Experience has a way of showing up when things matter the most.
Although Friday's annual showdown with Louisville was being billed as a matchup of youth (Kentucky) vs. experience (Louisville), it was UK's trio of veteran leaders that shined brightest when the Battle of the Bluegrass was at stake.
In addition to Josh Harrellson's career day - the senior forward finished with a career-high 23 points and 14 rebounds, which you can read more about here - juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins stepped up big in Kentucky's 78-63 rout of Louisville.
With U of L raining 3-pointers in its brand new arena and leading scorer Terrence Jones slow to get going, it was Darius Miller that steadied the Kentucky ship early on. After Louisville jumped to a 12-6 lead on a 3-pointer from Preston Knowles, Miller grabbed the only lead Kentucky would need with an "and one" play.
Miller extended the lead to 19-14 on a powerful turnaround jumper and provided a key offensive rebound near the end of the first half that set up a Terrence Jones basket.
"Darius was the reason there was a gap in the first half," UK head coach John Calipari said.
When Louisville rallied in the second half and Preston Knowles caught fire, Liggins' heralded defense once again came to the rescue.
Seconds after Knowles buried his fifth straight jump shot in a five-minute span - Knowles hit three 3-pointers and two long 2s in a furious Cardinal rally midway through the second half - Calipari sent Liggins to guard him.
Knowles would hit just one more basket the rest of the game.
"I think (Peyton) Siva is really, really good, and that's why we put DeAndre on him," Calipari said. "We were hoping Knowles wouldn't go crazy. And when Knowles went crazy, then we put him on Knowles. And then Siva went crazy."
It was a reflection of the type of defense Liggins earned praise for last season and the kind of gritty attitude that is starting re-emerge once again.
"The difference in the game was from him and he was 1-for-7 from the floor," Calipari said of Liggins, who finished with as many steals (four) as he had points (four). "He played 39 minutes. That's what great basketball teams have."
Calipari has continually preached that his young team doesn't understand how to win, yet with veterans stepping up and the obvious talents from the freshmen, the Cats keep finding a way to add to their victory total.
The latest was the team's greatest - Kentucky's fifth win in its last seven tries against Louisville.
"We have a chance," Calipari said. "Now let's take it up a notch."
Raise your hand if you predicted one year ago from today that Josh Harrellson would be the difference in this year's Dream Game?
How about six months ago? Last month? Yesterday?
The nation's most improved player, who didn't even sniff the floor in last year's youth-driven Kentucky win, was the veteran presence and difference in UK's 78-63 victory over Louisville on Friday.
Harrellson posted a career-high 23 points and 14 rebounds - just the fourth double-double of his career - to lead another young Kentucky team over Louisville in front a KFC Yum! Center record crowd of 22,803. Harrellson's career afternoon provided Kentucky with its second straight win and fifth in the last seven meetings with the Cardinals.
Not even Harrellson could have drawn up what he did in the state's annual showdown.
"I would have never expected this," Harrellson said. "If you would have asked me yesterday if I would have the best night of my life, I would have been like, 'Yeah, right.' "
Fast forward 24 hours later to the 1:29 minute mark. As Big Blue fans behind the Kentucky bench stood to their feet, UK coach John Calipari took Harrellson out of the game one final time and gave him the bear hug of his life.
Calipari was lost for words during the embrace, Harrellson said, but he's not lost on what Harrellson has done for his coaching career.
"He's taught me a great lesson," Calipari said. "What we coaches like to do is just work with the good guys. The guys that are struggling, sometimes you just push them aside. What he has shown me is every kid deserves everything we have to help him get better. ... I'm just proud of him. He had 23 points and 14 rebounds?! Oh my gosh. Wow. It's an emotional rush seeing that."
This game was just another representation for the season Harrellson is having. In a game that hyped youth vs. experience, Calipari vs. Rick Pitino and a ranked team vs. a ranked team, it was the-often-overlooked-but-stunningly-reliable Harrellson that stole the game's headlines.
The beneficiary of Terrence Jones double teams, Harrellson took advantage of key rolls and second-chance points. Jones, chastised by his head coach for catching the ball too far from the low post, continually caught the defense off guard with timely looks to Harrellson in the paint.
"I knew the double team was coming, so I thought with me being farther away, I thought the double team would come further to me and it would make it an easier pass," said Jones, who, laughingly, admitted he did not suggest that to Calipari.
Fitting of Harrellson's role and rise, Jones said Harrellson isn't even the first option out of the double-team read. And yet, nearly every time Jones was double teamed, he dumped it down to Harrellson (three of Jones' career-high five assists were to Harrellson).
"He deserved it," Jones said. "He's been working hard."
The work, the conditioning, and to a point, the Twitter controversy a couple of months ago, are what Calipari said saved Harrellson's career. Since publicly tweeting some negative comments directed at his head coach, Harrellson has been conditioning 30 minutes before every practice.
With each passing game, the work is paying off.
"When I first started, I just wanted to quit," Harrellson said. "I hated it and I looked at is as punishment. But then I looked at it as it's making me better because each game I got progressively better."
How much of a factor the conditioning really was Friday, we may never know, but Harrellson just looks like a completely different player right now. Although Calipari took part of the blame for never giving Harrellson a chance, his calm low post moves, relentless rebounding and baseline-to-baseline stamina are facets of his game he didn't used to possess.
Harrellson is playing so well and with so much confidence that he even drained a 3-pointer to put Kentucky up 44-26. After swallowing another rebound on the defensive end, Harrellson hustled down the court and found the ball in his hands at the top of the key.
He hesitated for just a moment, but after a quick thought, Harrellson let it fly and sunk it. That was the ball game.
"I was feeling it," said Harrellson, who finished 10-of-12 from the floor. "I got a rebound at the other end. I hit a jump shot before and I was wide open, so I was like, 'Well, I'm going to knock down this one too so you better come guard me.' "
Louisville made a run behind nine straight made shots and the streaky play of guard Preston Knowles, but Brandon Knight's 25 points and late surge by Jones held off the rally.
Harrellson's back-to-back backdoor alley-oops on feeds from Knight late in the game sealed the final outcome.
"We've got great respect for him," Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. "We obviously wanted to take away Jones in the low post. We did a good job. We just didn't rotate to Harrellson in the low post."
Louisville had no answer for him, and quite honestly, nobody has of late. The nation's most improved player just keeps getting better and better. And he's suddenly making Kentucky a legit contender.
Kentucky once again finds itself relying heavily on freshmen, and when it comes to the Louisville game, Rex Chapman is the gold standard for a rookie performance.
His 26 points in a 34-point UK win at Freedom Hall in 1986 represents the most points scored by a freshman against the Cardinals. Next is Rajon Rondo's 25 in 2005.
The most points scored by a Cat of any year against the Cards is 34 by Derrick Miller in a 1989 loss.
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Remember Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson?
I do. He was the super sub for those great Detroit Pistons' teams of the late 1980s, providing instant offense off the bench.
Someone asked Doron Lamb at a recent media session if he knew who Johnson was but Lamb had no idea. Like head coach John Calipari often says, for young people, "history" is two or three years at the most.
But Lamb is certainly filling that role for Kentucky and he's on pace to shatter the school record for 3-point percentage by a freshman.
Myron Anthony holds the mark at 46.2 percent in the 1998 season but that was in a very limited role. For players that got significant minutes, the best mark belongs to Derrick Miller (43.2 in 1986-87).
Miller and Gerald Fitch are the only players who played significant minutes as freshmen to shoot better than 40 percent from the 3-point line.
Lamb is currently hitting 54.0 percent of his 3s.
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"We just hope he gets an A in Alegra II. We'll worry about Trig next spring."
That was the response from UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders to a question about Morgan Newton's command of the offense for the BBVA Compass Bowl compared to last season and whether it was similar from moving from one level of math to a higher one. Sanders said Newton is clearly much more advanced than where he ended last season as the emergency sub when Mike Hartline went down with a midseason injury.
"He's a million miles from where he was last year at this time," Sanders said. "He's still got work to do, but last year we had maybe 10 pass plays where he had reads and progressions, whereas now we'll carry a pretty good volume of plays."
Sanders noted that the big difference in the QB change is that a fifth-year senior has the experience to get the team out of bad plays more easily than a second-year signal caller.
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During the practices leading up to the 2006 Music City Bowl, wide out Steve Johnson blossomed and foreshadowed the big year that was coming in 2007.
On his pre-bowl call-in show on the Big Blue Sports Network, UK coach Joker Phillips pointed to linebacker Ridge Wilson as a player who is making a similar transformation in the practices since the end of the regular season.
That's one of the main positives of going to bowl games regularly.
A night after escaping an upset scare from Middle Tennessee State, the Kentucky women's basketball team dodged a devastating blow against UT Martin when the Cats learned that reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Victoria Dunlap did not suffer a serious knee injury, as was initially perceived.
Dunlap went down midway through the second half in a nasty collision with sophomore guard Crystal Riley. Both players, who were trying to pick off a cross-court pass, collided at full speed running in opposite directions.
Riley laid on the ground for several seconds with an apparent head injury while Dunlap continued to lay on the floor holding her left knee.
"My knee was hurting pretty bad," Dunlap said.
Dunlap was eventually helped to her feet and carried off the floor. By the end of the game she was walking behind the bench.
"We are optimistic there," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I don't know if it was Crystal's head that hit it or if it was knee to knee. We don't think it was a twist but she is getting examined right now. We are surely hopefully that it is not anything serious. (She is) just really sore and she is up and walking around, which is a good sign."
Dunlap later walked into the media room under how own power. Though she looked a little stiff, she said it was just a bruised knee and acted as if she would be good to go for Kentucky's marquee showdown at Duke on Jan. 4.
"I'll be alright," Dunlap said. "Right now, I haven't really tried to do anything, so we will see what happens."
UK defeated UT Martin 68-47 for its 11th win of the season.
DeAndre Liggins, one of the few veterans on the Kentucky basketball team who endured the wars of last year's game with Louisville, knows all about the mind games and brutality that are a part of rivalry games.
As a Chicago native, Liggins said the physical, borderline out-of-control play of last season's Dream Game was just another basketball game on the streets of the Windy City.
"That's part of me," Liggins said. "I'm a physical basketball player. I'm ready for all that kind of pushing and shoving because I'm from Chicago. The way we played, a guy catches the ball and we hit them. That's the kind of game we played in Chicago on the streets. I'm ready for all that."
But Liggins is one of the few. For six newcomers and a couple of UK veterans that hardly sniffed the floor last season, the physicality of Friday's Kentucky-Louisville game in the Derby City will be like nothing most of the players have ever faced.
"This thing tomorrow, they will be bursting at the seams," UK head coach John Calipari said. "We know that. I'll imagine they'll have a nice cheer for me. It's going to be nuts."
As if the Dream Game isn't already the marquee battle of the season, tensions reached new heights last year when emotions almost got the best of both teams.
The game's opening possession featured three fouls as former UK guard Eric Bledsoe was yanked for jawing with a Cardinal.
On the following possession, a fight nearly broke out when Kentucky freshman DeMarcus Cousins landed on and elbowed Louisville's Jared Swopshire diving for a loose ball on the floor (the intent of the elbow to Swopshire's chine is still a hot topic of debate to this day between the two fan bases).
Louisville's Reginald Delk retaliated once Cousins got up with a two-hand push. Whistles blew, players jawed and three technical fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct were handed down.
And all that was in the first 45 seconds.
"I honestly think last year it was everybody being new on their side," Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. "People making such a big deal of it, they came out of the locker room and I thought it was roller derby. It was very physical."
Tempers eventually cooled, but the teams combined for 51 personal fouls and five technical fouls in one of the most contentious meetings in the series' long and storied history.
Calipari, who was just as tied into the emotions of last year's game as anyone, didn't like the way last season's game was played in hindsight.
"The passion and the emotion of a tough, hard-nosed contest is one thing, but when it moves beyond that, when there's a nastiness to it, whether it be in the stands, toward the teams or the coaches or each other, it's not good for what we do," Calipari said. "This game should be one of those vicious, clean, everybody's just playing hard and playing to win, and then when it's over, everyone that leaves the arena or leaves their television set says, 'Now that's basketball. I enjoyed watching that. That was the (best) game I've watched all year.' "
Nobody was willing to call last year's game dirty or concede that the proverbial line in what's too much was crossed, but both teams were certainly tiptoeing on playing too aggressive.
"Last year's game was kind of different than any other game that we have been involved in really," junior guard/forward Darius Miller said.
If play mirrors what it did in Rupp Arena last season, depth will become a major factor. Louisville was thought to have a decisive depth advantage in this year's Battle of the Bluegrass, but injuries to U of L's lineup have quickly turned the tables.
Pitino announced Thursday that forward Rakeem Buckles will not play Friday in addition to previously injured guards Mike Marra and Elijah Justice and forward Jared Swopshire. Buckles has a spiral fracture in one of his fingers and is expected to miss a couple of weeks. Pitino said Swopshire, who has missed the entire season, is likely done for the year.
Although Swopshire hasn't played this year, the losses of Buckles, Marra and Justice are huge blows for the 20th-ranked Cards. All three players average 15 or more minutes, and Marra and Buckles average 9.3 and 8.2 points per game, respectively.
Kentucky, with only 10 scholarship players on the roster, has played with limited depth all season. Recently, Calipari has gone with a seven-man rotation.
"I think we're both undermanned a little bit," UK head coach John Calipari said. "I think we're both limited. They've got guys on their team that if they get in foul trouble, they're going to struggle. I think we're both in the same boat."
Calipari denied that he or his team is treating this game any differently, but the second-year UK coach coach is preparing his players for another slugfest.
"The intensity of the game is going to be crazy," Calipari said. "You better be ready to play through grabs and holds and pushes and shoves. It's going to be a physical game. You better be able to finish around the rim, because if you think you are going to go up and nobody is going to go after it and nobody is going to hit your body, (you're mistaken). If you are going to rebound, you better get on a body because that body is going to be on you pushing you out of bounds."
Kentucky is looking for its second straight win in the series after back-to-back victories by Louisville. The meeting will mark the first time the two teams have both been ranked since the 2005-06 season.
Coupled with the opening of the KFC Yum! Center and the ever-present coaching rivalry between Calipari and Pitino, the rivalry seems to have reached yet another pinnacle.
"It's just like Duke-Carolina," Pitino said. "What's the difference? It's like any rivalry game. The two teams are going to play hard."
Senior forward Josh Harrellson said they were excited about playing North Carolina because it was the first big road test of the season, but he said playing Louisville is a "totally different element" because of the passion between the two schools.
"The whole Big Blue Nation is ready for the Louisville-Kentucky game," Harrellson said. "This is the only game it seems like (the fans) care about sometimes. That's all they care about is us whooping them, so hopefully we can do it."
When Kentucky and Louisville square off Friday on the final day of 2010, it will mark the third time these two rivals have played on New Year's Eve. The Cats won in 1996 while the Cards prevailed in 1988.
That's just one of many historical footnotes to the game on both teams' schedules that means the most to their fans -- outside of the NCAA Tournament, of course. With that in mind, here's one man's opinion on the top 10 games in the Battle of Bluegrass, which has been an annual affair since the 1983-84 season.
December 2004 - UK 60, U of L 58 The Comeback: As poorly as Kentucky played in the first half (down 32-16), the Wildcats played that well in the second, led by Patrick Sparks. The Central City, Ky., product scored 15 of his 25 points in the second half, including three clinching free throws in the final seconds.
Next to Kyle Macy, Sparks might have been the best "big-shot guy" to wear the blue and white in my lifetime. He relished taking those kinds of shots, and understanding the nature of the UK-U of L rivalry as well as he did, he was a natural to step up and seize the opportunity to lead his team back.
The comeback is tied for the largest halftime deficit that Kentucky has overcome in its storied history (the other occurred in the Mardi Grass Miracle at LSU).
November 1983 - UK 65, U of L 44 The Redemption: The Big Blue Nation needed redemption after the "Dream Game" loss the previous March and this game -- which marked the start of the annual meetings between the two rivals -- gave that tonic to the UK fans.
Sam Bowie missed all three shots he took but was a dominant force nevertheless, grabbing 10 rebounds, blocking five shots and dishing out five assists in a 65-44 rout. The late Melvin Turpin came up big with 16 points and nine boards and Jim Master led the Cats with 19 points.
December 1986 - UK 85, U of L 51 Rex Erupts: Rex Chapman came to Kentucky as arguably the most hyped high school legend ever in this state and this was his breakout game. Chapman threw down thunderous dunks en route to a 26-point performance as the Cats scored their most lopsided win ever over the Cardinals - and they did it at FreedomHall. The final was 85-51.
December 2001 - UK 82, U of L 62 Tubby Time: This was arguably the day when Tubby Smith got his most amount of love from the UK fan base, as former coach Rick Pitino came back to Rupp as coach of the Cats' archrival. Tickets were reportedly going for $1,500, and with Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans combining for 35 points, the Cats pulled away in the second half for a decisive 82-62 win.
It was Smith's first win over Pitino and it was Pitino's first loss to a former assistant of his.
March 1984 - UK 72, U of L 67 "Beal" Street: This matchup in the semifinal round of the NCAA Mideast Regional at Rupp Arena marked the only time UK and U of L met twice in the same season. While the Cats dominated in the first one, the rematch was a different story as Lancaster Gordon and Milt Wager combined for 47 points to put the pressure on the third-ranked Cats.
Stepping up big time for the Big Blue was the team's smallest player, ultra-quick point guard Dicky Beal. He tied Master for the scoring lead with 15 in addition to nine assists and six steals as UK overcame a six-point halftime deficit to prevail 72-67 on the way to the Final Four.
January 2010 -- UK 71, U of L 62 The Battle: Tensions flared up early in this matchup with U of L seeking an unprecedented third straight win over the Cats. In all, five technical fouls were whistled and the two teams combined for 37 turnovers.
DeMarcus Cousins was the difference for Kentucky, scoring a team-high 18 points and grabbing a game-high 18 rebounds. Patrick Patterson and John Wall added 17 apiece as Kentucky outlasted the Cards 71-62 in a game that signaled this rivalry was getting close to where it was in the 1980s.
December 1987 -- UK 76, U of L 75 The Tip: You know how the experts say the records don't matter when these two get together? Well, this was a game to illustrate that point.
Unranked Louisville had a one-point lead over No. 1 Kentucky in the final seconds at Rupp Arena, but Cedric "Swoop" Jenkins tipped in a missed shot at the buzzer for his only basket of the day in a 76-75 UK win.
December 1995 -- UK 89, U of L 66 The Statement: Louisville had upset Kentucky in a New Year's Day matchup the previous season and a Kentucky team that would win the school's sixth national title was ready to send a message about where it was headed that season.
Tony Delk torched the Cards for 30 and Antoine Walker had a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds in an 89-66 rout.
December 1992 -- UK 88, U of L 68 Mash Up: Kentucky stamped its return to college basketball's elite with that incredible performance against Duke the previous March. In the 1993 season, the Wildcats would continue that momentum with a Final Four run.
Jamal Mashburn and Rodrick Rhodes led the way with 27 and 20 points, respectively, as Kentucky roared back from an early 10-point deficit to lead by as many as 27.
December 1985: UK 69, U of L 64 Bennett Answers the Call: With U of L doing a good job on Kentucky star Kenny Walker (holding him to 5-of-13 shooting), the Cats needed another player to step and fill the scoring void. Louisville native Winston Bennett answered the call.
Bennett scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead UK to the 69-64 win. Walker did his part, too, by grabbing 14 rebounds.
Now it's back to business, or at least on to the most important annual business in the state of Kentucky.
With Coppin State, Winthrop and the holidays now safely in the rearview mirror, it's indeed that time of the year when the collective blood pressure of the Bluegrass skyrockets and all attention turns to the hardwood.
"It's a huge rivalry," junior guard/forward Darius Miller said. "In my opinion, it's one of the best rivalries in the NCAA. ... It's kind of hard to talk about (with the younger players). It has to be something you have to be ready for and experience."
The Cats dusted Coppin State 91-61 Tuesday night with relative ease. Without Coppin State leading scorer Michael Harper able to play - Harper was a late scratch with the flu - there wasn't much to tell.
Kentucky experienced no post-Christmas/look-ahead-to-Louisville hangover. The Cats marched to a 15-2 lead, took a strangling 40-19 lead to the locker room and smashed the Eagles in the second half with 20-of-27 precision-like shooting.
Freshman forward Terrence Jones paced UK with 18 points and freshmen guards Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb each chipped in with 17 points.
Darius Miller, despite a modest seven points, actually had the most impressive game. Miller finished with six rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in what head coach John Calipari said was "as good as he's played in a long time."
"The main thing was he got aggressive," Calipari said. "The reality of it is if he'll go rebound and battle like that, you're going to see his game blossom. That' what we're all looking for."
For a player that's possessed the potential to play like that all along, where did it finally come from?
"I just think it comes from building habits," Miller said. "Coach has been staying on me and I've been trying to do it in practice a lot. I've been developing better habits than I had when I was playing at first."
Now, exactly what can we take out of Tuesday's cruise in regards to Friday's Dream Game other than Miller's resurgence?
The most intriguing part actually came on defense. After a few hints of a funky 3-2 zone, Calipari debuted the "Cal"zone against the Eagles.
Kentucky was already rolling on defense as Coppin State missed its first 11 field goal attempts, but Calipari could have been sending a message to Rick Pitino and his Louisville team when he utilized the zone midway through the first half. What that message is, we don't quite know yet.
Was the 3-2 zone a ploy to mess with Pitino's head and force his coaching staff to misguidedly work on it? Or was it some actual in-game work to prep the Cats on the zone one final time before the annual rivalry game?
Calipari said he isn't a fan of slowing down the game while adding a huge and interesting caveat for Friday's game.
"What did it do to the game? Slowed it down," Calipari said. "I don't like coaching that way. That's what it did. They had to pass. They almost had shot clock violations (and) I don't want that. I want them to shoot it in 15 seconds so we can come down and play. I don't know if there were people here that said, 'Boy, this is fun to watch them pass the ball 22 times.' I don't know. I wasn't one of them. And what I told my staff was, 'Now you see why I don't like playing zone.'
"But we have a game coming up Friday. Maybe we want to be slower; do what Drexel did. So maybe we play zone. But we'll see."
That is one very big "but."
If you can remember back a few weeks ago, Drexel employed a snail-like pace against Louisville. As a result, the Cardinals suffered their lone loss of the year, a 52-46 titanic struggle.
"Maybe sometimes throwing a 3-2 zone at a team, they're a jumbled a little bit not really seeing a whole lot from us because we're a man-to-man team," said Knight, who dished out a career-high eight assists Tuesday. "I think it helps us out a little bit. It gets them a little bit flustered because they haven't seen it a whole lot. When we come out and execute it right, it's a pretty good zone."
Calipari originally mentioned the 3-2 zone in Maui, Hawaii, but Tuesday night was the zone's first extended look. Knight admitted they've worked on the zone more in practice lately, but he denied it was for Louisville.
Whatever the truth really is, the official Kentucky-Louisville pregame breakdown/chatter/previewing has officially begun. Speculation and talk about the annual Dream Game will run rampant through Friday, and rightfully so.
But according to Calipari, who said his team hasn't started preparation for Louisville - really, do you believe him? - Kentucky isn't where he'd like it to be with the most important regular-season game of the year finally on the horizon.
What does he want it to eventually look like?
"You'll see a team that bounces on defense the entire time, that's talking and yelling to each other," Calipari said. "The gang rebounds with two hands and comes up with those 50/50 rebounds and balls. Shot goes up, they put a body on somebody. And offensively you see a sequence which is people are flying down that floor, and if they don't have it, that ball swings and we're trying to get in the gaps.
"And we do it for 40 minutes. That's what you see. That's my vision of where we're trying to go."
Kentucky is trying to get there by Friday. The annual title of the Commonwealth depends on it.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Dec. 26:
Men's basketball: Brandon Knight
Recorded his fifth 20-point game this season. Has made at least two 3-pointers in six straight games. Has scored at least 14 points in six straight games. Has scored in double figures and hit a 3-pointer in 10 of 11 games this season.
Men's basketball: Doron Lamb
Scored a UK freshman record 32 points in leading Kentucky to an 89-52 win over Winthrop. Lamb set career highs for points, field goals (11) and 3-pointers (seven). Lamb's seven 3-pointers tied for the most by a Southeastern Conference player this season.
Women's basketball: Bernisha Pinkett
Freshman Bernisha Pinkett came off the bench to score 14 points in 19 minutes in UK's 107-35 win over Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Record a career-high four steals. Grabbed a career-high-tying five rebounds. Was a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.
Women's basketball: Keyla Snowden
Junior Keyla Snowden came off the bench and scored a career-high 28 points in 19 minutes in UK's only game of the week vs. Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Hit almost 60 percent from the field, netting 10-of-17 attempts, including 6-of-12 from beyond the arc. Nailed a career-high-tying six 3-pointers. Tied the school record for consecutive games with a 3-pointer at 20 in a row.
- In addition to Kentucky's sweep of this week's SEC weekly honors -- Doron Lamb was named SEC Player of the Week and Brandon Knight was tabbed SEC Freshman of the Week -- Lamb was also named this week's ESPN.com Player of the Week. Lamb broke Jamal Mashburn's single-game scoring mark for a freshman with 32 points against Winthrop.
- General admission and public tickets are still available for the next two men's basketball games vs. Coppin State (Dec. 28) and Penn (Jan. 3) through Ticketmaser. Tickets available for the eRUPPtion Zone must be purchased on game day starting 90 minutes before tipoff for $5 (cash only). One ticket purchase per person.
Kentucky has played one game in its history on Christmas Eve -- and there were some unusual circumstances for that 1983 game.
The game was played at the University of Illinois and a major snowstorm hit the area, keeping the referees who were scheduled to call the game from traveling to Champaign, Ill. Local high school officials were pulled from the crowd to work the game in jeans and a ref's shirt.
James Blackmon nailed a jumper at the buzzer to win it for UK. Those same two teams played another nail-biter in March in the NCAA Mideast Regional final, with Kentucky pulling out another hard-fought win to reach the Final Four.
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"I think, at least the first year, it will be number one."
That was the response from ESPN college basketball writer Andy Katz when I asked him where the first Champions Classic will rank on the menu of early season events.
"Maui will be interesting next season, but (The Champions Classic) will dominate the scene leading up to it and then after," Katz said of the doubleheader that will pit Kentucky against Kansas and Duke against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden. "It will cap our tipoff marathon. It is in New York City next year, so it will get even more coverage because it is there. It will be interesting to see how coverage will be in Atlanta (in 2011) and then Chicago (in 2012).
And even more intriguing to see which power house fan base shows the most support.
"Atlanta will be interesting," Katz said in an interview on "The Leach Report." "You know Kentucky people will go, but you need the three other schools and I don't know if they can pull people in (there). I think both the Madison Square Garden and United Center are smaller venues, so I don't know how the Georgia Dome will be in early November. I am surprised they do that on November 15. You are in the middle of football, people are budgeting for the economy or maybe going to a bowl game, and if you are SEC fans, do you spend the money to go to Atlanta for that one game? So, I don't know. It's around the holidays and so, with travel cost and all that, it will be interesting to see where Atlanta factors in."
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"I gotta pinch myself to think I'm a part of something phenomenal here. Kentucky basketball is beyond life. It's a little bit of heaven on earth."
That's what Winston Bennett said last Saturday while taking in the celebration of former UK coach Joe B. Hall's coaching career. Bennett was one of about four dozen of Hall's former players who came back to Rupp for a pregame reunion and a halftime program on the Rupp Arena court.
Bennett spoke for most, if not all of those former players when he talked about how Hall served as a father figure for a young player away from home.
"I was a young minority from Louisville and when I committed, there was an uproar because I was the first one to come to Kentucky minority-wise since Tom Payne," Bennett said. "Coach Hall was a father figure to me. He not only coached me but he helped further what my parents instilled in me as a young man. He taught me a great deal."
= = =
Only five freshmen in Kentucky's history have hit 40 percent or better from the 3-point line for a season. Of those, only Derrick Miller in 1987 and Gerald Fitch in 2001 played significant minutes.
Doron Lamb is hitting 55.6 percent at this point.
= = =
Terrence Jones is averaging eight free-throw attempts per game. If he would keep up that pace, he'd have a good chance to break Kenny Walker's school record. Walker attempted 284 free throws in the 1984-85 season.
Wanted to let everyone know that the blog will be pretty slow over the next week as I take a holiday vacation. If there is any breaking news, I will still address it, but barring anything major, things could be pretty light on here.
Guy Ramsey will be covering the men's basketball game for me on Dec. 28 and the women's game on Dec. 29. He will have all the usual content (live blog, video, postgame story) on here that you've come to expect. After that, we'll get back to our normal routine.
In the meantime, everyone have a happy holidays and enjoy time with family and friends.
In Kentucky's rich and storied history of basketball, no freshman has matched what guard Doron Lamb did Wednesday afternoon in a pre-Christmas game with Winthrop.
Not Jamal Mashburn. Not Sam Bowie. Not Rex Chapman. Not even last year's famed John Wall scored as many as Lamb did Saturday.
Ironically, of all the legendary freshmen that have graced the Kentucky uniform over the decades, it was an overlooked shooting guard off the bench that set the freshman single-game scoring mark. Lamb scored 32 points on a near perfect shooting afternoon to throttle the visiting Winthrop Eagles 89-52.
"It's an honor to break the record," Lamb said. "Kentucky basketball is the biggest program in the country. I give thanks to my teammates for finding me on the court and giving me the ball."
Lamb's layup with 6:38 minutes left broke Mashburn's nearly 20-year-old record, which was set Feb. 3, 1991.
It was news to Lamb.
"You just told me," Lamb said of learning that he had broken the record. "I just found out."
The freshman guard hit 11-of-12 from the floor, including 7-of-8 from 3-point range, the second-most 3-pointers by a freshman in UK annals (Eric Bledsoe is No. 1). Lamb was a perfect 5-of-5 from behind the arc in the first half.
The only shot Lamb missed came midway through the second half. He responded by scoring on an old-fashioned 3-point play just seconds later.
"He was good, huh?" head coach John Calipari said.
Yeah, not bad for a sixth man.
"Doron just shut it down," Calipari said. "He just left his man, stayed under the basket until his man could go back and get his man and then he found his own. He played great. He was in control. (He had) a couple of assists. Big-time game."
The biggest ever for a Kentucky freshman, especially under what initially looked to be an adverse situation.
Just four minutes into the game, starting point guard Brandon Knight went down hard on the court and grabbed his left knee. As the Rupp Arena crowd fell deathly silent and trainers rushed to Lamb's side, Knight banged his fist on the court as if it was a serious injury and his season was over.
"I was just frustrated because it was hurting," Knight said.
Knight (left knee contusion) would be OK and finished with 21 points, but at the time, with Knight headed back to the locker room and tensions high, the immediate outlook looked bleak.
Enter Lamb to save the day.
It took Lamb just 11 seconds to score his first triple of the evening, a dagger from the left corner. One possession later, Lamb stroked one from the top of the key. By the 12:13 mark of the first half, having just come off the bench, Lamb already had four 3-pointers to put the Cats up 29-11.
A game in which Calipari worried his players would look ahead to the holidays a little too soon, Lamb and the Cats made sure to take care of business early on and ground the Eagles from the start.
"I knew Brandon would come back, so I wasn't really worried about the injury," Lamb said. "He's tough, so I wanted to come in the game, be aggressive and find my teammates and make open shots."
A player that's been nicknamed "Instant Offense" for his ability to come off the bench and score right away, Lamb has embraced his role off the bench.
"Doron has got it mastered," Calipari said. "He's loving it. No pressure on him. 'When I come in, I'm lighting this thing up.' He's like, 'Let me just keep coming off the bench. I like this.' He doesn't feel the pressure of it."
Lamb was only available for a few quotes after the game because he had to catch a flight to go home for the holidays, so fellow guard Knight was asked how tough it is to come off the bench cold and be asked to hit shots.
"When you prepare for a game mentally and you warm up hard, you're ready to come in and shoot shots like that," Knight said. "That's what you do. You're able to come in and do it whether you start or not. Doron knows that when he comes in, that's his job to score the basketball. He's a shooter. When you give him an open shot, he's going to be able to knock them down."
Lamb's historic afternoon overshadowed Eloy Vargas' best game in a Kentucky uniform. The junior-college transfer and former Florida Gator finished with eight points and three rebounds to complement his most aggressive game of the season.
Junior guard DeAndre Liggins also had a balanced day with nine points and a career-high nine assists. UK did all of that without much production from leading scorer Terrence Jones (11 points, six rebounds).
"Happy for Eloy," Calipari said. "Maybe he sees some light now, how he's got to play. He finally performed. And believe me, confidence is demonstrated performance. It's not what I say, what I want him to do. You've got to demonstrate it to yourself and your teammates on the court, and he did it today."
But Wednesday was Lamb's day, and in a sense, a reminder of how special Mashburn was in his heyday.
"Jamal Mashburn, whether it's someone scores more points than him or not, it does not matter," Calipari said. "He changed the dimension of this program; no one else. Jamal got everybody together, did it together and all of a sudden it took off."
And yet Lamb, for one day, outdid one of the greatest freshmen and one of the all-time greats in the program.
"It's an honor," Lamb said. "I'm from New York and he's from New York. I'm happy to break his record."
Any Terrence Jones comparisons to Michael Jordan at this point may be just a tad premature.
One is averaging 18.9 points and 10.0 rebounds in his first 10 collegiate games. The other led his collegiate team to a national championship, won six NBA championships and captured NBA MVP honors five times in his career.
And yet, head coach John Calipari's example Monday of Jordan, as it relates to Jones, actually made sense in a sort of Calipari kind of way. The second-year UK coach pointed to Jordan's steadfast preparation for every game as something Jones could learn from.
"When he played, he was the target," Calipari said of Jordan. "Everybody that went against him was going to give their best. Everybody was going to get a good night's sleep and be ready to go, and they were going to go try and make their name at his expense, every night, 82 nights, every season if he was on that basketball floor."
Jones, as Kentucky's clear-cut go-to scorer, is still finding his way as the primary option of the Wildcat offense.
As an overlooked signee out of Portland, Ore. (yes, even a top-20 recruit can be underrated), Jones grabbed early season headlines with a 16-point, 17-rebound performance against Washington and another 27-point, 17-rebound outing in the win over Notre Dame.
But lately, despite the still ever-present gaudy numbers, Jones' consistency has wavered just a bit. Teams know the scouting report on Jones and are starting to guard him a little differently. When double teams come, Jones is making a concerted effort to kick the ball out, sometimes at the expense of his own production.
And though he usually makes an impact by the end of the game, Calipari hasn't been pleased with Jones' first-half performances. In both of the last two games, Jones has gone to the bench early with foul trouble.
"For me, the last couple of games, my fouls have been on offense," Jones said. "Just playing fast in the dribble-drive, you have to slow the game down in your head. I need to focus more on just not having dumb fouls on offense."
Calipari thinks the main problem with Jones' slow starts is his pregame focus and mentality. That's where Calipari's comparison of Jordan comes into play.
"What do you do to get yourself ready?" Calipari said. "(Jordan) said, 'I do something different every week. One game I'll think about my own children, and for that week that's what it's about, my children. There will be another game, I'll go into the arena next week and I'll pick out a young man in the stands and say I'm playing for him, that's who I'm playing for, and every game I'm playing for him. One week I was thinking about my dad, and the whole week that's all I thought about, was getting ready and playing for my dad.' "
Calipari would like Jones to come up with something similar. Some players like listening to music, others enjoy taking a nap, but whatever Jones decides to do, Calipari would like to see Jones latch on to something to get him going earlier.
It was a problem before the North Carolina game, Jones' first subpar collegiate performance, and it still appears to be a learning process for Jones.
"What he has to learn as a young player is this isn't AAU," Calipari said. "There's not another game at 3. There's not another game at 7. We're not going to McDonald's to get a burger and jag around and not worry about warming up. Just go play."
With an emphasis to become more unselfish as a team, Jones admitted that he's fallen victim to looking for his teammates a bit too much.
"If somebody's got it going, you can catch yourself watching," Jones said. "I'd say we're playing better as a team and I haven't needed to try to take over the game because we're playing so good as a team."
Once Jones has gotten going, he's continued to thrive. After the slow start against Mississippi Valley State, Jones scored 15 second-half points.
The key now is duplicating that from the start, which could be a challenge with Wednesday's 1 p.m. start against Winthrop.
"It's a scary game because we're going home for Christmas," Calipari said. "And don't think everyone in that locker room, managers, players, coaches, is not thinking what time does this game end. It's just how it is. It's just what we have to deal with."
Calipari says he's had no contact with Dominican Republic: Just days after Louisville head coach Rick Pitino accepted a job to coach the Puerto Rico national basketball team, reports have surfaced that Calipari could be interested in the Dominican Republic national team job. On Tuesday, Calipari didn't rule out the possibility but said he's had no such contact with the Dominican national team.
"It would be an honor to be considered for something like that, but I don't know the timeframe," Calipari said. "I don't even know if I could do it, so where that got started or whether they're considering me, I don't know. There's been no contact."
Outspoken about the summer recruiting period because it would allow him more time with his family, among other reasons, Calipari was asked why he would even consider the job if it meant he'd be split away from his family, to which he replied was "a good point."
"No one has approached me about coaching anybody or being a consultant for a national team, whether it be China or anyone else," Calipari said. "There's stuff out there but no one has come to me and said this is what it would mean."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Dec. 19:
Women's basketball: Maegan Conwright
Freshman Maegan Conwright scored nine points at the point guard position in UK's only game last week vs. Alabama A&M. Grabbed a career-high five rebounds. Dished out a career-high-tying four assists with no turnovers.
Women's basketball: Victoria Dunlap
Senior forward Victoria Dunlap scored 22 points in UK's only game of the week vs. Alabama A&M. Went 8-of-9 from the free-throw line while adding five rebounds. Moved into 11th place on UK's career scoring list with 1,441 points. Notched 20 or more points four times this season, including three in a row. Grabbed four steals and has now recorded at least three steals in four consecutive games.
Men's basketball: Doron Lamb
Doron Lamb recorded 16 points, two rebounds, two assists and a block in UK's 85-60 win over Mississippi Valley St. Lamb tied his personal high with 36 minutes played. He keyed a stretch in the first half that helped UK pull away from MVSU. With 7:09 left he hit a 3-pointer to give Kentucky a five-point lead and finished with 10 points in the final 7:09 to push UK to a 44-24 lead at halftime. During that span, he also sparked the Cats defensively during the crucial stretch, forcing a 5-second violation, Kentucky's first of the season. He has hit a 3-pointer in eight of 10 games this year and has gone for multiple 3-pointers seven times in 10 games this year.
Kentucky's "most underrated player" is how former Wildcat and Mississippi Valley State coach Sean Woods described UK freshman Doron Lamb last weekend.
Woods had just seen Lamb score 16 points against his Delta Devils. It marked Lamb's sixth double-figure scoring game in his first 10 outings, and the Oak Hill Academy product is the Cats' third-leading scorer (12.4 points per game) despite coming off the bench.
It's a role Lamb has said repeatedly that he is comfortable filling -- just as comfortable as he seems to be in his role as a scorer for this team. Lamb is shooting 46 percent from the field, including a 48.6-percent efficiency at the 3-point line.
Back in August, head coach John Calipari compared Lamb to one of his former Memphis players, Chris Douglas-Roberts, who earned the nickname "Buckets" for his ability to fill it up from the perimeter.
But that good shooting for Lamb does take work.
"Well, my best friend growing up in New York City goes to school with me here and lives in the lodge," Lamb said. "We go in the gym at 10 or 10:30 p.m. and I shoot a lot of 3-pointers. He spots and I move to midrange and then we move it around to shoot open jump shots. I just create my own shots so I probably shoot 400 shots a night."
"Yes, every night," he said.
Lamb grew up in Queens, N.Y. and got exposed to the famous playground games there at an early age. He said it was his mom that advised him at an early age to hone his jump-shooting skills.
"When I was younger, when I would get the ball in like fifth grade, I would get the ball and just drive to the basket because I couldn't shoot," Lamb said. "My mom told me I needed to work on my jump shot because I was little at the time and said it wouldn't work when I got older because of the big guys, and she said to work on my jump shot."
So Lamb would head off to the park every night to work on his jumper and soon the practice paid dividends.
"My mom didn't (play) but she had been around basketball for a long time and my dad played basketball a lot and he taught me a lot about basketball and took me to play basketball," Lamb said. "So that is why my jump shot is so good is because of my dad and my mom. My dad was the coach and mom was the rebounder. My mom talked a lot and knows about basketball."
A player filling the sixth man role is expected to provide instant energy when he enters the game. and Lamb got an early lesson at UK about being prepared.
In his first exhibition game in Canada, Lamb did not play well and Coach Cal called him out for not using the pregame warm-up to get himself ready to play.
"In high school, warm-up was just warm-up," Lamb said. "We would warm up and just get the ball and shoot. College is completely different. Coach has always said it is how you warm up is how you play in the games and what I did in high school is what I did in the first game of my college career. I was just going through the motions in the layup lines and stuff like that and I had a bad first half, missed foul shots, which I usually make, and open shots I usually make.
"The coaches got on me in the second half and after the game, they told me to pick up my layup line and then I could play better during the game. That night I was just so mad at myself. I went to sleep early and I prayed that I would have a better game and I did. Now I know what to do before every game."
Lamb now knows how to prepare for games but he wasn't prepared for the crush of attention that comes with being a member of the UK basketball team.
"It is hard but I didn't know when I got here it would be like this," Lamb said. "To see how the fans are, I am surprised. There are a lot of people who know my name. I am comfortable with it. They say 'What up' I say 'What up' back, take pictures or whatever. It's cool."
The LaGrange High School pipeline has been a gold mine for the Kentucky football team over the last 15 years.
Kentucky originally tapped the pipeline in 1996 with the signing of wide receiver Quentin McCord. UK returned to LaGrange, Ga., in 2003 to sign linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who went on to become an All-Southeastern Conference linebacker and make it to the NFL.
Since then, LaGrange has pumped out valuable signees to the University of Kentucky like a football factory. Joining Woodyard at UK has been the likes of Demoreo Ford and Braxton Kelley, as well as current players Tristian Johnson, Randall Burden, Mychal Bailey, Qua Huzzie, Joe Mansour and Patrick Simmons.
The one constant of the pipeline throughout the signings was who was on each side of the pipeline. On one end, Kentucky always had Joker Phillips, whether it was as recruiting coordinator, offensive coordinator or head coach. On the other end, LaGrange had Steve Pardue.
With the recent hiring of Pardue as UK's running backs coach, what happens to the pipeline in LaGrange? Without one of the integral parts in LaGrange, does it slowly deteriorate and fail to exist? Or will Pardue's ties with the community and his longstanding relationship with the high school help strengthen the Kentucky channel?
"I don't know about the LaGrange pipeline," Pardue said. "I know it's a good story for the papers and everything, but obviously if they got a player there, we'll recruit it. Hopefully there will be some other schools that we'll get into. I think you'll see that happen. People made a lot about that pipeline deal, but I think that happens at other places too."
Pardue, who coached at LaGrange for 17 seasons, didn't take a lot of credit for the channel, instead pointing to Woodyard for tapping the pipeline.
"Wesley Woodyard, to be honest with you, he's the architect of that," Pardue said. "Wes got it going, had a great experience here and he kind of sold it to our kids. LaGrange is a tight community. The kids kind of kept coming up here and liking it. We'll see what's down the road there and I'll obviously recruit them as hard as any other school."
Regardless of what happens in LaGrange, the hiring of Pardue is expected to strengthen Kentucky's ability to recruit kids from Georgia, a fertile recruiting ground for UK over the years.
"One thing that I wanted to do is hire someone that could recruit the southern part of Georgia and also had some Kentucky ties," Phillips said. "Coach Pardue has been on the Georgia High School Coaches Association for a number of years and was a perfect fit for what we were looking for. We think that Georgia is really important for us and we wanted to branch out and get into the southern part of Georgia. He brings that to us and also has strong ties here in Kentucky being a high school player and coach here at Kentucky."
The move to the collegiate ranks for the Kentucky-born coach will be his first move past the high school level, but Pardue isn't worried about the change.
"I'm not looking at it as going into a college job," Pardue said. "I'm looking at going into the University of Kentucky working for Joker Phillips. I think the game of football, I've obviously still got a lot to learn with terminology and everything, but I don't think that's different at any level."
Pardue cited Phillips as his No. 1 reason for joining the UK staff, adding that he had prior opportunities to make the jump to UK.
"I'm at a point in my career where I kind of felt like I needed a little recharge, to be honest with you," Pardue said. "I had been doing high school football for 26 years. A lot of people thought, well, you ought to stay four more and you can retire. That was tempting, but my wife and I have been talking about this for about a year. My mom passed in January, which kind of clouded some things. This came along and I decided you only live once. It's a chance to coach in the SEC and in my home state. That means a lot to me, the University of Kentucky does."
Rick Minter and Steve Brown will share the title as co-defensive coordinators, but there will be no joint hold in power of the Kentucky football defense.
Titles aside, Minter is in charge of the defensive unit.
In a news conference to introduce his newest assistant coach hires, Minter as co-defensive coordinator and Steve Pardue as running backs coach, head coach Joker Phillips said Minter will be the highest ranking coach on the defense and in charge of calling the plays.
Phillips decided to place Minter atop the coaching hierarchy after visiting with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who has co-coordinators on his staff.
"With co-coordinators, someone has to be in charge," Phillips said. "You can't have two guys calling it, similar to myself and the situation we had here (last year) with (myself as) head coach of the offense and (Randy Sanders as) offensive coordinator. Somebody had to be in charge of it, and Coach Minter will be in charge of the defense in calling it and making sure that our daily organization is organized."
That move would lead one to believe that Brown could be on the move after the shakeup, but Phillips said that isn't the case.
"We expect Coach Brown to be back," Phillips said. "Co-coordinators has been done many times."
Brown had served as the lone defensive coordinator since 2007 and has been on the UK staff since 2003 as the defensive backs coach. With Minter's addition and the departure of secondary coach Chris Thurmond, Brown will assume full responsibility of the defensive backs once again.
Meanwhile, Minter joins the Kentucky staff after a longtime coaching gig at Cincinnati, where he raised a dormant program from the ashes and took the team to its first bowl game in 47 years. Minter had stops in South Carolina, Notre Dame and Marshall as a defensive coordinator after Cincinnati, and his latest job was at Indiana State as a linebackers coach.
After a long and decorated coaching career, Minter said he isn't getting caught up in the title of co-defensive coordinator.
"Titles don't mean anything to me," Minter said. "When Joker talked to me about coming over and joining, I was ecstatic and happy. Titles, even when we talked finances, seriously, I said I don't care. I'm beyond all that. I just want to work. I want to work for somebody who matters in my life. I want to work for a good guy."
Minter doesn't foresee a power struggle with Brown for the defensive duties and said he's inheriting UK and Brown's playbook. The newly hired coach called Brown a classy and highly intellectual guy.
"I can work and will work alongside Steve Brown," Minter said. "I'm the designated in charge. Steve has already shown me great respect and that will be reciprocated because I think he brings great value to us. He's a great role model for our kids. He's a former player that understands the game. I think he's a good teach on the backend. I look forward to working alongside him."
Phillips, who worked under Minter at UC from 1997-98, cited three reasons for his decision to hire Minter: his ability to recruit, his facility to teach and his desire to be at Kentucky. Minter is expected to make a significant impact on the recruiting trail in Northern Kentucky and Ohio, a hotbed for high-school talent.
"For us to continue the growth of this program, we have to be a tougher and more disciplined football team and program," Phillips said. "Coach Minter brings that to us and that is what we expect to have not just on defense but throughout our program."
Minter, a straight-to-the-point, no-nonsense coach who loves the war-room aspect and camaraderie of the game, sounded grateful to return to a BCS conference school.
"Everybody's careers go high and low, ebbs and flows, if you will," Minter said. "One day you are drinking wine, the next day you are back to stomping grapes."
Minter was also appreciative of the opportunity a former understudy of his gave him.
"Of all the guys that I have had come through my hallway, I really respect Joker because he and I maintained a very positive friendship, relationship being a mentor at times, asking and answering questions, and also being a really good friend," Minter said. "He has now walked a mile in my shoes and vice versa."
With the addition of Minter, there is some belief that UK could switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 base, which has recently become a Minter signature. Minter said it's a possibility for the future, but he doesn't anticipate changing defenses right now, especially with a bowl game on the horizon.
"We're going to run the Wildcat defense here," Minter said. "Philosophically, I came up under a four-down system. In the last three or four years, I have really branched off, matching the finesse and flexibility of today's offenses because I think you have to be a little bit more diverse. I don't think you can always get locked in with four guys with their hand on the ground.
"But you have to also be smart enough as a coach to do what your players can do. We don't ever want to go down saying, 'If only, if only.' We're going to live with what we got, and right now we've got four-down players. ... We don't want to force a square peg in a round hole."
For now, Minter is busy enough trying to adapt to UK's previously installed defense and learn the players' names. Whatever defense Kentucky goes with down the road and regardless of who is calling the plays, the bottom-line goal, Minter said, has to be geared towards improvement.
"We'll never probably win the league until we get better on defense," Minter said.
It had been so long since John Calipari had been ejected from a basketball game that he didn't remember it ever happening.
"I've done this 20-some years," Calipari said. "It's the first game I've ever been thrown out of, pro or college. That's what I can tell you. I've never been thrown out of a game."
That's not quite true. Calipari actually received the heave-ho Feb. 25 1996 as the head coach of Massachusetts. He received two first-half technicals and was ejected with 10:31 remaining in the first half. UMass lost the game 86-76 after starting the season 26-0.
Calipari was ejected with 6:26 remaining in UK's 85-60 rout of Mississippi Valley State on Sunday. Referee Mike Stuart nailed Calipari with two quick technical fouls late in the second half, sending the UK coach to the locker room.
Calipari declined postgame to go into details of the ejection.
"That's his prerogative," Calipari said of the ref's decision to him. "I coach the game. He has a whistle. If he wants to throw me out of a game, that's what is in his mind, he does it."
Assistant coach John Robic took over head coaching duties as Calipari took his coat off, put his feet up and "had a little drink of water" in the locker room.
"I didn't put it on TV until the last two minutes," Calipari said. "(Robic) did fine. He was telling me to run the back door, run the back door. DeAndre (Liggins) got it. He kept after me to get it. DeAndre missed the layup. John (Robic) is a good coach."
A 25-point victory almost always looks good on paper. UK's win over Mississippi Valley State was no different. UK held the Delta Devils to 32.8% shooting and forced 23 turnovers. On offense, UK had just 12 turnovers and got to the foul line 32 times.
After the game, MVSU head coach Sean Woods sang the praises of the Wildcats, saying that UK was well positioned for yet another run in the Southeastern Conference and beyond.
"I wish we could have played them a month ago, they're getting better everyday," Woods said.
There's no doubt that Kentucky has progressed as a team since the season tipped off. The squad is running the dribble drive more and more effectively and the team jelling on defense with each passing possession.
John Calipari, though, is far from content.
UK found itself in a tie ball game with 8:38 left in the first half. Mississippi Valley State was unafraid of attacking the Wildcats and Calipari noticed.
"They are an athletic team that comes at you," Calipari said. "They were physical and some of our guys didn't play up to snuff."
Calipari recognizes that those kind of performances will come back to haunt the Wildcats if they continue, especially with the lack of depth UK has.
"In a league game, in a big game like North Carolina, you can't do that," Calipari said. "It's important that we have everybody come and play."
Calipari sees potential, yet unrealized from his young team and is relentless in attempting to fulfill it.
Perhaps the player that best represents the development that this team needs to undergo is Darius Miller. Just like his team, Miller's numbers may lead you to believe he is closer to a finished product than Calipari says.
Miller finished with a diverse line of 14 points, five assists, three rebounds, three blocks, and two steals, but it wasn't enough for his coach.
"He goes for 14, five assists, and I'm saying he's okay," Calipari said. "I'm telling you, he's better than he's playing. That's how much I believe in him."
By this point in his career, Miller is used to hearing about how he needs to take his game to the next level.
"It comes up a lot, it's the same people asking me about it," Miller said.
In spite of his familiarity with the topic, he knows that he possesses the ability to make the improvements that Calipari demands of him.
Terrence Jones is in the same boat. The versatile freshman led the team in scoring yet again with 19 points and contributed eight rebounds in only 23 minutes. As with Miller, Jones' coach is still not satisfied with his play, particularly at the start of the game.
"Terrence has got to play," Calipari said. "I mean, how do you start a game like that. He has some numbers, but they're not real."
It's a testament to the talent level of both Miller and Jones that they can put up the kind numbers that they did and still have so far to go in the eyes of Calipari. The same goes for the team as a whole. UK is off to an 8-2 start with a number of quality wins, but their best basketball is still on the horizon.
The next couple weeks present a major opportunity. With the first semester behind them and a break for the holidays upcoming, UK enters a stretch where Calipari's team typically improve the most.
"We're practicing tomorrow," Calipari said. "We'll probably go twice on Monday, practice on Tuesday. Play on Wednesday. Have a break. Come back. Then we start two-a-days, three-a-days. We just have a long way to go."
The Wildcats will be focusing on basketball and basketball alone and Calipari is optimistic about what the time will do for them, especially given how much they have grown already.
"These guys are so young," Calipari said. "We're learning how to play together. We're learning how to warm up for games. We had two good practices, we had a terrific shoot around and are getting better at that kind of stuff. We have to carry that into the game."
I'll have more Sunday in written form on the two new hires. Plenty of good stuff from both coaches that I'll go into detail about.
The one news item that I quickly wanted to address is that Rick Minter, whose official title is co-defensive coordinator alongside Steve Brown, will be in charge of the defense and will call the plays. Head coach Joker Phillips said you have to have someone who is officially in charge and that guy will be Minter.
More on that Sunday. For now, check out the video interviews with each guy:
With the way Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year A'dia Mathies performed down the stretch and the valuable minutes Brittany Henderson provided in the post, it was only human nature for Mitchell to raise his bar of expectations for this year's freshman class.
Although several of the freshmen have made valuable contributions in a 7-1 start, most notably Maegan Conwright, Kastine Evans and Samantha Drake, Mitchell wants his first-year players to get stronger mentally.
"I think that the sheer numbers this year makes it more difficult (than last year)," said Mitchell, whose team hosts Alabama A&M on Saturday at 2 p.m. "They've been playing basketball a long time and some things that they aren't doing I refuse to say are because they're freshmen. If you see someone wide open in the post and don't pass it to them, is that a freshman (mistake) or is that somebody that's not focused on what they need to be doing?"
Mitchell said he wouldn't recommend coaching six freshmen to anyone, but whether he likes it or not, nearly every part of this year's freshman class is going to be counted on as the season progresses, especially if point guard Amber Smith doesn't return.
The preseason pick to temporarily replace Smith, Jennifer O'Neill, has struggled the most of the freshmen. A high school All-American, O'Neill came to UK as the prized recruit of the 2010 class.
O'Neill was expected to play right away, regardless of Smith's availability, and that's why it's come as a surprise to everyone that she's having a hard time just finding the court.
"I'm surprised that she's having as difficult a time as she's having," Mitchell said. "She still has the same talent as she had when we recruited her. It's my job to figure out why the commitment on the defensive end is lacking, and that is holding her back. I think that affects her offensively when her spirits get down. Jennifer just really needs to get stronger mentally and become a tougher player because it's not physical. She can shoot the ball, she can handle the ball and she can do everything we need her to do. She can defend. For whatever reason, it's not clicking with her."
A coach that's always rewarded players for their effort in practice, Mitchell awarded O'Neill her first real opportunities of the season the past two games. O'Neill played a career-high 13minutes against Tennessee Tech and another nine minutes versus Chattanooga.
"That was a direct result of her practice," Mitchell said.
But it appears O'Neill is still adjusting to the importance of practice on the collegiate level as she struggled to build on her momentum this week. Mitchell said this week's lull for O'Neill could be attributed to finals week, so he "won't jump the gun" on her future playing time.
The biggest hurdle in mentally strengthening the freshmen is getting them to deal with adversity.
"The one thing that some of the freshmen aren't doing is that they don't handle disappointment well," Mitchell said. "You're just not used to having to deal with the consequences with mistakes in high school because you can make up for it with your physical talent."
Mitchell has always pointed to the holiday break as a time for improvement and a time to kick the season into another gear. With exams over and nothing but basketball for the next few weeks, he's hoping the freshmen can turn the corner and get ready for the meat of the schedule.
"I think we've gotten better in the last two weeks," Mitchell said. "I think we definitely have a chance to improve. I have a lot of confidence in the talent. We really didn't come together last year in a way that made you think they had a chance to be successful until around this time last year."
Just when it looked like John Calipari's news conference was winding down Friday and I turned the camera off, Calipari had some great stuff to say.
Instead of the traditional preview story for Saturday's game, I thought I'd highlight the big news from Friday's presser, which included comments on a possible NBA team in Louisville and Cal's change in coaching philosophy.
Cal's comments speak for themselves. Here they are below:
- In regards to Saturday's Joe B. Hall celebration in which 40 former players will be in attendance at Saturday's game to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his retirement, Calipari spoke about the friendship he and Hall have formed:
"Coach Hall, he's been a special friend," Calipari said. "He's been like a mentor. He was at practice yesterday. He comes to practice two, three days a week, starts diagramming stuff for me. A great day for me was last year when we introduced him at the Blue-White Scrimmage and I sat him on the bench. The response from our fans was like wow. Sometimes when you coach and when you've been away, I don't know if he realized how people feel about him here. They truly love him.
"For 40 players to come back, for us to be a part of that and be around, and for me to be around him and him to be able to help us today - here's a guy that coached in the 70s, won a national title and has nothing but good things for me. There's no jealousy. There's no, 'Well, Cal had this. I had never had this and I had to do without this and my office was ...' All he is, is happy Kentucky is doing well. He wants to be a part of it and he wants to come to practice. He's become a dear friend because of that."
- Who would have ever thought that it would be Josh Harrellson to change Calipari's coaching philosophy?
Based on the approach he's taken with Harrellson over the past few weeks, Calipari said it's opened his eyes to other coaching styles. A coach that says he doesn't like to "beat up" on his players mentally and physically, he's now realizing that some players respond better to that approach.
"Some players, that's what they need," Calipari said. "Josh needed that. Did Brandon (Knight) need that? No. I've had other great players that didn't need that, but Josh did, and it shows me there are all kinds of ways of doing what we do."
Following some misguided Twitter comments by Harrellson that were directed at his head coach in the preseason, Harrellon received some disciplinary action.
One of the actions taken by Calipari was to have his senior big man run before every practice. The conditioning drills, which are still taking place today, have paid off. Harrellson is averaging 5.4 points and 9.0 rebounds this year, including a double-double his last time out.
"If Josh didn't Twitter, I probably wouldn't have done it this way with Josh, and you know what, it probably would have been a mistake and he wouldn't as be as good as he is right now," Calipari said.
The second-year UK coach said he's never been comfortable jumping on players, but he kidded with reporters that he may have won a couple of national championships had he taken that approach sooner.
"I found out there are certain guys that you separate from the pack and you deal with them differently," Calipari said. "Why can't I coach both ways? If I need to be this to one, I'll be that to him. ... Yeah, we're trying to win every ballgame, but you're trying to develop these young people, build their self esteem and confidence."
Now, Calipari is taking the approach with a few other players.
"We've got a couple of other guys that need to build their own self esteem and break barriers," Calipari said. "It can't be me saying it or you saying it or why not, so let's just put them through the gauntlet. You're either making it or you're not making it. Figure it out."
- In news that will surely make waves in Louisville, Calipari fully endorsed Louisville trying to land an NBA team.
Asked Friday what he thought about the possibility of an NBA franchise landing in Louisville, Calipari said he saw no downside. Louisville leaders, now equipped with the brand new KFC Yum! Center, are pushing hard for an NBA team.
"For the city of Louisville, I think it's a wonderful idea," Calipari said. "It's great for our state, it's great for Humana, it's great for Papa John's - it's great for anyone there."
Calipari faced a similar situation when he was the head coach at Memphis. Initially hesitant about the idea of an NBA team competing with his college team for fanfare, Calipari decided that whatever was good for the city of Memphis was good for the university.
Eventually the city landed the Memphis Grizzlies, and according to Calipari, Memphis sold more tickets and raised more dollars than it had before the Grizzlies.
"I don't think there is any downside," Calipari said. "People just get scared, like they're afraid of it."
Calipari said the benefits of an NBA franchise would include the Louisville basketball program.
"The recruiting for Louisville would go up because there would be pro scouts in their gym every day," Calipari said. "That's what happened to us at Memphis. Every day, because they're going in to see the pro team that night, where do they go that afternoon? They'll go to the college gym to see the college players."
But wouldn't a rival's gain hurt Kentucky?
Calipari said it could bump UK off the front page in Louisville - a suggestion reporters quickly shot down - but he didn't buy into the notion that it would take fans away from Kentucky.
"This state is driven by the city of Louisville," Calipari said. "It is. Anything that's good for the city of Louisville is good for our state. I believe (the NBA) is good for the city of Louisville, which makes our state even better. That's just my opinion. That's one of four million. It will never take away from the University of Kentucky - ever.
"It will never take dollars away, it will never take seats away. And hey, twice a year when you're playing LeBron (James), come here and play in the new building we'll have in four years."
- And finally, Calipari said he expects to hear something from the NCAA on Enes Kanter "soon." What soon means, we do not know as Calipari did not elaborate any further.
Shamelessly plugging myself a bit here, but I appeared on Tom Leach's "The Leach Report" Friday morning to talk about the inaugural "Scratchies" I came up with earlier in the week and to talk about the website.
North Carolina's Harrison Barnes was the first freshman ever named to the preseason Associated Press All-America team. In hindsight, that appears to be a mistake, but there are some rookies playing at a level that could earn them that kind of honor by season's end.
One of them is Kentucky's Terrence Jones.
"What I admire most about his freshman season, to this point, is that with Enes (Kanter) being unavailable, there has become so much pressure on Terrence as a rebounder, as a productive offensive player," Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy said in an interview on "the Leach Report" radio show. "He had to do more than what he what he would have been asked if Enes were there from day one, and instead of reacting badly to that, being overwhelmed, perhaps making more mistakes than one can accommodate, he has actually flourished.
"With responsibilities thrown on him, he has actually done better and that is a mark of true greatness. I will be honest with you: I loved his skill and I thought his ability was high, but I didn't know him enough as a person to know that he could do that and I don't think Kentucky knew that (either). I think they loved his ability and saw a talent that could fit well into their circumstance and fit well into their system, but I don't know if they saw enough of him or anyone saw enough of him because of where he played to know what kind of champion is inside Terrence Jones."
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Count former Wildcat and now Big Blue Sports Network radio analyst Jeff Piecoro among those applauding the hiring of Rick Minter as a co-defensive coordinator. Piecoro works in the Cincinnati media market and covered Minter as coach of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats.
"I think it's a fantastic choice for Joker," Piecoro said. "Rick is a great defensive coach and he was really the one who turned UC's football program around. He's very aggressive defensively. They will pressure you. If you watch the Ohio State defense today, that's what (he) preaches."
Piecoro said Minter focuses intently on getting his defensive units to play a physical brand of football.
"This will be back to the days of the 70s and 80s when, even if Kentucky lost, the Herschel Walkers and Bo Jacksons would say, 'Boy, you guys beat the heck out of us," Piecoro said. "He's coached at Cincinnati, he's coached at Notre Dame, so he knows this area. He can make some in-roads into this area. I think that's maybe one reason why Joker was so sold on Rick Minter. You're going to get all your speed down south, but when you need those big guys, you probably have to come into Ohio, Pennsylvania and up north and I think Rick helps him do that."
Minter could make an impact in Ohio, a hotbed for high school talent.
"Last year, in Cincinnati alone, there were 44 three-, four- and five-star recruits," Piecoro said. "In the whole state of Kentucky, there were only 14. There are so many more people in this area and they play great football, especially when you add Northern Kentucky. There's plenty of talent up here to go around and you can say, 'Hey, you can play in the SEC.' That's a huge draw for some of these guys."
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Don't look for any major changes in the Kentucky offense for the BBVA Compass Bowl just because Morgan Newton will be replacing Mike Hartline as the starter.
"We are who we are," Phillips said after Sunday's practice session at the Nutter Field House. "We have been practicing what we do, even with the young guys all year, so we have to see how much they can handle of it and go out and play. We have plenty of experience around them so we need to just go out and play. A year ago I would say Morgan was young and we had to protect him, but we didn't have much experience last year (either), especially at the skill positions. We feel like we need to do what we do and what we have been doing all year."
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The largest halftime deficit the UK men's basketball team has ever overcome to win a game is 16 points -- and it's happened twice.
First was the "Mardi Gras Miracle" at LSU in 1994. We celebrate the anniversary of the other one Saturday.
On Dec. 18, 2004, the Cats spotted archrival Louisville a 16-point halftime lead at Freedom Hall before coming back to win 60-58. Kentucky was carried by Patrick Sparks, whose three free throws in the final seconds won it for UK.
Evidently I'm the last one to discover this, but just in case there are a few of you out there that haven't, apparently there is a website dedicated solely to songs on sports and different sporting figures and teams.
The website, ryanparkersongs.com, takes a sports subject and a YouTube video and then writes a song about it. Weird? Maybe. But for you diehard fans out there, it's actually a pretty cool website.
Of course, the reason why Ryan Parker's website has graced the page this Friday is because Parker has songs dedicated exclusively to the Kentucky Wildcats and John Calipari.
Kentucky fans in select markets without Comcast Sports South will still be able to watch Saturday's game against Mississippi Valley State if they have Insight Cable.
Insight spokesman Jason Keller said the cable company is making arrangements to carry the game in its Kentucky and Indiana markets. The game is scheduled to air on CSS at 8 p.m. ET.
The game will air on different channels in each district. The channel locations are:
- Lexington - Channel 14 for Analog customers and channel 505 for Digital box and Mini Box customers. - Bowling Green - Channel 5 for Analog customers and channel 505 for Digital box and Mini Box customers. - Northern Kentucky - Channel 99 for Analog customers and channel 505 for Digital box and Mini Box customers. - Evansville - Channel 74 for Analog (Classic) customers and channel 505 for Digital box and Mini Box customers. - Louisville - Channel 15 for Analog customers and channel 505 for Digital box and Mini Box customers.
For additional information, check SportsOnInsight.com.
A couple of major announcements were released Thursday in the form of the official football hires of Rick Minter as co-defensive coordinator and Steve Pardue as running backs coach, in addition to the announcement of the new Big East/SEC Challenge.
We've got both covered in full detail on the homepage. There isn't too much to add on to the detailed releases other than a couple of quick hits I want to point out below:
- For anyone skeptical about the Minter hire, look no further than the big-name coaches Minter has helped groom into head coaches at the pro and collegiate level. At UC, Minter had current UK coach Joker Phillips on his staff in addition to New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, Baltimore Raves head coach John Harbaugh, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher. That's as impressive of a staff as you will find at any level.
- One has to wonder how the hiring of Steve Pardue will affect the LaGrange pipeline. As most of you know, LaGrange High School in Georgia has been a football factory for the Kentucky football program. Over the last several years, UK has signed the likes of Quentin McCord, Wesley Woodyard, Braxton Kelly, DeMoreo Ford, Mychal Bailey, Randall Burden, Tristian Johnson, Qua Huzzie, Joe Mansour and Patrick Simmons, all from LaGrange. I'm not saying it could have a positive or negative effect one way or the other. Honestly, I don't think anyone knows. Part of the reason UK has been so successful in finding gems from LaGrange is because of the relationship between Phillips and Pardue. Now that Pardue is at UK, does that hurt the pipeline? Or with Pardue's connections in LaGrange and the community's knowledge of him, will that persuade even more LaGrange products to journey to UK? We'll have to find out.
- For those of you confused about the new SEC/Big East Challenge, allow me to point out the differences. The SEC/Big East Invitational of the past two years, which included this year's UK-Notre Dame game, only eight teams a year were featured with doubleheaders at neutral sites. That won't be the case with the new SEC/Big East Challenge. Instead, the new format, which will begin in 2011, will feature 12 games over three days beginning on the Thursday after Thanksgiving of each year. The format will resemble the current ACC/Big Ten Challenge, plus all games will be held on campus sites.
- With the addition of the SEC/Big East Challenge for next year, the Kentucky men's basketball schedule in 2011-12 is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. In addition to home games with Louisville and North Carolina, Kentucky will play Indiana on the road, Kansas in New York and a Big East opponent.
Randall Cobb met with reporters Thursday to talk about his recent selection to the Associated Press All-America first team and his future with the Wildcats.
Cobb is the first Wildcat to be selected to the AP first team since Derek Abney was selected as a kick returner in 2002.
"It's humbling just to be mentioned with such prestigious people," Cobb said. "All the work is finally paying off."
Cobb had plenty to say about the honor, including how he learned about it on Twitter, all of which you can view in the video above.
The most interesting part of the interview comes in the second half when Cobb talks about the upcoming decision he will have to make on his future with UK. Cobb, who is currently debating on turning pro, appears to be pretty torn with the decision. He has until Jan. 15 to make a decision.
"Clock's ticking," Cobb said. "I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing and try to wait until I feel like the time is right to make my decision."
Cobb said there are plenty of things he has to consider, but the most important factors are team oriented. The junior wide receiver, who led the Southeastern Conference in all-purpose yardage this year, said he the NFL decision is constantly on his mind.
"(I think about it) every day," Cobb said. "That's why I try to hide in my room all the time, to keep from being asked that question all the time. There's a lot going into it. It's been really heavy on my heart lately, especially with my finals being over and not having practice or anything now. I have nothing else to concentrate on right now so I'm trying to get as much input as I can."
Three highly touted high school basketball players that have signed to play at Kentucky next year are finalists for the Naismith Player of the Year award.
Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, all of whom have signed nationall letters of intent with UK, made the 10-player watch list for the award.
The watch list was comprised by leading basketball journalists from around the country who form the national voting academy and identify players under consideration for the award. In February, the voting academy will narrow the list down to five male and five female candidates, with the winners being selected and recognized by the Atlanta Tipoff Club at the end of the high school basketball season.
What happens when you have no games, finals week, the end of the year approaching and a blogger with time on his hands? You get the Scratchies (not a skin disease). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I'm proud (or embarrassed) to introduce the inaugural Scratchies, an end-of-the-semester awards rundown that I plan hope to do at the end of every fall and spring semester to recap the previous athletics season.
Not to be confused with ESPN's Herbie Awards or UK's end-of-the-year CATSPY Awards, the Scratchies offer no actual hardware of glitzy awards show. Instead, these honorees have earned the appreciation of a lowly blogger trying to pass the time of a six-day game-less stretch.
Nonetheless, check back during finals week of the spring semester for the Spring Semester 2011 Scratchies Awards. Without further ado, I give you the 2010 Fall Semester Scratchies. And please feel free to disagree and comment on who you think should have won.
MVW (Most Valuable Wildcat) Randall Cobb, football - Who else? Mr. Do Everything was, well, just about everything for the Kentucky football team. He caught passes, ran the ball from the quarterback position, returned punts and kicks, held snaps, took out your trash, and even got the paper. What didn't Cobb do this year? He led the Southeastern Conference with 2,192 all-purpose yards, broke the career touchdown mark at UK and was the program's first Associated Press first-team All-American since Derek Abney in 2002.
The Dream Team (team of the semester) Men's basketball - I'm going to take a lot of grief for this one because the Cats are only nine games into the season, but John Calipari's team has been the most impressive through the first semester. Given the schedule UK has had to manage through - most computers rank Kentucky's early season slate as one of the toughest in the nation - and the players Calipari had to replace, the Cats have played remarkably well in early season tests. Enes Kanter's status remains up in the air, but this team still has a chance to make a deep run come March.
The Adolph Rupp Award (coach of the semester) Craig Skinner, volleyball - One could make a case for Skinner winning this award just about every year. Too often overlooked for his team's accomplishments, Skinner has put together arguably the steadiest program at UK in guiding the Cats to six straight NCAA Tournament berths. The team's appearance this year may have been his most impressive. Despite losing All-SEC stalwarts Sarah Rumely, BriAnne Sauer and Sarah Mendoza, and losing four of five midway through the season, Kentucky rallied down the stretch to win six of seven and make the NCAA Tournament.
The Jose Bautista Award (most improved player) Danny Trevathan, football - Danny Trevathan has long been touted as the next great in a recent trend of star linebackers at Kentucky, but nobody could have predicted Trevathan would have the type of breakthrough season he enjoyed in 2010. On a defense in serious need of a leader, Trevathan emerged from last year's somewhat limited role and became one of the best linebackers in the SEC. Trevathan led the SEC with 130 tackles.
The Butler Award (surprise team) Women's soccer - In Jon Lipsitz's first season as head coach, the Cats struggled just to find the back of the net much less wins. A season after scoring 11 goals on the year, Lipsitz's 2010 team managed to match that in two games alone against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. With a newfound offense and a continually stingy defense, the Cats made the SEC Tournament and nearly pulled off an upset of No. 2 seed South Carolina. With most of this season's starters returning next year, the future is extremely bright.
One Shining Moment (best moment) Football's upset of No. 10 South Carolina - Joker Phillips notched one of the few signature victories that his predecessor, Rich Brooks, could not attain. In snapping a 10-game losing streak to South Carolina and beating coach Steve Spurrier for the first time, UK ended one of the notorious streaks that has plagued the program. Mike Hartline's 24-yard pass to Randall Cobb put the Cats ahead and Anthony Mosley's interception in the end zone sealed the victory.
The "band is out on the field" Award (best game) Volleyball's upset of No. 15 LSU - In desperate need of a marquee win to enhance its NCAA Tournament resume, the Kentucky volleyball team rallied for a come-from-behind 3-2 win over defending conference champion LSU on Senior Day. The victory proved to be the turnaround victory Skinner's team was looking for as the Cats made their fifth straight NCAA Tournament.
The Doug Flutie Hail Mary Award (best play) Cobb's sensational run - Already in the midst of a career rushing day against Vanderbilt, Randall Cobb saved his best run for last. On a designed throw from the quarterback position, the 5-foot-10, 186-pound junior scrambled away from two would-be sacks, ran down the left sideline, cut it back across the field and shook a couple more defenders -- all before finally running out of gas and stepping out of bounds on the right sideline.
The Cam Newton Award (breakthrough player) Eric Quigley, men's tennis - Not that Quigley isn't already a star at UK, but this fall season cemented his status as one of the best players of the 2010-11 athletics class. Quigley won the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional Indoor Championship in dominating fashion, defeating the country's No. 1-ranked player. Quigley also made school history by becoming only the sixth player in school history to play in the finals of a collegiate grand slam.
All-Calipari Team (All-Freshman team) Caitlin Landis, women's soccer - Scored seven goals in her first season Brandon Knight, men's basketball - Averaging 17.4 points and has dished out 33 assists through his first nine career games Tyler Beadle, men's soccer - Recorded four shutouts as the full-time starter Maegan Conwright, women's basketball - First-year point guard is averaging 9.1 points Emily Holsopple, rifle - Represented UK at the USA Shooting Championships
All-Up-and-Comers (non-freshmen on the rise) Sophomore Stephanie Klefot, volleyball - Named SEC Libero of the Year Sophomore Chelsea Oswald, cross country - Won the Iona Meet of Champions this fall Sophomore Larry Warford, football - Garnered All-SEC honors in first full-time duty Junior Kelsey Hunyadi, women's soccer - Led UK with eight goals despite missing four games Junior DeAndre Liggins, men's basketball - Sure, he's a veteran, but in his first season as a starter, he's averaging 9.9 points
All-Wildcat Team (The Scratchies equivalent of the All-America team) Freshman Terrence Jones, men's basketball - Leads the team in scoring (18.9) and rebounding (10.2) Senior Victoria Dunlap, women's basketball - Reigning SEC Player of the Year leads the SEC in scoring (19.3), rebounding (11.4), steals (3.7) and blocks (2.3). Senior Lauren Rapp, volleyball - Finished seventh in school history with 1,280 kills Eric Quigley, men's tennis - See above Randall Cobb, football - See above
All-Rex Ryan Team (when you need a sound bite, these are your go-to guys) Senior Ricky Lumpkin, football Ian Collins, men's soccer Jon Lipsitz, women's soccer Derrick Locke, football Amber Smith, women's basketball
The Craig Sager Award (best dressed) Jon Lipsitz, women's soccer - He wears a suit on the sidelines of every soccer game. Enough said. And yes, that Craig Sager Award has just a touch of sarcasm to it. And no, Lipsitz does not dress like Craig Sager.
The Streak (strangest stat or streak) Overtime, anyone? - The men's soccer team played in a school-record nine overtime games in 2010. The nine overtime games came during a 12-game stretch in which the Cats battled a slew of injuries.
The Steve Bartman Award (best blooper) Chris Matthews, football - During one of Joker Phillips' weekly news conferences, Matthews, who had just finished up with interviews of his own, sat in the back of the media room minding his business while dozens of reporters fired questions at Phillips. In a rather quiet room, a loud bang turned the attention of everyone to Matthews lying on the floor. Matthews had leaned back too far and fell out of his seat. It was one of those things where you had to be there.
He said what? (quote of the semester) "I love that kid. He does everything that you want a center or a big man to do. He plays ball screens great, he rebounds the basketball, he blocks shots. He's the mother hen out there." - Boston coach Patrick Chambers on men's basketball forward Josh Harrellson
The "Get Your Popcorn Ready" Award (best celebration/dance) Matthew Mitchell, women's basketball - Already famous/notorious (you choose the adjective) for being one of the most outspokenly confident and hilarious men in UK's athletics department, Mitchell saved his best moment for this year's Big Blue Madness. With "The Dougie" being the craze these days, Mitchell decided to bust out the move in front of 24,000 fans during the UK women's basketball team's introductions. Only the video itself of the dance can do it justice.
John Calipari is many things to many people. He's a basketball coach, a renowned recruiter, a salesman, a mentor, and to some Kentucky basketball fans, a savior.
Now he's being nominated as a humanitarian.
Calipari has been nominated for the inaugural 2010 United Nations NGO Positive Peace Awards in the Coach category by Celebrate Positive. The award, viewed as a 21st century peace prize, according to a news release, honors and recognizes individuals, businesses, athletes, sports teams, entertainers and schools around the world for their positive contributions.
The 2010 Positive Peace Award nominees are judged by the United Nations NGO Voting Academy comprised of highly respected United Nations NGOs, such as Rotary International, Pathways to Peace and Sister Cities International. The Voting Academy will use an established criteria of a coach's community involvement and impact on their community to determine this year's winner.
"From day one when John Calipari arrived on our campus, he embraced the Commonwealth," UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said. "Everyone that has spent any time with Cal knows he has a heart of gold and both he and his wife Ellen care about children. He helped raise over a million dollars in the Hoops for Haiti telethon and didn't stop there by involving his team with Samaritan's feet and their cause after a trip to Haiti. We are extremely proud to have him as a representative of our program."
Calipari was nominated by Samaritan's Feet where he not only helped deliver shoes in June to orphans in Haiti, but washed the feet of the orphans before putting new shoes on their feet. In August, the two-time Coach of the Year also set an example for his players and staff who joined him in washing the feet of children in need at a shoe distribution in Detroit, followed by leading the kids in basketball drills.
"Coach Calipari has used his platform to call attention to the plight of the millions of children around the world who suffer from infection, disease and even death due to a lack of proper footwear", said Todd Melloch, director of marketing for Samaritan's Feet.
The winner of the sports categories for 2010 United Nations NGO Positive Peace Award will be announced in mid-December.
- The most notable of the achievements goes to Randall Cobb. The Kentucky football star was named a first-team Associated Press All-American as an all-purpose player. Cobb charted 2,192 all-purpose yards in 2010, tops in the SEC. The junior wide receiver caught 79 passes for 955 yards and seven touchdowns and ran the ball 52 times for 401 yards and five scores.
Cobb is the first Wildcat to make the AP first team since Derek Abney in 2002 and the 11th in program annals.
- Dick Vitale was on hand for Saturday's UK-Indiana men's basketball game in Rupp Arena and must have liked what he saw. Vitale tabbed Kentucky as his team of the week in his weekly awards. Here is what Vitale had to say:
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kentucky. The Wildcats scored a pair of big wins, beating Notre Dame and Indiana. John Calipari's team saw its two diaper dandies, Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight get into foul trouble against the Hoosiers. A strong finish led the 'Cats to the winner's circle.
For some young people, college is the time when they find their career path. Others come there with a course already charted. Former Wildcat star Scott Padgett fell into the latter category.
After spending an apprentice season on John Calipari's first Kentucky staff, Padgett landed a full-time assistant job at Manhattan and he's enjoying it just as much as he always anticipated he would.
"I knew I wanted to be in coaching before I even came to Kentucky," Padgett said. "I think going through the process and being under the coaches I had been under further made me realize that, for sure, what I wanted to do (was coach)."
Padgett, Utah's first-round draft pick off the 1999 UK team, jumped onto the coaching course after eight seasons in the NBA. He said he's now drawing on the experiences of playing under a variety of coaches.
"I was lucky enough to be under guys like oach (Rick) Pitino (who recruited Padgett to UK out of Louisville St. Xavier High School), coach (Tubby) Smith, coach (Jerry) Sloan and Jeff Van Gundy -- who is one of the best X-and-O guys out there -- and even assistant wise, Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls' head coach. He was a great defensive-minded coach. (Also) Lawrence Frank, who is not as well known as the others. And add to that working with Coach Cal, I feel I have a lot to draw on and give me an ability to learn from all those people."
NCAA rules limit the number of on-the-floor coaches, so Padgett said he learned mostly through observation in his one season with Coach Calipari.
"I talked to him about wanting to get into the game of coaching and he did a great thing for me by allowing me to be on the staff and I learned a lot of things last year," Padgett said. "I didn't get to do a whole lot, but I got to learn. It was almost like I took a course in learning to coach. It gave me a great opportunity."
And what did Padgett learn from Calipari?
"I like the way he handled the kids," Padgett said. "We had some different-type personalities on the team and it could have clashed, but he found a way to get everyone on the same page, shooting for the common goal. If you would have said on day one that we would never have a problem on the team with the different personalities we had, I'd have thought you were crazy.
"He got them to believe in the team and made it a family atmosphere for the guys to where not only were they family amongst each other, but they were his family as well, and it is very impressive considering he did that with several of those guys in a year."
Not everything Padgett learned last season had to do with on-the-court parts of the makeup of a coach.
"There were a lot of behind-the-scene things that you take for granted as a player," Padgett said. "One of the things I thought Cal was phenomenal at was his marketing of a program. It is one of those things where you couldn't talk college basketball last year without somewhere in the conversation Kentucky coming up. It hadn't been like that in a while and I think a lot of that came back to the things he did.
"Getting two million people following him on Twitter (is an example). I never thought that Twitter would be something that was as interesting and successful as it was because you see the different things that go with it and I think he was very impressive to see his marketing of the program."
Padgett was also impressed with how Calipari carries himself as a leader.
"I think that with Coach Cal, he comes into a room and commands respect because he has a presence about him and that was from day one," Padgett said. "It was a great experience for me to be down there and learn different things from him and just be around him and see how he is towards people. Whether it is a superstar player or the fans or the media, he does a great job with dealing with people."
Once the season ended, Padgett started looking for opportunities to move up the college basketball ladder. There were positions like director of basketball operations open at some bigger name programs, but the chance to be an on-the-court coach at a mid-major program was more appealing to Padgett.
When Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen had a slot to fill and called Calipari, the UK coach suggested Padgett. The deal was done soon after.
Padgett, his wife, Cynthia, and their three kids are enjoying living in the Big Apple. He does drive in that Manhattan traffic (a coach needs more flexibility of mobility than public transportation might provide), but it's only a 15-minute ride to the office.
The Manhattan traffic is all worth it to Padgett because of the Jaspers' potential this winter.
"We have seven new players," Padgett said. "We had a rough year last year but we brought in seven players that were from winning programs. We brought in two new coaches and are trying to bring a winning mentality in these players' heads to where every day you get better and every day you work hard. I think we have a shot to make the tournament and we have the talent to do it. (It all depends on) how well can we do like coach did last year at jelling a whole bunch of previous people with new people."
Manhattan is 2-8 going into this Saturday's game against Hofstra, so recruiting is obviously a key mission for the Jaspers in the upcoming seasons. Padgett is encouraged about their prospects.
"It has been great because up here there are so many kids that you can see," Padgett said. "When you get done with work at the end of the day, you can say 'Hey, I am going to go see a kid'. It is great because around here you've got Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and they are all so close and have good players. I can see a new player every day. I guess the hard part is at the end of the day, it is getting to the (person who is making decisions. We need to nail down the decision maker and that is the tough part."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Dec. 12:
Women's basketball: Victoria Dunlap
Senior forward Victoria Dunlap averaged a team-high 28.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.0 steals and 2.5 blocks per game in wins over Tennessee Tech and Chattanooga last week. Shot 67.6 percent shooting from the floor, including a season-high 73.3 percent against Chattanooga. Scored a season-high 30 points, including 18 in the first half vs. Tennessee Tech. It was her third career game with 30 or more points. Her 18 points in the first half were the most by a Wildcat since she put up 18 points in the opening frame against Oklahoma on March 30 in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight. Totaled 18 rebounds in the week, moving her to No. 3 on UK's career rebounding list with 891. Scored 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the field vs. UTC, scoring 18 points in the decisive second half.Hit her first 3-pointer of the season vs. TTU.
Men's basketball: Brandon Knight
Brandon Knight averaged 19.0 points per game on the week helping lead Kentucky to a 2-0 record on the week including a win over 23rd-ranked Notre Dame in the SEC/Big East Invitational. Recorded his fourth 20-point effort this season against the Irish. In rivalry win over Indiana, Knight scored five points and pulled down five rebounds over the final 10 minutes to help UK come from one point down to pull away for the 81-62 win. Went 10-of-10 from the free-throw line against the Hoosiers, has hit 14 straight and 19 of his last 20 from the charity stripe.
In the land of Kentucky basketball, finding a Final Four basketball ring of a former basketball player lies somewhere between the equivalent of discovering the Holy Grail and a 10-carat diamond.
Quite literally, the ring is priceless.
So imagine Jeff Brassow's surprise when he was contacted by a Fayette Urban County Government employee and told his long-lost Final Four ring had been found. To give back an item of such worth and merit in a time of such dishonesty and underwhelming values was a jolt of shock for Brassow.
"It's pretty cool that people are actually honest enough to find out if it was real and if it was mine and if I wanted it back," Brassow said.
Brassow, a four-year letterman at UK from 1990-94, was part of the 1993 Final Four team that lost to Michigan. The definition of a role player, Brassow averaged 4.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in the run to the 1993 Final Four in New Orleans. His game-winning tip in the 1993 Maui Invitational against Arizona is still one of the hallmark moments of a blue-collared period of UK basketball.
For his Final Four efforts, Brassow, like every other player on the '93 team, was awarded a ring. It was to be a family heirloom; a proud symbol of Brassow's basketball career that he could pass down to his children.
That was until Brassow lost it.
About 10 years ago, the way Brassow explains it, he let his roommate look at it and put it on. For some reason or another, of which Brassow cannot remember, the two got separated and his roommate accidentally walked off with the ring.
When they met up later, Brassow's roommate mysteriously claimed he had "lost it." Suffice to say, Brassow was devastated.
"I was not happy at all," Brassow said. "We looked and looked and looked for it and could not find it."
Following an exhaustive search, Brassow finally gave up hope of finding the ring. After all, finding an object no bigger than a golf ball was like finding a needle in a haystack.
"I had forgotten all about it," Brassow said. "I had just kind of written it off. There had been several times where I thought for my birthday or Christmas that I might replace it but I never got around to it."
Somehow that needle was found in a 75-acre haystack: a local Lexington landfill. That's right, Jeff Brassow's ring was found in a dump.
Randy Davis, a public service supervisor in the LFUCG, saw a fellow employee wearing the ring around and showing it off. Davis was a little skeptical about what the man was showing him until he got a closer look.
"It wasn't in that bad of shape," Davis said. "I don't know what kind of ring it was from 1993, what kind of ring they'd given him, but it wasn't a gold ring. He had maybe a stone in it. It had 'Brassow' on the side, 'Kentucky' on one side, the black onyx was on the top of it, the 'NCAA,' and on the inside of it was engraved with his name."
Sure enough, Jeff Brassow's ring had been found in a landfill.
"He said he found it at the dump, which was kind of curious to me," Davis said. "I said, 'Let me see that.' I took it off his finger and put it on my finger and I rolled up my truck window and drove off."
Davis was only kidding, of course. He backed up his truck, rolled down his window and started talking to his co-worker.
"I don't think he actually knew what he had," Davis said. "So I said, 'What you need to do is you need to let me have that.' "
After a little negotiation and some hesitation, Davis' fellow employee obliged. Only Davis had no intentions of keeping it for himself.
"When I realized it was Jeff Brassow's, I thought, well shoot, this ring needs to get back to the man instead of somebody keeping it and storing it somewhere," Davis said.
Davis, through a friend, got in contact with the UK athletics department and found Brassow's number. The two hooked up over the phone and Davis sent the ring to Brassow in Charleston, S.C.
Brassow received the ring in the mail a few days ago. Brassow was floored.
"I was like, 'Wow,' because I've got two young kids that I would love to show that to someday," Brassow said. "I was obviously very excited. I had kind of put it in the back of my mind."
The ring, after 10 years, returned to Brassow in relatively good shape.
"It doesn't matter to me where they found it," Brassow said. "I'm just glad they found it and returned it to me. It still fits and it still looks good."
Brassow said it needs to be cleaned, but it beats buying a replacement Final Four ring.
"The (Final Four) experience means more (than the ring)," Brassow said. "I had kind of just written off the ring because I didn't think I would ever get it back and I knew I could replace it at some point. The experience was something I'll never forget."
The former UK guard, who scored 807 career points and grabbed 334 rebounds during his time in Lexington, said he still remembers that '93 team pretty fondly.
"I remember that we were the best team that year and we should have won it," Brassow said. "We had our chances against Michigan and couldn't win the game. Of the four teams that were left, I thought that we had the best chance to win it."
Brassow, who will turn 40 on Dec. 20, has worked in Charleston for Metronic Inc. for the last eight years as a clinical specialist. A father of two, Brassow said he still keeps up with the Cats on occasion on TV and on the Internet.
He said he's hoping to attend the UK-South Carolina game in Columbia, S.C., wearing his Final Four ring proudly.
As for Davis, where did he find the heart to give such a prized possession back?
"I knew it was something that meant something to somebody," Davis said. "It didn't mean anything to me, but it might mean something to him so we had to find a way to get it to him."
Lost a little bit in Saturday's postgame write-ups (well, at least mine) because of DeAndre Liggins' re-emergence was the continued strong play of senior forward Josh Harrellson.
Playing arguably the best basketball of his career, Harrellson played perhaps his best game in a Kentucky uniform Saturday. Harrellson posted his second double-double of the season and third of his career with a 14-point, 12-rebound effort in the win over Indiana.
His play once again prompted an opposing head coach to praise the senior big man.
"He's a veteran, there's no question about that," Indiana head coach Tom Crean said. "I think people forget that before John (Calipari) got there, he was a pretty heralded recruit. I mean, he really was. A lot of schools really wanted to have him. He's a big who's very mobile, and you saw the difference when he was out of the game and (Eloy) Vargas was in the game with what we did with screen-and-roll. He guards and covers for his teammates, he is a tremendous offensive rebounder.
"The one amazing statistic with him going into the game (is) he had 30 offensive rebounds and didn't have a free-throw attempt, which means that he probably needs the ball a little bit more, and I'm sure after today he'll get it. But he's a legitimate five who can step out and shoot the ball and does a lot for them. You see how (Calipari) has him out on the floor so much. (Calipari) knows. (Harrellson's) a big, big part of their team."
Harrellson finally got to the charity stripe thanks to a more aggressive approach around the basket. Despite his early season surge, Harrellson hasn't looked for his own points as much as he should off offensive rebounds.
Calipari talked with Harrellson and told him to try to dunk every ball. When Harrellson tried to he recorded his first two dunks of the season and went to the line for the first time this year (he hit all four free throws).
"I definitely just tried to be more aggressive with offensive rebounds," Harrellson said. "I tried to put them back up. I didn't try to kick them out as quick. I definitely tried to get fouled. I work every day in practice. I shoot about 85, 90 percent every day in practice. I know I'm a good free-throw shooter. I've just got to get to the line more."
Maybe even more astounding is that Harrellson didn't get in foul trouble against Indiana. Harrellson has been forced to the bench early in games this season because of early fouls, including the previous two games against Notre Dame and North Carolina.
And yet, in a foul-infested game against the Hoosiers where just about every person on the floor was in foul trouble, Harrellson was one of the few who wasn't handicapped. He didn't pick up his first foul until the second half.
"I came in here with the mentality that I don't want to get into foul trouble early," Harrellson said. "The last couple of games I've been doing it. It's totally different when I get in foul trouble. It gets the team down and we don't play as well. I was definitely trying to be there for my team and play as hard as I could without fouling."
As long as Enes Kanter remains in limbo and DeMarcus Cousins doesn't come waltzing out of the tunnel and onto the UK bench, Harrellson is going to have to play a major role this season.
It was a daunting test that few thought he could live up to, but Harrellson has more than stepped up to the challenge so far.
"Like I told Josh, there's not that many dominating big guys out there," Calipari said. "Josh can be whatever he wants to be. He can paint his own canvas. He can paint his own masterpiece. He can do whatever he wants."
For all the slack the Kentucky men's basketball team took for its schedule this season, it's looking pretty solid through the first quarter of the season.
DeWayne Peevy, UK spokesman for the men's basketball team, tweeted earlier that Kentucky entered Sunday No. 1 in strength of schedule according to Jerry Palm's CollegeRPI.com. That got me to thinking: With all the marquee opponents the Cats have already faced this season and with a 7-2 record, chances are Kentucky's RPI is pretty high so far.
Upon closer look at several of the most notable computer rankings, Kentucky's RPI looks to be in pretty good shape with conference play around the corner.
Of the four computer rankings I checked -- CBSsports.com RPI, Sagarin, RealTimeRPI.com and Pomeroy -- UK ranked no worse than No. 6 and as high No. 3. Kentucky's schedule has been the biggest boost as RealTimeRPI.com ranks it the toughest schedule in the nation.
Here's a quick snapshot of some of the computer rankings (CollegeRPI.com is subscription only; strength of schedule in parentheses):
You know, the guy that used to dive on the floor, scrap for every ball and provide the spark when Kentucky needed to bring the fire? That guy returned Saturday night in Kentucky's 81-62 win over Indiana.
"This is my first game that I actually played like I did last year, bringing the energy, diving on the floor," Liggins said. "I just felt like I played today like I did last year."
Liggins provided the spark Saturday night and ultimately turned the momentum Kentucky's way in what was shaping up to be a last-second finish. In a back-and-forth thriller in front of a season-high 24,337 fans at Rupp Arena, Liggins' two steals midway through the second half ignited the Cats' game-defining run.
"Those two plays got the crowd into it," Liggins said. "We kind of got the momentum off those two plays. That's what I do. That's what I'm known for. I've got to continue to do that every game."
Liggins' first steal came with just over 13 minutes left in the game. With Kentucky clinging to a 45-44 lead, Liggins stepped in the lane and tied up Christian Watford for a jump ball. The possession arrow pointed UK's way and Josh Harrellson capitalized with a layup.
Indiana came down and tied the game on a Jordan Hulls 3-pointer, but with Indiana threatening to take back the lead, Liggins made a diving steal that led to a Brandon Knight trey.
The Hoosiers would tie the game once more, but they would never lead again.
"It turns the game around (when Liggins is playing like that,)" said Harrellson, who also pitched in with an energizing 14 points and 12 rebounds. "The crowd gets into it, the players get into it, and then everybody wants to play like that and be like that. It totally changes the game."
Kentucky's defense ultimately clamped down on the resilient Hoosiers and finally knocked Indiana out with a game-sealing 25-5 run. Although Liggins didn't draw rave reviews from his head coach, the players credited him with turning the game around.
"A lot of things he does aren't really written down in the stat sheet, but he brings the most energy to our team," freshman forward Brandon Knight said.
Liggins has hiked his scoring average this season, improving from 3.8 points per game last year to 7.6 points this season.
But despite the increase in productivity, head coach John Calipari had been in search for the DeAndre of old. Through the first eight games of the season, Calipari was asking for more energy from Liggins, an oddity considering the spark he provided last year.
"You remember the ball in the corner where he fell on the floor and couldn't bring it in?" Calipari said of a first-half play. "Last year he got every one of those balls."
Calipari benched Liggins to start the second half and the message apparently got through to him. Liggins was back to diving on the floor, forcing steals and energizing the team in the second half to turn what was at once a nail biter into a relative cruise at the end.
The question is: Why wasn't Liggins playing like that before?
"Being too comfortable," Liggins said. "I think I'm a little bit timid when the game first starts. I've just got to exaggerate everything and come out with fight and defend."
Liggins finished the game with a career-high 19 points and career-high nine rebounds. Knight said it's no coincidence that when Liggins' emphasis on scoring shifted to the little things, his scoring benefited anyway.
"It shows why we he was able to score a lot more," Knight said. "When he picks up his intensity and he's aggressive, it feeds over into the other side of the court, which is him attacking the basket and getting fouled and getting to the line."
Calipari wasn't overly pleased with Kentucky's play Saturday night, but he had to take some satisfaction in having his go-to energy guy back.
"I just felt like bringing that spark to my team," Liggins said.
Following an arrest early Friday after a disturbance in a residential neighborhood, Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline has been suspended for the bowl game against Pittsburgh.
The suspension will effectively end the career of Hartline, who started in 26 games during his five-year career with UK.
"Mike Hartline has had a good record here conduct wise," head coach Joker Phillips said after Saturday's practice. "I regret this. I regret that this happened, but it did. I really hate that it happened because of what he's done for us this year in leading this program to our fifth straight bowl. He's done a great job at that, but we have clear expectations for what we want our players to do, how we want them to act, how we want them to behave. Therefore, we are going to suspend him for this game."
Hartline, 22, was arrested Friday morning and charged with second-degree disorderly conduct, alcohol intoxication in a public place and failure to notify the department of transportation of an address change. His lawyer entered a not-guilty plea.
Phillips said it was tough to suspend Hartline for his final career game based on everything Hartline has done for the program, but he said the expectations for everyone are clear cut.
"We've got 120 guys on our football team and a vast majority of the time our guys are doing what they're supposed to do," Phillips said. "However, when something like this happens, we have to hold them accountable. This is one of the ways that we have to discipline our players and to make sure they are held accountable and making sure that this is a way that we are helping them grow up and understanding how to be a man. Mike understands it. Our team understands the expectations from here on. Somebody has to step up. It's an opportunity for someone else to step up and have an opportunity to help us have a winning season this year."
The early favorite to step up at the quarterback position is sophomore Morgan Newton, who went 5-3 as a starter last year when Hartline went down with an injury. Newton led UK to wins at Auburn and at Georgia and entered this preseason in a quarterback competition with Hartline.
Hartline eventually won the job.
"Morgan will be the guy," Phillips said. "He's the guy that has been the second for a long time this season. (Ryan Mossakowski) will have a chance as we practice and get through this thing to plead his case also."
Newton visibly struggled when he lost out on the starter's job at the beginning of the year but has since rebounded, according to reports.
"After the decision was made that Mike was the starter earlier in the season, he got a little sluggish," junior wide receiver Randall Cobb said. "Later on he picked it up and got back into his routine and got back into the things he was working on all offseason. He's back at where he was. He came out here today and worked his butt off."
Newton, who threw for 706 yards and six touchdowns and ran for another 130 yards and two touchdowns last season, said the starter's role changes how he approaches his job. Newton took snaps with the first-team offense at Saturday's practice.
"I'm happy about the opportunity," Newton said. "I'm not necessarily happy about how it happened, but I guess you've just got to seize the opportunity."
The situation will certainly present an early audition for next year's job. Mossakowski was asked how he could make up for experience edge Newton has over him.
"Just compete and just work as hard as I can on a day-to-day basis," Mossakowski said. "That's all I can do and that's the best mindset, I think. Every day I go out, I'm going to study. Nothing changes."
Hartline will be around in practice to help the younger guys and will make the trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., so long as he chooses to.
"He will be around some," Phillips said. "He will come in and try to help some of the young guys out. We'd expect for him to be around and would like for him to be around. He'll come down to the bowl, maybe the last two days, and be with the team. He won't be in uniform, but he'll come down and be on the sideline with us if he chooses to."
Hartline addressed the team Saturday morning and briefed the players on what happened early Friday morning. Although the loss hurt the team, the players supported Phillips' decision to suspend Hartline.
"If you want a program that continues to rise, you have to make sure you have that discipline, the integrity of the team," Cobb said.
How the suspension affects Hartline's professional career remains to be seen. The senior ends his career with 5,680 passing yards - fourth on Kentucky's career passing list - on 523-of-855 passing, 38 touchdowns and 25 interceptions, in 33 games.
"That's for (NFL scouts) to determine that," Phillips said. "I hope (it doesn't hurt him) because Mike, for five years, he's had nothing but good conduct. It's unfortunate for something like this to happen."
Porter to transfer: Freshman defensive lineman Elliott Porter has asked for his release to move closer to home, Phillips said.
Porter, a Waggaman, La., native, came to UK after becoming a roster victim at LSU from too many scholarships. He did not play for Kentucky this season.
"He wants to get closer to home, (which is) understandable," Phillips said. "I feel for him and the situation he was put in. He came here, gave it a chance. He just feels like he wants to get close to his family and his family wants him close to them."
Darius Miller may have rightfully earned the award for the most frustrating Kentucky basketball player of the last decade.
As head coach John Calipari explains it, he has the potential to be one of the best players in the country, possessing the same type of budding talent and possibilities Miller brought to UK as the state of Kentucky's 2008 Mr. Basketball.
But through the first eight games of the 2010-11 season, Miller has played with the same inconsistencies that have defined his career at UK. At 6-foot-7, with the ability to take opponents off the dribble and the power to score in the post, Miller has shown flashes of brilliance while being compounded by lapses of production.
"I just want him to be one of those guys that everybody talks about because I think he has that ability," Calipari said after the Notre Dame game. "You know how many rebounds he had at halftime? None. Are you kidding me? 'Well why aren't you going after balls?' I mean, that kind of stuff. 'Just do it.'
"He could be as good as anybody in the country. He can shoot, he can handle it, he's a smart kid, he's got enough athleticism ... but there is something that's in there that's holding him back."
In his first interview since the Notre Dame win, Miller was asked what that "something" is.
"Basically just being more aggressive and more vocal on the court," Miller said. "Coach told me there were a few times when we were down at North Carolina that I should have stepped up and gotten the team in a huddle and told them we were going to be alright."
Miller had just two points and zero shot attempts to go along with two turnovers in the first half against Notre Dame. He returned in the second half to score five points and grab five rebounds.
The junior guard/forward has had similar Jekyll-and-Hyde-like performances in the two games preceding Notre Dame.
Against North Carolina, Miller had three points, three rebounds and just two shots in the first half before finishing with 13 points, seven rebound and eight shots. And against Boston, Miller didn't attempt a shot from the field in the first 20 minutes before going to the bench with two fouls. He awakened after halftime for eight points.
If Miller wasn't showing production at any point in the game it would be one thing. But the fact that he has shown signs of dominance, such as a 13-point second-half performance against Connecticut, has coaches, fans and Miller yearning for more.
"There's something that holds him back when it's a four-point game and he can bust open the game," Calipari said. "There's something that makes him evaporate when we have guys out and you must step up to go do something. You take over."
An animated Calipari, nonverbally showing his frustration with the inability to put his finger on what was missing in Miller, wasn't interested in what Miller has done when the game hasn't been on the line.
"When you're down 20 I really don't care," Calipari said. "I want to know when it's a four-point game, because we're going to be in many of those, who can I play and who do we go to and who can we count on."
Calipari has tried several methods with Miller to get him to produce on a more consistent basis and become more aggressive. He's talked with Miller, encouraged him and even stopped practices to point out what he's capable of.
The latest attempt was a pair of individual meetings.
"We have a lot of talented scorers and he wants me to be one of them," Miller said. "I just have to stay aggressive throughout the entire game and not in spurts."
Before the season began, Miller said he deferred to his teammates last year a little bit too much and even hesitated on taking some shots. Miller's scoring average has risen slightly from last season's 6.5 points per game to 9.9 this year, but he's on pace to shoot the ball only 51 times more than he did in 2009-10.
"He's a young man who is very much centered, good person," Calipari said.
But does that mean he's too nice? Does he possess a killer instinct?
"It's in there," Calipari said. "I've had players that I've said before, whenever that tiger comes out of you, whenever you understand it, you're going to be a totally different guy. It's hard (and) it's physically tough."
To channel that inner tiger may just take what Calipari described as demonstrative performance. Miller won't succeed when he's needed the most until he inserts himself in the situation and tries to take over.
"How do you build confidence in those situations? Well, you perform in those situations and you demonstrate you can do it and all of a sudden your self-esteem (rises)," Calipari said. "You have to have that kind of swagger."
Miller is by no means in Coach Cal's doghouse, but he'd like to be move into the proverbial penthouse and live up to his coach's expectations as one of the best players in the country. "I'm glad that (Coach Cal) has a lot of confidence in me," Miller said. "I just need to step up my production."
He'll try Saturday when the Cats take on border-state rival Indiana in Rupp Arena at 5:15 p.m.
"I told Darius I love coaching him," Calipari said, "but he drives me crazy."
There are three members of Kentucky's 1,000-point club who played their high school basketball in the state of Indiana. Can you name them? The answer is at the bottom of this column.
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Former Wildcat and veteran college hoops analyst Larry Conley is a big Terrence Jones fan.
Conley said he saw the Wildcats practice in mid-October and both Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb appeared to be well ahead of Jones in their development, so he's impressed with Jones has moved to the top of the class for now.
In an appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show, I asked Conley is Jones perhaps reminded him of another UK big man who was just as comfortable on the perimeter as he was in the paint: Jamal Mashburn.
"I think (Jones) is a little more mobile than Mashburn was in college," Conley said.
On another subject, Conley said thinks top-ranked Duke is "far and above everybody else right now."
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Jones has scored 25 or more points three times in his first eight games. If he adds to that total Saturday against Indiana, he'll join Rex Chapman as the only UK freshmen to score 25-plus against the Hooisers.
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Kentucky had a season-low nine turnovers in the 72-58 win over Notre Dame and the total through eight games is only 91. At this same point last season -- against lesser overall competition -- the Cats had committed 141 turnovers, with four games of 21 or more.
Why the improvement?
"They're better shooters," head coach John Calipari said in a recent postgame interview on the Big Blue Sports Network. "When you're not as good a shooter and you're open, you try to drive it anyway because you don't want to shoot it and that's when you get into trouble. You take what the defense gives you. This team is doing a good job of that. "
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Three can carry two but two can't carry three.
That's a basketball axiom often stated by my broadcast partner and former UK great Mike Pratt.
It's a great way to capsulize the need for a team to have more than two consistent scorers. Jones and Knight are filling two of those slots most nights but finding that third scorer has been more of an issue.
Pratt thinks junior Darius Miller is an ideal candidate, but he must be more aggressive on the court.
"It's a mindset (issue), not skill set," Pratt said. "To put it in business terms, he fits that model of the third (scorer)."
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Freshman Stacey Poole may start to see more action in the coming games.
"At this point, I'm probably flipping Stacey and Jon Hood (in minutes)," Calipari said. "There were three rebounds that were in Jon's hands that he couldn't come up with. Whoever comes up with those balls is going to stay in the game. It's no disrespect, it's just how it is. Now, Stacey's going to get his opportunity to play."
The coach also explained what Kentucky did to keep Ben Hansbrough in check after he torched the Cats for 19 points in the game's first 14 minutes.
"We almost played him like it was a box and one," Calipari "If we had had time (in Maui), we'd have done the same thing with Connecticut (and Kemba Walker). Everybody switch and we're playing him and make these other guys beat us."
= = =
Trivia answer: Louie Dampier (Indianapolis), Kyle Macy (Peru) and Jim Master (Ft. Wayne).
It has been a while since we have provided an update on former Wildcats in the NBA, but the success of former UK players is not restricted to the basketball court. With the NFL closing in on the end of its regular season, a number of former football Cats are making a significant impact on their professional squads. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the more notable performances:
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics After being named to his first All-Star team last year and earning second-team defensive honors, Rondo has been one of the best point guards in the NBA this season. He has missed a few games due to injury, but he is still leading the league in assists (14.1) by over 3.5 per game while averaging 11 points per game and ranking in the top five in the NBA in steals per contest.
John Wall, Washington Wizards Wall has battled a balky foot and ankle for much of the season, but has still tallied averages of 17.4 points and 9.1 assists per game. Wall kept his team close this week against the defending NBA champs with 22 points and 14 assists in a 115-108 loss, earning rave reviews from the Los Angeles Lakers in the process.
"I think he has a lot of talent and lot of potential," Kobe Bryant said. "I'm very hopeful when I see guys like that that can carry the league for years to come. I just want guys like that to just continue to work and stay focused."
Jodie Meeks, Philadelphia 76ers In his first year, Meeks was traded by the team that drafted him and faced inconsistent playing time. However, it looks as if he may be finding his place. He has started the Sixers' last three games and helped his team overcome a league-worst start to the year and win four of five games. On Saturday, Meeks delivered a performance that conjured memories of his 54 point explosion in Knoxville, Tenn., nailing six first quarter 3s en route to a career high 26 points.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings Cousins has had some rookie ups and downs, but in just over 24 minutes a game he is scoring 11.3 points per game and grabbing 6.9 rebounds. While he will look to become more consistent as the season goes on, he has had some dominant stretches of play.
One of the highlights of his year though was the impromptu reunion of the Three Amigos that took place when John Wall attended a game in Los Angeles between Eric Bledsoe's Clippers and Cousins' Kings.
Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Clippers Bledsoe has been a very pleasant surprise for the Clippers, starting 20 of the team's 23 games and averaging 8.6 points, 5.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game. Also, we wish Bledsoe a happy birthday as he celebrates his 21st Thursday.
Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons Prince has been a model of consistency in his career with the Pistons and he has continued his strong play even as Detroit has struggled. Prince is averaging 14 points and 4.5 rebounds so far this year, including outputs of 31 and 30 points in the last three weeks.
Nazr Mohammed, Charlotte Bobcats Mohammed has started 20 of the Bobcats' 21 games this season in his 12th season, with averages of 7.9 points and 5.3 rebounds in 17.8 minutes per game.
Patrick Patterson, Houston Rockets
Patterson is expected to recalled by the Houston Rockets after a brief stint with the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Patterson averaged 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
Jacob Tamme, Indianapolis Colts In the absence of Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark, Tamme has emerged and Peyton Manning has not hesitated throwing the ball his way. In six games as a starter, he has 42 catches for 416 yards and three touchdowns. His Colts take on the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night, but Tamme is questionable with a hamstring injury.
Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills Johnson has emerged as the Bills top receiving target in his third year, leading the team in catches (61), receiving yards (832) and touchdowns (nine). Johnson is also tied for fifth in the NFL in touchdown catches.
Corey Peters, Atlanta Falcons Peters' strong play in his rookie year has landed him a starting defensive tackle spot on the team that many are tabbing as the best in the NFL. Peters has 24 tackles (18 solo) and is also a key special teams contributor.
John Conner, New York Jets After gaining stardom for his crushing hits during HBO's "Hard Knocks," Conner has played sparingly on offense behind veteran fullback Tony Richardson. Conner has been an important special teams cog for the Jets and will surely get his chance on offense in future.
Trevard Lindley, Philadelphia Eagles With injuries to starting corner backs Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs, Lindley has been pressed into duty, making nine tackles in his two starts. Lindley also had a game-clinching interception in week five against San Francisco.
Tim Masthay, Green Bay Packers Masthay has handled the punting duties for the Packers all season after winning the job in the pre-season. He has averaged 43.2 yards per punt.
On a roster full of stars, only Jarrod Polson would have been a more unlikely spark than Stacey Poole on Wednesday night.
Although he played just two minutes in Kentucky's 72-58 win over No. 23 Notre Dame, it was easily the most important two minutes of Poole's young career at UK. His hustle sparked a Kentucky rally, built some confidence and moved him up the depth chart.
"I think, at this point, I'm going to move to playing Stacey Poole now," head coach John Calipari said. "He'll move into the rotation in front of Jon Hood. Let him go (play). You've just got to come up with balls and be tough."
Poole presented some toughness in some brief, albeit rare, action off the bench. With Notre Dame pulling away late in the first half, Calipari inserted the freshman into the game.
Up until that point, Poole had played just 15 minutes this year.
Poole responded by draining an unlikely 3-pointer from the top of the key - his first career points - and pulling down an offensive rebound that led to a Brandon Knight layup. The key stretch was part of a 13-2 run that closed the 38-27 gap to a halftime tie.
"Let him get Jon's minutes and let's see if he can do better," Calipari said. "He deserves an opportunity, too."
Though he was one of the least regarded players in this year's mega recruiting class, Poole, a 6-foot-4 guard with a college-ready physique, signed with Kentucky as the 33rd-best player in the 2010 class, according to Rivals.com.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Just a day after saying his team isn't where it will be, presumably at the end of the season, the Kentucky men's basketball team took a good step in moving there.
Turning points are usually judged in retrospect, but Wednesday night's 72-58 UK win over No. 23 Notre Dame in the SEC/Big East Invitational may have been one. When Kentucky's proverbial back was all but shoved against the wall, the Cats pushed back and broke an early season slump.
"The Carolina game kind of ripped my heart out," head coach John Calipari said, "but Connecticut, we needed to get smacked. North Carolina, we learned a great lesson, didn't we? I cannot stand to lose, but sometimes only a crisis brings about change. And that Carolina game was a little bit of a crisis because of how we played."
As far as bad situations go for a young team after a disheartening loss, tensions hit critical level in the first half in Freedom Hall.
Losers of two of their last three, the Cats had the unenviable task of facing a senior-laden, undefeated Notre Dame team. Though the Freedom Hall crowd of 17,404 was clearly pro-UK, a frequent Freedom Hall visitor, Ben Hansbrough, found himself in a shooter's paradise.
Before the fans had hardly settled in their seats, Hansbrough had drilled three 3-pointers, raising his hands from his side as if they were guns coming out of holsters.
And Hansbrough kept firing.
By the time Notre Dame grabbed a 38-27 lead, Hansbrough had five 3-pointers, seven field goals in all, and 19 points. Hansbrough, who was hitting treys from NBA range, nearly knocked one down from Tayshaun Prince territory as he pulled up from just inside the SEC/Big East Invitational sticker at midcourt.
For a team that was facing the first adversity of its young season, there was a collective "uh oh" in the Derby City.
"He was incredible," Calipari said of Hansbrough. "He took one almost at half court. I thought it was in and so did he."
The Cats got back in the game late in the first half with a stingy defensive push. Guards Doron Lamb and Brandon Knight tag teamed and put the clamps down on Hansbrough, and UK went on a 13-2 run to close out the first half to tie the game at 40-40.
"We just said we're going to play him like it's a box and one," Calipari said of defending Hansbrough. "If he comes off a screen, we're going to switch and make it very hard for them."
Kentucky continued to lock down in the second half as Notre Dame reached a field goal drought of surreal proportions. The Fighting Irish went without a field goal for 12:24 as the Cats went on a 26-6 run after trailing 38-27.
In the second half, shots that fell in the first half for Notre Dame started to rim out. UK held the Fighting Irish to six field goals in the second half and 20 percent shooting.
"It's probably the most size we've played against defensively and length and intensity," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. "It was hard for us to find stuff. ... Playing against their set defense was very hard for us tonight. That's why we missed some layups because their length distracted us around the basket."
The most remarkable part of Kentucky's victory was the composure from a team that had previously panicked in adverse situations against UConn and North Carolina.
Notre Dame was supposed to be the unflappable veteran team - the Fighting Irish started five seniors and had come back from double-digit second-half deficits twice this season - but UK was the team that rebounded from an early deficit and then held off a late Notre Dame surge.
"They made big plays, big shots," Brey said.
Terrence Jones, of course, made the biggest shots for the Cats. The freshman forward bounced back from his first poor performance against UNC with 27 points and 17 rebounds.
It was Jones' monstrous dunk over two Notre Dame forwards in the first half that ignited the 13-2 run, and it was Jones that recorded 12 second-half rebounds and scored 12 of the Cats' final 15 points, including a game-sealing 3-pointer from the corner, to hold off the Fighting Irish charge.
"Coming in, (the North Carolina game) was all I was thinking about, supporting my team and trying to do everything little thing to make up for it," Jones said.
Jones was the perfect example of the type of resiliency Kentucky will have to learn this season. When Notre Dame delivered the initial punch, and to a bigger degree, when the Cats were knocked to the floor after two of three losses, Jones and the Cats responded.
The freshman was asked how he was able to recover.
"I'd say it's pretty easy when you've got guys capable of knocking down shots (and) Brandon (Knight) being able to go to the hole when he wants and just playing with good players," Jones said.
One win certainly doesn't cure all. Depth is still a problem, Josh Harrellson still makes head-scratching fouls and Darius Miller needs to become more assertive.
But there were reasons for Kentucky fans to back away from the cliff. Stacey Poole came in and delivered off the bench, the Dribble Drive Motion Offense was nearly unstoppable, and Knight, as Calipari said, ran the club better than he has all season (20 points, five assists and scored on the bounce at will).
"There are all kinds of holes we have to plug, but I like my team," Calipari said.
"It's either trust, a lack of respect or chemistry," Calipari said. "I told them, we'll be fine, whatever it is. I'll give you an example: Darius is not playing as well as he could. He's playing OK. But I want you to look at him and say, 'Wow.' I want you all to look at DeAndre and say, 'Wow.'
"There is something holding them back from you seeing that. Whatever is holding individuals back - trust, respect, chemistry, whatever it is - is also holding our team back. We're still pretty good, but that's our enemy. We want to be great. And if we want to be great, something is holding us back."
Trust, respect, chemistry - whatever the case is, maybe they figured it out Wednesday night and turned a corner.
Big news of the day is the announcement that Kentucky has entered into a three-year agreement to play in the Champions Classic, which will pit four of the nation's top programs in college basketball over a three-year span.
UK will play Kansas next year in the first year of the Classic on Nov. 15 in Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Cats will play Duke in 2012 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and Michigan State in 2013 in the United Center in Chicago.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski: "The Champions Classic is new for college basketball and to be asked to participate with three programs that are at such a high level is indeed an honor for Duke. We applaud ESPN's efforts in having the creativity and foresight to help our sport in such a fashion. It should be a terrific event each year, and we look forward to being a part of it."
Kansas head coach Bill Self: "I thought it was a great idea and I think it's great playing on neutral sites. To come back to Madison Square Garden will be great with three other unbelievable programs. I'll bet each of these programs will sell whatever ticket allotment they have -- 4 to 5,000."
Kentucky head coach John Calipari: "This three-year event is a reward for how passionate these fan bases are for their teams. It's a unique opportunity for our fans across the nation to see us play in three major cities against top-level competition. We are looking forward to the challenge and sharing it with the Big Blue Nation, the best fans in the country."
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo: "Being a part of the Champions Classic is a tremendous honor for our program. These are some of the premier programs in all of college basketball, not only currently, but in the history of the sport. To be included in that group shows that we've been able to sustain some long-term success, and is also somewhat humbling. This event is a great way to tip off the college basketball season and promote our great sport. It's like having a Final Four in November."
Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones enters Wednesday night's clash with Notre Dame coming off his worst performance in his short college career. Freshmen, by nature, are somewhat inconsistent, but Jones has bucked that trend for the most part, posting double-doubles in four of his first seven games.
Jones is 6-foot-8 and weighs around 240 pounds. But while the body says he should be a power forward, the skills clearly indicate a player just as comfortable on the perimeter.
In the three games of the EA Sports Maui Invitational, Jones displayed his power game with dunks and rebounds in traffic. But we also saw him stroke 3-point shots, put the ball on the floor to create a shot, and in transition, fire a beautiful no-look pass to a wide open Josh Harrelson for a layup.
Maybe some fans and media members (and opponents?) were surprised to see that combination of talents but certainly not Jones' high school coach.
"He was gifted as a big guy," said Pat Strickland, Jones' coach at Jefferson High School in Portland, Ore. Jefferson won back-to-back class 5A state titles when Jones played there. "He has always been bigger than his peers through his middle school and high school years. He has always been good with the ball and done things that a point guard does."
It may surprise people to find out where Jones got his skills from.
"He learned how to play from his aunt," Strickland said. "She put the ball in his hands on day one and told him no matter how tall you are going to be, you are still going to need to handle the ball. She did it. Our philosophy at Jefferson and on the AAU circuit during the summer is to have every guy do every drill. Big guys, small guys, we want you to handle the ball and post up. That was our philosophy and I never strayed away from that. It is still my philosophy even though Terrence is gone. We feel that the more you can do with the ball in your hands, the more often you can have a chance to make a lot of money some day, regardless of your size."
Lamar Odom is the current player to whom many compare Jones' game. For longtime Kentucky fans, the sight of a left-handed ripping a missed shot off the rim and driving the length of the court might stir memories of James Lee, the super sub on the 1978 national championship team.
Lee didn't have the offensive firepower that Jones does but the latter could probably use a little dose of the former's toughness (as could about any young player).
While the Wildcats were in Maui, Hawaii, I had a chance to visit with Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, who along with John Calipari and Washington's Lorenzo Romar, were the coaches who pursued Jones the hardest. Jones posted a double-double in the Cats' first-round win over the Sooners in the tournament and you can bet Capel was not surprised to see that kind of display.
"First, he's extremely talented and I think he has a really good feel for the game," Capel told me at a pre-tournament news conference. "He shoots floaters; he shoots running shots. When we recruited him, I would talk to him about being a point forward. He's the epitome of that. Kind of like Lamar Odom but he's different. 'Jonesey' has an incredible knack for getting the ball in the basket."
It's clear that Jones will be a major force on offense for Kentucky this winter, but Coach Cal is also pushing the rookie to excel in other areas.
"With Terrence, my thing is, be the leading rebounder in the country," Calipari said on a Big Blue Sports radio network pregame interview. "Be a defender and go get every ball. What we need him to be is a playmaker on defense. Make a big block or a big steal or a dive. He's still trying to make hero plays."
Jones answered that call late in the win over Oklahoma, blocking a 3-point shot that would have cut UK's lead to three and then finishing the play off at the other end with a dunk. Another block followed shortly thereafter and the outcome was secure in Kentucky's favor.
And if Calipari needs Jones to play a role that requires to sacrifice time on the perimeter for mixing up in the paint, Strickland said the UK coach need not worry about the response he'll get.
"Terrence is very cerebral and he knows how to win," Strickland said. "He will do whatever he needs to in order to win, whether it is being down there on the block more than he wants to or being on the perimeter. And I think that he is such a competitor and a winner that he is going to have to do whatever is necessary to get the W."
Can Jones also provide leadership as a freshman? Coach Strickland believes the answer is yes.
"Well, what stood out about him is that a lot of kids within our community looked up to him," Strickland said. "He was a leader both on and off the court. The coaches loved him, his teammates loved him. He was just an all-around good kid."
"That is definitely a role he is comfortable (with). At Jefferson, during the summer, I know that this guy was such a leader and such a winner that one of the reasons that he decided to wait to the last minute to make a commitment to any school was because being a leader of Jefferson and the face of our program, he wanted to make sure that coaches would keep coming in and looking at those guys so that they too would be fortunate to take their skills and go to another level as well, which some of them have, definitely."
Capel discovered that aspect of Jones' personality during the recruiting process.
"Outgoing personality," Capel said of Jones. "Loved to have fun, always smiling and joking, was easy to talk (to). You don't find that with a lot of young guys anymore. (He) loves the game and the process of trying to become good. A lot of that goes back to his mom and his aunt, just the way he was raised."
Strickland said he talks or texts with Jones on a regular basis and he doesn't think his protégé is going to have home sickness issues.
"I think he is gamer," Strickland said. "Early on in this whole process and being out there this summer, he was frustrated and down because injuries had him off the court. But I think that as long as he can be on the court and be a contributor and does well in the classroom, I don't think the distance from home is going to be an issue, even though he is a mama's boy. At the end of the day, he wants to reach his ultimate goal and that is to make a living off this game, so he is going to spend a lot of time away from his loved ones."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes.
These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Dec. 5:
Women's basketball: Maegan Conwright
Freshman Maegan Conwright reached double-figures in scoring for the third time this season with 13 points vs. Louisville.
Scored 10 of her 13 points in the first half and added two assists and one steal in the game.
Has earned a starting spot at point guard in five consecutive games.
Has dished out a team-high 15 assists this season and is UK's third-leading scorer.
Women's basketball: Victoria Dunlap
Senior forward Victoria Dunlap put together her 24th career double-double with a team-high 17 points and a career-high 23 rebounds in UK's only game last week vs. Louisville.
Her 23 boards tied for the school's third-highest single-game rebounding mark and were the most rebounds in a game since Valerie Still grabbed a school-record 27 rebounds vs. National College on Feb. 9, 1982.
She became just the fifth player in school history to grab 20 or more rebounds in a game.
It marked her 30th career double-figure rebounding effort, including her second this season.
With 17 points, she moved past Kristi Cushenberry (1,358 points from 1988-92) for 12th on UK's career scoring list with 1,363.
She also swiped a game-high five steals to move past Sandy Harding (224 from 1983-87) for seventh place on UK's career list with 225.
Men's basketball: Doron Lamb
Scored career high 24 points in game at North Carolina ... Tied career high with seven field goals while attempting career high 12 field goals ... Tied career high three 3-pointers made ... Hit career high seven free throws ... Has scored in double-figures in back-to-back games and in five of seven games this season.
DeAndre Liggins knows what it's like to be down
in the dumps.
A year and a half ago, the last time Kentucky played Notre Dame, DeAndre Liggins had just been a part of one of the most disappointing and controversial seasons in Kentucky's men's basketball history. Rumors circled about the future of former coach Billy Gillispie, and DeAndre Liggins even thought his return to UK may not happen.
Fast forward to this year's Notre Dame matchup in the SEC/Big East Invitational in Freedom Hall on Wednesday in Louisville, Ky. The days of Liggins' struggles are a forgotten memory, replaced by last year's rise on the depth chart and Kentucky's run to the Elite Eight.
Now, with UK (5-2) having lost two of three for the first time since Gillispie's final season in 2008-09, it's Liggins who is trying to guide the freshmen through the first collegiate losses of their young careers.
"Everybody's heads are down," Liggins said. "We've got to stay confident and try to stay together."
Just about every piece, minus the veterans left over from the 2008-09 season, don't know what losing is like. What has Liggins said to them about dealing with adversity for the first time?
"Just stay humble and keeping fighting," Liggins said. "That's all I can tell them. Try to play through it and listen to the coach."
Freshman forward Terrence Jones is one of those guys trying to deal with a figurative punch to the mouth. After a sparkling start to his collegiate career, Jones struggled on the national stage against North Carolina.
The freshman forward from Portland, Ore., finished 3-of-17 from the floor against the lengthy Tar Heels on Saturday and fouled out with three-plus minutes to go. Jones blamed his preparation and mentality for the first poor game as a Wildcat.
"I've got to prepare myself better," Jones said. "I missed shots I normally make. It's difficult when that happens in such an important game. I have to keep playing. I have to forget about the last shot. I feel I got down on myself missing a lot of shots. You can't do that. I made silly mistakes on defense because of that. I just have to keep playing."
Jones talked to John Calipari about his game. His coach told him he let his teammates down by letting his offensive woes affect the rest of his game.
"He learned a great lesson about preparation; he learned a great lesson," Calipari said. "The thing I keep saying to these guys is, as long as you accept where we are, you can change. If you're not going to accept where we are and what we have to get better at and you have an excuse for everything, you're never going to get better. You can't change it. You can't make adjustments. I think he'll be fine. I think that was one of those games that he learned from. He didn't do a real good job of preparing to play and from the beginning of the game. He was never emotionally connected to the game and there was no sense of urgency the entire game."
The Kentucky players will have little time to digest the early learning lessons with the SEC/Big East Invitational on the slate for Wednesday.
UK's opponent, Notre Dame, has few similarities in relation to the Cats. While youth and inexperience characterize Kentucky, veterans and experience define the Fighting Irish. Five seniors make up the Notre Dame starting lineup, four of which average double figures. The other, Scott Martin, is just a shade under at 9.4 points per game.
Behind the play of forward Tim Abromaitis (15.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and guard Ben Hansbrough (15.8 ppg, 4.0 apg), Notre Dame is off to an 8-0 with wins over Georgia, California and Wisconsin. The victories over the Bulldogs and Badgers included double-digit second-half comebacks.
"They know how to play off one another," Calipari said of Mike Brey's team. "They don't get rattled. They just keep playing. They do what they do well because they're a veteran team. ... To play a senior-oriented team like Notre Dame is going to be a hard challenge. You're talking about five seniors who have been through the wars."
And that's what Calipari's team is still learning how to do. Against North Carolina, it looked at times as if UK should have been blown out of the water. But the Cats battled and nearly stole the game at the end.
The key, now, for UK is learning how win those close games. Calipari said that begins with trust.
"A lot of what we're doing right now is individually and as groups talking about how we have to be, talking about trust, having respect for each other's games, understanding that a month from now is not what we're going to look like," Calipari said. "Figuring out how we're going to play at the end of a game. I talked to them about trust because we have so many young guys, you have to tell them that means when you talk defense, when you talk offense, when you talk a will to win, what does that mean? So I have to explain it to them where you would think they know."
- After a scary knee injury at the end of Sunday's Kentucky-Louisville women's basketball game, senior forward Victoria Dunlap has learned that her injury is not serious. Dunlap was diagnosed with a hyperextension of the knee and is probable for Tuesday night's game with Tennessee Tech.
Dunlap, who has already missed time this year with a concussion, scored 17 points and grabbed a career-high 23 rebounds at Louisville.
- I will be making the trip to Louisville on Wednesday for the Notre Dame game but there will be no live blog because of the late start time. We will have postgame coverage and video afterwards.
Juniors Randall Cobb and Danny Trevathan have been named to the Associated Press All-Southeastern Conference team.
Cobb, a wide receiver, was selected to the first-team offense as an all-purpose player. The Alcoa, Tenn., native chalked up an SEC-best 2,192 all-purpose yards. He was selected to the SEC second team as a wide receiver after catching a league-high 79 balls for 955 yards and seven touchdowns. He also ran the ball 52 times for 401 yards and five scores.
Trevathan, a linebacker, led the SEC in tackles with 130 stops. He also ranked third in the conference with 16 tackles for loss.
Sophomore Larry Warford was selected to the second team as an offensive lineman.
In a bowl game of silver linings, Kentucky football seems to have hit the jackpot.
Although Kentucky envisioned a breakthrough bowl game before the season started, the BBVA Compass Bowl, in Birmingham, Ala., isn't as disappointing as the bowl pecking order would have you believe.
In addition to most glaring positive Kentucky has already pitched fans on - one of 29 teams to make a fifth straight bowl appearance - there is a pretty long list of incentives the Kentucky team found itself with upon learning it would play Pittsburgh.
The first and foremost would be playing a program the caliber of Pitt.
"Everybody is excited," senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "We're going against a conference champion team in Pittsburgh, who tied (with Connecticut) to go to the Fiesta Bowl. They have a great team, great defense, good running backs. It's going to be a challenge. Everyone is looking forward to it. It's not like you're going against a team that's a D-II school. We're going to somewhere other than Tennessee. It's a positive. We're going to a fifth straight bowl game."
Pittsburgh was in fact a tiebreaker away from the playing in a BCS bowl game. The Panthers tied with Connecticut for the conference championship, but because the Huskies' won the head-to-head matchups with Pitt and West Virginia, UConn will get the chance to play in a lucrative BCS game.
"(Pitt's) got some guys," head coach Joker Phillips said. "They've got some guys that we play against every week. It's a huge challenge for us. We've got an opportunity to play a champion of a conference."
The Panthers' defense is ranked 11th in the country and the offense features a two-headed running back monster in Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. The duo has combined for 1,788 yards and 20 touchdowns.
"You know they're going to run the ball at you, so the thing is, can we wrap up and tackle?" Lumpkin said.
Pittsburgh, despite a down year for the Big East, carries tradition and mystique that few other schools in the nation can match. Playing against a program that has claimed nine national championships, sixth most in college football, is actually somewhat more of a glamorous matchup than some of the other bowl opponent possibilities UK had left.
"Another opportunity should motivate our kids, regardless of who we're playing, but with a name like Pitt, a name team, I'm sure it will (motivate us)," Phillips said.
Making any type of bowl game presents extra practice opportunities for young players to develop, but the unique bowl date of Jan. 8 provides an even bigger window.
"The date of the bowl gives us even more practices, and we've got a lot of young guys," Phillips said. "We've got some really good young players that are really benefitting from these extra practices. We've used it in our player development and we will continue to do that in these upcoming practices."
In addition to the national exposure the game will receive as the third-to-last bowl game and second-to-last one before the BCS national championship, it also gives the players an opportunity to head home for the holidays.
The team will practice until Dec. 22 before returning on Dec. 28 or 29. The Cats will resume practice through the New Year before breaking Jan. 2 to travel to the bowl game. Practice at the bowl site in Birmingham will begin Jan. 4.
"I think this will be the first time since I've been here where I actually get to spend Christmas with my family," Lumpkin said. "That's a great positive. You get to go home, spend time with the family, and then we actually might be able to spend New Year's Eve and New Year's Day with them. That's rare because the past couple of years we've played the day before or practiced on Christmas Day. No one really knew it was Christmas."
Of course, if missing the holidays meant a BCS or New Year's Day bowl game, the Cats would be more than willing to sacrifice in the years to come. While the Kentucky players and coaches recognize the importance of going to bowl games, the achievement of just making it won't satisfy much longer.
"We don't want to be just going to bowl games," Phillips said. "The sixth straight bowl game, I want to be fighting for a title where (building a foundation is) not an issue. We're not talking about the sixth straight bowl game. We're talking about a title."
And what better proof a bowl launching pad than last year's two Compass Bowl competitors, South Carolina and UConn. South Carolina won the Southeastern Conference East Division this year and Connecticut will play Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
"I was just happy to be watching the (SEC championship) game and getting texts from some of our players saying, 'We want to be in this game.' I think that's exciting when your players are talking like that," Phillips said.
It's a silver lining, but it's a pretty good one at that.
Johnson, Burden unavailable for bowl: Redshirt freshman defensive end Tristian Johnson and junior offensive tackle Chandler Burden will miss the bowl game with injuries. Both will have surgery to repair torn labrums.
Junior Billy Joe Murphy will start in place of Burden and senior Marcus Davis will be used as the "swing guy."
Lumpkin had surgery last week to clean up some damage in his knee but is expected to be available for the bowl game.
The 2010 Kentucky football season had its highs and its lows.
The Cats couldn't end the Florida or Tennessee streaks and couldn't capitalize on a wide open race in the East division of the Southeastern Conference.
On the other side, Kentucky defeated rival Louisville for a fourth consecutive year and ended its losing streak against South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier and his SEC East champion Gamecocks.
However, perhaps the Cats' biggest accomplishment of all, going to a fifth straight bowl game, the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., seems to be getting swept under the rug by many.
After finishing the regular season with a 6-6 overall record and 2-6 mark in conference play, many fans - and players - were disappointed they couldn't get over the proverbial hump in 2010 and will now have to wait nine long, grueling months until they can run out of the tunnel at Commonwealth Stadium again for the beginning of the 2011 season.
But by earning a fifth straight bowl game appearance, the Cats find themselves in elite company. Kentucky is one of just 29 teams in the country to go to five straight bowl games and one of only five teams in the SEC to accomplish such a feat.
"It's crazy how expectations are now," Phillips said Sunday afternoon prior to UK's announcement of playing in the BBVA Compass Bowl. "Our expectations were always high. It was the other people outside who use to come say, 'Just get us to a bowl.' Now, our people expect to be in the Sugar Bowl and there's nothing wrong with that. We do too. It's a process in getting there. ... We're in the process right now."
Five years ago, the thought of going to a bowl game was a radical idea only the most optimistic Wildcat fans could envision. Today, Cats fans not only expect to make a bowl game, they are disappointed when the bowl game isn't as big as the year prior.
"I really believe our fans should be mad about where we're going because wherever it is - we're going to be happy about going there - but they should expect more from us," junior wide receiver Randall Cobb said. "Am I disappointed? No. I mean we're going to a bowl game. Not many teams get to go to bowl games. Things didn't go our way like we expected them to and we wanted them to, so we just have to go out there and make sure we get a win and prepare for next year."
One of the most important parts in going to a bowl game for Kentucky is the opportunity for that next group of Cats to get more practice reps in and further gel with their teammates and learn how to prepare for opponents.
"It's big time," Phillips said. "For us to continue to grow the program the way we talk about, these extra practices are key for us. We're able to get almost a whole spring practice with these young guys and try to develop (them), especially the quarterbacks. It gives them a better grasp of things. It gives them a chance to come out in the spring and compete."
Two of those players are quarterbacks Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski, the heir apparents to Hartline. The two signal callers will battle for the 2011 starting job throughout the spring and into next fall. The practice they get in December because of the bowl game will not only give them an opportunity to improve but a chance for the coaches to evaluate the two.
"(The practices) are big," Hartline said. "I don't know sometimes if they understand it just because throughout the whole season they don't get too much. To get a lot now is to prepare for the spring and prepare for their future. I think it's good for them and it's great that they can have these types of opportunities. They just have to take advantage of it. I think they've been playing well. They've been trying to move fast and create things quickly. Obviously the sky is the limit for those two."
So while UK didn't end all the streaks it wanted, the improvements that aren't clear to the naked eye continue to exist. Of the Cats' 12 losses the past two seasons, six have been by seven points or less, including a three-point loss this season to Auburn who will be playing in the national championship game.
"There's no disappointment on this football team," Phillips said. "These guys love each other, they love being around each other. You guys saw the enthusiasm (today at practice) that they have for this game."
Donald Russell granted release: A talented and bountiful group of Kentucky tailbacks will be dwindled by one. Sophomore tailback Donald Russell has requested a release from UK in order to transfer and Phillips has granted that release.
"One thing is, we want guys to be happy," Phillips said. "We want guys to be put in a situation where they can be happy. Now, do we try and talk our kids into staying? Yes. But we also, once it's engrained in their mind and their hearts, we also have to give them a chance to explore other options."
Russell, alongside senior tailback Derrick Locke, freshman Raymond Sanders and fellow sophomore CoShik Williams, gave the Wildcats a strong backfield that was used effectively with Locke having to sit out four games due to a shoulder injury.
Russell ranks third on the team in rushing yards with 308 and a pair of touchdowns. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry on the season.
Porter questions future: Defensive tackle Elliot Porter is going through some homesickness issues, Phillips said Sunday. Porter, who had originally committed to LSU, came to Kentucky at the beginning of the season but is unsure of his future with the Cats.
"He's a little homesick and we're helping him get through that," Phillips said. "Nothing is official yet, but we're trying to help him get through that homesickness."
Cobble could play in bowl game: Phillips also spoke Saturday about the possibility of redshirt freshman defensive tackle Mister Cobble seeing playing time in the bowl game. Cobble, who has been academically ineligible this season, will have the opportunity to play in Birmingham if he is cleared academically.
Because he used a redshirt his freshman season, the Cats could not redshirt him in 2010.
"We're hoping (Cobble) takes care of business and he has been taking care of business for the most part," Phillips said. "It's not like we've eaten up a year. He's already lost it anyway so we're not worried about him losing a year. We're worried about him getting some quality reps, that if he's able to help us he's ready to help us."
Following the season-ending suspension of defensive tackle Mark Crawford, Cobble could be a key replacement on the defensive front.
"That's huge (if he could play in place of Crawford)," Phillips said. "We're trying to take up as much of his time as we possibly can to make sure this thing works out. I think it benefits him and it benefits us. He's had two years of having not played. I think it's only a benefit if we can get him, even if it's one game, we have to get him this game here."
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- For a team that relies so much on its defensive intensity, the Kentucky women's basketball team picked an awful game to ease up.
After a 101-67 shellacking in Lexington, Ky., last year, a game that included 38 Louisville turnovers, U of L turned the tables on Kentucky this time around.
It was the Cardinals, not the Cats, pressing and forcing turnovers. It was the Cards, not the Cats, winning 50-50 balls and hustling. It was the Cats, not the Cards, making bone-headed choices and uncharacteristically bad decisions.
And it was the Cats, not the Cards, that suffered the consequences. For the third year in a row, the Kentucky-Louisville women's basketball rivalry was a blowout as U of L easily defeated UK 78-52 in front of a record crowd of 22,152 fans in the brand-spanking new KFC Yum! Center.
"We've said before that our style of play is based on hustle and being tenacious and really working hard. We picked a bad day not to play hard defensively," Mitchell said. "There are a lot of things that you can control and defensive effort would be one of them. We just picked a bad day to do that in a game that meant a whole lot."
Though it was UK's first loss of the season, the first-time defensive lapses and lack of hustle was the biggest concern as the Cats glumly left the Derby City. Louisville, length and all, scored easily inside and often beat the Cats' vaunted press over the top for uncontested layups.
Kentucky has made a living out of an up-tempo game, forcing turnovers and just plain frustrating opponents, and to not bring that attitude into a rivalry game was disconcerting for Mitchell and Co.
"We are a team that is supposed to play defense, supposed to hustle, supposed to do the things and get 50-50 plays," senior forward Victoria Dunlap said. "There might have been a couple minutes where we did it one time but it wasn't the entire game. For us to not do that, which is our bread and butter for every game, we lost."
Dunlap was one of the few that brought the intensity and fire that has become a trademark of Mitchell's last two teams. Last year's Southeastern Conference Player of the Year finished with 17 points and career-high 23 rebounds.
But she found few helpers in her teammates.
"U of L looked like they were much more motivated to win, and that bothers me," Mitchell said while taking responsibility for the lack of effort.
Mitchell said he noticed something was missing in the practices leading up to the game.
"I sensed it Friday and Saturday," Mitchell said. "I was very concerned about our preparation. We are not good enough to be able to show up and beat anyone much less on the road, hostile environment, rivalry game, (one that) means so much."
And believe Mitchell when he says it, this game, despite the "it's just another game" perception during the week, still means a ton to the Cats.
"This was not any game we took lightly or another game on the schedule. I would be lying if I said that," Mitchell said. "The coaches put their heart and soul into the game and tried to make certain the players knew (how important the game was)."
Louisville, on the other hand, played with a decisive edge as it played on the emotions of a lively, sold-out crowd.
The Cards roared out to 17-4 lead and hardly ever looked back. When Kentucky did make a few runs, such as the 10-2 streak to open second half, Louisville would answer with a timely 3-pointer, usually from guards Shoni Schimmel and Becky Burke.
Schimmel, a freshman, and Burke, a junior, each nailed six 3-pointers in a game of can-you-match-that. The two challenged each other before and during the game to make more treys than the other, and it paid off as the two went 12-of-21 from behind the arc.
Some were crazy-deep looks, others were heat checks. But the disturbing thing for the Cats as they head back to Lexington is that for all the emphasis they put into limiting Louisville's 3-point shot, the Cardinals got them anyway.
"The worst day we've had trapping and rotating since we've implemented this style, and I've said many times that if you don't really hustle, you can look really silly doing it," Mitchell said. "Today was a bad day to look silly."
Kentucky ended up turning the ball over 22 times, a season high. The Cardinals turned it right back 21 times but scored more points (25-18) off turnovers than the Cats did.
"I'm not sure when the last game was that they turned the ball over more than their opponent did," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "We handled it. We did a fantastic job."
Walz's team also kept Kentucky off the free-throw line - UK went to the stripe a season-low 15 times - and rattled the Cats for the first time since the Oklahoma loss in last year's NCAA Tournament. Only four of Kentucky's 20 field goals were assisted, and the Cats finished 20-of-71 from the field (28.2 percent).
Really, it was as bad as a UK team has looked in the last two years, some of which credit is due U of L's way.
"We are absolute rivals and we want to beat them really bad, but you have to admire how hard their kids played today, and my hat is off to them," Mitchell said.
Kentucky was fortunate it escaped the game without any further damage than just a loss and rude eye-opener. Sophomore guard A'dia Mathies and Dunlap both left the game with injuries, but both are expected to be OK.
Though Walz tried to downplay the significance of beating of a top-10 rival, he couldn't ignore the lessons Louisville learned about itself Sunday.
"I know that we have fight in us," Walz said.
Now it's time to find how much fight is in this year's UK Hoops squad. Served with a healthy portion of humble pie for the first time this year, a young Kentucky squad must learn how to get off the mat.
Kentucky's biggest fear became a frightening reality in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Saturday.
Forget the final score. Yes, Kentucky lost 75-73 in a class in the Dean Dome, but it wasn't the loss that hurt so much as it was the exposure UK may have suffered on the national stage.
Without much size and much depth in the paint, Kentucky has one very large weakness. No matter how talented and hard this team plays - and make no mistake about it, UK played valiantly in nearly winning Saturday - the interior shortcomings make this Kentucky team vulnerable to bigger teams.
North Carolina's bigs bullied the Cats' post players Saturday, outscoring UK 34-14 in the paint. Kentucky held its own on the boards, but when North Carolina wanted to go inside and score, it could at will.
Junior center Tyler Zeller finished with a career-high 27 points for the Tar Heels on 8-of-13 shooting while fellow forwards John Henson and Harrison Barnes combined for 25 points.
"Obviously, Tyler had a great game," said UK assistant coach Orland Antigua, who answered questions for head coach John Calipari as he took off early to catch a flight for his mother's memorial service. "We allowed him to get the ball too close to the rim. He got too easy shots. We tried to make it as difficult as possible with some schemes, some trapping and making those guys make some passes, which isn't their strong suit."
The reality of the situation is North Carolina really didn't utilize its frontcourt enough. Despite extreme UK foul trouble and a superior size advantage, Zeller didn't get as many touches as he should have. When he did, a player who has been associated more with potential than production suddenly looked like a future NBA lottery pick.
Down the stretch, all the Cats could do to stop him was foul, and Zeller made them pay by hitting 11-of-12 from the stripe. That's a potentially frightening notion moving forward when one considers some of the premier post players UK could face down the road.
"I'm stunned we were in the game at the end," Calipari said in a brief statement after the game. "For us to have a chance to win the game, I was happy. We were not fouling 44 (Zeller). 'Do not touch him.' We kind of broke down there a bit."
As long as Enes Kanter's eligibility status remains up in the air, Kentucky's lineup is what it is: talented, heavy with scoring guards, capable shooters and versatile, but light on low post scorers and depth.
The trio of Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas had been adequate and sometimes even formidable in the season's first six games, but there always existed the potential for foul trouble, injuries and an off night.
Two of the three weaknesses reared their ugly head against North Carolina. Jones, Kentucky's leading scorer, had his first subpar game, scoring a season-low nine points on a dismal 3-of-17 shooting effort. Against the length of UNC, Jones struggled to find any rhythm as he hesitated on shots, roamed on the perimeter and took the air out of the ball.
"I think Terrence initially came out a little timid," Antigua said. "I think the length might have surprised him but he got going a little bit. Today just wasn't one of his best. I think you can go back and use this as a teaching point for him and the rest of the guys on the team."
Jones didn't have much help, though. Harrellson, who has played extremely well of late, had trouble finding the floor Saturday. The senior forward picked up two quick fouls and never got out of foul trouble; neither did backup Vargas and neither did Jones.
All three fouled out. Imagine had the game gone into overtime. Who would UK have used on the frontline? Darius Miller? DeAndre Liggins? Stacey Poole? Kentucky doesn't have answers at the moment for its lack of depth.
"Getting into foul trouble hurt us a lot and handcuffed us," Antigua said. "Guys then become passive and not as aggressive as you'd like. We've got to learn how to play with fouls and get better at that."
Even when they were in, the trio of Jones, Harrellson and Vargas combined for 13 points on 4-of-21 shooting. North Carolina also blocked nine of Kentucky's shots.
It isn't that those players aren't capable or talented enough to get the job done for Kentucky; they just have the unenviable - and unfair - task of bringing their A game every night. If they don't, UK is going to lose a lot of games. Without much depth, there's no way to cover up for a number of things that could go wrong inside.
Jay Wright's Villanova teams have found success over the years using four-guard lineups and it could be a possibility for Calipari with UK's guard-heavy team, but that lack of size inside will always be a liability against marquee teams.
If Kentucky was to go small at some point, can Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Miller and Liggins score enough on the perimeter to offset the disadvantage inside? That's a question that may have to be answered sooner than some may think.
Lamb has proven that he's deserving of more playing time and even a starting spot. A freshman that's rightfully earned the title "Instant Offense," Lamb once again provided a spark off the bench.
The crafty right-hander scored 11 of UK's first 25 points with an impressive arsenal of moves (a floater off the glass, a steal and reverse layup in transition, and a knockdown 3-point shot). Lamb finished the game with a career-high 24 points and Kentucky hit nine treys to stay in the game, but ultimately North Carolina's edge inside was just enough to pull off a classic.
One loss may be too small of a sample size to come to a conclusion, but UNC stumbled upon a pretty good theory Saturday: If you want to be Kentucky, the answer may lie inside.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Calipari said. "I've got a young team. We didn't have leadership on the court. There were a lot of things that were happening, but we had a chance to win on the road at North Carolina in this environment, so that made me feel good."
Nobody would have blamed A'dia Mathies for feeling a little buyer's remorse after she signed
with the University of Kentucky in late 2008.
Shortly after inking with Kentucky, Louisville, the other school on Mathies' short list of schools to attend, made an unlikely run to the 2009 national championship against superpower Connecticut.
Upon watching the Cardinals storm to the national spotlight, several of Mathies' friends and family nudged her and asked her why she chose Kentucky, a program seemingly stuck in neutral, over one that, by all appearances, had just broken through.
A couple of years later, things have gone in two different directions for the Bluegrass' top two schools. Louisville is trying re-establish itself on the national scene after missing the NCAA Tournament last year while Kentucky is enjoying one of its best runs in program annals.
Mathies, a Louisville, Ky., native, has insisted she never had any doubts as to where she wanted to go to school, but she has taken UK's recent success as an opportunity to poke back of some of her Louisville friends and family members and tell them, "I told you so."
"I do sometimes," Mathies said when asked if she reminds some of her pro-Louisville friends that she made the right choice. "They're still Louisville fans regardless of how far we went, but they still support me, too."
Plenty of Mathies' supporters, some in red and some in blue, will be in the house Sunday at 2 p.m. in Louisville's newly christened KFC Yum! Center for the annual rivalry. Mathies isn't exactly sure how many family and friends will be in attendance in for her hometown return, but she's expecting enough that she started asking for some of her teammates' tickets a month ago.
"There are a lot of people telling me, 'I'm coming, I'm bringing some friends with me,' " Mathies said. "A whole lot of alumni, a whole lot of my family, my best friends (say they're coming), so I don't really know what kind of number to expect. I expect a lot of them to be out there."
Though she's just a sophomore, Mathies has been through the homecoming before.
Last year, in one of Mathies' first career games in front of a near packed house at Memorial Coliseum, Mathies passed the first test against her hometown Cardinals with 15 points in 28 minutes. The 5-foot-9 guard returned to the Derby City during UK's magical Elite Eight run as well, playing first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games in Freedom Hall.
"I'm kind of used to it now since I've played there two games, but it's definitely not the same," said Mathies, who leads Kentucky with a 16.0 scoring average. "That was the NCAA Tournament. This is a big rivalry."
A rivalry Mathies knows all too well. As a Louisville native, she's watched the series go back and forth. Kentucky has a decisive 29-17 edge, but the Cards had owned the series recently until the Cats snapped a five-game losing streak with a 101-67 drubbing last year.
Head coach Matthew Mitchell doesn't know if Louisville will have a chip on its shoulder after last year's beating, but he did caution his team and reporters from putting too much stock into last season's game.
"I don't know the impact of last year's game on this because it can turn so quickly," Mitchell said. "We were beaten very badly the year before over in Louisville so I'm not sure how much that beating there had a lot to do with what we did here. Louisville is a totally different team and I think we are a different team. We'll find out Sunday where everything shakes out."
One thing Mitchell would concede is that last year's Louisville game was one of the initial turning points for the program. Kentucky was 9-0 heading into last year's annual rivalry game and in search of the program's best start, but the Cats had hardly been tested.
Against the Cards, Kentucky validated its early season success by forcing a devastating 38 turnovers.
"It was a very important game for us last season, and when I think back to that game, I was very impressed that what we had worked in practice and all the things we had talked to the kids about got to the floor," Mitchell said. "That was the first evidence that possibly we were on to something last year because they executed so well in that game."
Kentucky has continued to rely on its turnover-driven defense and high-pace offense this year en route to a 5-0 start. Despite a slew of injuries and several freshman additions, the Cats are leading the nation in turnover margin with a plus-11.6 clip.
"I had no idea we were leading in turnover margin," Mitchell said. "The one thing that has surprised me is that we haven't turned the ball over that much. Maegan Conwright has made great decisions. I don't think she had a turnover during the Notre Dame game; she had three assists and no turnovers. That is remarkable to me that those kids can function in that manner.
"Also, we don't have a ton of live-ball turnovers. Ours have been charges or three seconds in the lane and things like that so our ball handling has been OK. That's been the most surprising thing in that the athleticism we possess and some of the opponents we've played, they can just speed people up and make them turn the basketball over."
Now that Kentucky has landed on the national radar, Mathies and senior forward Victoria Dunlap have noticed teams try to slow down their frantic pace. Louisville has shown the ability to get up and down the floor with teams, but Mitchell expects Sunday to be a defensive struggle because of Louisville's different defensive sets.
"They give you so many different looks that it will be interesting to see what one comes out on top," Mitchell said. "The big concern for me is being able to communicate in that environment. They have such an ability to make you look bad at times because they do such a good job with their traps and rotations. Can you keep your team encouraged if they go through back-to-back poor plays? Or if the ball is stolen two or three times in a row, can you stay encouraged and not get demoralized?"
If there is one thing the Kentucky players have demonstrated this season, it's that they can play through adverse situations.
Three key pieces, Keyla Snowden, Samantha Drake and reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Victoria Dunlap, have already missed time with injuries in addition to the preseason loss of starting point guard Amber Smith. Dunlap, who suffered a concussion in last week's Lady Eagles Thanksgiving Class, is expected to play Sunday, but even so, UK hardly missed a beat without her because of Mathies' recent play.
After struggling to find the bottom of the net in the win over No. 12 Notre Dame, Mathies has hit 11 of her last 22 shots. For the year, she's 22-of-44 from the floor and finding her stroke in perfect time for her much-anticipated homecoming.
"I've been looking at (the rivalry) all my life ever since I was little," Mathies said. "Football, basketball, baseball and everything else, it's a big game and I'm looking forward to playing in it."
Wide receiver Randall Cobb and linebacker Danny Trevathan have been named first-team All-Southeastern Conference by Phil Steele, a prominent college football publication.
Cobb and Trevathan were two of seven Wildcats to make Phil Steele's four All-SEC teams. Wide receiver Chris Matthews and offensive guard Larry Warford were named to the second team and quarterback Mike Hartline, tailback Derrick Locke and safety Winston Guy were tabbed to the fourth team.
That final eligibility status of Enes Kanter will have to wait a bit longer.
The University of Kentucky is petitioning the NCAA to submit new information regarding the eligibility of Kanter. According to a joint release from UK and the NCAA, when a school receives new information that could impact a student-athlete's eligibility, the NCAA must provide the university with an opportunity to state its case.
If the NCAA grants UK the opportunity to submit additional information, the process must be heard by the Division I Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee because the Committee of Student-Athlete Reinstatement cannot hear new information on appeal.
Kanter was originally ruled permanently ineligible, pending an appeals process, on Nov. 11 by the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff for receiving benefits above his actual and necessary expenses while playing for a club basketball team in Turkey.
Here's the full statement from UK and the NCAA:
"The University of Kentucky has requested an opportunity to submit additional information regarding the eligibility of men's basketball student-athlete Enes Kanter. When a school receives new information that could impact a student-athlete's eligibility, it is a standard NCAA process to provide the university with an opportunity to resubmit the case for consideration. Because an NCAA appellate body, such as the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement, cannot hear new information on appeal, this reconsideration must first be made by the NCAA reinstatement staff. The university would then have an opportunity to appeal the staff decision to the committee. This opportunity is available to ensure a fair and thorough consideration of eligibility matters for the student-athlete. The NCAA and University of Kentucky will not have any further comment regarding the specifics of this case until the process has concluded."
Essentially, if the NCAA grants UK the opportunity to submit its new information, it's like starting the reinstatement process over again.
Until then, Kanter will remain ineligible, but he will be allowed to practice with the team.
If freshman forward Terrence Jones continues at his present pace, he'll become the first Kentucky player to average 20 or more points per game in his first season at UK since Mike Casey in the 1967-68 season.
That's an interesting piece of trivia considering UK's all-time leading scorer, Dan Issel, was actually the second-leading scorer to Casey in their first years on the varsity.
Cotton Nash is the gold standard for first-year production, though, with an average of 23 points per game in the 1961-62 campaign.
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ESPN's Jimmy Dykes gives the edge to UK in its matchup with North Carolina on Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C. Dykes, a one-time Kentucky assistant coach, has worked games involving both teams in recent weeks.
"I think that's a winnable game for Kentucky," Dykes said on "The Leach Report" radio show this week. "I think Kentucky is a tougher team, with more of an edge to them. They understand how to play hard every possession more than North Carolina does at this point. To me, in the months of November and December, that's what wins you games, more than execution."
The series has been streaky. UNC won six in a row, then the Cats won four straight and last year's 68-66 UK victory snapped another five-year run for the Tar Heels.
= = =
Saturday's game at UNC begins a stretch of three straight contests against rivals for the Big Blue. Notre Dame is next (at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday) and then Indiana comes to Rupp Arena next Saturday.
But head coach John Calipari has talked about the benefit of what is learned from facing quality competition and that's something Michigan State coach Tom Izzo believes in, too.
At a news conference on the eve of the EA Sports Maui Invitational, Izzo talked about his philosophy with tomleachky.com. He said, as a young coach, he came to admire how Temple's John Chaney would play anybody, anywhere.
"It just worked for me," Izzo said of adopting that approach. "I like going to places and playing the best teams and the best coaches. When I'm done, I'll get to say 'I got to do it the best way I could do it and that's not back down from anybody.' If our team and our program gets that mentality, I think we win more than we lose."
Izzo's Spartans have already played three nationally ranked teams in the likes of Connecticut, Washington and top-ranked Duke.
"Dick Vitale, over the years, has said the most important thing is competition," Izzo said. "And then some people say the most important thing is confidence. I kind of waver on that. I think competition is important but I think the way social media is nowadays and talk radio, kids can get hammered (by criticism). But I think they've learned that if they come to our place, that's what we're about. Some day it's going to catch me but I'm going to keep doing what we're doing. Although this year, I might have bit off a little more than I can chew because our league is so good. So be it -- it's more about the program than it is about one year."
= = =
When Kentucky and Oklahoma squared off in the first round in Maui, Hawaii, OU coach Jeff Capel was already familiar with Coach Cal's style from having faced him twice when Cal was at Memphis. Capel said there's one big difference between this UK team and the way those Memphis teams played.
"Right now, it may be one of Cal's best shooting teams," Capel said. "We played them two years in a row (when he was at Memphis) and they didn't have guys that shoot the ball (like this). With their versatility and especially with Terrence and his ability to score inside and out and draw your bigs out, (they're hard to guard)."
Capel tried hard to convince Jones to come to Oklahoma. In addition to the overall skill package, Capel thinks Jones has one more advantage.
"You don't see a lot of left-handed guys out there," Capel said. "It's awkward (for a defender)."
A year ago, two programs vying for one very important landmark victory met in what would end up being a crossroads game.
One program pulled off the win, won the race to 2,000 victories and sent a loud and clear message to the rest of college basketball that it was back among the nation's elite. The other stumbled to live up to preseason expectations, struggled to get to 2,000 wins by season's end and found itself out of the NCAA Tournament for only the third time in the last 36 seasons.
Who would have thought one game would mark such season-changing directions for Kentucky and North Carolina?
Spare the pity for the Tar Heels, though. Despite suffering a subpar season last year by UNC standards, the Tar Heels are by no means on life support. What they are in need of as they've gotten off to a bumpy start this season is a marquee victory similar to the one Kentucky got last year in the rivalry.
A loss, what would be North Carolina's fourth of the season, won't ruin the Tar Heels' season, but a win could go a long way in turning the year around and reasserting them back in the national title picture.
"They are at North Carolina for a reason, just like our guys are here for a reason," said assistant coach John Robic, who once again pinch hit for head coach John Calipari in media interviews. "No one is in a slump when you play them."
In terms of the rivalry, no, but technically speaking, in terms of an early season 4-3 record and preseason expectations, UNC is in indeed in a slump. After starting the year in the top 10 of both major polls, the Tar Heels have lost games to Minnesota, Vanderbilt and No. 21 Illinois and tumbled out of the top 25.
Critics have been quick to pile on highly touted freshman Harrison Barnes for the Tar Heels' struggles, but Robic isn't one of them.
"I think they're expecting a lot (but) I think it's unfair what the media has done with him," Robic said. "He sure is talented. He's a pro. We have our hands full with him and his size."
Barnes has shown signs of what earned him a consensus top-five ranking among all incoming freshmen, scoring a combined 33 points in his first two career games. But starting with an 0-for-12 night against Vandy, Barnes has hit just 14-of-57 shots over his last five games, and fans in Chapel Hill, N.C., are starting to grow restless.
Robic said Barnes is the type of player that's going to start hitting his shots eventually. The Cats are hoping it's just not against them.
"Knock on wood as much as you can before this game," Robic said. "Harrison Barnes is a very talented player. I haven't seen him play in person, just on tape. At 6-foot-7, he is a jump shooter that can create his own shots. They look for him for big shots. They will look for him on isolations, and he is a good offensive rebounder."
Of course, Barnes won't be the only freshman that will have to shield the spotlight. In the first real road test of the year, several young Cats will get a taste of how tough life on the road can be.
"It's probably going to be like a tournament atmosphere, especially against the competition that we're playing against," junior guard/forward Darius Miller said. "I think it's going to be a great experience for us, especially with us being a young team. It's going to make us better."
Miller is the only Wildcat to have started in a road test like Saturday's, but the third-year veteran said neutral games like the Washington and Connecticut contests in Maui, Hawaii, should have the youth of Kentucky prepared for a hostile Dean Dome .
"We've been playing great teams already," Miller said. "I'm sure they'll know what to expect. Washington was a really, really good team and they handled it pretty well. I've got all the confidence in the world in them."
North Carolina's size could pose problems for a thin UK frontcourt. Five Tar Heels stand 6-7 or taller, including 7-footer and leading scorer Tyler Zeller (14.7 points per game).
"Their length presents a big challenge," Robic said. "Zeller is a seven-footer who can really run. The biggest thing for our guys is going to be getting back on defensive transition. (North Carolina) does a good job of getting in an early post position and that is their first look. Everybody who has played them, forever, has focused on defensive transition. You can't allow them to have any easy baskets. You have to make their post players work and you can't give them angles to the goal."
North Carolina's bugaboo in its three losses has been turnovers. For the season, the Tar Heels are averaging 17 turnovers per game, including 18.7 in the three defeats.
Turnovers were one of the biggest problems in UNC's struggles a year ago.
"I think people are saying their guards are struggling because of the Illinois game," Robic said of UNC's nationally televised, 18-turnover game against the Fighting Illini. "That was their first true road game. I like their speed. The style that they play that enables their kids to get the ball and go. They are at home, so they are going to feel more confident about knocking down shots."
Which is exactly what UK is hoping to avoid. It's a big game for North Carolina and an even bigger chance for the Tar Heels to get their season back on the right foot, but Robic said Kentucky can't fall into the big-game trap.
"Every since I've worked for Cal, what he's taught us and what he teaches these guys is it's the next game on the schedule," Robic said. "I know it's a cliché, but it's an important game because it's the next game. It's different. This is Kentucky. Every team that you play is going to give Kentucky its best shot."
In part two of Chip Cosby's exclusive interview with Mitch Barnhart, the Kentucky athletics director lays out his to-do list for 2011, which includes a major facilities upgrade.
You can read the full details on Kentucky.com here and here, but here are the cliff notes version:
- Barnhart's primary focus is on renovations to Commonwealth Stadium.
- Renovations to the football stadium would include the addition of club seating and more luxury suites, new scoreboards, the construction of a multi-purpose recruiting room, upgrades to the concession-stand areas, and the addition of electronic monitors in the concourse areas and around the perimeter of the stadium.
- The Commonwealth Stadium renovations would cost between $150-$180 million.
- Construction on a new track complex is set to begin in March.
- Barnhart also hopes to build a new baseball stadium and improve the softball complex.
- The downtown arena initiative proposal that called for a new basketball arena, baseball field and upgrades to Commonwealth Stadium have fallen through.
Getting in was only half the battle, but for the Kentucky volleyball team, making the NCAA Tournament seemed like a long-drawn out war.
A murderous early season schedule and youth plagued the Cats for the better part of the first half of the season, and just climbing back into NCAA Tournament consideration seemed like a huge achievement all by itself.
The Cats (17-13), despite admittedly being on the bubble, heard their names called for the NCAA Tournament for a school-record sixth straight time a few days ago. UK will play Purdue on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in West Lafayette, Ind.
After the type of season it's been, one marked with emotionally-draining ups and downs, it'd be easy for the coaches and players to pat themselves on the back for rallying to win nine of the final 13 matches and make the tourney.
But that would be going against everything head coach Craig Skinner has preached and predicted all season long. At the beginning of the year, without the services of Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Sarah Rumely, outside hitter Sarah Mendoza and libero BriAnne Sauer, the sixth-year UK coach foresaw some bumps in the road.
Skinner was big on the potential of the team, but he knew it'd be a difficult journey to make it back to the tournament despite the Cats' overzealous preseason ranking. Skinner said that if Kentucky could find a way to make it into the tournament, his team would have as good of a chance as anybody.
He was right in several senses.
Kentucky came together down the stretch and played its best volleyball at the end of the year. And while it may be stating the obvious, in a 64-team, one-loss elimination tournament, Kentucky is on even ground with every team left still playing.
"Like I tell our team, there is no one we're going to play that we don't think we can beat," Skinner said. "We feel like we can beat anybody we come up against, but that doesn't guarantee wins. You have to do it when the match is on the line."
Although losses piled up early in the season, a schedule that included 11 teams in this year's NCAA Tournament prepared UK for the one-and-done tournament. It sounds cliché, but this year's team is battle-tested.
"As many good teams as we've played, there aren't many things we haven't seen on the volleyball court from physical outside hitters to teams that block really well to different type of offense," Skinner said. "I think we're prepared. I think we've won against good teams at the end of games and produced when the match is on the line."
Tangibly, Skinner said the difference in the team from the beginning of the year to now lies somewhere with the improved blocking up front and a better serve percentage.
"We just don't make bonehead mistakes nearly as much as we used to," Skinner said. "When you do that, you give momentum to the other team. Those have become a lot less frequent."
But something else may have been behind the midseason turnaround.
"I think we realized how bad we were doing and I think we were all embarrassed," said sophomore Stephanie Klefot, who was tabbed Southeastern Conference Libero of the Year on Monday. "To be honest, it was a pride thing. We wanted to be the Wildcats and live up to our expectations."
During a stretch where the Cats lost four of five, a time in which making the NCAA Tournament was all but out of reach, Skinner told the players to forget about the season to that point and wipe the slate clean.
His message worked.
"I think it's a completely different team than what we had at the beginning of the year," said senior middle blocker Lauren Rapp, who was named first-team All-SEC on Monday. "People struggled with not only physically knowing their role but emotionally and mentally what their role was on the team. There was a bunch of new faces out there with new roles and I think we finally got it clicking and working."
Rapp knows better than anyone that a hot streak can lead a team deep into the tournament. Catching fire at the perfect time last year, Rapp, lost in shadows of a star-laden team, played arguably the best volleyball of her career in leading UK to the Sweet 16.
In the Cats' first-round match against Clemson, Rapp posted a team-high 14 kills. She followed the next night with a career-high 10 blocks against No. 14 overall seed Oregon before tallying a season-high 18 kills a heartbreaking loss to Florida State.
"You never want your season to end," said Rapp, an Indianapolis native who expects a number of family and friends to make the trip to Purdue on Friday for the match. "You just have to keep going. I was lucky enough last year to get going at the right time."
Skinner likes where his team is at heading into the Purdue match.
"Prior to (the Tennessee loss), by winning six prior matches, I felt that we played well," Skinner said. "Some of the matches, especially against Auburn, Ole Miss and LSU, definitely solidified us as an NCAA team. I'm excited with the way we are playing. We actually came in and practiced on Sunday anticipating on being in the tournament and they were very competitive practices, so I think we are playing very well."
Kentucky will clearly be the underdog Friday when it faces Purdue in West Lafayette, but of the seeded teams in each region, UK got the lowest-seeded team. If the Cats can pull of a win in the first round, they'd face the winner of the Middle Tennessee State-Louisville match.
UK defeated Louisville earlier this year. If the Cats can catch fire once again, there's no telling how far they can go.
"I think people would put (Purdue) as a favorite in this match," Skinner said. "I think our team likes that. They have a little chip on their shoulder, but this team has always played loose and for each other and I would expect them to do that (again). I also told them to enjoy the tournament because if you don't it's going to be gone in a hurry."
Josh Harrellson preferred people call him the "garbage man" for his suddenly changing role. Boston coach Patrick Chambers had a different idea after Harrellson's 12-point, 11-rebound performance in Kentucky's 91-57 win over Boston on Tuesday: mother hen.
"I love that kid," Chambers said postgame. "He does everything that you want a center or a big man to do. He plays ball screens great, he rebounds the basketball, he blocks shots. He's the mother hen out there."
The mother what? That was Harrellson's response postgame when a UK media relations employee told Harrellson what Chambers said.
"I said 'What? What's that?' " Harrellson said.
Judging by Harrellson's recent play, it's a do-whatever-it-takes leadership role that is fitting the "kind of" farm boy quite nicely. In six games this season, Harrellson is averaging 5.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
On a team spread thin with big men, Harrellson is providing key minutes while the Cats wait to hear final word on the eligibility status of Turkish forward Enes Kanter.
"That's just a role I guess I'm taking to heart, going out there and being a defender, being an offensive rebounder, (making) put-backs, not really worrying about getting post-ups or getting the ball," Harrellson said. "We've got so much offense (that) I don't need to score 20 points a night to be successful. If I just put my 10 points in or if me and Eloy (Vargas) combine for a double-double and getting offensive rebounds through each other, we're going to be just fine."
Harrellson's rising play comes just a month after he was relegated to Calipari's doghouse for some offhand comments about his coach on Twitter. Calipari privately disciplined the 6-foot-10 forward from St. Charles, Mo., and required that Harrellson put in extra conditioning before practice every day.
It turns out the punishment was a blessing in disguise. Harrellson is in the best shape he's been since coming to Kentucky two years ago and it's paid off on the court. His teammates have noticed the swell in production and a couple of them, guard/forward Darius Miller and forward Eloy Vargas, have joined Harrellson before practice.
"He covers for everybody," Chambers said. "If there's a blow-by, he's right there making good plays, good decisions. They gave him the ball a couple of times, which is good for us, but he made a couple hooks shots and he made a layup and he did some good things. I really like him. He's perfect for this team."
Chambers was asked why Harrellson, who lacks the God-given skills that players like Terrence Jones and DeMarcus Cousins possess, is perfect for a team that features mega recruits like Jones and Brandon Knight.
"Because he really doesn't need the basketball," Chambers said. "He doesn't demand the basketball. He knows his role. If he gets the basketball, it's great, he's happy about that, but if he doesn't get a shot attempt, he's happy about that. That's somebody who has bought into what Coach Cal wants him to do."
Harrellson even tried to take what he said was his first charge attempt of his career in the second half of Tuesday night's Boston game.
"I'm going to start taking charges," Harrellson said, emphasizing start. "Today was my first attempt I've ever taken in my entire life in basketball. Coach Cal said, 'Just do one,' so I tried. I went a little early, but hopefully we can fix that."
Harrellson was called for a blocking foul, but the effort and newfound attitude has been a refreshing addition on a team in search of some vocal veteran leaders.
"I can take that role. I can take the freshmen under my wings and show them the right way, lead by example and be the vocal leader out there when they need it," Harrellson said in playing Chambers' barnyard assessment to a T.
In perfect follow-up fashion, Harrellson was asked what he would do as the "mother hen" if his teammates "laid an egg."
In an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader's Chip Cosby, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said he plans on staying at Kentucky despite rumors last month that was a candidate for the vacant Kansas athletics director position.
Barnhart, a Kansas native, told Cosby that there is still too much unfinished business at UK yet to be completed. Though he hasn't officially been contacted by Kansas, he said he's committed to Kentucky for the long haul.
"There have been a lot of rumblings about places that I'm going," Barnhart said, according to Cosby's report. "We've come to a spot in nine years. I think we can get to another spot moving forward. I like what I'm doing here."
Barnhart cited his son, the relationships he's built at UK and his continued push for upgraded facilities as his primary reasons for wanting to stay in Lexington.
"I think there's a timeline for all these kinds of jobs," Barnhart said. "But my goal when I leave is to have left it clearly better than what we found it; competitively in a better spot, and a facility infrastructure that the person that follows me can walk in and enjoy and being able to capitalize on those pieces and have a different level of success. We're not done with that yet."
John Calipari just went through one of most trying times of his life and still didn't miss a game. Dealing with the death of his mother, Donna, who died Sunday after a battle with cancer, Calipari was on the sidelines Tuesday night for the Boston game.
In a touching tribute, the players honored Calipari and his mother by wearing black socks and black arm bands for the game.
"It was all for Coach Cal for the situation he had," freshman guard Doron Lamb said. "We just wanted to show him that we cared and that we're going to fight for him."
The Kentucky assistant coaches donned all black suits as well, and Rupp Arena, especially in the student section, was dotted with black apparel in respect for Calipari's mother.
"I want to thank our team for wearing black socks in her honor and I really want to thank the students and others that wore black jerseys in her honor," Calipari said in Lexy.com post following the game. "I called my dad and told him it was going to be done. I'm not sure she would have wanted it but it was a great honor for our family that our fans, the Big Blue Nation, would think enough of us to mourn with us."
Although Calipari took the sideline for Tuesday's game, he couldn't escape the emotions and grief of his mother's death. Longtime assistant coach John Robic subbed for Calipari in his postgame news conference while assistant coach Orlando Antigua joined Tom Leach for his usual postgame radio show.
"We're all in this together, and he knows that we're there for him," Robic said.
Despite dealing with the sorrow of the last few days, Robic said Calipari has hardly missed a beat. After flying to Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday to be with his family, Calipari returned to Lexington on Monday for practice.
"I've been with him for 14 years and he's never missed a practice," Robic said. "It just shows the commitment that he has to not only his family in Charlotte but to this family in the locker room. It says a lot about him."
Calipari called his mother "the dreamer and the driver" of the Calipari family.
"In the end, the cancer got the best of her, but she fought," Calipari said in the Lexy audio tweet (you can hear the full audio by clicking on the Lexy application). "She was 74 years old. She died with my father and my sister right there. Probably three times in the last month I spent time with her. She knew how we all felt. In the end, that last month, she just wanted to sit and talk and look and tell you she loved you and did the best she could. She was a great mother."