LOUISVILLE - Now we can start talking North Carolina. The real North Carolina.
Kentucky dispatched UNC's brethren Monday night in Freedom Hall rather handily. UK defeated UNC Asheville 94-57 in its annual game in Louisville, dusting the winless Bulldogs from the opening tip.
Here's about all you need to know statistically from the game: DeMarcus Cousins, when out of foul trouble, continued to dominate, posting the third double-double of his young career with 24 points and 10 rebounds. John Wall was John Wall, dishing out a career-high 14 assists on countless alley-oop passes. Don't worry, he got his own, scoring 12 points, including a blow-by, one-hand slam to cap the evening in the waning minutes of the game.
And oh, the important stat: UK improved to 7-0 on the season, its best start since the 2004 season.
"We needed a game like this," head coach John Calipari said. "Folks, we've been in six wars and now we played this game, which hopefully built a little bit of confidence."
OK, so enough with that. The stage is set for the game everyone had circled since Calipari signed with the University of Kentucky on March 31. With a decent seven-game stretch of non-conference opponents out of the way, it's time for the showdown with the defending national champion Tar Heels.
Don't kid yourself if you watched the game Monday night. I know your attention was on the Tar Heels. During the course of live blogging the game, I answered more questions on UNC than I did on UNC Asheville. In fact, I received a grand total of zero questions on the Bulldogs.
It's OK. We all knew this upcoming three-game stretch vs. perennial powerhouses UNC, Connecticut and Indiana would be a true early measuring stick of where this team is, how far it has come and how much farther it has to go.
So, coach, how confident do you feel after a Cancun Challenge championship and now a blowout on the floor of your archrival?
"They're listening, they're trying," Calipari said. "I liked what we did against the zone. I thought we moved the ball better, I thought we got it inside, I thought we looked over the top. We did some better things. But folks, we just have a long way to go. We're just an OK team right now. Sometimes we're not bad. We're not good, but we're not bad. And other times we're just plain bad."
Calipari even kidded with his players after the game that their eight turnovers were too few. He believes that meant they weren't being aggressive enough.
Well, that's Calipari being a coach. He's being a perfectionist. But does he believe the Cats are where they need to be to compete with the likes of the Tar Heels and Huskies?
"We're not near those guys right now," Calipari said. "I don't think so, but you know what the great news is about playing? We'll find out. We are going to find out. You're talking about a well-coached team. They've got McDonald's All-Americans - a bunch of them, not just one or two. They're young at guard. We're young everywhere."
Fair assessment. It's hard to judge the improvement a team has made when it's going against a team that's lost by an average of 29.0 points per game. The measuring stick has to be taken with a grain of salt.
But Calipari's boys could have played against five ghosts and you would have found something to like Monday.
Let's start with Darius Miller. The sophomore guard opened the game with back-to-back treys. If you're a UK fan you're thinking great, it looks like he's solved that shooting hitch. But moments later when Miller was left wide open again, he hesitated and passed off.
Calipari jumped off his seat like it was on fire.
"Shoot the ball, Darius," Calipari screamed.
Miller never hesitated the rest of the night.
When Cousins was fouled going to the basket and drew a technical foul, Calipari had the option of putting any other player at the line. Why put a guy who was shooting 50 percent coming into this game, including two critical misses against Stanford, on the line? The coaching staff had worked with Cousins and had confidence he would make them.
The freshman forward nailed all four (two personal foul shots and two technical shots).
It's small doses, but it shows they're developing. It shows a will to learn. If they're listening this much, just imagine how far they'll be in March when the games against the North Carolinas and the UConns truly matter.
"These kids respond when we coach them, but there's so much to do," Calipari said. "There are only so many fingers to put in a dike, and there's water squirting out from everywhere. You work on this and then that goes haywire."
But when UK manages to patch the holes, we see small signs of brilliance. Calipari wouldn't call it "unleashed" quite yet, but it looked darn close early in the second half.
During a seven-minute span in the second half, UK went on a 29-5 run to bury the Bulldogs for good. Most of those baskets came on steals, lobs and dunks.
Take it for what it's worth, but it's hard to imagine last year's team doing that.
"UNC Asheville is a pretty good team, but it's kind of tough (to measure) because they're not at the level we'll be playing in the SEC," Wall said. "Games like that, you've just got to come out and push it because they're going to give you their best shot. ... It's just showing that we need to keep getting better and we need to get prepared for this weekend."
Nobody is more prepared than Wall. In dishing out 14 dimes, Wall posted the most assists since UK great Travis Ford dished out a school record 15 in 1993.
Calipari didn't look surprised after the game, telling reporters that Wall is probably farther along than NBA first-round draft picks Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans were when he had them at Memphis.
"I get a sheet from the weight and strength coach and they talk about each player. On his it's like 'Animal,' " Calipari said. "He comes in here to get better every day. ... There are certain kids that have that, that drive to want to stand out and be the best."
The team is quicker when's out there. It's easier for the players when he's playing. And they're a heck of a lot better when the ball is in his hands.
"It's very easy (when he's playing)," Cousins said. "Whoever is guarding him, they can't guard him."
Now that the Cats have gotten this North Carolina team out of the way, it's time to see what they'll do against the real North Carolina.
Cousins believes this next game will be even bigger for Wall because of his North Carolina roots.
"You might see Superman come out," Cousins said. "I believe John has some bad blood with North Carolina."
We'll see on Saturday and finally find out how far this team has come.
"If we lose all three it is not bad as long as we learn where we are and what we need to work on," Calipari said. "The only way is to play those kinds of people, and we are going to find out."
The wireless Internet connection in Freedom Hall isn't working so we're on wireless cards for the time being. That means the connection could be a little shaky tonight. Bear with us if we lose contact sporadically.
Bowl predictions, scenarios, rumors and speculation are running rampant now that the college football regular season is nearly complete.
As I wrote Sunday, the Cats could be headed to a number of destinations after the loss to Tennessee, including the Chick-fil-A, Music City, Liberty, PapaJohns.com and Independence bowls.
One obvious bowl that is missing from the list is the Outback Bowl. The Cats appeared to be playing for their Outback lives against Tennessee, with the winner becoming the de facto choice for the Outback representatives.
Mike Schulze, director of communications and sponsorships for the Outback Bowl, was quoted in Jones' report as saying, "Nobody with a 7-5 record or better is off the table yet."
Schulze went on to turn the tables and ask Jones what he thought the interest at UK would be if the Outback Bowl decided to go with the Cats.
Blowing smoke? Maybe. Interesting? Most certainly.
My gut still tells me the Outback Bowl is going with Tennessee for a number of reasons (the buzz factor of Tennessee and first-year coach Lane Kiffin being one of them), but I've been proven wrong too many times to keep track of.
We'll know sooner rather than later. The Outback Bowl is expected to make its pick Tuesday, according to Jones' report, with an announcement coming later on in the week.
For the second straight week, a team ahead of Kentucky was upset and dropped from the top-five ranks. That meant a move up for the Wildcats in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Top 25 Poll.
With Michigan State's loss earlier in the week and a Cancun Challenge championship trophy in hand, the Cats moved up to No. 4 in this week's ESPN/USA Today poll.
Kansas remained No. 1 (30 of 31 first-place votes) in the poll for the third straight week, followed by Texas and Villanova, respectively.
The Cats stayed put in the latest AP poll at No. 5. Despite the MSU loss, Purdue leapfrogged over the Cats to No. 4. Kansas remained at No. 1 in the AP as well (63 of 65 first-place votes), followed by Texas, Villanova and Purdue, in that order.
Links will take you to the entire top 25.
Wall earns SEC honors again: For the second week in a row, freshman John Wall was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week.
Wall averaged 19.0 points, 5.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds in leading UK to the Cancun Challenge championship last week. The first-year start was named the tournament MVP after scoring a career-high 23 points in the Cats' overtime victory over Stanford in the finals.
The early season honors and awards continue to accumulate for UK. Just last week Wall was named the ESPN.com National Player of the Week. The Cats have also swept the Freshman Player of the Week honors the first three weeks of the season. Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe earned the honor the first week, followed by Wall the following two.
One of the most common concepts in sports is momentum. Gaining or losing force from the development of certain events in a game or season is sometimes just as important as the talent and experience of the players on the court.
It can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing when two equals meet.
The Kentucky volleyball team had been building positive momentum for some time. Poised to capture the program's first Southeastern Conference championship since 1988, the Cats steamrolled through conference play to a 17-1 record with two matches to play.
With a one-game lead and two victories over LSU, a conference crown seemed like a formality, only to have the Cats' title dreams come crashing down for the second season in a row. A two-game losing skid to Florida and Tennessee dashed those hopes, and now UK must find a way to right the ship in time for the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
For the fifth straight season and the second straight year as a host site, the UK volleyball team has been selected to the NCAA Tournament. The Cats will face Michigan State on Friday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum, and should they win, they would return to the court Saturday at 7 p.m. to face either Clemson or No. 14 overall seed Oregon.
How the Cats fare in this year's tournament will hinge largely on how they respond from the late-season collapse. UK suffered a similar fate last year, dropping a home match to Tennessee on the final day of the season with a chance to capture a share of the SEC title. The team was unable to bounce back in time for volleyball's version of the "Big Dance," losing a first-round match to Michigan.
Head coach Craig Skinner is confident his team will be able to move on from the devastating losses last week, citing experience and leadership.
"I think we're old enough that our juniors and seniors aren't going to dwell on what just happened," Skinner said. "We played competitive and fell short and had it in our hands and let it go, but they've won enough matches. They know what it takes to win matches, so I think we'll be ready to go."
The success those juniors and seniors have experienced has been unmatched by any other group of classes in the school record books. UK has mustered 111 wins during Skinner's five-year rein (with a chance to add on more) and the five straight NCAA Tournament selections is a program first.
"We want to be at an elite level year in and year out," Skinner said. "Making the tournament is part of that criteria. It's exciting. I think our team expects to play in the NCAA Tournament every year, and we expect to as a staff."
However, there is no dispelling the air that's been let out of Memorial Coliseum with the late-season losses. The buzz surrounding the program was at all-time high with the SEC title on the line. Now the team must find a way to regenerate that positive momentum in time for Friday's match if it wishes to advance any farther.
Skinner said he isn't worried about his team's psyche and its ability to bounce back.
"I have a great deal of confidence in this group to respond," Skinner said. "We've done it all year long and I don't think it's going to be an exception this weekend."
The former Nebraska assistant said he saw signs of UK's resiliency during an encouraging practice session on Sunday. Skinner particularly liked the intensity level the Cats brought back after a much-needed few days of rest.
And rebounding should be no problem given what's at stake. The Cats have a chance to advance past the first round for the first time since 2006, plus they'll have the benefit of home-court advantage. Another huge UK-partisan crowd is expected to be on hand this weekend at Memorial Coliseum.
Not only will UK have the crowd it its favor, the players will also have the advantage of playing and practicing in a familiar setting.
"It's just a great thing to be able to do," Skinner said. "The travel fatigue obviously won't be a factor with us, whereas Michigan State, Clemson and Oregon all have to travel here and have to miss several days of school and travel long distances. It's definitely an advantage."
UK will need some type of a decisive edge because of its four-team region. Even though Kentucky is the host team, it is not the top-seeded squad.
Oregon, which toppled No. 7 UCLA and No. 4 Washington in two of its last three matches, comes into postseason play on fire. The Ducks are the No. 14 overall seed in the 64-team tournament. Meanwhile, Kentucky will try to defeat a Michigan State team Friday that swept the Cats two years ago in the first round. Clemson rounds out the region after a 23-win regular season.
"It's a great four-team bracket," Skinner said. "It'll be a very high level of play. I think our fans are going to get to enjoy great matches with all three of them. Every team has played some of the best teams in the country, so I think we're all prepared to play at a high level. Now it's just get out there and make those big plays when it matters so we come out on top."
A bit of bad news to pass along regarding one of the most beloved former Wildcats among Big Blue Nation.
Former defensive end Jeremy Jarmon tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the Washington Redskins' 27-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, according to Gary Fitzgerald of Redskins.com.
Jarmon will undergo surgery to repair the injury and will be placed on the season-ending injured reserve list.
The first-year Redskin tore the ligament on kickoff coverage early in the second quarter, the report said.
Jarmon, who was picked up by the Redskins through the NFL Supplemental Draft in July, was expected to see an increasing role as the season wore on. Before getting injured, Jarmon had posted nine tackles and a forced fumble.
"It's unfortunate," Washington head coach Jim Zorn said, according to the report. "This is part of football. The good thing about it is that Jarmon will have the whole offseason to get himself going. Has has to get his (ACL) repaired.
"He is a good player and he is going to see time in the future. It is a setback, but it's not career-threatening. He is just starting out."
The guys over at EA Sports have put together a pretty cool clip of head coach John Calipari explaining the Dribble Drive Motion Offense for NCAA Basketball 2010. Check out the video below as Calipari explains the intricacies of the offense with a video tutorial.
LOUISVILLE - As Josh Harrellson and the UK men's basketball team walked around signing autographs on Sunday in Freedom Hall, one kid poked his head underneath the barrier and asked the 6-foo-10 junior forward to sign the back of his shirt.
Harrellson, blue pen in hand, agreed.
"I'm wearing this shirt to school every day," the small boy said.
"Every day?" Harrellson said. "It's going to get smelly."
Lexington, Louisville or Cancun, Mexico, it was yet another reminder that Big Blue Nation can't get enough of their Wildcats. Six games in and the honeymoon still isn't over with this team.
Calipari and the Cats held their annual practice in Louisville Sunday evening, a preview to the yearly game in Freedom Hall, which will be held Monday vs. UNC Asheville at 7 p.m. A much larger crowd than of past years - an estimated 6,000 fans - watched and cheered on as the Cats went through some shooting drills for about an hour.
To say the crowd was enthusiastic might be selling it short. A cult-like following might be more appropriate. When the players walked around to sign autographs, fans screamed their names like they were teenage girls seeing Robert Pattinson at a premiere showing of "Twilight."
"Not many of my teammates, per say, were adored by the fans (like they are this year)," junior forward Patrick Patterson said. "Not many of the fans called out their names. ... The fans are a lot more into the team this year."
The Cats made sure to get the crowd involved. Several kids were invited to shoot free throws with the players and were given free tickets to Monday's game. The players signed autographs for 20 minutes before and after their one-hour shooting session, signing everything from a baby's shirt to a bib to shoes and underwear.
"It looked like underwear," Patterson said. "It had the three little buttons like boxers. ... Not like tighty whities."
It was another subtle eye-opener to the players of how much they impact this state on a daily basis.
"It was great to be able to put a smile on somebody's face just by signing a piece of paper," senior guard Ramon Harris said.
The turnout and support was enough to evoke Calipari to throw out the possibility of playing multiple games in Freedom Hall in the future, including a Southeastern Conference game, if the support is there.
"The reason you've got to have that is in Rupp (Arena) we know we're getting 24,000 and there is a lot of money involved in this," Calipari said. "The powers to be will say, 'No, we're not doing it,' (if the support isn't there) and you know what, I wouldn't blame them."
Calipari said those extra games in the Derby City would have to be sellouts, while adding that approximately 4,000 tickets still remain for Monday's game vs. UNC Asheville. Based on the fan support Sunday, it's not a stretch to think it's a realistic future possibility.
"This is the Commonwealth's team," Calipari said. "You could see these people from Louisville, they're as crazy as the people in Paducah, in Pikeville, Owensboro, Mason County, wherever I've been. Louisville people may be the craziest."
They were crazy enough to urge Patterson to do a small jump on the Cardinals logo at half court during Sunday's practice. Freshman DeMarcus Cousins and Harrellson then followed with a chest bump leap onto the logo before assistant coach Orlando Antigua stopped the rest of the players from mimicking their teammates.
Freshman guard John Wall, who was waved off by Antigua with a simple finger wag, said it wasn't meant to taunt or disrespect their archrival.
"Louisville is a great school and they've got a great basketball team," Wall said. "It was kind of good that our coach stopped us so we wouldn't start any battling or beef with them."
Patterson, grinning from ear to ear, said he wouldn't mind if it "peaked Louisville's interest."
"If it does, it does," Patterson said. "That's entirely on them."
Calipari said afterwards that he didn't believe his team would do such a thing. When reporters informed him that his team captain led the way, the first-year UK coach was at a loss for words.
"Like I said, we do dumb things," Calipari said.
Dumb, inexperienced, a work in progress, you choose the words. The underlying factor is that this team is having fun. Granted the Cats could just as easily be 3-3, as Calipari would tell you, but they've found a way down the stretch to pull out games with clutch shots and chemistry.
As the wins pile up and the team gets better, the love affair is only getting stronger. Sure, jumping on the logo might not have been the smartest thing to do, but the point is they're having fun.
With a crowd like Monday's - for an open practice at a neutral site the day before a game, mind you - how could they not.
"I'm having a ball," Patterson said. "I'm loving this year. I'm loving this year with my teammates, the coach staff, coach Calipari. We're all having fun and we're all a great bunch of guys. We love each other, we treat each other like family, look out for one another and we're just having a ball hanging out with each other."
Liggins, Orton can't miss class: Sophomore guard DeAndre Liggins and freshman forward Daniel Orton did not make the trip to Louisville because of a mandatory class on Monday, Calipari said.
Both players were on the team bus about to head to Louisville when Calipari asked the driver to stop the bus.
"I said, 'Do you two really want to go down here to sign autographs and then drive back here and then drive back down for the shoot around and then drive back after the game?" Calipari said.
On first thought they agreed. A block later, their common sense kicked in and they decided to stay.
Calipari said he didn't mind them staying, pointing to their decision as the logical thing to do.
Measuring stick? Calipari has made it a habit of point out that his team could lose on any given night.
If that were to happen Monday, it won't be the same UNC Asheville team we've seen the first month of the college basketball season.
The Bulldogs have yet to win a game in five tries this season, losing by an average margin of 27.4 points per game, thanks in large part to a 75-point blasting by Tennessee.
Asked if they would try to outdo the efforts that Tennessee and Georgia put up against the Bulldogs, Wall said they were only worried about improving.
"We're not trying to do anything to match any score they did by beating this team by 100-something points," Wall said. "We're going out there to get better and prepare ourselves for the next couple of games. We're not looking past this game."
The Kentucky volleyball team's regular season didn't end anything like the Cats wanted it to.
With two games remaining and a one-game lead, the Cats let their shot at the program's first Southeastern Conference championship since 1988 slip right through their hands with two straight losses.
However, they can take solace in the fact that their biggest dreams still remain alive with yet another NCAA Tournament selection, the team's fifth straight postseason appearance. UK was picked to host first and second round games of the tournament for the second straight year.
The Cats will host Michigan State on Friday at Memorial Coliseum at 7 p.m. Should UK win, it would face the winner of Oregon and Clemson on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Ducks are the region's seeded team. They enter the NCAA Tournament seeded 14th overall.
I'm hoping to talk to UK head coach Craig Skinner this evening (depends on how much time I have after men's basketball practice) or Monday to talk about making the NCAA Tournament again and how they rebound from the late-season losses.
Some called it quite possibly the game the most important game in recent program history. The chance to beat Tennessee, grab second place in the Southeastern Conference East Division and go to an upper echelon bowl game made Saturday's game the most important of the season.
Now it's time to deal with the fallout of a loss.
The reality of the situation is the Cats have fallen from second to tied for fourth in the SEC East, and their once promising bowl situation seems a little less glamorous.
Yes, the Cats could still be selected to the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve, but now they're one of a handful of teams vying for that primetime game in Atlanta. With the loss, the Cats join a logjam of seven-win teams in the SEC.
The SEC East alone has four seven-win teams in UK, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. Conventional wisdom might suggest that Tennessee and South Carolina would trump UK because of head-to-head wins and UK would sit above Georgia because of the victory last week in Athens, Ga.
However, it doesn't quite work that way. The bowl selections are predicated more on the final standings and who those particular bowls want. There's a bowl pecking order of who selects first, second, third and so forth.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl will have a wide selection of teams to choose from because of the logjam, so chances are how well a team travels will play a large part in the decision. Does Big Blue Nation travel well? Sure, especially to Catlanta, but so do teams like Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. In other words, it's a crapshoot.
If the Cats don't end up in Atlanta, they could go anywhere from a return to trip to the Music City Bowl to the Papajohns.com Bowl or the Independence Bowl.
I can already see the reaction on some of your faces. The Papajohns.com Bowl? The Independence Bowl? How did they slide from the potential Outback Bowl to those bowls?
And while the Independence Bowl seems like a long shot still, the Independence Bowl representatives were very interested in the Cats Saturday night. As Rich Brooks walked out of the media room after the UT game, the two Independence bowl reps stopped Brooks to chat with him for a few minutes. As they departed, one of the reps grabbed Brooks' hand and said, "We will definitely be in contact this week."
Think they want the Cats in Shreveport, La.? You can bet your last dollar they're going to do everything in their will to get UK.
We'll have to see this week how it all shakes out. What could have been a pretty clear bowl picture with a win has suddenly turned into a muddled mystery.
"This could have been better," Brooks said Saturday night. "It also could have been worse. ... It's not the season that I wanted or expected. I exepcted more and I think our players expected more, but the fact that we're in postseason ... we'll find out what's going on, where we end up, who we play and see if we can get that eighth win."
Across campus - stamped on bumpers, plastered on a sign outside of Commonwealth Stadium and scripted on T-shirts - two simple words pleaded for Kentucky to end 24 years of agony.
"Beat Tennessee," the slogan read.
It seemed so simple. It finally appeared inevitable. But the only simple thing and only foregone conclusion in this series has been "Beat Kentucky."
It happened yet again. The Volunteers - in devastating fashion as usual - defeated the Cats 30-24 Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium. The streak marches on, now a quarter of a century old.
Twenty-five years straight. It seems like 100.
"It eats you," Joker Phillips said. "I'm sick and tired of watching the film (of them winning)."
In a long and ever-growing document of devastating losses, it's tough to call this the toughest one to swallow. UK has been as close as it was Saturday night. It's had the game won. And it's slipped away every time like water through a crack.
Gauging from the emotions of the players after the game, it's hard to tell if they were more shocked or more in denial. Some of them stared straight ahead answering questions as if it was just another loss. Who knows, maybe they're getting used to it.
Others, like linebacker Sam Maxwell, could hardly raise their heads, calling it the toughest loss of the careers.
But with all the possibilities, goals and dreams on the line, the players didn't need to spell it out. This was the toughest loss of them all. With all a golden opportunity to take the next step, finish second in the Southeastern Conference East Division and go to a New Year's Day bowl, UK suffered its most heartbreaking loss in the ongoing streak.
"We had a chance to do something that hasn't been done around here and finish second in the SEC East," head coach Rich Brooks said. "We failed."
And failing has never hurt so badly.
"It hurts so much," senior defensive tackle Corey Peters said. "You're looking at a situation, which is rare, from going second in the SEC to I think fifth. It hurts, not just because it's Tennessee, but because of all the possibilities that could have been."
Many of those possibilities are as good as gone. Any chance of going to the Outback Bowl has disappeared, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl remains very much up in the air. With the loss, the Cats join a logjam of seven-win teams in the SEC lobbying for the bowl in Atlanta.
We won't know who gets it for at least another week, but there's a chance UK could slide back to the Music City Bowl, the Liberty Bowl or even the Independence Bowl.
It's a devastating scenario to think of, but it's the one the Cats face after all the close calls, would haves, could haves and should haves against South Carolina, Mississippi State and now Tennessee.
"This could have been better, but it also could have been worse," Brooks said. "We had some people step up. It's not the season that I wanted or expected. I expected more and I think our players expected more."
They almost had it. They should have had it.
With a key Tennessee fumble late in the game, the tide appeared to have finally turned. UK safety Ashton Cobb popped Luke Stocker near the Kentucky sideline and Taylor "big play" Wyndham recovered it for what seemed like was going to be the biggest play in recent UK history.
The Cats took over from the UT 37-yard line down 24-21 with 2:21 to go and destiny at their doorstep. The stadium rocked, the press box swayed and momentum carried with it.
Twenty-four years of agony appeared to finally be dashed. Yet 20 minutes later in overtime, Montario Hardesty was doing the dashing, racing 20 yards up the gut of the UK defense to, defeat the Cats with a game-winning touchdown run.
"It's really disappointing," Maxwell said. "You prepare all week. I practiced as hard as I could. I really gave it my all, and then to get out here ... to lose that game, it's unexplainable."
In some ways it is. In some ways it's not.
How you lose 25 times to the same opponent with so many chances year after year remains an unsolved mystery. But how the Cats did it this year doesn't need much explaining at all.
After dictating much of the first half, UK got pushed around in the second half. After amassing 187 yards in before halftime, UK mustered just 74 yards the rest of the way. Tennessee, meanwhile, racked up the yards by the dozen, finishing with 446 total yards. Hardesty ran wild to a tune 179 yards and three scores.
"They came out in the second half and dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage," Brooks said. "They took the fight to us and we didn't respond very well."
And when UK had a chance to make its most resounding statement of the past decade with the program's next step and the streak on the line, it failed to punch it in.
Once the Cats reached the UT 13-yard line with mere minutes to go, the offense stalled for good. With a near non-existent passing game in the second half, Phillips tried to pound the ball. The Cats got it to third-and-5 on the UT 8-yard line, but a designed Morgan Newton run to the right side was stuffed for just a 2-yard gain.
"I thought it was a walk-in the way they lined up," Phillips. "We just didn't execute on the perimeter."
It wasn't the call, the series or one particular play that kept the streak going. It was little plays here and there that the Cats failed to take advantage of. It was costly penalties, bad turnovers and missed chances that ultimately cost UK its ultimate breakthrough win.
With a chance to make even more history, we were all reminded that the step from the bottom to the top takes a long time. It means bumps and bruises, valley and hills.
Unfortunately for UK, one huge hill -- Rocky Top -- remains in the way. Tennessee's streak stands strong.
The Cats will have another opportunity next year to end it and finally move on. But until they do and until they take down their final demon, they haven't fully made that next step. Not yet.
"It's still not where we want to be," Brooks said. "It's still not good enough."
If you're reading this, I'm probably on my way back to Lexington after a brief holiday vacation. I'm rested, rejuvenated and ready for game day. To get you started, here are some links from the local scribes. We'll have a live blog for you tonight at 7, plus postgame coverage on the blog.
Get ready -- this could be the day the streak finally ends.
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.
Tennessee week always presents an interesting dilemma for Rich Brooks and his coaching staff.
There's the streak, the season finale, Senior Day and the chance to gain some momentum going into a bowl game, but there's also a major holiday, which can sometimes throw a wrench in your game day preparation.
It could serve as an annual interruption in the practice week, but Brooks didn't sound concerned Wednesday at practice.
The Cats will have a team Thanksgiving dinner Wednesday night before returning to the practice field Thursday morning. After that, the players are allowed to leave and have Thanksgiving with their respective families if their hometowns are close enough to make the trip. Brooks said they're not due back until Friday afternoon.
For the players that can't make it home in time, some will go with teammates or spend the holiday with some of the coaches.
Brooks said the biggest adjustment is for the first-year players who aren't used to being away from family and friends during Thanksgiving.
"Thanksgiving is kind of always a family time but this is their extended family, if you will, and if they can share it with teammates then that's what they do," Brooks said. "Some of them first year away it is a little harder than having experience of one or two years (away) in a row."
Update: Official word out of Cancun is that Patrick Patterson (right ankle injury) and Ramon Harris (right knee injury) are day-to-day and will be re-evaluated Wednesday. Their status for the final game of the Cancun Challenge is uncertain.
If you didn't get a chance to watch it on TV, the UK men's basketball team easily rolled earlier today, defeating Cleveland State 73-49 in the Cancun Challenge. The Cats will play the winner of Virginia/Stanford Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Freshman guard John Wall led the Cats with 15 points, most coming in the second half. UK used an 18-4 run to open the second half to pull away.
Patrick Patterson, who looked dominant early in the game, played just one minute in the second half. Brett Dawson from the Courier-Journal is reporting that Patterson injured his ankle, although head coach John Calipari didn't elaborate on the severity of the injury.
"He hurt his ankle, so I just left him out," Calipari said, according to Dawson. "We played so much better without him in there, I just said, 'Just stay out.'"
Senior Ramon Harris also injured his knee in the first half and had to be helped off the court, but he returned and played in the second half.
On Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. Cosby and Ward 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 email@example.com and
we'll try to fit it in.
Low:Let me preface this by saying I'm not trying to push Brooks out the door. He's as classy as they come and a true pro, and there's no doubt in my mind that the SEC is a better place as long as he's a part of it. But if Brooks does decide to walk away after this season and turn the keys over to Joker Phillips, he can do so with his head held high and knowing that the Kentucky program is in exceedingly better shape than the way he found it. The Wildcats, coming off their first win at Georgia in 32 years, now get a chance to break a 24-year drought against Tennessee this Saturday. The Vols have won 24 straight games in the series, the longest active streak in the country among teams that play every year. Regardless of what happens this weekend in the Bluegrass, Brooks has accomplished something that hasn't been done at Kentucky in nearly 100 years -- win at least seven games for four consecutive years -- and he's turned in some of his best work in the twilight of what's been a long and illustrious coaching career.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes.
These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, November 22:
Football: Junior Derrick Locke
Accounted for 245 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns
Rushed 16 times for 80 yards
Caught two passes for 80 yards, both touchdowns of 20 and 60 yards
Returned three kickoffs for 85 yards
With UK trying to preserve the lead in the final two minute of the game,
he ran for 3 and 9 yards, getting the first down that enabled the Wildcats
to run out the clock
Moved into 14th place on the UK all-time rushing list with 1,645 career
Football: Senior Sam Maxwell
Led UK with a career-high 11 tackles, including one for loss
Made two game-saving plays in the final three minutes of the game
With Georgia driving for the potential tying touchdown, he stopped tailback
Caleb King at the one-yard line; on the next play UK recovered a Bulldog
Made the game-clinching interception with 1:45 remaining
In the first quarter, with Georgia having a third-and-one from the UK
two-yard line, he threw Washaun Ealey for a loss, denying a touchdown and
forcing the Bulldogs to attempt a field goal
Men's Basketball: Junior Patrick Patterson
Patterson, a 6-9 forward from Huntingonton, W.Va., was named the SEC Player
of the Week after he averaged 18.7 points and 12.3 rebounds in wins over Miami
University, Sam Houston State and Rider. He scored 19 points and tied his career-high
with 18 rebounds in the win over Rider. On the week, he recorded his 23rd and
24th double-doubles of his career which is tied with Pat Riley for 10th on
UK's all-time double-double list. Patterson moved to 46th on UK's all-time
scoring list with 1,096 points and recorded his 22nd career 20-point game against
Sam Houston State. He hit his first career three-pointer against Miami and
then hit another against Sam Houston State.
Football: Senior Corey Peters
Played a great game with a career-high 10 tackles, two for loss, caused
a fumble and had two pass breakups
In the second quarter, he batted away a pass on third down, forcing Georgia
to attempt a field goal
In the fourth quarter, he caused a fumble that resulted in a 10-yard loss
On the next play, he smashed into Bulldog QB Joe Cox to force an errant
incomplete pass and a Bulldog punt
Swimming & Diving: Senior Megan Pulskamp
Senior Megan Pulskamp had the best meet of her life in helping UK capture
the UT Invite crown -- the best November finish for the team under Gary Conelly.
Pulskamp won three individual events and placed second in another. She was
also among three winning relays. For the weekend, Pulskamp achieved three individual
NCAA 'B' marks and all four relays attained NCAA 'B' time standards. UK's 200-free
relay currently ranks first in the league -- and her 100-fly time is best in
the conference as well.
Swimming & Diving: Junior Tyler Reed
Tyler Reed was UK's top peformer this week in its second place finish at the
UT Invite -- only behind the host Volunteers. Reed captured wins in two events
and second place in another in his individual races. He was also a winner in
the 400-free relay while placing second in the 800-free. All five of Reed's
races earned NCAA 'B' time standards. His 100 and 200-free individual times
currently lead the SEC.
Volleyball: Junior Lauren Rapp
Junior Lauren Rapp had an outstanding week for the Wildcats as the squad increased
its win total for the fifth consecutive season. Rapp led the team with 26 kills
on .451 hitting. She also paced the team with 4.21 points per set. Rapp led
the team with 11 kills in a win over South Carolina, a match in which she did
not commit a single hitting error. She also was the team's leader with a season-high
during conference action 15 kills in a loss to No. 13 Florida. For her career,
Rapp has now posted 10 or more kills in a match on 46 occasions and led the
team in kills 18 times.
Men's Basketball: Freshman John Wall
Wall, a 6-4 guard from Raleigh, N.C., received the league's freshman of the
week honor and national player of the week honor after hitting the game-winning
shot with 0.5 seconds left to lead Kentucky to a 72-70 win over Miami University
in his season debut. Wall averaged 20.3 points, 7.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and
2.7 steals in three games last week. He finished with 19 points and had five
assists against the Redhawks. He followed that with a 21-point effort against
Sam Houston State and then recorded a double-double with 21 points and 11 assists
against Rider, the first double-double in points and assists for the Wildcats
since Cliff Hawkins in the 2004 season. His 11 assists are the most by a Wildcat
since Rajon Rondo in the 2006 season and the third most by a Wildcat freshman
in UK history.
Swimming & Diving: Freshman Trina Winsor
Freshman Trina Winsor was spectacular in her first championship-like meet
of her career. Winsor placed among the top-five in all three individual events
and was a second-place finisher on the 800-free relay in helping UK capture
the UT Invitational crown. All three of Winsor's individual times ranks among
the top-20 in the conference. The 800-free relay is the third best time in
The Lexington Herald-Leader has some great photos of the UK men's basketball team in Cancun, Mexico. A couple of the shots are from the team's open practice Monday, but the coolest ones by far are of the team enjoying some downtime in the pool.
It's nice to see the guys having a good time and enjoying themselves. I think it was something missing among the team as the season carried on. Sure, they're here to play basketball and go to school, but it's also about them enjoying themselves and having a great college experience. It develops team chemistry.
*Apologies for the lack of posts today. I'm a little under the weather and have been bedridden most of the day. No live blog for basketball today since I'm not in Cancun.
A lot of speculation brewing around Lexington as to where Kentucky is going bowling for the holidays. Following the Cats' victory in Athens, Ga., UK has put itself in position to make it to an upper echelon bowl, especially if it defeats Tennessee on Saturday and improves to eight wins.
With one game left, people want to know what bowls it's down to. On just about any other year, we'd be able to narrow it down to one or two at this point, however, it's not that easy this year. Because of the crowded Southeastern Conference picture, UK could still reasonably wind up at about four different bowls (most likely the Outback, Chick-fil-A, Gaylord Hotels Music City or AutoZone Liberty bowls).
First, before we dive any farther, let's see what some of the experts are predicting:
Now the last prediction is interesting because it's predicting a Kentucky win over Tennessee. Yes, if the Cats beat the Volunteers, they are very much in the discussion for a New Year's Day bowl, most likely in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.
The big picture is that where Kentucky goes for the holidays is largely contingent on it does against Tennessee. Beat the Vols and it's Outback or Chick-fil-A, at worst. Lose and the Outback Bowl likely disappears and suddenly the Cats are thrown back into a pile of teams (Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina) bidding for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That's leaves a very good chance that the Cats could still end up back in Nashville or Memphis.
So what's it come down to? Just win Saturday.
To get a better picture of how the bowls are selected, SECsports.com has a full description of the bowl tie-ins. I'll past the story in its entirety below:
The Southeastern Conference has agreements to send nine of its member institutions to postseason bowl games following the 2008 season. The winner of the SEC Championship Game will automatically participate in the Bowl Championship Series comprised of the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta Bowls.
The Capital One (2nd), will then make its pick following the BCS selections. The bowl must select the team with the next best overall record or a team within one win of the team with the next best overall record.
The Outback, Chick-fil-A and AT&T Cotton Bowls will work with the conference office to determine picks 3-5. The Cotton Bowl has the first preference of teams from the Western Division and the Outback Bowl has first preference of teams from the Eastern Division. The Cotton or Outback Bowl can select teams outside of its divisional preference, but must not select them before the opposite bowl selects from its divisional preference. The Chick-fil-A Bowl has the selection of preference following the Cotton and Outback Bowls.
In selections 6-7, the AutoZone Liberty and Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowls will make their selections, not in any specific order, but in consultation with the SEC Office. The Bowls will rank available qualified teams in order of preference. If there are no similarities in the order of selection, the bowls will be granted its selection. If the bowls rank the same teams in preference, the team involved in the process would get its preference of which bowl to participate.
The Petro Sun Independence Bowl will receive the eighth selection and the Papajohns.com Bowl will have the ninth selection of available SEC teams.
PETRO SUN INDEPENDENCE BOWL Dec. 28 • 8 p.m. ET • ESPN Shreveport, La. • Independence Stadium (50,459) Teams: SEC vs. Big 12
PAPAJOHNS.COM BOWL Dec. 29 • 3 p.m. ET • ESPN Birmingham, Ala. • Legion Field (71,594) Teams: SEC vs. Big East
CHICK-FIL-A BOWL Dec. 31 • 7:30 p.m. ET • ESPN Atlanta, Ga. • Georgia Dome (71,228) Teams: SEC vs. ACC
GAYLORD HOTELS MUSIC CITY BOWL Dec. 31 • 3:30 p.m. ET • ESPN Nashville, Tenn. • The Coliseum (67,000) Teams: SEC vs. ACC
OUTBACK BOWL Jan. 1 • 11 a.m. ET • ESPN Tampa, Fla. • Raymond James Stadium (65,657) Teams: SEC vs. Big Ten
CAPITAL ONE BOWL Jan. 1 • 1 p.m. ET • ABC Sports Orlando, Fla. • Florida Citrus Bowl (65,438) Teams: SEC vs. Big Ten
AT&T COTTON BOWL Jan. 2 • 2 p.m. ET • FOX Sports Dallas, Texas • The Cotton Bowl (68,252) Teams: SEC vs. Big 12
AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL Jan. 2 • 5 p.m. ET • ESPN Memphis, Tenn. • Liberty Bowl Stadium (62,338) Teams: SEC vs. Conference USA
Embarrassment has a chance to turn to glory this week.
Tennessee is next on the schedule, so of course all the talk is about the Volunteers' 24-game winning streak over the Cats, a streak Christian Johnson called embarrassing. It's the nation's longest active streak in major college football among opponents that play every year and the second longest overall (Penn State has a 27-game game winning streak over Temple).
But negatives somehow have a way of presenting opportunities. If there was ever a time to end "the streak," this would be the year.
Kentucky is riding a season of emotional highs and program firsts. With wins at Auburn and Georgia, losing streaks that spanned decades, what better year than this to tear down the tallest barrier of them all?
"There are so many streaks I have been hearing about, and we have changed a lot of them, but some of them remain unchanged," head coach Rich Brooks said. "That is my job to try to get more positive things happening in what used to be a rivalry, but of late hasn't been because they have owned it."
Kentucky can take some pride in that fact that it owns its own destiny. With a win over the Vols, the Cats would secure second place in the Southern Conference Eastern Division.
The last time that happened?
"I don't know when the last time Kentucky finished second in the SEC East," Johnson said.
No worries, Christian. It's never happened. Since the SEC split into the two divisions in 1992, the Cats have never placed better than third in the division. Traditionally, teams like Georgia, Florida and especially Tennessee have held the Cats in check.
Now, against one of their biggest rivals, the Cats have a chance to climb the food chain and open the door to some bowl scenarios that some thought vanished after the Mississippi State loss.
"All I know is that with a win, that puts us in second place in the SEC East," Brooks said. "With that comes a little different picture in the end of the season scenario. ... The knock is that we are a bottom feeder in the SEC. Finishing second in the SEC East would put us above some teams that, historically, we have obviously struggled against. Even though we may not have beaten them all, it would be a major step forward and put us, if you will, at the top of the mountain."
Playing against Tennessee has often seemed like a hurdle the height of Mt. Everest. In recent years, the Cats have outplayed the Vols, only to come up on the short end of the stick on the scoreboard.
Johnson believes it's all about confidence, which they now have after ending some notoriously long streaks against other SEC opponents.
"A lot of times in college football, players let their emotions (get the best of them) and they get amped at what the what the coaches tell them and they start to believe that they can win. But their self-confidence in the back of their head is what tells them, 'Man, this might be a little difficult,' " Johnson said. "Until they go out there and start doing it, that's when their confidence shoots through the roof."
Believe the Cats when they say they're not overconfident. Just because the Vols have five losses and are still learning under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin doesn't mean they're not aware of the longtime hex.
But there is something to be said about competing and beating some of the league's top teams this year. Where there used to be doubt there's now belief.
"I don't think that confidence has really been a problem," senior defensive tackle Corey Peters said. "Year in and year out playing in the SEC you're going to go against the best competition. Every weekend we've been competitive in almost every game."
Peters believes this game is not only important for ending the streak but for generating some positive momentum for quite possibly a high-profile bowl game.
"We haven't finished the season strong since I've been here," Peters said. "We've always started strong and then down the stretch, for whatever reason, we haven't finished very well at all. I think it's important to keep that momentum going into the bowl game and just keep moving the program forward."
It could also cement a lasting legacy for a senior class that has helped turn the program around. Instead of just being known as the class that took the program to four straight bowl games, it would give them the unique identify of being the team to finally topple the Vols on Senior Day.
"Most of them obviously came in here prior to some of the success, and they bought the vision and the hope to do something here at Kentucky," Brooks said. "This class, arguably, has done more than anybody in over a half a century in this program. There is still a lot left to accomplish, hopefully. I am just pleased that these guys four years ago, some of them five years ago, decided to come here. They put their faith in what was going to happen here, and they came in and helped make it happen."
We've heard you use the phrase that your team is a "work in progress." Are you finally seeing some of the progress you want to see? Calipari: "There was a sense of urgency and an aggressiveness defensively. If we become one of those kind of teams where we really guard and rebound with two hands and play rough and tough, then we're going to have a nice season. If we don't, our fortunes will rise and fall with our offense. Normally those are .500 teams. They win half their games and lose half their games. Hopefully today they bought in."
You've talked about how this team is young, primarily made up of 18-year-olds, but are you impressed with their maturity and how they responded from Friday's film session? Calipari: "They're trying, but everything is new to them. What a shoot around is supposed to look like is brand new to them. They don't understand that you come in and you're getting ready for a ballgame. Film sessions, I'm not one to keep them in there for two hours, but we were in there almost an hour, which is a long film session for me. But they need it and they need more than that. What we'll do on this game is we'll clip out 10 or 12 great defensive possessions and show them this is what we're looking for. Look at the intensity, look at all five guys. It's five guys looking and playing off one another, which makes it look like we've got six or seven guys on the floor. We played the 3 better today. Why? There was more of a sense of urgency to play the 3 and there was more of a focus. Freshmen, what they do is they stop playing and then that's when you give up a 3. Instead of going up, you go back."
When we were talking with the players after the game, they said a lot of it was just effort. Is that what you're seeing? Calipari: "Yeah, it was. It was an intensity, and a focus and a sense of urgency."
Offensively, your team is putting up a lot of points, but what areas do you still need to improve on in the dribble-drive? Calipari: "Offensively we're still turning it over too much, and what we end up doing is making the hardest play. We still have to get better at holding position from our big people. We have to get better playing off of traps because people are going to trap us and we've got to get better that way. There's a lot of stuff we still have to go with."
DeMarcus when he's on the floor he looks like one of most dominating players on the court. When he gets into foul trouble early, is it just careless fouls or is he slow getting going? Calipari: "I don't know. I think some of it will be looking at was he in a stance, was he ready to go, was he not ready to go, was it a close call, was he doing it to try to help a teammate? I don't know. I'll have to watch the tape. But he's got to get away from it. He got a third foul jumping over a guy's back on a missed free throw. Well you missed a free throw and then you jumped over the guy's back and want to get mad at the official. All of that stuff is a learning process for him, but he's going to be fine."
How do you think John Wall and Eric Bledsoe have played together so far? Calipari: "Each game they've gotten better. Each game they're figuring out how they've got to play. Their job is to make the game easier for the other. I want to make the game so easy for John, Eric says, and Eric says I'm going to make the job easy for John. That's what they're starting to do."
You've said this is much more of a post team than maybe you expected. Is this still a learning process for you in trying to figure out how to get those guys more touches down low? Calipari: "It's still a post team. It's a post-up basketball team, but I still want to do the dribble-drive, I still want it to flow in the offense. I want us to be able to grind it, I want to put us in pick-and-roll at times. If they want to play a zone, I want to quickly get into what we're doing. We're starting to figure out, but again, it's the fourth game. It's early."
Talk about the teams you'll be facing this week in Cancun? Calipari: "They're all capable of beating us. When you're a freshman team, primarily like we are - we played five freshman today and a sophomore - what you end up having is you can beat anybody or anybody can beat you. We've proven it this year already. If we choose to really come and play and play with more intensity and focus and really have a great effort, it's harder for the other team to beat us. But if we don't they could beat us because they'll make 3s, they'll make plays, they'll out-hustle us and that's what happened so far this year."
You talked the other day about playing guard-heavy teams early on. Does Cleveland State fit that mold of another guard-strong team? Calipari: "Yes, they are. They're a guard-heavy team and they're a team that if we don't show, they beat us. The next game is Virginia/Stanford. Enough said. Virginia beat Rider worse than we did and then you have Stanford in the Pac-10, one of the best leagues in the country."
Do you worry about a trip like this going down to Cancun with a young team? How do you approach a road trip like this? Calipari: "I'm worried about one thing: Swine flu. Other than that, I'm good."
Patrick was telling us that he was going to find a way to make it to the beach. Will there be any beach time or downtime for the players? Calipari: "Oh yeah. I'm hoping we stay on the beach. I like to get a little sun myself, but it is a business trip while we're down there. I wouldn't mind taking them to see some Mayan ruins, which are there and in that area. The great stuff is about an hour and a half away. I'm not sure I want to do that with them on an off day, but there are some things that are closer that we can get on a bus and go look at. I took one of my Memphis teams down there and it was a good trip and a good experience for our guys."
What does a road trip do for your team in terms of finally playing on the road in a neutral environment? Calipari: "It gets us out of this building in a different environment to see how they respond. It gets us away, but we're not going to really turn that corner to where want to be until we're in break when there is no class and it's just me, my staff and them going two and three a days for 30 days. That's when we'll get better."
Just to recap what a week it was for the Kentucky Wildcats, here's a list of the honors some Cats received:
- Linebacker Sam Maxwell: SEC Defensive Player of the Week -- 11 tackles, game sealing interception vs. Georgia - Guard John Wall: ESPN National Player of the Week, SEC Freshman of the Week -- 20.3 ppg, 7.3 apg in three games, including game-winning shot vs. Miami (Ohio) - Forward Patrick Patterson: SEC Player of the Week -- 19.0 ppg, 12.3 rpg in four games this season
Insight customers in select regions will now be able to watch the Kentucky men's basketball games in the Cancun Challenge for free from the comfort of their couch.
UK's next two men's basketball games - Tuesday vs. Cleveland State and Wednesday vs. either Stanford or Virginia - are being aired on the CBS College Sports channel. CBS College Sports is part of Insight's Digital Choice package, however, for the next two days Insight will be offering a free preview of the channel to all of its digital customers in Louisville, Lexington, Northern Kentucky, Bowling Green and Evansville, according to Jason Keller, director of public affairs at Insight Communications.
All Insight customers in those areas with a digital box will be able to view the games regardless of which programming package they subscribe to, Keller said.
Fans in those areas hoping to watch the Cats in action in Mexico can tune into Insight channel 531.
There's an adage as old as time that championships aren't won. They're earned.
Well, the Kentucky volleyball team is going to have to earn every bit of the Southeastern Conference championship after dropping a heartbreaking 3-1 defeat to 18-time defending conference champion Florida on Sunday at Memorial Coliseum.
With the conference crown officially out of their reach, the Gators decided to have a say in the title after all by playing the role of spoiler. After suffering two straight losses to the Cats, Florida rebounded by taking a commanding 2-0 lead.
Up 21-17 in the first set, the Cats had a chance to take set one, but Florida stormed back and won an emotionally driven and back-and-forth opening stanza. The Gators set the tone early on, and the Cats never recovered.
"It takes special plays at that moment in the game," head coach Craig Skinner said. "It takes big-time plays, big-time digs, big-time sets and big-time kills to win it. We kind of had a couple of opportunities but didn't capitalize and they did in those situations."
Skinner pointed to a strong Florida serving game as one of the keys. The Gators mustered just five serving aces on the afternoon, but often times the jump serves put UK out of position and on the defensive.
"We got on our heels after getting a big lead the first game," Skinner said. "They applied a lot of pressure on their serve and we didn't bounce back with our serving to get them out of their system and into our system for us to have success."
The Cats suffered a key loss after the second set when last year's SEC Player of the Year and senior setter Sarah Rumely went down with an illness. Rumely tried to come back out briefly in the third set, she was unable to finish the set and was on the sidelines in her warm-ups the rest of the match. Redshirt freshman Christine Hartmann filled in for her and came away with 13 assists.
Skinner said Rumely's loss had no ill effect on the loss. The fifth-year coach said they simply didn't take advantage of a valuable opportunity early in the match.
It was a rare slip-up for a team on Senior Day of all days to let a golden chance slip through their fingers.
"Those seniors have given us so much," Skinner said. "It's not about one match for them. It's about an entire career. The wins the seniors have given us have been unbelievable. We talked about asserting ourselves and we need to assert ourselves better when we have opportunities."
The important thing is that the Cats have put themselves in a position to still grab a share of the conference crown at Tennessee on Wednesday. The problem is that if they lose, LSU will capture the outright title because of a season-ending win vs. Alabama on Sunday.
"We put ourselves in a position," Skinner said. "We know what we have to do and it's about stepping up and making that happen. Unfortunately we didn't get it done today."
The Cats had the very same opportunity last season to clinch a share of the title at home vs. Tennessee, but the Vols came away with a shocking defeat on the final day of the regular season.
Despite a heartbreaking loss Sunday and despite dropping a match to Tennessee earlier in the year, Skinner is confident that this year will not be a case of deja vu. He believes his team will bounce back and earn it.
"I have complete faith in this team," Skinner said. "I know they'll come in practice on Monday and Tuesday and practice hard. We always practice well. There's an opportunity Wednesday and I know our team will come out ready to go. There is no other team I would rather be coaching than this one."
Coach Cal and the Cats are headed out of the country to Cancun, Mexico, on a business trip this week, but it will seem like the first-year UK head coach is closer to you than ever with an innovative interview UK will unveil Monday morning.
In order to bring Big Blue Nation the latest news and progress of the men's basketball team while it's in Mexico for the Cancun Classic, we will be posting an interview with head coach John Calipari via Twitter on Monday at 9 a.m. ET.
Don't miss out Monday on a special opportunity to follow Calipari with an interview on your Twitter account. Remember, make sure you follow both @UKAthleticsNews and @UKCoachCalipari to follow the full interview.
*No rest for the weary. Another big day in UK Athletic. The UK volleyball team aims for a historic Southeastern Conference championship at 2 p.m. vs. Florida and then the UK Hoops team will be in action at 6 p.m. Live blogs on UKathletics.com to cover all the action.
Rich Brooks, you may have just earned yourself a street name in Lexington.
No matter how many analogies you chose to use - climbing the Southeastern Conference mountain, ladder, food chain, etc. - you put all the season's chips in games like Saturday's. You said the season's success would hinge on opponents like Georgia, a team that has long withstood the test of time and fortune to stand in your way of competing in the SEC.
Saturday night, Rich, with a 34-27 come-from-behind win, you came out gold. Saturday, in a place your team hasn't won since 1977, your team turned the corner. With your longtime help and dedication, the Kentucky football program has torn down the barriers of mediocrity.
The Kentucky Wildcats have made the next step.
In all honesty, some, including some parts of this writer, aren't even sure how you did it.
When people called for your head early in your probation-riddled tenure (which wasn't your fault), you held your head high, put some earmuffs on and went to work. When you lost your foundation of seniors last year and were supposed to rebuild, you said, "the heck with it," went to a third straight bowl and won it anyway. When you lost your best defensive lineman, Jeremy Jarmon, in the offseason, saw your best defensive player, Trevard Lindley, go down four games with an ankle injury and lost your starting quarterback, Mike Hartline, for most of the season, you regrouped and reloaded.
And when the chorus of critics gave you no chance this year after your team took back-to-back lashings against Florida and Alabama, and then a gigantic letdown to Mississippi State, you not only picked the ladder back up, you catapulted the Cats past the original resting place and on the verge of taking the second step in the SEC East.
Yes, with one very big game to go, the Cats have an opportunity to finish second in the SEC East for the first time since the league was split into divisions in 1992.
Who in their right minds would have thought that given the current state and power of the SEC? Please, don't all raise your hands at once.
But I guess doubt is what makes your team and you run, Rich. When everything seems to point to the contrary, your Cats inexplicably do the unthinkable and remind us again of why this program is the greatest UK sports story of this decade.
Saturday's game, quite arguably as big as the Georgia win in 2006 when this current historic run seemed to start, was another illustration of what this team has been all about for the last four years.
Trailing 20-6 with just 66 yards of offense at halftime, the Cats were left for dead. They were road kill scraped to the shoulder.
Then Georgia fumbled the opening kickoff to start the second half, and two plays later, Randall Cobb dashed into the end zone from 12 yards out to cut the score to 20-13.
Just like that, game on.
The teams traded blows for much of the second half, but the tide seemed to turn on a play that fans have screamed at, criticized and yelled at their television screens in anger for most of the season. Yes, that screen pass actually worked.
Joker Phillips drew up a screen pass on second-and-21 in the fourth quarter, and boy, did it change the game. Morgan Newton dumped it off to Derrick Locke in the backfield, and once he turned the corner near the left sideline, it was green pastures, a new ballgame and new dreams.
Then, just a few plays later, 80,000-plus jaws in Sanford Stadium dropped harder than a 1,000-pound bag of bricks. Joe Cox's errant screen pass was picked off by Shane McCord on a key third down, setting up UK inside the 10.
The Cats converted three plays later, taking the lead for the first time since leading 6-0 in the first. The touchdown capped a 28-7 run to retake the lead. Remember, this was in Athens of all places, yet another city that has traditionally strangled UK into mediocrity or worse.
But Saturday night, the longtime nightmares of the UK football program might have been buried for good. This was the type of victory that could sling the Cats next year into the upper echelon.
Heck, the momentum might be so big that UK could be - gasp! - the favorite next week to end the nation's longest losing streak next week.
If the Cats didn't seal the game on a Georgia fumble on the UK 1-yard line on third-and-goal, then they surely slammed the door shut with a Sam "the interception man" Maxwell. The senior linebacker recorded his team-leading sixth interception of the season, setting UK up for a prominent - maybe even a New Year's Day - bowl. (Maxell, a three-year backup, has been the perfect example of the type of overlooked, underrated players that have built this program from the ground up.)
Rich, we know you want to go even farther, do bigger and better things. Four losses is probably four losses too many for you. But, just think if that Mississippi State game would have never have happened.
But that's neither here nor there. You've now accomplished something that just about no one in school history could do.
Yes, Rich, we saw you on the sideline late in the fourth quarter when the camera zoomed in on you and waited for you to show some emotion. It looked painful. You were trying so hard to hold your emotions back, but there was nothing hiding that smile inside your heart that could stretch from Athens back here to Lexington.
Finally, after the game, we saw you let loose. Yes, Rich, it's OK. Celebrate. Live it up. You've done something special at UK. You've done what you set out to do when you came to Kentucky.
We've heard that phrase from head coach John Calipari more than his one-liner "I've got five freshmen who think they poop ice cream," and his constant reminder that this team is made up of 18-year-olds.
If there was a slogan for Calipari's first-year campaign, a "work in progress" is exactly it.
Saturday afternoon, we witnessed some of that progress. We saw what the Dribble Drive Motion Offense is capable of when it's clicking, a dominant Patrick Patterson (19 points, 18 rebounds) and the star power of John Wall (21 points, 11 assists).
In the most complete game of the season, a 92-63 win over Rider, we saw, for the first time this year, the flashes of potential this team is capable of in the future.
"We're making strides," Calipari said. "We're just not very good now."
Not yet. But they could be if they continue to listen to their coach and adjust like they did Saturday.
After getting torched from 3-point range in two consecutive games, the Cats clamped down on the perimeter and held the normally hot-shooting Broncs - who entered this game shooting 48.5 percent from behind the arc - to just 4-of-17 from 3-point land and 32.1 percent overall from the floor.
"There are a couple of things that are starting to happen," Calipari said. "The thing I told them at some point is there has to be a sense of urgency defensively. Well, we had it today. We really did. If there is a sense of urgency defensively, you're not going to give up the 3s. You're going to come out and play."
The turnaround started with their film session Friday, which was nothing short of a comedy hour with Calipari as the main act. Guys were cutting it up with one another and Calipari was playfully throwing jabs and some of the players' efforts.
"Some of the stuff (we were watching) was almost hysterical," Calipari said. "They were laughing at each other."
But they listened and they learned what they were doing wrong, and according to Ramon Harris, the list of don't dos was long and extensive. Laughs aside, it might have been the most informative, eye-opening meeting of the season.
"We weren't rotating, guys weren't getting their hands up, we didn't get back in transition 'D,' " Harris said. "Like coach said, if you can't laugh at yourself, you're not going to get better, so we all looked at film, tried to get better and I think we showed it today."
During the film session, each player recalled getting pointed out for something they were doing wrong. Everyone except Harris was criticized for not talking, Patterson was chided for not going after loose balls and taking charges, Jon Hood was berated for coming out of his defensive stance, and Wall was criticized for not diving on the floor.
"The difference was definitely effort," Patterson said.
On Saturday, they fought through screens, defended the perimeter and talked as loud and as often as 12-year-old girls do at a slumber party, shutting down a team that a couple of weeks ago shot Southeastern Conference West Division preseason favorite Mississippi State out of the gym.
"I was really fearful of this game until I saw how we defended early in the game and then I felt fine," Calipari said.
Sure, Rider missed some wide-open looks and is partly to blame for the chilly shooting afternoon, but credit the young Cats with some maturity beyond their years. Even though this team is made up primarily of 18-year-olds, they were level-headed enough to look at themselves in the mirror and realize that improvements had to be made.
And get this for maturity:
"We've still got a lot more work to do," Wall said. "You can't drink the (Kool-Aid) and think you did good one day and take off the next day. We've got a lot of work to keep doing."
They did well Saturday, but they think -- no, they know -- they can do better. That more than anything -- even defense -- is really what Calipari wants to see from this team. He wants them to show him they can put their accolades and egos aside and learn from their mistakes.
That maturity might be best epitomized by a move DeMarcus Cousins pulled at halftime. With Cousins riddled in foul trouble and Daniel Orton scoring 10 first-half points, Calipari had a dilemma on his hand: should he go back to Cousins, who typically starts, or leave Orton out there?
Calipari decided to leave it up to Cousins. The first-year forward responded by telling assistant coach John Robic that Orton was playing too well to be taken out and offered to come off the bench in the second half.
"Big step for our program," Calipari said. "Big step."
There are still plenty more steps to be taken, but Saturday the Cats made progress.
"They have to be one of the most talented teams in the country. It's just a matter of playing with a sense of urgency defensively," Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey said. "I think they took their foot off the gas here and there, but when they are engaged, start playing the big-time programs, and start locking in, they are going to have a special team. You guys are going to like what you see as the season goes forward."
The UK Hoops team is running, scoring and playing defense unlike any team we've seen in the Matthew Mitchell era.
The Cats have already eclipsed the 80-point mark twice this season - a feat they accomplished just four times last year - and they've outscored their three opponents by a margin of 24.0 points per game.
Imagine what those numbers would be like with senior guard/forward Lydia Watkins, who has missed the first three games of the season with a strained left shoulder. Watkins injured her shoulder during the Bellarmine exhibition game.
An MRI test two weeks ago indicated there was no structural damage, and Mitchell said Friday that she could return as early as Sunday against Chattanooga.
"She's definitely closer," Mitchell said. "She did some functional tests yesterday that had good results, so it's a possibility for her to play Sunday. We'll know more this afternoon, but she's clearly progressing back and closer to this point than she has been. It's not a situation where we're still trying to figure out if she's coming back. She'll be back either this game or we would be hopeful at the latest next Wednesday."
Watkins is expected to be one of the key returning cogs on this year's team. Before missing most of last season due to personal reasons, Watkins averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds as a sophomore.
The 6-foot-1 athletic senior not only adds another athletic presence in the paint - a position the Cats are razor thin at - she's one of the few veteran players on a team primarily made up of inexperienced and untested freshmen and transfers.
"We're an athletic team without her. When you add her, she may even be one of the top two or three athletes on the team, so it just makes you more athletic," Mitchell said. "It makes you deeper in the frontcourt, but the biggest thing is it does is brings back experience, and that's very, very important for us now against quality opponents."
Freshman forward Brittany Henderson has filled in admirably for Watkins, averaging 2.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in 11.0 minutes of play, but Mitchell said the experience Watkins brings to the table is irreplaceable.
"I've been happy with Brittany Henderson and her effort (but) she's just three games into a career and there's no way she can function at a level that Lydia can being a fourth-year senior," Mitchell said. "It's clearly an upgrade to our team when (Watkins is) available."
Uga VII, the legendary Georgia mascot who roamed the sidelines at Georgia football games, died of heart-related causes, according to owner Frank W. "Sonny" Seiler.
There will be no live mascot at Georgia's game on Saturday, but a wreath will be placed on Uga VII's doghouse.
Putting aside your animal views and opinions, the Uga mascot has been a long-term fixture in Georgia football. As you'll see by the statements below, Uga is an iconic figure in the football community.
"Our hearts go out to the Seilers and the entire Bulldog Nation at this unexpected loss," Georgia President Michael Adams said in a statement. "Uga VII was both a family pet and a symbol for millions of fans, and besides that he was just a sweet dog. We will miss him."
"Just as his ancestors, he had captured the hearts of college football fans everywhere as the country's No. 1 mascot," UGA Athletics Director Damon Evans said. "He had been truly embraced by all those who follow the Georgia Bulldogs across the country."
Georgia posted a 16-7 record during Uga VII's brief but storied tenure.
Will the loss of Uga VII have any bearing on the UK-Georgia game? Who knows. But with senior night and the death of the legendary mascot, you can expect an emotional night in Sanford Stadium.
"He's by far the biggest celebrity on the field when Georgia plays," Georgia sports announcer Matt Stinchcomb said, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. "He has more security than coach (Mark) Richt."
John Calipari keeps warning the UK faithful that his Cats could very well drop one of these early season games to what most would qualify mid-major opponents.
Some - most notably those that have irrationally predicted UK will go undefeated this season - scoffed at the notion of losing to an opponent like Miami (Ohio) or Sam Houston State.
Well, they aren't laughing so much anymore. After escaping the Miami game on a last-second game-winner and surviving a barrage of Sam Houston State 3-pointers, maybe we should all listen to Calipari a little more closely.
When he says these are good teams, he isn't kidding.
OK, some of it has to do with UK. The 3-point defense has been nothing short of frightful, this team is young and they turn it over too much.
But, upon closer look, UK's non-conference schedule might be a lot tougher than some have given credit for.
After watching the Cats scrape by their last two opponents by the skin of their teeth, I decided to scan through the schedule and see what some of the teams were picked to do in their conference. Even though these early adversaries lack the star power appeal of some other schools, these "mid-majors" are clearly a major hurdle in UK's schedule.
Sam Houston State
Third (received first-place vote)
Third (received two first-place votes)
Long Beach State
Of these so-called mid-majors UK plays, three - Morehead State, Sam Houston State and Long Beach State - were picked to win their respective conferences. Four other mid-majors -- Rider, Cleveland State, UNC Asheville and Austin Peay -- were preseason picks to finish second or third in their leagues.
And that's not even factoring in the high-major non-conference opponents. Throw in North Carolina, who was again picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference, Louisville and Connecticut from the rugged Big East, and we could be talking about a very tough non-conference schedule by season's end.
Calipari talked in the offseason about playing the best of the best to heighten his team's RPI. Although the names might not pop off the page, it appears some of the nation's best have found their way on the UK schedule.
Cat Walk: The "Cat Walk" will resume Saturday at 5:30 p.m. ET. Fans wishing to participate in cheering on the Wildcats as they enter the stadium Saturday should be on East Campus Road outside of Sanford Stadium near Gate 5. The team bus will arrive at approximately 5:30 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 Sanford Stadium. View a map of the "Cat Walk."
There was plenty to love in Kentucky's high scoring 102-92 victory over Sam Houston State to open the Cancun Challenge:
- The Cats scored 100-plus points - DeMarcus Cousins continued to build off his second-half performance against Miami (Ohio), scoring a career-high 27 points and 18 rebounds for his second career double-double - Five Cats scored in double-figures, the lowest of the five coming from Darius Miller with 15 points - UK shot 60 percent from the floor, including 50 percent from behind the arc
But there were also plenty of things to squirm about. UK failed to get a single point from its bench, made just 19-of-29 from the charity stripe and turned it over 23 times (six each from freshman guards Eric Bledsoe and John Wall).
Take your pick at the most glaring issue. I'll take the 3-point defense.
For the second straight game, the Cats were torched from the perimeter. Sam Houston State dropped a Rupp Arena record 18 3-point shots Thursday night largely on the back of Corey Allmond.
The senior guard nailed a Rupp Arena record 11 treys, breaking Tony Delk's previous record of nine. Allmond made 99 triples last season, 14th most in the nation, but it was clear from head coach John Calipari's reaction after the game that it's more a Kentucky issue than just a kid catching fire.
"I was so mad a couple of times that my head almost popped off," Calipari said.
Calipari started the news conference shaking his head. By the end of it, his forehead landed squarely on the microphone.
"I've just called the rules committee to see if they'd move the line back," Calipari joked after the game.
But this is hardly a joking matter anymore. UK is bad at guarding the 3-pointer. Like, historically bad.
"This may be at this point the worst defensive team I've had since 1988," Calipari said. "At the end of the day, if we're going to be what everybody thinks we're going to be, we have to be one of the best defensive teams in the country."
Uh, they've got a long way to go. And I mean a long, long way to go.
Over the last two games, UK has surrendered 33 treys on 64 shots. Two players alone - Miami of Ohio's Nick Winbush and Allmond - have combined for 19 3-pointers (57 points), single handedly keeping UK's opponents in the game.
They're gut-wrenching numbers when one considers that the Cats face Rider on Saturday, a team Calipari calls a better perimeter shooting team than the one that poured gasoline on UK on Thursday and lit it on fire. Rider lost to Virginia earlier in the evening, but Calipari doesn't expect that to be a problem Saturday.
"Do you think they're going to shoot it here well Saturday?" Calipari said. "Is there any indication that we're going to guard 3-point shooters?"
None so far, coach.
The root of the problem, according to Calipari, seems to be communication. The Bearkats would "leak" out a player in transition every time the Cats would shoot it, forcing a UK defender to get back on a man that typically wasn't his.
That is when the trouble would start.
"We don't talk," Calipari said. "Instead of saying, 'I got yours, you take mine,' no one speaks. So now no one knows who's who, we step up and take the guy dribbling and leave the best 3-point shooter maybe in America tonight with no one on him. ... You have to communicate and talk on defense."
The only player who talked by Calipari's account was senior Ramon Harris. Otherwise, UK made Allmond look like Steve Kerr.
Part of it's from a lack of effort. Some of it's bad technique. But maybe the most glaring indicator of the Cats' struggles to defend the long ball is just plain immaturity.
One of the biggest adjustments from the high school level to the collegiate level is defense. Before the season started, Calipari expected this team to struggle adjusting to the Dribble Drive Motion Offense, not the defense. Now it's become clear that he's going to have to start teaching Defense 101 with some of the younger guys.
"You've got to stay and play the entire possession," Calipari said. "Young players do not because they never had to in high school."
Calipari said championship teams usually hold their opponents to around 29, 30 percent shooting from the 3-point line. By comparison, UK's last two opponents have scorched the Rupp Arena floor at a 51.5 percent clip.
It's left Calipari confused, bewildered and frustrated before the meat of the schedule has even begun to approach. But it's a problem Calipari isn't going to shy away from.
"It's who we are right now, and I'm not embarrassed about it" Calipari said. "I love my team, we've got a chance of being good, but we also have a chance of being bad if we don't start changing. If they don't take pride in their defense and have a sense of urgency and say we're going to come together and start talking, everyone of us ... if we don't get better defensively, folks, do you think we can score 100 against everybody because we're going to have to. They're going to score 100 on us."
The bottom line is UK was the one to score 100-plus points Thursday and notch the third win of its season. The offense moved with pace, Cousins went off and UK remained undefeated.
But if the Cats don't correct their 3-point defense soon, none of that will matter. The nightmarish perimeter defense is becoming an ever-growing elephant in the room. If the problem isn't corrected soon, it's going to grow too big and crush the season's ultimate dreams.
"You can't defend this way and win," Calipari said. "Any championship team in any sport at any level that's going to try to win championships does it with their defense. It's just how it is."
UK isn't close to that team right now. That's just how it is.
Both coaches go on to say they respect each other in the story, but there is no doubt that any mutual love affair is non-existent. It's added even more fuel to the fire that is arguably college basketball's most heated rivalry.
And don't forget, live blog for the Sam Houston State game at 7 p.m. I'm taking off for Rupp Arena shortly, so I'll see everybody on the live blog later tonight.
On Thursday at 12:30 p.m. May and Weiszer 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll try to fit it in.
Sophomore Randall Cobb took "a few" reps at Thursday's practice and will be a game-time decision for the Georgia game.
Cobb, who is third in the Southeastern Conference in all-purpose yards, has battled nagging injuries for much of the season. Cobb's latest injury is a bruised shoulder, which head coach Rich Brooks believes to be around the AC joint.
Brooks said the injury started bothering Cobb before the Vanderbilt game from the season's wear and tear.
"For all those fans out there that want him to touch the ball all the time, it's a tough job when you take as many hits as those guys do," Brooks said. "He's not the biggest guy in the world. He is one of the most talented, but he's not one of the biggest."
Cobb was one of the catalysts behind UK's near upset of Georgia last year in Commonwealth Stadium. The then-freshman accounted for 187 total yards and three scores in the 42-38 loss.
Also, Brooks said backup defensive tackle Antwane Glenn has the flu and will not make the trip to Georgia.
DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton were used to being the big men on campus.
In high school, they towered over their opponents like trees in a forest of shrubs. They were bigger, faster and stronger than their competition on almost a daily basis.
It often became easy for them.
"At the high school level you just overpowered everybody," Cousins said.
If Cousins or Orton wanted to take a night off and put it in cruise control, so be it - they'd still score 20 points and grab 10 rebounds. Physical abilities alone were good enough for a nightly double-double.
"A lot of times, I guess you could say I played laid back," Cousins said.
How laid back?
"I was very laid back," Cousins said "It's just bad habits from high school."
Cousins, maybe a bit unfairly, earned the title as being a lazy player because it was so easy for him in high school. Orton never earned that questionable distinction, but it was just as obvious that the game came easy to him at Bishop McGuiness in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Now the twin towers are no longer the only buildings on the block. Unlike high school, the collegiate floor is filled with players just as big and just as strong as they are.
"Here they're just as strong as you so you're going to have show some skill," Cousins said. "It's just an adjustment. The speed of the game, the strength of the game, all of it's just a new adjustment."
Patterson remembers a similar alteration when he came to UK two years ago. Although he hardly showed any signs of struggling during a 16.4-point, 7.7-rebound, All-Southeastern Conference season, he said it takes times for young post players to learn that they have to bring it every day, game and practice.
"There's guys bigger than you out there, so it's all about you wanting it more and you getting lower than they are," Patterson said, pointing out some of college's biggest post presences like Cole Aldrich of Kansas. "(Cousins and Orton are) not necessarily lazy guys. I think that just comes naturally. You're used to overpowering people by not putting forth much effort. You get used to that. But when you come to another level where you have to put forth the effort and put forth the energy and power to it, actually getting low, actually running and doing all the little things, it takes time to adjust to it."
Orton, who towered over most high school players at 6-foot-10, said he fell victim to the playing level of high school, where he could get away with just about anything and still dominate.
"In high school, usually after a while you become the man and really don't have to work that hard," Orton said. "Your coach knows that you're the guy so you really don't have to put forth much effort in practice and all. You are bigger than everybody so it takes less effort to score and play defense, so you do become lazy and develop bad habits in high school."
In the two exhibition games, it looked like both would breeze through the transition. Orton scored four points and seven rebounds in his debut before getting hurt the next game against Clarion, and Cousins averaged 15.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in the two preseason games.
However, when it came to the real thing in the season opener vs. Morehead State, both appeared to become lost in the flow of the game. Cousins was saddled in foul trouble for much of the contest and Orton played just 13 minutes.
"You really can't walk over people," Patterson said. "I'm sure that they're starting to figure that out."
It took an 18-point first-half deficit to Miami (Ohio) for them to understand what head coach John Calipari has been warning them about since the start of practice: play hard every minute because Kentucky is everyone's Super Bowl.
"I just got to get my motor going early," Cousins said. "I'm just going to try come out with a different approach."
Cousins and Orton appeared to find that approach Monday night. Orton finished with an overall strong performance despite limited minutes because of an elbow he took to the head, and Cousins, after sitting out most of the first half with two fouls, erupted in the second.
"DeMarcus, he's just a freshman. He's got to keep his emotions in check," Calipari said Monday night. "He sometimes wears them on his sleeves, so his body language doesn't look right. What he doesn't understand yet is that negative physiology blends to the rest of us. That passion and emotion and the enthusiasm is also contagious. He's just going to learn."
When Cousins screwed his head on straight, he scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, most of them coming during a critical stretch near the end of the tightly contested game.
"The reality of it is for that four-minute stretch he dominated the game," Calipari said. "He just dominated."
Like any freshman, Cousins and Orton are going to struggle. The hills and valleys of a college season are in a freshman's DNA, and highly touted or not, there are rarely exceptions.
Calipari understands that, but he has also quickly realized that the paint is where his team's strength lies. After watching his team boot around a few more turnovers than he would like and struggle with the pace of the game, Calipari's told reporters twice in the last three days that he plans on getting the ball to the post more often.
Patterson's body of work has proven that he's up for the task. Now it's time to find out if the young twin towers are ready to play like big men on campus.
"We've got two good centers," Calipari said. "The problem is they're 18 years old."
Talk about a rough start for the Southeastern Conference.
Despite lofty preseason expectations, the league has stumbled out of the gates in men's basketball play. Several teams have already tripped up against mid-major and low-major opponents.
The lastest came Tuesday night when the Georgia Bulldogs lost to Wofford. Already, Alabama has lost to Cornell, Auburn was upset by Missouri State and Mississippi State dropped a decision to Rider.
The SEC clearly struggled last season. The league had just three NCAA Tournament teams, but some national experts boldly predicted that number to balloon as high as six or seven teams this year. Obviously there is still plenty of work to be done.
Still, count me in as one of the firm believers that this opening stretch is nothing more than an anomaly. I think this conference will be in the top three in the RPI by the end of the year because of returning talent and experience.
No other league had as many big-time names return to school. Players like Tennessee's Tyler Smith, Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado, South Carolina's Devan Downey, and of course, UK's Patrick Patterson decided to put the NBA on hold and return to school.
By season's end, I think we'll see those decisions pay dividends with deep runs in March.
And oh, by the way, that same Rider team that beat Mississippi State -- the same Bulldogs team that is supposed to challenge UK for the conference crown -- visits Rupp Arena on Saturday at 1 p.m.
With three games to go, the UK volleyball team sits in prime position to capture its first Southeastern Conference championship since 1988. Kentucky, LSU and Florida are the only three teams mathematically in the hunt to capture the league crown.
Kentucky (16-1) enters the final week and a half of play with a one-game edge in the loss column over LSU (16-2) and a two-game lead over 18-time defending conference champion Florida (14-3). The Gators, who lost to Kentucky in Gainesville, Fla., earlier in the season, travel to Lexington on Nov. 22.
Here are the Kentucky volleyball SEC championship scenarios:
1.) If the Cats win their remaining three matches, they win the SEC title outright. 2.) A UK win in two of the three remaining matches guarantees at least a share of the SEC crown. 3.) A loss by LSU and at least two UK wins would give the Cats the outright SEC championship.
*Florida is not mathematically out of the picture at this point in time, but it would need three wins and a lot of help to get back into the race.
**Should there be a shared title between Kentucky and LSU, UK would own the tiebreaker with LSU by virtue of head-to-head record since UK won both meetings with LSU.
Kentucky (three matches) - Nov. 20 vs. South Carolina (7 p.m.) - Nov. 22 vs. No. 10 Florida (2 p.m.) - Nov. 25 at Tennessee (7 p.m.)
LSU (two matches) - Nov. 20 vs. Mississippi State (8 p.m.) - Nov. 22 vs. Alabama (2:30 p.m.)
Florida (three matches) - Nov. 20 at Tennessee (7 p.m.) - Nov. 22 at Kentucky (2 p.m.) - Nov. 27 vs. South Carolina (4 p.m.)
Denver Broncos linebacker and ex-Cat Wesley Woodyard is eligible for the 2010 Pro Bowl as a special teamer.
Woodyard, a four-year star at UK, has thrived in Denver on special teams and as a part-time linebacker for the surprise 6-3 Broncos. The La Grange, Ga., native has 31 tackles on the year, including a forced fumble and an interception.
A pair of Kentucky Wildcats in the pros suffered season-ending injuries this week during what appeared to be breakthrough seasons.
Former Kentucky forward Kelenna Azubuike tore his patellar tendon Saturday and will undergo surgery. Azubuike will have surgery next week and is expected to miss five to six months, according to the Mercury News.
Azubuike, fresh off a 22-point game last week, was averaging 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game for the Golden State Warriors.
Meanwhile in St. Louis, former Wildcat receiver Keenan Burton suffered a season-ending right knee injury and is expected to undergo surgery later in the week, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He will be placed on the injured-reserve list.
Burton, a second-year receiver with the Rams, caught 25 balls for 253 yards prior to the injury.
Randall Cobb did not practice Tuesday morning with a shoulder injury. He left Nutter Field House early and headed back to the Nutter Training Facility, presumably for the ice bags and treatment.
All 188 pounds of Cobb's 5-foot-11 frame is bruised and battered at this point. He's battled nagging injuries all season long, including a groin injury, a hamstring strain, a sprained left thumb and the latest shoulder injury.
Yet when he's on the field, there is arguably nobody better. In terms of value, Joker Phillips, head coach of the offense, thinks he might be the best in the Southeastern Conference.
"I think he and (Derrick) Locke are probably the two most underrated players in the league," Phillips said. "He's the most valuable player and I think Locke might be the most underrated player in the league."
There's no doubt that when Cobb has the ball in his hands, the Cats are a better team. He changes the way defenses prepare for the Cats and he opens up the UK offense for other players. Just this last Saturday Cobb accounted for 167 all-purpose yards, including 99 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
"He can throw the ball in the Wildcat package, he can run the ball in the Wildcat package. When you split out wide, you've got to cover down on him," Phillips said. "Usually you see linebackers come out there and they get halfway between him and the line of scrimmage so they can still be able to play the run, but with him you've got to get all the way out there on top of him."
But Phillips, who calls the plays for the UK offense, faces a particularly tough situation. As dynamic and as highly successful as Cobb has been with the ball in his hands, UK can't continue to let its most treasured commodity take the type of punishment Cobb has had to endure.
"We can't have Randall take every snap in the Wildcat," head coach Rich Brooks said. "It is impossible to take that kind of body blows."
Cobb would be the first to tell you he wants the ball more. He's as competitive and as fiery of a leader as you'll find on any football team, all the more reason why the UK coaches have to pull the reins back on him a little bit.
"It's tough," Phillips said. "You give him the ball and you're giving it to him too much; you don't give him the ball and you're not getting him enough touches. You've got to try to find a happy medium. You've got to try to win the game. Late in the (Vanderbilt) game we decided we probably need to sit him. We said let's get him out and not carry him anymore and let's pound Moncell (Allen). Those are the things you've got to do. You've got to be smart and not give him the ball when the game is decided."
Despite missing a game this season with a thumb injury, Cobb has touched the ball 127 times (includes rushing attempts, receptions, kick returns, punt returns and passes), far more than most players in the league.
But when he does get it, good things generally happen. Cobb has accounted for 1,379 yards of UK's 3,512 total yards, or 39.3 percent of the offense. He ranks third in the SEC in all-purpose yards with 148.1 yards per game, second in scoring with 12 touchdowns and averages 9.2 yards per play whenever the ball is in his hands.
It's a catch-22 for the UK coaches. If they give the ball to him too much, they run the risk of injuring the team's most explosive and dynamic player. If they don't, the team clearly isn't as productive.
"He's a warrior," Phillips said of Cobb. "He's played a lot of plays and the thing about it is a lot of the plays that he's playing in he's getting hit. He plays the inside receiver so he's having to go in and dig out linebackers and block them when he doesn't have the ball. He's not only a good football player, he's a tough football player too."
It never ceases to amaze Phillips what Cobb has been able to do. Whether it's returning kicks for touchdowns, running the Wildcat package to near perfection or standing on the sidelines with a headset on to fire up his team like he did during the Eastern Kentucky game, Phillips isn't sure if there is a thing Cobb can't do.
"I'm not sure of that. I'm not sure what he can't do," Phillips said. "Everything we've asked him to do, he's done it and done it better than we've thought he can do."
John Wall ultimately saved Kentucky from yet another early season shocker, but he also prevented John Calipari from being second-guessed in one of the most split and hotly debated topics in college basketball.
Up by three points with less than 10 seconds, should a team foul and prevent the other team from tying?
Calipari elected not to Monday with 19 seconds left. Miami dribbled up the floor, got in its offensive set and guard Kenny Hayes eventually tied the game at 70-70 with a straightaway 3-pointer with six seconds left in the game.
Calipari said they didn't think about fouling before a game-tying shot because they had not worked on it in practice.
"Fouling the last shooter, we hadn't worked on it so there is no way we could have done it," Calipari said. "If we had, we weren't making free throws enough. You foul them, he makes one or makes two, six seconds and fouls us, we miss the front end of a one-and-one and they come down and beat us in regulation."
Fortunately for UK, it never came down to that. Wall received the in-bounds pass, raced down the floor and became an instant UK legend with a game-winning jumper with 0.5 seconds left in the game.
Calipari said he never thought about calling a timeout.
"I never call a timeout in that situation," Calipari said. "Anybody that's watching the coach knows that I don't call timeout. I'll call timeout if I see him run by me and I don't like what I see. I'll call a timeout if there is two or three seconds and I know he can't get to the rim."
Wall never had much of a chance to get to the rim, but he read the defense perfectly and saw he had an opportunity for a step-back jumper from the left wing.
"I think if we would have let them set up into their defense it would have been a tough to get a shot off because they were playing great defense (on the) help side," Wall said. "I was just thinking get the ball and try to get to the basket but I saw they had four people back so I just stepped back and made a tough shot and it went in."
Wall said he has been working on that shot with assistant coach and former NBA pro Rod Strickland over the last couple of days.
Every single thing wasn't in the script. Every single thing.
Miami (Ohio), which lost to Towson last week, was supposed to get blown out by Kentucky, the very same team that is supposed to march to the Final Four come April.
The RedHawks weren't supposed to rain 3-pointers (an opponent Rupp Arena record 15 treys) like a winter day in Seattle. The Mid-American team wasn't supposed to be up 18 midway through the first half against one of the nation's picks to cut down the nets. With 23,337 screaming fans screaming in his ears, Kenny Hayes wasn't supposed to pull up from 24 feet away and drill a 3-pointer to tie the game.
But more than anything, John Wall, already a superstar before playing a single collegiate minute, wasn't supposed to come off an NCAA suspension and cement himself into UK lore.
Yes, UK lore. Instant legend. One of the all-time greatest debuts.
No matter what happens in Wall's career, he has forever etched himself among the UK greats with what will soon be one of the most immortalized shots in recent program history.
In his first career action, Wall hit the game-winner, nailing a step-back 15-foot jumper with 0.5 seconds on the clock. The final two points of Wall's team-high 19 points sealed an unthinkable 72-70 win over Miami at Rupp Arena on Monday night.
"I was kind of nervous," said Wall, who, coincidence or not, has been working on that shot with assistant coach Rod Strickland over the last few days. "With six seconds left, coach just said 'Make a play.'
And oh, did he make a play.
Wall is supposed to be a star, but not quite a legend. At least not yet. He's not supposed to put his name along the likes of Dan Issel, Tony Delk and Jamal Mashburn, but quite frankly, he might have already done it in terms of all-time memories.
"With the hype he had, it's all true. John Wall is legit. He's the real deal," freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said. "There's no guard out there better than him. I said to him after the game, 'John, you just started your legacy.' "
With a Jodie Meeks-like shot (one that was eerily similar to Meeks' step-back jumper against Florida a year ago from about 10 feet farther on the floor), Wall epitomized a game that was everything it wasn't supposed to be, but everything it needed to be.
UK needed a scare. It needed to be down 18. It needed to take a look in the mirror.
"I was ecstatic we got down by 18 because I wanted to see what we were made of," head coach John Calipari said.
What they were made of was grit, heart and a gutty resolve they will need come March and April. Forget the score. Forget the opponent. UK was going to have to be brought down to Earth at some point whether it was the second game of the season or the 22nd.
It needed to find out who it would go to in the final minutes of the game. It had to discover how junior Patrick Patterson, really the only veteran player who plays significant minutes, would mesh with a bunch of immature, inexperienced players when the pressure mounted on his shoulders.
With all the expectations Wall had coming in, we needed to figure out how he would react when the game was on the line. When adversity (and foul trouble) hit Cousins, we needed to know how he would respond.
Kentucky fans found out, albeit in a circumstance they might not have wanted or predicted.
The Cats think they're always going to win. They know they're going to win.
"When this team wouldn't go away, the thing I loved in every huddle is my team was saying, 'We're not losing this. We're not losing this game.' " Calipari said. "We needed this."
Said Patterson: "I wouldn't necessarily say 'need' - I don't know if we needed it or not - but I'm glad that it happened because it shows we're a tough team. We'll fight when we're down in situations like that."
They fought, clawed and scrapped. Eighteen down. Forget about it. A freshman, Wall, playing in his first game. Who cares? Another freshman, Cousins, in foul trouble all first half. So what?
That first freshman responded with a legendary shot and the other dominated the second half and finished with a double-double.
"You've got to have catalysts," Calipari said.
Those catalysts overcame an almost surreal shooting night by Miami. Whether there was air in front of them, a Perry Stevenson hand or a 15-foot brick wall, the RedHawks, in particular Nick Winbush (26 points; 8-of-10 3-point shooting), made everything.
Yet somehow UK overcame all of it and pulled out a nail-biter that was never supposed to happen.
"Let me see hear, the Kentucky Wildcats, No. 4 in the country, I'm hearing four first-round draft picks, and you're asking how it got away from me?" Miami head coach Charlie Coles said. "Before the game, all I heard was this and that. They started playing. They're the Big Blue."
It wasn't supposed to happen, but it did and it needed to. When it mattered most, as Coles said, Big Blue - made up largely of 18- and 19-year-old kids - arose.
"Other than Patrick, we're all young," Calipari said. "Think about this, folks. (We're) all freshmen and sophomores and Patrick, being down 18 at home, you're supposed to win every game by 37 points and you don't fold. You just fight back and play.
Three years ago when Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt in Commonwealth Stadium to clinch bowl eligibility, there was a sense of jubilation the program had not felt in nearly a decade.
Players embraced each another, fans high-fived one another and Big Blue Nation celebrated like it was going to a BCS bowl. Offensive lineman Christian Johnson even has a newspaper clipping he saved of players mimicking a bowling motion from their sixth win in 2006.
Oh, how the times have changed.
On Saturday against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., the Cats clinched bowl eligibility for the fourth straight season, but there were no on-field celebrations or tears of joy shed. It was a job well done, but it was just another day at the office for the Kentucky football program.
Bowl eligibility is no longer the ultimate goal. It's now a stepping stone.
"It's quite a bit different," head coach Rich Brooks said of the differences in becoming bowl eligible this year as opposed to a few years ago. "It was unbelievable elation not only amongst our team but in our fan base when we got bowl eligible (three years ago). I think that time we were celebrating for so long that we almost turned around and lost to Louisiana-Monroe. It's significant, but there was no major celebration."
No, in Nashville on Saturday it was a pat on the back and get back to the drawing board. With the sixth and bowl eligibility clinching victory in the bag, it's now time to focus on the bigger goals at hand.
It might sound like a broken record, but with two games remaining (at Georgia and vs. Tennessee), UK has put itself into position to accomplish the season-long goal of climbing the Southeastern Conference food chain.
"What it did is it put us in position to continue to do what we all want to do on this football team and this football program and that is climb the SEC ladder while knowing that we have a chance to be somewhere in the postseason," Brooks said.
UK put itself in that same position earlier in the season after a historic win at Auburn. The Cats reached .500 with a manageable second-half schedule and improved to 4-3 the following week with a victory over Louisiana-Monroe.
Talk started to circulate around Lexington that UK could win out and go to a New Year's Day bowl. Egos grew and players lost focus.
The next thing the Cats knew, they were walking off the field on Halloween disappointed and distraught with a letdown loss to Mississippi State. They were unable to manage the expectations of a bigger bowl game while focusing on the task at hand.
Brooks is hoping that stretch will serve as a valuable lesson now that they've rebounded and put themselves back in position to attain some of those initial goals.
"They figured since we beat Auburn that we would be rocking and rolling and we were on our way," Brooks said. "The focus to attention and detail was not there that week. As I told them Sunday, all of those guys that were talking about wanting to climb the food chain and get to a better bowl, it's in their lap. They can do it if they choose to do it, and if they don't do it, they've only got themselves to blame."
Johnson, who suffered through a three-win season in his first year in 2005, understands the opportunity they have ahead of them with games against Georgia and Tennessee. Not only is it a chance to step up the bowl ladder, it's an opportunity to knock down a barrier of opponents that have traditionally stood in the Cats' way in the SEC East.
"This is one of the reasons I came to Kentucky. This is one of the reasons that I feel like all my teammates came to Kentucky," Johnson said. "We're still a program on the rise. We're not where we need to be."
When Brooks spoke of the opportunity UK had, he credited the senior class with putting the program in its current position. But their work isn't done.
Notching bowl eligibility a fourth straight year is special, but Johnson wants more in his final season at UK.
"Just the fact that we've done something that Kentucky hasn't done with four bowl games and the possibility of winning four bowl games, it's like I'm leaving a certain legacy," Johnson said. "I can say that I played when we won four bowl games."
Johnson looks back on that newspaper clipping from time to time. After all, he was a part of the celebration. But he doesn't want his final legacy to center on clinching bowls.
He wants to leave a lasting impression that they took this program to the next level.
"You could just see how it is changing around here and I think the expectations will keep going for Kentucky," Johnson said. "Before you know it we'll be in the top tier of the SEC, expecting us to win nine or 10 games. I feel like that's how the tide is going to roll for us."
Fans will have a few more hours to digest their Turkey-filled holiday weekend before the Kentucky-Tennessee football game.
The game on Nov. 28 has been picked up by ESPNU for a 7 p.m. start.
It will be the sixth primetime game of the year for the Wildcats. This week's Georgia game will be held under the lights in Athens, Ga., at 7:45 p.m. on either ESPN or ESPN2.
The UK-Tennessee game will mark the final game of the regular season.
The rest of the SEC schedule:
November 27 Alabama at Auburn (2:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports)
November 28 Clemson at South Carolina (12 p.m. ET on ESPN) Ole Miss at Mississippi State (12:21 a.m. ET on SEC Network) Florida State at Florida (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports) Arkansas at LSU (7 p.m. ET on ESPN) Georgia at Georgia Tech (8 p.m. ET on ABC or ESPN2)
Before Eric Bledsoe met John Wall, he thought he'd be "a jerk." Bledsoe's high school coach publicly questioned whether the two point guards could even play together.
Now it's all anyone wants to see. After Bledsoe's ankle injury and Wall's two-game NCAA suspension, the highly touted point guards will finally take the court Monday as teammates and are expected to start together against Miami (Ohio).
Wall had a sensational debut in the exhibition game vs. Clarion, scoring 27 points and nine assists, and Bledsoe matched him Friday with a 24-point, seven-rebound performance.
Now just imagine them both on the court at the same time in the same uniform.
"It's going to change the pace that we play," senior guard Ramon Harris said. "It's going to change the game overall. Now we have two guys that can push the ball. They're going to be very fast with it. Teams are going to have to try to do something to stop both of them, not just one at a time."
The duo could present the most dangerous one-two threat at the guard positions since Derek Anderson and Tony Delk in 1996.
Who would have imagined that when some thought they could barely co-exist with one another? As it turns out, they've been inseparable since meeting over the summer.
"They're like two brothers," head coach John Calipari said. "They really like each other."
Wall admitted Sunday that he could see why Bledsoe might have perceived him as "a jerk" before their initial meeting.
"Most people that are the No. 1, top-ranked player are probably cocky and don't want to be friends with nobody and think everything is going to go their way, but not with me," Wall said. "I'm just humbled and hungry and try to do the best I can to help my team."
Bledsoe signed weeks before Wall announced his intention of playing for UK, but Wall said it never deterred him from coming to Lexington. Calipari said they would have never signed together if they were worried about playing with each other.
"We've both never gotten anything easy," Wall said. "We're both competitive. Even though I was higher ranked than him, we're both just two competitive people. In practice he always tells me to make him better and I always tell him to make me better. We're pushing each other every day."
Calipari has raved all preseason long about his two freshman guards but has said recently that they're even better together. The first-year UK head coach has no reservations about playing - and starting - the two point guards together if they're two of his best players.
"If your best two players play the same position, you play them both," Calipari said. "I'm not saying they're my best two players, but they're two of my better players. Play them both and figure it out."
Wall admitted that it was tough for him to sit on the sideline Friday and watch his teammates play without him, but he was up during the team huddles and urging on his teammates throughout the game.
With the exception of a circus-like shot in the second half, Wall wasn't stunned by what Bledsoe was able to do without him.
"I wasn't surprised, not at all," Wall said. "I think the fans and some other people might have been surprised because they didn't know he was that good, but I already knew how good he was. It was just a moment of time. I told him whenever you step on that court, show people what you're made of. That's exactly what he did."
Wall said he's grateful to finally be out on the court with Bledsoe at the same time to help his teammate and "brother" out.
If there was any concern as to whether the freshman phenoms could play with one another, Wall might have squashed them Sunday.
"No matter how good a player is, he has to have teammates to take the pressure off of him," Wall said. "If you don't you aren't going to trust your teammates, kick the ball out to them or let them make plays. On this team, everybody one through 13 can make plays. I don't mind giving up the ball because I have a teammate who can finish."
Quarterback Mike Hartline will have surgery to repair torn cartilage on his injured knee, effectively ending his regular season.
Hartline will miss the final two regular-season games, but head coach Rich Brooks is hopeful that he can return for bowl practice and possibly the game.
"Under the quickness and speed of the game (the knee) responded a little differently than it did in practice," Brooks said.
Hartline, who started UK's first five games before getting injured in the South Carolina game, played sparingly in UK's bowl eligibility clinching victory. He was 2-for-6 for 10 yards with an interception before true freshman Morgan Newton took over the reins for good in the second half.
"When the game starts flying as fast as it does in the SEC and you try to plan and move, it just was not functioning (properly)," Brooks said.
Hartline, a two-year starter, will finish the regular season 79-of-133 for 802 yards with six touchdowns and seven interceptions.
If you are a Kentucky fan, an avid attendee at men's basketball games or just a casual UK supporter, chances are you know Will Johnson. You may not know him by name, but if you saw his big stature, crazy hair and intensely passionate game face on the video boards at UK Athletics events, you'd recognize him.
Johnson has become a mainstay at UK sporting events. Whether it's men's basketball, football, volleyball or the occasional soccer match, Johnson, a telecommunications junior at UK, is quickly earning the nickname "Super Fan," for his unwavering dedication for UK sports.
The longtime UK fan is best known for his unmatched infatuation and passion at UK games. Watching Johnson roam the sidelines at UK's volleyball games or cram the stands at Rupp Arena to heckle the opposing team has become the norm for some of UK's student athletes. He rarely misses a game, and it's almost unheard for a fan to match his sheer intensity in the stands.
"Will is one person that we know will show up for every game," senior volleyball setter Sarah Rumely said. "He is capable of getting the entire Memorial (Coliseum) crowd into the game and cheering for us. His energy is contagious, it helps our team out and is suffocating to our opponents."
Johnson has been bleeding blue since he was a child. His father is a UK alum and he always knew he wanted to follow in his footsteps and attend UK.
"Good athletes and good people" is how Johnson describes UK and its athletics department. Since his freshman year he has showed support by attending football games, and soon after he started frequently attending volleyball games.
Three minutes into his first volleyball game he realized he had no idea what was going on, but he was hooked. He called his rapid love for his newfound sport "instant gratification."
Not only does Johnson seem to find his way onto the video boards at most events, he always seems to have the best seat in the house. It never fails - Johnson is always in the front of the student section at football games, in front of the "Big Blue Blockers" at volleyball games and front and center of the "eRUPPtion Zone" at basketball games.
How does he manage to literally have the best seat in the house for every event?
"The early bird gets the worm" he said.
Getting there early often secures his seat although it doesn't hurt to have some contacts in the Student Athletic Council. Johnson has put in long hours of standing in line and waiting outside of ticket offices to receive his front row tickets. More than once he has found himself waiting outside of Rupp Arena at 5 a.m. to get his eRUPPtion Zone admittance.
"It's freezing outside in line but once you get inside it's worth it," Johnson said. "You're front and center and it's worth it every time. You're part of history."
Johnson doesn't just show up by himself to support the Cats; he always brings his entourage of buddies with him. His roommates and friends coordinate their schedules with weekly sporting events and attend as many as possible. Each sport has a different group of his friends who attend. It's a personal preference to each person's favored sport, but Johnson usually attends them all.
Johnson attributes his game-day intensity and love for UK sports to his passionate demeanor and general approach in life.
"When I feel a passion towards something I give it my all," Johnson said.
In high school he participated in football but never played the role of the star player. However, that never stopped him from supporting his teammates, and he said it gave him more motivation to get the crowd involved in the games while he was on the sidelines. He found the role a comfortable fit when he landed at UK.
Johnson, whose favorite sporting events are basketball, football and volleyball, has been giving his time and effort to UK sporting events since he started school in Lexington. Johnson said he doesn't personally know any of the players, but that's never stopped him from cheering them on like they were his own teammates.
"It's UK, it's Kentucky," Johnson said. "It's what I'm about and it's who I am."
The genuine nature of Johnson's passion for UK Athletics is easy to see when he is puts himself in the middle of a quiet unmotivated crowd and turns it into immediate cheering chaos. Johnson's persistent heckling and cheering single-handedly has transformed some of UK's sporting events into hostile environments.
However, he'll never take credit for helping with a victory. It's all for the passion and love for UK Athletics.
"I do it because I love UK. It's in my blood," Johnson said. "I love the athletes and what they're about. If no one knew who I was I'd still have the same passion. We're united through sports and the passion for blue, white and athletics."
It took two exhibition games, but we finally saw the real Patrick Patterson Friday night. Patrick, although it may be a bit overdue, welcome to the Cali-party.
After a somewhat head-scratching preseason, an exhibition season in which Patterson seemed to be lost in the flow of the Dribble Drive Motion Offense, the preseason All-American emerged when the Cats truly needed him.
With a scrappy Morehead State team nipping at Kentucky's heels, freshman sensation John Wall on the bench with an NCAA suspension and 24 UK turnovers keeping the Eagles in the game, Patterson's calming experience and leadership led the Cats to a season-opening 75-59 win over Morehead State.
Sure, freshman guard Eric Bledsoe was the life of the party (game-high 24 points, seven rebounds and numerous "he did what?" type plays), but it was Patterson who steadied the young gun Cats when they needed it most.
"It's great to have that experience that he has because we have so many young players," freshman forward Daniel Orton said. "Everybody is going to get riled up sometimes and just get down on themselves. To have his experience there is really helpful and to have that leadership and that guidance there is something special."
Patterson finished the game with 20 points and 12 rebounds, notching his Southeastern Conference-leading 22nd double-double of his career. The junior forward did it with an aggressive, assertive tempo that we didn't quite see in the preseason games against Campbellsville and Clarion.
He started the game with an opening offensive rebound and tip-in and hardly let up from there, hitting 9-of-12 shots from the floor, including his first career 3-pointer.
We had heard all season long about how Patterson was going to be this new player in the dribble-drive. We listened to head coach John Calipari tell us that Patterson would be a makeshift forward who could play like a guard, face up to the basket and put the ball on the floor. Patterson was supposed to be "unleashed."
In the first two exhibition games, some of us could have mistaken it for just a leash. Patterson seemed limited and constrained. We wondered the real Patterson was. With all this talk of a possible national championship team, when was Patterson going to join the party?
Well, he finally arrived in a big way against Morehead State.
Calipari will always find a way to find weaknesses in Patterson's game (that's what coaches do), but there was no doubt he made huge strides in the new offense Friday night.
"He's better. It was good to see him bust out, but he' still not there," Calipari said. "There were some plays where he was out of balance. He still should have scored (a little more), couple more rebounds, couple of plays in traffic, couple of defensive things where he backed away when he needed to go out and play.
"But that's what he is. He should be a 20-and-12, 25-and-15 (player). That's what he needs to be, and I'm going to leave him in the game."
Let's make one thing clear: UK doesn't win Friday's game as comfortably as it did without Bledsoe. He was a one-man highlight reel in the second half, scoring a game-high 24 points and dazzling the crowd with ridiculous acrobatic layups. (Did you see that circus-like, falling down, over the head, throw it up and pray it goes in shot off the glass midway through the second half? Unreal.)
"He's just a gamer," Calipari said of Bledsoe. "One of the guys said to me, 'You know coach, he's tired.' And I said, 'Yeah, he's better tired than a few others playing fresh so I'm leaving him in.' "
But the first game of the year might have been a repeat of the early season losses to VMI and Gardner-Webb of the last two years had it not been for Patterson. He was more aggressive on the boards, more vocal with his team and got out and ran in transition.
On a night when freshman forwards DeMarcus Cousins and Orton struggled (11 combined points), Patterson provided the lone low post presence.
"We played 40 minutes of zone tonight. That puts him around the goal more, as opposed to some of the other teams who play mostly man, like in the two exhibition games," Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall said. "He is playing that four spot on the perimeter quite a bit. As the season moves along and he gets used to playing the four and the dribble drive, he'll get better and improve."
When the end of the first half got a little too close for comfort, Patterson rejected a shot and hit a layup to give UK an eight-point lead heading into the half. Patterson kind of weathered the storm, if you will. From there, he was able to hand the reins over to the Eric Bledsoe show and let him do the rest.
The tough-nosed mentality of old and the new and improved skill set of Patterson might have finally been ignited by a talk he and Calipari had earlier in the week.
"He and I sat down and had a little heart-to-heart two days ago," Calipari said. "I told him what I expected of him. He's such a great kid. Whatever I tell him he wants to do. That's the greatest thing about him."
Patterson said it had an influence on him this game.
"He's telling me that he wants me to be one of the dominant players out there," Patterson said. "He wants me to pretty much take over and be that leader and that force that he knows I can be. He said he wants me to take shots, lead my teammates and do whatever I can to help this team get back to the national championship."
And sometimes players are just gamers. When the lights turn on and the stakes matter the most, the stars step up.
"Anytime you start the regular season and it's the first official game, a guy like Patrick Patterson is going to step up his game, start playing and be more competitive," Tyndall said. "He'll do all the things that make him the great player he is.
"Tonight was kind of his night."
UK hopes it was the perfect start for his kind of season.
There's an age-old saying that the best defense is a good offense. The UK women's basketball team might have flipped that script in the first game of the 2009-10 season.
The Cats lit up the scoreboard for the second game in a row - coincidentally, one of the UK scoreboards short-circuited in the second half - but it had more to do with the defense than the offense. With a relentless full-court press and suffocating half-court pressure, the Cats forced Boston into 29 turnovers.
In turn, the UK Hoops team opened its season - and the entire women's college basketball season for that matter - with an easy 92-58 win over Boston University. UK defeated Bellarmine 117-57 on Monday in the lone exhibition of the season.
"We don't have a lot of size but we do have some athleticism," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "The farther away we can make you start your offense from the basket the better it will be for our defense. That is our game plan and that's going to be a formula for success is to try and make people earn their baskets."
To post anything near 90 points a season ago would have been just short of a miracle. UK was offensively challenged, limited in depth and a nightmare from behind the 3-point line.
With the additions of Kentucky Miss Basketball A'dia Mathies, sharpshooting transfers Rebecca Gray and Keyla Snowden, and the development of its upperclassmen, UK has gotten remarkably better offensively. But it's been the defense that has generated a large chunk of the sudden outburst.
UK produced 30 points, 12 in the fast break, off the near-30 Boston mishaps. Had the Cats not missed several layups in the paint and controlled the ball better in their half-court sets, that number would have likely pushed UK over the centennial mark.
"I thought Kentucky played a great defensive game from the get-go," Boston head coach Kelly Greenberg said. "Their press and defensive pressure put us out of our comfort zone early. It took some of our players out of their game and we became pretty tentative. I give their defense a lot of credit because it set the tone for the game."
Greenberg said most women's basketball teams don't use full-court pressure for one reason or another, but she said it's generally a recipe for success when teams decide to apply it. Because it's used so infrequently, players aren't used to the pressure and freeze when they have a player in their face underneath their own basket.
That was the case often and early in Friday morning's affair. UK offered Boston a personal wake-up call, putting on-the-ball pressure from baseline to baseline.
Boston clearly wasn't ready for it as it turned the ball over six straight times and seven of its first nine possessions. That helped the Cats jump to a 12-2 lead in the first five minutes of the game.
"When the ball handler is having a hard time seeing what decisions she needs to make, her chances for success decrease, obviously," Mitchell said. "You have to put pressure on the basketball. We talked about guarding the post 30 feet from the basket. You have to put pressure on the ball so they can't find an open person."
There rarely was Friday in Memorial Coliseum. When UK was clicking defensively, the Terriers must have thought six defenders were on the court.
"This needs to be our style," Mitchell said. "I don't think we can walk the ball up and let the other team walk the ball up, especially if they have a really big post presence. We need to speed the game up. One thing I thought was good for us today is the kids kept running."
The Cats came away with 15 steals on the day, the most since Jan. 2, 2007, in addition to 25 deflections. Junior forward and preseason All-Southeastern Conference selection Victoria Dunlap had her hands on a large portion of those, coming away with 13 deflections and five steals.
Mitchell said she set the tone for UK on both ends.
"It all started with Victoria Dunlap," Mitchell said. "I was so pleased to see that. I finally had to get her out of the game because she was going to hurt herself out there. She's just so intense. It was great to see her contribute in all areas."
Dunlap's defense led to a game-high 24 points (her 12 rebounds notched her 14th career double-double). Most of those baskets were uncontested layups off of steals.
Asked if she's ever thought about dunking when she's by herself after a steal, Dunlap said it's crossed her mind.
"I think about it," said Dunlap, who has dunked in practice before. "Everybody's saying all the time, 'Dunk it, dunk it,' but not yet. It's possible (it could happen in the future)."
If UK continues to press and force turnovers like Friday, she'll have plenty of opportunities.
"It's pretty important for people to recognize the kind of effort we have on the court," Dunlap said. "Mainly when we're out there we're thinking of going as hard as we can and just keeping that tempo the entire game."
Cat Walk: The "Cat Walk" will resume Saturday at 9:05 a.m. CT in Nashville. Fans wishing to participate in cheering on the Wildcats as they enter the stadium Saturday should be along Natchez Trace behind the Holiday Inn. The team bus will arrive at approximately 9 a.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 Vanderbilt Stadium. View a map of the "Cat Walk."
Matthew Mitchell had but one bit of advice for fans and reporters in his season-opening news conference on Thursday.
"Set your alarm clocks," Mitchell said.
Why, you ask? Well, the UK women's basketball team will be kicking off its season with an "early" morning affair Friday in Memorial Coliseum vs. Boston.
"We will be serving various breakfast meats at the concession stands," Mitchell joked. "Only scrambled eggs; we're not going to be able to take orders on frying them or over-easy or over-medium or anything like that. No omelets. I'm very sorry. The breakfast meats will be sizzling here in Memorial."
All joking aside, the contest at 11 a.m. Friday isn't all that early, but it does possess some potential significant national exposure. The game will mark the very first game in women's college basketball this year, just beating several games by an hour.
"We have a chance that nobody else has in the country," Mitchell said.
The situation wasn't originally planned, Mitchell said, but it was a unique opportunity that they felt they needed to jump on. When they learned that ESPN wanted to televise John Calipari's first game at Kentucky on its family of networks, Mitchell thought it would be wise to move away from a conflicting evening start.
"Anytime any of our teams can get national exposure like that we need to make certain that can happen," Mitchell said.
They explored the possibility of an afternoon start, but once the 6:30 p.m. start for the men was passed down, they jumped at the special opportunity to open the 2009-10 women's basketball season.
"We just felt like it was better for everybody for us to play in the morning, that way we can get some schools in to take a day off from school and bring some students in," Mitchell said. "Some businesses are going to take advantage of it, so it just makes sense with the situation we had."
Early starts often times present challenges for teams, but Mitchell doesn't anticipate much of a problem with the buildup of a season opener.
"I think with it being the first game and being our first opportunity to get out there and play, I think we could play at just about any time and they would be excited," Mitchell said. "We're not in rhythm of playing at 7 every night or anything like that, but with it being a first game, I don't think it's going to be a huge challenge. We will know this time tomorrow, though, if it's a good thing or a bad thing."
The UK Hoops team isn't accustomed to playing at 11 a.m. The majority of Mitchell's players have morning classes, so the team hasn't practiced before noon this season.
However, it isn't as if they're rolling out of bed at lunchtime either. The players usually lift weights at 8 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
"They're not lounging in bed very many days a week," Mitchell said.
The Cats will start Friday with a meeting at 7:15 a.m., followed by the usual pregame meal. The 11 a.m. start is early in terms of basketball starts, but Mitchell believes the opportunity to open the sport's season trumps an extra hour or so of sleep.
After all, 11 isn't that early.
"I don't know about you guys but I've usually gotten a lot done by 11 in the morning," Mitchell said. "It's not that early."
After seven long months since John Calipari was hired as the 22nd coach in Kentucky basketball history - in what likely seems like seven years for some of the players and fans in anticipation of getting things underway - the new-look Wildcats will finally take the court for the regular season when they tip off against Morehead State on Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Rupp Arena.
"We've been playing against each other since May," junior forward Josh Harrellson said. "We're all ready to play against somebody else that counts."
And as we all know, every game matters in this state. Whether it's Morehead State, Gardner-Webb, Louisville or North Carolina, every win or loss is scrutinized when it comes to UK basketball. Win and you're doing your job; lose, and well, you've got problems.
As Calipari gets ready to kick off his campaign at Kentucky, he said he's well aware of the titanic expectations that lie ahead of him. However, Calipari is placing more importance on improving his team for the long haul than the final numbers on the Rupp Arena scoreboard Friday.
"The most important thing for me, and it always has been in November and December, is I must learn about my team," Calipari said. "Now we want to win every game we play, but the most important thing is you learn. You cannot learn against Popcorn State. What you learn against Popcorn State is you're better than Popcorn State. That's all you learn. Now when you play Morehead ... we're going to learn about our team because this is an NCAA Tournament team, and that's what you want."
Morehead State, an aforementioned NCAA tourney team that gave Louisville first-half fits in last year's Big Dance, will certainly pose problems for the Cats. The Eagles return four of their five starters from last seaon's 20-16 team, including junior Kenneth Faried (13.9 ppg, 13.0 rpg), a bulldog in the post, and their high-scoring sixth man Maze Stallworth (12.1 ppg, 2.6 3-pointers a game).
But Morehead State could put three 7-footers on the floor that all shoot 50 percent from 3-point range and it won't matter - this fan base expects a win and nothing less.
"The issue becomes 'You better learn quick, son.' But the only way you can learn is against teams that you risk losing games to. It's the only way," Calipari said. "Our first two games we could be 0-2 and me feel wonderful that I've learned enough to know what I've got to do."
Calipari, despite a much-improved effort against Clarion in the final exhibition game, still isn't pleased with his team's progress. Instead of moving forward with the 177-52 rout of his alma mater, he's actually laid off a bit in practice because he's worried he is thr`wing too much at the players.
"We did some stuff yesterday that I just burst out laughing," Calipari said. "I was just like, 'Why would you do that?' "
Calipari and the players are anxious to get the season started, but they're not throwing all their chips in on the first game. It's only November, five months separated from their ultimate goal and hopeful destination.
"This isn't football," Calipari said. "You lose your first two and you're out of the race for the national title. That's not what this is."
That's why the early season letdowns of the past two seasons, most notably a November loss to Gardner-Webb in 2007, an upset to San Diego in December 2007 and a season-opening loss to VMI last year, have not been brought up among the team in any meetings or practices.
"Who is that?" Harrellson joked when a reporter brought up Gardner-Webb.
Calipari made sure to note that UK is playing an entirely different beast in Morehead State on Friday.
"Did those teams make it to the NCAA Tournament? Well, this is a different team. This is totally a different deal," Calipari said. "We're going in with an attitude of let's play our best. Let's play and do what we do and whatever comes out let's learn from it. I do not want these kids feeling that they have to win. No, you have to prepare to win and let it go. We're going to create our own happiness. If I see a great effort and an experienced team beats us because we couldn't do X, Y, Z, we'll learn and move on."
Calipari said that if they fall victim to another November nightmare - oddly enough, the season opener starts on Friday the 13th - it won't shake his confidence about his team.
"I don't live and die with every game, because if you do you die a lot," Calipari said.
If Calipari still needs to learn something, it's maybe that this fan base does indeed live and die with every game.
On second thought, that's why he wanted this job so badly. As the John Calipari era officially gets underway, expectations are at an all-time high.
"That's why you come here," Calipari said. "I looked at our team and I said 'You guys know why you came to Kentucky. You weren't afraid of it. You came here because you wanted to do something special.' I obviously accepted this position because I understand what the expectations are."
Now it's time to live up to them. Now is when it finally counts.
Bledsoe, Cousins to play: Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe (ankle) and freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins (chest) are expected to play against Morehead State.
Both Morgan Newton and Mike Hartline will play against Vanderbilt, but Saturday's starter will be a game-time decision, head coach Rich Brooks said Thursday.
Hartline, who has missed the last four games with a knee injury, said he is prepared to play despite some slight pain in his knee.
"It's been fine," Hartline said. "It's going to hurt. That's just the way it is. There is stuff in there right now that still isn't healed. You've just got to deal with it and cope with it the best you can."
Hartline said his mobility will not be at 100 percent.
"It's definitely a little difficult to run," Hartline said. "I'm obviously not at full speed where I was (before I got hurt). But as far as moving in the pocket and doing my regular run game, it's fine. I can do everything just as good as it was last time. As far as the other intangibles, it can be a little difficult at times. You've just got to push through it."
The junior quarterback made it through his first full practice since injuring the knee on Tuesday. Hartline has practiced the last three days without any significant setbacks, although he has experienced a little swelling in the knee.
Brooks said he's been throwing the ball extremely accurate in 7-on-7 drills, but there is still some rust to knock off when bodies start flying around him in the contact drills.
Getting used to the speed again has been the biggest hurdle in his recovery, Hartline said.
"It was slow at first," Hartline said. "Calling the play fast, thinking fast and just making things happen on time was difficult. At the same time, I almost felt refreshed. The ball was coming out just as good and we're still making plays."
Hartline, who appeared to be taking a stranglehold on the quarterback position before getting hurt, said he doesn't mind splitting time with Newton.
"I feel like it's still necessary with some things that we're doing," Hartline said. "With how Morgan is progressing and how good he is doing, you just don't want to shut him out and not have him play anymore. We'll see how they want to take it as far as who starts and who doesn't, but at the same time we're both going to go out there and play and we've both been preparing like we're going to start."
Cobb practices without cast: Sophomore wide receiver Randall Cobb, who missed last week's game with a sprained left thumb, practiced Thursday without a cast.
Brooks said he received punts and caught passes with the cast both on and off.
"Hopefully now the thumb starts settling down," Brooks said. "There is going to be some pain for him, but the rest of that just needs to continue to improve."
Stacey Poole Jr., UK's first signee in the 2010 class, has signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at the University of Kentucky.
Poole, a senior out of Providence High School in Jacksonville, Fla., is the fourth-best small forward (27th overall), according to Rivals.com.
"Stacey Poole is in the line of players that we've signed in the past who have a skill set and the work ethic to play in our system," head coach John Calipari said in a statement. "He's a slasher who can play multiple positions and a defender that is capable of shutting down people. Stacey really wanted to play for us and we're glad to have him as a part of the UK family."
The 6-foot-5, 190-pound Poole, a first-team All-First Coast selection last season, averaged 17.3 points per game in his junior season at Jackson High School.
Here's a preview of what fans can see from Poole next year:
There was a certain calmness about Morgan Newton after Tuesday's practice.
With his immediate starting future in question as Mike Hartline comes back from a knee injury, Newton seems to be at ease with the situation. As reporters huddled around Joker Phillips and asked him who Saturday's starting quarterback would be, Newton leaned back, put one arm around the back of the bench as the other grasped onto a water cup and took it all in stride.
"Mike is a guy that's been around here and played," Newton said. "He's a guy that's been in this offense and he knows his stuff. He made some checks today that I know I'm not there yet."
Don't get Newton wrong - he wants to start. But that's not his focus right now. He knew coming into this year that this UK team was Hartline's to guide. His focus and goals for the year were to get better and develop into a complete quarterback.
Regardless of who starts Saturday, Newton has provided fans with a firsthand account of the potential he showed at Carmel High School in Indiana, where he threw for 1,938 yards and 22 touchdowns and ran for an additional 1,664 yards and 26 scores as a senior en route to being named an All-America quarterback and the Gatorade Indiana Football Player of the Year.
Newton would be the first to tell you that he's got a long way to go, but it's become obvious that he has the potential to lead the UK offense in the years to come.
Since throwing for 39 yards in his debut at Auburn and 82 yards against Louisiana-Monroe, Newton has rebounded with 119 and 187 yards in his last two games as the full-time starter.
"I think the Morgan Newton that you saw Saturday was light years away from the Morgan Newton that you saw in the Auburn game," head coach Rich Brooks said. "That progress has been evident in practice to us as we've gone through the last couple of weeks, particularly the last two weeks."
When Newton was thrust into the starting role nearly a month ago, he had to quickly transform from an untested freshman to a leader capable of guiding the Wildcat offense.
The UK coaches have been quick to point out that they had to trim down the playbook when Newton took over, simply because he had never run it before, but quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said Newton has been a quick learner.
"The thing that's really encouraging with Morgan is he'd make a mistake against Auburn, but he didn't come back and do it the next week," Sanders said. "Then he'd make a mistake against Louisiana-Monroe and we were able to get that corrected. He's definitely still a work in progress but he's very eager to learn. He's been very coachable and very responsible."
The game is still "a blur" for Newton, Sanders said, but things have slowed down just a bit from his primetime performance at Auburn, giving the coaching staff more confidence in him to open up the playbook.
Like most young quarterbacks, Newton has a tendency to lock on one receiver and stare him down, but Sanders said he's done a better job in the last two games of going through all his reads and options.
"I had a little more success of getting through progressions and getting through reads and I think it worked out a little better than what it has," Newton said. "I heard somebody talking about (New Orleans Saints quarterback) Drew Brees and how he makes sure he goes through every read on every play even if that's not where he throws the ball."
Newton has also shown his ability to move around in the pocket. Although he hasn't put up spectacular numbers on the ground - the true freshman has ran the ball for 68 yards in four games - he's been able to get out of the pocket and make throws on the run.
At least twice during the Mississippi State game, Newton avoided the rush, rolled to the right and fired darts to convert third-and-long.
"There aren't many times as a quarterback you are going to be allowed to just sit back there and set your feet and stand in the pocket and throw," Sanders said. "You've got the pass rush that makes you move and a lot of times you have to move to see things. ... The good thing is when he has moved he's kept his head up and hasn't done what a lot of young quarterbacks do and just automatically tuck it run. He's kept his head up and kept his eyes downfield."
Newton was finally rewarded for his progress last game vs. Eastern Kentucky. After going his first three games without a passing touchdown, Newton finally found an aerial score on a 14-yard strike to tight end Maurice Grinter.
"That was awesome," Newton said. "I've been waiting on that. I told Will (Fidler) before the game, 'It would be nice to throw a touchdown.' I was able to see Maurice down there and I was able to hit him. It felt awesome to finally throw one and get everybody involved."
Oddly enough, after going his first 14 quarters with a passing score, Newton was able to do it again just over a minute later - on the very next UK offensive play - from 18 yards out to wide receiver Chris Matthews.
"It was pretty sweet," Newton said of throwing back-to-back touchdowns. "Hopefully there is a lot more of those to come."
No matter what happens the rest of the year, it's safe to say he has plenty more of those in store in the future.
On Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. Vaught and Boclair 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 email@example.com and we'll try to fit it in.
The former UK star is lighting up the scoreboard in his fourth season in the NBA for the Golden State Warriors. Azubuike poured on 31 points in the Warriors' 146-105 blasting of Minnesota on Monday night. Azubuike hit 13 of his 19 shots from the field.
The big night increased Azuibuike's season scoring average to 15.5 points per game, including 4.8 rebounds per game and 1.2 blocks per game.
UK currently has nine players in the NBA. Let's take a look at how all of them are faring this season.
UK players in the NBA - Kelenna Azubuike (Golden State Warriors) - 15.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.2 bpg - Keith Bogans (San Antonio Spurs) - 3.2 ppg, 1.0 rpg - Chuck Hayes (Houston Rockets) - 6.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.4 spg - Jamaal Magloire (Miami Heat) - N/A - Jodie Meeks (Milwaukee Bucks) - 8.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg - Nazr Mohammed (Charlotte Bobcats - 4.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.3 bpg - Randolph Morris (Atlanta Hawks) - 0.5 ppg, 0.5 rpg - Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons) - 12.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.3 apg - Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics) - 10.6 ppg, 9.0 apg, 4.0 rpg, 3.1 spg
Wednesday marks the introduction for several student-athletes at the University of Kentucky.
Beginning Wednesday with National Signing Day, prospective student-athletes will be permitted to sign their respective national letters of intent to play for UK in every sport except soccer, track, cross country and football. The fall signing period lasts from Wednesday through Nov. 18.
UK is expected to ink several big-name student-athletes as the day and week progresses. Stay tuned to ukathletics.com for the latest signing day action.
Two weeks and five very big matches away, the Kentucky volleyball team is in position to lock up the Southeastern Conference championship in what would be nothing short of a historic accomplishment. The Cats haven't captured the league crown since 1988, and no team has overtaken Florida in an astonishing 18 years.
But that is neither here nor there for Craig Skinner's team. He's always been a coach to preach one game at a time, and that's not changing anytime soon. As far as his team is concerned, an SEC championship is still a long ways away.
"Putting ourselves in the driver's seat in the SEC is exactly where you expect to see ourselves, but there are still five conference games left and you have to take care of each one individually in order to achieve the goal you want at the end of the year," senior setter Sarah Rumely said.
Fine. After last season's last-game letup, we'll give the Cats that much. After all, UK was in the same position it is this season.
But building a program is all about putting yourself and your team in position. It's about competing for an SEC championship on an annual basis, a vision Rumely had when she entered the program four years ago.
"I knew that coming in that I wanted to be the change of the program," Rumely said. "That was what I was looking for and I wanted to do great things. We talked about that and I trusted coach that he was going to get the right players in here to do that, but it's just been above and beyond what I could have ever imagined."
The change began five years ago when Skinner took over the helm of the UK program. The former Nebraska assistant said he's never had a timeline of what he wanted to accomplish at UK, but the goal has always been to compete for a conference title year in and year out.
That dream has become a reality at Lexington - faster than some could have imagined - because of the players Skinner built the program around. When he was looking to jumpstart the Wildcat program, he wanted what he called selfless, high IQ players who understood ball control and setting.
Skinner found those pieces in Rumely, senior defensive specialist BriAnne Sauer and junior outside hitter Sarah Mendoza. Ironically, as the team enters the final leg in its quest to close out an SEC championship, the trio sits on the brink of achieving several milestones.
Rumely, the school's first and only SEC Player of the Year, is just 68 assists away from becoming the program's all-time assists leader. Meanwhile, Mendoza is nine kills away from 1,000 career kills and Sauer is 15 digs shy of 1,500.
"One of the first things that comes to mind with them is just their passion about the game, passion about the people and passion about the University of Kentucky," Skinner said. "I think they do all that they can to make themselves and everybody around them better."
That unselfishness was apparent when Mendoza was asked about breaking the millennial kill mark.
"Is that a record or something?" said Mendoza, who had no clue she was on the verge of a career accomplishment. "I'll just try to do better next year."
It's no coincidence that the milestones have come within weeks of the team's ultimate goal to win a league title. It's been a gradual building process built from the ground up. It began with the recruitment of players like Rumely, Sauer and Mendoza and then trickled down to younger players like Becky Pavan, Gretchen Giesler and so forth.
The sturdiness of the structure Skinner has built is personified in the play and dedication of Sauer, a Louisville, Ky., native who dreamed of having the chance to play at Kentucky.
Skinner said Sauer was the first recruiting e-mail he received at UK.
"She really was very excited about being part of the Kentucky program and you could tell just by the way she wrote that e-mail that she was very excited about this possibility and that's the way she's played every day in practice, in lifting, in conditioning and in matches," Skinner said. "Putting that jersey on is a huge source of pride for her."
The same could be said for Mendoza and Rumely.
Mendoza, a native of Winter Park, Fla., said she didn't know what to expect when she came to Kentucky, but she could tell the program was something she wanted to be a part of. Rumely, a bit surprisingly, was an overlooked and underrated recruit out of New Palestine, Ind. However, Skinner saw a fire of competitiveness and love for the game in Rumely that he knew he could build a program around.
"If you have those two qualities, you're always going to want to be better," Skinner said. "You could say that about all three of them."
The milestones and long-awaited goals have taken time, but none of it would have been possible without the ongoing hard work and dedication of Rumely, Mendoza and Sauer.
The trio, who admittedly knew nothing about one another when they came to Kentucky, shared a common goal to put Kentucky in position to win a championship every single year. They put in countless hours in the gym and weight room the last few years to develop a chemistry that goes far beyond the court.
"Over time we've learned to build up trust," Mendoza said. "I think what helps is that our communication is really good and we're not afraid to be honest with each other. They can tell me if I'm playing bad or what we need to work on. We're good at communicating and not really getting mad at one another."
That bond takes time and experience to form.
"It's a great connection, kind of like an Andre Woodson and a Keenan Burton. They just know where each other is going to be and have a feel for what is going to happen on each particular play," Skinner said. "You kind of connect the dots between BriAnne, who is passing the ball to Rumely, who is setting it to Mendoza. It makes a great trio of people to connect the dots with on the volleyball court."
All dots are leading to a historic SEC championship. A few more lines - namely five games - still have to be connected, but the trio has once again put Kentucky in position to do it.
Whether or not they capitalize and finish it off this year is irrelevant. No matter what they do from here on out, they will have left the program in better shape than it was when they arrived.
On the eve of a milestone weekend, that's the only accomplishment that ultimately matters.
"You want to be in a program that when you're five or 10 years out of the program, you're still looking back and saying I was a part of that change," Rumely said.
Ford writes: "Wall isn't super-athletic - he's extra-terrestrially athletic. He's been compared to Derrick Rose and truthfully, he's even more explosive. While Wall doesn't have Rose's steadiness on or off the court, when you turn him loose he's virtually impossible to guard. Wall has the inside track on the No. 1 pick right now. Point guards with his physical abilities come along only two or three times a decade."
That performance against Clarion was certainly extraterrestrial for a freshman. It's hard for a recruit as celebrated as Wall to meet expectations, but he did just that in his debut.
Whether that holds up for the rest of the season and whether Wall makes the jump after this year, we'll just have to wait and see. But Wall might not be the only one to bolt from UK, Ford writes. Ford has a couple of other UK players in his post that he says could be one-and-done.
I'd love to tell you who, but it's an ESPN subscription service. You'll have to be an ESPN Insider to read the rest.
When UKathletics.com and Cat Scratches announced the 2009-10 UK men's basketball
schedule, it was the most comprehensive and in-depth schedule release in college
basketball. Now, with UKathletics.com announcing the 2010 baseball schedule,
the goal was to create the best schedule release in college baseball.
Cat Scratches broke down all 10 of UK's SEC opponents for the 2010 baseball
schedule, with quotes from coach Gary Henderson and a breakdown of each teams
pitching and position player returnees and losses. The breakdown will give
the fans a detailed rundown of UK's conference opponents in 2010.
In addition to the conference opponents, UK will face off with arguably the
most challenging non-conference schedule in the history of the program, with
the Wildcats facing off with several top notch non-league foes, including Virginia
Tech, Coastal Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, Western Kentucky, Louisville,
San Diego and San Diego State.
Junior quarterback Mike Hartline went through his first full practice Tuesday morning since injuring his knee in the South Carolina game.
No decision has been made on who Saturday's starter will be, but Hartline appears to be firmly in the discussion with true freshman Morgan Newton, who has started for Hartline the last four games.
"Hartline did some good things and then a couple of times it looked like he had a little rust on him," head coach Rich Brooks said. "Now the question is how that knee will respond in the next 24 hours. We'll have to see how that goes. He moved around well and he executed the whole offense."
Unfortunately, I didn't get around to talking to Hartline this morning, but he told Ben Jones of the Kentucky Kernel that his knee felt fine when making throws. The only time it bothered him is when he rolled out of the pocket.
"You can't bend it as much as you want to," Hartline said of wearing a brace. "You have to learn to run with it on. It puts pressure on you. You just have to get a feel for it and it loosens up after a while."
Quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said it's going to take some time before Hartline is "game ready."
"It was nice to see him out there," Sanders said. "He looked healthy. He looked like he hadn't practiced in four weeks. Just because a guy has been around and knows what to do doesn't mean he's really game ready. When you miss four weeks of practice, there's some rust that sets in. It's not like starting fall camp with him, but there's still a lot of rust we've got to knock off to get him ready to play."
Joker Phillips, head coach of the offense, thought Hartline started to knock some of that rust off as the practice progressed.
"He's still a little slow, but I thought as the practice went on he had more command of the ball," Phillips said. "He knew where the ball was going. Earlier in practice, it kind of got away from him a little bit. But as practice went on, I thought it got better."
Regardless of who starts, neither Phillips nor Sanders ruled out the possibility of both quarterbacks seeing some time, when and if Hartline is ready.
"If we get stagnant, you've got to bring somebody else in," Phillips said.
We're just four days away from kicking off the 2009-10 UK men's basketball regular season Friday in Rupp Arena vs. Morehead State.
I'd be ignorant if I didn't say that the budding tension and hype surrounding this year's team is unlike anything we've felt in a long time.
Sure, when Billy Gillispie arrived here two years ago, the expectations hit the roof. But with two-time Final Four coach John Calipari at the helm and the nation's No. 1 recruiting class at his disposal, those very same expecatations have blown the roof off.
That much is evident in ESPN's first power rankings of the season. Despite a trip to the National Invitational Tournament and losing its top scorer, Jodie Meeks, from a year ago, ESPN's panel of analysts and columnists have ranked Kentucky No. 4.
Kansas, Michigan State and Texas sit above UK, respectfully, with the Jayhawks picking up nine of the 10 first-place votes.
Here's how the experts ranked UK:
Jay Bilas: No. 5 Pat Forde: No. 3 Fran Fraschilla: No. 7 Doug Gottlieb: No. 3 Andy Katz: No. 7 Joe Lunardi: No. 4 Dana O'Neil: No. 5 Mark Schlabach: No. 5 Dick Vitale: No. 2 Jay Williams: No. 2
You know that whole phrase "the early bird gets the worm." Well, the UK women's basketball team is taking it quite literally this season.
Friday's UK-Boston game at 11 a.m. ET will not only kick off the 2009-10 UK Hoops season, it will kick off the entire women's college basketball season. When the Wildcats host Boston in Memorial Coliseum Friday morning, they'll be looking for the season's first win of the year.
Does winning first mean season-long success? Who knows, but it would certainly be a good omen to the season.
Matthew Mitchell's squad plays its lone exhibition game at 7 tonight vs. Bellarmine.
Rich Brooks didn't even bother reading off the entire injury list Monday. After going through the injury list for nearly three minutes the day before, Brooks decided to skip the majority of the injuries on Monday and proceed with the remainder of the news conference.
"I just hadn't seen as long a list as that on Sunday as we had," Brooks said of all the injuries.
The long list of the bruised and battered on Sunday was enough the fill an emergency room at a hospital. On Sunday, Brooks read off at least 15 significant contributors who were unavailable with injuries, including wide receiver Randall Cobb and running back Derrick Locke.
The good news is most of those injuries won't need a trip to the emergency room. Although Brooks didn't bother reading through the entire injury report Monday, it appears most of the bumps and bruises are minor.
"Most of those guys will be practicing on Tuesday," Brooks said. "Some of them will be limited, but they will be practicing."
In other words, the Cats are rounding back into shape for yet another critical game against Vanderbilt. At 5-4 on the season, UK can become bowl eligible with a win over the Commodores.
Cobb and Locke, both of whom missed Saturday's Eastern Kentucky win with injuries, are expected to play this week. Locke, who tore some scar tissue in his surgically repaired knee in the loss to Mississippi State, will practice on Tuesday.
"Locke, I don't know exactly how well his knee is. I know the rest of his body is better than it has been in six weeks, seven weeks," Brooks said. "He says today the knee is feeling really good. He runs in the training room really well and he runs in place, but that's different than going out and going through a whole practice."
Meanwhile, Cobb, who sat out the EKU game with a sprained left thumb, will practice with a cast on Tuesday. Brooks said the nagging shoulder and hamstring injuries that he's played through the past few weeks are "light years" better than they have been.
"Randall's body is night-and-day better," Brook said. "He's been hobbling through practice for three or four weeks and then he got the thumb. ... He had more juice in his step yesterday than I've seen in him in a month."
The question for Cobb is how limited he'll be in catching passes, receiving punts and handling snaps. Because of the cast on his left arm, Cobb was held out of the EKU game. Cobb will wear the same cast in Tuesday's practice, but Brooks is hopeful that Cobb will be able to play in a splint with tape over it, at the very worst. There is no structural damage and there is a chance he could play without the splint.
Injured quarterback Mike Hartline remains uncertain for Saturday's game as he tries to recover from a torn medial collateral ligament and partially torn lateral collateral ligament suffered in the South Carolina contest.
Despite Morgan Newton's 187-yard, two-touchdown performance, which earned the first-year gunslinger Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week honors, Brooks hinted after Saturday's game that Hartline would start again if and when he comes back from injury, evoking such words as "quarterback controversy!" from Brooks.
He has since backed off that statement just a bit, telling reporters at Monday's luncheon that they would evaluate Hartline's status later on in the week.
"I am certainly not going to put Mike Hartline out there if he can't get out of his own way, let alone pull the ball down and run if he has to do those kind of things," Brooks said. "Having said that, he's looked pretty good last week. He ran around yesterday. It bothered him a little bit, but we feel like he'll be ready to go through a full practice and we'll have to see how it goes after that."
Cornerback Trevard Lindley will try to practice Tuesday. The ankle sprain that held him out of the second half Saturday was unrelated to the high ankle sprain that kept him out of the previous four-plus games. Tight end T.C. Drake will be out 2-3 weeks with a pulled groin.
Among the other injuries Brooks discussed Sunday and Monday: tight end Ross Bogue (knee), wide receivers Gene McCaskill (turf toe) and Chris Matthews (foot), running back Moncell Allen (knee), offensive lineman Christian Johnson (toe), linebacker Danny Trevathan (quad bruise), safeties Matt Lentz (turf toe) and Winston Guy (ankle), defensive tackle Mark Crawford (foot), and defensive ends Taylor Wyndham (shoulder) and DeQuin Evans (ankle).
All of those players are expected to play Saturday.
With the injuries and last week's bouts with the flu, Kentucky's depth has been severely tested. In years past, UK would have crumbled with a couple of injuries, but they've been able to hold it together this year because of a deeper and more talented roster.
Yet even this latest bout with injuries forced UK to bring up several players from the scout team to fill in at practice.
"It's rough, but it's a part of football," senior defensive tackle Corey Peters said. "You just kind of plug guys in and keep it moving. ... It's really difficult to have everybody on the same page, but it's something we're willing to work through."
To become bowl eligible for the fourth straight season, the Cats will have to play through the bumps and bruises this week in Nashville, Tenn. Although Vandy enters the contest with a 2-8 record, Brooks said perception and reality are often two different things.
Brooks cited a historically close series, a battle UK has a 39-38-4 edge in.
"It's been a very, very competitive series," Brooks said. "This is a game that has been as close as it can be probably year in and year out with maybe a few streaks here and there where one team had an advantage. ..."
"It's been a dogfight every year."
Injuries galore, this year expects to be no different.
UK-Georgia in primetime: The Kentucky-Georgia game on Nov. 21 has been picked up by either ESPN or ESPN2 for a 7:45 p.m. ET broadcast.
It will be the fifth game of the year for the Cats under the lights.
This week's game at Vanderbilt will be at 12:21 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.
Jodie Meeks is doing what he does best at the NBA level.
In his first significant minutes of the season, the former UK guard put up 19 points in the Milwaukee Bucks' 102-87 victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday. Meeks knocked down 7-of-11 shots, including 5-of-7 3-point attempts.
The Bucks' second-round pick is quickly proving why his decision to enter the NBA Draft was pretty darn good move.
"We know he's a shooter," Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said. "Unfortunately for Jodie, he's been having trouble knocking down shots. As a staff we are constantly talking about it and we know it's going to happen at some point. The four (3-pointers) he made in the first half didn't even come close to hitting the rim; they were dead in the middle. I was happy for him. He's worked very hard and he's trying to pay attention to everything we do and learning all the time. We certainly need that type of shooting."
I've said once about Meeks, and I'll say it again: the kid just knows how to score. If you know how to put the ball in the basket, you're going to make it no matter what level of ball it is.
Sure, it would have been exciting to see Meeks receiving the kick-out on the wing in the Dribble Drive Motion Offense, but he made the right move.
Let's hope Jodie continues his success on the NBA level.
Missed 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: Behind the play of true freshman quarterback Morgan Newton, the Kentucky football team handled Eastern Kentucky 37-12 in front of 67,053 fans at Commonwealth Stadium. UK outgained the Colonels 444-264, but it took a 13-0 third quarter to finally pull away. Without leading rusher Derrick Locke (knee) and do-it-all sophomore Randall Cobb, who was a late-game scratch with a sprained left thumb, UK stuck with what head coach Rich Brooks termed a "workman-like effort" to down the Colonels. Newton threw for 187 yards, including his first career passing touchdown, and the trio of Donald Russell, Moncell Allen and Alfonso Smith combined for 214 yards on the ground.
The win was UK's 18th straight non-conference win, breaking the school record of 17 straight set from 1954-60.
"I'm proud of this team for bouncing back and doing something that has never been done in this school's history," Brooks said. "I know that we need to do a better job in the SEC, but no other team over a period of time - and there have been some good teams in this institution's history - has been able to win 18 straight non-conference games.
"I think that's a significant milestone that gives this program a totally different platform to build on and move forward to try to attack that SEC ladder."
Play of the game: In a game with a relative lack of big plays (the exception being Russell's 79-yard touchdown burst), Newton's 18-yard touchdown pass to Chris Matthews probably takes the cake. Just a play after linebacker Sam Maxwell picked off a pass, Newton went to air to his tallest target in the right side of the end zone. Matthews made a double move on the hitch-and-go to get past the initial coverage.
"It was very pleasing to see Morgan put the ball up there where (Matthews) could go up and make a play on it because the corner was still there," Brooks said. "That's the type of play that we would like to see him make on a more regular basis."
Turning point: It took a series of plays, but the Cats finally put the Colonels away in the third quarter. Newton calmly led the UK offense on a nine-play, 50-yard drive, capped off with a 14-yard strike to tight end Maurice Grinter, Newton's first touchdown toss of his career and Grinter's first grab of the season. The score gave the Cats some breathing room for the first time all game.
Two plays later, Maxwell picked off a pass by T.J. Pryor, and Newton iced the game the very next play with the 18-yard toss to Matthews in the end zone.
Player of the game: The Big Blueprint game ball has to go to Newton. The Carmel, Ind., native finished the day 20-of-29 for 187 yards, including two touchdown tosses. Without some of the offense's biggest playmakers, Newton stepped up and looked mature beyond his years.
Brooks admitted that what Newton faced was not a Southeastern Conference defense, but the game has finally started to slow down for the first-year quarterback. He was able to sit comfortably in the pocket and go through his reads. As a result, Newton was able to connect with eight different receivers.
"Morgan is way ahead of where (André) Woodson was as a freshman," said Joker Phillips, head coach of the offense. "He's way ahead of where (Mike) Hartline was as a freshman. For a guy who comes in here in his sixth game and he's only played four games and he's doing some of the things he's doing, that's amazing."
Unsung heroes: They never played a snap, but Cobb and former UK great Keenan Burton had a huge impact on getting over the devastating loss last week to Mississippi State.
Cobb, who sprained his thumb in practice Thursday and planned on playing, was a late-game scratch and forced to watch from the sidelines.
"He wanted to play," Brooks said. "He said, 'I can still block.' "
Brooks told him he couldn't block, or play for that matter, but he didn't tell him he couldn't help. Instead of putting on a helmet, Cobb traded it in for a headset and helped coach the wide receivers. Cobb was as animated as anybody on the sideline, getting up in players' faces and firing up his team.
"I could hear the way he was communicating with them," Phillips said. "The way he was communicating with them, he's going to be a great coach. He was communicating with them well. Those type of things pay off for our program."
Burton, a wide receiver at UK from 2003-07, shared some of that similar wisdom with some of UK's receivers while he visited Lexington during his bye week for the St. Louis Rams. It paid off, particularly for Matthews (seven catches for 56 yards and a score) and freshman La'Rod King (four receptions for 41 yards).
"It's been a growing process for our program, but we now we have guys coming back on their bye weeks from the NFL," Brooks said. "We didn't have that a lot when I got here. We've got more guys going into the NFL. They come back and they can impart some wisdom on this team and on their teammates. They're all extremely proud of what the team has continued to do after they've left.""
He said what? Other notable quotes:
Brooks on Newton's play ... "I thought Morgan Newton managed himself very well out there. ... He threw the ball accurately, he had poise, he delivered it pretty much on the money and I thought he had a very good day."
Brooks on the play of King ... "La'Rod last week made some really good plays and earned himself more reps, and he certainly has earned himself some more reps with his performance today. La'Rod King is going to be a really, really good football player. I think he's another underrated recruit with maybe not as attention as some, (but) he's got some big-time skills and he's learning how to play the game at this level pretty darn fast for a freshman."
Newton on his development with the wide receivers ... "I think it's tough coming in (trying to get on the same page as everyone). You try to get continuity with all the guys. As we continue to get better, we'll be able to hook up more with the receivers and the guys that are making plays for us."
Injury report: Cobb, as mentioned before, did not play Saturday because of a sprained left thumb. They didn't think it was that bad after injuring it Thursday, but it kept getting worse. They tried putting a splint on it before the game and then went to a cast once that didn't work, but Cobb could barely catch passes and field punts with it on. His status for next week remains up in the air, but Brooks said that X-rays were negative.
As far as the rest of the rather lengthy injury list: Tight end Ross Bogue hyper-extended his knee but did return; defensive end Taylor Wyndham suffered a shoulder strain; Maxwell sprained his thumb; cornerback Trevard Lindley re-injured his ankle before halftime and did not return; tight end T.C. Drake has a "significant" groin pull; and cornerback Paul Warford tweaked his quad and did not return.
Brooks does expect Locke to return next week.
Hidden stat: Maxwell has been overlooked and underrated his whole career, but he continues to make a name for himself in his final season at UK. The senior made yet another big play in Saturday's game, recording his team-leading fourth interception of the year.
"Sam is probably one of the most underrated players on this team, let alone our league," Brooks said. "He's got a nose for the football. All he does is make plays. He's an outstanding player."
What this one means: To the average fan, it probably means very little. UK came into this game a heavy favorite against its Football Championship Subdivision counterpart EKU, so it was expected to take care of business.
Consider it a day at the office.
But this one is yet another notch in the belt of Brooks when you consider how he got it done. He played without his opening-day starting quarterback, without his leading rusher and without the services of Cobb. Still, behind the steady of play of Newton, UK was able to move the ball for 444 yards.
Going forward, it gives Newton a huge boost of confidence heading into the season's final stretch. If UK wants to make it to a bigger bowl game, it might have to be on the shoulders of the true freshman.
Newton has been hailed as the future. Given Newton's play the last two games and the stretch that lies ahead, the future is now.
Here's your not-so-difficult trivia of the night: What's the difference between a 74-point game Monday night and Friday's 117-52 pounding of Clarion?
I'll give you a hint. It looks like 195 pounds of lightning in a bottle. It's a one-man fast break.
Making his collegiate debut, freshman phenom John Wall played every bit the part he was touted to be as the nation's consensus No. 1 player in the 2008-09 high school class. With the controversy of a two-game NCAA suspension halfway behind him and the buzz of Big Blue Nation brewing to a boiling point, Wall did not disappoint.
The point guard sensation just missed out on a double-double, ripping off 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting and dishing out nine assists in 28 minutes of action.
"I asked him, 'Is that your 'A' game?" head coach John Calipari said. "It was pretty good. He makes us different, obviously."
How about an A-plus, coach? Under the leadership and uncanny confidence of the first-year player, the UK offense moved with unparalleled ease and quickness.
Four days after total totaling just 12 assists to 23 turnovers, the Cats reversed their fortunes under Wall. Of UK's 42 field goals, 27 of them came off assists. The Cats nearly sliced their turnovers in half, committing just 12 errors in the 117-52 rout of Calipari's alma mater, Clarion.
In Perry Stevenson's grading scale, Wall's performance was a "100" on a scale of one to 10.
"That's a different ballclub that played Monday night (than the one we saw tonight)," Clarion head coach Ron Righter said. "In my 35 years of coaching in Division I, Division II, all the way around the country, that's as skilled as a team that I've seen. It's just a matter of time, people, that this place is really going to see something special."
There are special players up and down the UK roster. On Friday, there were six of them in double figures, but it's hard to fathom what that final offensive numbers would have looked like without Wall. (It's even harder to imagine, and maybe more fun to think about, what the UK offense would have looked like with Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton out there. Bledsoe missed Friday with a sprained ankle and Orton left before halftime with a chest injury.)
To say Wall was the engine of the UK offense would be an understatement. He was the engine, the accelerator, the pedal and the wheel. Patrick Patterson is the heart and soul of this UK team and DeMarcus Cousins has the potential to flat-out dominate, but it only took one real game to show people that this edition of the Cats will go as far as Wall can drive them.
Calipari was quick to point that the difference from Monday to Friday started on the defensive end. As true as some of that might be - UK forced Clarion into 23 turnovers - it would be selling the performance of Wall well short.
"He's definitely a presence out there on the court," senior guard Ramon Harris said. "I think what he did is he made it easier for other people on the court, and that's what a point guard should do."
Wall hit jumpers, made smooth layups, drained 3-pointers and dished out assists like they were pocket change (they are called dimes after all).
But Wall's biggest presence and most defining trait was his leadership, Calipari said. It's an intangible that few freshmen have.
"He said to me that we had to get Patrick some more shots," Calipari said. "In the end he's saying let's get DeMarcus the ball. That's a leader. He knows and has a feel for his team and he wants to keep everybody happy and get them the ball."
And that's maybe the most defining aspect of his leadership. On a night like Friday's, an evening where he could have just as easily gone for 30 and begged the coach to stay on the floor to get his double-double, it was his unselfishness to get his other teammates involved that evokes the word "special" about this kid.
"As a point guard, you want to get your best player on your team (the ball). When (Patterson) is out there I want to get him the ball," Wall said. "I looked up at the score at halftime and he only had four points. I was like, 'Coach, we've got to get Pat the ball.' "
As far as assessing his own performance, Wall thought it was "pretty good."
"I couldn't wait (to play with my teammates)," Wall said. "It was just fun. We've got great team chemistry, but we've got a long way to go."
Cat Walk: The "Cat Walk" will resume Saturday at 10:45 a.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 10:45 a.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.
United Way Day: The United Way of the Bluegrass is the official charity of the University of Kentucky. UK's annual fundraising campaign is underway and Wildcat football fans will be asked to participate during the Eastern Kentucky game.
During the first half of the game, UWBG volunteers will pass donation buckets through the stands. Fans are invited to give money to the cause.
UWBG is working to advance the common good by focusing on education, income and health. These are the building blocks for a good life - a quality education that leads to a stable job, enough income to support a family through retirement, and good health. The goal is to create long-lasting change that prevents problems from happening in the first place. UWBG helps support 97 service agencies in Central Kentucky.
This isn't your happy-go-lucky John Calipari anymore. The nurturing, encouraging, "hugging" Calipari the players saw in practice a few weeks ago isn't coming through that door anymore.
"In a lot of my interviews they were asking how Cal was and do we expect another (side of Cal)," freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said. "We got that other one."
The Cats started to see that other side last week when Calipari said he started to finally get "mean" with them. If the players thought he was joking around then, they got a wake-up call Wednesday in more ways than one with a 6:15 a.m. practice, the first of two-a-days.
Cousins, who said he had never practiced at 6 a.m. prior to Wednesday, described the new Calipari as "intense and focused."
"It's a whole new Cal," Cousins said. "The laid-back, chill Cal (is gone)."
The players were informed of the two-a-day practices in a meeting Tuesday night around 10. After that it was straight to bed for a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call. Calipari has changed his demeanor because he said the team is not where it needs to be.
"I've gotten their attention," said Calipari, who has also enforced a team curfew. "Coming in, everything was positive, upbeat, (I was) hugging them. OK, now how do we get to the next level? I tried being the same guy to get them to the next level and it didn't work, so now they have the other guy.
"All I'm doing is holding the bar higher."
The change comes in light of UK's 74-38 drubbing of Campbellsville in the first exhibition of the season. The Cats played without freshman sensation John Wall - who will play Friday against Clarion before sitting out the regular-season opener vs. Morehead State - but their play was sloppy (23 turnovers) at times and out of synch.
"(Calipari) finally got to see what we really need to work on as a team," Cousins said. "We played our first game and he sees how we performed against another team, so he sees what we really need to work on. When he found out, he was going to turn it up."
That much was evident when Calipari burst through the door and onto the Joe Craft Center practice floor Thursday to meet with the media just before practice. As Calipari spoke with reporters, sweat poured down his face and soaked through his shirt.
"I'm back into an exercise killer, so you know where my mind is right now," Calipari said. "Either they're going to catch up to it or be dragged through glass."
Calipari said the new demeanor and intensity isn't for a lack of love for the players or understanding of what they have to go through. With the rigors of class, tutoring, study sessions and morning practices, he knows it's hard.
Calipari admitted that he needs to remind himself that it's not March or even December, so he'll have to practice patience. Still, after resting his anxiety and re-evaluating where his team was after the Campbellsville game, he realized he had to take it up a notch to set the tone.
One example he used was junior forward Patrick Patterson, who Calipari got on for falling too much into the flow of the game. Patterson, a leader by example, as Calipari describes it, needs to be more vocal and more aggressive in practices and games, he said.
"Go get the ball, go demand, go get 20 rebounds," Calipari said of Patterson, who took just seven shots in the exhibition opener.
Two-a-day practices and curfews are nothing new with Calipari. He said he enforced such policies on his players at Memphis, even instituting a four-month long curfew with one of his teams. When school is out over winter break, Calipari plans to increase the intenisty and workouts even more, a time they called "Camp Cal" at Memphis.
The success rate speaks for itself.
"You're eating and sleeping and playing ball. Do you have something else to do?" Calipari said. "Usually that's when my teams step up and get better."
Calipari wasn't at all in panic mode Thursday afternoon. He's just ready to take his team to the next level before the regular season starts in a week from Friday.
"All of it comes back to me," Calipari said. "If a guy is not doing his job and he's on the floor, that's on me. Why did I leave him in? If a guy is not running the offense, well then you obviously did not teach them yet. If they're not in shape, well, you're the head coach. What are they going to do, run on their own? If they're not tough enough, well, you better be tougher on them and you better do tougher things in practice.
"Believe me, I'm excited about what my challenge is."
Class reunion: Friday's game will be a reunion of sorts for Calipari, who will be playing against his alma mater, Clarion, for the first time as a coach.
Calipari, who is originally from the Pittsburgh area, played two seasons with the Golden Eagles under head coach Joe DeGregorio. The point guard played two seasons for Clarion, totaling 192 assists, 202 points and 51 steals in his career.
It's hard to judge how emotional Calipari will be facing his alma mater, as he's hardly spoken a word about it in practice to his players.
"He hasn't talked much about it," senior guard Mark Krebs said. "I didn't know it was his alma mater until a couple of days ago when someone brought it up. He didn't even bring it up."
Calipari received about 20 calls from former coaches and teammates making the trip down from the Northeast on Thursday. He'll attend a function downtown Thursday night with some of them and a few might stay after the game to watch practice over the weekend.
Calipari said he's only focused on his team and the game until then, but even he couldn't help but let a smile shine through when talking about his former school.
"It puts a smile on my face thinking about my friends being here," he said.
The king? Calipari told reporters that not everybody would likely play in Friday's exhibition game.
When asked why, the first-year UK coach delivered an interesting answer.
"It's the greatest thing being the head coach. I can do whatever I want," Calipari said. "I can change practice time. I can have them walk in right now and say, 'I've decided we're not practicing and I'll see you tonight at 8.' "
A reporter then asked if it was nice being the king around campus.
Freshman point guard Eric Bledsoe is likely out for Friday's exhibition game against Clarion with a sprained ankle, head coach John Calipari said Thursday.
Calipari didn't completely rule out Bledsoe for Friday's game, but he hinted that they would likely rest him as precautionary measure for the regular-season opener vs. Morehead State on Nov. 13.
Fellow point guard John Wall will make his UK debut Friday night after sitting out the Campbellsville game because of NCAA suspension. He will have to sit out the regular-season opener for the second and final game of his suspension, meaning he and Bledsoe will likely not suit up together until Nov. 16 against Miami (Ohio).
Bledsoe totaled nine points, four assists, four rebounds and four steals in his UK debut.
History will be on the line Saturday when the Kentucky Wildcats try for their school record 18th straight non-conference win against Eastern Kentucky. The current 17-game winning streak is the second-longest in the nation.
Statistically, Kentucky enters Saturday's game bruised and battered after getting run over by Anthony Dixon and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Dixon and Co. ran for 348 yards in MSU's 31-24 victory over UK, dropping the Cats to last in the Southeastern Conference in rush defense. UK is allowing 195.9 yards per game on the ground.
The men up front in the blue and white will have their hands full this week against a team that's starting to find its groove in the running game.
Eastern Kentucky, which runs a spread-style offense, has not put up huge numbers with its rushing attack - the Colonels average 3.3 yards per carry and rank 70th in the Football Championship Subdivision with 129.4 yards per game - but the EKU ground game turned a corner last week. Led by senior C.J. Walker's 81 yards, the Colonels rushed for a season-high 183 yards in the win over Southeast Missouri.
Redshirt freshman quarterback T.J. Pryor has blossomed in his first year as the EKU starter. He's completing more than 63 percent of his passes and is averaging just under 200 yards a game. The majority of his throws have gone Garnett Phelps' way. The senior wide out from Ballard High School in Louisville has caught 48 balls for 610 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, EKU is strong up front. Three Colonels - two defensive linemen and a linebacker - have 7.5 tackles for loss or more, and a whopping 18 players have recorded stops in the backfield. UK's offensive line has been one of the biggest surprises this year, giving up just 1.25 sacks per game, but it'll have its hands full this week with a defense that ranks ninth in the FCS in tackles for loss.
A porous UK run defense overshadowed a gutsy performance by true freshman Morgan Newton last week. Making just his third career start, Newton put together the best game of his young career. Newton completed 11-of-18 passes for 119 yards, converting several key third downs with his mobility and strong arm. He also added 39 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
Should Newton choose to air out this week, he'll have to keep his eyes on defensive back Jeremy Caldwell, who has already picked off seven passes this year.
UK will be without its top running attack, as tailback Derrick Locke (597 yards and four touchdowns) recovers from torn scar tissue in his surgically repaired knee. The good news is the Cats will welcome back the services of All-SEC cornerback Trevard Lindley, who has missed the last four-plus games with a high ankle sprain.
Head coach Rich Brooks warned his team earlier in the week about how good EKU is and cautioned his players from looking past the Colonels. As Brooks pointed out, EKU is about three plays away from being undefeated.
"I'm sure that they are looking forward to this opportunity to come into Commonwealth Stadium and make their year, if you will, make their decade," Brooks said. "But certainly this is a dangerous game for us and we need to play a lot more focused and better than we did a week ago."
The UK football team will get back one of its key defensive players for Saturday's game but lose one of its offensive stalwarts.
Head coach Rich Brooks said cornerback Trevard Lindley, who has missed the last four-plus games with a high ankle sprain, will start against Eastern Kentucky. However, tailback Derrick Locke, who tore some scar tissue in his surgically repaired knee in the Mississippi State game, has been ruled out for Saturday's contest.
Although several players have been battling the flu this week, Brooks expects most of them to play. The only exceptions could be linebacker Ridge Wilson and backup long snapper Jon Thomas.
The UK women's soccer team won't be participating in postseason play this year, but under new head coach, Jon Lipsitz, they made significant strides in rebuilding their program.
The rebuilding began with a change in culture.
"We wanted to institute a new culture," Lipsitz said. "It's always a challenge to do that. It's a challenge on the first day and it's a challenge on the last day, but I began to see people come into my office with a passion and desire for this team, who were excited about moving forward, and that's exciting for our program."
The change began almost immediately. Players quickly bought into Lipsitz's belief that average was just not OK. Lipsitz, who came to UK from Charlotte, wanted to breed a culture of competitiveness on a daily basis.
Although the 5-10-4 record might not indicate it, the Cats were tougher mentally and physically by season's end, leading players like sophomore midfielder Taylor Ray to believe that UK is ready to turn the corner next year.
"I know the culture that the coaching staff is trying to instill on us is definitely going to help us move forward next year, as far as the way we practice, our work ethic and even the way we take care of our gear," said Ray, who will return as one of UK's key players next year after missing half the 2009 season with an injury. "I definitely think the change is very good and very positive."
Still, with a new and improved culture, the team has areas that need development. Throughout the season, the team dealt with offensive struggles, scoring only 11 goals to their opponents' 20.
It's a concern that must be addressed by next season, Lipsitz said.
"We need goal scorers," the first-year head coach said. "You always feel like you're right on the edge with scoring and it takes special players to break through and make those goals."
He also noted fitness as another area that needs improvement.
"We need to greatly improve our fitness level," Lipsitz said. "We have to work with student athletes on being fit on a daily basis. To be a good athlete you have to work on a 365-day set. Great athletes never really let their bodies get out of shape."
While fitness and offense were a work in progress in Lipsitz's first season, he's found a foundation to build on with the team's masterful defense. Kentucky's defense kept the Cats in just about every game this season, often times posting shutouts when the pressure was solely on the backline to keep UK in the fight.
Spearheaded by senior defender Julie Hull, sophomore defender Jenna Goblirsch and junior goalkeeper Sydney Hiance, the Cats posted seven shutouts on the year.
"There is no secret to our defensive intensity," Lipsitz said. "Jenna and Julie were great. They certainly led by example on a daily basis. Julie is graduating this year and that's a huge hit for us, but Jenna is coming back and we will build our defense around her."
Goblirsch believes the defensive performances were something positive to build off of moving forward into next year.
"We've been talking about how we have to defend as a team," Goblirsch said. "Our backline was strong this year and that helped, but you have to be able to defend to win games. Hopefully next year we can start scoring goals and continue to have a strong backline and win more games."
A changing culture and strong defense are only part of the recipe for a winning team, but the women's soccer team will continue to work on areas that need improving and hope for better results next year.
The Cats will begin preparation for next season upon their return from Christmas break in January. They will begin winter conditioning, with strength and conditioning as their main focus.
"Starting in January, we're going to start working out and trying to improve from where we left off this season," Goblirsch said. "We're bringing in a lot of new players for this coming season and hopefully it will help us do what we need to do next fall."
Ian Collins, with a smile as wide as the Pacific Ocean, just got done talking with Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart about his team's triumphant postseason-sealing 1-0 victory over longtime powerhouse Southern Methodist.
"Back from the dead," Collins yelled.
His words couldn't have rung more true.
Written for dead nearly a month ago, the Kentucky men's soccer team has resurrected itself. After three losses to open conference play, Kentucky's hopes of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 not only appeared to be dashed, they were all but gone.
Forget about the NCAA tourney - this team was in serious jeopardy of missing out on one of four bids to make the Conference USA Tournament.
"Never write us off. Never," Collins said. "If you track our history since 1993, don't ever write us off. Don't ever do that because it's dangerous."
Ask Memphis, South Carolina, Central Florida, Florida International or SMU. They'll tell you it's not only dangerous, it's lethal.
The once road-kill Cats have suddenly steamrolled through the final part of their schedule, winning five of their last six and four straight.
Wednesday's 1-0 win over SMU clinched the fourth and final spot in the C-USA Tournament, which will be held Nov. 13-15 at the winner of the regular-season crown (still to be determined between UAB, Tulsa and Marshall).
"This is probably the biggest win in my career here," senior defender and co-captain Barry Rice said. "Nobody on campus expected us to be here. As a senior you're thinking your season and career are over. The spirit among the guys is amazing to bounce back and win four in a row and to close it off at home. It's an amazing feeling. I couldn't be more happy than I am right now."
Rice could barely fight back his emotions following Wednesday's potential season-changing victory. For a player who has been a part of two unbelievable NCAA Tournament snubs, Saturday's victory couldn't be more gratifying for the two-time C-USA Defensive Player of the Year.
"In my personal opinion, some people work better when there is adversity against you and people are counting you out," Rice said.
Rice said those three straight losses to open league play served as an eye-opener for this team. Ranked in the top 25 to start the year, Rice said they needed to be brought back down to earth to realize what it takes to be a championship team.
It might have been a risky move, but arguably no team is playing better in the conference right now. Behind the senior leadership of Rice, Jason Griffiths (who Rice called the star of Wednesday's game) and Dan Williams, the stingy defensive play of late (just one goal allowed over the last four games), or the sudden scorching-hot play of Tim Crone (who provided the game-winner Wednesday), UK has showed the heart and resiliency of a champion.
"Most people wrote us off at 0-3 (in league play)," Collins said. "Everybody did except our own players and our own staff and maybe two or three other people. Everybody said we were done. We did it really hard. We won four games on the road in a tough league and then we took care of a big game today. I'm really proud of the players, the assistant coaches and everybody on this team for the effort they've put in. The effort they've put in the last month has been phenomenal."
Collins said it's been a total team effort. When everyone pushed the Cats against the wall and counted them out, they all came together, regrouped and rebounded stronger than ever.
In reality, UK had five straight elimination games to end the season in conference play. If the Cats would have lost just one of those games (at Memphis, at South Carolina, at UCF, at FIU or at home against SMU), the season was over, plain and simple.
"A lot of teams would have folded in that position, but we don't fold," Collins said. "When our backs are to the wall, we fight more."
Now UK enters the tournament as the team to beat. Yes, the Cats dropped all three decisions to the three other teams in the tournament, but Collins said his team had a bit of misfortune with a bounce or two the other way and a few injuries.
"I promise you the three other teams that made this tournament wanted us to lose today because we're now the team that nobody wants to play," Collins said.
Wednesday's win was just a small step in the season-long goal to make the NCAA Tournament. The Cats still have a lot of work to do - they have to likely win the league tournament to get in, by their own admission - but they've at least given themselves a chance.
With this team, that's all you need. Give an inch and they'll take a mile.
"We haven't won anything yet so we're certainly not happy, but it gives us a chance to compete for a championship and we're going to do our best to go win that," Collins said. "It's not about making it. It's about winning it."
Critical game for the men's soccer team this afternoon vs. SMU. The Cats need a win or a tie to clinch a spot in the Conference USA Tournament and SMU needs a win over UK to stay alive for the tournament.
In other words, it's a very important game in the league standings.
We'll be at the UK Soccer Complex at 1 p.m. to bring you all the action.
Former Wildcat guard Jodie Meeks made his NBA summer debut Tuesday night for the Milwaukee Bucks after a highly successful career at UK.
Meeks only logged two minutes of action in the Bucks' 83-81 loss to the Chicago Bulls, missing his only 3-point attempt, but the game action was yet another step in Meeks' successful journey to the NBA.
Remember, just two years ago the Norcross, Ga., native was battling a nagging injury and the NBA seemed like a long ways away. A record-breaking 54-point performance and a prolific scoring season later, Meeks has found himself in line for some playing time after a second-round NBA selection.
If Meeks' performance in the NBA Summer League is any indication, he should be getting a lot more minutes as the season wears on.
Like a cracked levee, UK's season's dreams have been slowly leaking away.
Its season-long goals are still achievable, but the holes in the UK rush defense has been getting bigger and bigger by the game. The Cats rank dead last in the Southeastern Conference in rush defense, giving up a 195.9 yards per game.
The levee nearly broke Saturday against Mississippi State when Anthony Dixon and the Bulldog rushing attack ran right through the UK defense for 348 yards. MSU tailbacks ran through gaping holes all evening long, pushing the Cats to a critical point in the yearlong goal to make it to a fourth straight bowl game.
If the defense doesn't patch the leak soon and start stopping the run, the levee is going to break and take UK's season with it.
On Saturday, the Mississippi State offense found a glaring weakness in the UK defense and it exploited it to the fullest. The MSU coaching staff noticed it was ripping off chunks of yards every time it ran the counter, so it kept running it and running it and running it some more.
"It's like you play your friend in a video game," defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "You play your friend you're both the same (in terms of talent), but he finds that one play and keeps doing it and you can't stop it. We could not stop the counter. They ran that counter left and right and every which way and we could not stop it."
When you're ripping off 7.7 yards a carry, who can blame them for running the same play?
"Why would they stop running it?" Lumpkin said. "I would have kept running the same play too if they couldn't stop it. There is no need to open up your whole playbook if one particular running play is breaking off seven yards a carry."
The UK coaching staff, players and even fans knew what was coming on just about every play, yet no one could stop Dixon and Co.
It left defensive coordinator Steve Brown scratching his head in the press box Saturday night. Brown said they rehearsed the MSU counter more than 50 times in practice last week after watching the Bulldogs chew up the Vanderbilt rush defense a week earlier.
But Dixon quickly turned Brown's night into a real life Halloween nightmare. Brown said his players were in position to make plays on most downs, but it was the plays where they didn't "scrape" right that Mississippi State really took advantage of UK.
"As a coach you try to do everything you can to adjust and change things because they do it right in practice," Brown said. "Everything seems perfect and you're thinking OK, we've got that taken care of, and then it doesn't work. All of a sudden you're thinking is it what we're trying to do and should we change things or move guys? And then you look at the film on Sunday and you see that when we were in position and made the right plays, there was nothing or a 2-yard gain. ... It's just a matter of guys being more physical and focused and playing a whole 60 minutes."
Brown wasn't the only one frustrated Saturday. It was equally if not more head scratching for the players on the field.
"You don't understand how frustrating it is," Lumpkin said. "It was bad because we knew it was coming. You see them, you see the same blocking scheme, you know what's coming, you see you're about to get double-teamed or you know where the ball is going and you just can't stop it. We ran every defense and just couldn't stop it."
Going forward, UK will have to repair the problem or it could become a blueprint for opposing teams and a recipe for disaster for the Cats.
Although Dixon shed his fair share of tacklers last week, UK's coaches say the Cats' tackling has not been the main problem. Head coach Rich Brooks believes it's UK's gap control, or lack thereof.
"Our tackles were getting knocked out and our gaps got moved from here to over there," Brooks said of the Mississippi State game. "You have to hold that gap because that gap gets a lot bigger if you don't hold that gap. If you get knocked over two gaps then all of a sudden you've got real holes in your defense and the linebackers have a tougher fit getting into it, not only the 'backers but the safety coming down. Sometimes we had the safety come down and jump out on the pitch, which was already taken by the nickel rather than fitting in outside the linebacker where he is supposed to fit.
"It was a calamity of mistakes."
Mistakes that must be corrected for a critical four-game stretch to end the season.
UK's defense entered the season highly touted and respected, but various injuries (especially to the secondary), key personnel losses (preseason All-American cornerback Trevard Lindley), the yearlong suspension and eventual departure of defensive end Jeremy Jarmon, and now a recent team bout with the flu hasn't made things easy.
Still, Brown said there are no excuses. The run defense must improve.
"It's tough because we haven't really, except for maybe early in the year, played with all of our bullets," Brown said. "But, that's what we've got 127 guys on this team because we've got to pick up the slack and do the best we can. It's not just affecting us, it's affecting everybody. We have who we have and we've got to go do it."
Lindley available? With each passing day and workout, cornerback Trevard Lindley is getting closer to returning to the playing field.
The senior corner did not suffer any setbacks after Tuesday's practice and participated in drills again on Wednesday. Brooks hinted that he could see some time against Eastern Kentucky.
"It's encouraging that he's gone through two days, even though he's probably not at 100 percent, at least he's out there going through the reps," Brooks said. "He's going to be sore. It's been over a month now, so I think hopefully he'll be ready to take some snaps this week (in the game)."
Brooks said Lindley would make a huge difference in the UK defense.
"If he's well, it makes a major, major difference in our defense because you usually don't have to worry too much about the guy he's covering," Brooks said. "That makes a pretty significant difference. You think back at a few games that we've played it might have made a major difference."
Eric Quigley, fresh off four worthy accomplishments in a month's time, sat at the table in front of about 15 reporters and prepared to answer questions at his first real news conference at Kentucky.
Surely, through Quigley's unmatched success at the high school tennis level (four Kentucky state titles), he was used to the lights of the cameras and the coverage from the press. And then he was asked his first question.
"Do you like French food, Eric?" a reporter asked.
"I like pastries and stuff," Quigley said. "My roommate has introduced me to some of the food. I can't say I've ever been there before, but we'll see."
Wait, what? French food? France?
Well, it all makes sense when you look at what Quigley has done over the past month to start his sophomore campaign and the 2009-10 tennis season at UK. Quigley will in fact be traveling to France for a week's time starting Dec. 9. The Pewee Valley, Ky., native was one of three American collegians selected to represent the United State in the fourth annual Master'U BNP Paribas, a prestigious international collegiate competition.
The selection was just one of four noteworthy accomplishments for a tennis star playing perhaps the best tennis of his life. In the last month, Quigley has toppled the nation's No. 1 player, reached the quarterfinals of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American Championships and won the Ohio Valley Regional Championships, in addition to his selection to go to France.
"I definitely have to put my tennis right now up there with the best I've ever played," Quigley said. "Just in key moments I've stepped up and relaxed just because I know my confidence is there. It's been coming through when I need to."
Head coach Dennis Emery, who has watched Quigley blossom throughout his young career in the junior circuits around the nation and his domination on the state high school level, said Quigley is playing with more confidence than he ever has.
"He would certainly be playing the best tennis of his career right now," Emery said. "Hopefully there are other levels to go to, but to this level, yeah, he's playing a very good game. He's played aggressively, he's not making many mistakes, he's putting up some great numbers in terms of his winner-to-error ratio and his first-serve percentage. He's very good in almost category that you can chart right now."
Thanks to his regional championship in Bloomington, Ind., last week, Quigley will head to the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships, which starts Thursday against an opponent to be determined at Yale.
Although Quigley is unseeded and will face the nation's best players, Emery, now in his 28th season at the helm of the Kentucky tennis program, thinks Quigley can win the tournament.
"He's playing better than anybody else in the country right now," Emery said. "Now he could go there and lose in an hour and he may play the one or two seed because he's not seeded and lose early."
But, Emery believes Quigley has as good of a shot as anybody because of the rapid development he has made since his freshman year. Quigley, who Emery calls an overpowering player, won a ton of matches in his initial season with UK, but Emery said he's become a more complete player.
Emery noted a more powerful serve and better return game as Quigley's biggest improvements.
"He's getting a lot more free points off his serve," Emery said. "It's been a big difference for him. He's returning much better so he's putting a lot of pressure on his opponent early in the point."
Quigley gained some invaluable inexperience over the summer in lower level pro tournaments, which he said carried over to his defeat of the top-ranked player, Oleksandr Nedovyesov of Oklahoma State, on Oct. 8.
"I feel like I have a shot for everything," Quigley said. "It just takes that much more pressure off me and I'm getting more relaxed in pressure moments in the match. I just feel really good out there right now."
Confidence has never been an issue with Quigley, according to Emery, but there's something to be said about talking about being one of the best and actually playing with the best.
"We felt like Eric could have an All-American type season, but until you're actually beating some of those guys, it's maybe hard to buy into it a little bit," Emery said. "It's not that he just beat the No. 1 player, it's that he really dominated the No. 1 player in that match. He controlled all the points, he controlled the emotion of the match - he won that match in every way that you could win it."
Quigley has long been hailed as one of the best - if not the best - to play high school tennis in Kentucky. Now the graduate of South Oldham High School is making a case to be one of the all-time greats at the University of Kentucky.
"We've been very blessed to have a bunch of great players, but I would say he's on track to be a good one," Emery said. "Now, he's got a long way to go to do that and a lot of matches to be won, but from a character standpoint and a talent standpoint, he's someone who has a chance to have one of the great careers here."
A championship this week at the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships would quickly vault his name to the top with some of the all-time Kentucky legends like Jesse Witten, Cedric Kauffmann and recent graduate Bruno Agostinelli.
Quigley said it was pretty "cool" to watch a former UK great like Witten march through this summer's U.S. Open, adding that he hopes to one day do the same, but for now he's focused on the Indoor Championships.
As far as winning it, he's never been more confident.
"Why not go all the way?" Quigley said. "With the way I'm playing right now, I don't see why I can't go all the way."
The flu bug has officially hit the UK football team.
Seven players have been sent home with the flu, including linebacker Micah Johnson, offensive lineman Christian Johnson, tailback Alfonso Smith, linebacker Ridge Wilson, offensive lineman Dave Ulinski, linebacker Jacob Dufrene and defensive end Patrick Ligon, head coach Rich Brooks said Tuesday.
The bouts with illness come in addition to a wealth of injuries the Cats are battling.
"Injuries are one thing but the sickness bug has really hit us good right now," Brooks said. "That usually means there's going to be a lot more to follow. We'll just have to deal with it the best we can."
Brooks said they've had to the battle the flu every season, but this year is the most guys they have been missing at one time. The biggest concern Brooks has is when they will return and who else will come down with the flu.
Some of the players were probably tested for the H1N1 virus (swine flu) when they were sent over the medical center, but "if they're sick, they're sick," Brooks said.
In other news, cornerback Trevard Lindley (high ankle sprain) made it through the entire practice Tuesday and now UK will wait to see how he responds. Brooks said Locke obviously wasn't 100 percent, but he did go through every drill.
Running back Derrick Locke (knee) did not practice and has been downgraded to doubtful.
Head coach John Calipari warned the Kentucky faithful in his introductory news conference that legendary UK coach Adolph Rupp would be rolling in his grave if he could see the Wildcats play early in the season.
If the first exhibition game is any indication, he wasn't kidding.
The margin of victory - 36 points - was about what most would have expected against Campbellsville, an NAIA school that head coach Keith Adkins admitted was clearly overmatched. But it wasn't the high-flying 100-point Dribble Drive Motion Offense some of the 21,384 fans in Rupp Arena were probably expecting to see Monday night.
"We just all thought we were going to score 115 today, didn't you?" Calipari said. "I think the fans thought, 'This is the dribble-drive?' Early on this is what it looks like. It's just not what you think. Hopefully in a week you'll say, 'Oh, I see some changes.' In a month you'll say, 'Now I see.' Two months you'll say, 'Boy, they're unleashed.' "
But Monday night was yet another subtle reminder from Calipari and his team that national championships and Final Fours don't happen overnight. Sure, the Cats are going to win a ton of games on talent alone, but what everyone saw in the first exhibition of the season is nowhere near the team Calipari wants it to be.
Tempering expectations is never easy at UK, but it's time to start believing Calipari when he says it's going to take time.
"Folks, we've got a long ways to go and I knew this," Calipari said. "You're talking about a change in culture, a whole new way of playing, a new style, trying to figure out players."
The two glaring weaknesses for UK in the rout over the Tigers were perimeter shooting and turnovers. UK made just 3-of-14 from behind the 3-point line and turned the ball over 23 times.
"It may have looked like 30 turnovers," Calipari said. "We had all kinds (of turnovers). We had carries, we threw to guys in the post when the guy's fronting him (and) we had charges. There was no real flow of the game."
Now here's the good part: It's Nov. 2. It's the first exhibition game. It's only two weeks since the first practice. It was with six newcomers. And it was without John Wall.
No one inside that UK locker room expected it be a finished product quite yet.
"(It's tough) just getting a feel for (the offense) and being confident with the ball and driving to the basket," said Patrick Patterson, who finished with a modest four points and five rebounds on 2-of-7 shooting. "He wants everybody to drive, he wants everybody to penetrate, and it's just the fact that you have to do it. You have to get a feel of one another and just know where to be at the right time."
Calipari said the Cats would be wrong on offense about 70 percent of the time to start the season. Monday's number might have been closer to 80 percent, he said. Instead of a 12-to-23 assist-to-turnover ratio UK posted Monday night, UK will have more like a 17-to-12 split once the offense is working.
"We've got to get a couple of guys who can beat somebody on the dribble," Calipari said. "We had a lot of guys that either did not want to beat a guy on the dribble or weren't capable of beating a guy on the dribble. You can't play this offense unless you do that."
The offense started to work when players you might not expect to make a drastic difference entered the game. Calipari said he was encouraged by the play of reserve Mark Krebs, who was one of the few players to come into the game and play through bumps and drive to the rim with a purpose.
Also, senior forward Perry Stevenson, who didn't register a single minute in the first half, scored 11 points in just six minutes of play. Calipari said he didn't play Stevenson in the first half because he had not shown he deserved playing time in practice.
But that's why games like Monday's exhibition are so important. It's a time to develop the offense and find out who can play when things really count.
"The greatest thing today is when the popcorn is popping and the lights are turned on and people are screaming, guys start playing a little differently," Calipari said. "We've all got to see that. I've got to see that as a coach. When things are really rolling, who are we going to?"
For the first time this season, the lights were finally on and things finally mattered. It reaffirmed the notion that changing this culture and sculpting this style is going to take awhile.
"It was neat walking into an exhibition game and looking up into the rafters and it was packed. I was stunned," Calipari said. "And then I looked up with six minutes to go and we've got 53 points. A running, pressing team has 53 points. I'm saying 'Oh, goodness. We've got a long way to go.' "
For what it's worth, the media of the Southeastern Conference weren't the only ones who did not pick freshman sensation John Wall to the preseason All-Southeastern Conference first team.
The coaches just unveiled their preseason All-SEC team, tabbing Wall as an All-SEC second teamer.
More importantly, though, junior forward Patrick Patterson was a unanimous selection to the eight-man first team, one of six players to earn every coach's vote. Joining Patterson on the first team are Devan Downey (South Carolina), Tasmin Mitchell (LSU), Tyler Smith (Tennessee), Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State), Terrico White (Ole Miss), Michael Washington (Arkansas) and A.J. Ogilvy (Vanderbilt).
It's the second prestigious honor of the day for Patterson, who was named an Associated Press first-team All-American early Monday.
How does one pick up and continue with the season-long goals after they've been shattered into a thousand pieces?
That's the question facing the Kentucky football team as it tries to rebound from its devastating loss to Mississippi State on Saturday's Homecoming night. The loss was a significant setback in the Cats' season-long hopes to take the next step in the Southeastern Conference and make it to a bigger bowl game.
With four games left, including two on the road, the Cats are in dire need of a particularly strong run down the stretch to define this season as a success.
"To me we have to be in postseason play again (for this season to be considered a success)," head coach Rich Brooks said at Monday's news conference. "My mind of successful would have been climbing the SEC ladder with more SEC wins.
"We've had a very difficult loss at South Carolina. We've had a tough home loss to Mississippi State. One or two of those games could possibly make the difference depending on what we go do from here on forward. We'll talk about whether we think it was a successful season at the end of the season because right now we're just trying to win the next game."
After losing such a tough game to Mississippi State, one loaded with heavy bowl game implications - several bowl representatives were in the house Saturday to watch the Cats - UK has no choice but to get off the mat this Saturday against Eastern Kentucky if it wants to call the season a success.
Asked how the Cats do that, senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said they just keep fighting.
"(We) watch the film, go back out there this week and go hard," Lumpkin said. "We're going to need everybody. We're going to need the scouts, the scout team offense and defense; it's just going to have to be a team effort. If not, we can easily take that loss, put our heads down and lose the next four. The next thing you know we're home for Christmas.
"Or we can get down, get ready and get nasty and win these next four and go somewhere warm and play a good team in a bowl game and get our fourth straight bowl win. It's all going to determine what we want do. I think this is a bigger game than last week because we just came off a loss. This Eastern game is going to tell a lot about our team this year."
Three days ago, it was hard to imagine even talking about the Cats staying home for the holidays, but it's suddenly become a very real possibility if UK doesn't right the ship.
A loss in any one of the remaining games will likely put the Cats back in Nashville, Tenn., Memphis, Tenn., Shreveport, La., or Birmingham, Ala., and two or three more will put the team in serious jeopardy of a joyless holiday season. That's how potentially devastating it was for UK to drop its game with Mississippi State, and how much more significance is now placed on the remaining four games.
Brooks said it's important that UK puts the previous week's game in the rearview mirror and focus solely on EKU, a team he called "dangerous" because a win could make its program's year, or even decade.
"A week ago, I think a lot of people thought we could win out, and now I hear a lot of people don't think we may win another game," Brooks said. "That's kind of the way this thing goes, and the job I have to do is get my players to understand that each week is critically important and that they have to prepare themselves like it's the last game of the year and it's the only thing that's going to make a difference."
Brooks said there's been a bit of a problem with the lingering effect of the previous week's games this season. Whether it's the team getting a little big-headed or full of themselves, he doesn't know, but Brooks did admit that it's a lot tougher in today's society to keep the players in a "cocoon."
"They know what's going on in the world and who's saying it for the most part if it's about them," Brooks said.
"It's much harder to keep the players' minds from drifting away from reading their press clippings or hearing what their peers are saying about them on the Internet," Brooks said.
"It's always been a challenge but it's particularly difficult when you're dealing with young people who have a lot more going on in life than football," Brooks said. "That is my life. I have no life right now. They have a life. They have a social life, they have an academic life, they have a family life, they have things going on and people talking to them, and you never know where their frame of mind is.
"But it's my job to get them focused and I've got to do a better job."
Brooks admitted that he needs some help from some of the leaders on the team. A few of them need to be a bit more vocal, he said, and speak up when they feel like something is going wrong.
One of those guys Brooks might look to is sophomore do-it-all Randall Cobb, who is quickly taking on the fiery personality and soul this team will need if its wants to finish the season strong.
Cobb thinks the MSU loss might be a positive effect in the long run.
"I think that just brought us back down to Earth," Cobb said. "I think we got a little high after the Auburn game and after the win over Louisiana-Monroe. All of us just had a little bit of a 'We finally arrived (feeling).' This loss is going to put us back in our place."
Is that place back in the Music City Bowl, the Liberty Bowl or in front of the TV for the holidays? Or is it a rallying cry for a season-defining stretch and a destination with a warmer bowl down south?
The only way to find that out and to prevent the season from slipping away is just to win, Lumpkin said.
"That's the only way you stop a snowball effect," Lumpkin said. "This is not going to be easy. We need a win and we need to keep winning."
Injury update: Both Derrick Locke and cornerback Trevard Lindley are questionable to doubtful this week.
Locke tore some scar tissue in his surgically repaired knee and Lindley continues to battle a high ankle sprain. Lindley ran Sunday at practice without any swelling.
"He's getting really closer to having a chance to get back on the field," Brooks said.
Quarterback Mike Hartline ran at Sunday's practice as well without any swelling, but he did experience some pain. Brooks said it's still unclear if he will have a chance to return this year.
Offensive lineman Christian Johnson was sent home with the flu and his status is uncertain. True freshman quarterback Morgan Newton dinged his shoulder and his throws will be limited, but he will practice and play Saturday.
The Kentucky-Vanderbilt football game in Nasvhille, Tenn., on Nov. 14 has been scheduled for a 12:21 p.m. ET start on the on the SEC Network (11:21 a.m. CT).
It will be the second straight day game for the Cats.
UK's game this week against Eastern Kentucky will be carried live on WKYT in Lexington and WYMT in Hazard, Ky., at 1 p.m. ET.
Full slate of SEC games for Nov. 14:
Tennessee at Ole Miss (11 a.m. CT / CBS Sports) Kentucky at Vanderbilt (11:21 a.m. CT / SEC Network) Florida at South Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET / CBS Sports) Louisiana Tech at LSU (6 p.m. CT / ESPNU) Alabama at Mississippi State (6 p.m. CT / ESPN or ESPN2)* Auburn at Georgia (7 p.m. ET / ESPN or ESPN2)* Troy at Arkansas (6:30 p.m. CT / CSS)
*Network will be selected after games of Nov. 7 are complete
The deal is worth a reported $55 million over five years.
"As much as we were willing to wait his contract out, the Celtics stepped up to the plate to meet the original request," said Bill Duffy, Rondo's agent. "This is a really fair contract. We wanted him to be paid like one of the top five point guards around. It also allows the Celtics to maintain continuity to continue to be one of the best teams at this time."
Rondo, already an NBA champion, put together his best year of his career last season, averaging 11.9 points, 8.2 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.
The former UK point guard was reportedly being shopped around in the offseason and was going to become a restricted free agent at season's end, but Rondo was surprised late Sunday night with a deal from general manager Danny Ainge.
Rondo played two seasons in Lexington, averaging 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds in his final season.
Attention all local Lexington basketball leagues: John Calipari and his men's basketball team could be coming to a league near you.
On Sunday, Calipari told reporters he was looking for a league to put his team in. The only criterion is that they play 20-minute games.
"We're not in the kind of condition we need to be in," Calipari said. "I told the team after that we can play about 17 minutes of a game and be alright - not great but alright. So I'm out looking for a league that plays 20-minute games thinking that we have a chance."
OK, so Calipari was kidding about joining a new league - based off those preseason rankings, chances are the Cats are going to be A-OK in Division I - but some of the issues he's seen in practice over the last week have been no joking matter.
Calipari said this team still has a long ways to go to get to the level that his teams of the past were at. The first-year head coach isn't asking that his team be Dec. 15 ready, but he said they do need to round into shape to become Nov. 1 ready, in time for the exhibition game Monday night vs. Campbellsville in Rupp Arena.
"If we're to be what this program wants to be, we have to be vicious defensively, we have to be a two-handed rebound team that goes after every ball, we have to be a team that makes easy, easy plays and then a team that works harder than the opponent," Calipari said.
Conditioning, more or less, is just a minor problem. At this stage in the season, Calipari is trying to alter the mental approach of a team that in reality is largely inexperienced and oblivious to the road that lies ahead.
"This thing with this team is going to be more of me teaching of how to win mentally and how to prepare and how to think," Calipari said. "They're just so young and they don't know. You're teaching everything. How to act in this situation, how to respond in this situation, how to approach practice every day."
For the first time this year, Calipari said he had to get "mean" with them at practice on Friday because of some of the players' mental approach.
"I just kept it real," Calipari said. "We're either starting this guy or that guy. If this guy can't do it because he's not mature enough or he's not verbal enough, he's not starting. ... If he can't get ready for practice, how's he going to get ready for the start of the game? If it takes him 20 minutes to get ready, he'll be coming in later in the game. He will not start. ... I said, 'I can tell you what you want to hear or I can be honest with you.' "
And Calipari has been brutally honest with his team of late. They're good, no doubt, but he wants more. He doesn't want complacency.
Calipari said he has found himself stopping practice more than he's used to in order to teach. Watching practice Sunday, it was a rarity for more than a minute or two to tick off the clock before Calipari halted everyone with a whistle. (The stoppages have taken away from the Cats' conditioning, Calipari admitted.)
He's had to be more hands-on with this team because of the lack of discipline and maturity, but Calipari said that's natural for a team made up of a lot of 18- and 19-year-olds.
To show them his vision of where he wants this team to eventually be, Calipari has been showing the players film of his Memphis teams of the past few years.
"Discipline is doing the things you don't want to do and doing them well so you can do the things you want to do: reach your dreams. That's discipline," Calipari said. "You just have to do stuff you don't feel like doing and then learn to do it well so you can reach your dreams."
Those dreams start Monday night vs. Campbellsville. Whether they're ready to play a full 40-minute game or not, freshman Daniel Orton said he's just ready to finally start the season.
"I'm just ready to play someone else other than these people to tell you the truth," Orton said.
Freshman guard John Wall, who must sit out two games and repay expenses of $787.58, must repay the full amount of expenses prior to competing on Friday vs. Clarion, the first game he will be eligible to play as a Kentucky Wildcat.
Wall will cover the expenses with money he saved from his Pell Grant, according to UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy. The nation's top recruit will donate the money to the Hope Center, a Lexington charity that provides food, shelter and clothing to the homeless.
"I'm grateful to have this decision behind me. All I ever wanted was to go to school and play ball with my team," Wall said. "This has been really hard for my mom and I want to thank her for her support during this process."
Kentucky begins its season on Monday in an exhibition game vs. Campbellsville at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena.