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October 2009 Archives

The Big Blueprint

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defense_uk_miss_st.jpgMissed the game? Watched it but can't get enough or can't believe what you saw? Cat Scratches will break down the nuts and bolts from each and every game, including some postgame reaction and comments from the players who made the difference.

The essentials: The Kentucky football team talked all week about the opportunity to accomplish bigger and better goals with the current stretch it's on, but the Mississippi State Bulldogs might have ran all over those with a punishing ground game. Led by tailback Anthony Dixon, the Bulldogs ran for 348 yards, defeating UK 31-24 in front of 67,953 fans at Commonwealth Stadium. The teams exchanged blows for much of the game, but Mississippi State dealt the final one on Dixon's 3-yard touchdown scamper with 59 seconds left in the third quarter. The Cats had multiple opportunities to tie the game, but a quarterback sack of Morgan Newton on fourth-and-5 late in the fourth quarter squashed UK's chances. Tailback Derrick Locke rushed 17 times for 103 yards and a score, and Newton amassed 158 yards of total offense
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"It's extremely disappointing," head coach Rich Brooks said. "You've got to give Mississippi State credit. They outcoached us, they outplayed us. We were in position at halftime to take care of business and immediately turned it over and allowed them to go right through us."

Play of the game:
Dixon had his share of big plays in this game, but none might have been more deflating than the 47-yard rumble through the left side of the line late in the third quarter, which ultimately set up the game-winning score.

"Mississippi State did a really good job of blocking and Dixon does happen to be a pretty good back," Brooks said. "It's not like we're the first team he's run on. It's extremely disappointing that we allowed as much of that to go on as we did and the big chunks of it. That's what's the most disappointing, is that we gave up big plays instead of small doses."

Turning point: UK was knocking on the door early in the fourth quarter, poised to tie the game at 31. The Cats had first-and-goal from the Mississippi State 4-yard line, but failed to punch it in. Newton rushed it twice in a row up the middle to no avail and then threw an interception to Jamar Chaney on third down.

Brooks touched on the lack of the Wildcat package inside the 5-yard line after the game.

"It wasn't successful all the time tonight," Brooks said. "We decided not to do it, obviously, and when it doesn't work we open ourselves up to be second guessed on a lot of things. I can sit here and second guess myself on it as well. We just thought we had some plays that were working and they took them away. We had a young mistake on the interception. They did a good job. Maybe I should have gone Wildcat. There you go."

Player of the game: Win or lose, there was no questioning who the best player on the field was Saturday night. Dixon, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound running back, ran through, around and over UK's rush defense. The senior tailback amassed a career-high 252 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries, easily the most rushing yards by a Bulldog this season. Dixon didn't do it with any spectacularly shifty runs. He simply overpowered UK's tacklers, often times pushing piles forward for an additional two or three yards. It was like watching a semi truck crash into a Kia.

"The disappointing thing even though there were some holes and he was making a lot of progress into our UK secondary is we didn't tackle and we weren't as physical as we were in the Auburn game or in most of our games," Brooks said. "They were more physical up front on both sides of the ball. I guess I didn't get my message to the team. We knew and we talked about how physical this game was going to be. They came in and took care of it and we didn't."

Unsung heroes: Let's not forget about the big boys on the offensive line that were opening those holes up for Dixon to run through. As great as Dixon was, the MSU O-line was opening up some gaping holes for the burly back to run through.

Linebacker Micah Johnson, who played through a knee injury, said it was frustrating to see them run the same play - a counter - through UK's defense over and over again.

"They just killed us with one play," Johnson said. "They ran the same play over and over and over again and it worked over and over again. We just got out-executed."

He said what? Other notable quotes:

Brooks on the play of Newton ...
"We thought the young kid was doing some good things. We tried to get a little rhythm going. We had talked about (putting Will Fidler) in on several occasions but decided to stay with him. It's a damned if you do and damned if you don't (type of thing). He did make some really good throws and did some good things, as well as some mistakes."

Brooks on the team being beat up ...
"We're all beat up. I'm beat up now and I'm going to get beat up a lot more now."

Cobb on not having the ball in the Wildcat in the second-to-last possession ...
"I trust this coaching staff. I know they're going to put us in position to win. They call plays and we have to execute them. Would I like to have the ball? Yes, I would have, but I didn't have it, so we have to execute the play that was called."

Injury report: Tailback Derrick Locke tore some scar tissue on his injured knee but remained in the game. Senior center Jorge Gonzalez played through neck and back spasms.   

Hidden stat: If there is a silver lining for Kentucky, it's that its return game, led by do-it-all Randall Cobb, continues to impress. The Cats returned six kicks for 163 yards and two punts for 61 yards. Cobb had most of that yardage, returning five kicks for 142 yards and one punt for 46 yards.

What this one means: Kentucky's chances to go to a bigger and better bowl game took a serious hit Saturday night. The players preached all season long about beating the teams you're supposed to beat to take the next step in the Southeastern Conference, but they failed to come through against Mississippi State, a team that is desperately fighting to get back to a bowl game.

"This was a big game for us as far as pecking order in the bowl games," Cobb said. "For us to come out and not show up and play with no emotion ... This was a big night. It was Halloween, we've got so many alumni (here), we had a 'blackout.' It was just so many things and we didn't play off that emotion."

Now if UK wants to accomplish some of those bigger and better things, it's going to have to really take care of business with a 4-4 record. It means taking care of business against Eastern Kentucky and Vanderbilt and either going on the road and stealing one at Georgia or finally ending the streak to Tennessee.

"The season isn't lost, but it certainly isn't going to be the type of season that we thought it could be if we would have won this game," Brooks said. "The key thing is to bounce back and get a win before we go on the road for two straight games and try to steal one on the road so we can get bowl eligible, but there's no question this is a very disappointing loss."

 

UK-Mississippi State live blog

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Statement from Calipari

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The following is a statement from head coach John Calipari in regards to a previously scheduled open practice at Freedom Hall in Louisville on Sunday. The UK men's basketball team has canceled that practice.

"We originally planned a practice at Freedom Hall on Sunday afternoon to give our guys a chance to practice in an arena that we will compete in later this season," UK head coach John Calipari said. "The passion of our Kentucky fans in Louisville made it impossible for the word not to get out about the practice at Freedom Hall. Due to the publicity created by several media outlets, we will no longer be able to conduct a preseason practice off campus this weekend. We will schedule an open practice at Freedom Hall and make sure all our fans in Louisville know about it."

Cat connections

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- Jennifer Smith from the Lexington Herald-Leader writes that Amber Smith sheds her knee brace just in time for a faster pace

- Mark Story on Kentucky Miss Basketball A'dia Mathies

- Chip Cosby reports that cornerback Randall Burden is finding his swagger

- Michael Grant of the Courier-Journal writes that Mississippi State freshman Jonathan Banks will test UK

- Larry Vaught on DeMarcus Cousins trying to run more, harder

- The Kentucky Kernel's position-by-position breakdown for Saturday's game

SEC toughens penalties for criticizing refs

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The Southeastern Conference announced harsher penalties for all violators of SEC bylaw 10.5.4, which requires that coaches, assistant coaches, players, support personnel and others associated with the institution's athletics program refrain from public criticism of officials.

In a unanimous decision passed down from the SEC's athletic directors, all violators of SEC bylaw 10.5.4 will be punished by suspensions and fines, effective immediately. The length of the suspension and the amount of the fine will be at the discretion of SEC Commissioner Mike Slive.

"There are proper channels available for head coaches to use when communicating officiating concerns to the conference office," Slive said in a news release.

Head coaches will be subject to suspensions and fines for violations made by assistant coaches or other support personnel.

The decision comes after three coaches were reprimanded in the past two weeks for criticizing officials. 

Rusin close to the Majors?

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bb_042707_rusin1.jpgWas doing a typical Internet search today and stumbled across a great story from Baseball America, found from Jon Hale's BlueGrass Baseball Web site, a comprehensive blog covering baseball in the state.


In the story, Baseball America breaks down each MLB team in its 2009 draft report card. In the Chicago Cubs breakdown, BA breaks down all aspects of the Cubs draft and declares that former UK left-hander Chris Rusin, the Cubs fourth-round draft pick in 2009, as one of three players who are "Closest to the Majors."

During his sparkling four-year career, Rusin etched his name throughout UK history, owning a 23-11 career record and a 4.14 career ERA. Rusin, a native of Canton, Mich., started 13 games for UK in 2009, posting a 7-4 record and a 4.20 ERA, striking out 109 in 94.1 innings. Rusin had a career year in 2008, becoming the first UK starting pitcher to earn first-team All-SEC honors since MLB closer Scott Downs, posting a 6-3 record and a 3.33 ERA.

Also included in the Baseball America draft report cards is the analysis from the Florida Marlins draft, which included UK All-SEC shortstop Chris Wade, an 11th-round pick in 2009 who received an above-slot deal. Wade, a native of Lexington, Ky., was tabbed as the best defensive player in the Marlins draft, news that comes as no surprise to the UK coaching staff, who benefited from Wade's defensive prowess the last two seasons.

"SS Chris Wade has good actions, soft hands and a better arm than the Marlins realized," Baseball America's Jim Callis detailed. "A draft-eligible sophomore, he began the summer in the Cape Cod League before singing for $150,000."

Wade, a second-team coaches selection on the All-SEC team in 2009, started and played in 113 games at shortstop for UK in two seasons, batting a combined .304 (123-for-405) with 34 doubles, one triple, 11 homers and 93 RBI, stealing 20-of-25 bases and fielding at a .951 clip. As a freshman in 2008, Wade earned freshman All-America honors after leading the SEC in doubles with 24.

What you need to know for Saturday's game

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FB 09_10 UK_UL WEB TeamCoyle 002.jpgTime: Saturday at 7 p.m. EDT


Location:
Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.

TV coverage: FOX Sports South and ESPN GamePlan with Bob Rathbun, Dave Archer and Jenn Hildreth (game will also be available online at ESPN360.com )

Radio coverage: Big Blue Sports Network with Tom Leach, Jeff Piecoro and Dick Gabriel (630 WLAP-AM in Lexington); Check for an affiliate in your area 

Satellite radio: XM 200; Sirius 217 (note: you must have the "Best of XM" package to hear the game on Sirius)

Digital coverage: Cat Scratches' live in-game blog; Gametracker; Twitter updates

Game-time weather: 49 degrees, mostly clear, 20 percent chance of precipitation

Arrive early: Fans are highly encouraged to arrive at the stadium early to avoid parking delays and also to enter the stadium early to avoid long entry lines at the stadium gates.

Parking: Parking information can be found on UK's Gameday site

Cat Walk: The "Cat Walk" will resume Saturday at 4:45 p.m. Fans wishing to participate in cheering on the Wildcats as they enter the stadium Saturday should be between the corner of Jerry Claiborne Way and College Way outside of Commonwealth Stadium gate one. The team bus will arrive at approximately 4:45 p.m., when the team will unload the bus and walk to the stadium. Guests are asked to line up on each side of the "Cat Walk" to allow for ample space for the team to walk from the buses to Commonwealth Stadium. View a map of the "Cat Walk."

GuestAssist service now available: UK is offering a new fan service at Kentucky football games. "GuestAssist" is a communications service that enables one-to-one text messaging between Commonwealth Stadium guests and stadium operations personnel.

Fans can ask questions about game-day information and/or report concerns regarding behavior through the convenience of their cell phones. Stadium operations personnel will monitor and respond to guest' game-day inquiries on a real-time basis and if needed, dispatch support, security, etc. to the guests' location. Fans wishing to utilize the service should text, "CATS, your message and your seat location" to 78247 (CATS must be the first four characters in the message body. Standard text message rates apply).

"GuestAssist" is not intended for emergency use. In the event of an emergency, guests should contact the nearest stadium event staff and/or dial 911.

*All information on Saturday's game with the University of Louisiana Monroe can be found at UK's official Gameday site.

No open practice Sunday

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Despite numerous Internet reports, the Kentucky men's basketball team will not be conducting an open practice in Freedom Hall on Sunday.

Guard-heavy Cats will play faster, shoot better

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wbsk 08_09 uk_kyst web 19.jpgMatthew Mitchell cut straight to the point Wednesday at Media Day when he was asked if his team should be able to shoot better than last year's team.

"It wouldn't be very difficult to shoot it better," Mitchell said. "I'm not sure that shooting it better is the goal. We want to be able to do a good job shooting. Somebody said, and I don't know if it was John Calipari or somebody else, but they said 'We've always had shooters, we just haven't had a lot of makers.' We need makers, people that can make shots, not people that can just shoot shots."

This year's Kentucky women's basketball team is expected to be able to shoot, to be athletic and to be up-tempo. Quite frankly, it might be a team unlike anything anyone has seen under third-year head coach Matthew Mitchell.

"(Traditionally) we've had a really big low post presence," Mitchell said. "Our experienced frontcourt players now are not as tall but a lot more athletic and a lot more dynamic, and so it's just going to be a different look. We'll see how that plays out. It's much more difficult to implement, but we are trying to be much more dynamic offensively, up-tempo. It's a little different style."

Any coach will tell you that style is dictated by the parts of the system. For the first time in Mitchell's tenure, UK has the players to play a baseline-to-baseline game.

Thanks to a tireless recruiting effort by Mitchell and his staff, UK hauled in a class saturated with athletic, speedy guards and deadly sharpshooters.

A'dia Mathies, the reigning Kentucky Miss Basketball, is an electric guard that can score at will; LSU transfer Crystal Riley fits the prototype of Mitchell's point guards in the quick-run transition game; and sharpshooters Rebecca Gray and Keyla Snowden can rain 3-pointers in momentum-changing flurries.

"(Having shooters) will open things up a lot," junior point guard Amber Smith said. "First we'll go inside and we'll kick it out. Our shooters will knock them down and that will open up things so we can penetrate and get to the basket. It will definitely open up things."

To say UK struggled to shoot the ball last year would be like saying this Twitter thing is picking up steam. Uh, ya think? Kentucky ranked at or near the bottom in field goal percentage and 3-point shooting in the Southeastern Conference last year.

With Snowden, Akron's single-season record holder for 3-pointers in a season, the prolific perimeter threat Gray and a more consistent Carly Morrow, Kentucky shouldn't have much trouble lighting the scoreboard up from the guard position any longer.

"We should have a greater ability to shoot the 3-point shot and that transforms your offense," Mitchell said. "People haven't had to be real creative guarding us because they could just leave you open and not make shots."

It should open up the offense to a variety of things. First, it will give All-SEC forward Victoria Dunlap a little more room in the post to operate. Teams will no longer be able to double and triple team her if Kentucky can make them pay with shots from the outside.

Secondly, nothing works better in the transition game than the 3-pointer. Sure, layups are the name of the game in the fast break, but there's nothing that flattens the opposing team quite like a kick out in transition to the wing for a trey.

If all goes to plan, UK should be a more of a run-and-gun team. Spearheaded by Smith, a lightning-quick guard who Mitchell says is playing faster than ever now that she's removed her knee brace, the UK Hoops team will look much more like that other UK basketball team we saw Wednesday at the Blue/White Game than the one that struggled to put up 60 points a season ago.

"I came from a high school that played up-tempo, so I came here to play up-tempo," Smith said. "Injuries plagued us so we couldn't go up-tempo the whole game. But, it's my bread and butter and I love pushing the ball in transition. Lydia Watkins will benefit because she runs the floor hard. This year, we have Rebecca Gray and Keyla Snowden and they will really shine. We can kick it out to the shooters and they will be open to knock it down."

With the infusion of explosion, the wealth of guards and the smaller but more athletic frontline, Mitchell said it won't be out of the question to play three- and sometimes four-guard sets.

"It's very evident that we need to score more points than we have the last couple of years," Mitchell said. "I think we're going to have the capability to do that."

Rifle 101 -- part 4

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Video by Evan Crane, UK Media Relations

Arguably no program has been more successful at UK over the last two decades than the rifle team. Since head coach Harry Mullins took the reins of the program in the mid-1980s, the UK rifle team has been downright dominant.

Under the tutelage of Mullins, UK has posted nine consecutive top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships, including 15 of the last 16 years. Last season, the Cats nearly pulled off their first national championship, finishing the year as national runner-ups. The Cats have captured five Great American Rifle Conference championships and three regular season conference titles during Mullins' tenure.

That's simply dominance. But, admittedly, not everyone knows what goes behind posting top-10 rifle finishes. What better man to tell you himself than one of the nation's best rifle coaches? Over the next four Thursdays, Mullins will take you behind the scenes to show you the basics of rifle, the difference between smallbore and air rifle, how rifle is scored and much, much more.

Without further ado, here's part four of Rifle 101:

Brooks getting some much-deserved love

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_H3M3569.jpgA while back (over the summer, I believe) I made a post asking where all the love was for head coach Rich Brooks and the coaching job he's done at UK.

I questioned the lack of respect he gets and wondered if it was simply for everyone's lack of respect for UK or the barriers of history and traditional stereotypes that UK would have to overcome to be taken seriously.

Well, good ol' Brooks is finally getting some of the respect that he deserves after yet another brilliant coaching job. Without one the team's top defensive players, cornerback Trevard Lindley, its starting quarterback, Mike Hartline, and Jeremy Jarmon, Brooks has somehow put UK in a position to make a fourth straight bowl appearance.

Time will tell what Brooks' legacy at UK is, but these comments prove he's finally getting some respect:

- Jess Nicholas, editor in chief of TideFans.com, ranks Brooks third for coaching job of the year so far. Brooks trails only Florida's Urban Meyer and Alabama's Nick Saban, who respectively guide the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation.

Said Nicholas: "Brooks will likely never get the respect he deserves from Southern college football fans, simply because they weren't familiar with his time at Oregon. Brooks built the Ducks from less than nothing and then handed off a healthy contender to Mike Bellotti. Will he do the same thing with Joker Phillips at Kentucky?"

- The Post and Courier's Travis Haney gives Brooks a thumbs up in his latest rundown of the SEC.

Of Brooks, Haney says: "One of the nicest guys in the league, and he consistently gets it done at a place where it's difficult to do so. Reeling without its starting QB, Kentucky goes on the road and beats Auburn. Two wins from another bowl berth."

Scouting the UK-Mississippi State game

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Kentucky Mississippi State
Mississippi State Bulldogs at a Glance
Head Coach Dan Mullen
Record at School 3-5 (1st season)
2009 Record 3-5, 1-3 SEC
Ranking Not ranked
Series Record Kentucky leads 21-15
Last Meeting Kentucky beat Mississippi State 14-13 last year in Starkville
2009 Team Stats UK MSU
Rushing Offense 186.29 203.13
Passing Offense 151.00 168.00
Total Offense 337.29 371.13
Scoring Offense 26.14 26.38
Rushing Defense 174.14 142.25
Passing Defense 178.14 215.13
Total Defense 352.29 357.38
Scoring Defense 23.00 24.63
Turnover Margin -0.14 -0.63
2009 Stat Leaders
Rushing UK: Derrick Locke (109 rushes, 495 yds, 3 TDs)
MSU: Anthony Dixon (149 rushes, 749 yds, 7 TDs)
Passing UK: Mike Hartline (77-127, 792 yds, 6 TDs, 6 INTs)
MSU: Tyson Lee (102-172, 1,126 yds, 3 TDs, 9 INTs)
Receiving UK: Randall Cobb (28 catches, 349 yds, 4 TDs)
MSU: Chad Bumphis (24 catches, 270 yds, 3 TDs)
Tackles UK: Micah Johnson (55)
MSU: Jamar Chaney (58)
Sacks UK: Corey Peters (4)
MSU: Pernell McPhee (4)
Interceptions UK: Calvin Harrison and Sam Maxwell (2)
MSU: Johnthan Banks (4)
Gameday Information
Game Notes UK Notes Get Acrobat Reader | UK Depth Chart Get Acrobat Reader
MSU Notes Get Acrobat Reader
Date & Time Saturday, Oct. 31
7:00 p.m
Coverage TV: Fox Sports Network
Radio: BBSN
GameTracker GameTracker
Online Audio listen
Live Blog
Location Commonwealth Stadium
Lexington, Ky.
Gameday Information

Cat Scratches will continue its weekly football scouting preview this week for the Kentucky-Mississippi State football game by bringing in Brett Dawson of the Courier-Journal and Kyle Veazey of the Clarion-Ledger.

On Thursday at 3:00 p.m. Dawson and Veazey will join us for a live chat to give their thoughts on the matchup, what the keys are to the game, who fans should look out for and more. The 30 to 40 minute chat with the reporters will offer fans an inside look at the game from the people who are closest to the teams.

Fans are encouraged to join the interactive blog and send in questions. The last 15 minutes of the chat will be dedicated to fans' questions. If you can't join us and would like to have a question submitted, please send your question to catscratches@email.uky.edu and we'll try to fit it in.

 

UK garners highest AP ranking since 2004-05 season

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Just hours after garnering a top-five ranking in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, the UK men's basketball team did one better in the Associated Press Poll.

The Cats are ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP poll, the highest ranking since the Cats checked in at No. 4 in week 17 of the 2004-05 season. It is also the highest preseason ranking since the 2001-02 season, when the AP voted UK at No. 4.

Kansas is the runaway preseason No. 1 choice in the AP, picking up 55 of the 65 first-place votes. Michigan State, Texas, UK and Villanova round out the top five. Kentucky picked up three of the first-place votes.

Southeastern Conference foe Tennessee is ranked No. 10, and SEC West favorite Mississippi State is No. 18, according to the ballots. Four other SEC teams - Vanderbilt, Florida, South Carolina and Ole Miss - received votes.

View the full AP poll.

Johnson won't start, will be available

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_A6K2674.jpgStarting middle linebacker Micah Johnson (knee) will not start Saturday vs. Mississippi State but will be available for action after making it through all of Thursday's practice.

Head coach Rich Brooks said they would treat the situation the same as running back Derrick Locke's, who played through a similar injury in the Louisiana-Monroe game.

Johnson, who will wear a knee brace in the game, said he didn't feel any pain in practice, only a slight discomfort like his knee was catching because the ligament is still healing. Asked how much he could play Saturday, Johnson said, "The whole game."

Cornerback Trevard Lindley will dress for Saturday's game, but head coach Rich Brooks doesn't think he's going to be "quite ready" to play. They will judge in the pregame warm-ups whether he will be available at all.

Cats No. 5 in Coaches Poll

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Everyone knew it was already an offseason of historic proportions. Now the polls have confirmed it.

After sitting outside the top-25 polls for most of last season, the Kentucky men's basketball team, led by first-year head coach John Caliapri and a star-studded recruiting class, has started the season at No. 5 in the first ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.

The Cats received 635 votes, but, maybe a bit surprisingly, did not garner any first-place votes. Kansas grabbed 27 of the 31 first-place votes and sits atop the rankings, followed closely by Michigan State, Texas and North Carolina.

Although the Southeastern Conference is expected to be much improved this season, it appears the coaches want to see the improvement on the court first. Only two other league teams are in the top 25, with Tennessee checking in at No. 11 and Mississippi State coming in at No. 19.

The complete ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.

A sparkling work-in-progress

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mbsk wall 1.jpgThere were turnovers, bad shots, crowd-pleasing dunks, a resetting of the score at halftime and even players switching teams.

It was sloppy, sometimes ugly and yet exciting at the same time. It was everything one would expect from an intra-squad scrimmage on a team with so much hype.

For the first time this season, the 2009-10 Cats, led by first-year head coach John Calipari, gave Big Blue Nation its first true look at what this season could hold. The Blue team (comprised primarily of John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Darius Miller, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson) won the first half 49-27 before Calipari mixed things up in the second. The blue won the second half 57-46 in front of a Blue/White record crowd of 14,060 at Rupp Arena.

But the score hardly mattered Wednesday night.

There were glimpses of the potential high-flying Dribble Drive Motion Offense when the Cats were on the run and fans even saw a stifling defense at times as the Cats recorded 20 steals.
More than anything, though, they saw a team that is still very much a work-in-progress.

"Folks, we're not close to where we need to be, but I think you got a mental picture of what we're trying to do," Calipari said. "We couldn't press more than three minutes and we were exhausted."

As is the case with any preseason scrimmage when there is fatigue and kinks to work out, there are concerns. The Cats seemed to be a little trigger happy, lofting 45 shots from 3-point range, they committed a combined 32 turnovers and DeAndre Liggins committed eight fouls (yes, you read that correctly).

"We took some bad shots, folks," Calipari said. "We threw some balls that we shouldn't have thrown. Guys tried to make plays that we can't make. ... I'll watch the tape, point out that we just can't play that way. But we've had nine days. We've had 13 practices."

So, in other words, it was nothing out of the norm for a scrimmage.

The only thing you wouldn't expect is the unbelievable showing this team continues to grab. Even though it was just a scrimmage, the 14,000-plus fans continued to express an unwavering amount of support.

Wall and Co. made sure to put on a show.

"We wanted to come out here and act like the fans weren't here and just practice like we do in practice, play hard and try to make each other better," Wall said. "I think that's what we did tonight, but it just turned out to be a great show. It's great to have fans out there like that. It gives you a chill."

Wall put on just one of the numerous dazzling performances. Between his windmill dunks, no-look passes and lightning speed, he finished the game with 25 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

"He was good today, I thought," Calipari said. "I thought he played well. The only thing I told him was he has to give it up a little earlier. At times he held onto the ball."

When Wall was kicking the ball out, he was often hitting sophomore Darnell Dodson and junior Patrick Patterson. Dodson, praised before the season as the team's best 3-point shooter, finished with a game-high 26 points on 4-of-11 shooting from long range.

Meanwhile, Patterson continued to show his versatility, hitting turnaround shots in the lane, banging in the post and even hitting 2-of-4 from behind the arc.

"What I liked is he was able to play this offense, yet you still saw him around the basket," Patterson said. "People get worried that you're going to play this and he'll never get to the post. He'll figure out how to get to the post and we've got to figure out ways of getting him to the post."

Patterson finished with 24 points on 11-of-15 shooting, including his rim-rattling reverse dunk on a no-look pass from Cousins. But Patterson said the highlight of his night was draining treys from the perimeter.

"Dunking is really nothing, but to make a 3, it's something I haven't really done since I've been here," Patterson said. "I'll take that any time."

It wasn't a flawless performance by any means, but it wasn't bad either. Bledsoe dropped nine dimes, and Miller scored eight straight points at one point in the second half in what Calipari called the offense at its best.

Defensively, the Cats still have a long ways to go - UK didn't start really practicing on defensive techniques until Tuesday, according to Calipari - but it was hard for anyone not to get excited for the season after Wednesday night.

Calipari kidded that he's glad it's only October, but Wall gave UK a preview of its potential in the closing seconds with an exclamation point-like windmill dunk.

"It was a great thrill being out there in Rupp Arena actually playing a real game, a full-length game, playing with my teammates and getting that feel in front of the fans," Patterson said.

Blue/White live blog

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FB 09_10 UK_FL  WEB 076.jpgFollowing a near flawless performance at Auburn, one in which the Cats surrendered just one sack with three different quarterbacks under center, Rich Brooks started to praise his offensive line.

"The performance so far is clearly better than any offensive line that I've had since I have been here," Brooks said last week. "You just look at the number of sacks given up and the rushing yards against quality defenses. It is a very good group."

And then Brooks remembered his appraisal of his past lines.
 
"Do you know the old theory about mushrooms?" Brooks said. "You keep them in the dark and you feed them that fertilizer stuff, you know? Usually when you start to praise your O-line, for some reason in my past experience, they don't play as well very quick. I praised them in a loss (to South Carolina), and obviously they are getting a lion's share of the recognition this week, which they deserve. Now, I just have to hope they understand how they got to where they are and don't get fat-headed."

Don't worry, Rich, these big boys up front have been through too many ups and downs and too many battles in the trenches to let a few compliments go to their heads. Despite any disappointments of the past, UK's offensive line is finally playing up to its expectations.

In fact, it's exceeding them.

Statistically speaking, the Cats enter this week's Mississippi State game allowing just one sack a game, tied for 14th in the nation and second in the Southeastern Conference. With the help of the gaping holes provided by the offensive line, UK's rushing attack is ranked 26th nationally, with more than 186 yards per game.

Offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins said it all comes down to experience.

"I think we're making progress," Heggins said. "We've still got a ways to go. Each day is different for those guys. We see different fronts and you've got different blitzes we've got to pick up with each team, so we've got to keep coming along and working as a unit.

"It just takes time for those guys to jell together. They've jelled together, so they're obviously getting the pieces to the puzzle."

Experience wise, there might not be a more veteran group in all of college football. The Cats typically start four seniors (Zipp Duncan, Christian Johnson, Jorge Gonzalez and Justin Jeffries) and a sophomore (Stuart Hines), but the trials and obstacles many of them have overcome might be more telling of their grit than anything.

Despite switching to left tackle from left guard - the second position change in his career at UK - Duncan has started to flourish on what Heggins called "an island" against the speedy defensive ends of the SEC.

Duncan has improved so much in his transition that Johnson called him the nastiest player on the line in the Louisiana-Monroe game following a play where Duncan drove his rusher completely out of the camera.  

Gonzalez was suspended weeks before the season started for a violation of team rules and missed the season opener against Miami (Ohio). The fifth-year center has rebounded with a highly productive season, capped off by SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors for his performance against ULM.

And then there's Johnson, one of the most maligned players a season ago. Johnson, the brother of senior linebacker Micah Johnson, redshirted last season because of personal, weight and academic problems. It was unclear whether Johnson would even return this season, much less what his role would be, but the 6-foot-4, 330-pound guard has returned and is quietly having his most productive season in his UK career.

FB 09_10 UK_UL WEB TeamCoyle 055.jpgJohnson is just one of the prime examples of the hard-nosed, battle-tested linemen that are coming through for UK this year. Johnson said to call them the "Big Nasties."

"We have to be. That's what we want to be known as," Johnson said. "Honestly, when you have a good O-line, defenses know when they're coming to the game that it's going to be a long game, that we're going to be in their face, we're going to try to knock them down and show them who's boss."

Statistics aside, the most impressive feat of the Big Nasties this season has been their ability to rally around an ever-changing quarterback position.

With the injury to Mike Hartline, the addition of the Wildcat package, and the alternation of Morgan Newton and Will Fidler, the offensive line has had to block for a new player sometimes on every other play. They've had different voices calling the signals and different styles running and passing behind them, but it's made no difference.

Whether it's Newton or Cobb, the quarterback jerseys have stayed clean.

"That's one of the things we really pride ourselves on is trying to protect the passer and run the football," Duncan said. "I feel like anytime you've got a lot of veteran guys that have played together and know what it takes and are on the same page communicating, then you have a chance to be a good offensive line."

The pressure was laid squarely on the offensive line when Hartline went down with an injury, but the Big Nasties never flinched. Defenses tried to key in on UK's ground attack and pressure Newton,  a true freshman, but UK's line has kept pushing and blocking.

Duncan said they have taken pride in their ability to keep the young Newton off the turf in a difficult learning scenario.

"I think anytime you get a young guy in that situation, it's our job to make him feel comfortable," Duncan said. "He's got a lot going through his head, so anytime he feels comfortable that he's going to be protected and we know what we're doing up front, that's going to take some pressure off him."

It's their job, and no position group is doing it better this year.

"When one goes down, we've got to pick it up and do even better," Heggins said. "I think they understand the importance of it and the sense of urgency."

Cat connections

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Madness 2009 UK Basketball 67.jpg- Chip Cosby of the Lexington Herald-Leader writes that the UK football team is gearing up for the Mississippi State ground game

- Mark Story continues with the 25 most memorable men's basketball games

- Brett Dawson from the Courier-Journal on DeMarcus "Big Cuz" Cousins having big potential to be force in the post

- Larry Vaught of Vaught's Views writes that DeAndre Liggins is "anxious" to show what he can do

- The Kentucky Kernel unveils its basketball preview, profiling the return of Patrick Patterson

- Metz Camfield of the Kernel writes that recruits aim to revive program

- The third time's the charm for Harris, Stevenson, according to BW Jones

- Nick Craddock reports on the UK women's basketball team

- The USA Today also has an in-depth profile on Patterson

Practice report: Cats getting defensive

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Madness 2009 UK Basketball 74.jpgWeeks before John Calipari's team took the floor for Big Blue Madness, the official start to the 2009-10 men's basketball season, the first-year UK head coach prophesized that his team would be one of the better defensive teams in the country.

Calipari used the term "great" to describe what he hopes will be a swarming defense.

"To be a good defensive team, you have to have players capable of playing defense and you better have a good rebounding team, bottom line," Calipari said in August, before his team had even come together for drill instruction. "It's not me saying our system of play is the best defensive system. You win because you have terrific players. If you want to win national championships, then you have national championship level players.

"But we have great quickness and size. We have length at the wings. We have a physical toughness that you need. I think we should be a great rebounding team and shot blocking team. That lends to great defense."

For all the talk about the Dribble Drive Motion Offense and its potential proficiency on the court, Calipari has maintained belief that this year's edition of the Cats will be one of the better defensive teams in the country. They will work primarily on offense, he said, but he's hoping they will rank near the top of all the major defensive categories.

On Tuesday, for the first time since this writer has been watching UK practices, Calipari focused extensively on the defensive end. The Cats focused on their defensive technique and sets for about an hour-and-15-minute chunk of the two-and-a-half-hour long practice.

The goal?

"We're going to be the best defensive team in the country," Calipari told his players. "People are not going to want to play us."

After a week and a half of practice, Calipari would be the first to tell you that they are not there yet. To achieve those lofty goals, Calipari stressed two things to his team when playing defense: One, Calipari said they're going to have to work together and rely on one another. Two, they will have to play with absolute desperation.

Let's dig a little deeper into each facet.

When stressing defense, Calipari wants a number of individual things. He wants his players to get out on screens, to communicate and to get their hands up.

Calipari pointed out that his team is long and athletic and needs to take advantage of its size. He singled out 6-foot Eric Bledsoe, who has a 6-7 wingspan. Calipari said if he keeps his hands up and active, he can play like a 6-5 man on the defensive end.

But, more than anything, Calipari wants his players working as a unit, encouraging each other to go harder and faster.

"The only way any of this works is by working together," Calipari shouted to his players.

During one drill where the Cats' defensive unit tried forcing the offense into shooting the ball as late as possible in the shot clock, junior forward Josh Harrellson cut off the pass at the top of the perimeter, diving to the floor to get the ball.

After the Cats won the possession, senior forward Perry Stevenson, Harrellson's defensive teammate, walked off the court without hardly saying a word. Calipari made a beeline for Stevenson and told him to literally go over and hug his teammate for his effort.

"This is my job is to get you guys to love this drill and one another and to take pride in playing defense," Calipari said.

Moments later, Calipari singled out freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins for never giving up. It's what he termed, "playing with absolute desperation."

On a defensive switch, Cousins lost track of his man on the backdoor and the Cats hit Harrellson with a wide-open look underneath the basket. Harrellson appeared to have an easy two-hand dunk, but Cousins sprinted from about seven feet away and rejected the shot off the glass.

Calipari, donned in a gray jacket and black sweatpants, started jumping up and down. In this writer's honest opinion, I've never seen him more excited on the practice court this year.

"That's what I'm talking about," Calipari screamed.

It's that effort and that never-say-die attitude Calipari is hoping to push on his team as it prepares for the season and the Blue/White Game on Wednesday in Rupp Arena. If the Cats can continue to play defense like they did in the second half of Tuesday's practice, they'll have the total package.

"We'll go from an offensive team that goes crazy to an offensive team that goes crazy and shuts you out," Calipari said.

Football, basketball in high definition

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Madness 2009 UK Basketball 46.jpgInsight Communications will now be providing its customers in Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky with the high-definition broadcasts of UK football and basketball games, according to Insight CEO Michael Willner.

Until Insight is able to launch Fox Sports South HD, the cable provider will make UK games on FS South available in high definition as a temporary special event. The games on FS South, including the Blue/White Game on Wednesday and the Saturday's football game against Mississippi State,  will air in high definition on Insight Digital HD channel 929 (channel 930 in Bowling Green, Ky.).

A full schedule of the games below that will be provided in high definition:

Football
10/31/09 - vs. Mississippi State - Lexington, Ky. - 7 p.m. ET

Basketball
10/28/09 - Blue/White Game (FS South/BBSN) - Lexington, Ky. - 7 p.m. ET
11/02/09 - vs. Campbellsville (FS South) - Lexington, Ky. - 7 p.m. ET
11/06/09 - vs. Clarion (FS South) - Lexington, Ky. - 7 p.m. ET
11/16/09 - vs. Miami University (FS South/BBSN) - Lexington, Ky. - 7 p.m. ET
11/19/09 - vs. Sam Houston State (FS South) - Lexington, Ky. - 7 p.m. ET
11/21/09 - vs. Rider (FS South) - Lexington, Ky. - 1 p.m. ET
11/30/09 - vs. UNC Asheville (FS South) - Louisville, Ky. 7 p.m. ET
12/23/09 - vs. Long Beach State (FS South) - Lexington, Ky. 1 p.m. ET

The players and fans can plead and beg all they want, but Kentucky will not be wearing black jerseys for Saturday's "blackout game" against Mississippi State.

Head coach Rich Brooks put an end to the jersey rumors on Tuesday, telling reporters that UK does not have black jerseys.

"We don't have black jerseys, folks, OK?" Brooks said. "The marketing department had came up with a brilliant idea and I hope our fans will follow through on it, but we do not have black jerseys. You have to order them well in advance. We are wearing our regular uniforms."

Traditionally, UK wears all blue for its home games.

Asked if he was surprised about all the reaction and support for black jerseys, Brooks paused, smiled and quickly turned his attention to Mississippi State.

"I'm worried about Mississippi State, believe it or not," Brooks said. "That is the most important thing. We're playing a very, very important football game and we better worry about them coming in here and trying to knock us out in our own stadium."

Injury update: Senior linebacker Micah Johnson did not practice Tuesday and will not try to practice until Thursday. Sophomore safety Matt Lentz did not practice with an ankle injury and senior offensive tackle Justin Jeffries was sent home with the flu.

UK baseball fall practice update

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_B6I1568.JPGIt is October, which means fall, colorful leaves, cool temperatures and playoff baseball.
 
While the Yankees and Phillies are on a collision course for the 2009 World Series, the Kentucky baseball team is in the midst of its fall practice season.
 
With the fall practice season comes position battles and an opportunity for newcomers to make their case for playing time come spring. Last year, under the direction of first-year head coach Gary Henderson, the fall was a chance for the team to get accustomed to Henderson's management style and new assistant coach and offensive guru Brian Green.
 
Now in his second season after a ninth-place finish in the rugged Southeastern Conference in 2009, Henderson leads a club that knows what it takes to compete in the SEC, and maybe more importantly, knows what he expects one a daily basis from the team.
 
Henderson welcomes in 13 newcomers for the 2010 season, the sixth-best recruiting class in college baseball, but returns eight position starters and two of its three-man weekend rotation. Included in those returnees are weekend starters James Paxton and Alex Meyer, two first-round talents that will anchor a talented, deep and young pitching staff. Paxton, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound left-hander, headlines the class after spurning the Blue Jays offer as the 37th overall selection in June. The Ladner, British Columbia, native was the highest drafted player in the 2009 MLB Draft to elect to return to college.
 
With several veteran returnees, Henderson can rely upon those seasoned players to help the newcomers adjust to playing baseball at the highest collegiate level.
 
"We have seen the development of our returning offensive players and the indoctrination to college baseball for a lot of young and new pitching during the spring," Henderson said. "It is important every year to have some veterans who can help lead the team, especially during the fall. You have got to have a core group of your club with an experience level and an understanding of what it takes to be successful and help impart that on the new kids."
 
There may not be a coach in college baseball that stresses the mental aspect of the game like Henderson does. Henderson, who got his master's degree from San Diego State in sports psychology, spends a good chunk of the fall getting the newcomers acclimated to the differences between high school or junior college baseball and the competition level in the SEC.
 
"It is extremely important to let them know that this is a completely different level then they have competed at in the past and what they are used to facing," Henderson said. "It is crucial to get them to understand that you have to show up on a daily basis and you have got to develop an entirely different level of mental toughness so that you can compete in the SEC."
 
Returning position starters include second baseman Chris Bisson, backstop Marcus Nidiffer, center fielder Keenan Wiley, utility man Gunner Glad, first baseman Braden Kapteyn, and sophomores Chad Wright, Andy Burns and Cory Farris. That group gives UK a veteran lineup with capable bats.
 
"The guys that have done extremely well this fall have been Bisson, Nidiffer, Wiley and Wright," Henderson said. "Those four guys have probably had the best fall and we are very excited for those guys to emerge. At the same time I have been very pleased with the development and maturation of (left-handed pitcher) Taylor Rogers, (catcher) Luke Maile and (shortstop) Taylor Black."

FB 09_10 UK_FL  WEB 001.jpgRich Brooks has talked about it all year.

Kentucky wants to climb that proverbial ladder to the top of the Southeastern Conference. With presumably just a few years left in his coaching career, Brooks wants to put Kentucky on top when he finally decides to walk away.

But Brooks reminded everyone Monday that it takes more than just a leap to the get to the top. It takes several steps and several climbs to reach that ultimate destination.

It's kind of like that ancient and all too often overused cliché of taking it one step at a time. UK has to take that next step on the ladder before it can think about the second and third step.

Mississippi State, historically the UK of the SEC Western Division, is the next barrier to climb. If the Cats are going to check off the next batch of goals, they have to take care of the teams like Mississippi State.

"When you are in the lower half of the league historically, to get to the upper half, you not only have to knock off some of those big guys, but you have to beat the guys that are like you," said Brooks, who is 7-4 against SEC West teams since 2006. "Mississippi State and Kentucky have been like each other for quite a while, and the team that wins has an edge up of being able to climb that ladder a little bit."

MSU stole a similar edge in 2007 in an eerily identical game. The Cats were riding a 6-2 record into Homecoming weekend, just two weeks removed from the historic upset over No. 1 LSU. Nationally ranked with four games to go, the UK players and coaches had their sights set on - gasp! - a New Year's Day bowl.

And then the MSU ground attack ran the UK train right off the tracks. The upset at Commonwealth certainly didn't derail a superb season in the Bluegrass - the Cats went on to finish 8-5 and win the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl - but there's no telling where UK might have been spending the holidays had it not floundered on Homecoming.

"It's always something that happens before this game," offensive lineman Christian Johnson said. "Some games we lose and then there's always some games that other SEC teams lose, which makes it all the more important to push yourself in front of them if you do win the game."

A must-win, though, if UK is going to make this season's bid for a fourth straight bowl appearance even more special?

"We definitely have to win this game," Johnson said. "This is one of the biggest games of the season, if not the biggest. If we win this it will put us ahead where we need to be and help us accomplish our goal of going to the best bowl game that we can."

But that's where the paradox exists. As much as Kentucky needs this game, Mississippi State might need it even more. At 3-5 with four games remaining, the Bulldogs would need to win three of their next four to be bowl eligible.

It's yet another strikingly similar scenario to the 2007 Homecoming humbling. The Bulldogs entered that game 4-4 and in dire need of two more wins to become bowl eligible. With the win, MSU went on to a Liberty Bowl victory.

"You look at your schedule and whether you are favored, or not going to be favored, or going to be favored, and you look and say you can beat this team and that team, but you have to beat this team and this team. Guess what? They are looking at you the same way. We have to beat that team," Brooks said.
 
Needless to say, the Mississippi State game has had huge ramifications in each of UK's bowl-winning seasons.

In 2006, the MSU win arguably turned the season around - and quite possibly the fate of UK's modern history - the week after a trouncing in Baton Rouge, La. Last season, UK squeaked out its bowl eligibility victory following a demoralizing defeat to Florida.

Both teams need this game, maybe a bit desperately. As history would indicate, it could define the rest of the season.

"It's one of those games you have to win," Johnson said. "We're going to have to come together, we're going to have to play hard and we're going to have to fight our best."

First-place Cats blocked from top 10

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_R6L4798.jpgDespite reclaiming sole possession of first place and defeating a ranked team, the pollsters could not overlook the volleyball team's loss to Tennessee in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll.

The Cats, who are 20-2 on the season with a league-leading record of 10-1 in the Southeastern Conference, tumbled five spots to No. 12 in this week's rankings.

UK defeated No. 20 LSU in five sets Saturday to retake sole possession of first place in the SEC. Only No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Texas have better winning percentages in the top 25 than Kentucky, and four teams have five or more losses.

Florida, which lost to Kentucky earlier this season and sits a game back in the loss column, is now ahead of UK in the polls, checking in at No. 10.

No respect? You be the judge.

Weekly injury update

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FB_08_09_UK_USC_17.jpgAt the beginning of the season, who would have imagined that linebacker Micah Johnson, cornerback Trevard Lindley and quarterback Mike Hartline could all potentially be out for the same game?

That could be the case Saturday when the Cats welcome Mississippi State to Commonwealth Stadium.

An MRI test Monday morning confirmed that linebacker Micah Johnson has an isolated medial collateral ligament tear. Johnson is questionable to doubtful, Brooks said, and will be re-evaluated later this week.

Sophomore Ronnie Sneed would start in place of Johnson if he is unable to play. Brooks is confident Sneed can fill in for Johnson if called upon, but it's hard to measure how much it would hurt the team if he cannot play.

"You can't quantify how much exactly," Brooks said, "but it certainly doesn't help. Let's put it that way. We're facing a big, physical running back (Anthony Dixon) and Micah just happens to be a big, physical linebacker."

Cornerback Trevard Lindley (high ankle sprain) ran at Sunday's practice but was sore on Monday. Brooks said he remains on the questionable side.

"I'm sure (missing games isn't) how he envisioned his senior season when he decided to come back," Brooks said.

Quarterback Mike Hartline, who is recovering from an MCL tear, some cartilage damage and a slight posterior collateral ligament tear, has accumulated some swelling in his knee after standing on the sideline for the Louisiana-Monroe game.

Brooks said they would know more at the end of the week on the MCL and if the cartilage would be a problem after the MCL heals.

"He's not quite far along as we would hope at this point," Brooks said.

In addition to those major injuries, several players are dinged up and battling illness.
Tailback CoShik Williams (sick), defensive tackle Shane McCord (bruised shin), long snapper J.J. Helton (sick), safety Winston Guy (back) and safety Matt Lentz (ankle) will all likely miss some time at practice this week.

"It's a physical game and there are very, very few guys that are feeling 100 percent," Brooks said.

Even Brooks, a bit croaky at the podium on Monday, is not at 100 percent, although he is expected to be on the sidelines Saturday.

"Yeah, I'll play," Brooks said.

Saturday a 'blackout' game

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Kentucky's game versus Mississippi State is a "blackout" game. UK is encouraging fans to wear black for Saturday's game on Halloween, although it does not appear very likely the Kentucky players will sport black uniforms.

The consensus among the UK players at Monday's weekly news conference is that they really want to wear them. When asked about potentially playing in all black, offensive lineman Christian Johnson said he would "probably have a heart attack."

"When you look at a team and you see them in their regular jerseys in warm-ups, then you see them come back out and they have all black on, it's an intimidation factor," Johnson said. "I think it would do wonders. We have had the same thing and I think it can kick us up and kick the fans up. But whatever jerseys we have on, we have to win."

Sophomore cornerback Randall Burden said he's heard the rumors of black uniforms, but doesn't believe the "old school" head coach will go for it.

"We had a team meeting yesterday and everyone was hollering out, 'Are we getting black uniforms?' But, I don't think it's true," Burden said. "They wore black cleats for the Louisville game before I got here, and they got blown out. I guess he is superstitious about the black thing."

Brooks didn't outright rule out black jerseys for Saturday, but he is going to need a steady dose of convincing just to get him to warm up to the idea.

"I haven't seen black in our school colors," Brooks said. "I think we're blue and white. I'm an old traditionalist, I guess. They tried to sell me on black shoes, too, but that didn't work out too well."

Rich Brooks' weekly news conference

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Johnson questionable with MCL strain

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Micah.jpg The status of senior linebacker Micah Johnson remained unchanged on Sunday. Head coach Rich Brooks said he has a medial collateral ligament strain.

Johnson was walking around without crutches on Sunday and will have a precautionary MRI on Monday, Brooks said, but they won't know more for at least another 24 hours. Brooks said he is hopeful it is not anymore serious than running back Derrick Locke's MCL strain was from a week ago.

Johnson, last week's Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week, leads the Cats with 55 stops, including 4.5 tackles for a loss. 

Brooks also said that senior cornerback Trevard Lindley remains doubtful with a high ankle sprain. Lindley will try to run outside Sunday, Brooks said, and they will re-evaluate him Monday.

Lindley has missed the last two games.

The Big Blueprint

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cobb td 1 b.jpgMissed the game? Watched it but can't get enough or can't believe what you saw? Cat Scratches will break down the nuts and bolts from each and every game, including some postgame reaction and comments from the players who made the difference.

The essentials: John Conner provided the thunder. Randall Cobb sparked the lightning. Behind the power of Conner and the fleet foot of Cobb, the Kentucky football team won its 17th straight non-conference game - which ties UK's school record - defeating Louisiana-Monroe 36-13 on Saturday night in front of 68,203 fans at Commonwealth Stadium. Cobb returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown and added another on the ground, and Conner split his two scores with a career-long run and career-long catch. The Cats struggled to move the ball in the second half, but cornerback Randall Burden sealed the game with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown.

"We got accomplished what we needed to do," head coach Rich Brooks said. "(I have) got to give Louisiana-Monroe a lot of credit. Their defensive stuff is something that gave us a lot of problems, and I thought it probably would, but we didn't move the ball well at all. It seems like we scored in chunks rather than drives. ... But we are moving into the next week with a good win against what I think is a pretty good football team and I think has a chance to do a lot of damage in their league."

Play of the game: Take your pick. Conner provided a highlight reel of tackle-breaking runs and Cobb was mighty impressive in the Wildcat package, but the nod has to go to Cobb's 73-yard punt return for a touchdown. The sophomore do-it-all was hit as he was making the catch, but he spun out of the tackle and cut up-field for an easy punt return. It was UK's first punt return since Rafael Little ran one back 84 yards on Nov. 18, 2006, against none another than ULM.
 
The most astonishing part of the run was the fact that it was Cobb's first career return for a touchdown at any level, college or high school.

"I had like three or four big blocks that really sprung it," Cobb said. "It was just left with me and the punter. I know I'll get a lot of stuff if I get tackled by a punter."

That wasn't going to happen.


Turning point: It didn't take long for the Cats to jump out in front. With a true freshman, Morgan Newton, running the show, John Conner got the call on second down from the 40-yard line and busted a career-long 39-yard run. The senior fullback appeared to be stuffed after a few yards, but he spun out of the would-be tacklers, running it down to the ULM 1. Conner got the nod two plays later for a 1-yard run.

"Being a fullback, you don't know what you're going to get," Conner said. "You might be blocking most of the day, you might get some carries, so I just try to make the best out of what I do."

Thumbnail image for conner td.jpgPlayer of the game: Conner, Cobb. Conner, Cobb. Yes, it's all we're talking about, but they were the stories, quite frankly. So who gets the game ball? Well, I'm going to do what coaches do sometimes and take the easy way out. They both get one for this game.

"We tried not to give Randall as many (touches) but it seems like every time he touches it he does something pretty good with it," Brooks said.

Unsung heroes: The UK defense had its problems getting off the field on third down, but it also sealed the UK victory with its bend but don't break mentality. Three times the ULM offense got into the UK red zone and came up with blanks. The Cats defense also provided nine huge points in the second half on an interception return for a touchdown and a key safety.

He said what? Other notable quotes:

Brooks on Conner's play ...
"John is a pretty special guy. He's one of the best blockers in college football and he showed that he can run. ... I think that he's going to have a future beyond, obviously. He's certainly the changeup in our offense."

Brooks on Morgan Newton's performance ...
"Everyone assumes that because a guy is a highly touted recruit when he comes in that he can automatically step into college football and be an instant savior or star and do a lot of things. It's really hard. It is really, really hard. Morgan continues to do some good things and some of the things he did tonight we're better than he did last week, but we have to be more efficient with the football. We have to make our reads a little quicker and deliver the ball where it's supposed to be."

Joker Phillips on whether anything that Cobb does surprises him ...
"There isn't. I told you he had it. We don't know what it is, but he has it. We're glad we have him."

Injury report: Linebacker Micah Johnson left the game early in the first half with a medial collateral ligament injury. Brooks said they'll determine the extent of the injury in the next 24 to 48 hours. Johnson returned to the field in the second half on crutches and in street clothes. Brooks said the injury is "not major, major, but it is not a band aid injury either."

Linebacker Sam Maxwell dinged his shoulder but returned to the game, and safety Winston Guy bruised his back. Neither of those injuries appear to be serious.

"It seems like we've had to deal with these issues this year and we're going to have to continue to deal with them," Brooks said. "It's not too many years ago when we had one or two of those injuries, we'd be getting killed out there. The good news is we're still able to hang in there and win some games."

Hidden stat: ULM quarterback Cody Wells is downright tough. Making his first collegiate start, the redshirt freshman went 21-for-44 for 267 yards and a score. Wells was at his best when the task was at its tallest. He constantly stood in the pocket and took shots while he was getting hit. He bounced back every time.

Wells did most of his damage on third down. The strong-armed gunslinger helped the Warhawks convert 12-of-19 on third downs. Wells was 10-of-18 for 141 yards on third down alone, with nine of those passes resulting in first downs. On all other downs he was 11-of-26 for 126 yards with a touchdown and two picks.

"(I was) very impressed with their young quarterback under duress," Brooks said. "I mean he was getting hit a lot and still throwing the ball and completing it."

Still, Brooks put part of the blame on his defense.

"Our third down defense was atrocious," he said.

What this one means: It means that any negative feelings there were about this team after a three-game losing streak have suddenly evaporated. Now that the Cats have stuck their heads back above .500, some of those goals Rich Brooks preached about at the beginning of the season don't seem so unlikely anymore.

"We got accomplished what we needed to do," Brooks said.

UK took its hits against teams few in the nation can beat, but now it's winning the games it's supposed to win. Games like Saturday's make fans yawn sometimes, but they count just as equally in the win column as the wins against Louisville in Auburn. 

With a favorable schedule the rest of the way, the Cats can start to dream about taking this already historic thee-year bowl run to new heights.

"I'm not happy (being 4-3), but I'm happy where we are now based on where we were two weeks ago," Brooks said. "I think to get the Auburn win and then come home and get this one, it's critical. It's puts us in position to go back into conference play this coming week against Mississippi State and play a critical football game for us. ... This is a huge football game for both teams next week."

Live football blog: UK vs. Louisiana-Monroe

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Gameday links

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_DSC2033.jpg- Chip Cosby of the Lexington Herald-Leader writes that the Cats are wary of Louisiana-Monroe

- In Cosby's notes, he writes that Paul Warford is playing great through an injury

- Cosby breaks down today's matchup

- A Q and A with running back Alfonso Smith

- Brett Dawson from the Courier-Journal on the quarterback plots for both teams

- The Cats' Pause's Darrell Bird has a video preview of today's game

- His colleague Jeff Drummond speaks with defensive coordinator Steve Brown

- The Kentucky Kernel's position-by-position breakdown

ESPN kicks it with Cobb

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Cobb escapes.jpgESPN blogger Chris Low "kicked it with Randall Cobb" in his latest blog pos t. It's basically a Q and A with the wide receiver/quarterback/do-everything star, but as always, some good stuff from Low.

My favorite Cobb quote from the Q and A:

"I know I'm not the fastest guy or the strongest guy. But on the football field, I play with so much heart that I don't want to be tackled and don't want to be brought down. I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure that doesn't happen. If that means running away from guys, then I'm going to do the best I can to run away from them."

More pics from practice

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- First let me say I'm the worst photographer of all-time. Definitely not my strong suit, but I did my best to snap a few shots while I was down at practice.

- Really cool scene to see all the students pack the lower bowl of Memorial Coliseum and wait anxiously for the team to come out. The band was blaring behind the basket and flash bulbs were popping once head coach John Calipari and the team came out.

- It was just a practice, but this team seems to carry a surreal feeling with them wherever they go. Coaches from the Joe Craft Center, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and a bunch of other UK staffers watched from the concourse at Memorial to watch the team run drills. What other team in the nation could carry that type of attention?

- Calipari addressed the crowd beforehand, telling them to turn their cell phones off or on silent. He said the fans could break out into one last ovation before they got started, but after that, it was the team's time to practice. Calipari told the fans he was giving them a behind-the-scenes look at the same type of practice they would run in the Joe Craft Center, but he needed the team's attention when he blew the whistle or shouted out instructions.

- After explaining the details, Cal did have a couple of great one-liners to the students. He told the students that "We go down together and we go up together." He then said, "We'll cry together when we lose -- if we lose." The guy knows how to talk and fire up a crowd.

- Not a whole lot to report from the practice itself. Couple of "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd when DeMarcus Cousins crammed the ball and John Wall did a reverse dunk, but other than that, it was business as usual on the practice court. Cal did get on the team once for being a little too lethargic, telling his players that he didn't care if 3,000 people were watching and to pick up the pace. Cousins promptly followed with a nasty two-hand dunk. 

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Pics from student-only practice

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Close-knit Cats have team chemistry

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Madness 2009 UK Basketball 92.jpgOn a team with very few weaknesses, one of the perceived concerns entering the 2009-10 men's basketball season was team chemistry.

With six highly touted recruits joining seven returners, many thought head coach John Calipari would have much more on his hands than just the Xs and Os of the Dribble Drive Motion Offense.

With big-name talent comes the chance that you'll nab a prima donna or two. When you recruit the best of the best players, they know they're that good, too. Some come in with big-heads and an aura of cockiness. That, of course, never sits well with the returners, who sometimes feel like it's their time to shine.

Meshing those types of players and those personalities was thought to be one of the key hurdles in the Cats' season. The only problem with that prediction is that Calipari never recruited those kinds of players. He brought in kids with good hearts, and meshing this team together has never been a problem, according to Calipari and the players.

"It's a great team chemistry," freshman sensation John Wall said. "Everybody thought it was going to be tough with the six incoming players coming in because we were so highly recruited, there was so much hype with us and there were seven returning players coming back. We all had to make sacrifices to get this team where we want it to go. In pickup (games) we have our little arguments, but we once we step off the court we're all like brothers again."

Brothers would be the best way to describe it. They joke with one another, push each other around, steal each other's shoe - yes, Patrick Patterson likes to steal DeMarcus Cousins' shoes a lot, according to Cousins - have nicknames for each other - the "Three Amigos" (Wall, Cousins and Eric Bledsoe), "Yogi" (Cousins) and "Boo-Boo" (Bledsoe) - and they even bicker from time to time.

When they're on the court, they're all business, but off it they've put their talents and potential aside and become a family.

 "We know that we've got to bond and come together, understand one another and get to know each other and become a family," Patterson said. "This team is different, this team is new. We've got a bunch of newcomers so we knew we had to come together to develop that chemistry and relationship."

Although some of the newcomers had started to mix in the summer, the team didn't start to really bond until head coach John Calipari showed the team the movie "Remember the Titans."

"There is a race element to (the movie), but it is about people from different backgrounds coming together, learning to respect each other, learning to have some affection, which eventually turns into love, the type of love where grown men will cry to each other," Calipari said. "When you have that kind of love, you care about the other person more then you care about yourself. If we get to that point with this team, we won't lose many games."

Even though they're getting along now, it will take a while for the players to really rely on one another as they go through the battles and wars together, Calipari said

"It is kind of like you are in a fox hole, who do you send for ammo? Who is coming back?" Calipari said. "We are trying to figure each other out right now. But I tell you what, it is a good group of guys and they know we need each other."

The epitome of that bond might not be more evident than the relationship of Wall, Bledsoe and Cousins.

There was a notion when Wall signed with UK that he and Bledsoe would be unable to co-exist. There are only so many shots to go around, critics thought, so one of them would have to go.

But instead of clashing, Wall and Bledsoe have become as close as anybody on the team. Calipari said Wall's best friend is Bledsoe, and along with Cousins, they call themselves the "Three Amigos."

"We're like brothers," Bledsoe said. "We just came and fell in love with each other."

And they've been inseparable ever since. They're the most competitive battle on the court during practices. Bledsoe and Wall have been so impressive that Calipari is seriously considering starting both Wall and Bledsoe

"We're both competitive," Wall said. "We go at each other in pickup. We try to make each other better to prepare us for the season, because when we suit up together, it's going to be trouble."

Cousins said he didn't understand why people thought there would be tension among the superstar recruiting class. Cousins said he and Bledsoe were from the "same dirt" and got along from day one, and the rest of the players are just too good of people not to get along with one another.

"I'm not surprised at all because that's just the type of people we are," Cousins said. "There's no selfishness, there's no arrogance or big-headedness. There's none of that. We're all just cool down-to-earth people."

Calipari is hoping those relationships will continue to trickle down to the rest of the team. On a team this talented and this potentially good, he knows it'll be one of the defining keys to the season.

Can the superstars co-exist?

"It's got to be respect, affection, love," Calipari said. "A real emotion bond that they won't give up on each other."

What you need to know for Saturday's game

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FB 09_10 UK_UL WEB TeamCoyle 001.jpgTime: Saturday at 7 p.m. EDT

Location: Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.

TV coverage: FOX Sports South and ESPN GamePlan with Bob Rathbun and Dave Archer (game will also be available online at )

Radio coverage: Big Blue Sports Network with Tom Leach, Jeff Piecoro and Dick Gabriel (630 WLAP-AM in Lexington); Check for an affiliate in your area 

Satellite radio: XM 244; Sirius 211 (note: you must have the "Best of XM" package to hear the game on Sirius)

Digital coverage: Cat Scratches' live in-game blog; Gametracker; Twitter updates

Game-time weather: 48 degrees, clear, 10 percent chance of precipitation

Arrive early: Fans are highly encouraged to arrive at the stadium early to avoid parking delays and also to enter the stadium early to avoid long entry lines at the stadium gates.

Parking: Parking information can be found on UK's Gameday site

Cat Walk: The "Cat Walk" will resume Saturday at 4:45 p.m. Fans wishing to participate in cheering on the Wildcats as they enter the stadium Saturday should be between the corner of Jerry Claiborne Way and College Way outside of Commonwealth Stadium gate one. The team bus will arrive at approximately 4:45 p.m., when the team will unload the bus and walk to the stadium. Guests are asked to line up on each side of the "Cat Walk" to allow for ample space for the team to walk from the buses to Commonwealth Stadium. View a map of the "Cat Walk."

GuestAssist service now available: UK is offering a new fan service at Kentucky football games. "GuestAssist" is a communications service that enables one-to-one text messaging between Commonwealth Stadium guests and stadium operations personnel.

Fans can ask questions about game-day information and/or report concerns regarding behavior through the convenience of their cell phones. Stadium operations personnel will monitor and respond to guest' game-day inquiries on a real-time basis and if needed, dispatch support, security, etc. to the guests' location. Fans wishing to utilize the service should text, "CATS, your message and your seat location" to 78247 (CATS must be the first four characters in the message body. Standard text message rates apply).

"GuestAssist" is not intended for emergency use. In the event of an emergency, guests should contact the nearest stadium event staff and/or dial 911.

*All information on Saturday's game with the University of Louisiana Monroe can be found at UK's official Gameday site.

SEC Media Day links

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Madness 2009 UK Basketball 50.jpg- Jerry Tipton from the Lexington Herald-Leader writes that Patrick Patterson embraces role as UK's leading man

- Tipton on the rest of the SEC accepting UK as preseason favorites

- The Courier-Journal's Brett Dawson on the new-look Wildcats picked to finish first

- The Cats are dealing with heavy expectations, writes Matt May from The Cats' Pause

- Larry Vaught, as always, has a long list of UK stories at Vaught's Views

- Mike Griffith of Go Vols Xtra writes that the rivalry between John Calipari and Bruce Pearl is alive and well

- Calipari predicts SEC Hoops resurgence, according to Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

- Doug Segrest from the Birmingham News on Calipari handling the pressure at Kentucky 

Video: Coach Cal at SEC Media Day

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Scouting the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

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Kentucky Louisiana-Monroe
Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks at a Glance
Head Coach Charlie Weatherbie
Record at School 74-111 (17th season)
2009 Record 4-2, 3-0 Sun Belt
Ranking Not ranked
Series Record Kentucky leads 2-1
Last Meeting Kentucky beat Louisiana-Monroe 42-40 in Lexington in 2006
2009 Team Stats UK ULM
Rushing Offense 186.50 194.50
Passing Offense 152.00 200.00
Total Offense 338.50 394.50
Scoring Offense 24.50 30.50
Rushing Defense 184.83 93.33
Passing Defense 163.33 262.50
Total Defense 348.17 355.83
Scoring Defense 24.67 27.83
Turnover Margin -0.17 +0.33
2009 Stat Leaders
Rushing UK: Derrick Locke (99 rushes, 459 yds, 3 TDs)
ULM: Frank Goodin (110 rushes, 558 yds, 9 TDs)
Passing UK: Mike Hartline (77-127, 792 yds, 6 TDs, 6 INTs)
ULM: Trey Revell (81-140, 1,124 yds, 8 TDs, 5 INTs)
Receiving UK: Randall Cobb (24 catches, 322 yds, 3 TDs)
ULM: Darrell McNeal (24 catches, 360 yds, 4 TDs)
Tackles UK: Micah Johnson (52)
ULM: Cardia Jackson (52)
Sacks UK: DeQuin Evans and Corey Peters (3)
ULM: Aaron Morgan (7)
Interceptions UK: Calvin Harrison and Sam Maxwell (2)
ULM: James Truxillo (2)
Gameday Information
Game Notes UK Notes Get Acrobat Reader | UK Depth Chart Get Acrobat Reader
ULM Notes Get Acrobat Reader | ULM Depth Chart Get Acrobat Reader
Date & Time Saturday, Oct. 24
7:30 p.m
Coverage TV: Fox Sports Network
Radio: BBSN
GameTracker GameTracker
Online Audio listen
Live Blog
Location Commonwealth Stadium
Lexington, Ky.
Gameday Information

Cat Scratches will continue its weekly football scouting preview this week for the Kentucky-Louisiana-Monroe football game by bringing in Kenny Colston of the Kentucky Kernel and Tabby Soignier of the Monroe News-Star.

On Thursday at 3:30 p.m. Colston and Soignier will join us for a live chat to give their thoughts on the matchup, what the keys are to the game, who fans should look out for and more. The 30 to 40 minute chat with the reporters will offer fans an inside look at the game from the people who are closest to the teams.

Fans are encouraged to join the interactive blog and send in questions. The last 15 minutes of the chat will be dedicated to fans' questions. If you can't join us and would like to have a question submitted, please send your question to catscratches@email.uky.edu and we'll try to fit it in.

SEC Media Day tidbits

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Thumbnail image for MBSK Coach Cal Press Web 01.jpgI'm stuck in Lexington today, so unfortunately no unique coverage from me regarding Southeastern Conference Media Day in Birmingham, Ala. Good thing is most of what Cal and Co. said we've already heard before.

However, a couple of new highlights have been reported from the local media, most notably Matt May of The Cats' Pause and Brett Dawson from the Courier-Journal. Just a couple of highlights from those guys:

- May reported that John Calipari absolutely raved about freshman John Wall, calling Wall and Patrick Patterson the hardest workers on the team. May reported that Wall is ahead of where Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans were at this stage in their offensive development, but Calipari still has to get a gauge on where Wall's desire and willingness is to make the play when it's absolutely necessary. Rose and Evans had that ability. Time will tell if Wall does.

- Patterson called Calipari "a god," according to May. Patterson told the media that Lexington has already given him a key to the city and that he could be "Mr. Kentucky." Good stuff.

- You will have to get the rest of May's notes at The Cats' Pause. It's a subscriber service so I can't disclose the rest of the information. If you are a TCP subscriber, though, I recommend clicking over.

- Dawson tweeted earlier that Cal said he might start three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior. My guess would be John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Darius Miller and Patrick Patterson. Again, just my opinion.  

- Calipari did tell the media that he thought the SEC would get seven or eight bids to the NCAA Tournament this year. I'm not sure if the league will get quite that many, but it will certainly be very improved. I'll go with five to six teams. 

UPDATE: Well, the SEC just posted some quotes on its Web site. Quotes are below. As I said before, nothing all that newsworthy.

Men's Head Coach John Calipari
On the team's outlook...
"We are very big, athletic and fast. On our first day of practice, it seemed like we missed 70 layups and we do not shoot as well as I would prefer. We have got a lot of room to grow. I really thrive on coaching defense, which means teaching discipline and fundamentals."

On perimeter scoring...
"I do not know yet. Darnell (Dodson) and Darius (Miller) can shoot the ball well. I feel comfortable with particular shooting, but we are focusing on layups and getting the ball inside."

On teaching the offense...
"We have had six practices, so we are still a month away from the guys being comfortable. Once they are comfortable, there is no holding them back. My offense is meant to put players in a position to make their own shot."

Patrick Patterson, Jr.
On the differences from last season...
"Everything is different: practices, coaching style, day in and day out. We have a new coaching staff and new players. There is a lot more enthusiasm, anticipation and competitiveness this year. It is a drastic change."

On expectations for this season...
"This year feels a lot different. Everyone expects us to have a great year this season, not only us, but our fans and people close to us expect us to have a true "Kentucky" season. They expect a national championship, a run in the SEC tournament and an SEC championship. They expect our team to be successful and have one of the best years in a while. We embrace expectations and do not see them as pressure. Everyone wants to be great and this year we think we can get it done."

Women's Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
On if the team is ready to take the next step in his third season as head coach...
"I think we are a team that is going to be totally committed this year. I think the first step is to be focused and committed about what we are doing. I like the makeup of the team. I like our athletic ability and the way they are going about practice. We have some big aspirations for the year. We want to challenge for the conference title. All of that is going to happen because of what we do every single day. We just have to stay focused on that and we will see how it ends. I am very optimistic about this group."

On being picked 11th in preseason SEC polls...
"We are always looking for motivation. We look for it every day. We look for motivation on our campus because there are a lot of great things going on there. We look to the examples that other athletes in the athletic department set. We look for motivation in any way we can get it. As a team, you have to be picked somewhere in the preseason poll. It doesn't really have a bearing on what the final outcome is, unless you perceive yourself as an 11th place team, and that would be the result you would probably get. That's not how we will approach practice every day. We will go out there, believing in the gifts and talents that this team has. I think we can have a very good season."

On the freshman class...
"They look great. I have been so impressed with just the maturity level of this particular freshman class. They have not had some of the normal things that freshmen have to deal with, as far as homesickness and getting into the rhythm of college life. Sometimes you have freshman classes that have a hard time making that adjustment. These three have been particularly mature about how they approached college life. They made good grades in the summer and have worked hard in all their conditioning. They are performing well in practice. It is a unique group of freshmen."

Victoria Dunlap, F, Jr.
On the upcoming season...
"We are changing mentality from being laidback to getting in the gym more, wanting to play basketball and be successful. In order to go to the next level we are going to need hard work, honesty and discipline. We have to let everyone know about our goals and get into the gym everyday. We are not happy at all being picked 11th in the SEC. We actually printed out papers with '11' posted on and placed them in the locker room for motivation.  We want to surprise a lot of people, win the SEC and get to the NCAA tournament."

On Coach Mitchell...
"He is intense and very enthusiastic on the court. Off the court, he is very reflective on life and always there to talk to the players. He is very up-tempo and has lots of energy.  I am very excited to be around his up-tempo personality. He has helped me recognize and realize the player I should be along with allowing us to be a team and see our strengths and weaknesses. He has more expectations for us as we have older and more experienced players on our team now."
 

Cat connections - Oct. 22

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Thumbnail image for Krebs_Mark 07_08 2x3.jpg- This is from a few days ago, but Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader has a great story on Mark Krebs and his mother's battle with cancer

- SECsports.com has conference-wide coverage from SEC basketball media day in Birmingham, Ala., including a behind-the-scenese look with head coach John Calipari

- Herald-Leader columnist Mark Story counts down the 25 most memorable UK basketball games

- The always informative Chip Cosby writes that Danny Trevathan is drawing comparisons to Wesley Woodyard

- T.J. Walker from the Kentucky Kernel with the game story on the volleyball's teams stunning loss to Tennessee

- John Clay on the UK volleyball team reaching new heights

- Tabby Soignier (who we'll have on the live scouting chat this afternoon) of the Monroe News Star writes that the new UL-Monroe QB faces a tall task in his first start

- Larry Vaught from the Danville Advocate-Messenger says that UK has a true offensive line

- The Kernel's BW Jones writes that Alfonso Smith looks to lead UK rushing game

SEC link of the day:

- The SEC has suspended officials from last weekend's Arkansas-Florida gameafter the crew was involved in its second controversial call of the year

Football notes: Locke expected to play 'some'

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_DSC1928.jpg- Tailback Derrick Locke practiced Thursday with tape on his knee and will probably play "some" against Louisiana-Monroe, barring any major setbacks. Head coach Rich Brooks said Locke's knee was a little sore after running Wednesday but was fine this morning.
 
- Safety Taiedo Smith and running back Moncell Allen both returned to practice Thursday after battling the flu earlier in the week. Brooks said they will be available to play Saturday.

- Brooks still has a concern with running back Alfonso Smith because he has still has a splint on his thumb on his ball-carrying hand, but Brooks said he has looked good in practice all week.

- Asked how his two quarterbacks, Morgan Newton and Will Fidler, looked in practice this week, Brooks said, "I'm glad you asked me that today rather than yesterday because yesterday I don't think we could have hit a pass from me to you. Today, they threw the ball much better and looked a lot better."

- In case you don't remember, Louisiana-Monroe gave UK all it could handle in 2006, the teams' last meeting, when the Cats won 42-40. Brooks said they could not stop them. He said the quarterback ran all over the field and gave up a ton of rushing yard, but the Cats kept fighting back. Brooks said the Cats aren't that explosive this year so they have to make sure they keep them in check.

Rifle 101 -- part 3

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Video by Evan Crane, UK Media Relations

Arguably no program has been more successful at UK over the last two decades than the rifle team. Since head coach Harry Mullins took the reins of the program in the mid-1980s, the UK rifle team has been downright dominant.

Under the tutelage of Mullins, UK has posted nine consecutive top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships, including 15 of the last 16 years. Last season, the Cats nearly pulled off their first national championship, finishing the year as national runner-ups. The Cats have captured five Great American Rifle Conference championships and three regular season conference titles during Mullins' tenure.

That's simply dominance. But, admittedly, not everyone knows what goes behind posting top-10 rifle finishes. What better man to tell you himself than one of the nation's best rifle coaches? Over the next four Thursdays, Mullins will take you behind the scenes to show you the basics of rifle, the difference between smallbore and air rifle, how rifle is scored and much, much more.

Without further ado, here's part three of Rifle 101.

Cats reminded that every game counts towards title

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The Kentucky volleyball team has been playing the part of 18-time defending Southeastern Conference champion Florida for weeks. On Wednesday, it got a taste of what it feels like to be out in front.

With a target firmly on their backs, the Cats finally let a conference match slip through their paws. UK fell Wednesday night to Tennessee, 3-1, dropping to 19-2 on the season, 9-1 in conference play.

If anyone thought UK was going to march through the rugged SEC undefeated, think again. The league is too good and league play is too long to hope for that.

But aside from the pain, the loss of sole possVB 09_10 UK_Cincy 49.jpgession of first place and the disappointment of the largest crowd of the season, Wednesday's loss might have been a firsthand lesson the Cats actually needed to win this season's conference crown.

If UK didn't know what it felt like to be the hunted, it surely does now. After years of playing the part of the hunter, it's clear to head coach Craig Skinner and his team what they will need to do if they're going to adopt the role of the hunted and break Florida's streak.

"We need to be tougher," Skinner said. "We need to be tougher and handle pressure that other teams give us. Everyone wants to beat us. That's obvious, and we've got to be able to handle that better."

Sure, no one wants to lose, especially to a team like Tennessee, which abruptly ended UK's chance at a conference title last year on the final day of the regular season.

"I don't think this one has anything to do with last year," Skinner said. "I think they outplayed us tonight. We had too many hitting errors - 29 hitting errors over a game - and we had one player get twice as many swings as everybody else on our roster. You can't do that and beat good teams."

But the loss might do UK a little good. Maybe it makes them stronger. Maybe it makes them tougher. Maybe it's that one final subtle reminder that Skinner has been preaching to his team all season long: every single game counts towards a conference championship.

And the Cats now know that.

The good news/bad news scenario is that LSU is next on the schedule.

The bad news is that LSU is on a tear - LSU hasn't lost since dropping the match to Kentucky a month ago - and is now tied with UK for the conference lead.

The good news is UK can take sole possession of the conference lead right back in a potential league-deciding match. There's a lot of riding on Saturday's game, but every match is big from here on out. Every game counts in a championship run.

"I think that we don't really change anything about what we do," Skinner said. "We've done the same thing training wise and teaching all season long. It's about executing and we did not do that and Tennessee did that better than us."

On Wednesday Tennessee was the better team. If the Cats are worthy of the SEC championship, it'll be the perfect reminder of what it takes to stay in front.

Live volleyball blog: UK-Tennessee

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Madness 2009 UK Basketball 24.jpgHere we go.

After the final buzzer sounded to end last season, Matthew Mitchell was ready to start the 2009-10 season.

The 2008-09 season was done, so Mitchell wasted little time in regrouping and getting ready for the upcoming season. And it has been difficult for him to contain his excitement.

As last season progressed, Mitchell saw flashes of dominance from forward Victoria Dunlap; he watched Amani Franklin transform from a role player to a go-to star; he witnessed Amber Smith turn into a wily guard; and he saw his three-point threat, Carly Morrow, become a complete player.

And as Mitchell looked down his bench, he saw highly touted transfers Rebecca Gray, Keyla Snowden and Crystal Riley, who would soon be eligible to play. Mitchell also knew he had a talented freshman class coming in, headlined by Kentucky Miss Basketball A'dia Mathies.

With outstanding facilities in place, a well-rounded coaching staff, and the most complete and talented roster since he arrived at UK, Mitchell was ready to embark on a breakthrough season. But he knew one thing was missing.

While acknowledging his players' dedication in past years, Mitchell knew this group could give more. He wanted them to understand that it is a privilege to play for the University of Kentucky, so he urged them to strengthen their commitment in the offseason and take the summer more seriously than previous squads have. Mitchell even instituted a dribbling program that required the players to take - and dribble - a basketball wherever they went.

Mitchell's plan was a success. The players returned to the fall semester more focused and in better shape than ever, Mitchell said.

"The players that have been in the program for years now have a better and clearer understanding of what we want them to do," Mitchell said. "You have a group of seniors and a group of juniors that really look to make something special and their opportunities are starting to dwindle."

Now is the time for players like Smith, Dunlap, Franklin, Morrow and Lydia Watkins, and their stellar preseason workouts have trickled down to the rest of the team. Coaches raved all preseason about their newfound work ethic.

"I think what we have is a collection of players who are as close to having the same attitude as they've had since I've been here. It's a positive attitude and a positive outlook," Mitchell said. "The main thing is everybody involved has been really committed to our winning goals. We talk about discipline all the time. They've done a good job with the opportunity that was presented to them over the summer to get better and take advantage of that, so that's what has me so optimistic."

Here we go indeed.

Backcourt

If there's one reason more than any other for the increased optimism this season, it's the massive upgrades on the perimeter.

Despite losing fan favorite Carly Ormerod to graduation, UK's biggest strength this season should be the perimeter play of its guards. The Cats are deeper, more talented and more experienced at the guard position than they've been under Mitchell.

It starts with the trio of Amber Smith, Carly Morrow and Amani Franklin, UK's three leaders on the perimeter. Each brings a different game to the floor, but all three have the capability of putting up big numbers any given night.

Smith, who returns as the Cats' starting point guard, is the floor general behind the offensive attack. At 5-foot-6, Smith provides lightning-quick speed and an uncanny ability to create shots for herself and her teammates. In her sophomore season, she dished out a team-leading 3.6 assists per game, but more importantly, she learned how to take control of the game and run the team.

One of Smith's primary passing mates on the outside is the sharpshooting Morrow. Although she's struggled with consistency, she possesses an unstoppable three-point shot at times. In 32 games with the Cats last season, she knocked down 48 treys, good for 10th in the Southeastern Conference. Although a chunk of her 7.5 points per game average came from the outside, Morrow developed an all-around game in her sophomore season.

But the chief weapon in UK's perimeter arsenal is the dynamic Franklin. At 5-foot-11, Franklin boasts versatility and big-play ability. She has the capability of playing all three guard positions (including forward) and returns as UK's second-leading scorer after netting 11.3 points per game last season.

Franklin has eclipsed the 20-point mark four times in her career, including a career-high 28-point outpouring at South Carolina last season.

"Amani made tremendous strides last year from being a role player to a go-to player," Mitchell said. "I was happy with the way she handled the transition and I think that we are looking forward to her to be great this year. As a senior who has been a double-digit scorer in the SEC, we need her to take the floor with confidence that she can be that scorer night-in and night-out. The newcomers may be there every night and might not, but we know Amani will be. We believe in her and need her to produce."

If the newcomers are "there," UK could have the best collection of guards in the SEC. The Cats welcome four new guards - three transfers and a freshman - all of whom Mitchell expects to contribute immediately.

Freshman A'dia Mathies is an athletic guard who can score at will and sophomore Crystal Riley adds a dangerous threat at the point position, but the biggest difference-makers could be local products Rebecca Gray and Keyla Snowden.

Gray, a former Miss Kentucky Basketball star and Scott County product, logged 15.3 minutes and 5.2 points per game for the nationally ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in 2007-08, and Snowden, a Lexington Catholic High School graduate, torched the record books at Akron her freshman season, breaking the school record for most three-pointers in a single season with 91.

During individual workouts in the preseason, assistant coach Kyra Elzy said the sharpshooting duo knocked down more than 20 three-pointers in a row.

"The fans better sit back and enjoy the ride because these two individuals can rain threes," Elzy said. "They shoot threes like people shoot free throws."
   
Their addition will be a much-needed boost to a team that struggled to knock down the perimeter shot in 2008-09. UK ranked near the bottom in the league in three-pointers made a season ago, but Mitchell is hoping the shooting presence of Gray and Snowden will open things up for everyone.   
 
"The last couple of years we haven't had those two or three players that you knew were going to knock down three-pointers on a consistent basis," Mitchell said. "I think Rebecca and Keyla will help us in that respect by being those two very, very consistent three-point shooters."

Frontcourt

The Cats lack depth and height, but Mitchell believes the frontcourt will still be strong if it can continue to play outstanding defense and rebound the ball.

"There's not as much depth there, but there is a lot of quality talent there," Mitchell said. "Everybody has to do a good job of taking care of themselves, getting plenty of rest, eating right and making sure they stay healthy. If we stay healthy, we have more than enough talent to make a really big impact."

Madness 2009 UK Basketball 15.jpgThe Cats might be limited depth-wise in the paint, but it's hard to be overly concerned when you have a player like All-SEC performer Victoria Dunlap roaming the low block.

Dunlap has shown flashes of outright dominance at times. As a sophomore, Dunlap led the team in scoring, field goal percentage, rebounding, steals and blocks, and the 6-foot-1 forward currently ranks seventh on UK's double-double list with 13.

If Dunlap can become more consistent, she has the ability to become one of the league's best players, according to Mitchell.

"This summer was key for her because it was really the first summer she was able to develop her individual game," Mitchell said. "Last summer she was slowed down by arthroscopic knee surgery and the summer before she was a freshman and really didn't know what to do or what was going to be asked of her. This past summer, she was more focused than I have ever seen her and it's shown. She's come back shooting the ball much better and is much more aggressive offensively."

But she'll need help down low. Eleia Roddy, another double-double threat by her own merit, will be tough to replace.

Responsible for filling in for the departed Roddy will be a pair of freshmen. Forward Brittany Henderson is an athletic forward who can run the floor extremely well, and center Anna Cole will give the Cats a boost of height that they haven't had since, well, ever. Standing at 6-foot-7, Cole is the tallest player in UK Hoops history.
 
"Brittany Henderson and Anna Cole are both freshmen and they need to learn and get better, but their attitudes lead me to believe that they'll come in and contribute right away," Mitchell said.

The return of Lydia Watkins will certainly be important, both from a depth standpoint as well as an experience factor. After sitting out most of last season due to personal reasons, Watkins, a guard/forward, is expected to get most of her minutes in the frontcourt.

During her sophomore season, Watkins averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in less than 13 minutes of action.

"Lydia just brings a big bundle of energy that we missed last year," Mitchell said. "She brings athleticism and a spark. She makes plays that get her teammates and the fans fired up. She is just an energy player and she is off-the-charts intelligent as a player. She knows what is going on and we need her to stay healthy and have a good year. She will be a huge part of this team if she can do that."

But no matter how great those players play, UK will still have to switch up things offensively this season to compensate for the lack of numbers in the paint. At times, they'll use a four-guard lineup, and at others, they'll put Franklin in the post.

Mitchell, though, believes it will work to UK's advantage. Because of the Cats' inability to knock down shots last season, teams could pack it in and clog the interior game for UK.
This season, Mitchell wants the Cats to play a more up-tempo offense and shoot a higher percentage from the field. Mitchell now believes he has the personnel to do that.

"We definitely want to look different on offense this year," Mitchell said. "We want to be more up-tempo and we want to use to the three-point stripe more to our advantage, more so than we did last year. In years past, we've been a lot slower paced, trying to go half court and trying to really execute and grind things out because that's what the personnel has dictated.

"Being deeper at the point guard spot now with our quality depth, speed, quickness and the overall upgrade we have being able to shoot the ball, I think we'll look differently on offense. I think it's going to look better."

Remember his name: Trevathan could be one of the greats

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Rich Brooks sat down at the Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala., in late July and told the world to remember one name: Danny "Trevathian."

Who? Coach, do you mean Danny Trevathan?

Ever since, Brooks, unbeknown that he's saying it wrong, has mispronounced Trevathan's name with regularity and hilarity among the team. Instead of correctly saying trev-A-than, Brooks has pronounced the sophomore linebacker's name trev-A-thee-an.

"It's so funny," fellow linebacker Micah Johnson said of his coach and teammate. "I make fun of (Trevathan) because coach Brooks says it wrong every time. He doesn't even look to correct him."

Why doesn't he speak up?

"It's coach Brooks," Johnson said. "He can call any of us what he wants to."

As true as that may be, it might be time for Brooks to start learning his name. Trevathan has earned at least that much with his play on Saturday.

Trevathan, a true sophomore, had the night of his young career in the potential season-changing 21-14 win over Auburn. The Leesburg, Fla., native was flying sideline to sideline in Jordan-Hare Stadium, recording a career-high 14 tackles in his first full game of the season.

Brooks said the performance was worthy of Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors, which ended up going to fellow linebacker Johnson.

"This was Danny's biggest chance to show because we were in regular defense a majority of the game," Brooks said. "I think that we played nickel only six or seven snaps. They ran more conventional personnel even though they spread the field. They have a tight end, and basically two running backs and receivers most of the time. So we left our regular defense (in the game), which is all three linebackers, so that left Danny to record some stats because he has probably only played a third of the snaps in a lot of the games. In this game he was spectacular. He made tackles starting from over here (right fist extended outward) all the way over to the far sideline for 2-yard gains.

"We have never had a linebacker as fast as he is. Wesley (Woodyard) was close to being as fast, but he wasn't as big as Danny, particular at his sophomore season."

It's that type of praise that has led many to believe that Trevathan could be the next great in a recent but long list of linebacker greats at the University of Kentucky.

Although Brooks has had trouble pronouncing his name right, he was spot on in the preseason when he told reporters that Trevathan had the skills, body and desire to be the next Woodyard, Johnson, Braxton Kelley or Johnny Williams.

"Danny Trevathan is a big-time player, pure and simple," Brooks said at UK's Media Day in early August. "He's as good as any four-star guy that you can talk to me about at linebacker. He will have a major impact on this team if he stays healthy this year. He's very fast. He's very instinctive. He doesn't look very big, but weighs about 220-225. He's a very special talent to see so now we will just have to go out and see what he can do."

What he has been able to do has been nothing short of the prediction Brooks offered over the summer. Although Trevathan has been slowed down by a fractured wrist bone and a brief bout with the flu, he's third on the team in tackles with 39 stops, including two tackles for a loss.

Defensive line coach Rick Petri saw that potential when he was recruiting Trevathan out of Leesburg High School in Florida. Although Trevathan didn't have the recruiting stars attached to his name that some of his teammates and competitors did, Trevathan's versatility stood out.

Trevathan played just about every position in high school, taking snaps at linebacker, quarterback, running back, cornerback, safety, wide receiver, punt and kick returner, long snapper, and center.

"He can do a lot of different things," Petri said. "He's very athletic. He was a sprinter on the track team and he was also on the weight lifting team, so he has that combination of explosive power and speed. Being that he played both sides and played a lot of different things, he understood the game."

In addition to his versatility, Petri said Trevathan's raw speed might be his biggest attribute.

"I think you can see that when he came here you could see that raw speed that he has," Petri said. "We knew that he was an athlete and we knew that he was a physical guy and liked contact. It was just a matter of learning the system, learning what to do, getting more playing time and getting comfortable."

Trevathan said he received interest from Florida, Miami (Fla.), Purdue, Central Florida, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Indiana, Arizona State and Buffalo, but he ultimately chose UK after watching the historic upset of No. 1 LSU in 2007.

"I decided this was a college that was going somewhere in the football ranks," Trevathan said. "I felt like they were going to the top."

It's the type of attitude one would expect from a player being compared to some of the all-time linebacker greats at Kentucky.

"I really don't know Wes that much, but I've seen tape of him. He inspired me because of his speed and the way he flies around," Trevathan said. "Braxton was a smart player, a physical player. He was a brute. Micah and Sam (Maxwell) have been big brothers to me. They've showed me the ropes and took me in with open arms."

Trevathan said he can't but help hear the chorus of praise he's been getting this season.

"I try not to listen to it because I try to stay as humble as I can," Trevathan said. "I try to just do my best in everything I do, but you can't help but notice when coach Brooks says stuff like that. It really helps and motivates you to keep going."

It's motivated Trevathan through a painful right wrist injury that by all means could have kept him off the field. Instead, Trevathan has played so well that it's forcing Brooks to find even more time for the speedy 220-pound linebacker.

Trevathan learned this week that he'll have the cast removed in a couple of games, but he admitted that it's held him back from showing his full potential.

"It's hard to grab players, especially real elusive players because it's hard to grab their jersey and get your arms around them," Trevathan said. "I let it stop me at the beginning of the season. Now I've really locked my mind into that this is a part of me and I've got to learn how to deal with it and fly around and get my feet right because I can't use my hands."

Once he gets it removed, Trevathan hopes to start returning kicks, which he started working on in the preseason. Trevathan said he already talked with Brooks about it on Tuesday.

If he's able to do that, well, it might be time for Brooks to start learning his name.

"I'm going to have to talk to coach about that," Trevathan said.

He will have more than earned it at that point.

Cat Scratches Version 3.0

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Victory.jpgWe heard this cliche that the third time is a charm. We figured we'd give it a shot with this blog.

Not that we've been unsatisfied with the now 9-month-old Cat Scratches, but we've decided it was time for a new look, one more suited for a blog. So today, I'm proud to unveil Cat Scratches version 3.0.

I won't take too much time to run over the details of the new blog because you can browse through and experiment for yourself, but the biggest additions to the new Cat Scratches format is that it has all the components of what a blog is all about.

No longer will you have to write in e-mails to post your thoughts (although we'll still gladly accept your opinion at catscratches@email.uky.edu ). With the new blog, you'll now be able to post comments, pending our approval.

Each post will now have its own separate entry. Instead of going to posts for each day of the week, everything we'll be provided in one scroll-down feature. You can click on each post to view it by itself, which will also allow for the new RSS feed to work how it was designed to. Instead of getting just one update a day through the feed, you'll now receive an update every time we make a post. We encourage you to re-subscribe in the box on the right sidebar.

While you're over there, take the time to peruse through the other blog features. Instead of cycling through a lost list of archives, we have a much more organized and easy-to-use calendar that will archive each and every post. Below that are some links to Kentucky's best coverage of newspapers, Web sites and blogs, as well our UKAthleticsNews Twitter feed and tags to find related posts.

More than anything, the redesign was created for you, the fans. It's a much easier to read, more interactive blog than we used before, and we're hoping to connect you even closer with UK Athletics.

As we switch over to the new format, there will more than likely be a few kinks to work out, so be patient. However, we would appreciate any feedback you all have. If there is something you don't like or a component you hope we can add, please let us know by commenting on a post or sending an e-mail to catscratches@email.uky.edu .

Yes, the domain name has changed and yes, you'll have to re-bookmark subscribe to the RSS feed, but it's worth doing again. We're still UK's official blog of UK Athletics and we're out to provide you the most comprehensive, balanced, inside coverage of UK's athletics programs.

And this time we promise to stick around a little longer. At least we hope so.

_DSC2399.jpgChip Cosby of the Lexington Herald-Leader always does excellent work, but his piece on backup quarterback Will Fidler was one of the best pieces (along with Jason King's feature on Patrick Patterson) that I've read in a while.

Cosby spoke with Fidler at practice Tuesday and profiled the type of standup guy Fidler is to have basically taken a "slap in the face," as Rich Brooks termed it Monday when true freshman Morgan Newton was named the starting quarterback, and still stand strong.

According to Cosby's story, Fidler learned he wouldn't be starting early last week. Although he was disappointed, he put his head down and kept working, even reaching out to Newton and offering support.

It's the same thing Fidler has done for years on the team. It's why he's become one of the most well respected and liked guys on the team, and it's great to see his story finally put into words. Well done, Chip.

In other news, ESPN Southeastern Conference blogger Chris Low provides a midseason review for the UK football team. Low names sophomore Randall Cobb UK's offensive MVP and senior Micah Johnson its defensive MVP. No surprise with either one.   

Afternoon tidbits

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Apologies for the lack of posts today. Had to head straight from football practice to an athletics department luncheon, and from there to do some interviews and writing. In an effort to catch up on today's events (on a rather quite news day anyways), here's some notes:

  • Head coach Rich Brooks sounded pretty worried at practice Tuesday of the prospect of the flu circulating through his team. Free safety Taiedo Smith is still ill and has been tested for the H1N1 virus (swine flu). Those results are not available yet. Running back Moncell Allen - who will be a key component Saturday if Derrick Locke can't play - missed practice with an illness. Cornerback Martavius Neloms, who was sick last week, was back at practice.
  • Locke has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable. The swelling in Locke's knee is gone, according to head coach Rich Brooks. They'll have to see if he can move around at practice Wednesday.
  • Single-game tickets for the two men's basketball exhibition games on Nov. 2 against Campbellsville and Nov. 6 against Clarion are still available, as well as tickets for the regular-season opener against Morehead State on Nov. 13. For more information on how to purchase tickets, check out the UK ticket office.
  • If you're still hoping to get your hands on one of those coveted wristbands for the student-only practices, you still have two opportunities remaining. UK will give out wristbands to the first 2,000 students at the UK-Tennessee volleyball game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.) and the first 500 students at the UK-Ole Miss women's soccer game on Thursday at 7 p.m. (gates open at 6 p.m.). Students must show their UK student ID to receive a wristband.
  • If you get one of the "Member of the Big Blue Nation" wristbands, we now have a confirmed practice time. The student-only practice will be Friday at 1:30 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum (doors will open at 12:30 p.m.). The only way to be admitted into the practice is to have both your UK student ID and wristband. Students must enter through the Euclid Avenue doors. All other doors to Memorial Coliseum will be closed for this event.
  • Tennis sophomore and budding star Eric Quigley has been selected to represent the United States in the fourth annual Master'U BNP Paribas, an international collegiate competition held Dec. 9-14 in Poitiers, France. The event features eight teams composed of college players from around the world. Quigley, who toppled the nation's No. 1 player earlier this season, is one of just three male players from the U.S. to make the team. Jeremy Strachan will be along with a full news release on Wednesday with all the details.

Offensive numbers killing defensive chances

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DSC_7452.jpgThe one key behind Craig Skinner and the Kentucky volleyball team's rise to prominence over the last five years has been defense.

It was no coincidence that as UK climbed the national and Southeastern Conference ladder, so did its blocking numbers. During UK's record-setting fourth straight NCAA appearance run last year, UK ranked seventh in the nation in blocks.

Defense has been a Skinner staple. To win you need to play defense, and to play defense means to win.

Yet, in his fifth year at the helm of the wildly successful volleyball program, Skinner's team has seen a pretty significant drop in blocks per game. The Cats are raking in blocks at a 2.34 pace, which has dropped UK from seventh in the country in blocking last year to 59th this season.

Those numbers would indicate UK has taken a step back in Skinner's fifth season at UK, only it hasn't. In a stark contradiction, the Cats have actually taken their game to the next level, grabbing the outright SEC lead midway through the conference schedule. At 19-1, Skinner's team is tied for the best 20-game start in program history.

The question is how does a team's trademark decrease but its win total increase? It doesn't make sense. That is, until you start to look at how dominant the Cats have been on the offensive end.

UK ranks in the top 10 in the nation in three of the most important offensive categories. The Cats rank seventh in hitting percentage (.292), eighth in assists (13.62) and eighth in kills (14.71). All three are tops in the rugged SEC.

Truthfully, the Cats, who face Tennessee on Wednesday at 7 p.m. inside Memorial Coliseum, have been so good on offense that they haven't had as many opportunities to play defense.

"It might have an effect," Skinner said. "If we have more kills per set, then we probably have fewer chances to block when we receive the serves. I still think we need to get better at blocking and finish our blocks so that we score points with our block defense, but I do think we're actually a very good defensive team. Whether our stats indicate that or not, I know that it's very hard for teams to get kills against us. Each team you have to kind of adapt to what the strengths are, and one of our strengths is being efficient offensively."

Efficient is one way to describe the offensive juggernaut, but how about dominant?

En route to a No. 7 national ranking and half-game lead in the SEC, UK has buried its opponents with an uncanny frequency. In 20 matches this season, the Cats have swept their opponents 11 times, including a 3-0 romp over second-place LSU in Baton Rouge, La. If you're looking for a reason for the supremacy, look no further than the offensive end.

"To be able to do that you have to have good ball control and good setting and people who can hit the ball hard enough to terminate it," Skinner said. "More kills raises your hitting percentage and less errors raises your hitting percentage."

Numbers aside, UK has more weapons than ever. If you follow the volleyball team, you know about its stars Sarah Rumely and Sarah Mendoza. But the difference this year is the people around them.

Whether its attack percentage leader Gretchen Giesler, the punishing kills from Blaire Hiler, or the consistency from veterans Lauren Rapp, Becky Pavan and Ann Armes, UK just has more pieces to the puzzle. Five different players this year have recorded a career high in kills.

"It's people that are older now, that are stronger now and it also has to do with our ball control and setting," Skinner said. "If you shank the ball off the court, you're going to have a hard time getting kills. If you're passing it to the net, then obviously Rumely has a lot more chances."

Of course, Rumely, who ranks second on the school's all-time assists chart, has been the constant cog behind UK's attack. The reigning SEC Player of the year is distributing the ball better than ever.

Skinner credits her instincts and experience for yet another banner year.

"Sarah has a great feel for who is available at the right time," he said. "It's like a quarterback when they drop back to pass. They obviously want to throw it to the receiver that's open and not the one that is covered by the defensive back. It's the same with volleyball. You want her to set it up to the hitter that might have one blocker versus two."

"It's experience and being in those situations over the course of time and it's also instincts. She has a great instinctive feeling of who to set."

It's almost hard not to find someone to set on this team of offensive specialists.

Win validates belief in team

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_DSC2293.jpgIt's amazing how much sweeter things taste after a victory.

The grass seems a little more green, the sky a little more blue. Foods taste stronger and sounds resonate a little louder.

"You know, all last week it was gray, cold and wet and an amazing thing happened Sunday morning," head coach Brooks said. "The sun was out, vibrant colors on the trees and it is amazing what a win will do for you."

The reality of last week's gloomy weather report aside, it's no coincidence that things always seem a little brighter when your team is on the winning side of the tracks. The plane ride home is always easier, players laugh a little more, and even the always upbeat and jovial Brooks has a little extra bounce in his step when the Cats are winning.

But none of that seemed possible after the Cats took a three-game nosedive heading into the Auburn game. Without starting quarterback Mike Hartline and star cornerback Trevard Lindley, UK marched into a hostile environment at Jordan-Hare Stadium with a freshman quarterback and little perceived chance.

Despite what Brooks and the players were telling everyone, questions began to arise about how good this football team was and whether it could make that next step in the Southeastern Conference.

Teetering at 2-3 and with few positives to rest on, negativity was starting to creep in and around Lexington. A loss appeared inevitable to a team Kentucky hadn't beaten since 1966 at a place the program had won at just once in school history.

So then how was it possible for the Cats able to march into Jordan-Hare Stadium and snatch a four-quarter victory away from a team that was 5-1?

"Just keeping everything in house," senior linebacker Micah Johnson said. "If you get focused on what's being said outside of the locker room and outside of Nutter, it can get frustrating and it can tear your team down."

Johnson said they shut out what the opinions of people that didn't understand how good this UK football team is capable of becoming. The reality is Kentucky had played back-to-back-to-back ranked opponents, including the current Bowl Championship Series leaders in Alabama and Florida.

Despite what popular opinion was trying to tell them, there was a belief among the players and coaches that Kentucky was a good football team. Linebackers coach Chuck Smith reminded them how close they were during a meeting last week.

"Coach Smith said, 'We're a good team and we've got good players and if we keep working hard and keep grinding, good things will happen because we have good players,' " Johnson said. "We finally got some breaks."

Had it not been for a couple of self-inflicted wounds that changed the momentum in UK's three losses, they could have actually been sitting in even better position.

Still, it was important for the Cats to get a win just for something good to happen. It helped alleviate the pressure and the strain on the psyche of the team.

"(We needed it) bad, bad, bad," Johnson said. "I think everybody on the team knew it.  For individuals on the team, for this Kentucky team as a program and for the fans, everybody needed it. It was huge. I think for the fans that kept by our side and knew we would get a win, we appreciate it and we love it. We're going to continue work hard."

With a conference win finally under their belts and some momentum on their side, the Cats can now refocus on some of the program-changing goals they set when the season started.

"We're midseason right now. That game and that win came at a critical point, and we all understand that," Johnson said. "That was our sixth game of the season, so at that point we could have either been 2-4 or 3-3. Three-and-three makes it a lot easier do what we want to do."

And that is to continue to break those long and haunting streaks and make the next jump in the SEC.

"The fact that we can go on the road and break one of the infamous streaks in Kentucky football history speaks to the fact that this is still a good football team," Brooks said. "How close we are to being better than that, or how close we are from being better than that I will leave to you guys to judge."

Five keys to UK baseball

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RHR_6153.JPG

Kendall Rogers of Rivals.com has a nice feature on UK baseball as it starts practice for the fall season.

Rogers writes on the five fall keys for UK in the second year of Gary Henderson's rein. The five keys:

1.) Learn lessons from last season

2.) Weekend starters must lead the way

3.) Build a deeper and better bullpen

4.) Meet expectations at the plate

5.) Find more power production

 

I think Rogers has a valid point with anyone of the five keys, but I'm going to circle my biggest factor as No. 3, building a deeper and better bullpen.

 

A couple of reasons why:

 

First off, I think UK's starting rotation is going to be loaded. I don't think people realize just how big the return of James Paxton is. The hard-throwing lefty had a 5.86 ERA for the Cats as a junior a season ago, but a chunk of that came from a few bad starts he had while he battled a nagging knee injury. If Paxton can return to his early season form from last year - when scouts were drooling behind home plate at his raw potential - he'll give the Cats arguably the best one-two starting punch in the Southeastern Conference along with highly touted sophomore Alex Meyer.

 

Two of Rogers' factors involve the offense, which was by all means a work in progress last season. After saying goodbye to All-American Sawyer Carroll and All-SEC player Collin Cowgill, Henderson knew his team was going to be forced into playing small ball in 2009. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn't. The important thing last year was getting a bevy of young talented bats some experience at the plate. With a year under their belts, guys like Chad Wright, Chris Bisson and Braden Kapteyn are only going to get better.

 

That's why, I believe, the key will be with the 2010 bullpen. With an established starting rotation, the question for Henderson now becomes: Who will get the ball in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings? While UK had its inconsistencies in innings one through six last year, it was largely the bullpen that cost the Cats in critical conference games. The Cats were ravaged by injuries and inexperience, forcing many young and unproven arms into the equation. A pitching dominated recruiting class should ease the burden on the bullpen, but it's important for players like Kaptyen, Logan Darnell and Mike Kaczmarek to make the next step in their development. The return of sidewinder Nick Kennedy, who was lost for just about all of 2009 with an injury, will also be a huge boost.


Volleyball moves up to No. 7

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There's not much more room to move up, but the Kentucky volleyball team continues to find a way.

After two more sweeps this weekend against Mississippi State and Alabama - the Cats' 11th sweep of the year - UK moved up to No. 7 in the latest America Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll.

The Cats, who are 19-1 on the season, continue to dominate league play with an undefeated 9-0 record. UK leads a scorching LSU team - which UK swept earlier in the season - by one game in the loss department for the Southeastern Conference lead.

Florida, the preseason pick to win the league crown, dropped back to No. 10 in the AVCA poll and sits at 8-2 in the SEC.

In addition to the rankings, Kentucky freshman defensive specialist Stephanie Klefot was named SEC Freshman Player of the Week. It's also the fourth consecutive week a UK player has earned a weekly honor from the conference office.

Keep an eye out for a volleyball feature later this week. This team is too hot not to write about.

Former UK standout pitcher will get the ball Monday night for the Philadelphia Phillies in game four of the National League Championship Series, which is set for 8:07 p.m. EDT at Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia on TBS.

Blanton, a UK letterwinner from 2000-02, is no stranger to the big stage. Last year in the playoffs, Blanton posted a 2-0 record and a 3.18 ERA in 17 innings, including 18 strikeouts.

"I feel like in the postseason every game is big," Blanton said. "If it's 2-1, you can keep it from coming back even, or if you're down 1-2, it's a big game to keep them more making the big step. So either way, it's a really big game."

But it was Blanton's bat that provided the heroics during last year's World Series, as he became the first pitcher since 1974 to hit a homer in the World Series. Blanton belted a 2-1 pitch from pitcher Edwin Jackson over the left-field fence for his first homer as a professional and first since his high school days in the Bluegrass.

In case you don't remember, this should refresh your memory:

Media tabs UK preseason SEC champion

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Madness 2009 UK Basketball 61.jpgThe media has spoken and they believe Kentucky will win the 2010 Southeastern Conference men's basketball championship.

The Cats, who will open up the John Calipari era with six highly touted recruits and two-time All-SEC selection Patrick Patterson, earned 20 first-place votes from a select panel of both SEC and national media members. The Cats topped Mississippi State and Tennessee, which reeled in three and two votes, respectively.

UK was the media's favorite to win the East with 148 total points (23 first-place votes) ahead of second-place Tennessee's 117 points (two first-place votes). Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia rounded out the top six.

Patterson, a preseason Wooden Award candidate, was the top choice for the SEC's Player of the Year award with 11 votes. Kentucky freshman phenom John Wall was second with six votes, followed by Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado (three votes), South Carolina's Devan Downey (three votes) and Tennessee's Tyler Smith (two votes).

Patterson was the only unanimous first-team selection. Wall was picked to the SEC second team.

_DSC2462.jpgFair or unfair, head coach Rich Brooks said true freshman Morgan Newton will probably make his second consecutive start at quarterback Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe.

The decision comes after junior Will Fidler replaced Newton midway through the second half of the Auburn game, leading UK to yet another fourth-quarter comeback, its 11th since 2006. Brooks said the decision to start Newton is probably "not fair" to Fidler, but said he thinks it's the right thing to do for his football team.

"It'll probably be Morgan Newton again," Brooks said. "Again, that's probably not fair to Will for what he did in the fourth quarter, but I kind of think if things aren't going well, it's better to bring an experienced hand off the bench than it is an inexperienced hand off the bench."

Brooks said Fidler would probably see time in the first half regardless of how Newton is playing, but he said they have to start throwing the ball better.

Last week, Brooks decided to start Newton ahead of Fidler early in the week - although he kept that secret to himself - because of an apparent recurring injury in Fidler's throwing arm. Fidler was able to play Saturday, but Brooks admitted it was probably the "ultimate slap in the face" to Fidler to start a true freshman over him.

As Fidler has done time and time again, he handled the situation like a veteran and did his job.

"I couldn't be prouder of Will Fidler if he was my own son," Brooks said. "He's been through a lot here. It hasn't gone his way, so to speak, but every day he comes out there and works and competes and does everything he can to make it right and to help this team."

Brooks called both this week's and last week's decision a tough one to make, but he said he made it because he thinks it's the right choice for the upcoming game and the future.

"He's handled all of that with absolute class," Brooks said of Fidler. "He's one of the toughest guys on our football team. He's never been afraid to pull the ball down. He's not one of those quarterbacks who is going to hook slide or look for the sideline. He's going to look to run you over. He's got a good arm. I'm very hopeful that this experience in the last two games will help him become a more consistent playmaker because he is just an outstanding young man."

Fidler was 4-of-9 for 36 yards in relief duty, including his first career rushing touchdown.

Newton started the game against Auburn, going 5-of-13 for 39 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

"I think Newton did remarkably well with his poise early in the game, when you'd think he might be a little bit more nervous taking a snap, doing the wrong thing in the wrong time. He handled himself from a poise standpoint pretty well," Brooks said.

Newton struggled with his accuracy and poise as the game wore on, but Brooks saw enough to make Newton the starter for Louisiana-Monroe.

Of course, Brooks noted that neither of their performances would have counted for as much had wide receiver/quarterback Randall Cobb not entered in the Wildcat package to spark the UK comeback.

Cobb, who carried the ball 12 times for a career-high 109 yards and one touchdown, primarily from the Wildcat, led UK's late-game charge with a 61-yard run and a 4-yard touchdown scamper.

"Randall is Randall," Brooks said. "The question is how much can you do that with Randall. He's again hobbled a little bit this week, so we have to be a little more careful, but he is a just a spectacular competitive playmaker. ... He's just a great football player."

Brooks said he's never had a player with Cobb's abilities.

"I've had a lot of undersized running backs. Locke would be one of them," Brooks said. "I've had some guys at Oregon that were spectacular in that way, too, but not with the same athletic skills that Randall possesses and the exuberance and the leadership capabilities and the personality and the All-American smile.

"You'd be glad to see your daughter bring him into your house. This guy is the whole package."

Locke doubtful for Louisiana Monroe

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_DSC2181.jpgTailback Derrick Locke, UK's leading rusher this season, is doubtful for Saturday's game vs. Louisiana-Monroe with a medial collateral ligament sprain in his right knee (his non-surgically repaired knee), head coach Rich Brooks announced Monday.

Brooks said there was some pretty significant swelling in Locke's knee. He's hoping to get his star runner back on the field for Wednesday or Thursday, although he didn't sound optimistic about the chances of him playing.

If Locke can't go, senior Alfonso Smith, junior Moncell Allen and true freshman Donald Russell will get the majority of the carries.

Smith's thumb injury still has not healed and will remain in a splint, but Brooks said it should be much this Saturday than it has the last couple of weeks.

UK-Mississippi State at 7 on FSN

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Don't plan on trick-or-treating on Halloween.

The Kentucky-Mississippi State game on Oct. 31 has been picked up by FOX Sports Net for a 7 p.m. EDT start time. It will be the third straight primetime game for the Cats.

This week's Louisiana-Monroe game at 7 p.m. will also be on FOX Sports Net.

Rich Brooks' weekly news conference

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Thanks, and enjoy the new blog.

Recent Comments

  • Guy Ramsey: We're not going to update it daily, but @KentuckyMBB is tweeting out regular updates from that account. read more
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