After being tabbed No. 1 in the preseason polls, the freshman-dominated Cats struggled to fulfill those expectations in going 24-10 overall, 12-6 in the Southeastern Conference, and slipping to a No. 8 seed in the field of 68.
But all the records and seeds might as well read zeroes when once the tourney begins.
James Young, who brings a 14.5 average into Friday's matchup with ninth-seeded Kansas State (20-12, 10-8 Big12) in St. Louis. "And the past is the past. We had an up-and-down season, but it is a fresh start for us, and we will just compete every day."
His backcourt mate, freshman guard Aaron Harrison, concurred. The Cats are looking forward to a chace to "validate what people said we can do at the beginning of the year."
Kentucky showed signs of that last week in the SEC Tournament, rolling past LSU and Georgia before falling just one point short of upsetting overall NCAA No. 1 seed Florida in the championship game.
"We became a much better team in the last two or three weeks," said Harrison, who led UK with 52 points scored during the three games in Atlanta. "We are coming out, it's a new season. We get another opportunity to play and just go out there and have fun and see what we can do."
So what's made the difference for a team that limped down the stretch in the regular season, dropping back to back games to non-tourney teams Arkansas and South Carolina and getting blown out at Florida?
"Really it's our confidence," Young said. "We had a lot of confidence going into the (SEC) tournament. Our practices were really hard, so it gave us the right mindset to play confident and play with each other. So that's what gave us a lot of confidence. And then us coming together as a team, just really playing hard."
Added sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, who was a key figure in the SEC Tournament with 18 points, 20 rebounds and 13 blocked shots in three games off the bench, "Practices we had that week were really hard, but we came together as a team, like James said. We started sharing the ball and defending more… making it fun for everybody else."
Prior to leaving Lexington for the tourney, UK coach John Calipari talked about doing "something crazy." Asked what he thinks his coach may be referring to, Cauley-Stein said: "I think just shocking the world. There's a lot of people that don't think that we can make a run at it. And, you know, a lot of people don't want to see us make a run at it, and I think that's what he means by doing something crazy.
"Despite how the season went, now the real season begins tomorrow for us. And, you know, I think his whole thing is just trying to shock the world and do what people say we can't do."