Now it is.
The No. 1 Wildcats (34-0) take their unblemished record into next week’s NCAA Tournament after defeating Arkansas 78-63 on Sunday in the SEC Tournament championship game at Bridgestone Arena. UK will be attempting to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976.
“You know, it really didn’t matter before, but they definitely count now,” said UK freshman center/forward Karl-Anthony Towns said with a smile.
Asked if the Cats have another gear ready now that the NCAA Tournament is upon them, sophomore point guard Andrew Harrison added: “I hope so. I think we can get better.”
Kentucky showcased all of its weapons on Sunday against the Razorbacks. The Cats shot 51 percent (25 of 49) from the field, 7-for-12 from beyond the arc and 21-for-27 at the foul line. They also limited their turnovers to 13 against Arkansas’ trademark full-court pressure. UK primary ballhandlers Andrew Harrrison, Aaron Harrison and Tyler Ulis combined for 14 assists and only two turnovers.
Willie Cauley-Stein led the Cats with 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots to earn tournament MVP honors. UK also got 15 points from Andrew Harrison and 11 from Aaron Harrison, who joined Cauley-Stein on the all-tournament team.
"When he's focused, he's tough," Andrew Harrison said of the 7-foot Cauley-Stein. "He's focused right now."
Thanks in large part to his defense, Arkansas shot just 29 percent (9 for 31) in the first half in falling behind 41-25 at the break. The Razorbacks hit 65 percent of their shots in the second half, but could never get any closer than nine points.
Michael Qualls led No. 21 Arkansas (26-8) with 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting. SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis added 13, but managed only seven shots from the floor against UK’s defensive gameplan.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the day's highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: Kentucky’s guard play was stellar against Arkansas’ new century edition of “Forty Minutes of Hell.” Aaron Harrison and Tyler Ulis each dished out six assists. Ulis was masterful in controlling the tempo, knowing when to push it for transition scoring opportunities and when to bring the ball back out to set up the halfcourt offense. The Hogs finished with only six points in transition, a stat you may never see again for Mike Anderson’s club.
KEY MOMENT: Arkansas closed to within nine with just under 10 minutes to play when UK countered with a 13-3 run to break the Hogs’ backs. Andrew Harrison scored five of his points during the decisive spurt, getting it started with an aggressive drive to the hole.
STAT OF THE DAY: Kentucky racked up 16 assists on its 25 baskets.
BY THE NUMBERS:
0 – Times the Wildcats trailed against the Razorbacks.
1 - First time this season that UK lost in the bench-scoring column as Arkansas had a 27-20 advantage.
28 – SEC Tournament championships for Kentucky.
77.9 – UK's free-throw percentage over its last 10 games.
100 – John Calipari victories as coach of a No. 1-ranked team during his career.
42-21-7 - Willie Cauley-Stein's points, rebounds and blocked shots during his MVP weekend in Nashville.
20,315 - A new SEC Tournament record attendance for a league game in Music City.
QUOTABLE: “This team has a lot of dog in it.” – UK coach John Calipari on the undefeated Cats.
UP NEXT: Kentucky now awaits its seeding for the NCAA Tournament. The Cats are expected to open on Thursday in the Midwest Region at Louisville's Yum Center as the No. 1 overall seed.