History says UK needs a loss, but Cats beg to differ
There's only one blemish on the Kentucky basketball team's season, and the top-ranked Wildcats will tell you they see no need for another.
So as far as the Cats are concerned, you can table the talk about "good losses" and whether it might not be so bad for No. 1 Kentucky to drop one of its three remaining regular-season games, starting with Saturday's Rupp Arena visit from Vanderbilt.
UK (27-1, 13-0 Southeastern Conference) has won 19 straight games and hasn't lost since Indiana's buzzer-beating 73-72 upset on Dec. 10.
"We don't want to have that feeling again," forward Anthony Davis said Friday. "That was a tough loss to swallow. It was hard for us as a team. It really hurt a lot of guys on the team, especially the way we lost."
History suggests, though, that if the Wildcats want to win an NCAA title, they might be best-served stumbling somewhere between now and the start of March Madness.
Since Indiana ran the table and won the 1976 NCAA championship with a 32-0 record, no national champ has finished the season on a winning streak of more than 19 games.
UCLA's 1995 champ won 19 straight en route to the title, including 13 straight entering the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky enters Saturday's game against Vanderbilt on a 19-game winning streak. If the Wildcats were to run the table and win the NCAA title, they would finish the season having won 31 straight games.
UK coach John Calipari isn't looking for losses.
But Calipari concedes there's such a thing as a good loss, even for a hot team coming down the regular-season stretch.
"It depends on how you lose," Calipari said. "I mean, if another team comes in and plays out of their minds and you play well and they beat you, it's fine. You just move on. Now, if it's because you were flat and weren't ready to play and got sand kicked in your face and that's how you lost? No. It's not a good loss."
Vanderbilt is capable of springing an upset in on Saturday. The Commodores' only loss in their last four games was to Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 11, and the Commodores have a veteran team hungry for a win in Lexington.
"(A win at Rupp) would be very rewarding," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "It might be like a fun ride home. That would be awesome. It would be rewarding because it would be very exciting for the guys on my team."
And Calipari expects to get the Commodores' best shot.
"Don't care that we're at home," Calipari said. "They're a senior-dominated team. They make nine or 10 threes a game; they do that against us, we lose the game, we go on to Thursday."
Vanderbilt is 6-3 on the road this season. Its best road win came in the nonconference season at Marquette. The Commodores' senior class has won in every SEC road venue except Rupp Arena.
"I know they want to win here," UK point guard Marquis Teague said. "Everybody when they come to Rupp, they want to win here. It's a great place to play, it's a tough environment. We don't want to lose here, so we're going to try our best to make it tough for them."
In fact, the Cats don't want to lose anywhere, no matter what conventional wisdom says about their odds of winning all the way to a national title.
"(Indiana) was a tough loss for us, especially at the end like that, when we felt like we had a chance to win," forward Darius Miller said. "We felt like we battled at the end of the game to get in position to win. We don't want to feel that again.
"I know we don't need another loss for us to stay motivated, because we stay motivated each and every day in practice, going against each other. So I don't feel like we need a loss. Hopefully we can keep it going."
Thanks to an SEC TV schedule that backloads viewer-friendly matchups, Kentucky and Vanderbilt played just two weeks ago. If that's advantageous, UK point guard Marquis Teague said, the edge is even. "We kind of know what they are going to do and they know what we're going to do," Teague said. "We know the matchups really well since we just played them."
Have No Fear
No current Commodore has a win in Rupp Arena, but UK coach John Calipari doesn't expect an intimidated team when Vanderbilt visits. "I would tell you that Vandy, believe me, they're coming in here with one thought: they're winning this game and they're going to beat the team that's leading the league. They're doing it. And we're going to come in and just play as hard as we can, and hopefully play well."