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Vicki Peavler was in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., last weekend, but chances are people watching the Kentucky Wildcats take care of Ohio State and North Carolina at home saw more of the last-minute heroics from Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins.
“Scott Padgett and his wife were directly in front of us,” she says of one of the heroes of Kentucky’s last national championship team in 1998. “When I was hiding my eyes in the last few minutes, she was updating me on the score.”
Such was the weekend for Peavler and her husband, Joe. The Lawrenceburg residents joined about 80 other Big Blue fans on a charter flight to Newark for the East Regional tournament a week after following the same path to Tampa for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Are you kidding?
After a 13-year Final Four drought, the reservations for Saturday’s date with UConn have already been made.
“Tampa was a wonderful sea of blue,” she says. “I am sure many will be going to Houston, but I don’t know how many, or if any others from Anderson County are going.”
It is a trip that the Peavlers, who have attended every Wildcat home football and basketball game, were not expecting to make a month ago. “No, we did not,” she says. “They weren’t meshing as a team and they did not know how to win close games.”
Now, however, it appears that Vicki, who has worked at UK for 20 years, including two-year stint in the K-Fund office of the athletics association, just needs a strong heart and nerves of steel in watching the Wildcats take another close one.
Such was the case in Tampa when a smart and hot-shooting Princeton was trying to pull off the shocker in the first round. “Very nervous,” Peavler says. “At different points watching the game, we felt we would be going home early.”
That was, of course, before Brandon Knight scored his only field goal of the game to send the Wildcats past the Tigers.
After pulling away from West Virginia in the second half, the Wildcats were in another battle with top-seeded Ohio State in the regional semis. Things looked good when Liggins’ jumper put UK up three with 36 seconds left, but when Jon Diebler used a screen to bury a long three 13 seconds later, it was another heart-stopper.
“Joe was positive we would win, I was nervous and pacing,” Vicki says. “Our fans never gave up cheering and rooting them on.”
Then Sunday, as a noticeably tired Kentucky saw an 11-point lead evaporate, Peavler said she was “a little worried we were losing our legs, very tired. It was a very physical, hard-fought game.
“We watched them cut down the nets and sing My Old Kentucky Home.”
Two years ago, Wildcat fans were watching their team being bumped from the NIT before Billy Gillispie was fired. Peavler says the job John Calipari has done is nothing short of phenomenal.
“It is amazing what he has done from the NIT to the Final Four in those two years. That really says it all. We have gotten to know the parents and Joe has had many conversations with Josh Harrellson’s family, and also Darius Miller’s family. They are wonderful people. We are so proud of all of the players, Brandon with is amazing prowess scholastically and athletically. Josh has shown us what true perseverance will get you. Deandre … I could go on and on.”
But first, there is a trip to Houston on the agenda.