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Willie Cauley-Stein and the Wildcats will look to complete a perfect regular season on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein and the Wildcats will look to complete a perfect regular season on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By no means is this the finish line.

A Saturday matchup with Florida marks but another step on a memorable journey, but this step merits some special attention.

With Kentucky a win away from completing the first perfect regular season by a power-conference team since 1975-76, even John Calipari stopped for a moment to think about what it's taken to get here.

"I'm not reflecting back right now, I'm looking forward," Coach Cal said. "But I will tell you for them to stay the course is a challenge in itself here."

With each win, the hype with which the top-ranked Wildcats (30-0, 17-0 Southeastern Conference) began the season has only intensified. Even so, they've remained as one.

"To stay into each other, to not listen and let the clutter affect who you are and how you play, it's amazing," Calipari said. "I mean, you got guys that aren't worried about Player of the Year, yet if they were playing 35 minutes a game and getting the ball every time, they'd be Player of the Year. They're not worried about it. They're just playing basketball. They're just trying to play for each other."

With the eyes of the college basketball world trained on Lexington for Saturday's 2 p.m. ET matchup with the Gators (15-15, 8-9 SEC), the Cats are choosing to keep that attitude. Like Coach Cal, they'll save most of their reflection for later.

"I think that's one of those things that's gonna hit you later," Willie Cauley-Stein said, "maybe not at the time just because, you know, it's not gonna really mean a lot at the time 'cause you still got other stuff--like after the season's over, a month from now, when you look back at how fast it went by."

The speed with which this season has passed was a common theme as UK held its normal pregame media availability. It seems, everyone agreed, like the Cats' preseason trip to the Bahamas only just ended.

"The season has flown by," Calipari said. "I can still remember me using the Bahamas, having a bunch of wide-eyed freshmen not knowing what in the world to expect that played well down there and started feeling good about themselves."

Calipari pointed to that trip as a proving ground for the platoon system that has helped carry Kentucky to 30-0. Taking full advantage of their unmatched depth, the Cats overwhelmed professional opponents even with Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles sidelined by injury.

"We'd have team meetings and (Coach Cal would) be like, 'This is crazy,' " Cauley-Stein said. " 'We don't even have our whole team here and we still look really good,' and how excited he was for everybody to be back and the season to get going."  

The excitement was justified.

The Cats have charged through the regular season, never losing their grip on the top spot in both major polls. They lead the nation comfortably in scoring margin at 21.4 and boast a defense that's allowed fewer points per possession than any since kenpom.com began measuring the statistic in 2001-02.

Mix all that in with the cohesiveness and chemistry of this group and it's clear that something unique is going on.

"I told them, you know, we have limited time together," Calipari said. "I told my staff, 'Every minute you can spend with these guys you better spend with them. I mean, when you get to the (Wildcat Coal) Lodge, we'll go to meals - let's just do everything together because this thing's going to wind down."

Saturday will be Senior Day for Sam Malone, Brian Long and Tod Lanter. Though none of the three has a regular role, the fact remains that this will be the last time this group plays together at Rupp Arena as currently constituted.

"It's very special because as a team we've been through a lot together this year," Tyler Ulis said. "It's going to be our last time playing at Rupp together. It'll probably be memorable. Last time Tod, Sam and (Brian) will play in Rupp. It'll be fun to play."

Whether the three seniors start remains to be seen. Cauley-Stein expects to be electric no matter what.

"It's probably going to be really good energy," Cauley-Stein said. "But it's going to be tough too at the same time, so it's not something that you can just take lightly and stroll in there and think you're going to win. You know, we're going to have to come to play."

A month ago, the Gators gave Kentucky all it could handle in a 68-61 Cats win in spite of playing much of the night without Michael Frazier II. The sharp-shooting guard is expected to be available on Saturday.

"Well, he spreads the court," Calipari said, "and what they're doing in their pick and rolls is just keeping everybody away from the basket, trying to get rim baskets or 3s or moving the ball from there into driving. Billy's (Donovan) done a great job with his team."

Just a year ago, it was Florida going for an unbeaten run through SEC play against Kentucky, but the Gators are now viewed as little more than a roadblock en route to an even more impressive feat. The Cats don't see it that way at all.

"That's how you get beat," Cauley-Stein said. "If you think about it like as a whole like that, you just gotta take it one step at a time and let nature take its course."

Sam Malone, Brian Long and Tod Lanter will participate in Senior Day activities on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Sam Malone, Brian Long and Tod Lanter will participate in Senior Day activities on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Sam Malone's first three college seasons couldn't have been much different.

Coming to Kentucky as walk-on, the Scituate, Mass., native was there every step of the way as the Wildcats went from national champions in 2012 to first-round NIT losers in 2013 to within one win of another title in 2014.

"Freshman year I thought it was going to be like that every year, then the next with that NIT--it was totally different from the first year," Malone said. "But we just stuck with our game plan of what we were doing as far as the program goes, and we're back to where we want to be."

With UK sitting atop the polls with a record of 30-0 entering Senior Day for Malone and classmates Brian Long and Sam Malone, that might be an understatement.

The Cats are a game away from completing the first unbeaten season for a power-conference team since Indiana accomplished the feat in 1975-76. Malone and Long have already been a part of a pair of Final Four teams and they clearly have designs on making it three within the next month.

"So far it's been great," said Long, a Dumont, N.J. native. "We've had two real good years and this year the story's not over yet. It's been a great ride all four years. Just appreciate everything and it's been real fun."

The three seniors have had an inside view of the program that's been at the center of college basketball. They been a part of some downs, to be sure, but more often than not they've watched John Calipari mold groups of young stars into cohesive units.

"I think that he just gets people focused on buying into the team, like he says, and everyone's worried about winning," Malone said. "If we win it's been shown that good things will happen for everyone, so trusting in that is really how it works."

Even more than with that title team, the 2014-15 Wildcats are proof of how well Coach Cal's approach can work. Nine McDonald's All-Americans, Willie Cauley-Stein and in-state high-school stars Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins have put team above self and reaped the rewards beginning with a preseason island trip.

"I think it started in the Bahamas, but we're at the point where I think we know what we're doing is working really well, so why would we change anything," Malone said. "You know what I mean? Just keep trusting each other. There's no reason to do anything we haven't been doing and I think that's really been working out great for us."

None of the three seniors have had a regular in-game role this season or in any prior year, but don't tell them or their teammates they haven't been a part of it all.

"Coming in and seeing the results and seeing all these people succeed after they leave here," Long said. "Just being part of it and seeing everyone succeed has been the best part for me."

For Lanter, that's been extra special.

The Lexington, Ky., native is the son of former UK player Bo Lanter and a lifelong Kentucky fan. He started his college career at Gulf Coast State Community College, but elected to transfer home and take a shot at becoming a Wildcat. His gamble paid off.

"I've grown up around this program," Lanter said. I've seen its ups and downs. I've seen the ins and outs of it through--I've had a little bit of insight with my dad being here, stories and things, and I've had personal relationships with past players. So I've gotten a little bit more of an insight than most typical fans have.

But even Lanter has had moments when he forgets he's in a place he always dreamed of being. It's then that he gives himself a little dose of perspective.

"You get caught up in the ups and downs of a season and the ins and outs of practice and things and you sometimes lose track of where you actually are and what you're getting to go through and how many people would kill to be able to be in this position," Lanter said. "I try to take the time to take it all in."

He'll be doing plenty of that on Saturday when he participates in Senior Day activities. Lanter has long dreamed of walking through that hoop with his picture on it and standing alongside his family for the playing of "My Old Kentucky Home."

"Now I'm going to have to be a part of it and I'm sure it'll be tough, but at the same time it's part of the process and I'm thankful to be there," Lanter said.

The question then becomes whether the three will get the start against Florida. Malone showed his usual humor in answering that question.

"Unless 12 other people get a crippling flu, I don't think we're going to start," Malone said. "But we'll see what happens."


Aaron Harrison had 16 points as UK completed a nine-point comeback against Georgia on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison had 16 points as UK completed a nine-point comeback against Georgia on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There John Calipari was again, saying unexpected things in a Kentucky huddle.

Almost a month after he famously told the Wildcats he wanted them to lose at LSU, Coach Cal had an interesting reaction when UK found itself down nine with barely nine minutes left at Georgia.

"I hope we go down 10," Calipari told his team.

Just like against the Tigers in UK's last close game, there was a reason Calipari was talking that way.

"We need to find out who's who, who's going to make a play, who's going to do stuff, who's going to play," Calipari said. "I kept saying, 'Scared money don't make no money.' "

There no fear in the way the top-ranked Cats (30-0, 17-0 Southeastern Conference) closed out the Bulldogs in a 72-64 win, especially not after Georgia was up six with five minutes to go.

"We're a really together team, so we knew we just had to lean on each other and depend on each other and that's what we did," Aaron Harrison said. "Players came through."

Harrison, unsurprisingly, topped the list.

The clutch sophomore guard scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, including five points in a decisive and game-ending 16-2 run.

"Aaron, of course everyone knows what he's going to do in a big game," said Andrew Harrison, who started the run with a 3-pointer. "And Karl(-Anthony Towns), Karl stepped up great down the stretch."

Similar to that close call at LSU, a mistake by Towns seemed it might end UK's bid for an unbeaten season. Backing down in the post, Towns extended his arm attacking the basket rather than kick to a wide-open Tyler Ulis at the top of the key. The result was the fourth foul on Towns with 5:50 to go.

"They double-teamed him and he had Tyler Ulis wide open and he ball faked," Calipari said. "Why? And then he charged the guy. Throw it to the - don't be a hero. That's the thing he's learning. Easy play. Quit trying - he is so good, you don't have to do crazy stuff. Other guys do. They have to do crazy stuff to stand out. You don't. Why are you doing it?"

A little more than two minutes later, with UK on a 6-0 run to tie the game, Towns checked back in and Calipari called for the offense to run through the 6-foot-11 freshman. He promptly scored seven of the Cats' next eight points to finish a dominant 19-point, seven-rebound performance.

"That's how much I think of him," Calipari said. "I know he has the courage and he has the skill and the ability, and that's what we did: We went to him late."

But if not for UK's defense, Towns' offense would have mattered little.

In building the lead, Georgia had a stretch of seven straight possessions with points and later three straight. It was around the five-minute mark that Towns spoke up and said the Cats needed three stops in a row to climb back into the game.

Andrew Harrison, who scored 12 points and steadied a UK offense that committed a season-low three turnovers - raised him to five.

"I was looking at my jersey number," he said. "Nah, I mean, we just wanted to get as many stops as long as we could. That's what we did."

On cue, the Cats - with the help of two missed front ends of one-and-ones - held Georgia scoreless on six straight trips, much to the chagrin of a raucous Stegeman Coliseum crown.

"They're starting to be empowered," Calipari said of his team. "They're starting. Last year, it was about this time they said, 'Alright, we can listen to everyone make excuses for us, tell us it's not me, personally, it's somebody else. Or, we can come together and do this.' And they did it. This year, right now, again, I don't want them relying so much on me. I want them to be about themselves."

The Cats are accepting that challenge, whether that's in games like the five straight blowouts that preceded Tuesday or a hard-fought battle like the one Georgia gave them.

"It definitely builds confidence to know that we can win a close game 'cause we have guys that have been through this, and even our younger guys are mentally tough and ready for it," Aaron Harrison said.

Video: Aaron Harrison recaps tough win at UGA

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Performance of the Week

Eric Bledsoe | Phoenix Suns: 117, Oklahoma City Thunder: 113 (Overtime)
It took a near triple-double performance from the Suns' star player and five extra minutes of basketball for Phoenix to put away the Thunder last Thursday on TNT. Bledsoe recorded 28 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and four blocks in the nationally televised win at home.


Cats in the Spotlight

Eric Bledsoe | #2 PG | Phoenix Suns (31-29)
In addition to Bledsoe's superstar performance on February 26, the 6-foot-1 Birmingham, Ala. native averaged 19.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and 6.3 APG through a four-game week. In two wins and as many losses, Bledsoe turned in two double-doubles.

DeMarcus Cousins | #15 C | Sacramento Kings (20-36)

Before sitting out Friday's home contest with the San Antonio Spurs due to a sprained ankle and bruised hip on the left side of his body, Cousins produced 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a 102-90 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on February 25.

Terrence Jones | #6 PF | Houston Rockets (40-18)
After missing almost the entire season with lingering injuries and illness, Jones is back in the Houston starting lineup and better than ever. The former 2011 First Team All-SEC performer manufactured two dazzling double-double showcases over three consecutive Rockets victories. On February 23, Jones recorded 15 points and 15 rebounds in a 113-102 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Four days later, the Portland native exploded for 26 points and 12 rebounds in a 102-98 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Enes Kanter | #34 C | Oklahoma City Thunder (32-27)
In three games last week, Kanter averaged 17.7 PPG and 7.7 RPG, resulting in two wins for OKC. On February 22, Kanter had 20 points and 12 rebounds in a 119-94 lopsided victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist | #14 SF | Charlotte Hornets (23-33)
Though the Hornets dropped two games and won only one, Kidd-Gilchrist boasted two double-doubles over last week's three-game stretch. On February 25, MKG had 18 points and 12 rebounds in Charlotte's win over the Chicago Bulls, and 12 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday.

Brandon Knight | #3 PG | Phoenix Suns (31-29)
Eric Bledsoe's newest backcourt teammate put up double-digit scoring outings in three of the Suns' four games last week. Knight scored 20 points on February 23, 19 points (with six assists) on February 25, and 15 points the next day, before a season-low one-point performance in 17 minutes on February 28.

Nerlens Noel | #4 C | Philadelphia 76ers (13-45)
Noel surpassed his season average for blocks per game in three of Philly's four matchups last week. The 20-year-old big man highlighted the four-game stretch with 18 points, seven rebounds and four blocks on February 23, and 14 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks on February 27.

John Wall | #2 PG | Washington Wizards (34-26)
Wall dialed in four straight double-digit performances in the assist category in four straight Wizards losses-- capping off a seven-game D.C. losing streak. The Raleigh, N.C. native averaged 14.8 PPG and 10.0 APG in one Washington win over a busy five-game week.

Recent Comments

  • Varie Gibson: These guys and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats are so talented and humble. I cannot wait to see them read more
  • Bob: I do not see an repeat of the close game last year.I think the Cats win by 8 in an read more
  • Carolyn: Great game! Would have loved to been there at the game-awesome read more
  • mm: The perfect storm , that's what our boys were up against.you had a blow out game against WV doubling the read more
  • Doc Savage: Notre Dame was a team most thought UK would blow away because of superior size; depth; and rugged defense. That read more
  • Frank: Why did you not include Tyler Ulis 3 point shot? read more
  • Jack: Great highlights!!! Love Tom doing the play-by-play read more
  • S Kelly: Would like to have seen the 3 by Ulis in these highlights...great game!! read more
  • Srinivas: We gave Notre dame more credit than what they deserved by some poor passing of the ball. We started playing read more
  • Karen: That call was so awesome...thank you! read more