— LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Overlooked in the season-long talk about Kentucky's underclassmen are 19 seniors who helped with the development of their young teammates.
The seniors' contributions will be recognized before Saturday night's home finale against Samford (7-3) and they intend to follow up that emotional ceremony with their first victory in over two months.
A lot has happened since Kentucky (1-9) routed Kent State 47-14 on Sept. 8. Injuries have forced the Wildcats to use 46 underclassmen including 26 freshmen, and their inexperience has been exploited during an eight-game losing streak.
That skid led to coach Joker Phillips' firing as coach on Nov. 4. He will coach until the end of the season.
While this wasn't what Kentucky's seniors envisioned in their final season, this is a chance to reclaim that winning feeling.
"It would be exciting since it's my last time in Commonwealth Stadium," said senior defensive end Collins Ukwu, who leads Kentucky with four sacks. "I think it'll be fun. I'm just anxious to get back on the field, honestly."
So is Phillips, who will be making his final home appearance with Kentucky. He has said his desire to guide his seniors to the end of their Wildcats' careers factored into his decision to return for the final two games.
Bittersweet as that might be this weekend after being associated with the school for nearly three decades as a player, assistant and head coach, Phillips stresses that Saturday's game is about the players and not him.
"I had my senior day," he said. "That's one of the reasons why I considered not coming back is because I don't want to be a distraction. ... I don't need any treatment, special treatment or anything. I want those guys that have been here and given all they have for this program to be rewarded.