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    Wildcats Conjure Visions of 1996 Team

    By: Sean Cartell
    @SEC_Sean
    SEC Digital Network

    NEW ORLEANS – Does anything look familiar?

    From listening to the talk around New Orleans Arena this week, it sure seems to, especially if you’re wearing blue.

    Does the year 1996 ring a bell for the Wildcat faithful?

    Comparisons between the 1996 Kentucky team, which went on to win the national championship with a 76-67 victory against Syracuse in the NCAA Finals, seem to be all abound. The similarities are numerous, including the host city of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

    The 2011-12 Wildcats, who defeated LSU 60-51 in Friday’s quarterfinal round, entered the league tournament with a 30-1 overall record and a perfect 16-0 mark in league play. Kentucky is the only team to have accumulated a perfect conference record over a 16-game league slate doing so in 2003 and, you guessed it, 1996.

    Want to guess where the SEC Tournament was held in both of those previous two seasons? Right here in the Big Easy.

    Kentucky, the country’s unanimous top team for nearly the entire season, has just one blemish on its 2011-12 slate, that coming in a 73-72 last-second loss at Indiana on Dec. 10. The 1996 squad also had just one regular-season loss, falling to UMass on Nov. 28 of that year, a team that it later defeated 81-74 in the NCAA Semifinals.

    The rosters of both teams were littered with the future stars of the National Basketball Association as the Wildcats’ 1996 squad, included among others, Tony Delk, Antoine Walker and Walter McCarty. This year’s stars swept the annual SEC awards with Anthony Davis being named the league’s Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Darius Miller is the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year and John Calipari is the conference’s Coach of the Year.
     
    Both seasons came at a time when the Wildcat faithful were hungry for another national title.

    Can Kentucky continue to channel the magic of the 1996 season?

    Its win against LSU was a good start on Friday. I suppose only time will tell.

    Comparing the 1996 and 2012 Kentucky Teams

    1996
    Coach: Rick Pitino
    Record Entering SEC Tournament: 26-1, 16-0 SEC
    National Ranking Entering SEC Tournament: 1
    Team’s Leading Scorer: Tony Delk, 17.8 points per game
    Fun Fact: Kentucky’s 16-0 regular-season SEC record was the first perfect league slate since Alabama went 14-0 in 1956.

    2012
    Coach: John Calipari
    Record Entering SEC Tournament: 30-1, 16-0 SEC
    National Ranking Entering SEC Tournament: 1
    Team’s Leading Scorer: Anthony Davis 14.4 points per game
    Fun Fact: In the three seasons that Kentucky has posted an undefeated SEC record on the 16-game schedule (1996, 2003 and 2012), the SEC Tournament has been contested in New Orleans.

    Kentucky Gamebox
    What: SEC Tournament Semifinals (vs. Alabama/Florida)
    When: Saturday, March 10, 2012, 1 p.m. ET
    Where: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, La.
    On The Air: ABC (Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes, Shannon Spake)
    Noting the Wildcats: Kentucky is 118-22 all-time in SEC Tournament play, including a 6-1 tally in those games that are held in New Orleans … The Wildcats have won one SEC Tournament title in the Big Easy (2003) … Kentucky set the school record for wins in the regular season with 30 … The Wildcats are in their ninth week and the seventh consecutive week as the nation’s No. 1 team … In the history of Kentucky’s program, the Wildcats have gone undefeated in the SEC 14 times.