By KEITH TAYLOR
In an unprecedented move, the curtain has closed on the Big Dance and Kentucky won’t get a chance to play for a ninth national title.
The NCAA cancelled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments Thursday because of ongoing coronavirus fears. The organization announced earlier this week the tournament would be held without fans, but changed course after the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conferences postponed their tournaments earlier Thursday.
‘This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year, given ongoing decisions by other entities,” the NCAA said in a statement.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said Wednesday , “At the end of the day, the health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and (Big Blue Nation) must take priority..”
The SEC had two first-round games at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, but called off the remainder of the tournament on Thursday prior to Tennessee’s game against Alabama. Kentucky, the regular-season champion, was awarded the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament but a few hours later that didn’t matter.
“I’ve not had a situation as difficult and emotional as this one to make a recommendation to our presidents and chancellors that we cancel the remainder of our men’s basketball tournament,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “It was a moment where I had to stop and actually catch myself and recompose myself.
“I tell you that simply to say there’s no one in this conference who’s taken these decisions lightly, and I would not want to work with another set of presidents, chancellors, and athletic directors in the world. I have the utmost respect for each of the campus leaders and thank them for their engagement, their work, their consideration, their discussion, and support during the past 24 hours.”
Sankey said the conference played its first-round games and then “we reacted. You make the best decisions possible with the best available information.”
The league also postponed regular-season competition in all sports as well as SEC championship events through March 30.
Kentucky finished the regular season with a 25-6 record and went 15-3 in the SEC and captured its 49th regular-season title. The Wildcats were awarded the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.