CVT Sports Columnist
The sweet sixteen and elite eight were a rollercoaster of emotions for college basketball fans across the country. With plenty of surprising outcomes, improbable teams advancing, and nail biting finishes, the range of emotions were all over the place. For Kentucky fans, we sadly felt elation to deflated in the matter of about 4 seconds. The Final Four is now set and sadly Kentucky will not be making the trip to Phoenix.
Backtracking to the sweet sixteen, I think that was one of the most satisfying games as a Kentucky fan. I remember saying that this is one of the few times that America is pulling for Kentucky, and with great reason. Going into the game, the biggest storyline was Lavar and Lonzo Ball. This was no fault to Lonzo as his father, Lavar, talked for week after week about how his boys are better than some of the best players in the NBA and even Lavar himself said he could beat Michael Jordan one on one. Lavar was even on record to say that UCLA was guaranteed to win the National Championship this year and Kentucky is just a good tune up game for the rest of the tournament. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of Lavar Ball for throwing his son into the limelight like that, but, his outlandish statements are good for marketing for his brand of apparel, “Big Baller Brand” and if you say it’s not, you’re wrong. Who has heard of Big Baller Brand, outside of Chino Hills, before this month? Although I’m not a fan of the way Lavar has gone about his sons’ exposure, I will say the Ball boys are lucky to have such a supportive father, it’s refreshing to see that.
Now that we got all the UCLA drama out of the way, it was time to ball for the Cats and that’s exactly what they did. De’Aaron Fox balled out against UCLA (no pun intended) and showed that he was the best player on the floor that day by scoring 39 points. Fox lead the Cats past the bruins for an 86-75 victory and if the sweet sixteen was any indication, Kentucky was going to run rough shot through the rest of the tournament. Unfortunately, the Elite eight was a different story.
I want to start off by saying that I usually harp on our fans for blaming the refs for everything that goes wrong in a basketball game, because sometimes it is a little outlandish, but, the officiating in Sunday’s matchup was the worst I have ever seen. John Higgins, whom has been on the floor in some of Kentucky’s biggest losses under coach Cal, was also on the floor for this game against North Carolina. Some of the blown calls were the Bam interference on the tip in (two points), the Bam over the back call (two points), and when Fox got clobbered under the basket to end the half (two points). You see a theme here. After all the bad first half calls, though, Kentucky was able to keep it within 5 by halftime which is a testament to this team in my opinion. The 2nd half was the Isaac Humphries show as he had a career high 12 points and lead Kentucky to a 5-point lead with 5 minutes left in the game, but the Tar Heels were able to surge to a 9-0 run to take full control of the game. With under a minute to go North Carolina had an eight-point lead and the improbable happened. Kentucky went on one of the best one minute comebacks I’ve ever seen with great defense and two clutch threes by Malik Monk, Kentucky was able to tie the game with 4 to 7 seconds left in the game. It was pure elation, but with a blink of an eye, Luke Maye ripped our hearts out with a game winning shot the would effectively end the Cats run. Give North Carolina credit, they’re a great team, but I feel Kentucky just deserved it. At the end of the day Kentucky lost 75-73, and this was a tough one to swallow because their season ended just as soon as we were starting to fall in love with this team.
The final four is set between South Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon, and North Carolina. At this rate, I’m rooting for South Carolina because they represent the SEC, and I love Frank Martin, he really deserves to be there. It was a fun ride for the Cats and it felt as if it ended too soon, but you can rest assure, Cal’s team will be back next year.