Kentucky Basketball: Missouri Game Is a Must-Win for Wildcats

Matt KingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2014

BATON ROUGE, LA - JANUARY 28:  James Young #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats is fouled by Jordan Mickey #25 of the LSU Tigers during a game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on January 28, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  LSU won the game 87-82.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

We've had Rupp's Runts, the Unforgettables, the Untouchables and the Comeback Cats. Kentucky fans love to nickname their team. In that spirit, I've come up with a moniker that I feel fits this year's squad:

The Cat-atonics.

Okay, so it's not perfect, but it encapsulates this young team that seems straight-up disinterested at times this season. After three straight wins at home, the hope was that this team was starting to put it together. It was hard to tell considering they were playing noticeably weak SEC teams, but the road game against LSU was going to be the litmus test for how much improvement had really been made.

The result? An 87-82 loss that was not nearly as close as the final score makes it seem. The game was never really in question. A nationally televised game against an LSU team that probably won't make the NCAA tournament and the Cats came out and laid a stink bomb on ESPN.

More than the actual numbers in the box score, the most discouraging thing about that game was the attitude that so many of the young Wildcats displayed on the court. John Calipari had to literally shove Andrew Harrison to get him to move. James Young watched as Dakari Johnson (one of the few bright spots on the team lately) dove out of bounds to try and save a ball, then walked back up the floor instead of rushing to help him up. Julius Randle looks bored when he doesn't have the ball and posts up strong so infrequently that I wonder if he thinks he has to pay per post up. 

BATON ROUGE, LA - JANUARY 28:  Julius Randle #30 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots between Andre Stringer #10 and Johnny O'Bryant III #2 of the LSU Tigers during a game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on January 28, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  LSU
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

We are close to the halfway point of the SEC season. Kentucky is 1-2 on the road in the conference. The team apparently had a players-only meeting after the LSU game. It is time. It is time for a statement win away from the friendly confines of Rupp Arena. Missouri is a good team regardless of where they are playing. A win there would mean everything to this team.

That's why I'm declaring it a must-win. What do I mean by that? Well, if Kentucky loses, I'm stating right now there is no way this team is making the Final Four. It will prove to me that they don't have the fight in them or the will to grind out a tough win in a tough environment.

If they do win? Then that's a whole 'nother story. Because this team is talented. Even though 40-0 was a ridiculous pipe dream, there's a reason it was even being discussed at one point. Every single player on this team has shown, at one time or another, that they are elite talents. The attitude just hasn't fit that talent level yet.

With the way Alex Poythress and Johnson have been playing off the bench, if Kentucky's starters can get their heads in the game and start playing with intensity and a will to win and walk into Missouri and take the victory, it will show me something. More importantly, it will show them something.

This could be the turning point of what has been a very frustrating season so far. It could be the moment we've all been waiting for where everything finally "clicks" for them. Or it could confirm my worst fears that this Wildcats team is bound to underachieve.

That sounds like a must-win to me.