When the Wildcats suffered a nine-point home-floor loss to unheralded San Diego in December, fans of rival SEC programs assumed the Big Blue would bleed out quickly.
When the Big Blue slipped to 7-9 overall after losing two of its first three league games, fans of rival SEC programs got out their shovels. It was time to bury once-mighty Kentucky.
Like Lazarus of Biblical fame, however, the Wildcats have been revived. They got their injured players healthy, got the ship righted and got the boosters off first-year coach Billy Gillispie's back. Since that horrendous 7-9 start the Big Blue has won nine of 10 games.
Now, incredible as it seems, the Wildcats (16-10 overall, 10-3 SEC) can wrap their paws around the league lead by beating Tennessee (25-3, 11-2) Sunday in Knoxville. Moreover, the Big Blue would hold the tiebreaker – a 2-0 record head-to-head in regular season play – should both teams finish finish conference play 13-3.
Since Mississippi State (11-3 in SEC play) has an imposing road test remaining at Vanderbilt on Wednesday, the winner of Sunday's UT-UK game should be in great shape to win the SEC's regular-season championship.
Given up for dead one month ago, Kentucky obviously has made an incredible turnaround in recent weeks to put itself in position to win the league title. So, even with star forward Patrick Patterson out for the rest of the season due to a stress fracture, the Wildcats have Tennessee's head coach a little nervous heading into Sunday's game.
"The greatest concern is that Kentucky is still in the running for the SEC championship," Bruce Pearl said. "If Kentucky wins, they can take the lead in the SEC. In many ways Sunday's game will be for the SEC championship. But how could there be a better way than by going up against your rival, the Kentucky Wildcats?
Tipoff is set for noon at Thompson-Boling Arena. CBS will provide television coverage.