts they received for the accomplishment reflected the real philosophy surrounding their bubble of perfection: It’s not over yet.
“It wasn’t even about the perfect season,” Cauley-Stein said. “It wasn’t a 31-0 thing. It’s cool, but it’s not what we’re – you know, we’re trying to do something bigger.”
Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a KyForward sports writer. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com andkysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. She will begin a summer internship with Sports Illustrated magazine in New York this June.
Courtesy of KyForward