UK basketball enjoying exciting season

Published 6:38 am Monday, February 28, 2022

The basketball Wildcats – the most enjoyable team that we have seen in recent memory – will be fine during the March Madness.

The Big Blue Nation should relax even after UK’s disappointing 75-73 setback to Arkansas last Saturday. It marked Kentucky’s fifth road loss of the season as the Cats now have a 23-6 overall mark going into this week’s SEC action.

The road setbacks took place at Notre Dame (66-62), LSU (65-60), Auburn (80-71), Tennessee (76-63) and Arkansas. These losses actually were nothing to be ashamed of as all of these worthy opponents are having very productive or winning seasons. Even for powerhouses like UK, it is still tough to win on the road against a respectable squad in college basketball.

Without going into details, Kentucky – a probable No. 2 seed in the Big Dance at this writing — has everything you want to reach the 2022 Final Four in New Orleans. The Wildcats have experience, chemistry, coaching, depth, perimeter shooting, rebounding, defense and outstanding point guards. And if UK is healthy, it has a very good chance to make it to the Final Four for the first time since 2015. Of course, the Cats then will need some luck to capture the whole thing.

And remember the SEC and NCAA tournament games are held on neutral floors. That is good news for Kentucky.

Nevertheless, for the Big Blue Nation, it should be an enjoyable trip to the March Madness.

2022 Mock NBA Draft
According to a new NBA Mock Draft in NBADraft.net which was posted Saturday, Feb. 26, seven SEC standouts are projected for the first round, including three from Kentucky.

As you may expect, the three Wildcats selected are TyTy Washington (seventh pick overall), Shaedon Sharpe (13th pick) and Oscar Tshiebwe (25th). The other projected SEC stars in the first round are Auburn’s Jabari Smith (1st) and teammate Walker Kesler (15th), Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler (28th) and Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar (30th).

As for last summer’s NBA Draft, only one Wildcat player – Isaiah Jackson – was picked in the first round.

By the way, in the 2023 NBA Mock Draft, the Wildcats have one standout projected in the first round. He is McDonald’s All-American Cason Wallace, a 6-4 combo guard from Dallas who signed with UK last fall.

Howard will be missed
The notable Rhyne Howard era at Kentucky is about to come to an end.

Perhaps the nation’s top women’s superstar, UK consensus All-American Rhyne Howard played her last home game at Memorial Coliseum this past Sunday, scoring a season-high 32 points, including a school-record eight three-pointers, as the Wildcats breezed to a 90-62 victory over Auburn Sunday.

Against Auburn, she also wore jersey No. 5 in honor of her late friend and former UK men’s player Terrence Clarke, and current teammate Blair Green who missed this season due to an injury.

The 6-foot-2 senior from Cleveland, Tenn., recently made history when she joined an elite company of superstars Dan Issel and Valerie Still on UK’s all-time scoring list for men and women. Going into this week’s SEC women’s tournament in Nashville, Howard is now No. 2 on the list with 2,185 career points (behind Still, who scored 2,763 points). Issel is the men’s all-time leading scorer with 2,138 points.

Howard could be the No. 1 selection in this year’s WBNA draft. If not, she could go to the Indiana Fever, who has the No. 2 pick, and the Fever, interestingly, is now led by interim general manager and ex-UK assistant Lin Dunn.

Thank you, Rhyne, for the great memories at UK. You were fun to watch and you will be missed in Lexington.

Oscar speaks to middle school
In case you missed it, Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe recently spoke to a English language class of wide-eyed students from foreign countries, including his home country of the Congo, at a Lexington school. The 6-foot-9, 255-pounder said he had a very good visit with them, tweeting, “I had great time with Beaumont Middle School. I had to talk to them about faith and believing in God.”

A leading national player of the year candidate, Tshiebwe was asked about his experience at the middle school after leading the Wildcats to a 78-57 win over Florida.

“It means a lot,” he added in a virtual postgame press conference. “Kids like that, you know the stuff they’re going through, because they’re probably struggling and going through the same thing I went through. I’m here to try to help people understand that things are not going to be easy, but to just say something good so they can change their minds. They can keep working hard and keep doing good, and believe in who’s in charge of everything: God. So, it was pretty good, and I’m happy I got to visit them and get to talk to them.”

New book about Coach K
I’m currently reading a new biography about college basketball’s all-time winningest coach. So far, the 374-page hardcover, titled Coach K: The Rise and Reign of Mike Krzyzewski (Mariner Books, $28), is a pretty good read. The author, Ian O’Connor, is an award-winning sports columnist now writing for the New York Post. He has penned four previous books.

Even though some of you may not like Coach K, now 75 and retiring after the season, because he coaches at Duke, one of UK’s major rivals, you still should give this book a chance. If you like basketball, you’ll enjoy the volume which contains several newsworthy items, including former coach Bobby Knight.

In case you’re wondering, Coach K’s record against John Calipari at Kentucky is 3-1, including Duke’s 79-71 win at Madison Square Garden in New York back in November.

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of five books about UK basketball, including recently-published “Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey.” He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com Magazine, and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via email at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.