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Ashley Scoby: Wildcats leave the nets in place as Cauley-Stein tells fans ‘we’re not done yet’

SEC Tournament MVP Willie Cauley-Stein and All-Tourney team members Andrew and Aaron Harrison hold the trophy presented by conference commissioner Mike Slive (Jamie Vaught Photos)

SEC Tournament MVP Willie Cauley-Stein and All-Tourney team members Andrew and Aaron Harrison hold the trophy presented by conference commissioner Mike Slive (Jamie Vaught Photos)


Twenty minutes after Kentucky demolished Arkansas 78-63 to win its 28th SEC tournament title – and its first since Demarcus Cousins’ heroics in 2011 – a UK manager walked back down the tunnel towards the court with a pair of scissors.

“Forgot the nets,” he shrugged.

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To most conference champions, standing on that ladder and snipping the nylon down is the goal. But to the now 34-0 Wildcats? An afterthought.

They have bigger teams to fry, as they head into the NCAA tournament as the overall No. 1 seed, a previously preposterous goal of 40-0 now beckoning.

“I honestly didn’t even know anything about the nets,” said Tyler Ulis, who finished with eight points and six assists. “I feel like the guys really don’t care too much about the nets. We just know we have bigger goals ahead of us and we want to accomplish those.”

There are several reasons why Kentucky has had a perfect season this year, and pretty much all of them showed up against Arkansas. Pair that with the fact that the Razorbacks had engaged in some trash talk before the game, and Kentucky was chomping at the bit to wreck them.

“Straight up, I’m gonna tell you, we don’t like that team,” said tournament MVP Willie Cauley-Stein, who finished with 15 points off 5-of-6 shooting and 10 rebounds. “They were talking trash before the game – like, why are you all talking? We just beat you by 20 at home. So we’re coming in here, we’re trying to do the same thing.”

Kentucky blitzed second-seeded Arkansas from the start, jumping out to an 8-0 lead, and going on a 22-6 run to close the half after the teams were locked in a 19-19 tie. Eight Kentucky players scored in that first half. Aaron (yes, Aaron) Harrison dished out all six of his assists in the first 20 minutes. The Wildcats out-rebounded Arkansas 22-15, and hit 5-of-9 first-half three-pointers.
For the guys in red, it didn’t get better.

Michael Qualls, one of the two non-Kentucky members of the All-Tournament team, scored eight straight points in the second half to get Arkansas to within nine with 9:32 to play. He screamed at his team, “We in the game!” during an inbounds play, and he was right.

But Kentucky – as it’s done so often this season – flipped a switch, changed a gear, made some kind of sudden movement to take everything to another level.

“We didn’t want to split with them at all,” Cauley-Stein said. “It could have been, ‘Okay, we lose, but we get to go on and still keep our seed.’ Nah, we’re trying to bury them. We’re not trying to give them hope.”

After Qualls cut it to a 56-45 margin, Kentucky ripped off an 11-2 run in the next 3:09 to break it back open. After Trey Lyles’ putback got it to 58-45, Arkansas’ Moses Kingsley shook loose and dunked, but received a technical for hanging on the rim. Andrew Harrison made one of the technical free throws, then swished a jumper on the ensuing possession.

Ulis fired a bullet of a one-handed entry pass into Karl-Anthony Towns, who faked out his defenders with some fancy footwork, then slammed it to give UK a 63-47 lead. Cauley-Stein’s clean-up of an Aaron Harrison miss opened it back to an 18-point lead, and the Wildcats were officially in full-throttle sledgehammer mode.

“Arkansas’s a ranked team. Talking about a top-20 team,” said Kentucky head coach John Calipari. “We kind of did our thing.”

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The nine Wildcats that played pre-garbage time minutes all scored – three of them in double figures (Cauley-Stein and Andrew Harrison with 15 each, and Aaron Harrison with 11). Cauley-Stein’s double-double (plus two blocks) earned him tournament MVP honors, while both of the Harrisons were named to the All-Tournament team.

As the 34-0 Wildcats climbed to the stage amid falling confetti and nearly 20,000 Kentucky fans at Bridgestone Arena, the team shared a few laughs, a few hugs. But there was no overwhelming sense of joy that accompanies a national championship. No tears. No kisses to the trophy. And no nets, until someone sent the managers to cut them.

Cauley-Stein picked up the microphone during the post-game celebration, and said what his whole team and the whole fanbase were thinking:

“We’re not done yet.”

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 in June.

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