Taylor's Thoughts: Next 3 games are crucial

The next three games will be critical for Kentucky. Although the Wildcats have positioned themselves to make a solid run at an NCAA Tournament berth during the past month, upcoming games at Tennessee, South Carolina and a Senior Day contest against Florida will make or break this team. It's March and it's crunch time.

Editor's note-this article was written prior to Patrick Patterson's stress fracture diagnosis and being lost for the season.

Indeed, the final week of the regular season is critical in order for the Cats to solidify a berth in the Big Dance. Otherwise, the backdoor option – winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament – will likely be the only way the team can receive a bid to the prestigious tourney.

The good news is that Kentucky has beaten two of its next three foes – Tennessee and South Carolina, but did so at Rupp Arena, where the Cats' have compiled a perfect 6-0 mark against conference opponents.

The scenario will be different this time around and the stakes will be much higher. The Cats' final three regular-season opponents won't be easy to knockdown, but ending the season with 18 or 19 wins will be beneficial when the NCAA selection committee begins evaluating teams for the upcoming tournament.

The top-ranked Volunteers are coming off a disappointing loss at Vanderbilt and have proven to be tough to beat in its own sea of orange. The contest in Columbia will be Dave Odom's last home game, which will give the Gamethingys one more reason to be fired up.

It took overtime for Florida to beat the Cats in Gainesville and this crop of Gators aren't as fearful as the previous bunch, meaning Kentucky will have an advantage playing at home.

Since embarrassing losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego earlier this season, Kentucky has been trying prove those two setbacks were a fluke, playing in league that has been termed "weak," when compared to the immediate past.

To its credit, Kentucky has grown leaps and bounds since opening conference play and Derrick Jasper's return has been a major plus.

What has been the difference?

Clearly the senior leadership of Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford has given this team a big lift.

The senior duo has been nothing short of outstanding during the past two months. Bradley and Crawford have demonstrated an ability to lead when the times were tough and are responsible for helping build the team that you see today.

Of course Patrick Patterson has been a big key the entire season, but the Patterson has gotten some help from Perry Stevenson, who also has stepped it up a notch or two as of late. However, the return of Jasper has been a big bonus and is one of the top reasons why this team didn't buckle under pressure.

Another reason has been the way this team has bonded with first-year coach Billy Gillispie. The early-going was a task, but aside from the brutal beating at Vandy, the second-half of the season has been productive.

Only time will tell if the team's current trend will continue.

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