By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
Kentucky finished the season with a 25-6 record, including a 15-3 mark in the SEC. All six of the team’s losses were by nine points or less. In the team’s finale, the Wildcats rallied to defeat Florida 71-70 without point guard Ashton Hagans and also without Immanuel Quickley after he fouled out with nine minutes still to play.
“I thought we were going to win the whole thing (NCAA Tournament),” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We had a mini-crisis at the end of the year, nothing crazy, but the kid (Hagans) wants to step away and all the sudden Johhny (Juzang), Nate (Sestina) and Keion (Brooks) step up and we win a game we had no business winning and Immanuel was out also, which tells you we had a full team going into the tournament.
“I can’t tell you the buzz (we had) when we got back (when we returned from Gainesville) and what it was like.”
While preparing for the SEC Tournament, Calipari had his players split up the teams for a scrimmage.
“I had my back turned to them and I walked to my table where I had my practice plans because I wanted to see what would happen and what they would do,” he said. “Ashton started putting on the second team jersey and three of the guys said, ‘no, no, put that stuff back on’ and I knew we were fine, I walked in and we practice. … For two days we were really competitive.”
The NCAA hasn’t made a full determinationif seniors can return next season and Calipari said graduate transfer Nate Sestina is open to returning for a second season if it’s a viable option.
“If he could keep playing and they let him play (he’s coming back and he wants another year of this),” the Kentucky coach said.
It remains to be seen what will happen in the future. Until then, it’s only speculation.
* * *
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.