UK alum Tom Leach has
been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12
years and 9 year's for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky
Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective
into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April.
Read Tom's full biography
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"I think there are some similarities because of talent. And they're so mature right now that you can almost compare them to us. Watching them, it's almost like watching us--just a younger version (of our team)."
The speaker is Derek Anderson, a key member of Kentucky's 1996 34-2 national championship team aka "The Untouchables." Anderson is currently producing a documentary on that '96 season (details at "untouchablesofkentucky.com").
The talent is obvious but Anderson also likes one of the current UK team's intangible assets.
"How they fight to win. They know their roles and they accept them. The only thing they're missing is having a little more fun. I think they're so worried about that pressure to keep winning. As much as we worked, we enjoyed it. I think they're so young," he said, " they don't want to mess up."
"We hung together. We went bowling--all 15 guys. When we went to the movies--all 15 guys. It didn't matter who got the points. It was all about winning," Anderson added.
After transferring from Ohio State, Anderson--a Louisville, KY native--played in two games in the annual rivarly game with UofL in which the Wildcats were dominant. Those games provide him with some special memories.
"Me being from Louisville, I think it was more of a personal issue for me. I just wanted to be them real bad. If we could have scored 200 points, I would have run the score up on them," he said.
And does Anderson think the freshman-laden Cats of 2009-10 are ready for the atmosphere they'll encounter this Saturday at Rupp Arena?
"They have no idea," he said, "what it's going to be like."
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We'll soon find out whether or not Rich Brooks is coming back for another season as coach of the Kentucky football team. Should he choose to retire, his longtime friend as well special teams coach, Steve Ortmayer, is confident Joker Phillips is ready to assume the challenge of leadership.
"The one thing that characterizes Joker is preparation. He's a 20-hour-a-day guy," Ortmayer said on WLXG's "The Sports Huddle" Wednesday night. "The thing that you can't ever really put on your resume until you have it is experience. Joker has been fortunate to experience a number of real good coaches. One of the things that distinguishes Rich is his ability to be a big-picture guy. You have to put a program together with the scope of the mountain you're going to climb and I'm sure Joker has had a feeling for that and it will be invaluable to him."
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Here are a couple of stats from 2009 that speak to Phillips' skill as a playcaller:
On fourth downs, UK converted 17 of 23 attempts. And in the red zone (inside the opponent's 20-yard line), the Cats scored a touchdown 70 percent of the time (30 of 43), which ranked third-best in the SEC, behind Arkansas and Auburn.
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You're probably not surprised to learn that NBA2k10 is John Wall's favorite video game. The Cats' super frosh says it's his favorite off-the-court activity.
So who's the best gamer on the UK team?
" Best gamer, I'd probably say, depends on what type of game," Wall told tomleachky.com "If your talking about a fighting game, you'd say Pat (Patterson) or a shooting game, it would be Pat. But basketball, you'd say me or Eric (Bledsoe)."
On Thursday at 12:00 p.m. May and Brown 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- minute chat with the reporters will offer fans an inside look at the game from the people who are closest to the teams.
Louisville is the next game. They're taking it one game at a time. It's a big game, but so were North Carolina and Connecticut.
"They're a great team," freshman guard John Wall said of Louisville. "They've got a great coach in Rick Pitino. They've got a lot of great guys that came in. They've got a great freshman point guard in Peyton Siva. They're an aggressive team. They want to push up and play defense and turn you over."
That's great and all, but make no mistake about it, the UK-Louisville game, which tips off Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Rupp Arena, is always the biggest game of the year to the fans.
Unless you've lived it, you have no idea.
After Tuesday's rout of Hartford, Kentucky's 14th straight victory to open the season, the freshmen were asked if they understood the importance of the Dream Game. Open an honest, some of the first-year players admitted that they probably don't appreciate the rivalry as much as they should.
"We really won't know until that day but all the talk you can tell it's a pretty big game," freshman DeMarcus Cousins said.
Pretty big? Try monumental.
As the next few days pass, Cousins and Co. should get a better glimpse at what the rivalry is all about. In fact, it's already started.
Cousins said he's been receiving messages on Facebook telling him about the rivalry.
"I actually had a Facebook comment that said, 'I don't care if you lose every game, you all just better make sure you beat Louisville,' " Cousins said.
Is the picture becoming a little more clear, "Boogie?"
"That's crazy," he said.
Sophomore guard Darius Miller, who still vividly remembers the sting from a last-second loss to Louisville last season, said not to worry about the young freshman. They've been preaching that-one game mentality to them for a reason, but he said they'll be ready for the atmosphere in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
"I'm sure (the young players) said that we're just trying to take it one game at a time and we're just trying to focus on the next game," Miller said. "They understand how big the rivalry is. When you have a million fans that we better beat Louisville, they understand how big it is."
We don't like to brag on ourselves, but we couldn't help but point out that www.stumbleupon.com has tabbed Kentucky No. 1 in its Southeastern Conference College Basketball Marketing rankings.
The basketball-driven Web site took an analytical look at all 12 SEC schools and how porgrams are communicating to young athletes (or fans) from a digital point of view. Kentucky beat out No. 2 Tennessee and No. 3 Florida for the top spot.
The point is we're proud to be succussfully connecting with you, the fans. However, we'd like to continue to raise the bar and stay at No. 1. If there are more things you would like to see not only on this blog but at UKathletics.com, please feel free to e-mail us at email@example.com.
Freshman guard John Wall and junior forward Patrick Patterson have made Jason King of Yahoo! Sports' midseason All-America teams.
Wall, who King calls the nation's best player and likley No. 1 pick in this summer's NBA Draft, made King's first team along with Damion James of Texas, Wesley Johnson from Syracuse, Luke Harangody of Notre Dame and Sherron Collins from Kansas.
According to their reports, Barnhart wants Brooks to stay if his heart is still in coaching.
"I think Rich enjoys being a football coach," Barnhart said, according to Dawson's report. "I can't speak to his feelings, but I wanted to make sure (he knows) that if he wants to come back, it's his. It's his job."
That comes in response to some scuttlebutt that Brooks indeed wants to stay if it's in the right situation. If Brooks has specific needs he wants fulfilled in order to come back, Barnhart said he would be willing to listen.
"We'll see how the conversation goes," Barhart said in Dawson's story. "He'll have to talk to his family and get through that piece of the conversation, and then we'll visit again. If there's some things tht he says 'I really need to have happen for me to stay,' I'll say, 'OK we can do that.' "
Barnhart said he hasn't spoken to Brooks since Sunday but said he hopes to talk about the future sometime this week. The Kentucky AD said he remains firmly in support of the footballl program, Brooks' decision and the succession plan in place.
Brooks told reporters Sunday that he would sit down with his family and make a decision in the next three to four days after the bowl game. For those of you keeping track, Wednesday marks day No. 3.
My gut feeling -- and this goes off no factual evidence -- is that the announcement will be delayed just a little bit longer than that. Brooks might have very well made up his mind already, but the fact that he and Barnhart have not had a discussion yet leads me to believe it could be after New Year's before we finally know what the future holds. Again, just a gut reaction.
In speaking with a couple of people in the office at the athletic department, it's been made very clear to me that this is strictly Brooks' decision. If he wants to stay, the job is his.
Twenty-four hours earlier, John Calipari admitted his team was having its best practices of the year. Tuesday night the Cats might have mistaken Rupp Arena for their practice floor at the Joe Craft Center.
UK steamrolled Hartford 104-61 on Tuesday in front of 24,340 fans in Rupp Arena, extending one of the best winning streaks in school history to 14 games.
Freshman center DeMarcus Cousins dominated the paint with 19 points, sophomore Darnell Dodson rained treys (six 3-pointers in all) and Darius Miller glided his way to a season-high 16 points.
That John Wall fella? He only broke Travis Ford's hallowed record of 15 assists in a single game.
Wall must have forgotten the season for giving was over. Dimes were falling from his fingertips. Alley-oops to Cousins, floaters to Daniel Orton in the lane, kick-outs to Dodson for three, you name it.
The freshman sensation finished with 16 assists on the night (and only committed one turnover!), the final one coming when he dropped off a pass to Perry Stevenson at the free-throw line for a 15-foot jumper. Ford's nearly 17-year-old record was gone. Ironically, it was the first game of the season Wall failed to reach double figures in the scoring column.
"It's a lot of stuff, a lot of history going on at this school. To get in there with the assist record in one game means a lot," Wall said. "You thank the whole team for making shots and thank the coaching staff for letting me get back in the game."
Wall's pursuit of charitable perfection was apparent fairly early on. The 6-foot-4 guard continually teased the undersized Hawks, driving the lane and drawing two defenders before tossing it near the rim, usually for an uncontested dunk.
"It's not a record I could have got by myself," Wall said. "It it wasn't for me passing the ball ahead, if it wasn't for them guys making shots when I was getting it to them, I wouldn't have broken the record."
But let's be honest - besides Wall's record, this was expected. Against Hartford, now a 2-10 team, it was a tune-up for the date with archrival Louisville, which now lies just four days away.
Hartford, for better or worse, entered the game on an 18-day layoff, which came on the heels of a seven-game losing streak. The Cats, with Louisville fresh in their sights, weren't exactly the perfect cure and did what they were supposed to.
"I think our team is getting better and I think that our individual players are getting better," head coach John Calipari said. "The only way your team gets better is individual players get better."
Everyone had a hand in the victory. Eleven of UK's 12 players scored, including senior guard Mark Krebs. The fan favorite got UK to 100 points with a 3-pointer from straightaway. His trey, with a still packed Rupp Arena fan base on its feet, came with his ailing mother, who is battling a life-threatening bout with breast cancer, at courtside, tears running down her face.
Although it was against a lowly Hartford team, it was that kind of night. And exactly the one UK needed before its test with Louisville.
Maybe the most encouraging theme of the night was that everyone - not just Wall - shared the basketball. Of UK's 41 field goals, 30 of them were assisted. After the first half, the Cats had 16 assists on 19 field goals.
"You saw some of the (dribble-drive) today," said Calipari, whose teams accounted for 10 dunks, more than half on alley-oops. "The reason we shoot such a high percentage is because we had so many easy plays. My thing is to get on the guys to just make easy plays. Don't try to make hero plays. Don't try to throw look-away passes if you don't have to. Throw it to the guy where he can handle it and make a basket."
Really, there were few things not to like if you side with UK.
Rebounding margin? Check (41-24). Field-goal percentage? Check (60.3 percent). Ball control? Check (only seven turnovers). Long-range shooting? Check (14 treys). And of course the assists.
About the only thing rubbing Calipari the wrong way after the game was the Cats' lack of defensive intensity, and even that - Hartford shot 37.9 percent from the field - wasn't terrible.
So after doing just about everything right the Cats could do right prior to the Dream Game, can we finally move on to Louisville?
"It's my first experience with Louisville-UK, but I've coached against Louisville when I was at Memphis," Calipari said. "One, it's a great game for our state, for the Commonwealth. It's a great game for college basketball. As you know, everybody is talking about it. It's also a great game for our program to play. It's a rivalry game. It's important for both programs."
Does this team largely made up of 18- and 19-year-old kids realize that yet? A couple of them said after the game that they haven't fully appreciated the rivalry yet, but let's remember they just finished a game.
No worries, Miller said. With the Hartford tune-up now fully in the rearview mirror, they'll understand over the next few days.
"I'm sure (the young players) said that we're just trying to take it one game at a time and we're just trying to focus on the next game," said Miller, who vividly remembers the sting of Edgar Sosa's late game-winning 3-pointer from last season. "They understand how big the rivalry is. When you have a million fans that we better beat Louisville, they understand how big it is."
John Calipari says he usually wouldn't put a player back into a lopsided game just to set a record, but the coach made that move last night in the 104-61 win over Hartford with John Wall.
And Wall got the two assists he needed to reach 16 and break Travis Ford's 17-year old single-game school assist mark.
Calipari said he did that because of how Wall approached the game. In a game that the Cats were expected to win convincingly, Wall came out and dished out 11 assists in the first half while scoring just five points.
It's interesting to look at Wall's numbers in the big games that went down to the wire versus the ones in which the Wildcats won easily. Wall's points-per-game average is about five points higher in those tougher games than the others. And in the games in which UK won easily, Wall's assist total went up. The message? Rather than pad his point total against inferior foes, Wall uses those kinds of games to look to set up his teammates.
Greg Anthony of CBS Sports was the point guard to those great UNLV teams of the early 1990's, so he knows a thing or two about playing that position. And when Anthony worked the Kentucky-Indiana game, he picked up some of those team-first aspects of Wall's on-court persona.
"I just like his demeanor. Get beyond the physical skills--because they're immense--but his emotional control and his feel for how to play the point is what's been impressive," Anthony told tomleachky.com. "He's got supreme confidence and an amazing work ethic. He wants to be great and he's got an engaging personality and a magnetic charm about him that the other guys migrate, too, and that's what makes him special. When the guys love competing for you as a point guard--and that's the sense I get for this team--(you've got something). He doesn't live in the hype. He's about competing and going out and helping his team win basketball games."
To whom would he compare Wall's game?
"He's a bigger, more athletic version of a guy like Isiah (Thomas) in terms of what he can do in the halfcourt. He's kind of a hybrid. He's got Jason Kidd's open court speed and vision but he's got a great ability to score and finish at the rim. He's a combination of a lot of different guys. It's unique, though, that you see a guy that's a physically capable as he is with the skill set that he has," Anthony said. "And the scary thing is that he's still got a long way to go and a lot of growth. And in talking with coach Calipari, the guy is a sponge--he wants to learn. It's amazing that a guy can be that young and be that polished."
While Anthony is impressed with Wall, the commentator is equally taken with the approach Patrick Patterson takes to the attention that Wall gets.
"John Wall is as special as it gets, but Patrick Patterson deciding to come back was instrumental. Number one, I think it took pressure off some guys. I think that's where it started for this team," Anthony observed. "When your leader and the guy that everybody looks at as being the anchor of that team, the fact that he's all about winning and competing, that has really gone a long way (toward Kentucky's success). This is a really young basketball team and leadership is going to be vital."
Anthony worked several UK games last season and he says the contrast between the two teams is dramatic.
"It's night and day, from the standpoint of the talent, the enthusiasm. I thought the kids last year gave their all, but that team did not have a wealth of talent. And with coach Calipari coming (to UK), there's just that renewed sense of vigor. I think, chemistry-wise, he was a really good fit for this team and this university. It's come together a lot quicker than I envisioned," he said.
"And when they've had their struggles, what's been impressive is they've found a way to win games. I think the future could get brighter for this team because they still have yet to reach their potential," continued Anthony. "As solid as Demarcus Cousins has been, he's still got a lot of room to improve over the course of this season and if that happens, this team has a legitimate chance to win a national championship this season."
Kind of a slow day as we wait for tonight's men's basketball game vs. Hartford and any news from the Rich Brooks retirement talk. So far, nothing new on the latter.
In the meantime, I thought I would check up on a couple of college basketball ranking systems to see how the Cats have fared to this point. The NCAA Tournament selection committee takes the RPI into consideration when selecting and seeding teams for the Big Dance, although it's not the biggest factor, only a guideline in determining a team's worth.
An undefeated record would surely land the Cats a No. 1 seed if the tournament were to start today, but let's take a look at the rankings anyway.
RealTimeRPI.com 1. Duke 2. Kansas State 3. West Virginia 4. Temple 5. Texas 6. Connecticut 7. William and Mary 8. Virginia Commonwealth 9. Washington 10. Syracuse 11. Kentucky 12. Purdue 13. Kansas 14. Georgetown 15. Villanova
Sagarin 1. Texas 2. Syracuse 3. Duke 4. West Virginia 5. Kansas 6. Kansas State 7 Purdue 8. Kentucky 9. Villanova 10. Temple 11. Mississippi 12. Georgetown 13. BYU 14. Clemson 15. North Carolina
CBSSports.com RPI 1. Duke 2. Kansas State 3. West Virginia 4. Temple 5. Texas 6. Connecticut 7. William & Mary 8. Washington 9. Syracuse 9. Virginia Commonwealth 11. Kentucky 12. Purdue 13. Kansas 14. Villanova 14. Georgetown
No surprises with Kentucky in the top 15 of all three. The alarming matter however is the lack of Southeastern Conference teams in the ratings. Kentucky is the only team in the top 25 of the RealTimeRPI.com rankings and the CBSSports.com RPI rankings. Mississippi checks in at No. 11 in the Sagarin ratings.
A slew of early season losses to mid- and low-major teams around the league has really hit the credibility of the league again, just a year removed from a three-bid NCAA Tournament season. More than three teams will get in this year, but the league has to pick it up in the closing week of non-conference play and into league play.
As of now, Sagarin has the SEC rated the fifth-best conference behind the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East, the Big 12 and the Big Ten, respectively.
Fortunately I didn't miss too much on my trip back to Lexington.
But just in case you missed it, DeMarcus Cousins was named Southeastern Freshman of the Week for his performances against Drexel and Long Beach State. The freshman averaged 16.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the two wins, totaling 33 points and 27 rebounds in only 27 minutes of play.
"He's been fabulous," head coach John Calipari said Monday. "The way he's run the last two days, I told him, 'If you will make that you -- that's who you are -- run like that, you will be the best player in the country.' "
A UK player has won SEC Freshman six of the first seven weeks of the season.
Also, the latest men's basketball polls were released this afternoon, but no movement at the top. The Cats remained No. 3 behind No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Texas. UK picked up one first-place vote in the Associated Press Poll. Full polls are below.
A video of Calipari talking before Monday's practice will be on the blog shortly. And don't forget that the UK women's basketball team has a big game at Middle Tennessee State tonight at 8 in search of a school-record 12-game winning streak.
AP Top 25 1. Kansas (52) 11-0 1,607 2. Texas (11) 11-0 1,556 3. Kentucky (1) 13-0 1,476 4. Purdue 11-0 1,407 5. Syracuse (1) 12-0 1,398 6. West Virginia 10-0 1,309 7. Duke 9-1 1,241 8. Villanova 11-1 1,177 9. North Carolina 9-3 1,033 10. Connecticut 9-2 1,002 11. Michigan State 9-3 910 12. Kansas State 11-1 892 13. Georgetown 9-1 813 14. Tennessee 9-2 664 15. Ohio State 10-2 605 16. Mississippi 10-2 544 17. Washington 9-2 490 18. Temple 9-2 403 19. New Mexico 12-1 352 20. Texas Tech 10-1 334 21. Clemson 11-2 300 22. Florida State 11-2 252 23. Wisconsin 10-2 180 24. UAB 11-1 178 25. Northwestern 10-1 144
The dust has barely settled from the news that Rich Brooks might retire, but it's already time to start looking ahead to the possible effects of Brooks-less program.
If Brooks has indeed coached his last game, what's next?
The important thing for UK is that question was answered nearly two years ago when Joker Phillips, the current head coach of the offense, was named Brooks' successor. Although no timetable was set on Brooks' retirement, it appears that plan could finally be set into motion in the coming week.
"There was a reason we did that," Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said of the possibility of Phillips taking over the program. "For the stability of our program, from the personality and the coach we think we have in Joker Phillips. Rich has got great confidence in him and for that reason and his knowledge of the game and what he believes in football, I have great confidence for Joker. I think that we're in a great spot."
Brooks told reporters after UK's 21-13 loss to Clemson in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl on Sunday that he was "80 percent sure" he was not returning to coach the Wildcats next season. Brooks said he would likely make the decision in the next three to four days.
If Brooks decides to step down, Barnhart said he's optimistic in the direction the program is headed under Phillips, thanks in part to the foundation that both he and Brooks helped build together.
"Clearly he's got players in that locker room that he helped bring to this program as well," Barnhart said. "Joker is an outstanding recruiter. He is from Kentucky. He believes in the heart of this program. He has seen how to run it in a very strong foundational way and to build it from the ground up. He's a discipline guy. The player's respect him, and that's where a lot of it has to start."
Phillips declined Sunday night to speculate what it would be like to take over the reins of the program, but he said the program will continue barreling forward with or without Brooks.
Focus will quickly turn to the recruiting world and the commitments the Cats have already locked up for the 2010 season and further. Phillips doesn't anticipate losing many - if any - commitments because the vision of the program they sold the recruits on will not alter, even if Brooks decides to leave.
"One thing Rich and the whole staff has been is we've been up front with the kids that we recruited and the kids that committed," Phillips said. "He's told him he probably wouldn't be here for the rest of their careers."
There still remains a chance that Brooks could stick around a little bit longer, leaving that 20-percent window to return.
The next few days will be critical as Brooks and UK officials ponder over the future of the football program. Brooks said he will sit down with his family and discuss the next step before making a final decision, which is expected to come in the next week.
Although Phillips has been told the UK job is like nothing you can prepare for, he believes he is ready because of the job Brooks has done.
"Just studying the little things with how he handles crisis, the discipline," Phillips said. "I've been able to study that the last three years, and I think that alone will give me a chance to get a good start being a head coach."
(Programming note: I'm about to hop in the car and head back to Lexington, so today will likely be slow on the blog. There is men's basketball media availability at 4 p.m. ET, but I'm going to be cutting it close by the time I get back, drop off my stuff at home and head into the office. We'll see how it goes.)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rich Brooks walked into a never-ending pit of probation-riddled quicksand seven years ago. Surprisingly, maybe a bit miraculously, he planted pillar after pillar and built a tradition of stability and winning, two terms that had become foreign to the Kentucky football program.
Now that Brooks has decided he might not return next year to coach the UK football team, the foundation he worked so steadily and fiercely to build might be shaken.
The question is, with a rare bowl loss, the departure of an irreplaceable senior class and quite possibly the loss of Brooks, will it be a critical splinter?
UK lost a bowl game Sunday night, but with or without the man that got them there, it can ill-afford to lose more than that.
For the first time in four years, UK must face an offseason mired in disappointment. Brooks had talked Saturday about what a bowl game - both positively and negatively - can do for a team in offseason workouts, practice and recruiting, and now his team will get a firsthand taste of what that downside is like.
How the players handle it will go a long way in determining where this program heads. In the big picture, a bowl loss is hardly the tell-all of a football season or a program. But it was one of celebration and jubilation for the last three years.
Now with a loss, UK will have to discover what it feels like to end another good season on a bit of a down note. Does it remain a seven-win team content with late December bowl games, or does it build off the bitter feeling of disappointing losses to Clemson and Tennessee to end the season?
All that would have been hard enough to forecast as is, and then Brooks dropped the bombshell - albeit a foreshadowed bombshell - that he is "80 percent sure" he will not return next season.
"I've been thinking about (retirement) the last week," Brooks said after UK's 21-13 bow loss to Clemson. "I haven't had enough time because of the game preparation and everything. I think it may be time for a change and time for Joker (Phillips) to take it over. I'm not totally sure, but I just feel like maybe it's time."
That puts a rather encompassing cloud over the state of the program. Not that it's Brooks' fault. He has, after all, as Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said following the game, earned the right to decide when he wants to step down.
But that doesn't make the aftermath of Sunday's bowl game any easier to swallow. Even if Brooks decides to come back and Sunday just turns out to be a loss for the stats sheet, how UK handles a loss in a bowl game and rebounds from a so-so season will be the final telling point of this era of Kentucky football.
Because for all the good feeling about four straight bowl wins, a magnificent achievement, now is when we'll find out whether this program is content with where it is or if it's ready to make a jump forward.
One need not channel their inner wisdom to hear that Brooks isn't content with where UK ended this year, even as his retirement plan is about to kick in. When asked how to characterize the season, Brooks was far from calling it another success.
"A lot of disappointment," Brooks said of the season. "We would have liked to have extended our non-conference winning streak and win four straight bowl games because not a lot of schools have been able to do that. ... It's a disappointing season. We were able to do some good things, but not as much as we wanted to."
So why walk away from it now if there is more to be done? Well, quite honestly, Brooks feels like he's placed the program where it needs to be to take that next step with Joker Phillips at the helm.
Whether it's he or Phillips making trips to New Year's Day bowls in the future, we'll always remember Brooks as the one that ignited it all. If Brooks could do what he did at Kentucky, we should all have faith in him that he knows what he's doing.
"(The program) is a lot better (than it was five years ago)," Brooks said. "We have a full complement of scholarship players, we have much better talent and it's been a program that's gone to four straight bowl games. I would think it's in pretty good shape and I think it can continue to go up whether I'm here or not."
With or without Brooks, it will be the defining moment of the next era in UK football history. With the close of a historic chapter of UK seniors - cornerstones like Corey Peters, Micah Johnson, Trevard Lindley and more - how will the next page be written? Is this the prologue or the epilogue of a wonderful turnaround?
A murky picture as unstable as quicksand has crept around the program again, but it isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, that unstable situation at the beginning of the Brooks regime is what got this program here anyway.
"He gave great foundation and stability to a program that needed it," Barnhart said. "He brought it from a position of the basement. He brought it from that spot and gave it life again."
Great things never stop evolving, and maybe that's what this program now needs - the next step in its evolution. Maybe a bitter pill of disappointment for once and some uncertainty is good. Maybe it reignites Brooks and inspires him to come back. Maybe it's the end of one great thing but the start of something better.
Really, no one knows. But make no mistake about it, the end of this season and quite possibly the Rich Brooks era marks a crossroad. Will it be another opportunity to springboard off of or step back from?
With questions galore, consider a bowl game another defining moment in UK football history.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One of the most successful coaching runs in UK football history may have come to a close.
Seven years since taking a probation-riddled program and transforming it into four straight bowl appearances, Kentucky football head coach Rich Brooks might be on his way out.
Following the Cats' 21-13 loss to Clemson in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, UK's first bowl loss in Brooks' tenure, Brooks told his team that there was an "80 percent" chance that he would not return as UK's football coach next season.
Brooks said he'll sit down with his family and decide his future over the next three to four days.
"I've been thinking about it the last week," Brooks said. "I haven't had enough time because of the game preparation and everything. I think it may be time for a change and time for Joker (Phillips) to take it over.
"I'm not totally sure, but I just feel like maybe it's time."
If it is indeed time, it will end arguably one of the best coaching jobs of the decade and best turnaround in program history.
Brooks, who has a 130-156-4 overall record in 25 years of coaching, including a 39-47 mark in seven seasons at UK, took over the Wildcat program when it was bruised and battered from the effects of a severe NCAA probation.
The hard-nosed coach not only turned it around - he took it to new heights, guiding the program to four straight bowl appearances, a school first.
"Five years ago he sold us on a dream in coming in here and working hard and turning this program around," senior offensive tackle Zipp Duncan said. "(If he leaves) we want to thank him for the opportunity."
Should it be his last game, Brooks, despite a bowl loss, would walk away with his head held high.
"This is a grinding business," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. "It's very hard. It's hard for everybody. I respect him so much. He took this job when no one really wanted to take it on. He's done a lot for (Uk). To that end, he deserves the opportunity to do what he wants to do. ...
"He's a great guy. He does a lot for young people. He turned this program (around) the right way. He's done a lot for the good of the game and the foundation of Kentucky football."
Rumors were rampant leading up to the bowl game that Brooks would make a decision on his future soon after the game. While that future still remains in the balance, the players were hit hardest after the game when they learned their leader may have coached his last game.
"I've learned a lot from coach Brooks," said sophomore Randall Cobb, who said he had a feeling that news of Brooks' retirement might be eminent. "He's taught me so much in becoming more than just a football player but a man. Those are the kind of traits I want to get from a man of his status. It's going to be hard to see him leave if he does, but I'll be glad to have him back."
For some, it marked a bitter end of some historic careers.
"It just kind of made the loss that much tougher to swallow," senior defensive tackle Corey Peters said. "It's one thing for me to go out on this note with this senior class. A lot of the guys are going to get other opportunities to do other things and kind of have a chance to rebound, but finding out this is possibly the last game for him, it makes it hurt that much worse."
Should it be the end - and remember, Brooks didn't completely rule out a return - it would mark the start of the Joker Phillips era, who was named the head coach in waiting in January 2008.
Phillips declined to think about his head coaching future following the game. Sunday was about the loss of a bowl game and quite possibly the loss of one of the program's all-time greats.
"Inside I'm hurting from the loss," Phillips said.
If the 80 percent chance turns true, Kentucky fan or not, won't we all.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney called the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl one of the best matchups of the bowl season. One could find a number of reasons as to why that's the case, but maybe no reason rings more true than the matchup of two of the nation's most dynamic players, Randall Cobb and C.J. Spiller.
When Kentucky meets Clemson on Sunday at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., at 8:30 p.m. ET for the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, one would be hard-pressed to find a more intriguing matchup of playmakers than the head-to-head battle of Cobb and Spiller.
Although the two likely won't be on the field at the same time, chances are they will have the greatest impact for their respective teams. How they factor into Sunday's game could be the difference in winning and losing.
And maybe no player has made a bigger difference in Kentucky's winning the past two season's than Cobb, a sophomore do-it-all.
"The thing that jumps out to me is he's a winner," Swinney said. "He's a competitive kid. You see teams from time to time throughout the course of the season and I've see Kentucky on a couple of occasions, and he's just a guy that every time I've seen him play just jumps out at you. He's got a great will to win. He's a very tough, tough football player. A lot like C.J., he impacts the game in a lot of ways."
Despite a bit of a snub from the All-Southeastern Conference Coaches Team - one likely incurred by the lack of an all-purpose position on the team - it would be hard to find a more valuable player to his school in the league than Cobb.
The sophomore from Alcoa, Tenn., has dabbled in a little bit of everything in UK's offense the past two seasons. After splitting time as a quarterback and wide receiver in 2008, Cobb has turned into one of the nation's most electric all-purpose players in his second season.
Cobb is third in the SEC with 1,619 all-purpose yards thanks to an evolving pass catching game (427 yards and four touchdowns), an explosive return game (655 kick and punt return yards and one score) and an unstoppable run game (537 yards and 10 touchdowns) from the Wildcat package.
But even those numbers pale in comparison to Spiller, who has become the college poster child for all-purpose yardage.
Spiller, who at one point was being talked about as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate, has amassed 7,416 all-purpose yards in his career at Clemson, third all-time in Football Bowl Subdivision history.
The senior tailback, who scored a touchdown in all 13 games this season, became the face of a Clemson team that, despite losing the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, was one of the surprise stories of the year.
"Spiller is faster than Cobb, I believe," UK head coach Rich Brooks said. "The guy is a threat every time he touches the ball. It's one of those deals where you just kind of hold your breath every time he does touch it and hope you (do not) give up big plays."
Asked what separates Spiller from maybe even the nation's elite players like Cobb, Brooks said it's his rare combination of eluding tacklers along with his home-run speed.
"He can make you miss and sometimes when you think you've got him, all of a sudden that burst of speed will separate him from the tackler," Brooks said. "He's got the moves and he can run through and break tackles as well."
In a long and documented list of noteworthy accomplishments, it's difficult to decide what's more impressive of the two: the fact that Spiller was named the ACC Championship Player of the Game in a losing effort - an extremely rare feat - or his seven career kick returns for a touchdown, the current FBS record.
If there is one thing that neither Cobb nor Spiller has on their résumés, it's a bowl victory. Spiller is 0-3 in his career in postseason play and Cobb did not play in last year's AutoZone Liberty Bowl because of an injury.
The lack of a bowl victory does not taint Spiller's legacy as one of the all-time college greats, Swinney said.
"C.J. has given everything he's had in every single ball game to help his team win," Swinney said. "He's missed one game in his entire career at Clemson. Not many championship games do you ever watch and the MVP is from the losing team. I don't remember that happening, but that doesn't happen very often. ... C.J.'s legacy is well intact regardless of what happens tomorrow night."
The first-year Clemson head coach is right in one aspect: Win or lose, Spiller will go down as one of the best all-purpose players to ever play the game. If Cobb's production continues on its current course, so will his.
"One guy can't win a game," Swinney said.
But it's hard to argue that two players will play a bigger hand in a bowl game than Cobb and Spiller.
There was no wireless connection in the media room at LP Field and unfortunately our wireless cards weren't working, so the live blog didn't pan out as planned. Nonetheless, we'll still have coverage from this afternoon's news conference.
Although there wasn't anything major in terms of news from the coaches' news conference, I'll quickly run some of the highlights. We'll have video of the news conference later as well as a couple of posts over the next few days. I'll periodically update the notes as I go through the 30-plus minutes of coverage. Bear with me. ...
- Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney compared Randall Cobb to his Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, C.J. Spiller. "They use him kind of like we do (with Spiller). He throws touchdowns, he rushes touchdown, he returns touchdowns - he does a little bit of everything."
- Swinney believes it's one of the better bowl matchups of the bowl season and said he likes the fact that it's the only bowl game on the schedule on Sunday.
- Both coaches downplayed the rematch from the 2006 Music City Bowl. As Swinney said, it's different coach, different players and different personnel. Swinney believes Kentucky is a better football team than the 2006 team. UK head coach Rich Brooks said the same thing about Clemson as well. In terms of his own team, Brooks said he has a different football team. Said they have had to become more "multi-faceted" on offense since the loss of starting quarterback Mike Hartline.
- Although it's the third appearance in Nashville, Tenn., in four years and the Cats had to spend Christmas away from home, Brooks said he's been pleased with the focus and spirit of his team. Brooks said they had to deal with multiple bouts of illness over the last week, missing two or three players just about every day.
- Hartline does not have any swelling in his knee and is "back to where we feel confident that he can go in the game physically and play," Brooks said. He'll likely see some minutes on Sunday.
- Neither coach sounded concerned about the anticipated chilly temperatures, although Brooks (with his usually classic one-liners) said he was concerned about the wind. "I just hope that every time we punt, kick or pass the wind is at our back," Brooks said. More than anything, both coaches emphasized holding on to the ball in a cold-weather game. Brooks said they have done well in games where they haven't turned it over and haven't fared as well in games where they have turned it over. There is a concern with the weather, Brooks said, with the team having a month off. He said you never know how they're going to respond.
- Both coaches talked in length about their stars (Randall Cobb for UK and Spiller for Clemson). They were both asked to compare the two, but I'm going to save that and go into more detail for a post later this evening.
- For all the talk about Brooks' potential retirement, he sure doesn't sound like a man ready to hang it up after this season. When Brooks was asked where going to four straight bowl games ranked on his list of accomplishments, the seventh-year UK coach sounded like he wasn't satisfied yet with the job he's done. "I don't feel like we've accomplished as much as I would like to as far as winning more football games," Brooks said. "But to establish consistency in a program, in my mind, you have to be in postseason play on a regular basis and then maybe take that shot at the top rung of the ladder on occasion. It's pleasing, but right now I'm trying to figure out how win another football game and it's not going to be easy."
- Brooks was asked what other Clemson players jumped out to him other than Spiller. He quickly pointed to the defensive side of the ball. Brooks sounded very worried about the pass rush of the front seven and said the secondary covers as well as any team in the nation. "They're very good tacklers," Brooks said. "A lot of people you see look impressive and athletically but they miss a lot of tackles. Clemson does not. They tackle very well."
- But to win eight games, you have to have an impressive offense and more than just one guy (Spiller) to lead the show. Brooks pointed to the Tigers' freshman quarterback, Kyle Parker, as a catalyst behind their success. "I'm extremely impressed with their young quarterback," Brooks said. "He's not only a guy that can beat you with his feet and pull it down and run it, but he also buys time, has a vision down the field and finds open receivers and he's got a quick release. Hard guy to get pressure on and sack because he gets rid of the ball so quickly." Brooks also mentioned that this is probably the "two best combination tight ends" UK has played all season long.
- When asked what a bowl win would do for his team heading into the offseason, Brooks needed only to look back to the previous three seasons as a source of wisdom. "I can promise you the last three offseasons have been a lot more pleasurable than the first three were," Brooks said. "Anytime you're able to get to a bowl game and win it, I think it's a lot more positive impact on your fan base, on your players, on your recruiting and it's been very, very helpful giving us more enthusiasm heading into the offseason program with the returning players."
- A win would also signify four straight bowl wins for a group of seniors, a feat that no other senior class in UK annals has ever accomplished. "This would be a very special thing for a group of seniors who when they came to Kentucky, it was not a very popular thing and a lot of them were maybe criticized for why you would want to go there," Brooks said. "I think this would be the final validation that they could leave with not only four bowl games, but if we were able to win it with four bowl wins."
- True freshman quarterback Morgan Newton has impressed in practice over the last few weeks, but Brooks would like that to translate to the game. Brooks doesn't believe his last game - a heartbreaking loss to Tennessee - was very good, calling it maybe his worst game of the year. He's anxious to see how he responds from that game.
- Brooks praised the Clemson defense, comparing it favorably to several teams in the Southeastern Conference because of talent, speed and size.
- When the teams faced off a couple of years ago, the turf at LP Field was plagued with divots and loose sod. That's the not the case this year, according to both coaches. Swinney called this year's field "Augusta National."
- When UK travels to Atlanta for the SEC men's basketball tournament, fans like to call the city "Cat-lanta." After the historic turnouts of the 2006 and 2007 Music City Bowl games - the top two Music City Bowl attendance records occurred during UK's bowl appearance - and UK's strong showing in Vanderbilt stadium, should we start calling the Music City "Cats-ville." It doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "Cat-lanta," but Brooks was quick to point out how well UK fans have traveled to Nashville. "Our fans have been great traveling," Brooks said. "The experience in 2006 against Clemson was a real eye opener for our team and me to see how the fans followed us to that first bowl game and the response they had during that game. It was just overwhelming. I'm just very, very pleased that they're close proximity again and can come to a great bowl and not have to travel too far."
- Swinney was asked about what impresses him about the Kentucky defense and he said that the Cats are really good inside, especially at the tackle position. When he looks at film of UK, he sees a defense similar to that of Wake Forest and Florida State in the way the Cats pursue the football. He said they don't get out of position very often and create timing issues. Swinney said injured linebacker Sam Maxwell was as good of a player as they likely would have seen all year (Maxwell will miss the bowl game with a shoulder injury), but said linebacker Micah Johnson and defensive tackle Corey Peters are equally as impressive. "(Peters) is a guy that looks like will be playing on Sundays here in the near future," Swinney said. "A really, really good football player."
Greetings from the beautiful Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. I just arrived at the hotel, a little more than 31 hours until Sunday's Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl kickoff between the Kentucky Wildcats and Clemson Tigers.
Cam and I have been granted the fortunate privilege to blog Sunday's game from LP Field, so I'll be bringing you all the latest news and action from Sunday's bowl game, UK's fourth consecutive bowl appearance and third in Nashville in the last four years.
To be honest, not quite sure what to expect over the next two days. I'll be headed over to LP Field soon for the official bowl news conference at 2 p.m. CT. Barring any unforseen problems with the Internet connection over there, we should have a live blog from Rich Brooks' portion of the news conference.
As expected, there is a sea of blue in Nashville. Most fans are expected to stay downtown closer to the field, but the lobby at the Opryland Hotel was flooded with UK fans. The bell hop that lead me to my room said there are a lot of Clemson fans at the hotel but called them "rude." His words, not mine.
The team is staying at the same hotel as us, but there will probably be little interaction with them from this point forward since we're just a day away from game time. The team has been practicing down here since Wednesday and reportedly went to the Tennessee Titans game Friday night as kind of a Christmas present.
The actual hotel is nothing short of amazing. Beautiful in every sense of the word. The best way to describe the mammoth atrium and conservatory is an indoor jungle with a hint of New Orleans mixed into it. I don't get blown away by sights very easily, but this place has certainly captured my attention.
My one warning if you ever stay here is don't go alone -- anywhere. This place is colossal. The desk assistance had to draw me a map just to show me where my room was.
Anyway, I need to put the rest of my stuff away before the news conference at 2 (3 p.m. ET). We'll have more on the live blog once we get over there.
UK alum Tom Leach has
been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12
years and 9 year's for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky
Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective
into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April.
Read Tom's full biography
Brought to you by:
= = =
Special teams could play a key role in the outcome of the Music City Bowl
matchup between Kentucky and Clemson.
C.J. Spiller is arguably the most dangerous returner in the country, having
already returned four kickoffs for touchdowns this season. And with eight kickoff
or punt return TDs, Spiller is one away from a setting a national record. Kentucky
All-American Derek Abney is one of the players with whom Spiller is currently
UK special teams coordinator Steve Ortmayer has great respect for Spiller,
but he also trusts his kickoff coverage team and kicker Craig McIntosh.
So don't look for the Wildcats to do what several teams did to try and contain
Spiller, which is to squib the kick. That's part of the reason Clemson's average
starting position for its drives this season was the 38-yard line.
"We're just not willing to give up that 20 yards of field position that
other teams have," said Ortmayer, adding that UK will at least start off
by kicking the ball down the field as it has all season.
"We've done that with everybody we've played against. We feel like if
we've got our normal set of guys, we've got enough speed on that team that
we can challenge them," he continued. "He's a speed guy who likes
to do this, so he can create some things for himself and then his ability takes
over. When he played him when he was a freshman but he didn't scare you like
he does now."
Ortmayer also has confidence in McIntosh, despite the cold weather that is
forecast for Nashville.
"That kid has come along over the course of the last six weeks, to become
a quality kicker. It remains to be seen if he can play in the kind of weather
we'll get here," Ortmayer said. "If affects kickoffs tremendously.
There's no air in the ball. It's just a cold, hard rock. It won't hang in the
air like we need it to and it won't go as far--so we'll need to adjust to those
"We're challenge our guys," he added, "to make sure this is
not the 'C.J. Spiller show'."
= = =
ESPN's Jay Bilas knew the Kentucky basketball team was loaded with talent
but because of the great lack of experience, he has questions about whether
the Wildcats can go as deep into the NCAA Tournament as the Final Four. But
after watching the Cats beat North Carolina earlier this month, he started
to revise that opinion.
"I think he (Calipari) is striking the right balance of giving them the
freedom to make mistakes but holding them accountable," Bilas said. "Some
of these things you learn, you learn through experience. When it comes down
to the end of the year, are they going to be vulnerable to getting beat by
an older team? Yeah, they are--but you knew that going in. But I think Kentucky
is going to be better than I thought. They've got a lot of talent and they
play really hard. That's one thing that may trump some of the experience issues.
And it looks like they're attentive to what the coaching staff wants. They're
so certainly not afraid (of big games) and that's a plus. These kids play high-level
basketball every summer. I think, generally, an 18-year old kid is better than
they were 20 years ago."
And obviously, Bilas is quite impressed with John Wall.
"His explosiveness is off the charts," he told tomleachky.com. "I
just haven't seen a guard that young that is, frankly, that good."
Just wanted to take this time to wish everyone happy holidays.
No matter what holiday you celebrate or how you choose to celebrate it, please take some time away from the Internet and away from UK Athletics and spend it with your family and friends. We'll be here when you get back.
I will actually be taking some time off for Christmas Eve and Christmas as well to spend it with my family in Louisville, Ky. I will return Saturday from Nashville, Tenn., for coverage of the Kentucky football team as it gets set to play Clemson in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. The news conference on Saturday is scheduled for 2 p.m. CT, so I should have some posts after that.
Until then, happy holidays, from everyone at UK Athletics.
DeMarcus Cousins can be the poison and the cure, the fire and the extinguisher.
When Cousins is clicking, Kentucky generally rolls. When he's frustrated and riddled in foul trouble, which generally lands him on the bench, UK sputters to an alarming halt.
The two sides - good and bad - of Cousins were on full display Wednesday afternoon in Kentucky's 86-73 win over Long Beach State in Rupp Arena.
In the first half when Cousins picked up a silly personal foul for mauling a player and an ensuing technical for a retaliating shove to Larry Anderson, one had to wonder what was going through his head. In the second half when he went for 13 points and nine rebounds and basically dragged UK past Long Beach State for good, one had to wonder why Cousins is ever on the bench.
Cousins, who was unavailable for comment after Wednesday's game because of travel plans, finished the game with 15 points and 10 rebounds, his sixth double-double of the year. He did it all in a season-low 13 minutes.
"He's growing up. He's getting better," head coach John Calipari said. "He knows, but he's never been held to a standard, which he is now. You've just got to hold him to that standard. This reaction is going to get this reaction from me - every single time. Every once in a while you're out, and we'll win without you.
"He was the best player on the floor."
The best player after a freshman mistake in the first half when he was forced to the bench with two instant fouls. Cousins let his emotions get the best of him after Anderson shoved him, so he decided to retaliate.
"The kid did hit him," Calipari said. "Just walk away. You hit him and now you're out the rest of the second half, but what do you do to your team? He wanted to argue the point and I'm not buying it. It was a great lesson for him because he went back in the second half and he was tremendous."
The first-half exit, second-half eruption has been a rather steady trend during UK's 13-0 start.
Ten times this season Cousins has headed to the bench in the first half with two or more fouls. As a result, he's averaged just 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds before halftime. When he gets on the court and stays in the game in the second half, he's averaging a robust 9.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
Imagine if he could stay out of foul trouble. Well, no need to. If Cousins were to play 40 minutes a game, his average at his current pace would be 31.9 points and 18.8 rebounds per game.
Calipari said he's entertained the notion of bringing Cousins off the bench because he gets too juiced up for games. During his transition from high school and AAU ball, Cousins hasn't learned how to prepare himself during a 40-minute college basketball pregame, Calipari said.
He gets too emotional, but when it comes down to it, Calipari said he's still one of the best five players he has, therefore he needs to start.
"This is his first year of college basketball," senior guard Ramon Harris said. "He's probably been waiting for this all his life. Now the opportunity is here, he's going to try to make the best of it."
But Cousins' emotions are the key to his game. He is a living, breathing catch-22.
When he lets his emotions get too fired up, he generally picks up fouls and heads to the bench. When he settles in and contains them, he rivals John Wall for the most dominant player on the court. The players and the crowd feed off him, as was the case Wednesday afternoon.
During one sequence in the second half, Cousins, with one player pulling his right arm and another draped over his left shoulder, grabbed an offensive board, collected himself and went back up for a shot, drawing a foul in the process.
Just second later, he and junior forward Patrick Patterson played hot potato on the offensive glass, tipping the ball back and forth some 2,347 times. UK didn't score on that possession, but it was a supreme effort that fired up the crowd and the Cats.
It was no coincidence UK finally pulled away at that point.
"My thing to him is he has to learn from Muhammad Ali," Calipari said. "If you want to talk, you better back it up. Don't expect your teammates to back it up; you back it up. If you want to back it up, you're going to train better than anybody else trains so you're ready to back it up."
Cousins' emotions are no different on or off the court. It's the same fuel that has ignited the legend of "Big Cuz" and "Boogie," names affectionately thrown Cousins' way for his immature, good-hearted humor.
"He's a fun-loving (guy)," Calipari said. "I love the kid. He just has a lot of growing up to do, but I've coached a lot of kids like him. At the end of the day when he leaves us, if I need a kidney I can get one from him. That's what it'll be like. There's some grinding of the teeth, some anxious times, he's mad, I'm mad, but at the end of the day, when those guys look back, a guy like him will say, 'I needed this in the worst way.' "
Sometimes he acts like a 12-year-old kid. Other times he looks like a 12-year NBA veteran.
"He just brings toughness," Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson said. "I think, as a coach, the two hardest things to go out and recruit are an inside presence and a point guard. Mission accomplished at Kentucky. They've got those two things down pat as good as anybody in the country. That's what they're going to keep getting better and be there at the end of the year."
It's pretty evident that Calipari won't have to worry about John Wall. He's in for the long haul.
But if Calipari can contain the fire in Cousins' head and heart and keep his emotions in check, he may have found the perfect spark for this magical run.
Victoria Dunlap nearly dunked herself into history. Yes, dunked.
Late in the second half of UK's 87-47 rout of UT Martin on Tuesday night, Dunlap tried to do what only five women's college players and three WNBA players (according to various reports) have ever done before. With the game already well in hand, Dunlap tried to throw down a slam dunk, which had it gone in, would have been the first dunk in UK Hoops history.
The third-year forward picked off a pass just past half court and raced the length of the floor for what looked like a layup attempt. Dunlap said she started thinking about going for the dunk when she intercepted the pass, but it wasn't until the last two steps before she tried to do her best Candace Parker impression.
"As I was dribbling I was like, 'let's just go ahead and go," Dunlap said. "So then I took my last two steps and I was like 'just do it.' "
And boy did she nearly do it. Dunlap had enough height on the attempt - video replays showed she had the ball a couple of inches over the front rim - but the dunk attempt bounced off the back of the rim.
"I think I might have grabbed the rim a little too much to bring it down," Dunlap said.
The forward from Nashville, Tenn., said she attempted a similar throwdown in high school, but never had she done it on such a big stage. Although she missed it, the 5,859 fans in attendance rose to their feet and gave Dunlap a standing ovation.
"It's the most talked about missed shot in women's basketball history at Kentucky," said head coach Matthew Mitchell, who was visibly surprised at the dunk attempt on the sidelines. "She did miss the shot."
In typical Matthew Mitchell fashion, he took a playful jab at his star forward for missing the attempt.
"I just have not been working much with her on dunking," Mitchell said. "I'm the only person yet in the program that can dunk. ... Clearly we have to up our individual instruction program to work on dunking the basketball."
In all seriousness, Mitchell was perfectly fine with the dunk attempt, calling it an "electrifying play."
With the urging of her teammates, who before the season said she could dunk the ball and had done so with a volleyball, it likely won't be her last try.
"We'll have to make sure we know time and score and the situation of the game," Mitchell said, "but that was a good time to try one."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes.
These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Dec. 20:
Men's Basketball: DeMarcus Cousins
Scored 19 points and pulled down eight rebounds in just 22 minutes in helping
Kentucky to a 90-69 win over Austin Peay ... Finished 5-5 from the free throw
line and has hit nine of his last 10 from the charity stripe ... Scored 10 points
and pulled down four rebounds in the second half ... Is averaging 8.7 pionts
and 5.6 rebounds in the second half this season ... Scored in double-digits in
three straight games ... Averaging 14.3 points and 8.7 rebounds over the last
Women's Basketball: Victoria Dunlap
Junior forward Victoria Dunlap scored a game-high 27 points to go with
a team-high nine rebounds and a career-high eight steals in leading Kentucky
to a 101-67 victory over in-state rival Louisville. The victory gave UK a
school-record 10 consecutive wins to start a season.
Hit a season-high tying 10 field goals.
Her 21 field-goal attempts were a career high.
Swatted a game-high four blocks in the win which tied a career high.
Has now scored 20 or more points in four games this season and has reached
double figures in points in every game she has played (nine).
The league's leader in steals has recorded at least one steal in 15 consecutive
games, including swiping three or more steals in each of her last five games.
Men's Basketball: Patrick Patterson
Led the Wildcats in scoring with 21 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds
in UK's 90-69 win over Austin Peay ... Finished 5-5 from the free throw line ... Missed
double-double by one rebound ... Scored in double-digits in the first half for
the fifth time this season ... Has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds over the
last two games
Head coach John Calipari posted on his Twitter account Sunday that he told DeMarcus Cousins that if he doesn't play harder that UK women's basketball forward Victoria Dunlap would beat him out for his position.
He may not have been kidding.
As magical as the men's season has been so far, the women have been equally as impressive. If you haven't jumped on the women's bandwagon yet, here are a few reasons why you should:
- Kentucky is off to the best start in school history at 10-0. One more victory and the Cats will tie the program's longest win streak of 11 games set in 1983.
- UK is knocking on the door of the top 25. The Cats are receiving 36 votes in the ESPN/USA Today Poll, landing them at No. 27 in the rankings.
- The Cats lead the nation in turnover margin (plus-11.1) having forced 20 or turnovers in eight of 10 games this season, including seven in a row.
- UK is outscoring its opponent by a plus-28.2 margin, which ranks second nationally, and has defeated all 10 opponents by double digits, including four opponents by 30 or more.
- Coupled with the men's undefeated start, UK is one of only two schools in the nation -- Syracuse being the other -- to have both an undefeated men's and women's teams.
- As usual, we'll be live blogging the UK women's basketball game tonight as the Cats take on UT Martin. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
DeAndre Liggins wasn't doing something right. That much was clear.
The second-year guard, once hailed as the future point guard of the Kentucky basketball program, rode the pine for the first eight games and didn't even make the trip to New York City to face Connecticut. Neither John Calipari, Liggins nor UK officials will say why Liggins didn't play the first part of the season, but it was crystal clear that Liggins wasn't holding up part of his end of the bargain.
"You put contracts together for kids that this is what you're going to have to do before playing and then they have to do it and you live by it," Calipari said. "If it takes them longer than it was supposed to then it's too bad. These kids have got to be responsible; they've got to be held accountable."
Whatever Liggins did or didn't do, he has apparently taken responsibility for it.
After a mysterious absence from the UK lineup, Liggins made a last-minute appearance in the Indiana game and has seen steady playing time in the last two games. Against Drexel on Monday, Liggins played 11 minutes, scoring six points on 2-of-2 shooting from behind the 3-point arc.
"The biggest thing is you watch him go into the game, he's going to be an effective player for us and he's accepting his role," Calipari said. "Instead of show time, turnover, missed shot, air ball, it's going to be, 'I'm going to be that stopper. I'm going to be that defensive guy that goes in and absolutely takes them out of what they want do because of how I play perimeter people. If they've got a guy scoring, I'm going to guard him.' "
Liggins has always had the physical tools to land at Kentucky. As Calipari explained, he's athletic, he's tough and he's strong, not to mention he has an above average wingspan for an already lengthy 6-foot-6 guard.
To get on the court, Liggins had to embrace the role of a defense stopper, a la Ramon Harris.
"I defended, guarded the ball very well, knocked down a couple of open shots," Liggins said of his performance Monday night. "That's what (Calipari) wants me to do, is (if) I've got a couple of open shots, take them (and) just pick up the energy and try to be a leader defensively."
Liggins declined to address why he has struggled to find playing time early on, but he said he's learned a lot from watching his teammates play.
"I had a great chance to focus on my academics and got to see how things were, how the team was playing, just learning different things why you aren't playing," Liggins said.
Liggins, as bright and as respectful as he can be at times, has always been quiet and reserved, almost to a point where one would expect him to distance himself from the team and sulk during a tough time. To his credit, though, that never happened.
According to Liggins' teammates, he held his head high and continued to work.
"He's done well," Calipari said. "Obviously he didn't have a choice because if he didn't handle it well he wouldn't have played."
"It was hard," Liggins said. "I just put everything in God's hands and tried to be positive every day and come to practice and work hard. Things will take care of itself."
With everything that's gone on during Liggins' career at UK - his on-again, off-again relationship with the former coach, the rumors of a transfer, his uncertainty with the team when Calipari took over, etc. - it would have been easy for him to cave in.
However, this isn't the same Liggins that found himself on the bench at the beginning of the year.
"It's just growing up," Liggins said. "Last year I probably wouldn't have (done) that. It's just growing up and being more mature."
Update: Wanted to repost and remind everyone that the FOX Sports South special "In My Own Words: John Calipari" will be airing Tuesday at 9 p.m. I had the privilege of watching the the 60-minute show Monday, and I can 100 percent tell you that you won't want to miss it. By far the most in-depth television interview Calipari has done to date. You'll hear some stuff you have never heard before.
FOX Sports South will be debuting "In My Own Words: John Calipari," a 60-minute interview special spotlighting the UK men's basketball coach, one of the all-time winningest coaches in NCAA basketball history, early next week.
The show will debut on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on FOX Sport South with additional airings on Wednesday at 3 p.m., Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. and Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. (southern Alabama, Georgia , North Carolina and South Carolina) and 11 p.m. (Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and northern Alabama).
The show will profile the story of how Calipari got to Kentucky and what he sees for the future, in his own words. Calipari discusses his upbringing in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia and how he got into coaching. Calipari explains his love of coaching and the family aspect he has tried to incorporate everywhere he's coached, especially at Kentucky, as well as the legacy he'd like to leave, not only at Kentucky but on the game of basketball.
The UK football team has wrapped up practice in Lexington and will now head to its home away from home for its third appearance in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl.
The team is traveling to Nashville, Tenn., today and will resume practice on Wednesday.
The Cats are in a bit of a unique situation in that their game is two days after Christmas. In order to stay focused for the game, the Cats will remain in Nashville and celebrate the holiday as a team.
UK is scheduled to practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with a news conference scheduled with Rich Brooks and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney planned for 3 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Cam and I will be live blogging the game Sunday live from LP Field. We're scheduled to leave early Saturday morning, so expect a blog post or two from Nashville after the news conference on Saturday.
Some of the confetti likely still lies on the floor at Rupp Arena. The streamers might have finally made it into the dumpster.
But the party is already over. Two-thousand wins is in the books. It's time for the players to move forward.
That was the message head coach John Calipari will deliver to his players Tuesday afternoon at practice, less than 24 hours after celebrating UK2K, Kentucky's historic 2,000th victory. The Cats will have little time to recover from Monday's hangover as they prepare for Long Beach State, a team Calipari has mentioned several times this season as potential upset.
The game will be UK's third in five days against a team that defeated UCLA earlier in the year, not to mention it's a unique 1 p.m. tipoff.
"The good news is they have a short turnaround too. (Long Beach State) played last night and they had to travel," Calipari said. "We'll have no excuse. We didn't play guys 40 minutes and it wasn't an overtime game. Hopefully they got their rest last night. If they didn't, it will show. It'll be another lesson to be learned."
Rest? Who needs rest when you're the first program to 2,000 wins?
Some of the players looked noticeably sluggish when they entered the Joe Craft Center for practice Tuesday. Patrick Patterson, who took the microphone Monday night and thanked the fans for all their support, said he hasn't even had a chance to see the highlights from last night.
"I just woke up," Patterson said. "I haven't turned on the television yet."
Patterson said a big group of them stayed up after the game until 4 a.m. to celebrate and "just have fun." DeMarcus Cousins, a bit sheepishly, smiled and said "no comment" when asked how late they were up last night.
Calipari only warned that they "better not have been" up that late.
"We're trying to teach them what fun means," Calipari said. "They're having fun and what we're talking about is two different things."
Calipari took part in the on-court celebration Monday night with former coach Joe B. Hall, Adolph Rupp's son, Herky, and Bill Keightley's wife, Hazel, and daughter, Karen Marlowe.
"I was happy that (Hall and Rupp) and Hazel and Karen got to share in that celebration because (when you think about 2,000 wins), you think about Mr. Keightley all those years, coach Rupp all those years, coach Hall all those years," Calipari said. "I'm really happy that coach Hall gets to see how much he's appreciated in this town. They were chanting his name."
The first-year coach was also pleased to have his team be a part of the history, albeit a minute fraction of the 2,000 wins.
"You want those guys to know what it feels like to accomplish and do it together and that hard work is paying off. I didn't mind it. Now that's behind us and now we move on to the grind of getting to that part of the season."
Now that 2,000 is behind them, talk of an undefeated season has resurfaced.
"We are really serious about it," Cousins said. "That's another goal we're trying to reach. That's another part of history we're trying to make."
Although it's only December and no team has gone undefeated and win the national championship since the 1975-76 Indiana team, Calipari doesn't mind the undefeated talk. In fact, he welcomes it.
"I'm fine with that," Calipari said. "I have no problem. One of the greatest athletes of our time was Muhammad Ali and he would talk and say stuff and then he'd back it up. He'd get into that ring and knock somebody out."
"I also want them to be humbled when they're having success, but dream big dreams." Calipari said. "I've been told that my whole life."
UK alum Tom Leach has
been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12
years and 9 year's for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky
Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective
into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April.
Read Tom's full biography
Brought to you by:
= = =
It's a rematch of the 2006 Music City Bowl for Kentucky in the Wildcats' bid
for a school-record fourth consecutive postseason win. For a preview of their
opponent, Clemson, we caught up with the radio play-by-play voice of the Tigers--Pete
Was it a surprise that Clemson won eight games this season?
"I'd say it was a surprise from the standpoint of a 2-3 start. But going
into the year, a lot of folks thought this might be a darkhorse team--with
C.J. Spiller coming back--the big question mark being how would the quarterback
What happened in the 34-17 loss at South Carolina in the regular season
"A couple of things. For one, South Carolina played a very good game
and they had their best day running the football against a major opponent.
Once they got a lead, they could kinda control things. At the same time, it
was a Clemson team that had just come off winning the ACC Atlantic (Division)
title the week before and for the first time ever, had to get ready for the
ACC title game. Everyone said it was an important game, an in-state rival,
but you wonder if that played (a role). We'll never know. And Clemson had some
critical turnovers in that South Carolina game and that was atypical of the
What can you tell us about the freshman quarterback, Parker?
"He's got a real gunslinger of an arm and he has no guilt whatsoever.
He will throw it between the hands of two defenders if he thinks he can get
it to his receiver. He's a very confident player. The fact that he had played
college baseball for two years probably helped him a little bit to make the
He's actually a little bit better getting out of the pocket when he has to
than it appears. And on top of all that, he only threw about 10 interceptions.
He's a pretty smart guy, so not only does he trust his arm, he knows when to
trust his arm."
Defensively, what did the Tigers do best?
"This was a team that had a new coordinator in Kevin Steele, who came
in from Alabama. They were outstanding in terms of forcing turnovers, especially
interceptions. The secondary is probably as deep as any in the country. The
front and the back of the defense were very deep areas. The linebackers had
some issues in terms of depth. Defensive ends (Sapp and Bowers) are really
good. Weakness? Stopping the run, at times--especially when it was a play designed
for the opposing quarterback to run."
Did Clemson see much of the Wildcat formation?
"Didn't see much of it. Virginia tried it with some success but Clemson
adjusted to it pretty well. South Carolina used it for one series but it was
a series that did lead to a touchdown."
What about Clemson's mindset after missing out on the Orange Bowl?
"From a player standpoint, I think they're doing their best. This time,
the emotional hurdle to get over is if you stop Georgia Tech one more time,
you're playing in the Orange Bowl. I think there's a better focus because this
team doesn't want to end on a three-game losing streak. With Dabo Swinney now
the head coach, he's very much an in-your-face kinda guy and he's going to
harp on the fact that you've got to be ready to play."
What makes C.J. Spiller special?
"He's one of the few athletes I've ever seen that can put a head fake
on laterally and still make it appear that he's moving north-south. He's got
an amazing ability to make guys miss. If you're one-on-one with him, chances
are, you're going to lose and if he gets a step on you, you're not going to
catch him. You just can't catch the guy."
Two-thousand wins. An achievement no other school - not Kansas, not North Carolina, not UCLA - has ever achieved.
For the first time in college basketball, a school has reached the 2,000 mark. Kentucky, as the rightful owner of the winningest record in college basketball, is the first to reach the hallowed mark.
The journey spanned 11 decades, seven national titles and the most storied index of legends any program has ever amassed. Every decade, year, player and team had its own story and its own legacy.
That's what makes 2,000 wins so special. No matter what win we choose to talk about - the school's first championship, Jack Givens' 41 points in the 1978 championship game, the LSU comeback in 1994, the national title game in 1996 - they all equal the same and make up 2,000. Without each one, Kentucky wouldn't be the program that it is. It's marked a history of consistent greatness.
From the beginning to the end, Kentucky has been the game's best team. Two-thousand is just a number to mark it. The real achievement is what it took to get there.
Hear about how some of the legends remember the journey to 2,000 wins. We asked some of the former greats - Kyle Macy, Dan Issel, Kenny Walker and Derek Anderson - the same five questions to see what 2,000 wins means to them.
Here is what they had to say:
What does reaching 2,000 wins mean to you as a former player? "From a player's perspective I think it gives you some pride in the fact that you know you were a part of that total number of wins. Obviously, it being your alma mater, you want it to be first in every category. When you can say you have the most wins of any school playing college basketball and the highest winning percentage, those are things to be very proud of."
It's not only the victories. It's the fans. That to me more than anything is what makes this program different and outstanding more than any other place. Kyle Macy
What's the significance of reaching 2,000 wins and being the first school to do that? "I think more than anything is it talks about how consistent the program has been. It's not like they have four or five good years and then all of a sudden 10 bad years. It's just been constantly up towards the top. That's why they've been able to achieve it before anyone else. That tradition has endured year after year after year."
Do you have a favorite win or moment? "From a team standpoint probably the championship (in 1978). Anytime you win a championship as a team it's obviously a big thing. So really whether it was that final game when the buzzer sounded or that whole season leading up to that championship season where we were 30-2, those are obviously great memories. Individually, probably a couple of games to pull off a big comeback, (in particular) against Kansas at home in Rupp Arena when we were down by seven I think with about 30 seconds before the 3-point shot. An individual game probably would be the Michigan State game in the Mideast Regionals."
Win No. 2,000 signifies the winningest program in college basketball, but besides the wins, what makes this program so special in your opinion that kind of sets it above the rest? "It's not only the victories. It's the fans. That to me more than anything is what makes this program different and outstanding more than any other place. Other places have some good fans but just not the number of loyal fans that constantly follow everything that is done from border to border, and not just state border, but throughout the country and throughout the world. I've had the opportunity to play all across the U.S. but also overseas in a lot of different foreign countries, and it seems like every time I walk out on the court to warm up or after the game, someone will come up and say, 'Hey, I'm a Kentucky fan,' and then call out a particular game or play. I think that's what really separates this program from any other one."
Can you talk about the job head coach John Calipari has done in not only restoring UK's winning tradition but reaching back to past generations and former greats? "He's done a great job as far as when he first got the job being in the right places, saying all the right things, but also making former players feel like they're part of the program and bring that excitement back to everyone, not just players but fans as well. It's been a lot of fun to be a part of it as a fan watching and watching the team continue to get better and having great expectations for this team. It's been a lot of fun. He's got that buzz going back throughout the Commonwealth and throughout all the fans."
What does reaching 2,000 wins mean to you as a former player? "I think it's important that the University of Kentucky would be the first school to 2,000 wins. I think it shows how great the program has been since basketball became prevalent. UCLA had a great run under coach (John) Wooden. Duke has been very good since coach (Mike Krzyzewski) has been there. But from the beginning to the end, getting to 2,000 wins proves that Kentucky has been the strongest college basketball program."
Do you have a favorite win or moment? "Unfortunately I never got to the Final Four and so the season each year ended with a disappointment. I think probably the most satisfying win was my senior year against North Carolina because we played North Carolina all three years I was there and they won the first two games. The third game was in Charlotte. North Carolina certainly has an outstanding program and it was important that we didn't go 0-3 against North Carolina in my career. That was probably the most satisfying."
What's the significance of reaching 2,000 wins and being the first school to do that? "I think it shows that Kentucky is the top college basketball program. Now with coach Calipari being there, the way that he can recruit and the way that he can coach, it'll be a while before anybody catches Kentucky as far as wins are concerned."
Win No. 2,000 signifies the winningest program in college basketball, but besides the wins, what makes this program so special in your opinion that kind of sets it above the rest? "It's the history. You start with coach (Adolph) Rupp. Coach Rupp, in my mind, was the best college coach that ever coached because he was so far ahead of his time. You didn't have to scout Kentucky. All you had to do was go down to the bookstore and buy one of coach Rupp's books and the entire offense was laid out in front of you. We were able to execute the plays so the defense still couldn't stop us. It starts with coach Rupp, who I think is the greatest college coach ever, the history, the players that played at Kentucky, the coaches that coached at Kentucky and the success they had. If Kentucky isn't a significant player as far as the national scene is concerned it's an embarrassment to a lot of people because of the success and the history the program has."
Can you talk about the job head coach John Calipari has done in not only restoring UK's winning tradition but reaching back to past generations and former greats? "I think that's important. He obviously would be foolish if he didn't rely on the past. That's the most important part of the program. If you're starting a program from scratch, it's going to be very difficult. The fact that he recognizes the history and is reaching back to former players, I think that can only help the program."
What does reaching 2,000 wins mean to you as a former player? "It means a lot because we take a lot of pride in being the best college basketball program. One of the ways that we can really boast that is by having the all-time wins. I think it means a lot to the former players because we all felt like we were a part of something special. For the young guys to carry that into the new millennium makes us all really happy."
It's a great feeling to know that what you do here will last the rest of your life. Once you've put on that UK uniform, the people in this state are going to support you until the very end regardless of what it is you're into. Kenny Walker
What's the significance of reaching 2,000 wins and being the first school to do that? "Any other college program will probably tell you that it's just a number when you ask about the significance of 2,000 wins. A lot of other folks are trying to downplay it. Two-thousand wins is a lot of wins and that means that you've been good for a long, long time. To have those bragging rights is not only special for the former players and coaches and current players and coaches but definitely for the fans. The fans are the ones that come out and support this and make it what it is."
Do you have a favorite win or moment? "You can look down through the years and I remember the '94 team coming back and winning on the road at LSU being 31 points down. Of course I remember the game Jack Givens had in the championship game (in 1978). I remember Tayshaun Prince nailing all of those 3-pointers against North Carolina. I guess for me personally, the shot that I made for our team in 1984 to win the SEC Tournament. Out of all the things that I've done in my career - and I've done a lot of good things after that game - but I was just sophomore in that game on a team that featured Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin. To make that shot and have it win the tournament and people 25 years away come up to me and say, 'You're the guy that made Charles Barkley cry' (is special). I have to think for a little bit because I don't know what they're talking about, but that shot that won the game over Auburn in '84, Charles Barkley did indeed lay on the floor and cry. That's what I remember the most. I do radio in Lexington and every year we have 12 to 15 people that call in during the season to relive that moment. I constantly hear it throughout the state when I'm visiting people and it's a great feeling. It's a great feeling to know that what you do here will last the rest of your life. Once you've put on that UK uniform, the people in this state are going to support you until the very end regardless of what it is you're into. It's going to open a lot of doors. It's great to be a Wildcat right now."
Win No. 2,000 signifies the winningest program in college basketball, but besides the wins, what makes this program so special in your opinion that kind of sets it above the rest? "Kentucky has always prided itself in not really following trends but setting trends. I think that we've set a lot of good trends in terms of the coaches that have been hired to run this program for the most part and great players who are not only great players but great people. I think that if you're 18 and 19 years old and you come and see the facility, or you watch a game in Rupp Arena, or Midnight Madness, or you go to a football game, or you're a recruit and everybody is encouraging you to come be a part of something special, you feel the energy and the love from the very first time you walk on campus. For people to continue to feel that way long after you're gone says a lot about the people, about the state of Kentucky, but more importantly, it says how special the tradition we have at the University of Kentucky when it comes to basketball."
Can you talk about the job head coach John Calipari has done in not only restoring UK's winning tradition but reaching back to past generations and former greats? "Coach Cal is a godsend. He's exactly what we need. He has the right attitude, he has the right personality for this job and obviously he's done a lot of homework on the University of Kentucky basketball before he came here. I think it was brilliant with him calling all of the former coaches and asking them their opinions and their thoughts on Kentucky basketball. When you talk to people like Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith, all guys with different personalities, different backgrounds, they can educate you pretty well on what to expect. I think by him doing that was brilliant and he's embraced the fans, the fans have embraced him. He's kind of come down to the fan level. How many former coaches have spent the night out, camped out with fans for Midnight Madness tickets? He's the only guy to do that. I think the fans really love his attitude and his energy. We had to wait a couple of years to get him but it's a perfect fit and I'm glad we've got him now."
What does reaching 2,000 wins mean to you as a former player? "Reaching 2,000 means we've done something that no one else has done on Earth. That's an accomplishment within itself. I've always believed you should leave a legacy and that's what we're planning on doing. It shows what we did as a team. We left a legacy and people still remember it and that's what you're always remembered for when you're on this Earth or when you're gone. It's what did you do while you were here. We made history."
What's the significance of reaching 2,000 wins and being the first school to do that? "Being the first program means just that - you're No. 1.
Do you have a favorite win or moment? "When I played against Louisville my senior year in the hometown I grew up for and always wanted to play for. I just literally dunked on them. That moment growing up was like the epitome of going against all odds, not being able to do the things you want to do and then finally doing them. It was almost like a written script from your childhood that you finally let out. It was the greatest moment for me. Everybody I know asks me about that dunk."
Win No. 2,000 signifies the winningest program in college basketball, but besides the wins, what makes this program so special in your opinion that kind of sets it above the rest? "When you look at the rest of the programs, a lot of people go off of a name. Like if there is a certain individual, you can pretty much put that individual with a name. When you do that at Kentucky, you do the whole state, you do everybody - Kentucky fans, the University of Kentucky and the players. We're all included together. When you name off some of the other programs, you're naming off individuals. In this program, no one individual stands above the program. It's just the whole state of Kentucky. It's one body, and that's why I love the University of Kentucky. No one has ever done what we've done."
Can you talk about the job head coach John Calipari has done in not only restoring UK's winning tradition but reaching back to past generations and former greats? "I think he's doing great. I think he's been blessed to have this type of talent in his first year in and to also have guys that listen to him. I think that's the biggest key. The way he's brought us back is what we've always wanted. We used to have problems with coming back. Whether coach just had a question with what we were doing, this coach is open arms and open door for us. It's just like being back here and being back on the team. I can relive my great moments."
Victoria Dunlap finally got the honor she deserves.
Dunlap, who has dominated the non-conference portion of Kentucky's schedule, was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week after totaling 27 points, nine rebounds, a career-high eight steals and four blocks in a 101-67 rout of archrival Louisville on Sunday.
The truth is Dunlap probably deserved it sooner.
The junior forward has dominated the college basketball scene in her transition as the leader of the undefeated UK Hoops team. In leading the Cats (10-0) to their best start in school history, Dunlap has averaged a gaudy 19.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per games.
She entered the week ranked among the nation's top 30 leaders in five categories: rebounds (21st-10.5 rpg), blocked shots (22nd-2.4 bpg), double-doubles (25th-fourth), field-goal percentage (26th-.588) and steal s (27th-3.0spg).
"You can't play (Dunlap) one-on-one," Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said. "She's as good a post player as we've played all year -- and that's counting Tennessee."
Dunlap has personified what this UK Hoops team is all about this year. Overlooked at the beginning of the year, the Cats were selected in the preseason to finish 11th in the league. Eleventh!
How foolish those predictions look now.
With Dunlap leading the way, UK is steamrolling through its schedule. UK is undefeated and knocking on the door of the top 25. Honestly, head coach Matthew Mitchell has a reason to be upset that his team isn't already in the polls.
Nobody knows how long that perfect record will hold, but you can bet Dunlap will continue to stay among the league's best players.
Mark my words: She'll be in the hunt for SEC Player of the Year at season's end.
Fresh off its national championship appearance a season ago, the Louisville Cardinals had claimed the title of the premier program in the state. With one mind-boggling defensive effort, the Kentucky women's basketball team stole that distinction back - literally.
The Cats, now off to the best start in program history at 10-0, smothered the Cardinals with one of the best defensive performances - if not the best - in school history. UK forced a season-high 38 turnovers on 21 steals, stunning U of L 101-67 in front of a season-high crowd of 7,323 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
The UK win snapped a five-game losing streak to the Cards.
"I just left a really happy group of Wildcats in the locker room," UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I just couldn't be more pleased and proud of them because they absolutely earned a big victory today with incredible enthusiasm, incredible energy and incredible effort. It was a real good day for our team. I'm really happy for them because they've worked extremely hard."
In a game billed as a heavyweight showdown of the state's two top teams, it was clearly a first-round knockout.
Kentucky blitzed Louisville from the get-go, forcing seven turnovers before the first media timeout in racing to a 14-6 lead. Although the game was bizarrely long from that point on - thanks in part to 35 Louisville team fouls - the outcome was already determined.
A recap: (insert player) stole the ball, (insert player) raced the length of the floor, (insert player) laid it in. That happened more times than Louisville head coach Jeff Walz wanted to think about. It was enough to cause nightmares.
"We do two things really very well right now," Walz said, "and that's foul and turn the ball over."
Legendary Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson used to call his full-court press "40 minutes of hell." Richardson's in-your-face defense might have seemed like a stroll in the park compared to Kentucky's relentless defense. The Cats stole the ball like a three-time felon.
"We got out there for 40 minutes," junior point guard Amber Smith said. "We were not satisfied after the first 20 minutes when we forced over 20 turnovers. We went back out in the second half. Even though we started out kind of sluggish, we got back in to what we were doing which was being intense on the defensive end. That is how we got our lead. We stick with what we know best."
Louisville has a bit of an excuse. It lost WNBA first-round pick Angel McCoughtry to the pros after last season's run, and it was without its two top point guards, including this year's expected starter, Deseree' Byrd, due to injuries.
Yet there was no masking the changing of the guard in the Commonwealth. It was more about Kentucky's defensive domination than it was Louisville's lack of players. It's been the story all year.
With an up-tempo offense and suffocating defense, no team is playing better in the state and quite possibly around it.
"We're maybe not the best in the country, but we're team that really, really works hard and tries every day," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the effort has been the difference with this team, a squad that is undoubtedly the best one he's had in his third year at UK. It's fit for Mitchell's fast-paced, full-court system.
"We thought they had the advantage with size and strength and so our plan was to try to take advantage of our speed and quickness and athleticism," Mitchell said. "Our team works very hard on defensive fundamentals and footwork, so we were able to get some good traps. It was tough on Louisville today. The players, I thought they did the best job all year of staying in a stance and staying in position."
As good as the offense has been, UK's defense is its best offense. It opens up easy transition baskets, and Sunday was no different. The Cats scored 39 points off turnovers.
"I have thought all season long, and I think that if a person was to come and watch us play (they would think the same thing), that it wasn't like we were playing bad teams and beating them by six or seven points," Mitchell said. "We have been in the right position on defense and we have given consistent energy."
Three players recorded four steals or more, including a career-high eight for Victoria Dunlap. As a result, four Cats reached double figures and more would have likely reached the double-digit plateau had UK shot its layups better (the Cats only shot 39.7 percent from the field).
Dunlap, in typical fashion, led all scorers with 27 points and nine rebounds and Smith chipped in with 19 points.
"You can't play (Dunlap) one-on-one," Walz said. "She's as good a post player as we've played all year - and that's counting Tennessee."
Mitchell said they had no other expectations other than to win, but with 38 turnovers and a 34-point victory, they had to be surprised, right?
"I was not surprised because of how hard we practiced," Smith said. "The word of the week was focus. Coach Mitchell gave us that word after our last game. He told us it was not about what Louisville was going to do but what we were going to do today. I love my teammates and I had all the confidence in them so I was not surprised by the outcome at all."
With a signature outcome and the program's best start in hand, might it be time to announce that women's basketball is squarely back on the map in Lexington, Ky.?
"I think we are really good," Dunlap said. "We play great defense together. If people see how hard we play they will understand as well. We have a great confidence."
This we do know: Defense rules and UK Hoops is back on top in the state of Kentucky.
It was that kind of game Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena. Kentucky won - as it should - by a 21-point margin, 91-69, but it was far from the cakewalk some might have expected, especially after a three-game stretch of marquee victories.
The Cats led just about the entire way, sleepwalking its way through eight-, 10- and 12-point leads, possession after possession.
But every time UK was about to slam the door shut, Austin Peay would open it back up. Maybe a bit more accurately, the Cats would put their own foot in the door.
"You get up 18, 16 and we're just losing our minds," head coach John Calipari said. "We're trying to look like we're the Globetrotters at times."
A week full of finals, inexperience and a little bit of arrogance are likely the culprits in the sluggish win. Even if the kids these days don't pick up a newspaper and read their press clippings, they still surf the Web and read about their incredible 11-0 start.
Even the most down-to-earth players get a big head from time to time.
"I said, 'You guys are getting arrogant,' " Calipari said. "There's a difference between arrogance and a swagger. A swagger comes in and everyone knows we're working harder than this other team. You may make some baskets and you may get us down, but we have a swagger because we're always going to defend, we're never going to give up on a possession, we're going to block, we're going to run and we're all going to do our jobs. (That is) a swagger. ..."
"Arrogance is 'We're 11-0 and everybody says I'm the best and watch this,' and all of a sudden the other team outworks you, they outhustle you, they beat you to balls, they play with more energy and all of a sudden you get beat. We're trying to guard against that. It's hard because they're young and the information out there, they read it and start thinking they poop ice cream."
Fortunately for the Cats, they won't have to learn a lesson by taking a loss. The only consequence they'll pay is likely a berating from their first-year coach, who, by the way, is off to the best start for a first-year coach in school annals.
But there was a bit of overconfidence by the young gun Cats. Every time they had a chance to close the game out, Austin Peay fought back in it.
It wasn't until a two-minute stretch by Patrick Patterson late in the second half did the Cats finally bury the Governors. After knocking two free throws at the line - UK, a bit uncharacteristically, was a perfect 18-for-18 from the charity stripe - Patterson went for the jugular on a rim-rattling alley-oop.
Freshman point guard John Wall received an alley-oop pass in transition, but instead of laying it in himself, he left it off for Patterson, who raced from the free-throw line for a thunderous two-hand slam.
The crowd, Patterson and UK fed off that dunk, ripping off a 12-0 run. Patterson was the key part in that stretch, adding a tip-in and loose ball assist to Darnell Dodson.
It was a reminder of how important Patterson is to the Cats' success. On a team riddled with youth, UK needs a leader to close out games, pick the guys up when they're slow and fight back when their backs are against the wall.
Kentucky's potential is endless with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, but it will only go as far as Patterson can take them.
"We tried to get him the ball to start off every play and get it to him because he's our leader, he's our catalyst. You ride him until the wheels fall off," Wall said. "He wasn't finishing some plays (in the first half) that he usually finishes so coach got on him at halftime like he got on some other guys and he came back out and performed like an All-American like he's supposed to."
Patterson finished with another near double-double, but his coach said he had never seen a "softer 21 (points), nine (rebounds) than Patrick Patterson had."
The third-year star had no gripes with that evaluation.
"I agree with (Calipari)," Patterson said. "It was pretty much horrible on my part. The ways I was scoring was pretty much just passing to my teammates, a couple of post moves, some free throws, but just my performance on the offensive end wasn't up to par how it should have been."
Was the one guy that should know better a little overconfident, a little arrogant? Or was it the holiday season or post-finals blues? Patterson said none of the above.
"I don't believe this team is letting the record get to its head," Patterson said. "We all know that we have a long way to go. We still want to be one of the best teams in the nation, we still want to go to the national championship and we want to go undefeated."
Undefeated? The last team to do that during the regular season was UNLV in the 1990-91 season. Just barely more than a third through the regular season, do they really believe that's possible?
"We think it's pretty realistic," Patterson said. "We know there are some teams out there who believe they can do it as well, but we believe we can go undefeated if we continue to get better on the offensive end, the defensive end, then an undefeated season can happen."
If and only if Patterson takes his already polished game to the next level; if he can play like that two-minute stretch late in the game and not like the one we saw before that.
The coaches and players can talk all they want about defensive stops, better execution and more effort on loose ball, but they need to develop a better killer instinct. That starts and stops with its best all-around player, its most experienced player and its leader.
It takes an extraordinary team to run the table, so it's going to take an extraordinary leader to accomplish one of the toughest feats in all of sports.
Patterson, as he's been for the last three years, will be the key to completing those dreams.
As Mike Hartline continues to recover from a knee injury that held him out of more than half of the season, it appears there won't be much of a quarterback controversy as the Kentucky football teams begins its full-time preparation for the Gaylord Hotels Music Bowl on Dec. 27.
Rich Brooks' comments following Friday night's practice at the Nutter Field House seemed to indicate that true freshman Morgan Newton, who has started seven games as Hartline's replacement, will likely get the nod against Clemson.
"I think we know who our quarterback is going to be right now because Mike Hartline hasn't taken enough reps and done things, but we're hopeful we can get him practicing far enough that his knee is well enough that he can go in and play at a high level," Brooks said. "But right now with the amount of things that he's taken, it's very difficult to think that he's going to come in and play like he did last year in the bowl game."
Brooks was asked if that meant Hartline will be used in a backup role.
"He's a backup option and could get some snaps," Brooks said. "We'll judge that as we move forward in the next six practices."
Hartline, who was in the midst of his second year starting before incurring the knee injury at South Carolina, took some snaps Friday night. The junior quarterback will be closely monitored to see how his knee responds. As is the case with most knee injuries, Hartline has been battling swelling in his knee.
Should Newton start, it would be his eighth consecutive start. The first-year quarterback threw for 608 yards and five touchdowns on 62-of-112 passing, including two scores on the ground.
Matthew Mitchell anticipated last week that Victoria Dunlap would be ready to play vs. Louisville after suffering a concussion in practice last week.
However, there remains a possibility that Dunlap, UK's leading scorer (18.5 ppg) and rebounder (10.5 rpg) could miss her second straight game with post-concussion symptoms. Mitchell listed Dunlap as questionable for Sunday's 1 p.m. tipoff.
"It's another big concern for us as we go into the game," Mitchell said. "She has not practiced as of yet. It's a day-to-day thing. There really is no formula. She has to respond to being able to exert herself and come away feeling good. That poses huge challenges if she is not able to play. There is no guarantee that she will. We have to be ready to take the floor without her and see if we can find a way to win."
Mitchell couldn't give a percentage of Dunlap returning to the floor Sunday.
"It's really hard to say. It's not a 50-50 kind of deal," Mitchell said. "It's whether she feels like, when she starts to exert herself, does the headache come back."
Dunlap suffered the concussion the day before the Florida A&M game. Without her, the Cats rolled anyway, defeating the Rattlers 91-39 for their ninth straight victory to start the season. "I was thinking from the game Sunday, the way she was feeling afterward, I was thinking she would have practiced by this time. Now we're into Friday and she hasn't," Mitchell said. "The responsible move for me right now is to make plans to play without her. Of course it's a bonus if she does play."
UK alum Tom Leach has
been the play-by-play "Voice of the Wildcats" for the football Cats for 12
years and 9 year's for men's basketball. He is a four-time winner of the Kentucky
Sportscaster of the Year award. Tom offers an entertaining and insightful perspective
into UK athletics. Column entries will be posted twice per week through April.
Read Tom's full biography
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Even with a noon eastern time tipoff last week at Indiana, coach John Calipari had his team go through a gameday practice of a little less than an hour at Assembly. Hall. He says it's not something he would normally do for a game that starts that early, but with such a young team, he had to adjust his thinking.
"Normally, on a noon game, we're not going to get up at 7 o'clock and shoot around but this team needs to be out here. We need to go over stuff, we need to keep talking to them over and over again. Repetition, they need it," he said during his courtside pregame interview after the shootaround. "When I have a veteran team, I don't do this."
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John Calipari is a man-to-man guy when it comes to his defensive philosphy but he is open to other options. Last week at Indiana, the Cats played a few possessions of a 1-3-1 zone for the first time. Coach Cal says he likes it because of his team's length and the speed and leaping ability of Eric Bledsoe on the back line of that zone.
"I was reading a book and it talked about coach Rupp going to the 1-3-1 after coach (Harry) Lancaster went to him. We didn't know this but I showed it to coach (John) Robic and said 'how about this one?'," Calipari said. " It's neat to know that the guy that developed this program played really fast--didn't like the dribble--but played really fast, relied on man-to-man defense, great teamwork, toughness, hard practices, best conditioned, shoot jumpers, run patterns--they ran patterns like we do. He was so far ahead of his time--and that's why he was the winningest coach and did the things that he did."
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Next up for the Cats is a matchup with Austin Peay at 4pm tomorrow in Rupp Arena.
The most memorable meeting between these two foes came in the 1970 Mideast Regional semifinals in Nashville, when the Cats prevailed in overtime 106-100 against a Governors' squad coach by Lake Kelly, who would later work on Joe B. Hall's staff at UK.
APSU was led by James "Fly" Williams, who was a New York city playground legend in high school.
"If he didn't feel like running down the floor, he didn't run the floor. Kinda surprised us. It was an interesting game," recalled former UK big man Jim Andrews, in an interview for coachcal.com. Andrews led the Cats with 30 points and 14 rebounds that night.
In those days, the NCAA Tournament took only conference champions and Andrews remembered that there was a time that season--Hall's first--where it looked like UK might not make it to the NCAA.
"We had gotten beat by Vanderbilt and it looked like we were pretty much out of the conference race, but we actually won nine straight games to tie for the (SEC) championship and we won because we had beaten Tennessee twice," he said.
UK clinched the title by beating the Vols on the final night of the regular season, before a packed house at Memorial Coliseum. Andrews says a big-game enviroment there was something special.
"You couldn't think, you couldn't hear. It was just an incredible atmosphere," he said.
The Southeastern Conference is considering it. A report by Jon Solomon in Friday's edition of The Birmingham News says that the SEC Baseball Tournament will experiment with a clock between pitches and half innings in 2010. The hope is that a time limit can speed up long days of baseball and create a better product for television.
According to the report, next year's SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., will feature a 20-second clock between pitches when no on is on base and a 90-second clock between half innings. The change will only affect SEC Tournament games and not the regular season.
The SEC will also experiment with a time change as well. Early round tournament games will start at 9:30 a.m., a half hour earlier than usual, according to the report. Infield practice at Regions Park will be eliminated, cutting the time between games from roughly 45 minutes to 30.
One has to wonder if the changes will carry over to the regular season if they're successful.
Crystal Riley has been waiting for her name to be called for some time now.
At LSU she didn't hear it called enough, so she transferred to Kentucky. Now in Lexington, Riley hasn't heard it at all. Because of NCAA transfer rules, Riley had to sit out the remainder of her freshman season and the first part of this year.
Riley bided her time, riding the pine for UK's first nine games of the season, practicing with the Cats as part of the scout team and anxiously waiting her chance to help UK, especially during a tough late-season stretch when the Cats were down to one point guard and could have desperately used the PG's services.
With a second chance in a new home, one far different from the southern lingo and culture near New Orleans, Riley has learned to take nothing for granted - not even checking into the game.
"Since I haven't done it since high school, I know I'm going to be nervous," Riley said. "I have never gotten nervous before the game, but every time I think about it, it just gives me chills."
Riley is expected to hear her name called Sunday at 1 p.m. inside Memorial Coliseum when the Cats renew their rivalry with Louisville. Although she admitted she doesn't know much about the annual game with the program's archrival, she's been quickly brought to speed by an 8 by 11 piece of paper on the front of a door near their locker room that reminds the Cats of their fifth straight loss to the Cardinals.
Talk about a game worth making a debut.
"Really I just want to get some playing time," Riley said. "I know everything else will fall in line. What coach (Matthew) Mitchell told me is not to put too much pressure on myself and not to have such big expectations that I can't achieve them. He told me to just play my game and that's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to get too excited to go out and try to score 25 points a game. I'm not going to try to do that. I'm going to let the game come to me."
Riley will be added to the mix almost immediately as the backup to third-year starting point guard Amber Smith. On a fast-paced team loaded with guards, Riley brings an extra level of speed and quickness and an uncanny ability to get to the hoop.
"She's very explosive, a dynamic player in transition," Mitchell said. "Once she settles in and gets comfortable, I think she's going to make plays that are going to get our fans out of their seats and on their feet cheering. She is an explosive player that can make plays and is very talented. When she becomes comfortable and experienced, she's going to be a great addition to our team."
UK has been great without her, starting the season 9-0 out of the gate, just a win shy of breaking the all-time record to start a season. With her it should be even better.
Riley's presence will give the Cats two bona fide point guards for the first time since the 2007-08 season. The addition will allow sophomore guard Rebecca Gray, who has filled in admirably at point guard, to move to her more natural position at the two.
"(Gray) is a deadly natural born shooter," Riley said. "Thank God she has been playing the point for us to give Amber some breaks. I think once she gets back to the two, we'll probably be scoring more every game and we'll be consistently scoring in the 90s."
The move will allow Gray to concentrate more on her scoring, although Mitchell admitted that the North Carolina transfer has played so well at the point that she could still see some time there.
Plus, Mitchell said the coaching staff will have to be cautious with how quickly they throw Riley into the fire. It's a unique but difficult situation. While her teammates have jelled on the court and raced to a 9-0 start, she's had to wait her turn from the sidelines.
It's hard sitting over there wishing you could go in the game," Riley said. "It has been a great learning experience for me. I've gotten to sit back and learn a lot of stuff I didn't know. I take it for what it is. I don't try to put too much pressure on myself."
Patience will be the key for everybody, Mitchell said. If she doesn't play significant minutes early on, it isn't because the staff lacks confidence in her.
"The thing we need to be very aware of as coaches is that she is an inexperienced player," Mitchell said. "She hasn't played a lot of college basketball. She has been in our system and practicing with us for a year, but we really have to help her learn what her role is, what we need her to do, what her expectations are and have some patience with an inexperienced player.
"It's a tough spot for her to come in. Everybody else has been playing and now she has to come in. I'm so excited and very optimistic about her future here. I just want to make certain that we do right by her and bring her along and give her opportunities to be successful and not put too much on her too quick."
Regardless, Riley will give UK a self-described "slasher," someone who is capable of getting to the hoop and dishing out assists, in addition to an above-average shooter and lethal scorer around the rim.
"There are only two point guards on this team and that's me and Amber," Riley said. "I'm not worried about playing time because I know I'm going to get it as long as I go out there and do what I need to do. With LSU there were three of us there. Things didn't look like it was going to change for me so I had to make a change."
Riley wasn't recruited by UK out of high school in Memphis, Tenn., but when things didn't work out at LSU and Riley was seeking a new destination, Mitchell's move to an up-tempo offense seemed like the perfect fit for the 5-foot-5 speedster.
She credits assistant coach Matt Insell, a former AAU coach, and assistant coach Kyra Elzy for leading her to UK.
Now she's anxious to finally make the most of a second chance.
"This has kind of opened my eyes up to a lot of things and I've got a lot of things to be grateful for," Riley said.
Before the season started, analysts looked for a weakness.
With a star-filled roster of John Wall, Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins and Darius Miller, and head coach John Calipari, the winningest coach in college basketball over the last four years, at the helm, there had to be a chink in the armor.
Experts pointed to UK's shooting. Gone was the Cats' sharpshooter, Jodie Meeks, to the NBA. Without him, UK was left with a roster stacked with athletes, but short on shooters.
Wall, the No. 1 recruit in the nation, had a laundry list of strengths coming to Lexington, but he was an inconsistent jump shooter on the high school scene. Darnel Dodson was known strictly as a pure shooter, but no one knew how his game would transition from junior college to major college basketball. Eric Bledsoe, another highly touted guard, had hops and speed, but his shooting was streaky at best.
Returning guards Darius Miller (41.3 field-goal percent last year) and Ramon Harris (24.0 3-point percent) weren't known to light it up from the field either.
Their logic was right. However, the results so far have proven different.
Through the first 10 games of the season, UK is shooting well above initial expectations. Entering the Austin Peay game, the Cats are hitting 49.7 shots from the field, 18th in the nation (rankings are through Sunday), including 38.0 percent from behind the arc.
What was perceived as a potential weakness has actually turned into a strength. UK's shooting marks are the best of this decade.
One could point to a number of reasons for the high shooting percentages. I'll side with the emphasis to take high-percentage shots. Of UK's 803 total points this season, 384 points, or 47.8 percent of the production, has come inside the paint.
Some of that has to do with John Calipari's emphasis to get easy transition baskets. Yet, despite running a similar offense the last several years, this is Calipari's best shooting team in his 17-plus years of college coaching (previous team best was his 1991-92 Massachusetts team, which shot 48.7 percent from the floor).
Credit must also go to UK's perimeter shooters. If Bledsoe is supposed to be a streaky shooter, he's riding one heck of a shooting streak to begin the season. In his first 10 games in college, the 6-foot-1 guard has hit 16-of-30 treys, a team-best 53.3 percent from behind the arc.
Dodson has lived up to his billing as a 3-point assassin, making 12-of-33 attempts in limited duty. Miller has made significant improvements in his perimeter game, knocking down 15-of-41 treys.
And let's not forget Patterson. Calipari raved before the season that the junior forward now had the whole package, including his ability to shoot the 3-point shot. For a guy who had never hit a perimeter shot in his career at UK, it was hard to believe.
Not anymore. Patterson has made the most of his long-range attempts, hitting 7-of-16 from beyond the arc.
Keep in mind that those numbers are strictly a sample of the season. UK's numbers could nosedive - or jump even higher - over the next 10 games.
Regardless, it's a reason for optimism as the season progresses. If UK can run, defend, keep Wall and Patterson healthy, and shoot the ball, what is its weakness?
Best of luck to rest of the nation in figuring it out.
- Jamal Mashburn, UK's all-time sixth-leading scorer, is scheduled to be a part of the broadcasting team for the UK-Drexel game on Dec. 21 on ESPNU. If all goes according to plan and UK wins its next two games, the Cats will become the first program to 2,000 wins.
- Jodie Meeks' record-setting 54-point performance vs. Tennessee was tabbed as one of the top 20 most memorable college basketball performances of the 2000s, according to Sports Illustrated.
- Maybe the most crowning achievement today, which unfortunately got overshadowed a bit by the news of Rich Brooks winning SEC Coach of the Year, was the news that senior setter Sarah Rumely was named a second-team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. UK is going to be really good again next year, but it will be impossible to replace the contributions of Rumely. She is the program's only SEC Player of the Year and has been the face of the program the last few years. Without her, UK doesn't make five straight NCAA Tournament appearances. BriAnne Sauer and Sarah Mendoza were honorable mention All-Americans.
There's something about watching a Kentucky native play basketball at the University of Kentucky that makes the heart of a UK fan beat just a little bit faster.
Ask a fan about watching Kentucky natives Richie Farmer, John Pelphrey, Leslie Nichols, Patty Jo Hedges, Carly Ormerod or even current Cat Jon Hood play and you're sure to see a certain twinkle in their eye. Kentuckians have pride in watching their very own develop, mature and play basketball for the epicenter of college basketball and the state's flagship university.
"We always want to find the best players in the state of Kentucky. We think that's important," UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We think that Kentucky is a special place. Our fans are connected to the program in a special way and one of those things that make it special is because they want to see kids from Kentucky do well here."
That's why it was so important for Kentucky, a program trying to climb back into the nation's elite, to sign one of the state's most heralded recruits in years. A'dia Mathies, Kentucky's 2009 Miss Basketball, torched the state's high school basketball scene as a senior, averaging 17.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.9 steals, 3.8 assists and 1.9 blocks as a senior at Iroquois High School out of Louisville.
Miss do-everything led the Lady Raiders to their first state tournament title in school history, en route to being named Gatorade Kentucky Girls' Basketball Player of the Year, among a long and distinguished list of other awards.
Schools came calling by the dozens to have Mathies, a 5-foot-9 guard, play for their programs. Yet when Mathies trimmed the schools down to her final list, it was Florida and Kentucky's two top schools battling it out for her services - archrivals UK and U of L.
For some of Mathies' friends and family, the choice seemed like a no-brainer. Kentucky was in the midst of a transition from former coach Mickie DeMoss to current coach Mitchell while Louisville was on a torrid upswing.
It had to be Louisville, right? Wrong. As it turns out, it was never an issue for Mathies. Her heart pumped blue from the very beginning.
"Basically because I wanted to get away from home but I didn't want to be too far off so my family could support me," Mathies said of choosing the Cats. "UK has a great tradition with men's basketball and everything. I just wanted to be here. They've got good fan support."
U of L would later go on to the 2009 national title game before losing to powerhouse Connecticut. Mathies was expecting to take some heat from her family and friends for skipping out on her hometown school, but surprisingly she said it wasn't too bad.
"It wasn't a whole lot of grief," Mathies said. "People just wanted to know why I did not go to Louisville, especially since they were coming off the national championship game. I just wanted to get away from there."
What did she tell some of the cynics?
"I said UK is better for me," she said.
It appears Mathies knew best. While Louisville isn't on a slide, it has lost three games to start the season. Meanwhile, Mathies' college choice is off and rolling to a 9-0 start, one win short of setting the school's best start to a season.
Mathies has been one of the key cogs of the equation. The first-year star is averaging 12.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, both second-best marks on the team.
To hear Mitchell describe her, she has great athleticism and versatility, traits that were key factors in UK transitioning to a more up-tempo offensive game and an in-your-face defensive mentality.
"When we recruited her I told her that we needed her to come in and produce right away," Mitchell said. "That's just where we were as a basketball program. We needed to sign someone to come in and do what she has been doing. I'm not surprised as much as I'm pleased that she has actually been able to do what we needed her to do. She still has some things she can get better doing to progress as a player. But she is - from a talent and ability standpoint - what we thought when we signed her."
What she is, is a physical, confident tenacious scorer who plays with poise far beyond her years. Mitchell pointed to the Cincinnati game, one of the few matchups she got flustered in, as a prime example.
"She really got down on herself in my opinion and usually you don't see a freshman come out of it," Mitchell said. "It took her a little bit longer than I wanted her to come out of it, but the great thing about it is she came out of it and really helped our team win that game down the stretch and made some big plays."
Plays freshmen usually don't make. Besides her bashfulness off the court - Mathies has rightfully earned the nickname the "Silent Assassin" - she acts and plays like a four-year veteran.
Example? In the UK women's basketball media guide Mathies was asked who she would choose to play one-on-one on the men's basketball team. Mathies chose John Wall because she thinks she "can take him."
"She's just so gifted," Mitchell said. "She has a great body for basketball. She's strong, she's fast, she's athletic, can jump and then I think the huge difference for her is her mentality. She's very confident in herself, bounces back from mistakes better than most freshman do. She just is a really gifted basketball player."
Although Mathies didn't know what to expect coming into college, she isn't at all surprised by the record start the Cats are off to, which has them knocking on the door of the top 25. "I'm not really surprised," Mathies said. "We've put in a lot of hard work and I knew that it would pay off if we put in a bunch of hard work in the preseason."
Coincidentally, the Cats will have to go through Mathies' hometown school and Kentucky's arch-nemesis to record the all-time best start in school annals (Sunday vs. Louisville at 1 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum).
Although she doesn't know the exact number attending, Mathies is expecting a huge turnout of family and friends because of the game's ramifications and history. If there was a game where undesirable freshman traits could break through, this game could potentially be it.
"I just need to stay focused and stay calm," Mathies said. "This is a big game because it's against a team that was recruiting me just as much as UK and it's from my hometown."
Mitchell said he would be lying if he wasn't concerned about how Mathies will respond to the situation and the potential hype in Memorial Coliseum. However, if her first nine games are any indication, she'll likely continue to play far beyond her years.
"That's our job as coaches is to help our team focus this week because there are a lot of things that could distract us," Mitchell said. "What we've tried to tell A'dia and all of our team is the only thing that's going to impact that game is what we do between the lines during practice from now until the game.
"Of course that's a concern. I would be dishonest if that wasn't a concern. This team wants to win and wants to win badly. Our job is to make certain they focus on what needs to be done to get that done."
The fourth might be his best coaching job yet. Despite major personnel injuries, including the temporary losses of starting quarterback Mike Hartline, preseason All-American cornerback Trevard Lindley and leading rusher Derrick Locke, Brooks led UK to a 7-5 record, including historic wins at Auburn and at Georgia.
I'll have more on the the job Brooks has done in a future story, so check back in the next week on that.
Also, kick returner Derrick Locke was selected as a first-team All-SEC choice. Senior linebacker Micah Johnson was tabbed as one of the "top 30 players regardless of position."
You've been to Rupp Arena, the most storied college basketball arena in college basketball, before, but now you, the fans, have a chance to sit in the rowdiest student section in the country.
While the students are away for Winter Break, Kentucky is opening up the eRUPPtion Zone to the general public. Single-game tickets for the eRUPPtion Zone will be available to the public for the Austin Peay (Dec. 19), Drexel (Dec. 21), Long Beach State (Dec. 23) and Hartford (Dec. 29) games.
Fans may purchase the tickets at the Rupp Arena ticket office an hour and a half prior to game time on those select dates. Tickets cost $5 and may be purchased with cash only. One ticket is allowed per person and the ticket must be purchased in-person at the Rupp Arena ticket office prior to each game.
The Drexel game, which could be UK's first opportunity for win No. 2,000, has fewer eRUPPtion Zone tickets available than the other three December games, said Joe Sharpe, assistant athletics director for the UK ticket office.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Dec. 13:
Women's Basketball: Rebecca Gray
Came off the bench to score a career-high 19 points in UK's 91-39 rout of Florida A&M.
Perfect on the day with 6-of-6 shooting from the field, 3-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc and 4-of-4 shooting from the foul line.
Also grabbed three rebounds and dished out two assists with zero turnovers.
Her six made field goals were a career high.
Her three three-pointers tied a career mark.
She has made at least one 3-pointer in seven of nine games this season.
Volleyball: Lauren Rapp
Rapp posted a season-high 18 kills on a match-high .536 hitting percentage against Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen. The junior from Indianapolis, Ind., also added six blocks and seven digs in UK's five-set loss on Friday night.
Kentucky's three-year starter had an amazing tournament run. She tossed down 38 kills for an average of 3.45 per set, while her .471 hitting percentage paced the squad. Rapp also accounted for 18 blocks in three matches for a 1.65 block per set average. She set a career-high in blocks with 10 in UK's 3-0 victory over Oregon State to help UK reach the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1992.
Men's Basketball: John Wall
Wall, a 6-foot-4 guard from Raleigh, N.C., averaged 18.0 points, 5.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 steals in leading the Wildcats to wins over 14th-ranked Connecticut and at Indiana.
Against UConn, he scored 12 of Kentucky's final 15 points, including a three-point play with 30 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 63-61 lead, en route to a career-high 25 points. His six steals against the Huskies tied for third-most ever by a UK freshman.
He nearly posted a triple-double against Indiana, finishing with11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in helping the Cats to a 90-73 win in Bloomington, Ind.
The UK-Austin Peay men's basketball game on Saturday at 4 p.m. will be broadcast live regionally on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast.
CSS is distributed in approximately 10 million homes and is carried by ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com. For those fans that don't have access to CSS, several affiliates have made the game available to its paying cable customers.
Insight Communications will be providing Saturday's game to all of its customers in Louisville, Lexington, Northern Kentucky, Bowling Green and the Evansville/Henderson area. Jason Keller, director of public affairs for Insight, said the game will be available to all Insight customers in those regions regardless of what programming package they have purchased.
Lunardi, the self-proclaimed "bracketologist," released his latest version of Bracketology, his predictions for the 65-team NCAA Tournament in March. Lunardi has Kentucky playing Army or the winner of the Patriot conference in the East region.
Given UK's start to the season and its current national ranking (No. 3 in both major polls), that's of no surprise.
Here's the interesting part: If UK were to win, Lunardi has the Cats matched up with the winner of Georgia Tech and Memphis. Could you imagine head coach John Calipari going against his former school this soon?
We're still light years away from the Big Dance, but Lunardi has it right in one aspect - don't put a potential showcase like UK-Memphis out of the equation. If there is a possibility the two teams could face each other, the NCAA Tournament selection committee wouldn't hesitate to make it happen.
Lunardi currently has six teams from the Southeastern Conference in the field. Just three teams made it a year ago.
The Kentucky volleyball team started out the 2009 season with the highest of expectations: win the Southeastern Conference championship for the first time since 1988 and compete for a national championship.
In one aspect, the Wildcats fell short. Losses to Florida and Tennessee to end the season dashed what looked to be a magical conference title run.
But in just about any other way you choose to view the season, it was yet another historic success for fifth-year head coach Craig Skinner and his team. For the fifth consecutive season, the Cats landed an NCAA Tournament berth - one of just 20 teams to accomplish that feat five years in a row - and UK was just mere points away from an Elite Eight berth, its longest trek into the tournament since 1992.
"After we lost consecutive matches to Tennessee and Florida at the end of the year, going into the NCAA Tournament we had a tough draw," head coach Craig Skinner said. "They decided as a group to come together and make sure that we were able to have success and play well when we needed to."
The Cats dominated the first and second rounds of the tournament, sweeping Clemson and No. 14 seed Oregon on their home court at Memorial Coliseum. UK marched into Minneapolis, Minn., as one of the hottest teams in the tournament, but a five-set heartbreaker to Florida State finally ended the Cats' run.
Ultimately, UK finished the season with 29 wins, the most "Ws" since the 1993 season.
"We have a lot of great players and competition in practice was extremely high every single day," Skinner said. "I don't think there was a situation that we saw in matches that we hadn't seen in practice on a daily basis. That really helps you be successful. Even though we lost five matches on the year, I don't feel like any of those matches we did not have a shot to win. Unfortunately a couple of them were big ones, but when you win 85 percent of the matches during a year, very few teams can say that."
And very few teams can say they've come as far as Skinner's has in the last five years. Although the Cats have been to the NCAA Tournament the last five seasons, Skinner has taken a program that was content with mediocrity and put it on the brink of excellence.
"The culture has completely changed," Skinner said. "It's going from maybe we can do this and maybe we can win to expecting to being one of the best teams in the SEC conference."
Skinner didn't do it alone. Along the way, he has assembled some of the nation's top talent on one roster, including one of best senior classes to ever come through UK.
After another historical season, the Cats will have to say goodbye to seniors Sarah Rumely, BriAnne Sauer and Brooke Bartek, who single-handedly laid the foundation for UK's current success.
Rumely, the school's only SEC Player of the Year, will leave UK as the all-time assists leader and the face of the current program.
"I know she's devastated that she doesn't get to play anymore in college," said Skinner, who believes that she'll have ample opportunities to play volleyball after college, including overseas. "She just loves competition and loves playing at a high level. I know she's just going to be sick to her stomach next semester just being a student. We'll have to call her into practice and see if she can run the other side for us during the spring."
Sauer, essentially a three-year starter at libero, set the single-season dig record (580) in her final season, and Skinner called her the most improved player on the team. While Bartek didn't get significant playing time this season, she's been a valuable contributor throughout her career at UK.
"They have so much experience in their positions and they've really locked down their positions - Sarah for four years and BriAnne for basically three. It'll be a changeover," Skinner said. "I would like to think they have prepared the people behind them to step into those roles and continue the success. They would be as proud as anyone if we can continue to take this program to new levels knowing that they had a big impact on where we are now."
Replacing them won't be easy, but Skinner does have the pieces - or at least the talent - to fill their voids.
Freshman Stephanie Klefot, who finished second on the team with 318 digs, is expected to make a smooth transition to the full-time libero postions. Meanwhile, at setter, Skinner will welcome in the nation's No. 3 ranked freshman setter, according to PrepVolleyball.com, in Elizabeth Koberstein.
She, however, will have a tough time overtaking redshirt freshman Christine Hartmann, who made the made the most of her chances this season when she was called upon.
"Hartmann is a fierce competitor," Skinner said. "She took every day in practice like it was a national championship when she was out there. I think she is someone that refuses to accept mediocrity. I just talked to her this morning. She's excited to get working out in January and get in the gym with the team. It's going to be an exciting team with her."
The good news for the Cats is that they still have a solid core of current sophomores and juniors returning. This year's SEC kills leader, Sarah Mendoza, will return as the center of the UK offense. The junior outside hitter totaled a career-high 500 kills on the season.
"I would love to see a 5-10 outside hitter in the country that gets 1,300 swings for us," Skinner said. "That's a ton of swings. She handled it very well. She's a hell of an athlete."
Even more encouraging is she got help as the season wore, especially from junior right-side hitter Lauren Rapp. After a midseason "tweak" in her position, Rapp was nothing short of dominant.
"Ever since then she's just been on a mission," Skinner said. "I don't see a player that we've faced that has been as hot as she has. The last month she has probably hit close to .450 hitting percentage and really was unstoppable the last few matches of the year. ... She was a force."
With yet another highly successful season in the books, Skinner and his team will break for finals and Winter Break. Skinner is scheduled to speak at the Final Four and then will hit the road recruiting in mid-January before returning for the spring season in April.
The 2009 season was another success, but Skinner is already thinking about the next step.
"We still haven't won a conference championship," Skinner said. "I think we put ourselves in a position where that's an expectation to compete for. The goal is to compete to go to Final Fours and compete for a national championship. I think our team needs to see itself as one of the elite programs in the country. I look at who we have coming back and they're great competitors and I think they'll embrace some of those opportunities."
Kentucky is one step closer to re-establishing itself as the No. 1 team in the nation.
The Cats continued their climb to the top by moving to No. 3 in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls. UK bumped Villanova out of the No. 3 ranking thanks to marquee victories vs. Connecticut and Indiana, and a Villanova loss to Temple.
UK picked up a first-place vote in both polls. Kansas remained No. 1 and Texas stayed at No. 2 in the rankings.
Four Southeastern Conference teams (UK, Tennessee, Florida and Ole Miss) garnered each poll.
Both polls available below (first-place votes in italics):
Legitimate question: Should we consider naming the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week award the John Wall award? Seriously.
For the fourth straight week, freshman phenom John Wall has nabbed the honors after another sensational week.
The first-year guard averaged 18.0 points, 5.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 steals in leading UK to wins over No. 14 Connecticut and at Indiana. For the season, Wall is averaging a team-best 18.1 points, 7.1 assists and 2.8 steals, in addition to 4.1 rebounds per game.
OK, so maybe the John Wall award is a bit of a stretch, but four straight weeks is an amazing feat. With Eric Bledsoe's Freshman of the Week honors in week one, UK has captured all five weekly awards.
Will next week be the sixth? If I was a betting man, I'd count on it.
Kentucky sporting events will take a week-long halt this week as UK's student-athletes undergo finals week.
The University of Kentucky's finals week starts Monday and lasts through Friday. Those teams that are still in season, namely men's and women's basketball, will continue to practice this week, but there are no scheduled athletic games until the men's basketball game vs. Austin Peay on Saturday at 4 p.m.
The UK football team, which is busy preparing for the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl vs. Clemson on Dec. 27, is off until Friday.
With students in classes and game on hold for a week, things could get a little slow on here. Bear with us until this weekend.
Junior forward Victoria Dunlap was hardly needed in UK's ninth consecutive victory to start the season. Without Dunlap, who suffered a concussion in practice on Saturday, the Cats rolled 91-39 over Florida A&M.
However, with Louisville next on the schedule (Dec. 20 at 1 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum), UK is hoping she can return quickly.
Head coach Matthew Mitchell expects to have her back for the annual rivalry game, which, fortunately for Dunlap and the Cats, is a full week away.
"It's a mild concussion, so we don't anticipate it causing any problems," Mitchell said after Sunday's win. "She possibly could have gone today, but then you risk it getting worse if she got hit. I thought it was best to not discuss it, because I had confidence in our players. We needed to make certain Vic is safe and has time to recover. I expect her back practicing within the next couple of days. We just need to check with the doctor."
UK didn't miss a beat without its leading scorer and rebounder Sunday, scoring its third-highest point total of the year behind a stingy defensive effort (28 turnovers; 24.2 opposing field goal percentage) and hot shooting (50.0 percent).
"I was very calm when I got the news, and the reason I was is because the players had prepared at a very high level this week," Mitchell said. "If they would focus and do what we had talked about in preparation for the game, I was confident in them. They proved me right. It all came from Lydia Watkins who had a fantastic week in practice, Brittany Henderson who worked extra this week, and Rebecca Gray and Keyla Snowden who worked extra on their defense this week. I would certainly rather have Vic, but I was happy we were able to get that kind of win without her. It's a real credit to our players for coming out and staying focused."
- Before we get into all things Kentucky, l want to quickly give some praise to Tom Crean and his Indiana squad. I thought Crean had a phenomenal game plan early on. The zone the second-year IU coach implemented in the beginning stages of the game stunned the Cats, not because it forced UK to shoot it from the outside but because of the lanes and gaps it shut down. The Cats were unable to drive to the basket, and when you pair that with the active hands the IU players had, the intensity of Crean on the sidelines and the atmosphere in Assembly Hall, it was evident UK was rattled. In the end, though, UK just had too much talent for Crean's men. Have to say, though, that I think Indiana is well on its way to returning to national prominence with Crean at the helm.
- The Cats finally figured out the zone about seven or eight minutes into the game. Patrick Patterson started flashing to the top of the key, forcing the zone to collapse. When he found an open man near the perimeter, UK started hitting. It took a bit to get going, but the Cats took their first lead of the game at 21-19 on an Eric Bledsoe jumper with 9:33 to play in the first half.
- After an inconsistent last few games, Bledsoe re-emerged as one of UK's top scoring threats. The freshman guard totaled a team-high 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. His ability to shoot the trey opened up that IU zone and eventually won the game for UK. Bledsoe's pair of 3-pointers ignited UK's 18-0 run early in the second quarter, propelling the Cats to their 10th consecutive victory to start the season.
- If you're a UK fan, Bledsoe's afternoon has to usher in a world of confidence. It reaffirms the notion that UK has four, maybe even five players that can go off for 20 points on any given night. I would certainly lump John Wall, Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins and Bledsoe in that group, and I think Darius Miller and Darnell Dodson have the potential to muster the occasional 20-point night. Depth is one of the most important things in college basketball, and as evidenced by five Cats in double figures Saturday, UK clearly has it.
- I'm continually encouraged by UK's ability to shoot the basketball. If there was one weakness that was supposed to haunt the Cats this year, it was shooting. For the seventh time this season, UK shot 50 percent or better from the field. The Cats nailed 35-of-67 of their shot attempts Saturday, including 7-of-14 from 3-point range. Bledsoe, who was perceived to be a streaky shooter at best entering college, has now hit 16-of-30 shots from long range this season. If UK continues to shoot the ball around 50 percent, it is unbeatable.
- Simply men vs. boys when it came to rebounding the basketball. UK dominated the glass, ripping down 22 more rebounds than IU, including 19 offensive boards. A lot of the credit has to go to Patterson, who had another quietly consistent all-around game (19 points and 11 rebounds). Patterson ripped down eight offensive rebounds and kept numerous other balls alive. As a result, UK came away with 30 second-chance points.
- Key to the game was without a doubt the 18-0 run. To that point the Hoosiers had hung tough with UK and held a 48-47 advantage, but that run silenced the crowd and any hopes the Hoosiers had of hanging with the Cats. Calipari, who sometimes doesn't get as much credit as he deserves as an Xs and Os coach, started the run with a beautifully designed play out a timeout. He drew a backdoor screen to Wall, and it worked perfectly. Miller fed Wall on a cross-court alley-oop pass, and Wall slammed it home thunderously with two hands. UK never looked back.
- Wall proved he was mortal after all, but was still impressive nonetheless. While he took a backseat to Bledsoe and Patterson, he made a significant impact, finishing with 11 points, eight assists and six rebounds. The key to his game was unselfishness. He doesn't force things if they're not there. Wall saw some of his other teammates had the hot hand so he fed them the ball. As good as he is, it isn't all about him, and he understands that.
- In leading UK to a 10-0 start, Calipari has matched Adolph Rupp for the best start for a first-year coach in UK history.
- The count to 2,000 wins is now at 1,998. If things shake out like they are expected to, UK should be celebrating its 2,000th win on Dec. 21 vs. Drexel.
Head coach John Calipari, with his team 7-0 at the time, put the opening-season stretch behind him and told reporters that we would find out what his team was truly made of during the current three-game stretch with North Carolina, Connecticut and Indiana (Saturday at noon ET on CBS).
Two games into that critical run, UK is still undefeated (9-0) and quite possibly more confident than ever. But if this is the stretch where we really find out what UK is made of, what have we learned? I asked that question today to a pair of the players (Calipari pretty much answered it for us without asking) and here is what they had to say:
Freshman guard John Wall "We found out we're a team that is willing to win. We're always going to fight, we're not going to give up, and that's a great thing to have. Our execution is not where it needs to be, though. The first half of the North Carolina game we came out with intensity and played well. In the second half, we let down like you've seen the other night against UConn. In the first half, we let down too and didn't play like we're supposed to, but the second half we came back out and fought. We've got to have that intensity for the whole game because when you get into league play and tournament time you're not going to be able to come out and play one half and think you're going to win games. You've got to play the whole game."
Sophomore guard Darnell Dodson "I think this team has a real strong will to win and pull games out in late-game situations. Everybody does something at the end of the game to help us win, and I think that's a good thing."
John Calipari "It's another thing for us to learn from and look at. We have some things we haven't done well. We get leads and then we try to make hero's plays. We are up 4-0 and we are chest bumping like we just won the national title, and then all of the sudden they come marching back because you turned it over, took a tough play, and stopped playing like it doesn't matter. All of the sudden, you're in a ball game. How many times have we done that this year? What's going to happen is it comes back to bite and you end up losing games. You say, 'If we had just sustained effort for another three minutes you would have put them away.' A lot of times, you have to lose a game or two in a row, or three to say, 'You know what, we better listen.' Right now, we've been fortunate and we've been getting by. We are what we are. We start off, we look really good, then we go do our own thing, and we don't pass the ball to each other, we make the hardest play we can make, we stop playing on defense, they get run out, and all of the sudden it's a ball game. It's who we are - a bunch of young guys that don't get it."
My five biggest lesson from the first third of the regular season: 1.) Mr. Wall is legit - A North Carolina assistant said after UK's win last weekend that the Cats will only go as far as Wall can take them. I believed coming into the season that Patrick Patterson would be that guy, but I'm starting to believe the UNC assistant. Patterson is still the go-to guy in terms of experience, leadership and inside buckets, but it's clear Wall is the most talented player on the team.
2.) Clutch Cats - Calipari calls it luck, but the more and more UK continues to pull it out late in games, the less I believe that. There's something to be said about a team that has been in four last-minute battles and has come out on top every time. With the ball in Wall's hands, there's a certain confidence and swagger the Cats have. It's like they know they're going to win. Believing is sometimes the difference between the good teams and the elite ones.
3.) Inexperience is good and bad - The lack of experience and minutes is sometimes troubling. Let's take DeMarcus Cousins: Sometimes he shows signs of dominance (the second half vs. UConn) and other times he looks frustrated and lost (the first half against UConn). But inexperience is sometimes an advantage. The Cats are almost ignorant to what they're doing. They don't get know how big of a deal it was to play in Madison Square Garden in front of that type of crowd. Some teams would let it affect them. They, on the other hand, seem oblivious to what's going on. And that's a great thing. When teams punch them in the mouth or come back, they don't falter or panic.
4.) Get Pat the ball - Patterson needs more touches. He's still producing, averaging 16.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, but Calipari would like those numbers to be around 20 and 12. And he's right. With a newly honed game, one that includes the ability to run the floor better and shoot the long-range shot, Patterson has the ability to take over games. He has in spurts this season, but we're yet to see it for a full 40 minutes. Sometimes he seems to get lost in the flow of the game. Part of the blame lies with his teammates, but Patterson also needs to become more assertive.
5.) Scratching the surface - Calipari's message this week has been that his team should be 4-5. While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, he is right in the sense that UK still has a long ways to go. At 9-0, they're only scratching the surface of their potential. The offense is still developing - Calipari is still learning how to mesh the dribble-drive with the bigs in the paint - the transition defense is shaky and the guards turn it over way too much. Still, if they're undefeated while they're learning, imagine how good they can be when they actually figure it out. That's why so many national pundits believe this team could cut down the nets in April.
Kentucky fans are gobbling up football bowl tickets again.
According to a story in the Tennessean, ticket sales are approaching the 57,000-mark for Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl on Dec. 27, already 2,500-plus more than last year's total ticket sales between Vanderbilt and Boston College. Those numbers have been strongly driven by Kentucky fans, according to the story in the Tennessean.
UK's initial allotment of 12,000 tickets was sold by Monday, the day after the teams were announced. An additional 4,000 tickets were requested by Kentucky and nearly all of those have been sold, according to the report.
Clemson has sold approximately 3,000 tickets.
"With the game moving to two days after Christmas our rationale was that we were hoping to get as local and as regional fan base as possible,'' Music City Bowl President Scott Ramsey said in the report. "That would give the most fans the opportunity to follow their teams. That proved to be the case. Kentucky obviously has fans who are great supporters of their program. We're real pleased with how tickets are selling right now."
Kentucky owns the Music City Bowl attendance records with the two largest crowds. Attendance for the UK-Florida State game in 2007 was 68,661 and the UK-Clemson game in 2006 was 68,024.
UK will face Clemson in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 27 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
When Crean launched the initial challenge more than seven months ago, he urged Hoosier Nation to prove it could go head-to-head with Big Blue Nation.
"I just read that coach Calipari is up to 7100 followers on twitter. I will never hear the end of it from him," Crean posted on his Twitter account in late April. "Spread the word around the Hoosier Nation. We cant let the Kentucky fans be more locked in than us. Lets get it going."
Now some might say that Cal's account is littered by spam and has been promoted through the national media better than Crean's. Maybe so. But there is no arguing -- or competing with -- the power of Big Blue Nation. Just ask the Connecticut fans in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night who were easily outnumbered by Cat fans.
The point here isn't too bash Crean, only to point out the sheer power of Kentucky's fans. They're in their own league.
With all the hoopla surrounding men's basketball, I wrongfully overlooked the release of the latest women's college basketball polls.
Fortunately, it's never too late to pass along a little good UK news.
The UK Hoops team is picking up votes in both major polls after an 8-0 start to the season, which is just one win shy of the best start to a season set by the 1980-81 squad. The Cats have picked up two votes in the Associated Press Poll and five votes in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll.
Technically speaking, UK is ranked No. 42 in the AP poll and No. 41 in the ESPN/USA Today Poll. Should UK crack the top 25 in the next few weeks, it would be the first top-25 ranking since the Cats checked in at No. 24 during week four of the 2006-07 season.
Who would have thought we would be talking about top-25 rankings when UK was picked to finish 11th in the Southeastern Conference in the preseason? The league is either the best group of talent ever assembled or Kentucky is significantly better than a lot of people expected.
UK's schedule has been fairly mediocre to start the season - the Cats' strength of schedule is ranked at the 173rd toughest in the nation - but should get significantly tougher once the conference slate rolls around.
Coming from someone who has seen all but one of the Cats' home games, I believe they're built to hover around the top 25 for the rest of the season.
Oh, and remember, Kentucky is one of only two schools in the nation with both an undefeated men's and undefeated women's basketball team. Syracuse is the only other school.
Editor's note: My only note is that I'm disappointed I couldn't personally be in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday to watch the game. One of the better games I've seen in the last few years. On to the story. ...
You can smell it like a fresh pot of coffee in the morning. After a preseason full of dreaming, maybe this storybook turnaround to the top might come true after all.
Sure, it's just nine games into the season, but something is brewing in Big Blue Nation. It's been budding in Lexington, growing in Cancun, Mexico, and now blossoming in New York City.
It's the start of something special.
In front of a raucous crowd in Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of basketball, No. 4 UK pulled out yet another thrilling victory. Behind John Wall's season-high 25 points and six steals, the Cats defeated No. 12 Connecticut 64-61 in the Big Apple.
Kentucky was gritty. Kentucky was shaky. Kentucky, as John Calipari said after the game, was yet another play or two away from being 4-5. But Kentucky won again.
Let it sink in. Kentucky won again. How long have some of you been yearning to hear that? Are the good ol' days in the Bluegrass back? You can bet your future New Jersey Nets' John Wall jersey they are (after Wall's performance Wednesday, it's impossible to imagine him going any lower than No. 3 in next year's NBA Draft).
Wall was once again the catalyst. The freshman phenom scored 12 of UK's final 15 points, including a go-ahead, acrobatic layup among the trees as he was getting fouled. The free throw put UK up 63-61 with 31 seconds left in the game. The layup added his name among the Garden's lore.
What is it about the Madison Square Garden anyway? The greats always seem to step up big when the lights of New York shine down on the hardwood. Wall, a living UK legend, was no different.
The Raleigh, N.C., native seemed to strangle the moment in a surreal environment. The first-year player stormed out to six points and three steals in the opening minutes, including a posterizing two-hand alley-oop slam from Eric Bledsoe, in pushing UK to an early 12-0 lead.
Wall looked like he was running on a treadmill. The Huskies appeared to be treading through quicksand.
But as all great teams do - and make no mistake, UConn is a very good basketball team - the Huskies stormed back. A 26-6 run after the 12-0 UK start put Connecticut back in front and in the locker room with a 29-23 halftime lead.
Calipari prophesized before the game that Kentucky might go to New York and get punched in the mouth. Instead, it was UConn that took the Cats' best shot and came back fighting. Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker, in particular, took a haymaker to the chin and came back swinging.
Dyson knocked down big shot after big shot, and Walker played with the confidence and swagger of a typical New York City point guard. They weathered Wall's play early and then appeared to take over with experience.
(Calipari said every guard that goes against Wall is trying to make a name for himself. Dyson was doing exactly that. The senior, who scored a team-high 17 points, looked like he was out for blood, especially when he narrowly missed a high-flying one-hand dunk attempt late in the game.)
Wall and Kentucky then again proved that sometimes talent is enough to overcome inexperience. The future NBA star erupted for 19 second-half points on 7-of-11 shooting, including the night's most crucial points when the game was on the line.
When every point mattered and the game hung in the balance it was Wall with the ball in his hands. His 3-point dagger midway through the second half gave UK its first real momentum since the opening outburst. His eight-foot bank shot and ensuing pull-up jumper from the top of the key in the closing minutes made the dozens of NBA scouts in attendance drool.
And then that shot ... among the big men as he's getting walloped with the eyes of the nation weighing down on him in the final seconds of the game ... the kid was made for this.
In a game of turns, oohs and aahs, you could break down literally every basket, run and player. But let's take a look at the bigger picture:
Calipari said before this three-game stretch with North Carolina, UConn and Indiana that we'd find out what this team was truly made of. We're quickly finding out they're winners.
Calipari will continue to try to hide the fact that this team his team is good because he's trying to keep their immature heads from growing too big. Go ahead, John, tell them and tell us they should be 4-5. That's OK, coach, because we all know they're 9-0 where it counts.
We know they're inconsistent, young, mistake-ridden, etc. But we also know they're darn good. They're coming up with clutch plays down the stretch, mastering big crowds and expectations, and defeating some of the best teams in the nation.
I thought coming into this game that we'd learn more about Kentucky than maybe any other game this season. The Cats were fresh off a marquee win, they were extremely confident and upbeat, and they were playing in front of a neutral crowd in a special environment.
I wondered how they would handle it. Turns out it was like riding bike.
Wall was sensational, Patrick Patterson was consistent and everyone else did just enough. Really, that's all you need to know. Because whatever they're doing, no matter how inexperienced and farther they have to go, Kentucky is doing it right.
John Wall and Kentucky are playing like this is the start of something special.
- No live basketball blog tonight for UK-UConn since I'm not in New York City. The good news is it's a nationally televised game at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, so everyone should be set anyway. I might have a few observations after the game or early tomorrow.
Kentucky plays on one of the grandest stages in college basketball in Rupp Arena. But even Rupp pales in comparison to the history and legend of Madison Square Garden.
The Cats will have the opportunity of playing in the granddaddy of all basketball arenas Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET vs. Connecticut in Madison Square Garden. It's known worldwide as the Mecca of basketball.
"I think it's very special. That's the Mecca of basketball," freshman guard John Wall said. "To get a chance to play in an arena like that is great. A lot of great players have been through there before. Michael Jordan set records (there), Kobe Bryan set records, LeBron James set records. That's where all the stars come out and that's where you've got to come out with your best performance."
Jordan, James, Bryant, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The list of legends who have written chapter after chapter of basketball history in the heart of New York City goes on forever. UK will have to guard against getting caught up in the aura of Madison Square Garden and focus on the No. 12 team in the nation.
What UK has going its way is that a couple of UK players, including Wall and freshman forward Daniel Orton, have played in MSG before during the Jordan Brand Classic when they were high school preps.
"I really don't think it is going to help anything at all," Orton said. "It is a game, just like any other game, just played in a historic arena."
If anything, UConn might have the advantage in its home away from home. The Huskies play in MSG annually in the Big East Tournament and have already played in two games in the Mecca vs. Duke and LSU in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
As usual, UK is expected to have a huge following for the SEC/Big East Invitational, but UConn, given its proximity and national prestige, is expected to have a strong showing as well.
But none of those are of concern to head coach John Calipari. His biggest worry revolves around the NBA 3-point line used for the New York Knicks.
"You'll see my players shoot 3s from there because it's there," Calipari said. "I'm worried about it. I keep watching tape (from) a couple of games that we're already in the Garden ... and I see that line and I say, 'Oh, my gosh, our guys are going to be shooting from that line.' It happens if you're not used to that building."
Lauren Rapp wasn't having a poor year by any stretch of the imagination.
UK had stormed to a top-10 ranking for the first time in two decades, was within a few matches of the school's first Southeastern Conference title since 1988, and Rapp was third on the team in kills and second in blocks.
But really, statistically speaking, Rapp wasn't having the type of season some in and around the volleyball program expected after a breakthrough sophomore season. Before this weekend, Rapp's kills had dipped from 2.86 kills per set in 2008 to 2.49; her blocks had tumbled from 0.92 to 0.72.
Head coach Craig Skinner said it wasn't a change in Rapp's play.
"There's more balance this year," Skinner said. "She's also played a lot of the time in the middle in the last half of the season, which you don't get as many opportunities to swing at times if you don't pass well."
The Cats have more options than at any other time in Skinner's tenure. Sarah Mendoza has been enjoying a career year, Blaire Hiler has become a go-to force off the bench and Gretchen Giesler is experiencing the same type of breakthrough season in her sophomore year that Rapp had a year ago.
In reality, there aren't always enough balls to go around.
Yet when Kentucky faced its biggest weekend of the year against Michigan State and Oregon in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, it was Rapp who made the difference. The right-side hitter from Indianapolis, Ind., terminated the ball a match-high 14 times vs. the Spartans. Against the Ducks, she charted a career-high 10 blocks.
Without her, Kentucky wouldn't have steamrolled through the first two rounds and into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1992.
"Lauren typically steps up in big matches," Skinner said. "She thrives in matches that are on the line. I think she's a great competitor. She wanted to step up and didn't want us to exit in the first round like we did last year."
Rapp's performance was exactly the type of bounce back UK needed after a devastating end to the regular season. Just a week after losing the SEC title with back-to-back losses, the Cats rebounded with arguably the best volleyball of the season.
"We haven't really changed anything," Skinner said. "I think our team just came together and decided that we were going to step up and play a level of volleyball that we're capable of and that we have done at times this year. I think it's more of a competitive mentality than it is whatever the situation is. I think they did not want to have that feeling again of losing and of feeling hurt. You don't want to feel those so it motivates you to do well."
Was that the case with Rapp this weekend?
"I just know my team relies on me at times so I try to step up and do what I can for the team," Rapp said.
Fair enough. But there's no denying that Rapp will be one of the keys if UK wants to advance even farther in the tournament.
UK will continue its run Friday at 6 p.m. ET vs. No. 3 seed Florida State (30-2) in Minneapolis, Minn. If the Cats win, they'll return to the court Saturday at 6:30 p.m. to play the winner of Minnesota-Colorado State on ESPNU.
When Rapp is going, it provides UK with a balanced, almost unstoppable attack.
"The better the attackers are playing, the more aggressive they are, the more confidence it gives to not only (Sarah) Rumely but our passers as well," Skinner said. "When you do have several options to set, you don't have to rely on just one or two people. It gives a lot of confidence to your setting and it gives a lot of confidence to the team knowing that we can side out no matter what the score is."
It puts opposing teams on their heels. Instead of defending against just Mendoza or Giesler, the Seminoles will have to scout and prepare for the Cats from top to bottom.
"It's a setter's dream to have hitters that can go off at anytime," said Rumely, UK's senior captain and setter. "Having a balanced attack just makes things really easy on me."
Even if Rapp can't duplicate her offensive performance from a week ago, it will be crucial that she replicates the defensive intensity she brought to Memorial Coliseum last weekend. Skinner has insisted that defense is one of the biggest determinations in advancing in the NCAA Tournament.
"(Becky Pavan and Rapp), those two side by side could be one of the best blocking tandems in the country," Skinner said.
No doubt, when UK is communicating right and Rapp is in the right position for blocks, UK - which recorded a season-high 17 blocks vs. Oregon - is nearly unbeatable.
"I think (the block) is the biggest momentum-changer in the game," Rapp said. "It kind of deflates the other team and gives you all their momentum. I think it's very intimidating for the other team to get blocked a couple of times. It just works in your favor."
If Rapp continues to build on her play this past weekend, the Cats will be favored to move on again.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, December 6:
Women's Basketball: Victoria Dunlap
Averaged a team-high 15.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.5 steals and 3.5 blocks in UK's two wins last week.
Charted a team-high 21 points and game-high 16 rebounds in the 107-53 rout of Miami. It was her fourth season and 17th career double-double, moving her up to No. 5 on UK's career double-double list.
Her third game this season with over 20 points and 12 rebounds. She and former All-American Valerie Still are the only Wildcats in school history to earn three or more 20/15 games in a season.
Tied her career high with five steals and four blocks vs. the RedHawks.
Scored 10 points, eight in the second half, to go with seven rebounds, four steals and three blocks at Cincinnati.
Moved up to No. 6 on UK's career blocks list with 82.
Swimming & Diving: Alex Forbes
Senior Alex Forbes was in on four events in a win over Indiana, and Forbes placed in the top-two in all of the events -- including a pair of individual events not on his typical dual-meet routine. Forbes took second in the 200-free and 100-fly, while capturing a win in the 100-free. He also anchored the winning 200-free relay in helping UK to an upset of Indiana.
Women's Basketball: A'dia Mathies
Mathies, a 5-9 guard, averaged 10.0 points, 5.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game in UK's two wins last week. She scored 11 points and handed out a game- and career-high seven assists in the 107-53 rout of Miami (Ohio). She then grabbed a career-high four offensive rebounds in the 68-57 win at Cincinnati, helping the Cats improve to 8-0 on the season.
Swimming & Diving: Megan Pulskamp
Senior Megan Pulskamp had another tremendous weekend for the Wildcats as she scored first place finishes in all four events she competed in as UK tied No. 9 Indiana. Pulskamp won both butterfly events and then was in on the winning 200-free and 200-medley relays.
Volleyball: Lauren Rapp
Junior Lauren Rapp had a career-high 10 blocks to lead UK in a sweep of Oregon, helping UK to its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1992. Rapp also led the Cats with 14 kills against Michigan State on Friday.
Men's Basketball: John Wall
Wall, a 6-4 guard from Raleigh, N.C., finished with 16 points and a game-high seven assists against 10th ranked North Carolina despite sitting out seven minutes in the second half with cramps. In addition he hit two free throws with four seconds left to ice the game against the Tar Heels giving Kentucky a five-point lead.
Is tendinitis John Wall's kryptonite? Not likely, says Wall and head coach John Calipari. Wall, UK's sensational freshman point guard, revealed Tuesday that he's been battling tendinitis in his knees, a problem he's had since 11th grade.
"I don't know where it came from," Wall said. "All I know is it's a terrible, terrible pain to have." However, Calipari said Wall's tendinitis will not affect his status for Wednesday's game vs. Connecticut in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Calipari said tendinitis is an injury that you learn to deal with.
"Any player that's played for a long period of time has it in their knees, their ankles," Calipari said. "You learn to live with it or retire."
Wall said he's been receiving treatment on his knees, in addition to wearing knee pads and applying Icy Hot before each game. There are no plans to have surgery, Wall said.
"It doesn't affect it as much if I get treatment on it," Wall said. "It can slow you down because you can't really jump like you want to and you can't move like you want to. If you get kneed in it it's going to be pretty sore."
North Carolina stormed back from a double-digit deficit when Wall went out of Saturday's game with cramps. Wall said he suffered from cramps because he didn't eat before the game, and Calipari said he hasn't suffered any ill effects in practice since then.
"He was great in practice," Calipari said. "He may be our hardest worker in practice, and he brought it yesterday the same way. He was fine. We played without him. We started off shaky, but kept the lead at 11 without him, which was a good sign. He went back in, and they came back on us. Obviously, he wasn't 100 percent. But, I will tell you his energy is contagious, if you want it to be. If you choose to look at him and feed off him, it is contagious."
Cobb, the only Wildcat to make Low's team, was selected as an all-purpose player. The sophomore do-it-all was third in the SEC with 147.2 all-purpose yards per game. The Alcoa, Tenn., crossed the goal line 15 times this season, second only to Heisman Trophy candidate Mark Ingram.
Low said his list has "No biases. No slant. No trying to take care of every team. No career achievement awards. Just the best players in the SEC this season with heavy emphasis placed on how they did against league competition."
So having said that, I ask you this: If we're talking no biases, no team affiliations, is Cobb the most valuable player to his team in the SEC? Does UK goes 7-5 without Cobb? Does it even go to a bowl?
Ingram and Tim Tebow are the two of the best players in the conference, but I argue that no player means more to his team than Cobb. Am I crazy? I don't know.
What say you?
Update: Apparently I must be crazy after all.
The SEC coaches just unveiled their All-SEC team (which you can find here), and Cobb didn't make the cut -- on either team. Somehow -- and I'm not sure how it happens -- Cobb failed to get selected for either the first team or the second team.
The SEC coaches' team does not have an all-purpose category, so statistically his numbers didn't add up to some of the other players, but I'm not sure how one of the league's most dynamic players isn't noticed by the guys who watch them the most.
In all seriousness, it rivals the mistake Steve Spurrier made with Tim Tebow in the preseason.
Nonetheless, congratulations to the players that did make it, including Wildcat Corey Peters, who made the first team, and UK players Micah Johnson, Zipp Duncan and Trevard Lindley, who were all selected to the second team.
OFFENSE QB -- Ryan Mallett, So., Arkansas RB -- Mark Ingram, Jr., Alabama RB -- Anthony Dixon, Sr., Mississippi State AP -- Randall Cobb, So., Kentucky WR -- Shay Hodge, Sr., Ole Miss WR -- A.J. Green, So., Georgia TE -- Aaron Hernandez, Jr., Florida OL -- John Jerry, Sr. Ole Miss OL -- Mike Johnson, Sr., Alabama OL -- Chris Scott, Sr., Tennessee OL -- Mike Pouncey, Jr., Florida C -- Maurkice Pouncey, Jr., Florida
DEFENSE DE -- Antonio Coleman, Sr., Auburn DE -- Pernell McPhee, Jr., Mississippi State DT -- Dan Williams, Sr., Tennessee DT -- Malcolm Sheppard, Sr., Arkansas LB -- Eric Norwood, Sr., South Carolina LB -- Rolando McClain, Jr., Alabama LB -- Brandon Spikes, Sr., Florida DB -- Joe Haden, Jr., Florida DB -- Patrick Peterson, So., LSU DB -- Javier Arenas, Sr., Alabama DB -- Eric Berry, Sr., Tennessee
SPECIAL TEAMS K -- Leigh Tiffin, Sr., Alabama P -- Drew Butler, So., Georgia KR -- Warren Norman, Fr., Vanderbilt PR -- Javier Arenas, Sr., Alabama
Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun might have been stating the obvious when he told reporters Tuesday that guard John Wall doesn't play like a freshman.
"On a season, freshmen can really cost you," Calhoun said. "Wall is not a freshman. Anybody who has watched him play, he's not a freshman. He's a great basketball player (and) would be a great basketball player in any freshman class that has come along."
Calhoun called Wall one of those "special players" that can carry a team regardless of his age. The long-time UConn coach tended to agree with a North Carolina assistant coach, who over the weekend said that Kentucky will go as far as Wall can take them.
"When you give a guy the ball that much, you're making a statement that you want him to determine a lot of the outcome of the game," said Calhoun, who admitted he tried to recruit Wall out of Word of God Academy in Raleigh, N.C. "I think that it doesn't always work out that way every game, but if he is going to play a team-high 35, almost 36 minutes a game, if he is going to lead you in scoring, lead you in assists, if he is going to lead your break, then they are entrusting - and rightfully so, by the way - Wall to run that basketball team.
"They have very good players besides him, but he is an exceptional player. They have given him the ball and said, 'Run our basketball team.' I think it has two effects: A, he is very good at it, and B, it makes him believe as a freshman even more in himself."
Wall has clearly been one of the cornerstones in UK's 8-0 start, the best open to a season since the 1992-93 season. The freshman guard leads the team in scoring (18.1 ppg) and assists (7.7 apg) and he's garnered enough awards this season to fill a trophy case. Wall has already been named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week three times this season, in addition to receiving ESPN.com National Player of the Week honors.
Of course, none of that happens without the presence of an experienced talent like Patrick Patterson, Calhoun said.
"Patterson is the rock," Calhoun said. "Wall is the racecar driver."
Calhoun compared Patterson's impact to a team he had a couple of years ago that was made up primarily of freshmen and sophomores. The Huskies had just lost Rudy Gay to the NBA Draft, and without him, they missed the NCAA Tournament for only the fourth time in the last 20 years.
With Gay back, Calhoun believes they would have not only made the tournament but competed for the championship.
The Cats have a similar, dangerous formula that Calhoun would have loved to have had in 2006-07. The return of Patterson allows Wall a little more freedom to make some mistakes, Calhoun said. It gives Wall a chance to feel comfortable and thrive.
"Having a player like (Patterson) come back sets up the whole thing because he's a kid, obviously, that wants to win," Calhoun said. "He loves basketball, he loves playing at Kentucky - that's pretty obvious because otherwise he would have went (to the NBA). People say, well, he's this and he's not that. I know one thing: He's damn good."
Contrary to what John Calipari might lead you to believe about his team, just about everything screams that about UK right now.
Calhoun wouldn't go as far as to call Kentucky a hands-on favorite to win the national title - he thinks Kansas is the only team that possesses that perfect formula of talent and experience - but he does believe they're in a group of teams that is a step above the rest.
"The bottom line is there are four or five teams that stand out to me at this point in the season that have just incredible talent and have an opportunity to be really special," Calhoun said. "I think Kentucky is certainly (in that discussion)."
Alfonso Smith, the self-proclaimed fastest senior in college football, backs down from no challenges. He only makes them.
The speedy senior tailback wants to once again prove he's not only the fastest tailback in Kentucky or the Southeastern Conference - he wants to prove he's the quickest senior in the nation.
Smith, who will face tailback C.J. Spiller and the Clemson Tigers in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl on Dec. 27, has issued a one-on-one 40-yard dash challenge with Spiller ... sort of.
"I've got something to prove," Smith said. "I hope we can do it in (bowl) practice (in Nashville, Tenn.). He can come running over. The cameras could be there. Everybody could see this. Scouts, everybody."
Smith is neither short on confidence or humor, so it was hard to tell if he was openly issuing Spiller, one of the speediest players in the nation and a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate at one time, or just joking around. However, when it comes to his speed and 40-yard dash time, Smith rarely kids.
Which brings us to how this challenge came about in the first place.
To hear Smith tell it, he actually clocked the fastest 40 time during offseason workouts, but the times "somehow' got switched. That meant Spiller was the faster senior tailback in the nation - not Smith.
"Somehow my 40 time got switched with his, so now his 40 time is faster than mine, and I'm disappointed in that," Smith said. "I feel like we have to go out on the field and prove something now."
Smith's sister actually discovered the snafu on a scouting Web site. She e-mailed the Web site and pointed out the mistake, but Smith said she never heard back from them.
His original 40 time, Smith claims, is a 4.31.
"I got a 4.4. I don't run no 4.4," Smith said. "That's an insult."
So how exactly can something like that get switched?
"I don't know. Politics, man, politics," Smith said. "I don't how understand how you can switch 40 times like that. It's like did you mess up? Come on."
I think Smith was joking. Then again, it's never easy to tell with him.
One thing I do know: I'd pay to see Smith and Spiller race. Heck, throw Derrick Locke into the challenge while we're at it.
Sophomore do-it-all Randall Cobb was UK's lone selection on the Associated Press All-Southeastern Conference first team. Cobb, who totaled 1,619 all-purpose yards this season, was named as an all-purpose player.
Junior running back Derrick Locke, senior linebacker Sam Maxwell and senior defensive tackle Corey Peters were named to the second team. Senior Zipp Duncan earned honorable mention for his play at left tackle.
Full SEC honors below:
Offense WR -- Shay Hodge, Ole Miss, 6-2, 207, Sr. WR -- A.J. Green, Georgia, 6-4, 207, So. L -- Mike Johnson, Alabama, 6-5, 303, Sr. L -- Ciron Black, LSU, 6-5, 322, Sr. L -- Mike Pouncey, Florida, 6-5, 315, Jr. L -- John Jerry, Mississippi, 6-6, 335, Sr. C - Maurkice Pouncey, Florida, 6-5, 310, Jr. TE- Aaron Hernandez, Florida, 6-2, 250, Jr. QB -- Tim Tebow, Florida, 6-3, 240, Sr. RB -- Mark Ingram, Alabama, 5-10, 212, So. RB -- Anthony Dixon, Mississippi St., 6-1, 235, Sr. K -- Leigh Tiffin, Alabama, 6-2, 212, Sr. All-Purpose -- Dexter McCluster, Mississippi, 5-9, 170, Sr. All-Purpose -- Randall Cobb, Kentucky, 5-11, 188, So.
Defense E -- Antonio Coleman, Auburn, 6-3, 261, Sr. E -- Carlos Dunlap, Florida, 6-6, 290, Jr. T -- Terrence Cody, Alabama, 6-5, 354, Sr. T -- Dan Williams, Tennessee, 6-3, 327, Sr. LB -- Rolando McClain, Alabama, 6-4, 258, Jr. LB -- Eric Norwood, South Carolina, 6-1, 252, Sr. LB -- Rennie Curran, Georgia, 5-11, 225, Jr. CB -- Javier Arenas, Alabama, 5-9, 195, Sr. CB -- Joe Haden, Florida, 5-11, 190, Jr. S -- Eric Berry, Tennessee, 5-11, 203, Jr. S -- Mark Barron, Alabama, 6-2, 214, So. P -- Drew Butler, Georgia, 6-2, 203, So.
Offense WR -- Joe Adams, Arkansas, 5-10, 182, So. WR -- Riley Cooper, Florida, 6-3, 215, Sr. WR -- Brandon LaFell, LSU, 6-3, 206, Sr. L -- Clint Boling, Georgia, 6-5, 297, Jr. L -- Chris Scott, Tennessee, 6-5, 346, Sr. L -- James Carpenter, Alabama, 6-5, 300, Jr. L -- Mitch Petrus, Arkansas, 6-4, 315, Sr. C -- Ryan Pugh, Auburn, 6-4, 289, Jr. TE -- Colin Peek, Alabama, 6-6, 255, Sr. QB -- Ryan Mallett, Arkansas, 6-7, 238, So. RB -- Dexter McCluster, Mississippi, 5-9, 170, Sr. RB -- Montario Hardesty, Tennessee, 6-0, 215, Sr. RB -- Ben Tate, Auburn, 5-11, 218, Sr. K -- Blair Walsh, Georgia, 5-10, 185, So. All-Purpose -- Derrick Locke, Kentucky, 5-9, 190, Jr. All-Purpose -- Javier Arenas, Alabama, 5-9, 195, Sr.
Defense E -- Jermaine Cunningham, Florida, 6-3, 257, Sr. E -- Justin Houston, Georgia, 6-3, 259, So. E -- Pernell McPhee, Mississippi St., 6-4, 275, Jr. T -- Geno Atkins, Georgia, 6-1, 290, Sr. T -- Corey Peters, Kentucky, 6-3, 295, Sr. T -- Jerrell Powe, Mississippi, 6-2, 330, Jr. T -- Malcolm Sheppard, Arkansas, 6-2, 291, Sr. LB -- Brandon Spikes, Florida, 6-4, 255, Sr. LB -- Sam Maxwell, Kentucky, 6-3, 248, Sr. LB -- Rico McCoy, Tennessee, 6-1, 220, Sr. CB -- Patrick Peterson, LSU, 6-1, 211, So. CB -- Myron Lewis, Vanderbilt, 6-2, 205, Sr. CB -- Walt McFadden, Auburn, 6-0, 175, Sr. S -- Chad Jones, LSU, 6-3, 231, Jr. S -- Chris Culliver, South Carolina, 6-0, 190, Jr. P -- Chas Henry, Florida, 6-4, 222, Jr.
Now is when we find out who had the best conference in college football this year, a distinction the Southeastern Conference has held the majority of the last several years.
Including Kentucky's Music City Bowl selection, 10 SEC teams will play in bowls this year.
Complete lineup below:
- Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl: Kentucky vs. Clemson - Dec. 27 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN - Advocare V100 Independence Bowl - Georgia vs Texas A&M - Dec. 28 at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN 2 - Chick-fil-A Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee - Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN - Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Northwestern - Jan. 1 at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN - Capital One Bowl: LSU vs. Penn State - Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET on abc - *Allstate Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Cincinnati - Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET on FOX - PapaJohns.com Bowl: Connecticut vs South Carolina - Jan. 2 at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN - AT&T Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss - Jan. 2 at 2 p.m ET on FOX - AutoZone Liberty Bowl: East Carolina vs. Arkansas - Jan. 2 at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN - *CITI BCS National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Texas - Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. on FOX
If they hand out hardware for weekly awards, Kentucky's trophy case is about to get full.
For the third straight week, guard John Wall has been named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week for his performances against UNC Asheville and North Carolina. The freshman phenom averaged a double-double last week, scoring 14.0 points and dishing out 10.5 assists per game.
Kentucky guards Wall and Eric Bledsoe have combined to win all four Freshman of the Week honors this season. Bledsoe captured the first and Wall has won the last three.
Those honors are in addition to a bevy of other accolades UK has previously captured this season.
It's another reminder that Kentucky basketball is back and squarely on the forefront of college basketball. The Cats are once again relevant, and that's a great thing for the sport.
If the Cats continue to play like they have in the first eight games, expect plenty more posts like this one.
It's the second such honor from ESPN this season. Earlier in the year, freshman guard John Wall was named its National Player of the Week.
Here's the excerpt from ESPN's Weekly Watch:
The much-talked-about Wildcats had by far their toughest test to date on Saturday in Lexington -- and they passed. UK put together a stirring 28-2 run in the first half and held off a furious UNC rally to win 68-66 in front of a record crowd at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky had to deal with a cramped-up John Wall in the second half and weathered Carolina's comeback from 19 down. Patrick Patterson was the most consistent player on the court and continues to be Kentucky's quiet leader, the one who will ultimately be a difference-maker for the 'Cats. Wall can be sensational and few (if any) in college can stop him one-on-one, but he needs an anchor in the post. Patterson delivers in that regard.
Kentucky's execution is still suspect -- the number of turnovers is somewhat alarming. And the freshmen big men commit silly fouls and can tighten games by putting opponents on the free-throw line.
This is a big week for UK, which has a game against Connecticut in New York City and then the first true road game of the season at Indiana. If the Wildcats had lost to the Tar Heels, there would have been plenty of questions about how this young squad can handle the heat. But they held their composure and didn't lose. So put those questions on hold for now.
Kentucky volleyball has learned that it will play Florida State in the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday at 6 p.m. ET in Minneapolis, Minn. Should the Cats win, they will play the winner of Minnesota-Colorado State on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
Atlantic Coast Conference champion Florida State is 30-2 on the season and entered the 64-team tournament as the No. 3 overall seed.
The two victories in the opening rounds of the 2009 tourney matches the school record for wins in a single NCAA Tournament. Kentucky charted a pair of victories in its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1983 when the field of teams was only 24. UK also had two wins on its way to an Elite Eight appearance in 1987 when the field of teams began at 32.
In case you didn't catch the ticket information on the homepage, here is how you can go about getting tickets to UK's Music City Bowl appearance:
- In-person at the UK Ticket Office in the Joe Craft Center - By calling the ticket office at 800-928-2287 - By mail or fax; print a ticket application from UKathletics.com and mail or fax (859-323-1269) to the ticket office
Tickets cost $70 for club level, $50 for lower level and $35 for upper level.
Kentucky will be bowling to a similar tune this holiday season.
Although the destination has been known for the last week, the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl officially announced Sunday that it was selecting Kentucky for the third time in the last four seasons. The Wildcats will meet Clemson from the Atlantic Coast Conference for a primetime showdown (8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) on Dec. 27.
The fourth straight bowl selection marks a school record.
"The important thing is that we are in our fourth straight bowl," head coach Rich Brooks said. "It's a surrounding that we're familiar with. The routine will be a little different since it's over Christmas holiday, but we are familiar with where we're going to practice, we're familiar with the hotel, the meeting rooms, the whole deal, and now we just have to ... see if we can keep our bowl string and our non-conference string alive."
Any lingering effects from a devastating loss to Tennessee to end the regular season appear to have subsided after a week off from football.
"It definitely could have been a lot worse. Just ask a few of the teams that are going other places," Brooks said. "They're upset that they aren't going where we are. We're upset that we aren't going where somebody else is going, so that's all part of the equation."
Kentucky players made it a season-long goal to move up the Southeastern Conference food chain and make it to a bigger bowl (preferably one out of Tennessee), but those hopes were dashed with the late-season loss to the Vols.
Still, the Music City matchup provides a chance to win a fourth straight bowl game, something no other team in school history has ever accomplished.
"At first we weren't (really excited), but we're starting to get more excited because you have to look over the Tennessee loss and keep going," senior tailback Alfonso Smith said. "It takes time when you have a tough loss like that, but I think we can get back on track and get excited once the bowl gifts start coming in."
Smith rattled off some of the bowl gifts he's received during his four-year career at UK, but he said nothing is more special than collecting hardware and cementing a legacy and foundation for future UK teams to build upon.
"I'm just happy to add another ring," Smith said while holding up his hand to show which finger the next bowl ring will go on. "I'll be like (Michael) Jordan almost."
The return trip to Nashville will offer multiple incentives for the Cats. With some of the surprising bowl selections and the logjam in the SEC East, the Kentucky players seemed to be pleased with the selection despite a repeat showdown with a school the Cats defeated in the 2006 Music City Bowl.
"The purpose of moving up in bowls is you play a better opponent," Peters said. "This year I'm looking at the possible choices, Clemson especially, North Carolina, too, are great teams. ... That's what really makes the game. I think that the bowls in particular don't have as big of an effect other than name recognition."
Clemson is coming off a very strong regular season in which it went 8-5. The Tigers had a shot to earn an automatic bid to a Bowl Championship Series game on Saturday night, but fell to eventual ACC champion Georgia Tech.
"Wow, they have talent, much like the last time we played them," Brooks said of facing Clemson.
The Tigers have been led by dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate C.J. Spiller. The senior running back has run for 1,145 yards and 11 touchdowns this year, and his seven kickoff returns for a touchdown is an NCAA record.
"He's a real talent," Brooks said. "He's got speed, got decent size and he's a great kickoff return guy."
Kentucky will leave for Nashville after practice on Dec. 21 and convene for a meeting at 9 a.m. on Dec. 22, Brooks said. They'll stay in Nashville through the Christmas holiday so they can get in their normal Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday practice routine.
Peters said it won't be a huge deal for him to miss Christmas with his loved ones because his family is usually pretty spread out anyway, but Peters admitted that it could have an effect on some of the younger players.
"I'm sure for some of the guys it'll be kind of a shock, especially some of the younger guys who have never been away for Christmas," Peters said. "It's just a holiday. We'll celebrate it a little bit later. Hopefully we can be home on the 28th and we'll have Christmas then."
If they get homesick for the holidays, they'll have Ol' Saint Brooks to keep them company.
"I don't know that they got a Santa costume that fits me or not," Brooks said. "I know my players don't think I'm Santa anyways, so that would probably be a bad idea."
Playing in the Music City just a few days after Christmas will actually offer a unique opportunity for the Cats. Given that it's a Sunday night, it's the only bowl game on TV that day and that record-setting UK fans have traveled so well to Nashville, it will give UK a primetime chance to showcase its program.
"It's a good time to be on TV," Smith said. "It's like Sunday Night Football."
Sure, the Cats would have rather been a little farther south for the holidays, namely for a New Year's Day bowl in Florida, but the disappointment of the late-season game to Tennessee has vanished. They believe there is still plenty to play for.
"No matter who our opponent will be, I'm sure they'll be favored if history has any significance here," Peters said. "I think that will give us something to be excited about, coming out and trying to prove ourselves. When you're playing in these bowl games, I think that it's also important to have a lot of pride in your conference, especially being in the SEC. We want to continue that dominance over other conferences. You don't want to be the team to lose."
They teach scribes early on in journalism 101 to avoid cliches at pretty much all costs. Pardon me just this once for saying it: Defense wins championships.
In the season's most important game of the year, UK's defense dominated the Oregon Ducks. The Cats recorded a season-high 17 blocks Saturday night in Memorial Coliseum, stuffing the No. 14 seed's chance at advancing to the Sweet 16.
Instead, it will be UK moving on to Minneapolis next week, matching the school's deepest NCAA Tournament run since 1992.
"Well, that was fun," head coach Craig Skinner said. "One of the things that we've had written on our erase board all year long is good teams never stop getting better. That's been evident the last week. It's hard to do when you get towards the end of the season. The nice thing is our blocking has been OK this year, and it really turned out tonight. That is critical when you get into the NCAA Tournament."
It's the difference between the winners and the losers, the second round and the round of 16. UK had it (17 blocks) and Oregon (three blocks) didn't.
"I thought we set up really well," Skinner said. "We were very assertive and aggressive. Typically when you don't block well you reach your hands all over the place. We were really structured and disciplined with what we did. We had a great game plan and the team followed it extremely well."
That game plan centered on minimizing former All-American Sonja Newcombe from doing what she's done all season. She's been one of the best terminators in the Pac-10, averaging a gaudy 4.34 kills per set.
Newcombe tallied 14 kills on the night and hard-hitting Heather Meyers notched 16 of them, but for the most part, UK limited the Oregon attack and forced it from playing its typical fast-paced style by taking away the center of the court.
"We needed to give up some line shots a bit and they got some kills down the line, but we did not to let them pound the ball in the middle of the court," Skinner said. "I thought we did a great job making that happen."
It was Skinner initially who predicted UK would have to play defense to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Fresh off the Cats' victory Friday night, Skinner said defense would play a critical role in Saturday's match.
He stopped short of allowing anyone to call him a prophet after the big win.
"I wish I was that good at predicting like that," Skinner said. "We've worked on defense every single day in practice. It was bound to come through. I think we're just starting to continue to get better. Everyone recognizes that at any point in time in the match the ball can come to you. We were very alert tonight and made a lot of plays."
Few were more alert than Lauren Rapp. The junior right-side hitter recorded a career-high 10 blocks and it seemed as if she, Gretchen Giesler and Becky Pavan had a hand on nearly every Oregon shot.
When they weren't stuffing the shots to the hardwood on the floor, they were usually altering shots. Rapp, who credited the Cats' positioning and preparation, said they built more and more confidence with each smothering block.
"It just gives you so much momentum," Rapp said. "I think it's the biggest momentum booster, getting a block for your team. We went on a run of three blocks in a row at one point (in the third set). It's just so much fun and it gives you so much energy."
Speaking of a jolt, if there was any thought about any lingering demons after last week's late-season collapse, they've been completely erased. UK has discovered newfound life and will enter the Sweet 16 as one of the hottest teams in the tourney.
It comes at a time when the Cats are on the verge of taking the program's next step in joining the nation's elite.
"It's very difficult to get to a regional," Skinner said. "It's not just the matches you speak of in building a program. It's getting to the point where your players in the program believe that you can do that. It's a lot of hard work. They put the energy into it and we don't want to go participate. It's about going to the next step. It's a six-match season and we've got two down and the third one comes up on Friday."
That means four more until the championship. If the Cats keep playing defense like they did in the first two rounds, they have as good of a shot as anyone. ,
When the school hired John Calipari more than eight months ago, tremors shook the college basketball world. When Calipari hauled in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, opposing coaches let out a collective "Uh oh." And when UK started the preseason ranked in the top five, it appeared the country's all-time winningest program was back for good.
This proves it. Kentucky's 68-66 win on Saturday qualified what teams across the country have feared for months: The Cats are every bit as good as their recruiting stars and rankings indicate. Their talent might be unmatched.
Contrary to what head coach John Calipari says, UK is now firmly back among the nation's elite, and not a moment too late with win No. 2,000 now on the horizon.
"We're not back. We're not very good," Calipari said. "We had 21 turnovers, and there were times late in the game you had to say, 'Why did he do that?' because that's what exactly what I was saying. We walked out of three timeouts, folks, and guys were looking like, 'What are we running?' "
"All that stuff - to be more focused in timeouts, to do it in practice, understanding this is about a team, not you - we've got all that stuff to cure."
All that "stuff" and yet UK walks away with really its first signature win since toppling No. 8 Tennessee two seasons ago in Lexington. UK showed 24,468 record-setting fans and the eyes of the nation that talent sometimes trumps inexperience and mistakes.
The fact that UK could overcome what Calipari has maintained is a work-in-progress might be more telling of this team than anything.
"There are a lot of people out there saying we're a young and immature team," junior forward Patrick Patterson said. "People were saying we were going to lose this game and we can't do this and we can't do that. ... Hopefully that will change the perspective on us. Hopefully they'll think we're a tough team and a force to be reckoned with."
Consider North Carolina coach Roy Williams a believer.
After a 9-2 UNC lead to open the game, Kentucky nearly ran the Tar Heels back to Chapel Hill, N.C. Freshman guard John Wall, playing against his hometown team, grabbed a miss from Marcus Ginyard and raced the length of the floor for a two-hand slam.
He didn't stop running until cramps slowed him in the second half.
Behind Wall's blink-of-the-eye transition baskets and five first-half assists, Kentucky went on an almost surreal 28-2 run. For all the talk about UK's inexperience and lack of big-game situations, Wall was ready to rise to the occasion.
"In the first they really kicked our tails," Williams said. "They just ran us out of the gym." It's hard to tell how well the Dribble Drive Motion Offense is really working. With big men DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Patterson inside, the Cats have been forced to alter their attack just a bit. In the same breath, Calipari will tell you they still have "a long ways to go."
Who knows? If we could live inside Calipari's head, maybe we'd have a better picture.
But from what we know and what we can see, Calipari appeared to execute a perfect game plan in the first half. With Ed Davis and Deon Thompson inside, North Carolina had enough muscle in the paint to push a two-ton truck.
So Calipari adjusted. He emphasized defense (UNC shot 38.8 percent from the field) and turnovers (21 Tar Heel mishaps), and more than anything, he pushed his players in transition after a forced miss or turnover.
A leaner Patterson ran, a more aggressive Darius Miller got down the court and shot open treys, and Wall popped out assists like a Pez dispenser.
"I don't know that I've ever coached a team that at halftime the other team scored 12 fast-break points and we had zero," Williams said.
A steady, workman-like second half effort from UNC chipped away at the Kentucky lead when Wall went out with cramps, but clutch plays - most notably 3-of-4 free throws from Eric Bledsoe - sealed the deal.
Bledsoe, to that point, had done very little, but he kept his head up and grinded out the type of wins great teams come away with. In games like Saturday's, style points don't matter.
"It doesn't matter how you play," Calipari said. "I'm trying to teach the whole team that. ... It doesn't matter if you've played awful. At the end of the day we're trying to win."
And they're becoming extremely successful at doing it. In jumping out to an 8-0 start, UK is off to its best opening-season mark since an 11-0 run to begin the 1992-93 campaign.
Ugly, pretty, flashy or the quote unquote "long way to go," performances, it doesn't matter anymore. In a program where priority No. 1 is winning, Kentucky appears to be back on track.
Because really, all those preseason rankings, magazine covers and talk of a return don't mean anything until you beat the big boys. Sure, Kentucky had some Cancun Challenge hardware in its trophy cast and won some games at the end with some clutch late-game plays, but without the prominent names like Carolina in the win column, it lacked substance.
Consider Saturday proof of the grand return.
"I like our will to win," Calipari said. "We have a will to win. They believe they're going to make something happen and they'll win the game."
It's a belief the Cats used to sweat. UK used to walk in opposing teams' gyms and the other players' knees would wobble. The kids call it swagger these days. I call it confidence.
Whatever term you choose to use, I think they've got it back.
Finally, the UK volleyball team can bury the past, sew up the wounds and move on.
They tried not to show it last week, but the losses to Florida and Tennessee to close the regular season were devastating; the vanishing of the Southeastern Conference championship even more gut-wrenching.
Now the healing can begin. With a dominating 3-0 victory over Michigan State on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Cats can finally pick up the shattered glass and piece back together what could still be a promising season. UK will play No. 14 overall seed Oregon on Saturday at 7 p.m. inside Memorial Coliseum.
"I knew that as we walked into the gym to start practice after two disappointing losses to end the season, we just had to refocus," senior setter and captain Sarah Rumely said. "It's our third season. We have three seasons: we have preseason, then conference and then the postseason. It was just a different mentality. It's a new season."
But the Cats wouldn't have been able to move on without putting their so-called "second season" behind them.
"No one was happy about the losses," junior outside hitter Sarah Mendoza said.
Disappointment lingered for a few days, but it seemed to quickly disappear with two confidence-building practices. Head coach Craig Skinner preached all week that there was no other team he would rather coach to try to bounce back. He maintained his stance that the veteran leadership and experience on UK's squad was unmatched by few teams in the country.
Maybe we should start to listen a little closer. After all, five straight NCAA Tournament appearances clearly indicates the guy knows what he's doing.
UK rebounded with an extremely balanced, vengeful-like performance. Junior middle blocker Lauren Rapp led the way with 14 kills, but Mendoza added 13, sophomore middle blocker Gretchen Giesler tallied eight and sophomore middle blocker Becky Pavan notched six.
Rumely had a hand in almost every offensive play, accumulating a match-high 39 assists. Maybe more impressive was the defensive intensity UK mustered, especially late in sets. The Cats, who have struggled with blocking a bit this year, notched 14 blocks and 47 digs.
"When you make big blocks ... those are the biggest momentum-changers in the game," Skinner said. "We've always been good offensively this season - statistics speak for that - but I never believed we weren't a good defensive team. We've just got so many kills a lot of times this year that our defense didn't need to step up. Tournament time it does, and it did."
The defense might have been one of the bigger keys, but it wasn't the biggest. That came from the Cats offensive mentality. No, I'm not talking about kills or assists; I'm talking about the will to get off the mat and fight.
After letting a late-season loss linger over into the NCAA Tournament last year - a first-round boot from Michigan - UK was poised and experienced enough to come back to work and put the past behind it.
"It's a sign of a veteran team and a team that believes in (itself)," Skinner said. "That was very important for us to get this tournament started like that. ... This team is so competitive and veteran leadership does a great job of getting us refocused, and I thought our practices this week really showed that. I'm very proud of the way we responded."
The most therapeutic part about bouncing back was just getting back on the court again. It was a chance to flip a rare sour note and redirect the season back to where it's been headed all year: into the school annals as one of the best ever.
"It was great to just step back out on the court," Rumely said. "Every match I just love to compete and get back out there. We have a great team and a great team environment. It's just so fun to compete every day. (I) was itching to get back out there."
Kentucky will get another chance Saturday. Friday was just one win and doesn't by any means encompass the season-long goals. But it was a start for a team looking to bury a disappointing past and move on with the season's biggest dreams.
"Losing is never fun," Skinner said. "I've always believed this team could do a lot of great things. We've continued to match records and certain things throughout this program, but we all know that if you don't perform well enough to win, you go home tomorrow. We don't want that to happen because we all enjoy what we're doing."
You can feel the buzz building in Lexington in anticipation for the UK-North Carolina basketball game Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET. Students have been camping out for days hoping to get a front-row view of the action. Here some of them are braving the ice-cold temperatures outside of Rupp.
On Friday, UNC head coach Roy Williams held a news conference and briefly touched on the Wall situation. Williams, a two-time national championship coach with the Tar Heels, said there are some things in the recruiting world that should stay private, one of them being the recruitment of Wall.
"I had a conversation with John," Williams said. "We visited and a couple of things happened immediately after that, that made me make the decision not to go any farther."
Williams didn't elaborate any farther than that, but he did go into pretty good detail in his praise of Wall on the court, comparing the first-year UK guard to one of the all-time NBA greats.
"I loved him as a player," Williams said. "I've been on record as saying that I thought he was the best point guard prospect I've seen in high school basketball since Jason Kidd. I thought he would have been a great player for us, but things just didn't fit. Some shoes don't fit."
Williams called the recruiting process a difficult scenario because he "loved (Wall) to death," but things didn't work out.
Asked what he liked about Wall when he was recruiting him, Williams said, "everything."
"He's a 6-4 point guard, he's fast as you can possibly be -- the closest thing I had seen to the speed that Ty Lawson pushed the ball with," Williams said. "He's vicious defensively. He's going to get better and better at shooting."
UNC senior guard Marcus Ginyard will likely get some time guarding Wall, Williams said, but he made sure to point out that UK has more players to worry about than just Wall.
"It's not just John Wall," Williams said. "(It's) John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, (DeMarcus) Cousins. Patrick Patterson is still a big load for them. They're a basketball team. John is a big-time star that is willing to make big-time plays."
No worries. UK has released three videos from Wednesday's cheer practice to help you, the fans, get more involved for Saturday's game and future games.
Amber McGehee, president of the Student Athletic Council, said the goal is get everyone on the same page and to create a unified cheering environment. It's not just about the eRUPPtion Zone, the band, the cheerleaders or the fans in section 208 -- it's about everybody coming together and making Rupp Arena, already the most intimidating arena in the country, even tougher.
Don't like the cheers you're seeing? Think you have some better ideas? Great, McGehee said. McGehee said they are more than open to suggestions for more cheers and chants. Fans wishing to send in suggestions can send McGehee an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The race to 2,000 wins has hit the final stretch. A white flag has been waved and it's down to Kentucky and North Carolina.
UK will enter Saturday's game just five wins shy of the coveted 2,000 mark and with a four-game lead over the Tar Heels. Crazier things have happened, but a win Saturday would basically clinch the race.
Head coach John Calipari understands the importance of reaching 2,000 wins and the mythical title of the country's all-time top college basketball program that comes with it, but the first-year UK coach would rather cement that title with an eighth national championship banner.
"It's a big deal within the Commonwealth and we all understand it, but the reality of it is we're playing for March. That's our deal," Calipari said. "That's always been how I've coached. We're playing for March. The biggest thing in this game is what we're going to learn about our team. It will be there for everyone to see, nationally televised."
Freshman guard John Wall said reaching new milestones and adding to the program's legacy is one of the reasons he chose to attend UK.
"They haven't had any banners up here in a long while at the University of Kentucky," Wall said. "When coach Calipari came here, that's what they got him for to come in here and put banners in, bring in great players and the players he brings in, they want to put come up here and put banners up. That's what our team is looking for. We're looking forward to keep adding banners."
Update: Note at the bottom that it's the first time three general managers have attended a game in Peevy's tenure. Earlier I indicated incorrectly that it's the first time a GM has attended a UK game in Peevy's tenure, which is obviously not true. Apologies for the confusion.
A lot of potential NBA talent will be on the floor Saturday in Rupp Arena when Kentucky and North Carolina square off.
Believe me when I say as many as seven or eight players on the floor could be playing in the NBA sometime in the near future, maybe even more. And that's no exaggeration.
As reported by Alan Cutler earlier this afternoon, numerous NBA scouts will be in attendance Saturday to scout the talent. To verify the numbers a bit, a total of 17 scouts and three general managers will be representing 18 different NBA teams at Saturday's game (in the best interest of all 30 NBA teams, UK cannot release the teams attending ahead of time).
DeWayne Peevy, spokesman for the UK men's basketball team, said it's the first time to his knowledge that three general managers have attended a UK basketball game since he's been here. Peevy is currently in his second year with UK.
The NBA representation is the largest turnout UK has had for a game in the last three seasons, according to previous UK seating charts. Only last year's Florida (18 scouts) and Mississippi State (15 scouts) games in Rupp Arena rivaled Saturday's expected turnout.
All that in addition to his team-leading 18.5 points and 7.8 assists per game, game-winning 15-footer against Miami (Ohio), game-tying free throws against Stanford, and, oh, did we mention he has a drink named after him at Two Keys Tavern?
The legend of Wall has grown even faster than most in Lexington could have predicted. On a team of superstars, Wall is the crown jewel.
But for one reason or another, Wall never got that love from North Carolina, and Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams decided to go in a different direction. Besides a pair of phone calls before the 2009 national championship game, Wall hardly heard from UNC. The title game came and went, and Wall never got a call back from his hometown school, much less a scholarship offer.
Wall's feelings were hurt. The Raleigh, N.C., native said he grew up bleeding blue - Carolina blue - calling the Tar Heels his favorite team as a child and Vince Carter his favorite player.
"I feel like they didn't think I was good enough to play there or they just took it in a way that they were moving on forward and they were happy with what they got and the players they have," Wall said.
What's that old cliche again? One man's loss is another man's gain?
Head coach John Calipari jumped at the chance to nab the nation's most prized recruit out of the Tar Heels' backyard. Now Wall will finally have a chance to go face-to-face with his hometown school Saturday in Rupp Arena and show it what it missed out on.
"You might see Superman come out there," freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins said after Monday's win over UNC Asheville. "I believe John has some bad blood with North Carolina somewhere in there."
Wall, who surely had this game circled on his calendar six months ago when he signed a national letter of intent to play for UK, admitted he'll probably have a little extra motivation this game, all while downplaying any notions of revenge or redemption.
"I think I might have a little bit of an edge but I can't let it overwhelm me and get out of control and do stuff that I'm not supposed to do or try to do too much while I'm playing on Saturday," Wall said. "I've got to keep doing what I've been doing and get my teammates involved. If I have the opportunity to score that's' what I do, but I think if I get out of control it's going to mess us up."
Wall has little to prove at this point. He's quickly become a staple of the 2009-10 basketball season and will likely be an All-America candidate if he keeps his current pace up.
However, Wall is at the tender age of 19 when emotions can sometimes get in the way of focus. That's why Calipari said he may try to sit down with Wall before the game and make sure his attention is in the right play.
"He's been pretty cool all year," Calipari said. "Everybody is trying to make their name at his expense - every player he plays, every guard he plays. They're writing stories about it prior to the game, kids are talking about it if they're the point guard on the other team, so he understands that. I'm more concerned about some other guys.
"It's not John Wall vs. North Carolina. It's our team vs. their team. It's our big guys vs. their big guys."
As true is that may be, no spotlight will shine brighter than the one on Wall and his homegrown roots with North Carolina. With the eyes of the nation watching him (Saturday's 12:30 p.m. ET game will be a live nationally televised broadcast on CBS), how will the first-year player react?
"It's just your mind-set," Wall said. "If you're too jacked, you know how to calm yourself down. At 19 or 18 years old, you've got to calm yourself down by then. If you were younger, you'd be out of control and wouldn't know how to stop. Now I'm mature and I know when I'm too hyped, I've got to calm myself down or coach Cal will call me to the side and tell me to calm down."
How Wall ever landed at UK or how North Carolina passed on one of the most heavily recruited player in years in their own backyard remains a bit of a mystery.
"I still don't have (a) clue," Wall said of UNC's decision not to offer him a scholarship. "... I'm happy with my decision (to be at UK)."
Based on what he's been able to do so far, Calipari and Kentucky are ecstatic to have him on their side.
"There were people telling him, 'You need to go to Duke.' " Calipari said. "It was made public and it was in the newspapers. He had to withstand all that. I think I've had players before who want to play for us in this style listen to their heart and do what they want to do."
"You want guys like that," Calipari said. "John, in the end, is a pleaser. He's going to listen to everybody around him because he wants to please everybody. But he was strong enough in the end to make the decision he wanted to make."
Wall insisted that he doesn't have any bad blood with Williams or North Carolina, but it's hard to imagine a scenario Saturday where Wall won't be out to prove a point Saturday.
"(North Carolina's) a great school to go play basketball for," Wall said. "It's a big game on our schedule. Whenever it's a big game that's when you want to step up and play to the best of your ability and do what you can to help your team win."
King of Yahoo! Sports sits down with the Assistant Coach of the Week for a Q and A.
KOTC: How did you (and Calipari) get back together?
Robic: The greatest thing ever is that, the day after I got fired at Youngstown State, he called me and said, 'We've got a job for you at Memphis.' It was probably the best call I've ever received, knowing that you're out of a job and wondering what you're going to do with your wife and three kids. He's a loyal guy. We had a good run together at UMass and a good one at Memphis. Hopefully we're in for another one, too.
Craig Skinner has long talked about making Kentucky into a traditional volleyball powerhouse. After a school-record five straight NCAA Tournament selections, Kentucky has thrown itself into that elite group.
With this year's NCAA Tournament pairings, UK becomes one of just 20 schools nationwide to have made the "Big Dance" five years running (full list below). Of course there are your annual powerhouses like Penn State and Nebraska in the running every year, but to have your name throw into the same discussion with schools like those is a testament to how far Craig Skinner has taken this program in just a short amount of time.
Before Skinner arrived, UK had made it to the tourney just six times.
"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."
UK kicks off its tournament run Friday at 7 p.m. vs. Michigan State in Memorial Coliseum.
NCAA tourney selection five straight years 1.) California 2.) Colorado State 3.) Duke 4.) Florida 5.) Florida A&M 6.) Hawaii 7.) Kentucky 8.) Long Beach State 9.) Long Island 10.) LSU 11.) Louisville 12.) Minnesota 13.) Nebraska 14.) Ohio 15.) Penn State 16.) Southern California 17.) Stanford 18.) Texas 19.) UCLA 20.) Washington
The men's basketball team is busy preparing for Saturday's much-anticipated showdown with North Carolina. Now it's time for you, the fans, to get your game ready as well.
UK will hold an open "cheer practice" Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in Rupp Arena to prepare the fans for Saturday's game. The practice will serve as a test run for what UK hopes and expects from its fans when the ball is thrown up Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
The Student Athletic Council will host the event in hopes of getting all the fans on the same page. SAC will videotape the eRUPPtion Zone doing specific new cheers, action and chants. The video will be made available to all students and serve as a learning tool for students who sit in the eRUPPtion Zone for this and future games.
Fans with eRUPPtion Zone tickets will be seated first, but the they will fill in extra fans as necessary for practice.
Fans should enter through the security entrance located near the loading docks. Parking will be available for free in the Cox Street parking lot.
The following letter is from Justin Mosby, brother of former UK football commitment Chris Mosby, who died tragically in a car crash on Dec. 31, 2005, before putting on a Wildcat jersey.
Chris Mosby's family received that uniform during halftime of Saturday's Tennessee game. Chris Mosby, who would have been a senior this season, was honored during Senior Day festivities as one of the 27 seniors in this year's class. Mosby's family received a framed jersey in his honor.
A highly touted linebacker out of Tennessee, Chris Mosby was a finalist for The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal's Best of the Preps Defensive Player of the Year award.
Justin Mosby gave UK permission to publish the following letter:
To the University of Kentucky and Athletic Program,
I just wanted to say thank you and extend to the University of Kentucky our deepest gratitude and thanks for all that you have done for our family over the past four years. It means more to us than you all will ever know. The University of Kentucky and the athletic program has definitely gone above and beyond the call of duty for our family, especially after honoring Chris' memory on Senior Day this past weekend. This past weekend is a true testament to the University of Kentucky and exemplifies the class, integrity and character the University of Kentucky is known for and stands for. When a student or athlete commits to this University, they are shown the same commitment if not more from the University of Kentucky. After this past weekend, it stood out to me loud and clear that Chris would have been a perfect fit for UK and the football team. We know that our family will never forget him, but knowing that people outside of our family haven't forgotten him means more than words can describe. We not only give thanks to you all, but also to the fans that remembered him and have said and written nice things to our family about Chris and kept us in their prayers. We will forever have a special place in our hearts for the University of Kentucky.
Brett Dawson has a great story on John Wall quickly becoming a basketball icon in Wednesday's Courier-Journal.
The story profiles Wall's quick rise to stardom in the Bluegrass State. It only took the freshman seven games to become a legend.
Need proof? Well, the North Carolina native reportedly already has a shot named after him at a local bar. Yeah, I kid you not. Here's an excerpt from Dawson's story:
Behind the bar at Two Keys Tavern, one of this town's best-known watering holes, there's a 3-liter tower for dispensing drinks.
On nights when the University of Kentucky men's basketball team plays on TV, it's filled with a mixture of blue raspberry vodka, sour mix and Sprite.
A shot of that concoction has become known as a "John Wall."
"The customers just started calling it that," bartender Seth Bennett said. "We never really had a name for it."
They still don't. There's no sign advertising a "John Wall" anywhere in Two Keys. That fans still order rounds of them every time the Wildcats' freshman point guard scores a basket is a sign of just how adored he's become in his short stay at UK.
North Carolina defeated No. 9 Michigan State on Tuesday and did so in impressive fashion. Anyone who thought the Tar Heels were going to waltz into Rupp Arena on Saturday inexperienced and unproven, read on:
I had a chance to watch most of the second half -- a half in which Michigan State actually stormed back -- and I came away very impressed by the depth and balance of Carolina. Ed Davis and Deon Thompson are studs in the frontcourt and guard Larry Drew is quickly becoming a star. If those freshmen continue to develop, UNC will have yet another say in the national championship picture.
Kentucky will have its hands full Saturday afternoon. Should be a great matchup and I can't wait to watch it.
And before I forget, that race to 2,000 wins is coming closer and closer to a resolution. With the Carolina win Tuesday, UNC now has 1,991 wins. Still, the Tar Heels trail the Cats, who have 1,995 wins.
It's UK's to lose. The Cats can bury UNC for good with a win Saturday.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, November 29:
Football: Randall Cobb
WR/QB Randall Cobb - 186 all-purpose yards, including 101 rushing yards and a touchdown
UK Hoops: Victoria Dunlap
Junior forward Victoria Dunlap averaged a team-high 18.0 points and 5.5 rebounds last week in helping the Wildcats remain unbeaten at 6-0.
Led all scorers with 17 points at UC Santa Barbara on 7-of-13 shooting with five rebounds, three steals and a block. She netted 13 of those points in the first half on 6-of-7 shooting.
Scored a game-high 19 points against McNeese State on 8-of-14 shooting with six rebounds, three steals and three blocks. She produced 13 of her 19 points in the second stanza on 5-of-9 shooting.
Dunlap's three blocks against McNeese State pushed her into eighth place on UK's career blocked shots list with 75 blocks in just 71 games. She moved past Jody Runge (74 from 1980-84).
She has now scored in double digits in 12 consecutive games and swiped at least one steal in 13 consecutive games, dating back to last season.
Football: Micah Johnson
LB Micah Johnson - Career-high 16 tackles, including two tackles for loss
Football: Sam Maxwell
LB Sam Maxwell - Seven tackles, 56-yard interception return for a touchdown
Volleyball: Lauren Rapp
Junior Lauren Rapp was the spark in Kentucky's comeback effort to force Tennessee into a fifth and deciding frame after trailing the Lady Vols 2-0. Rapp accounted for 15 total points in the match with 12 kills and three blocks. The right-side hitter also accounted for a pair of assists in a single match after only tallying five other assists throughout the entire season. Rapp also posted eight scoops in the match despite not playing in the back row rotation. She continues to have a productive season with a career-best .322 hitting percentage and the .364 average against Tennessee helped increase that percentage which ranks among the top-10 in the conference this season.
Men's Basketball: John Wall
Wall, a 6-4 guard from Raleigh, N.C., averaged 19.0 points, 5.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds in leading the Wildcats to the Cancun Challenge championship. He was named the tournament MVP after he scored a career-high 23 points in leading Kentucky to a 73-65 overtime victory against Stanford in the finals of the Cancun Challenge. He hit a jumper with 30 seconds left in regulation to tie the score and then knocked down two free throws with 2.4 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
John Calipari's basketball team is undefeated, ranked in the top five and generating more buzz than this state has experienced in years.
But his team isn't even playing the best basketball in Lexington.
Yeah, I said it. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson - they're going to have to step it up a notch if they want to match what the UK women's basketball team is doing on the court.
Comparisons aside - because really, that team Cal has isn't too shabby either - it's hard to find a fault with the UK Hoops team right now. Fresh off a 107-53 throttling of Miami (Ohio) in Memorial Coliseum Tuesday night, it's safe to say the Cats are playing the best basketball of the Matthew Mitchell era.
"It was a fantastic night for us," said Mitchell, now in his third year at the helm. "From watching film, I thought Miami had the ability to come in and be very tough tonight. We just played some terrific basketball."
Fantastic. Terrific. Sparkling. Superb. They're all indicative of a 7-0 opening to the year, the best start since opening the 2005-06 season 8-0.
With the exception of a three-minute lull midway through the second half - really, who could blame the Cats for giving up a 14-5 run when they were already up 50 points? - they were just about flawless.
Even the players had a hard time figuring out what, if anything went wrong. Senior guard Amani Franklin had to pause and think about it.
"I think in the second half there was a spurt in there that we kind of let down," Franklin said. "Basically that was it. For the most part, we were (clicking) on all cylinders."
They were motoring down the court going 100 miles per hour. Everything - and I mean everything - seemed to go right.
In surpassing the 100-mark for the first time since 2005, the Cats shot 59.5 percent from the floor, out-rebounded the opposition by 17 and forced 28 turnovers, 14 of them off steals.
Mitchell, never one to hide his emotions anyway, couldn't help but revel at the total package his team put together against Miami. It would have taken something tragic to wipe the smile off his face. Who could blame him?
"It's a lot of fun," Mitchell said. "I've been through some where (it didn't happen like that), so I was very happy to be in this one tonight as a coach. It was great."
The most important thing to take from Tuesday was the downpour of 3-pointers from the Cats. Mitchell's preseason assessment that this was a significantly better perimeter shooting team was more than qualified by a barrage of long-range daggers against the RedHawks.
The Cats buried 12 treys in just 17 attempts, including two or more 3-pointers from Franklin, Keyla Snowden, Rebecca Gray and Carly Morrow.
"I thought we gained tremendous confidence from executing against their zone early," Mitchell said. "It was all about making the extra pass and sharing the basketball. We were moving bodies, we were moving the ball, and when that happens we're pretty good. ... No doubt, people get to feeling better when shots are going in. It does relax people and lets them make shots that they're capable of making."
When the Cats are raining triples from the outside, it sheds double teams on junior forward Victoria Dunlap inside, allowing UK's most complete player go to work in the paint. She did again Tuesday, tallying 21 points and 16 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the early season and 17th of her career.
"It opens up a lot," Dunlap said. "It takes a little bit (of pressure) off me in there trying to worry about posting up, but it's obviously a good thing for our guards to be able to shoot. Teams now have to guard inside and outside."
It creates balance and rhythm, two things Miami was unable to contain. Six different UK players reached double figures, and Snowden nearly made it seven with nine points.
"It starts with (Amber Smith), Vic is obviously a great weapon and then we've added some great pieces," Mitchell said. "We just have some talented offensive players right now."
Not every night is going to be like Tuesday. Let's be clear: The Cats could do no wrong against Miami. Those nights happen once or twice in a season. But the proof is in the body of work. Before Tuesday, UK was already averaging 78.2 points per game while holding its opponents 36.7 percent shooting on the year.
If those averages hold up, it won't matter if it's a cold shooting night or a hot one. The Cats are finding ways to win, big or small.
"The challenge for us is going to be when a night doesn't go like tonight, can we continue to play defense, can we continue to hang our hat on defensive intensity?" Mitchell said.
In this day and age in the Matthew Mitchell era when all cylinders seem to be clicking, the answer appears to be a resounding yes.
The Outback Bowl traditionally selects an SEC East team, meaning all those teams that were hoping to play in Tampa would then get knocked down a bowl.
Let's say it indeed comes true and Auburn lands in the Outback and Tennessee winds up the Chick-fil-A. That would leave Kentucky, Georgia and South Carolina all vying for the Music City Bowl.
How do you decide who gets to go of the three? Kentucky beat Georgia, Georgia defeated South Carolina and South Carolina toppled Kentucky. It's a mess. Whoever gets left out will have a legitimate gripe.
It will likely come down to revenue and fan interest, but even then it's a crapshoot because all three teams' fan bases travel well. Kentucky has the argument that it has a proven track record in Nashville, but do the bowl representatives really want to choose a team that has been there two out of the last three years?
We'll have to wait and see. It's still all strictly speculation at this point, but I figured I would keep everyone up to date on what's being said in the bowl circles.
Music City Bowl executive director Scott Ramsey was quoted in Cosby's story as saying that he is "definitely interested" in bringing UK back to Nashville, Tenn., for the third time in four seasons.
"It's hard to deny the success we've had with Kentucky," Ramsey said, according to Cosby's story. "We've developed great relationships with the fan base, the administration and the coaching staff."
Ramsey goes on to tell Cosby that another trip to the Music City would be appealing because of the date (Sunday, Dec. 27), short drive to Nashville, potential matchups with Miami or North Carolina, and the primetime kickoff (8:30 p.m. on ESPN).
"Hopefully a nationally known program like Miami or North Carolina would bring some excitement," Ramsey said in the report. "We feel like that's a pretty good fit that would get the fans interested. And with it being unopposed in prime time, that would be a great platform."