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Video: Highlights from UK's win over Boston U.

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Video: Coach Cal's post-BU press conference

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Kentucky fell to Oakland in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, 2-0. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky fell to Oakland in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, 2-0. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
As his team's season ended, Johan Cedergren was left feeling both frustration and optimism.

The frustration stemmed from the way Kentucky had finished. The Wildcats' regular season ended a lone result shy of a conference championship. More disappointment would follow in the postseason, with first-round defeats in both the Conference USA and NCAA tournaments.

The optimism was a result of what Cedergren sees ahead for UK. His developing program will return all but one regular contributor from a 2014 squad that had one of the best seasons in school history.

It was those two conflicting feelings that led Cedergren to declare his expectations for the future in no uncertain terms.

"As hard as it is to say right now, I think the future is bright and I will say as firmly as I can that this will not happen again," Cedergren said. "We are not going to go 0-3 for the games that matter."

A 2-0 defeat against Oakland on Thursday night capped that three-game skid to close a 10-6-3 season. Playing without top playmaker Napo Matsoso and leading goal scorer Justin Laird due to a mandatory card suspension and knee injury, respectively, the Wildcats were unable to overcome an experienced Oakland team.

"When it got tough, I thought that they excelled and maybe we have some work to do in terms in the mental toughness and especially when the games little tougher," Cedergren said. "I thought it was a very big stage for some of the younger guys that were asked to carry a bigger role because of injuries and suspensions and I don't think we were up for that."

Or perhaps more appropriately, they weren't up for it yet.

A year ago, the Cats, who fielded a roster featuring 20 freshmen and sophomores, called on the disappointment of missing the NCAA Tournament to fuel them through a grueling offseason. This time around, they reached the big stage, but will look to use the mistakes that caused them to come up short as fuel to win the next time they reach it.

"Anytime in your life, these are the type of games you want to play in," goalkeeper Callum Irving said. "When they don't live up to your expectations, you can go two ways with them. You can either sulk about it and not let it benefit you or you can use it as fuel"

Irving, who nearly swept end-of-season C-USA awards, will return and wear the captain's armband for UK again next season. Five all-conference honorees will rejoin him in 2015, which will be Cedergren's fourth year at the helm.

"Obviously this is not the way you want to end your season but again like Johan said we have a lot to look forward to in the future, as hard as it is to see right now," Irving said. "We have some great players returning, good recruiting class coming in so I mean right now it is just back to the drawing board, back to work but we will move on from here."

Though the Cats will move on when they reassemble for training in January, they don't plan to forget Thursday night altogether. There's still too much to be gained from it.

"For us it's time as a staff and as a squad to grow and develop and to learn from this," Cedergren said. "But we are not sitting here again next year in the NCAA Tournament."

UK has an open date before a season finale at Louisville next Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK has an open date before a season finale at Louisville next Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Bud Dupree is one of the healthy ones.

Unlike many of his teammates, Dupree doesn't have an injury that's forced him to miss any time. He made it through eight games in eight weeks without a sprained ankle, strained muscle or any other malady Mark Stoops has had to publicly address.

He still felt like he got "hit by a truck" by the time the stretch was over.

"Your body feels horrible after a while," Dupree said. "You wake up in the morning, sometimes you don't want to get out of bed because you feel like you want to sleep it off."

With an open date this weekend, Dupree, at long last, got that chance. Following a loss at Tennessee on Saturday, the Wildcats were given days off on both Sunday and Monday to rest and recover.

"It felt good just to lay down, finally, for a long time and just don't worry about anything for that day," Dupree said.

Not only had Dupree and the Cats played on eight straight Saturdays, they had also faced seven Southeastern Conference opponents over that same time period. To say a break was needed would probably be an understatement.

"You get back in there, like I said, Saturday afternoon or Saturday night when you're done, and Sunday certainly, and it's on," Mark Stoops said. "It's on to the next opponent, and it's a full grind. That gets taxing on everybody. The players, they have to come in here Monday and we have to address the issues from the previous game and then on to the next opponent immediately."

Instead, the Cats get to take a breath before they dive headlong into preparing a matchup with Louisville in both teams' regular-season finale next Saturday. Don't think, however, that they forgot about football altogether. Even though there were no official team activities on Monday, groups of players gathered independently to meet and review film with no coaches present.

"It was some of the leaders on the team wanting to step up and make some changes," senior wide receiver Javess Blue said.

Neal Brown, meanwhile, had a film session of his own.

"We do a lot of evaluation," Brown said. "Like over the last couple of days I've watched every play that we've had. Kind of broke it down to every play by different formations and personnel groupings then kind of identifying some problems that have been consistent and going about fixing some things."

Some break, huh?

"With a bye week, of course there's just a little more time to sit (as a coaching staff) and take it in and look at things and see what we have done good and what we've done poorly and try to put them in a position to be successful," Stoops said. "It's our job to put them in a place that they can succeed."

When UK returned to the practice field on Tuesday, that effort continued.

The first step was to focus on some of the little things that began to escape the Cats toward the end of their stretch of eight straight games and a five-game losing streak. With lots of work on blocking and shedding blocks, pass coverage and getting open and one-on-ones with first-teamers, Dupree feels like it's fall camp all over again.

"We are doing all fundamentals this week," Dupree said. "It seems like we started over."

The results, according to Stoops, have been nothing but positive.

"Guys seem to have a little more energy, a little more pop in their step," Stoops said. "Got a chance to go back and do some things, just camp drills as far as competing and doing some things good against good and fundamentally getting better. So it's been a great time for a bye week for us, and I think, like I said, it's been helpful so far, both with rest, healing up some guys and fundamentally getting better."

Stoops said after the loss at Tennessee that "we didn't have a lot in our tank," but the bye week has given the chance for the Cats to refuel. He said he expects UK to be close to 100 percent for the Louisville game, though offensive tackle Kyle Meadows remains a question mark.

More importantly, Stoops sees a team that continues to be coachable and willing to work. The frustration, of course, is there, which is only natural when you've been stuck a win shy of bowl eligibility for two months.

But the Cats are eager for their final chance to break through.

"We know our shortcomings," Stoops said. "We know we all need to do better. But I see a team that's fun to coach, that care, that want to win, that are putting a lot into it."

UK returns to Rupp Arena on Friday at 7 p.m. ET for a matchup with Boston University. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK returns to Rupp Arena on Friday at 7 p.m. ET for a matchup with Boston University. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The talk was out there before, but it's intensified in recent days.

Since the Wildcats' dominance of Kansas in the Champions Classic, more columns about their prospects of going unbeaten have been written than even Kentucky fans care to read. The "can UK beat an NBA team?" debate has been kicked up a notch too, with Eric Bledsoe confidently answering yes and ESPN running a poll on the topic with close to 200,000 votes, 52 percent of which were cast for the Cats.

But inside the Joe Craft Center, the mood is different. For the team that did the dominating, it's still November and the victory over Kansas was just that: one victory.

"We just have to keep working," Andrew Harrison said. "We played really hard. A lot of their shots didn't fall and stuff like that, so we know we still have a lot to improve on. It's just the third game of the season. It really doesn't mean anything."

Well, maybe it does mean something.

As poorly as the Jayhawks may have shot, it's impossible to ignore the work UK did on the defensive end in holding Kansas to 40 points, 11 made field goals and 8-of-41 shooting from 2-point range. At the very least, the Cats saw what their physical gifts can do to an opponent.

"With our length and our athletic ability, there's no reason why we can't be a really good defensive team because of our size," said assistant coach John Robic, filling in for John Calipari at UK's regular media availability before a matchup with Boston University (1-1) Friday at 7 p.m. ET in Rupp Arena. "And size with athleticism equals - it could be a problem for an opponent. And that's what it was."

It was only a problem for Kansas because UK (3-0) made it so, shrugging off the hype surrounding the first big-stage game of the season and playing team defense.

"That was probably the biggest thing: how they were going to react to a high-level game against a very good top-ranked opponent," Robic said. "We obviously played really well, and I thought everybody responded very, very well in that game."

A year ago in a similar environment, the Cats had to climb uphill after Michigan State built a 10-point lead in the Champions Classic. Last season's freshman-laden group could never overcome the deficit, but this year's team had no such start with all its returning experience.

With the likes of Andrew Harrison leading the way, the four freshmen joining UK's two-platoon system were able to blend in, as much as four players as talented as them can blend in anyway.

"It's good because the pressure's not really on them so they can just go out there relaxed and play," Andrew Harrison said. "I'm sure they had fun and they played great."

UK's sophomore point guard has taken an active role in setting the tone for the freshmen so far, both leading by example and by stepping up his vocal presence. After he arrived on campus just before the start of the fall semester, he was unable to quickly command his team as he would have liked. Now, he's confident and comfortable in the role.

"He's just playing more loose and more relaxed," Aaron Harrison said. "He's just having more fun and I think that's the biggest thing."

In spite of that, Andrew Harrison was critical of himself after the Kansas game, taking the blame for a sluggish offensive start that saw UK make just two field goals in the first five-plus minutes.

"It's just better execution in the first half, and that's on me," he said. "I think we were a little tired the first little segment the blue team had or whatever, but it started working out. You get your second wind and I just tried to make sure the freshmen weren't that nervous and stuff like that."

With the Kansas game in the rearview window, Andrew Harrison will shift his focus to making sure those freshmen realizing the work ahead of them, starting with Friday's game against Boston University. The coaching staff will be doing the same.

"Each and every day, we have to get better at what we need to do as a team, whether it's defensively or offensively," Robic said. "And if we do that, we know that we're going to give it our best effort when we go out there, and hopefully tomorrow shows improvement for us."

Video: Robic previews Boston University matchup

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Johan Cedergren (Chet White, UK Athletics) Johan Cedergren (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By Brent Ingram

When Kentucky men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren and junior goalkeeper Callum Irving spoke during UK's Fall Sports Media Day in August, it was clear that UK's 2013 season fell short of Cedergren's expectations for the program.

The Wildcats finished 2013 with a 7-10-3 record, missing the NCAA Tournament after earning a hosting bid in the big dance in Cedergren's first season in 2012.

"When we were sitting on the team bus coming back from the conference tournament last year, being knocked out of the semifinal and that being the end of the season, we knew we had to go back to the drawing board and figure out a new teaching plan," Cedergren said.  

Cedergren worked with his coaching staff and put together a plan. That direction has developed into one of the top seasons in program history in 2014, with the Wildcats riding the historic defensive unit, behind Conference USA Player of the Year Callum Irving, to its sixth all-time NCAA Tournament berth.

"It is really good," Cedergren said. "It is a step in the right direction for us. We talk a lot about our vision and our goals and where we want to be and the long-term vision for us is to be in a Final Four in the next four years or so. With that comes recruiting and developing players."

The Wildcats will host Oakland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Complex, with the game to be broadcast live on the SEC Network +. A win over Oakland would pit UK against national seed Michigan State on Sunday in East Lansing, Mich.  

At the core of UK's turnaround has been the development of the sophomore class. With 19 of UK's 25-man roster underclassmen, the Wildcats would not be in the NCAA Tournament if not for the progress of their second-year standouts.

UK's regular starting 11 boasts a bevy of sophomores, including first-team all-league midfielder Napo Matsoso, back-four stalwarts Kaelon Fox, Charlie Reymann, Matt Quick and Jordan Wilson, and midfield threats Ryan Creel and Paul Sime.

Cedergren points directly to the commitment from the sophomore class as a reason for UK's campaign in 2014, along with the development of juniors Kristoffer Tollefsen (three goals) and Bryan Celis (two goals, six assists).

"All that matters to me is the team and if you are not buying in well then I am not interested," Cedergren said. "Those are the guys that are really buying into the system. But they have worked so hard. There was a whole complete mental shift that we had to do as a staff and as players."

Part of the development of its underclassmen came in the form of its leadership and emerging vocal presence on and off the pitch.  

"There are a couple of guys that we asked to be leaders, and they were freshmen, it was only their second semester at Kentucky," Cedergren said. "You look at Charlie, Jordan, Kaelon, Quick, (Alex) Bumpus, Napo, I could go on and on but that was a class that we mostly signed three years ago. So we knew what kind of quality we had and it was just a matter of making them understand what it takes to win at the Division-I level, and win a lot. The success that we've had this fall, we started the process that goes back to January and February of this year."

Ranked 24th in the final National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, Kentucky (10-4-5) has been paced by one of the best defenses in the history of the program, riding Irving and UK's dynamic back four to a league-best 0.70 goals-against average.

While Irving, a 6-foot-1 native of Vancouver, British Columbia, has turned in a record-breaking season in between the pipes, Cedergren points to his leadership as a key ingredient to UK's success.

"I just couldn't be more fortunate in terms of what kind of team captain you want to have on your team," Cedergren said. "We talk about being selfless, humble and having a team-first mentality. While all of those things are great, if you don't have the basic ability or talent then it doesn't matter. Cally is the perfect blend."

Irving has saved 63 shots on the year, his 0.70 goals-against average ranks fourth in UK history and his 10 clean sheets is the second most in school annals.

"He is one of the best goalkeepers in the country, but he is also one of the most selfless and humble people I have ever been around," Cedergren said. "For the rest of the guys, they look around at Cally because he is one of the best players we have, and they don't have an excuse because Cally never gives an excuse. Cally always gives 100 percent. When you are starting to look for what kind of captain you are looking for you are looking for someone who leads by example on and off the field. Cally hasn't missed a beat since he was given the captain's arm band."

Going into the season, a question mark was where the Wildcats would find scoring to replace four-year star forward Tyler Riggs, who netted 29 goals and had 10 assists in his career. UK's offense was led by Matsoso, Celis and Tollefsen but senior forward Justin Laird emerged as an athletic target forward at the top of UK's offensive attack.

Laird, a Wright State transfer for the 2013 season, owns six goals and four assists for the Wildcats in his senior season.

"Justin is very humble, very selfless and didn't mind doing the work," Cedergren said. "If you look at how far he has come from the guy who walked onto campus in January two years ago, to the guy who is now one of the best forwards in Conference USA, the evolution and the progress has been tremendous.

"If you look at all the clean sheets and the success that we've had this year, a lot of that has come from the work that Justin has done on defense. Not only is he a good goal scorer who is dangerous around the box, he is also someone who helps us out a lot defensively."

Kentucky will be faced with a stiff test on Thursday in the Horizon League Champion Oakland Golden Grizzlies, a team that has lost just once in its last 13 matches.

Napo Matsoso's 2014 season has firmly implanted him as one of the top young players in college soccer, with the Louisville, Ky., by way of Lesotho native owning five goals and four assists, including a natural hat trick at South Carolina.

"I have never worked with a better No. 10," Cedergren raved. "I have never worked with a better playmaker than Napo. That is a factual statement. Napo is a perfect blend between natural ability and drive and desire. I have had some really special players, the first-ever unanimous (2008) Ivy League Player of the Year in Craig Henderson, who now plays professionally in Norway, he played in the attacking midfield role and he has caps from this year and all that stuff, but Napo is better.

"Some of the things that Napo can do on the ball, very few people can do in college. But at the same time, as soon as we lose the ball and we need someone to track some guy, or make a run through them, Napo has no problem doing the work."

Kentucky's hosting berth is its second in three years under Cedergren, who has paced the Wildcats to a pair of NCAA Tournaments in quicker succession than any other coach in UK history.

"Like I said after the South Carolina (C-USA Tournament) game, hosting a first-round game is not the end all be all," Cedergren said. "It is a step in the right direction but we want to win the game tomorrow and keep playing."

Head coach Mark Stoops


Offensive coordinator Neal Brown


Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot


Defensive end/linebacker Bud Dupree


Recent Comments

  • Tom Moore: Since Tubby 98 and 2003-2004 team which should've won it all, Kentucky fans ( I am true blue ) have read more
  • John Mylant: Kentucky verses Kansas I am a UK fan but bringing this into perspective, this was just one of those games. read more
  • Catherine: We have the Blue Platoon and the White Platoon, I say we should name the rest team "The Closers"! read more
  • Sandy: Great game. I couldn't take my eyes off in the second half. Proud of all of you. I thought Epps read more
  • Jeff Schrembs: I just wanted to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to the parents, guardians, relatives, etc. of each of the players. read more
  • D.K. West: I am sooooooo ready for the Big Blue. I loved the effort of last years squad, especially in the tournament read more
  • Nah: Please can we run more than 2-4 offensive plays? As a spectator, I'm seeing the team gain more ground in read more
  • Paige Keller: Congratulations for all of your hard work. You deserve this award. You guys work hard to provide use with a read more
  • larry: our first test will be kansas read more
  • Adam: UK looks really good already i can't see us losing more then 1 or 2. #BBN read more