Kentucky Wildcats Look to Build On Late-Season Success In The SEC Tournament Despite Injury Concerns

John Calipari
John Calipari via Kentucky Wildcats TV YouTube

The Kentucky Wildcats are heading into the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Tournament with injury concerns for some key players.

Kentucky Basketball Players Head Towards the Court

Kentucky Basketball Players Head Towards the Court via Kentucky Wildcats TV YouTube

Head coach John Calipari confirmed earlier this week that Cason Wallace, CJ Fredrick, and Sahvir Wheeler all missed practice Monday, and their availability for the tournament opener against Vanderbilt is uncertain.

The Wildcats have had extra time for their injured players to heal, as they earned a double-bye in the tournament and won’t play until Friday.

Kentucky Assistant Coach Orlando Antigua

Kentucky Assistant Coach Orlando Antigua via Kentucky Sports Radio YouTube

On Thursday, Kentucky assistant coach Orlando Antigua confirmed that Wallace and Fredrick went through a full practice with the team earlier in the day, providing hope that they would be available to play against Vanderbilt.

“If he can go, he’s gotta go,” Antigua said of Wallace. “You want to keep the rhythm going. You want to keep the intensity that your body has to take, playing the minutes that he’s played.”

Kentucky Guard Sahvir Wheeler

Kentucky Guard Sahvir Wheeler via Kentucky Wildcats TV YouTube

The Wildcats have been dealing with injuries to key players throughout the season. Wheeler, who started the season as an All-SEC selection and Kentucky’s starting point guard, has missed the past eight games with an ankle injury.

Calipari announced last week that the UK senior also had a “minor procedure” unrelated to his ankle injury. He tweeted, “Sahvir had a minor procedure unrelated to his ankle injury this morning and will be out for a bit. Because he’s recovering today, he will not be part of tonight’s Senior Day ceremony.”

John Calipari Twitter

His timetable for recovery extends into next week, based on Calipari’s previous comments regarding his status.

Kentucky Postgame Press Conference After Loss to Kansas State

Kentucky Postgame Press Conference After Loss to Kansas State via March Madness YouTube

During the 2017-18 season, the Kentucky Wildcats had to overcome injuries to several key players, including star forward Jarred Vanderbilt. Despite losing Vanderbilt to a foot injury for much of the season, Kentucky was able to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament as a 5-seed.

He returned in time for the SEC tournament, but it proved too soon with abysmal performances. Subsequently, he sat out for the entire NCAA tournament.

Hamidou Diallo Scores In 2018 Sweet Sixteen Victory

Hamidou Diallo Scores In 2018 Sweet Sixteen Victory via March Madness YouTube

Nevertheless, the Wildcats won their first two games against Davidson and Buffalo in the first two rounds before falling to Kansas State in the Sweet Sixteen.

Although the Wildcats were unable to make a deep tournament run, head coach John Calipari has proven his ability to compete at a high level despite injuries to key players.

Kentucky Forward Chris Livingston

Kentucky Forward Chris Livingston via Kentucky Wildcats YouTube TV

The development of first-year students has been a critical factor in Calipari’s success at Kentucky, and Livingston’s improvement throughout the season bodes well for the Wildcats’ chances.

He and the Wildcats managed to win 88-79 against Arkansas their most recent game, in part due to an excellent performance by Jacob Toppin, who scored 21 points.

Kentucky Forward Jacob Toppin

Kentucky Forward Jacob Toppin via Kentucky Wildcats TV YouTube

In the words of Toppin, “It wasn’t just fun to win; it was fun to play in. That’s the type of atmosphere we love to play in. Everyone wants to win. It was good basketball today. We fought. We understood that they were coming into to beat us, and we weren’t gonna let that happen. So we stayed together. We stay connected. We came out with the W.”

“It just shows what type of team we are. We’ve been through a lot, and we understand teams are going to be aggressive with us,” Toppin said. “But we’re not going for any of this. So they try to they tried to punk us, and we weren’t having it. So we came back at them,” he added.

Vanderbilt Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse Press Conference After Beating LSU

Vanderbilt Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse Press Conference After Beating LSU via Vanderbilt Athletics YouTube

Given the Commodores’ recent win over LSU, this game takes on added importance for Kentucky’s seed since every game is considered by the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Committee.

Fortunately for Kentucky fans, Calipari is an elite coach with an exorbitant amount of strategies to counter areas in which the team underperforms. If Wallace and Fredrick can play, it would give Kentucky an excellent boost.

But regardless of who takes the court for Kentucky, the Wildcats’ recent success with a bare-bones group, including five wins in their last six regular-season games, bodes well for their chances of making a deep run in the tournament.

Kentucky Guard CJ Fredrick

Kentucky Guard CJ Fredrick via Sports With Heath YouTube

If Wallace and Fredrick can’t play, do you think the Wildcats can make a run in the SEC tournament? And, more importantly, will they succeed in the NCAA tournament? Let us know in the comments below.

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