Facebook Twitter

Pitino says these aren’t same top ‘Cats’? Yeah, right

SHARE Pitino says these aren’t same top ‘Cats’? Yeah, right

RICK PITINO IS right. The Kentucky Wildcats aren't what they used to be. Anyone can see it. Somehow they did manage to win their second-round NCAA tournament game against Iowa Saturday evening in the Huntsman Center, but it was a total disgrace. They actually failed to beat their opponent by double digits.

The score was 75-69.In the old days, Pitino makes the Wildcats do wind sprints and pushups right there in the Huntsman Center for winning by only six points.

But these aren't those Wildcats, and, lest you ever forget, Pitino will tell you, again and again. "The days of winning by 20 or 30 points are over," he was saying again on Saturday for about the 620th time this year - an NCAA record for one quote.

No one asked him where that leaves the University of Montana, a 38-point loser to Kentucky on Thursday. Or Georgia (a 27-point loser to Kentucky). Or Auburn (42 points). Or Florida (29 points). Or LSU (36 points). None of which are chopped liver, or even Wright State (28 points), for that matter.

To hear Pitino tell it, you'd think the Wildcats should be home watching the tournament on TV, not playing in it. "We don't have the talent we've had over the last two or three years," he says.

The poor Wildcats. Won't somebody please send help or flowers? "Last year we beat people with draft choices," Pitino says. "This year we have to beat people with execution."

Who ever thought they'd resort to the electric chair?

The Wildcats were mid-slaughter against Montana the other night when fans began shouting for mercy. "Put in some people (reserves)!" they demanded. Pitino said they just didn't understand. "I don't have people," he explained.

These pitiful Wildcats are just nine players deep, according to Pitino. The fact that those nine players are better than anybody else's nine players is totally irrelevant.

"Everyone thinks we have 19 draft picks," he says.

Or nine.

The Wildcats did lose three players to the NBA draft who played on last year's national championship Team for the Ages. And they lost another NBA draft pick, guard Derek Anderson, in January, to a knee injury. Somehow the Wildcats have limped along without them.

They've won 32 of 36 games.

But it will have to do.

At one point earlier this season, Pitino wondered if the Wildcats would even make the NCAA tournament this year. Then again, this is a man who, just eight hours after his team won the national championship last April, called a staff meeting at 7 the next morning and told his coaches, "We've got to work harder as a staff."

No more of those slacker 80-hour work weeks. Sleeping and eating were out, unless absolutely necessary.

The Wildcats ranked no better than No. 5 in the final national poll, but were seeded No. 1 in the West Region. The tournament committee just didn't buy into Pitino's story the way the pollsters did. Talk about a raw deal. The Wildcats got shipped all the way to Salt Lake City, where they are viewed by local fans as Public Enemy No. 1 "because we've had some good fortune against (the University of Utah)," Pitino said.

They had the good fortune of beating Utah 101-70 last year - virtually the same Utah team that ranked No. 2 in this year's final polls. Pitino said that playing in Salt Lake City this week was like playing two road games, and "that's good for us."

So was having a close game for a change, he acknowledged. You know, just for practice, in case it happens again someday.

Iowa and Kentucky were tied, 35-all, at halftime. The Wildcats managed to pull away in the second half, thanks partly to the effectiveness of their zone defense. You know the Wildcats have slipped when they use a zone. Real Wildcats don't play zone defense. But, times being what they are, you do what you have to do.

The Wildcats managed to beat Iowa even though Ron Mercer took the night off (10 points, four personal fouls, 22 minutes). By the way, Mercer, a first-team all-American, finally declared himself ready for the NBA draft earlier this season. It was about time. He's been out of high school for two years already.

The Wildcats face St. Joseph's next in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. They'll be heavy favorites to beat St. Joe's, which will probably gall Pitino.

Isn't anybody listening to the man?