LEXINGTON — The splashing sound heard around Big Blue Nation Saturday night may be traced to Kentucky basketball fans jumping off the ship following an unfathomable 72-67 loss at South Carolina.
That on the heels of a 71-67 overtime loss to a weak Arkansas team at Rupp Arena two days earlier.
But senior guard Jarrod Polson says the UK players will not quit, despite some recent signs that suggest otherwise.
‘’I think we’re in a good spot (compared) to where we could be,” said Polson, who will be honored with senior teammate Jon Hood tonight when the Wildcats host Alabama. “I don’t think we’ve given up on the season at all.”
Polson suggested, in fact, that the resolve for this Kentucky team, now 21-8 and 11-5, is greater than ever.
“I think we’re just trying to improve and work harder than we ever have before,” he said. “We really don’t think the season is over. We think we can write our own story, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We can’t look at the last two games and say we’re done.”
The 25th-ranked Wildcats and Crimson Tide (12-17, 6-10) tip tonight at 9 on ESPN.
Kentucky closes the regular season Saturday at No. 1-ranked Florida at noon on CBS in a matchup that now looks like the Titanic meeting a massive slab of North Atlantic ice.
Hood said the Wildcats are taking a bunker mentality.
“It is kind of us against the world,” Hood said. “It’s on us; it’s not on anybody else. We kind of got our backs against the wall, fighting the way that we need to.”
Hood and Polson also insist the Wildcats’ woes are not the fault of Coach John Calipari.
“He’s not out there playing for us,” Hood said of Calipari. “He’s not in between the lines (actually he was at South Carolina, which is one reason he was tossed by the officials, but that’s another story). He can only do so much.”
“People are kind of hounding Cal right now, but at the end of the day, it’s really on the players,” Polson said. “No matter how he’s coaching, we have to respond to that in a good way. We know that, at the end of the day, we have to go out and perform.”
The players get no argument from Calipari, of course.
“Where we are right now has no bearing on where we’re going to be,” Calipari said. “It’s what are you willing to do to get yourself to play better. We’re good enough to do what we have to do. Now, the biggest thing is that when adversity hits, will you come together?”
At the very least, UK fans can take at least a few minutes away from their anguish tonight and honor Hood and Polson, both Kentuckians — Polson from Nicholasville and Hood from Madisonville — and two of the rare seniors to play for Calipari.
“This was always my dream school,” said Polson, who came to Kentucky as a walk on, earned a scholarship, and has been a steady contributor. “I was a Kentucky fan my whole life, and my dad was his whole life before that.
“I knew if I ever got the opportunity to play for Kentucky, I would take it. So it’s really just a dream come true for me to be here.”
Hood signed with the Wildcats when Billy Gillispie (oh, the horror) was the coach, and came in as a top-40 national recruit.
But a knee injury midway through his college career held Hood back, and this happened in the midst of Calipari’s parade-o-athletes recruiting.
Still, Hood said he has no regrets about signing with UK.
“It made me look at things in a different way,” Hood said of his knee issues that made him redshirt during Kentucky’s 2012 national championship season. “It’s made me look at the relationships I had with people, helped me develop my sense for basketball, love for basketball in a different way. It just made me respect the game a lot more.”