Wiedmer: Great Wall gives 'Cats direction

It happened 15 days ago, the blue and white confetti covering first-year Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari's carefully coiffed hair like a heavy snow. Pumped up by Kool and the Gang's classic "Celebration," his Wildcats surrounded him, dancing, singing and laughing atop Rupp Arena's floor. Up in the stands, nary one of the 24,364 seats empty, adults of all ages shared tears of joy.

All this commotion for an 88-44 victory over Drexel that had pretty much been over from the opening tip, with Christmas just four days away and the hour growing late?

"It's not every day you make history," UK senior Ramon Harris said.

Indeed, it's not every day a university wins its 2,000th basketball game. In fact, UK (now 2,003-635-1) is the only major program to have done it, though North Carolina should join the Wildcats in that lofty accomplishment over the next couple of weeks.

The Tar Heels remained at 1,995 victories after Monday night's stunning upset at the College of Charleston.

And UNC's Baby Blue was clearly on Calipari's mind that Dec. 21st night inside Rupp.

"We weren't a part of many of these," the first-year coach said. "But we had a job, which was to carry it across this line before that other blue team got there."

Yet the overriding question on the lips of every Kentucky fan is whether or not Cal's Cats can carry themselves across the Final Four finish line for the first time since 1998, when Big Blue won its seventh NCAA crown.

"We are on our way to a national championship," said UK's lightly used freshman guard Jon Hood on the night of UK2K, as T-shirts throughout the Commonwealth have proclaimed ever since. "That's (an NCAA title) what we have wanted all year. Every day we have to get better if we want to achieve that."

They have gotten so much better so fast while remaining undefeated (15-0) heading into Saturday's SEC opener against Georgia that no one strongly disputes their ability to reach Indianapolis's Lucas Oil Stadium for the Final Four.

One national commentator - ESPNU's Adrian Branch - is even picking them as national champs, arguing, "They're just going to get better and better, especially on defense. John Calipari teams always do."

What Calipari's two most recent teams at Memphis also had were outstanding freshman point guards in Derrick Rose (2008) and Tyreke Evans (2009). Both wound up as top five picks in the NBA draft and current UK freshman point John Wall should continue that run next summer, possibly as the No. 1 selection.

After watching Wall score six straight points against his Louisville Cardinals on Saturday after Louisville had taken a one-point lead inside the final 10 minutes, former UK coach Rick Pitino said of the rookie, "I was always impressed in the pros, sometimes coaching against Michael Jordan, because he wouldn't do his thing in the first quarter or the second quarter, but with the game on the line he would always make great plays. Same with Kobe (Bryant).

"(Wall) wasn't having a great day, but it never bothered him, he never lost focus, he stayed with it, and made two killer plays for them. That is the sign of a great one, and he certainly is."

There is no denying that. Dubbed the Great Wall throughout Kentucky, the freshman will head into SEC play leading the league in assists (7.3 per game) and fourth in scoring (17.2).

But he is far from the only weapon on a team that leads the league in victory margin (18.5 points), as well as rebounding and field-goal percentage and field-goal-percentage defense. Junior forward Patrick Patterson is averaging 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds, and freshman center DeMarcus Cousins averages 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds.

Beyond that, the Cats are also America's tallest team, their average height an imposing 6-feet-7.

"Kentucky is one of the best teams I've seen in all my years of coaching in terms of talent," said Hartford coach Dan Leibovitz after falling 104-61 to UK last week. "And John Wall, you have to commit two people to. He is that good."

No one's been good enough to run the table in college basketball since Indiana went 32-0 in 1976. And it seems preposterous to think UK could do it this year. But according to Cousins, neither the players nor their coach are backing away from that goal.

The player just named the SEC's player of the week told the Lexington Herald-Leader last month that Calipari told the team before the season began that, "I want to go 40-0."

Added Cousins, "We are really serious about it. It's definitely a goal we're trying to reach and a part of history we're trying to make."

It's a long way to the first weekend in April in Indianapolis. The season is less than 40 percent complete.

But it may move more swiftly for UK than others.

"They are the fastest team in America," said Pitino on Saturday.

At the very least the fastest to 2,000 wins.

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