Cats changed destiny with win over Vols

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Cats changed destiny with win over Vols

Post  BestdamnUKfanperiod on Tue Mar 08, 2011 8:11 am

Cats changed destiny with win over Vols

KNOXVILLE — Kentucky took a step forward in its regular-season finale.

It was an important leap for Kentucky, which heads into the postseason with a bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament that begins Thursday in Atlanta, and proof that it can win away from Rupp Arena.

“We grew up today,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said following his team’s 64-58 triumph over Tennessee Sunday. “For the first time this year, we did not play the way we started and changed it.”

Kentucky changed its destiny after Tennessee opened with a flurry and scored the first seven points after honoring its six seniors. The Volunteers even built a 10-point lead before the Cats clawed back and gained control of the contest in the second half. For once, Kentucky overcame adversity and turned a negative into a positive while on enemy territory.

“At North Carolina we did it (started the game slow), and didn’t change it,” the Kentucky coach said. “At Georgia on the road this year, we did it, and didn’t change it. Mississippi on the road, we did it, and didn’t change it. Arkansas on the road, we did it, and didn’t change it. Here, we changed it.”

The performance against Tennessee, especially the second half, didn’t resemble six of the team’s eight losses this season, a six-pack of setbacks that occurred in the Southeastern Conference. Instead of dwelling on those defeats, the Wildcats simply learned from each loss.

However, leaving Rocky Top with a third straight victory wasn’t an easy accomplishment against a Tennessee squad that retired Louisville native and former standout Allan Houston’s jersey at halftime. The Volunteers did everything they could to make Houston forget about those defeats he suffered against the Cats during his collegiate career.

“Their energy was incredible,” Calipari said. “How in the world were we only down seven?’ We should’ve been down 15 or 18. But, in the second half, they fought like crazy.”

The comeback started with DeAndre Liggins, “the only guy who showed up in the first half.”

“DeAndre was the only one who went out and said, ‘I’m ruining your day,’” Calipari said. “You’ve got to take those challenges if you’re a competitor.”

The successful rally ended with senior Josh Harrellson, who gave the team “absolutely nothing” until the final two minutes with his trademark effort on the defensive glass.

To counter his team’s struggles, Calipari went with a zone on defense and used a “grind it out” approach on offense in the second half, because “we couldn’t beat them on the bounce” and “started settling for jumpers.”

“We stayed with it for the whole half,” the Kentucky coach said.

However, in the opening frame, it appeared the Cats had taken a step back and reverted back to its old ways after the Cats picked up a pair of key wins over Southeastern Conference Eastern division rivals Florida and Vanderbilt last week. Instead of going into the postseason with a letdown, the Cats will head to Atlanta with a three-game winning streak and the confidence they need to succeed at tournament time.

“It was an experience,” Calipari said. “It was nasty, and anyone who watched the game knew it was a war. Tennessee wanted to win, we wanted to win. What this did is this moved our seed (for the NCAA Tournament). The last three games, it has showed what we are. We are what we are.”

Contact Keith Taylor at

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