By Dick Gabriel


Admit it. You wanted them gone.

Back around February 14th, you were ready to give them a big ol’ Valentine’s Day smooch and drive them to the airport. Those youngsters, those kids, those…
Kentucky Wildcats.

Sure, there was cause for excitement when they arrived: another classy class, full of five-star athletes and one Canadian import awarded just four stars in the celestial world of prep basketball rankings. (Maybe his stars were metric, because he turned out to be the best of all.)

By most accepted standards, the Wildcats were the youngest team in Division I college basketball. Which is why, when brainy, experienced teams that knew how to execute (Vermont, Utah Valley State or Harvard) played them close, you could understand it.

There was a four-point loss to Kansas in the rear-view mirror, the same Jayhawk team that wound up at San Antonio in the Final Four.  And a solid win over Virginia Tech, another team which made the tournament. And, oh yes, an annihilation of the Louisville Cardinals, one of the biggest blowouts in the modern history of the rivalry.

That’s why the toe-stubbing in the Southeastern Conference seemed a bit surprising, including those four straight losses. “I could see the fear in their eyes,” John Calipari said, describing his players who’d probably never lost four straight on the playground, much less in organized basketball.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the northern import, was doing all he could. Stepping in at point guard while the more-heralded Quade Green nursed injuries, Gilgeous-Alexander displayed a delightful knack for slithering to the basket for delicate finger rolls and lay-ins, frustrating opposing defenses, which had gone all-in to stop Kevin Knox.  And while it was Knox who had the explosive night in Morgantown – pouring in 34 points in Kentucky’s dramatic comeback win over West Virginia – it was SGA who took firm control of the proverbial bus as it threatened to careen into a season-ending guardrail.

When the youngsters pulled it all together in time to command another SEC Tournament championship, the Big Blue Nation signaled that All Was Forgiven. And while the Cats were handling NCAA business in Boise, dispatching Davidson and Buffalo, the basketball gods decided there would be joy in Spudville: an unfettered path to the Final Four lay ahead, with upsets felling the top four seeds in the South Regional. The door to San Antonio was wide open.

Unfortunately, Kansas State slammed it shut, in a flurry of fouls and missed free throws.

In February, nobody would have predicted a Sweet 16. In March, nobody would have predicted the Wildcats would be watching the Final Four on television.     

It was a season that was, well... unpredictable. And in about seven months, we’ll do it all again.