CRAWFORD | It's all over but the clean-up: LSU win sends UK int - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | It's all over but the clean-up: LSU win sends UK into stretch run of perfect season

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Eric Crawford photo. Eric Crawford photo.
BATON ROUGE, La. (WDRB) — Here, at the base of the LSU “Roar Zone” Student Section in the Maravich Assembly Center on campus, all that's left are garbage bags full of signs, the remnants of, if not the last, certainly the best chance for the Southeastern Conference to mar Kentucky's perfect regular season.

Kentucky 71, LSU 69. It's all over but the cleaning.

I don't want to say that none of the rest of the teams UK plays can pull the upset. Playing at Tennessee will be tough. At Georgia on March 3 won't be a picnic. But it might be a coronation. By that point, if the Wildcats haven't lost, the goal will be so close that I don't expect anyone will get them. This LSU game, most believed, was the last chance to get UK before the perfection train left the station. Put it this way -- after winning at LSU, UK's chances to finish the regular season unbeaten just went up. And they were pretty good to start with.

After the game, UK coach John Calipari talked a little about his team's winning streak, and about going unbeaten in general.

The game's most memorable moment came after Karl-Anthony Towns tried to dunk a lob pass and didn't connect, and hung on the rim in some traffic, then pulled himself up on it and drew a technical foul.

Calipari, in a fit of rage on the sideline as LSU turned a 13-point deficit to a six-point lead, goaded Towns, laughed as LSU tied the game up, pumped his fists and said, “I hope we lose!”

He refused to call timeout while LSU was making its run. He wanted his team to work its way out of the jam — or not. He put the unbeaten record on the line when, with a timeout, he might've stopped the bleeding earlier or at least limited the damage. Why?

“You never want to lose,” Calipari said. “But I'm saying to them, I want them to know, I'm not worried about losing. It's not going to change me, us, nothing. I'm not worried about it.”

Calipari does value winning streaks. All coaches want to win, perhaps not as many emphasize getting on sustained streaks and talk about stringing wins together and its importance.

Calipari has a goal each season.

“What I've always tried to do with my teams is I think it's really important that you get a 10-game win streak at some point in the year,” Calipari said. “Do you know why I think that? Because at the end of the year you've got to get six. You've got to know you can get ten, so I'm always trying to drive my teams to go on win streaks. Ten is a good number. 24 is better.”

Twenty-four is where the Wildcats sit. That's one shy of what Adolph Rupp's 1953-54 team did. That group finished the season undefeated at 25-0. Like this current UK team, that team had pros. Actually, three of it players, Frank Ramsey, Cliff Hagan and Lou Tsiropoulous had already graduated and been drafted into the NBA the preceding year. UK could've played in the NCAA Tournament, but not without those three players, and Rupp decided that there was no point.

That was a storied team. That team had a point to make after the NCAA sidelined Kentucky for an entire season because of its involvement in a point-shaving scandal. That group practiced an entire year to do what it did.

This team came together in August. And while the SEC competition it has played has been good — not great — it did beat many of the top teams in the nation before turning to the SEC. What it did to Kansas (72-40), North Carolina (84-70), Teas (63-51) and at Louisville (58-50) was as impressive as anything UK has done in SEC play.

Here's the question. Has the team gotten better? The win at LSU was impressive. It was a loud and hostile environment against a team ranked in the 30s in the Ratings Percentage Index. But LSU also is projected as a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And no other team besides UK is projected to be seeded better than No. 6, in Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology for ESPN.

So we're not going to know how much better UK is now than it was in December.

They're not putting teams away the way you'd like to see a championship team do it. They're hanging around with teams that aren't nearly as deep or talented. They're showing their youth at time, and it's hard to tell if it's just the grind of a conference schedule or something more. Regardless, they've kept winning. Right now is not when you want a team at its sharpest. But that time is coming soon.

“We've still got stuff to learn, lessons,” Calipari said. “We're the fifth youngest team in the country. It's not like they know, or that they've been through this.”

Sometimes, it dawns on me that none of these players has any idea of the significance of an unbeaten regular season, much less an unbeaten season period. We ask them to put things into words but of course they can't, especially not in the midst of it.

But the historic nature of even just a couple more wins in a program that values its history as highly as Kentucky does shouldn't be lost on the rest of us.

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