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Karl-Anthony Towns had 13 points, nine rebounds, six blocks and three assists in UK's 67-50 win over Florida on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Karl-Anthony Towns had 13 points, nine rebounds, six blocks and three assists in UK's 67-50 win over Florida on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Karl-Anthony Towns had people buzzing again.

Kenny Payne, Kentucky's associate head coach, called him "one of the most complete players there is" after he helped lead the Wildcats past Florida and to the first unbeaten regular season for a power-conference team in 39 years.

Experts wondered aloud whether such performances could make him the No. 1 overall pick come June's NBA Draft.

Afterward, one reporter asked Towns whether he was "feeling it" after his latest big game, which caught the 6-foot-11 freshman off guard.

"Feeling it?" Towns said. "I was feeling the rim a lot. I struggled today."

Struggled, huh? His stat line begs to differ.

Towns posted 13 points, nine rebounds and three assists as top-ranked UK (31-0, 18-0 Southeastern Conference) pulled away from Florida (15-16, 8-10 SEC) for a 67-50 win. All Towns could think about, however, were the six shots he missed in 10 attempts, especially his 1-of-5 first-half effort.

"Every game I'm not going to be going 7 for 7, 10 for 10, 9 for 9," Towns said. "The only thing I can take out from this game is a lot of tape to improve my game and also just go back to the drawing board, see what I gotta do to get back."

Towns had set a high standard for himself over the last month, shooting an incredible 80 percent from the field in his previous six outings. That helps explain his seemingly harsh self-critique.

"The game's not always going to be as efficient as always," Towns said. "But like I said, if one aspect of the game's not working for you, you gotta go to the other aspect. I'm glad I was able to keep playing defense the way I was playing tonight."

He certainly had the defense covered. Towns blocked six Gator shots in his 27 minutes, helping hold Florida to 42.9-percent shooting and 0.82 points per possession.

"Just doing what I do," Towns said. "I mean, my sister always taught me when one aspect of the game doesn't work for you, make sure all the (other) aspects work. So I was just trying to be a defender out there, also. The offense was going to catch up and I'm glad it did, but it's a game where I definitely have to go back to my room and, I guess as we all say, have Karlito chew me out a little bit."

Karlito likely won't have much to say when UK's decisive run comes up on tape.

"When we needed him to play at the end, he played," Calipari said.

With 10:28 left, the Cats led by a slim 44-41 margin. Towns, however, spearheaded a 9-2 run that lifted the lead to double digits and began the celebration of a historic regular season in Rupp Arena. He scored four points, added two rebounds and a block, and started the spurt rifling a beautiful cross-court pass out of a double team to Devin Booker for a 3-pointer.

"He's got a great feel of how to play," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "And the thing I like about him more than anything is when he does get post trapped, he's got long arms, he's got good vision, he's a good passer for a big man, he seems to be willing to throw it out of the post."

As willing a passer as Towns may be, he still has moments, says Coach Cal, where his judgment falters and he tries to make "hero plays." His coach won't stop until those have all disappeared.

"Well, look, I keep trying to explain to Karl, 'You are so good, you don't have to do anything crazy,' " Calipari said. " 'So why do you keep trying to do crazy stuff?  You're too good a player.' "

Asked about his "crazy" plays, Towns smiled knowingly. He's still trying to strike the right balance between aggressiveness and recklessness.

"I guess I just play the game," Towns said. "I don't have (any) fear and if I have to do something that a lot of people say is very risky I'm kind of the guy that would be the guy who would try to do it. I guess, yeah, that makes me crazy."

Craziness aside, Towns has evolved into a go-to guy of sorts for a Kentucky team with unparalleled depth. There were times early in the season when he blended in, but no more.

"It took me some games," Towns said. "It's like I said, I went through the process naturally. I didn't make it artificial. I didn't try to rush everything. I just let it come to me and as time went on everything started to click."

He'll take the same approach to the next step Coach Cal is asking him to take.

"I'm on him because I want him to be the best," Calipari said. "I don't want him to be just a good big; I want him to be the best. He's working toward that."

UK football held its first practice of the Spring on Saturday morning. Check out what Mark Stoops had to say about a productive day right here.

Gutsy Epps carries Cats to SEC semis

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Makayla Epps scored 31 points to lead UK to a comeback victory over Mississippi State on Friday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Makayla Epps scored 31 points to lead UK to a comeback victory over Mississippi State on Friday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
They say no one makes it to March 100-percent healthy, but Makayla Epps isn't anywhere close.

Epps is battling a strained Achilles tendon, plus the normal wear and tear of a long season. She limped visibly at points during a matchup with Mississippi State on Friday night.

But when it counted, she wasn't about to let it slow her down.

"You know what, I was cramping up, I was hurting and stuff like that you just gotta fight through because my team needed me," Epps said.

Epps delivered.

The sophomore guard and daughter of former national champion Anthony Epps fought through the pain to play 38 minutes. Not only that, she shook off any defenders the third-seeded Bulldogs threw at her to score 31 points in an effort nothing short of heroic. On the back of Epps, UK (23-8) advanced to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament with a 76-67 victory.

"She was real tough," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I'm real proud of her. Big night. We needed every bucket she made."

Epps started strong, scoring 16 points in the first half. UK, however, trailed by four points at the break after using a strong finish to trim a lead that was once as large as 10 points.

After the break, Mississippi State (26-6) seized control once again. The Bulldogs took a 54-39 lead with 15:18 left behind Victoria Vivians, who scored 10 of her 19 points in the opening minutes of the second half.

The Cats wouldn't go away.

"We just talked about trying to be tough in the second half, and we were tough," Mitchell said. "We were really tough and did it with a really untraditional lineup because of the foul trouble. So I couldn't be prouder of the players."

Epps, no doubt, is at the top of the list.

With the Cats in a hole, she pulled them out. At one point, she scored 11 straight points for Kentucky, the last of which on a 3-pointer that pulled UK into a 58-58 tie. On the following possession, she found high-school teammate Kyvin Goodin-Rogers for a go-ahead 3 in the midst of a back-breaking 30-6 run for UK.

"Her contribution was significant," Mitchell said. "I was most proud about the way she handled herself. If there was ever a time to get negative and down, it was with 15 minutes left in the game and we were down 15. We did not have anything going at all. We hung in there as a team. I think she was a part of that."

Epps has been brilliant for nearly every second of the two games she's played against Mississippi State this season. Less than a month ago, she poured in 42 points, including a buzzer-beating game winner, in a double-overtime thriller in Memorial Coliseum. Combining the two games, Epps has scored 73 points on 30-of-51 shooting.

"Like I just told their coach, they make me step up and play to my highest potential and I salute them for that," Epps said. "That's not doing anything but making me a better player and making my team better against tough competition like Mississippi State."

Epps is line to face more tough competition in the semifinals with a matchup against second-seeded Tennessee (26-4). The Lady Volunteers dismantled Georgia to advance to face Kentucky and twice defeated the Cats during the regular season.

"They're up on us two games to none and slipped one in on us in Lexington and then got us pretty good down in Knoxville," Epps said. "Our chances tomorrow, my dad always told me it's hard to beat a team three times."

Willie Cauley-Stein and the Wildcats will look to complete a perfect regular season on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein and the Wildcats will look to complete a perfect regular season on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By no means is this the finish line.

A Saturday matchup with Florida marks but another step on a memorable journey, but this step merits some special attention.

With Kentucky a win away from completing the first perfect regular season by a power-conference team since 1975-76, even John Calipari stopped for a moment to think about what it's taken to get here.

"I'm not reflecting back right now, I'm looking forward," Coach Cal said. "But I will tell you for them to stay the course is a challenge in itself here."

With each win, the hype with which the top-ranked Wildcats (30-0, 17-0 Southeastern Conference) began the season has only intensified. Even so, they've remained as one.

"To stay into each other, to not listen and let the clutter affect who you are and how you play, it's amazing," Calipari said. "I mean, you got guys that aren't worried about Player of the Year, yet if they were playing 35 minutes a game and getting the ball every time, they'd be Player of the Year. They're not worried about it. They're just playing basketball. They're just trying to play for each other."

With the eyes of the college basketball world trained on Lexington for Saturday's 2 p.m. ET matchup with the Gators (15-15, 8-9 SEC), the Cats are choosing to keep that attitude. Like Coach Cal, they'll save most of their reflection for later.

"I think that's one of those things that's gonna hit you later," Willie Cauley-Stein said, "maybe not at the time just because, you know, it's not gonna really mean a lot at the time 'cause you still got other stuff--like after the season's over, a month from now, when you look back at how fast it went by."

The speed with which this season has passed was a common theme as UK held its normal pregame media availability. It seems, everyone agreed, like the Cats' preseason trip to the Bahamas only just ended.

"The season has flown by," Calipari said. "I can still remember me using the Bahamas, having a bunch of wide-eyed freshmen not knowing what in the world to expect that played well down there and started feeling good about themselves."

Calipari pointed to that trip as a proving ground for the platoon system that has helped carry Kentucky to 30-0. Taking full advantage of their unmatched depth, the Cats overwhelmed professional opponents even with Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles sidelined by injury.

"We'd have team meetings and (Coach Cal would) be like, 'This is crazy,' " Cauley-Stein said. " 'We don't even have our whole team here and we still look really good,' and how excited he was for everybody to be back and the season to get going."  

The excitement was justified.

The Cats have charged through the regular season, never losing their grip on the top spot in both major polls. They lead the nation comfortably in scoring margin at 21.4 and boast a defense that's allowed fewer points per possession than any since began measuring the statistic in 2001-02.

Mix all that in with the cohesiveness and chemistry of this group and it's clear that something unique is going on.

"I told them, you know, we have limited time together," Calipari said. "I told my staff, 'Every minute you can spend with these guys you better spend with them. I mean, when you get to the (Wildcat Coal) Lodge, we'll go to meals - let's just do everything together because this thing's going to wind down."

Saturday will be Senior Day for Sam Malone, Brian Long and Tod Lanter. Though none of the three has a regular role, the fact remains that this will be the last time this group plays together at Rupp Arena as currently constituted.

"It's very special because as a team we've been through a lot together this year," Tyler Ulis said. "It's going to be our last time playing at Rupp together. It'll probably be memorable. Last time Tod, Sam and (Brian) will play in Rupp. It'll be fun to play."

Whether the three seniors start remains to be seen. Cauley-Stein expects to be electric no matter what.

"It's probably going to be really good energy," Cauley-Stein said. "But it's going to be tough too at the same time, so it's not something that you can just take lightly and stroll in there and think you're going to win. You know, we're going to have to come to play."

A month ago, the Gators gave Kentucky all it could handle in a 68-61 Cats win in spite of playing much of the night without Michael Frazier II. The sharp-shooting guard is expected to be available on Saturday.

"Well, he spreads the court," Calipari said, "and what they're doing in their pick and rolls is just keeping everybody away from the basket, trying to get rim baskets or 3s or moving the ball from there into driving. Billy's (Donovan) done a great job with his team."

Just a year ago, it was Florida going for an unbeaten run through SEC play against Kentucky, but the Gators are now viewed as little more than a roadblock en route to an even more impressive feat. The Cats don't see it that way at all.

"That's how you get beat," Cauley-Stein said. "If you think about it like as a whole like that, you just gotta take it one step at a time and let nature take its course."

Recent Comments

  • Varie Gibson: These guys and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats are so talented and humble. I cannot wait to see them read more
  • Bob: I do not see an repeat of the close game last year.I think the Cats win by 8 in an read more
  • Carolyn: Great game! Would have loved to been there at the game-awesome read more
  • mm: The perfect storm , that's what our boys were up had a blow out game against WV doubling the read more
  • Doc Savage: Notre Dame was a team most thought UK would blow away because of superior size; depth; and rugged defense. That read more
  • Frank: Why did you not include Tyler Ulis 3 point shot? read more
  • Jack: Great highlights!!! Love Tom doing the play-by-play read more
  • S Kelly: Would like to have seen the 3 by Ulis in these highlights...great game!! read more
  • Srinivas: We gave Notre dame more credit than what they deserved by some poor passing of the ball. We started playing read more
  • Karen: That call was so awesome...thank you! read more