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40 minutes away from being 'special'

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UK_ND_081_cw.JPGThere's this indefinable concept that most coaches like to use for their team's potential and shortcomings. The cliche is as common as "We're taking it one game at a time," and "It was a total team effort."

Surely you've heard it before: "If we play a full 40-minute game ..."

Most coaches would find the actual achievement of a complete 40-minute game to be a so-called castle in the sky. Really, how many times can a team actually play 40 complete minutes? Has there ever been a team that hasn't let down for a minute or two? Is the goal even realistically achievable?

Regardless, the phrase has actual meaning with the Kentucky men's basketball team.

Once scrutinized for its slow starts on the road, the most recent problems have surfaced at the end of games. In UK's last two contests, it has stormed out to large leads only to see the sizeable gaps dwindle in the closing minutes.

Rest assured, the Cats have closed out both games with wins, but the victories have been more of the hang-on variety than a dominating statement.

"We really haven't played a 40-minute game all year," Calipari said. "We haven't. I bet that last game we played about 32 minutes. That was the closest we've come. But we haven't (played a complete 40-minute game)."

Even if the objective of playing a complete 40 minutes is pragmatically unattainable, there's no masking that UK has had periods of a letdown in just about every game.

The latest moments of leisure, the ones at the end of games, raise flags because of the importance of the situation. Getting behind early is one thing when you have the entire game to come back, but letting a team hang around is not only dangerous, it could be devastating.

The leads against South Carolina and Georgia never reached red-alert stages. The Gamecocks trimmed UK's 18-point lead to five with 1:15 to play, and Georgia, which trailed by 17 points, pulled within six points with a little more than two minutes left. Neither would get any closer.

"In the second half we kind of gave up," junior guard DeAndre Liggins said of the Georgia comeback. "We made some errors defensively, turned the ball over, which caused them to make a run."

Developing a killer instinct - an ability to step on a team's throat - may be the next stage in development for this ever-learning Kentucky team.

"At some point, if we want to be special, if we want to be one of those teams (we have to play a complete 40 minutes)," Calipari said.

One could form a number of guesses for the up-again, down-again play, especially late in games.

"A lack of focus and a lack of intensity," is how freshman guard Brandon Knight described it. "We don't have the same intensity to finish the games that we had to start those two games."

The lack of intensity at the end of games could come from a lack of legs, too. Playing with a razor-thin rotation that usually features seven or eight guys, one could reasonably conceive fatigue has played a factor down the stretch, especially with the intensity UK has started to exhibit at the beginning of games.

Although Knight wasn't buying that notion, his teammate Liggins didn't dismiss it.

"It may be," Liggins said. "I'm not fatigued at all. I could play the whole 40 minutes and be alright, but maybe it is. I don't know. We just need other guys to step up off the bench."

Liggins also attributed the lack of a killer instinct to the amount of inexperience Kentucky has, but Calipari is no longer accepting the youth excuse, pointing to the upperclassmen as the potential agents of change.

"This team has to be about Darius (Miller), DeAndre and Josh (Harrellson), our juniors and seniors," Calipari said after Saturday's game. "It's got to be about them, what they accept, what they affect, and they have to be the guys making plays down the stretch, not freshmen."

Calipari echoed that sentiment Monday when he elaborated on a special item he gave each player after the Georgia game. Inside their lockers was a sheet of paper that Calipari called "The Law of the Price Tag." On it were rules of accountability that he wanted each player to be aware of.

"Understand what it means to pay a price," Calipari said. "You've got to give something to get something. You're not going to go half speed and think you're getting something special. And if you really want something special, you've got to pay the price. You've got to sacrifice."

Kentucky suddenly controls its own destiny in the Southeastern Conference heading into Tuesday's game at Ole Miss, but becoming an elite team, in Calipari's opinion, will hinge on the progress the Cats can make between now and March.

Calipari said he likes his team and is proud of how it's playing, but he admitted he wants even more from the players.

"There has to be a point, and hopefully I'm getting there, where they're more empowered and I'm less on them, I'm less begging and dragging," Calipari said. "There's got to be a point, and we're getting close to it. If we're in March and I'm still begging, then I'm just saying, 'One more win, come on, one more win.' But we're not going to be doing the things we want to do here."

"I don't know how good we are right now," Calipari added.

We may never know until we see a full 40 minutes.

Head coach John Calipari


Junior guard DeAndre Liggins


Freshman guard Brandon Knight

Poll, Bracketology update: Cats are on the rise

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One of the craziest weeks in college basketball has shaken up the polls this week.

An amazing 18 teams in last week's Associated Press Top 25 dropped a game, meaning the Kentucky men's basketball team, one of only seven teams not to lose, reaped the benefits.

UK moved up to No. 10 in this week's AP Top 25 and No. 11 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll.

The Cats are also back to a No. 3 seed in Joe Lundardi's ESPN Bracketology. Five Southeastern Conference teams remain in Lunardi's projections with Georgia listed in the "First Four Out" category.

AP Top 25
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Ohio State (65) 22-0 1,625
2 Kansas 20-1 1,519
3 Texas 18-3 1,500
4 Pittsburgh 20-2 1,433
5 Duke 19-2 1,284
6 Connecticut 17-3 1,275
7 San Diego State 21-1 1,218
8 Brigham Young 20-2 1,159
9 Notre Dame 17-4 1,116
10 Kentucky 16-4 1,037
11 Purdue 18-4 922
12 Villanova 17-4 860
13 Georgetown 16-5 806
14 Missouri 17-4 790
15 Louisville 17-4 740
16 Texas A&M 17-3 660
17 Syracuse 18-4 598
18 Minnesota 16-5 487
19 Wisconsin 15-5 387
20 Washington 15-5 384
21 Arizona 18-4 358
22 Utah State 20-2 176
23 Vanderbilt 15-5 124
23 North Carolina 15-5 124
25 West Virginia 14-6

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ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Ohio State (31) 22-0 775
2 Kansas 20-1 732
3 Texas 18-3 710
4 Pittsburgh 20-2 675
5 Duke 19-2 623
6 San Diego State 21-1 592
7 Connecticut 17-3 587
8 Notre Dame 17-4 535
9 Brigham Young 20-2 522
10 Purdue 18-4 478
11 Kentucky 16-4 453
12 Villanova 17-4 416
13 Louisville 17-4 403
14 Georgetown 16-5 365
15 Missouri 17-4 358
16 Texas A&M 17-3 334
17 Syracuse 18-4 239
18 Wisconsin 15-5 220
19 Washington 15-5 190
20 Minnesota 16-5 186
21 Utah State 20-2 178
22 Arizona 18-4 161
23 Florida 16-5 51
24 Illinois 14-7 45
24 Vanderbilt 15-5 45

SEC coaches' teleconference notes (Jan. 31)

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SEC Circle Gold Letters on White Background.jpgAfter a brief one game return to Rupp Arena, the Kentucky men's basketball team heads back on the road this week for games against the Ole Miss Rebels on Tuesday and the Florida Gators on Saturday.  John Calipari joined the SEC coaches' teleconference Monday morning to offer some comments on the upcoming week. Calipari will have further comments on Ole Miss before the team travels to Oxford, Miss., later this afternoon at media availability. Check back later for video of those.
  • Calipari expressed surprise that the team had another two games on road, having played their previous two on the road before the Georgia game. "This is another tough trip with a young team," Calipari said.  "Both programs are solid and strong and do the right things and play the right way."
  • Even though the game on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., will be featured on ESPN's College Gameday, Calipari said that his full focus right now is on Tuesday's game. "We've got our hands full Tuesday," Calipari said. "I'm truly not worried about Saturday yet. Let's just try to get by Tuesday and see how we do."
  • Calipari was asked a question about some of Ole Miss' recent struggles in their 1-5 start in conference play, but he was quick to praise Andy Kennedy's squad. "They're spacing the court, they're running good stuff, they're getting good looks. I like how (Kennedy) is spacing so they can attack the rim. They're playing to their strengths."
  • Calipari was also unreserved in expressing his admiration for Kennedy's coaching, saying "Andy is one of the best coaches around." Calipari also said that his Hall of Fame visitor of last week, Larry Brown, is a fan of Kennedy. "He thinks the world of him and he doesn't even know him that well," Calipari said. "His comment was 'That guy can really coach.' "
  • Oxford is very close to Calipari's former stomping grounds in Memphis, Tenn., and Calipari said he would have friends in town to see him and his team. "It will be fun to see them, but this is a business trip for me," Calipari said
  • Of course, the requisite question about Calipari's thoughts on how Darius Miller is playing was asked. Calipari said that he has been happy with his play in spurts, but that he still wants to see him bring his A game more consistently. He also said he would be speaking with Miller today about whether he needs to play fewer minutes in order to maximize his level of play when he is on the floor. Calipari did make sure to mention that Miller is making strides. "He's getting closer," Calipari said. "I'm pleased he's moving in the right direction."
  • OKennedy talked at length about Kentucky and the challenges that they present in Tuesday night's game, calling UK a "very, very talented team." Kennedy also said UK would create a number of matchup problems for his team.  "They're very big, they're very athletic," Kennedy said. "Four of the five guys in the game can extend you out to the 3-point line as well as take you off the dribble."
  • Both Kennedy and Florida head coach Billy Donovan talked about the play of freshman point guard Brandon Knight. Kennedy spoke of the matchup problems he presents as a 6-foot-3 point guard, while also saying his play has been more reminiscent of a veteran than a freshman. "He has great poise and great tempo to his play," Kennedy said. Donovan, having recruited Knight in high school, is familiar with Knight's work ethic. Donovan recounted one of his visits to Knight when he learned of Knight's daily routine that consisted of three hours of independent study after school, an hour and a half of practice on the court, then another hour and a half of weight training. "I always felt like he was a very focused kid," Donovan said. "He was very focused in school and very focused in basketball. He really has a strong desire to be the best."

Jones nominated for Dunk of the Year

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Release below has the full details on how you can help Terrence Jones win dunk of the year. In case you forgot what thunderous dunk Intersport is referring to, I've posted a video to refresh your memory.

CHICAGO - University of Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones' powerful dunk against South Carolina on January 22, 2011 was selected as a 2011 Dunk of the Year nominee, announced today by sports television production and event marketing company Intersport. The 2011 Dunk of the Year is wholly determined by fan voting and will be announced on a one-hour "Dunks of the Year" special airing on ABC April 2.

Each week for eight weeks, four incredible college dunk videos are released at the Dunks of the Year fan page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/dunksoftheyear). The top weekly vote-getters proceed to the Finals, which tip off March 7, and are highlighted within the ABC special. 

Jones' dunk - in which he blew past his defender to throw down a thunderous slam - is competing against three other dunkers in week four, including Missouri Southern's Jason Adams, Indiana State's Dwayne Lathan, and Washington's Isaiah Thomas.

To support Jones, fans can vote once a day and share their vote with their Facebook friends. Week four voting is open until Sunday, February 6 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

The winners of the first three weeks of voting were High Point's Shay Shine, Missouri State's Jermaine Mallett, and Oregon State's Jared Cunningham.

Just a couple of highlights from past and present players and teams that I wanted to point out from the weekend:

- DeMarcus Cousins' stock looks like it's on the rise again. The former UK forward had an outstanding weekend, posting scoring nights of 27 and 25, respectively, against the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Hornets. It was tough to choose which one was more impressive. On one hand, Cousins' 27 points and 10 rebounds against the defending NBA champions was in the Staples Center. But on the other hand, Cousins' 25 points and 12 rebounds halted arguably the hottest team in the NBA in the Hornets. Until Cousins and the Kings knocked off the Hornets, they had won 10 straight games. Cousins is averaging 13.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in his rookie season, second only to John Wall's 15.0 points and 9.3 assists in the 2010 Kentucky draft class. Check out the following video of Cousins's recent play:

- Following a reported positive week of practice at the Senior Bowl, former UK running back Derrick Locke totaled 37 yards on 11 carries in his team's (South) 24-10 win. The 37 yards doesn't seem like a ton, but it was tough sledding for the running games of both teams Saturday. Locke finished second to Louisville's Bilal Powell in total rushing yards for both teams.

- It's early, but keep an eye on the UK men's tennis team as the season progresses. Dennis Emery has continually put together solid squads in his tenure at Kentucky, but this one looks to be one of the better teams. Headlined by junior Eric Quigley, the No. 2 ranked singles player in the nation, the 12th-ranked Cats have skated through the first two weekends of play by beating the likes of No. 22 Wake Forest and No. 42 Boise State. The Cats have dropped just four games in six team matches this season. The best quality about this team, other than Quigley, is its overall depth. It isn't a one-man show with players like senior Brad Cox, junior Alex Musialek and sophomore Anthony Rossi playing behind Quigley. Next up for UK will be the National Indoors, which you can read more about here.

UK couldn't afford to lose Martin

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Thumbnail image for Martin_Tee FB 10_11.jpgTee Martin used an interesting phrase when talking about the loyalty he had to head coach Joker Phillips and the Kentucky football program.

"I will fall on a sword for that guy," Martin said.

It was up to Kentucky to show that same type of commitment or risk losing Martin to another school.

The program did Saturday, inking Martin to a contract extension and promoting one of the up-and-coming coaches in the nation to passing game coordinator.

"This is probably one of the biggest recruits to land before (signing day) is Tee Martin," Phillips said.

Simply put, UK could ill afford to lose Martin. Questioned a year ago for his role as a wide receivers coach (Martin was a championship-winning quarterback at Tennessee in the late 1990s), Martin is now a must-have coach at Kentucky.

A rising star, Martin has gained a reputation for his knowledge for the game, his relationship with the players and his ability to recruit. A "couple" of schools, according to Martin, beckoned for his services, and one of those schools was reportedly Alabama.

"It's a commitment thing," Martin said.

And Kentucky and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart showed, commendably, they were willing to make a long-term pledge. To lose a guy like Martin right before National Signing Day would have been a devastating blow at a critical recruiting time.

"We want to get this program to a championship level, and to do that we have to keep guys like Tee Martin in this program," Phillips said. "He understands this league, he has great communication skills and he has passion for this game. He is a relentless recruiter, but I don't want him labeled as a recruiter. He is also a great scheme guy who understands protections from playing quarterback and route combinations. Tee Martin can coach any position on our team."

And now Martin is committed to helping UK get to the next level.

"People can say what they want to about Kentucky football," Martin said. "Kentucky football is headed in the right direction. We're headed up and this is just one piece of the puzzle. We have to have great players, we have to coach them up and all that stuff, but it shows the commitment we have in taking this program to where we want it to be and that is to the championship level."

Miller_3_web_cw.jpgFor a 15-minute period - halftime, to be precise - one could have concluded the Kentucky men's basketball team had finally figured it all out.

The Cats played with the type of toughness, physicality and killer instinct head coach John Calipari has been begging for all season. At the end of 66-60 win over Georgia, however, that feeling had all but evaporated.

A halftime away from playing arguably its best half of the year, UK played one of its worst in the second half Saturday as the Cats narrowly held off the Bulldogs in front of 24,352 boisterous fans at Rupp Arena.

Kentucky improved to 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference and climbed to within a half game of Eastern Division leader Florida, but the Cats stumbled down the stretch for the second game in a row.

"We got pushed around again in the second half," head coach John Calipari said. "I'm proud of our team.  I thought we played well ... (but) we easily left ourselves in a position that we could have dropped this. There was no reason for that."

Calipari cited missed free throws and turnovers in letting Georgia hang around, but the reality is the toughness from the first half disappeared.

After shooting 51.7 percent in the first half and extending the lead to as much as 17, UK hit only 31.8 percent of its attempts in the second half and allowed the Bulldogs to close within six points in the final two minutes.

"It just goes along with us not playing a full game," junior guard/forward Darius Miller said. "We've got to focus in on what we need to take care of or it's going to come back and bite us. ... I feel like I've said that a million times. We've just got to fix it."

Kentucky, at times, has looked like a top-10 team (see the Louisville, Washington and Notre Dame wins). At others, it's looked like a team that sorely misses John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson (see the Alabama, Georgia and Connecticut losses).

The easy answer for the up-and-down play has been to tab it on youth. But according to Calipari, that'd be bailing out the players who are truly responsible.

"This team has to be about Darius, DeAndre (Liggins) and Josh (Harrellson), our juniors and seniors," Calipari said. "It's got to be about them, what they accept, what they effect, and they have to be the guys making plays down the stretch, not freshmen. If our freshmen happen to do it, fine. But we can't count on those guys."

Miller was the perfect example Saturday.

In the first half, Miller played as dominant of a stretch as he's ever played. In the process of scoring 10 first-half points, Miller banged with the trees down, grabbed loose balls, made the extra pass and knocked down a 3.

"When Darius was in the middle, he went after people and he was aggressive," Calipari said. "There was not a fade away. It was just boom, right at it."

With a little more than three minutes before halftime, Miller raced down the middle and nearly had the ultimate boom when tried a one-hand cram over Jeremy Price.

He was denied with a foul, but it lit a fire underneath Miller and his teammates.

"If he would have made that dunk, the whole gym would have gone crazy," freshman guard Doron Lamb said. "At least he tried to dunk it so next time that guy knows he's going to try to dunk it. That's what coach wants him to do: be aggressive and try to dunk it every time he goes to the rack."

Calipari jumped off the bench and pumped his fists after the attempt and Miller flexed with a strut that fans have been begging to see. It was a glimpse of the "unleashed" player Calipari talks about so often.

The problem was it didn't show up for 40-complete minutes as Miller scored just four points in the second half and slowly faded out of the game (to his credit, Miller did have five second-half rebounds).

"You've got to make the tough plays," Calipari said. "You're not missing a rebound, that's one. Two, you've got to be really strong with the ball so you're not getting balls ripped out of your hands."

One could infer Calipari was talking about a ball that was stripped from Miller late in the second half and an offensive put-back he allowed Trey Thompkins to get.

Calipari was asked how veterans like Miller, Liggins and Harrellson - nice guys by all accounts - get tougher.

"I've seen guys, they are boxers.  What a wonderful guy that is until he steps in that ring and he tries to rip the guy's face off," Calipari said. "You can be the nicest guy in the world, have a great heart and be a generous person, but when it's time to battle and fight, you fight."

Despite the negative feeling from the second half, Kentucky didn't lose Saturday.

All things considered, there was a lot for Calipari to be proud of after the game. Among the positives were Lamb's 19-point game and DeAndre Liggins' all-around effort (11 points, two steals and one block).

There was also a superb defensive effort against Georgia's leading two scorers. Thompkins and Travis Leslie entered the game averaging a combined 32.6 points, but they were held to 14 total points and were 2 of 17 from the floor.

"(We) did some good things," Calipari said.

And they also did some bad. It was the same as South Carolina and the same as Alabama. It's cliché to say, but this team has been a tale of two halves recently and it's been a tease.

"This is good," Calipari said. "We can be pretty good, and you saw it today. And then all of the stuff that we need to get better at, I've got it on tape.  I can show them." 

The bottom line, "We still won," Calipari said.

Calipari, players on win over Georgia

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John Calipari

Senior Josh Harrellson

Junior Darius Miller

Freshman Doron Lamb

Martin promoted to passing game coordinator

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Live blog: UK men's basketball vs. Georgia

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59_UK_Auburn_32_cw.JPGTwo nonconference losses to Connecticut and North Carolina weren't enough to sound the alarm of concern for the Kentucky men's basketball team, but the loss to Georgia to start conference play was the first time since John Calipari has been head coach that you could argue the Cats were exposed.

Talent level aside, questions arose about the individual toughness of the players, including from their head coach. Were they tough enough to win on the road? Are they too young? Is the team deep enough to make any type of run?

Three weeks later, with the Georgia rematch looming Saturday, while some of the questions still reside, the Kentucky players feel like this is a tougher team now, and the South Carolina drubbing was a result of that.

"I think we're playing better than we were then," junior guard/forward Darius Miller said. "In my opinion, we've got better throughout the whole year."

Miller is one player in particular that has seen significant improvement since the Georgia game. Since his 2-for-11 shooting performance in Athens, Ga., Miller has averaged 13.8 points.

"We didn't play the whole 40 minutes (at Georgia)," Miller said. "We had streaks where we played pretty good but we didn't do it for the whole 40 minutes. We're going to have play tougher (Saturday). They did a great job of keeping a body on us, especially during shots, which caused us to miss."

Playing more physical this time around would be a good start for Kentucky in its preparation against the Bulldogs. Although UK freshman forward Terrence Jones scored 24 points, Georgia forward and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year candidate Trey Thompkins had his way in the paint.

Thompkins finished the game with 25 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Being more physical with Thompkins will be a key Saturday.

"We kind of let him do whatever he wanted to do last game and let him have all the shots that he wanted to have," Miller said. "We need to try to disrupt his game a little bit."

Georgia is coming off a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to Florida earlier in the week, but Kentucky head coach John Calipari doesn't expect Georgia to experience any residual effects from a big-game letdown.

"Doesn't matter," Calipari said. "They had a chance to win that game. They had a chance to win the Tennessee game. They could easily be 5-0."

Asked if he and his team viewed the rematch as a chance at revenge, Calipari politely said no.

"I just think you're trying to win a league game and so are they," Calipari said. "It'll be a hard-fought game. They're a good team. They already beat us and they beat us handily. They mashed us, really. We'll see if we got better; that's what it'll be. It'll be a test  of, have we gotten better, have we gotten tougher, can we play through bumps, and can we physically score in the post when they're letting us shoot it, can we make a basket from two feet? Those things, those will be what we'll see in this game."

Renovated or new, arena should be 'gold standard:' Following Mayor Jim Gray's announcement Tuesday that a study would be set up to determine the feasibility of redesigning and  renovating Rupp Arena, all the talk in Lexington during the bye week has focused on the prospect of a new or renovated Rupp Arena.

Message boards, Twitter, dinner-table discussion, you name it - the hot topic of debate this week has centered around two primary options for the future facility of the Kentucky men's basketball team: Should the city/UK renovate Rupp Arena in the mold of an updated but historic arena, or should a new, state-of-the-art facility be the goal?

Regardless of what is ultimately decided, Calipari said the objective should be for the arena to be the "gold standard" of college basketball arenas.

"Is it the gold standard?" Calipari said. "That's what this program should be about in everything we do or we shouldn't do it."

Calipari didn't show which hand he was playing, instead choosing to step out of the debate.

"At this point, I'm not in the chase," Calipari said. "It's almost like when you guys come to terms with what we're doing let me know so I can take a look at it. I'll give you some ideas at that point. I'm worried about beating Georgia. That's what I'm worried about. I haven't spent any time (thinking about this) to be honest with you."

Brown mentoring Calipari: Before Coach Cal's media opportunity started Friday, a reporter asked other media if he was seeing things. Standing in the basement of the Joe Craft Center, the reporter, a bit confused, swore he saw Hall of Fame basketball coach Larry Brown walk by with Calipari.

His eyes weren't playing tricks on him.

Brown, whose legendary career includes a national title at both the NCAA and NBA level, is indeed at UK this week visiting with Calipari. As the head coach at Kansas when Calipari first broke into the coaching ranks, Brown has become a mentor and friend of Calipari's.

"He's been unbelievable to me," Calipari said.

Brown was recently let go from the Charlotte Bobcats, his ninth career coaching job in the NBA. Calipari believes Brown, 70, isn't done coaching yet, but in the meantime, Brown is in Lexington through Saturday's Georgia game to help Calipari and give him "another set of eyes."

"He's here for me, mostly," Calipari said. "I want him to watch and give me ideas and talk to me. He's staying at the house, so we're going to dinner together and talking basketball. But I did tell the team, 'If you want to talk to him about your game and what you can do to improve, it's not a bad deal. He's a Hall of Famer.' "

Calipari said Brown has watched all of their practices this week and knows all the players. He believes three or four players have met with Brown.

As for a possible return to coaching, Calipari would like to see Brown return to the college ranks for the first time since coaching Kansas in 1988.

"He could coach NBA if he chooses to (but) he would be a heck of a college coach because he develops players," Calipari said.

Asked if he'd let Brown on his coaching bench, Calipari said he would move down for him.

"I'd let him be the head coach and I'd be the assistant," Calipari said. "I'd make the pay stay the way it is but ..."

4391661.jpegPolson relishes playing time: For those who thought Calipari was blowing smoke when he suggested that seldom-used reserve Jarrod Polson could see some action last week, they received a pleasant surprise when the freshman guard and former walk-on entered the game midway through the first half against South Carolina.

The 6-foot-2, Nicholasville, Ky., native entered the game for a brief spurt with 9:44 remaining before halftime. Polson's play didn't last long, but he received two additional shots late in the first half.

"It was definitely easier the second time I went in," Polson said. "I wasn't really that nervous then. I was more into the game than anything."

The decision to play Polson came after Polson won a couple one-on-one games with the reserves last week.

"I'm comfortable playing Jarrod because he plays so hard," Calipari said after the South Carolina win. "He won't make mistakes. He's out there playing."

Polson found himself in an unplanned situation late in the first half. Although he said he was out there with a mentality of not making a mistake, he found himself with the ball at midcourt with just precious seconds remaining.

Rather than reverting to a mop-up mentality, Polson's instincts took over and he drove the length of the court for an attempt at a contested layup.

"How about the kid drove and tried to shoot a layup?" Calipari said. "I thought that was the greatest thing ever. It was like he belonged."

Polson missed the shot but the play helped squash any remaining nerves he may have had.

"I picked (the ball) up and looked at the clock and there was like seven seconds left, so I knew I had to do something quick," Polson said. "I just tried to do something. Unfortunately I missed it."

Video: Cal, players on rematch with Georgia

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Head coach John Calipari


Junior guard/forward Darius Miller


Senior forward Josh Harrellson


Freshman guard Jarrod Polson

Masthay.jpgNormal punters receive significant attention only when they fail to do their jobs. Droves of media members typically wait for punters at their lockers after a shanked punt in a big moment or a low kick directly to a dangerous return man that results in a back-breaking touchdown.

Tim Masthay is no normal punter.

By the end of his stellar career with the Kentucky Wildcats, Masthay was well known to fans for his booming punts that so often flipped field position. Now in his rookie year with the Super Bowl-bound Green Bay Packers, Masthay is again being talked about for all the right reasons.

In an NFC Championship game to remember against the rival Chicago Bears, Masthay and the Packers punt team faced about as challenging a set of circumstances as a special-teams unit can imagine. Facing record-setting return man Devin Hester, Masthay had to deal with the frigid Windy City weather on a playing surface known to many as the worst in the NFL.

"It is about as challenging of an environment for a punter than you can go into," Masthay said.

Masthay, though, was up to the task. Called on to punt eight times in Green Bay's 21-14 victory, not only did the former Wildcat and Green Bay's punt unit hold Hester (whom Masthay called "probably the greatest punt returner in the history of the NFL") to just 16 yards on three returns, he also pinned the Bears offense inside its own 20 yard-line five times. 

Some national media members wondered through the Twitter-verse whether a punter could be MVP, but all agreed that if one could, Masthay may have been it in the NFC Championship game. 

Masthay worked in concert with his protection and coverage unit and was quick to deflect praise to his teammates.

"I think it's a credit to the whole punt team because, first of all, they have to protect and our snapper Brett Goode has to snap the ball well," Masthay said. "Then, even if I'm punting the ball well, if we don't get off blocks and cover well it doesn't necessarily work out and vice versa. Everything had to be working in conjunction and we were able to do that."

The Packers' game plan against Hester and the Bears stellar special teams was simple.

"We were trying to hit the ball deep and on the sideline and then pin them deep any time we had a chance to," Masthay said.

Easier said than done.

In just his third game with the Packers, Masthay received an initiation into just how difficult that can be. Going up against that same Bears team on that same Soldier Field surface, Masthay punted the ball three times for an average of 50 yards a kick. 

However, each of the punts gave the eternally dangerous Hester a chance to return, and return one to the house he did. Hester had 93 return yards that game, including a 62-yard trip to the end zone that played a major role in Bears' 20-17 win.

The loss to Chicago was the lowlight of a difficult start to his first season in the NFL.

"My production wasn't as good at the beginning of the season and I just kept working, tried to stay on an even keel through it," Masthay said. "Coaches and teammates helped me a lot through that and then I was able to get the ball rolling. I learned a little bit more how to be productive and haven't looked back since."

That episode was not the first bit of adversity Masthay has faced in his professional career.

Masthay was signed by the Indianapolis Colts to compete for a spot on the roster after his graduating from UK in 2009. The Colts ended up keeping Pat McAfee on the roster and waiving Masthay. It was a setback, but a setback that Masthay answered with hard work.

Masthay1.jpeg"My wife and I were living down in Lexington while I was a free agent and I was actually tutoring at (UK's Center for Academic and Tutorial Services) for a short period of time," Masthay said. "I was just training at one of the local gyms and little bit at UK. Really it was continuing to work on my fundamentals and becoming more consistent."

As UK's punter, Masthay had a reputation for his booming punts and kickoffs, but he realized that earning a permanent spot in the NFL would require him to alter his style.

"I learned a different punt from what I used while I was in college," Masthay said. "Now I hit an end over end ball that looks like a kick and I'm able to control it better and get the ball to die for me when it lands. That's the thing that I worked on mostly and continued that during a long offseason with Shawn Slocum (the Packers' special-teams coach)."

Masthay was born in Pennsylvania and attended high school in Murray, Ky., so the fact that he spent his free-agent year in Lexington says something about his feelings toward the city and toward UK.

"I will cherish forever my time at UK, getting to play in the SEC and play for the Wildcats," Masthay said. "It's really a top-notch program from the facilities to the players to the coaches to the way the organization conducts itself."  

Masthay points to the learning he did at UK as a major reason for his burgeoning professional career.

"(UK is) where I learned how to punt," Masthay said. "Coach (Rich) Brooks and coach (Steve) Ortmayer (special teams coach while Masthay was at UK) are really the ones that taught me how to punt."

Masthay's rise to prominence comes during a banner year for former Wildcats in the NFL.  Receiver Stevie Johnson is fresh off of a 1,000 yard season for the Buffalo Bills, while tight end Jacob Tamme stepped in for injured Pro Bowler Dallas Clark and was one of Peyton Manning's most reliable targets with the Colts. 

In addition, linebacker Wesley Woodyard is a consistent contributor for the Denver Broncos, while cornerback Trevard Lindley of the Philadelphia Eagles and John Conner of the New York Jets have bright futures with their teams. 

Masthay said his success and the success of his former teammates is a credit to the growth of UK's program.

"There have been a lot of guys into the league starting my sophomore year and that's a tribute to the recruiting and development of the players at UK by the coaching staff, as well as the commitment of all those players," Masthay said.

Masthay's busy schedule prevents him from following his alma mater as much as he would like to during the season, but he is very confident that the program is in good hands with Joker Phillips, who was the offensive coordinator during his career as a Wildcat.

"I was really excited when Coach Phillips was named coach-in-waiting and then obviously when he took over this past season," Masthay said. "I know that he's a great coach, I know that he really relates to players well and I know that he puts in a lot of hard work. 

"His X-factor is how much he cares about the University of Kentucky football program having played there and having grown up in Kentucky."

The Packers have been in playoff mode the last month, needing to win their final two regular-season games just to earn a wildcard spot, and Masthay has been vital to that run. Even though he has enjoyed his hard-earned success, his attitude at this point is plainly obvious.

"We've got one more game left to win," Masthay said. 

From the Pressbox: Notes from Tom Leach (Jan. 28)

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John Calipari has been delivering a message to his young Kentucky basketball team, a team he believes has more "upside" than any team in the nation right now. 

"I believe in you guys, probably more than some of you believe in yourselves," Calipari said. "We're just a ways away from where we need to be but the upside is there."

The improved play of Darius Miller in recent games is an example of that growth potential. Miller had one of his worst games in the Cats' loss at Georgia three weeks ago, so it will be interesting to see how he and his teammates respond to the rematch with the Bulldogs on Saturday.

In our pregame talk before South Carolina, Calipari lamented that no one had come to him after the Alabama loss and said, "It's OK, coach, we got this." 

But after seeing how well his team played in beating the Gamecocks, Calipari acknowledged that his guys were clearly focused on bouncing back.

"Maybe they're not comfortable enough saying it yet," Calipari said. "Maybe they don't have enough swagger to say, 'Cal, we got this.'  If you say that, you've got to back it up. This team is not ready for that. They don't have that demonstrated performance, that self-awareness of what they are yet. Everybody's responsible for everybody else. You're your brother's keeper on this team."

= = =

For all of the talk about the Dribble Drive offense, Calipari's coaching friends universally note that he doesn't get enough credit for how well his teams defend year in and year out. The current UK team ranks in the nation's top 10 in field-goal percentage defense and in the top five in blocked shots. 

Defense is the aspect of the 2011 Wildcats that most impresses UK's most famous fan, Ashley Judd.

"There are a lot of things I like," Judd said in an interview on the "Leach Report" radio show. "I love DeAndre Liggins' defense. I think that's my favorite thing. I think it's been the most consistent aspect of the team. I love Darius Miller's midrange game and Josh (Harrellson) has been a wonderful story." 

She admitted to a little apprehension about the ability of teams that are dominated by freshmen being able to bring home a title, "but I think if anyone can make that happen, our coach and his staff can."

As a fan, Judd said she really misses the leadership and inside presence that Patrick Patterson gave last year's team. She said getting veterans like Liggins and Miller to be more assertive might be akin to what an actor or actress faces in Hollywood at times.

"I wonder if that kind of analogy might work for the team in saying to the quieter types, 'You don't have to change the personality, but when you step on the court, we need you to play this role,' " she said.

Judd may come to Saturday's game against Georgia to get her first in-person look at this year's squad. She's been too busy up to this point finishing up her first-ever book project. It's called "All That Is Bitter and Sweet" and is a collection of diary notes from eight-plus years of visiting various countries over the globe to study human rights and public health issues. 

Coach Cal read the rough draft and provided a quote for the back cover of the book. She also finished up two new movies in recent month, an independent film called "Flypaper" with Patrick Dempsey, and a family film about "Winter," a dolphin with a prosthetic tail. Morgan Freeman stars with her in "Winter."

= = =

Former UK running back Derrick Locke will showcase his skills in Saturday's Under Armour Senior Bowl game, but the key to catching the attention of the NFL scouts is performance in this week's practice.  

Based on various media reports around the Twitter-verse and blogosphere, Locke has done that.

After the Cats' BBVA Compass Bowl loss to Pittsburgh, Locke had a clear message for the players he's leaving behind at the University of Kentucky.

"The young guys have to take advantage of what we've got here," Locke said. "I haven't seen this many good coaches at one school in a long time and we just need (players) that will be coachable. I wished I had been a lot more coachable and I want them to take advantage of that. If they get on your butt, say 'Yes sir' and 'What did I do wrong.' If they'll do that, they'll be a good team."

Comeback Cats steal another one on the road

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Matthew Mitchell called last week's come-from-behind win at Florida the type of victory a team can hang its hat on - a season-defining victory, if you will.

The Kentucky women's basketball team did it again Thursday, pulling off its second straight comeback win on the road. This time the Cats rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to stun Ole Miss 74-68.

"This was a real difficult game that we certainly could have come out on the wrong side of," Mitchell said on the postgame radio show. "I'm really proud of the players that they fought hard."

The win was UK's fifth straight in the league to improve to 5-2 in Southeastern Conference play. More importantly, it was another tough road victory for a team that looked like it didn't know how to win away from home before last week.

"It was the best of times in the second half and the worst of times in the first half," Mitchell said. "That was a crazy, crazy game for the Wildcats."

Consider this: UK's leading scorer, Victoria Dunlap, was held to just two points and zero field goals in the first half; Ole Miss guard Shae Nelson blistered the Cats for 17 first-half points; UK hit only 32.3 percent of its shots in the first half; Ole Miss shot 75 percent in the second half and was 12 of 13 from the free-throw line.

And yet Kentucky outscored Ole Miss by 14 points in the second half and won.

Crazy indeed.

How the Cats managed to overcome a blistering-hot Ole Miss team was their relentless second-half press. Quite literally, Kentucky stole the win from Ole Miss. After forcing just five turnovers in first half, UK got 18 after halftime.

The turning point came with a 12:53 left to play. Trailing 51-40, UK mounted a 27-9 run to take a 67-60 lead with a full-court, trapping press. At one point during the comeback, Ole Miss turned the ball over on three straight possessions.

"It was very important to try to (speed Ole Miss up) because I felt like (Valencia) McFarland and Nelson were just having their way with dribble penetration," Mitchell said. "When we would let them bring the ball up and get into their offense, we could not guard those two kids off the dribble. Finally we got Maegan Conwright in the game and we were able to start trapping a little bit.

"Even when we didn't turn it over, now they didn't have as much time to operate in their offensive system. The press was really good to us and it was very important."

Mitchell credited Conwright with changing the energy of the game. The freshman guard, who has slid over to the four in recent games with A'dia Mathies at the point, scored seven points and dished out four assists in 19 minutes of play.

"I told Maegan, I thought she had a real opportunity to change the game," Mitchell said. "I thought her energy alone could change the game. We looked discouraged, we looked down, we didn't look aggressive. I just thought when she was able to come in the game and get into the press, she got us going there. She made some fantastic, aggressive moves that opened up that zone and got us into the interior where we could score.

"What a huge night for Maegan Conwright. Don't think we could have even come close to winning the game if she hadn't played the way she played."

Of course, UK probably wouldn't have won either without the continued clutch play of freshman guard Jennifer O'Neill.

After struggling tremendously in the first half, O'Neill provided perhaps the three biggest shots of the game. On the heels of a turnover-riddled stretch from Ole Miss, O'Neill knocked down three straight shots, including two 3-pointers, to turn a 55-53 deficit into a 61-57 lead, Kentucky's first lead since the middle of the second half.

O'Neill finished with 10 points on the evening, her fourth straight game in double figures.

"It was an amazing display of a kid hanging in there because I thought she really reverted back to some old tendencies (in the first half)," Mitchell said. "I thought she came back in the second half and took some excellent shots. It seemed like her 10 (points) came in sort of a flurry, in a wave. I thought it was one of the big keys to getting back in the game."

Wins like Thursday's don't come very often. For it to happen twice in eight days is pretty special.

The comebacks are indicative of a team that's learning how to win on the road, toughening up mentally, and as Mitchell said Wednesday, a team that is maturing.

Who would have thought this team was capable of that after the three-game losing streak.

"What a remarkable turnaround," Mitchell said.

It's hard to determine if he was talking about Thursday's comeback or the midseason reversal.

Vote Wall into All-Star Skills Challenge

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John Wall needs your help getting to NBA All-Star weekend.

Wall, Kentucky's starting point guard last year, is one of eight candidates for the Skills Challenge at the All-Star game. For the first time ever, fans can vote for the Skills Challenge participants, which you can vote for here.

The top four vote getters will go against former Skill Challenge champion Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets.

Wall is going against Baron Davis (Clippers), Tyreke Evans (Kings), Derek Fisher (Lakers), Tony Parker (Spurs), Stephen Curry (Warriors), Derrick Rose (Bulls) and Russell Westbrook.

Click here to vote for Wall.

Hartline, Matthews tabbed SEC's most improved

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FB 09_10 UK_Bama WEB 21.jpgRemember when people thought Mike Hartline was incapable of running the Kentucky football offense?

Those days quickly disappeared this fall when Hartline had by far his best collegiate season for UK. Hartline threw for 3,178 yards and 23 touchdowns en route to the Cats' fifth straight bowl game.

His turnaround season was good enough to warrant the honor as one of the Southeastern Conference's most improved players, according to ESPN blogger Chris Low. Hartline was tabbed one of 10 players alongside fellow UK senior Chris Matthews.

Here is what Low had to say about both:

7. Kentucky senior quarterback Mike Hartline: The suspension for the bowl game was unfortunate, but it doesn't diminish what was a brilliant senior season for Hartline. He'd been plagued by inconsistency throughout much of his career and had the knee injury as a junior, but passed for 3,178 yards and 23 touchdowns while completing 66.2 percent of his passes this season.

8. Kentucky senior receiver Chris Matthews: In his first season at Kentucky after coming over from junior college, Matthews showed flashes. But this season, he emerged as one of the most productive receivers in the league. He was second only to South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery with six touchdown catches against SEC competition.

Kentucky basketball by the numbers

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UK_ND_156_cw.JPGI'm a big believer in statistics and how telling they can be about a team or a player. Now, with college basketball teams well past the halfway points in their regular-season schedules, we have a sample size significant enough to really learn about UK's men's and women's teams.

With that in mind, we're going to be taking a look at some of the more interesting numbers for both teams.

RPI

This is the time of the year when the cottage industry that is bracket analysis and projection really gets going, and the RPI is a central part of that discussion.

As of Sunday, John Calipari's 'Cats are ranked 13th in the nation according to CollegeRPI.com with a strength of schedule ranking of 21. Kentucky's nonconference schedule was among the toughest in the country, but UK's early Southeastern schedule has served to hurt that ranking a bit, due to games against LSU (No. 184) and Auburn (No. 307).

Fortunately, UK's schedule strength figures to be boosted down the stretch, as the Wildcats play six games total against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Florida, each of which is currently ranked in the top 20 of the RPI. If UK can perform well in those games, look for that No. 13 ranking to climb into the top 10, which would help UK improve on its current No. 4 seed as projected by Joe Lunardi of ESPN.

As for UK Hoops, Matthew Mitchell has his team ranked 14th in the RPI with a strength of schedule ranked 21st. With nine of their final 10 games coming against teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI, the Cats will have plenty of opportunity to enhance that ranking. 

Additionally, UK is just 3-4 against RPI top-50 teams and will be looking to add a few quality wins in its four remaining games against top-50 squads like Tennessee, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. With another resume win or two, UK would move up from the No. 5 seed that ESPN is currently projecting it will receive.

Individual statistics

Players from both the men's and women's teams are having stellar statistical seasons. The following players rank in the top 100 nationally in at least one major category. Statistics are through this past Sunday's games.

Terrence Jones
Rebounds per game - 8.9 (48th)
Points per game - 18.3 (56th)
Blocks per game - 1.8 (69th)

Brandon Knight
3-point FGs per game - 2.5 (70th)
Points per game - 17.6 (71st)

Doron Lamb
3-point percentage - 48.1 (35th)
Free-throw percentage - 83.3 (94th)

Josh Harrellson
Rebounds per game - 9.2 (40th)
Blocks per game - 1.7 (80th)

DeAndre Liggins
Assist/turnover Ratio - 2.0 (91st)

UK_Vandy_wbb_38_cw.JPGVictoria Dunlap
Steals per game - 3.4 (4th)
Points per game - 17.3 (51st)
Rebounds per game - 9.2 (51st)
Field-goal percentage - 48.5 (80th)
Blocks per game - 1.6 (93rd)

Keyla Snowden
3-point percentage - 44.4 (11th)
3-point FGs per game - 2.7 (34th)

Ken Pomeroy Statistics 

There are more computer rankings for college basketball out there than any one person could possibly keep track of, but if you aren't already, do yourself a favor and check out Ken Pomeroy's ratings.

If you aren't familiar, Pomeroy evaluates and ranks teams objectively based on possession-by-possession efficiency with field-goal percentage, turnovers, rebounding and free-throw frequency being the primary components. Oftentimes, pace can significantly skew how a player or team is perceived, but looking at things on a possession basis corrects for that.

For example, Wisconsin scores just 70.4 points per game, tying them for 146th in the nation in points per game. Looking at this stat alone, you would probably conclude that they are a middle of the road offensive team. However, Wisconsin plays the slowest pace of any of the 345 teams in Division I basketball; its adjusted tempo rating, according to Pomeroy, is 58.0, meaning the Badgers play nearly 10 fewer possessions per game than the average team.

Looking purely at how efficiently Wisconsin plays offense each possession, the Badgers are in fact one of the best offensive teams in the country. In fact, Pomeroy rates them as the second-best offensive team in college basketball behind only Pittsburgh (another team that plays at a very deliberate pace). They shoot the ball well, rarely commit turnovers and get a number of offensive rebounds, all of which pave the way for Wisconsin to be a very good offensive team in spite of the fact it doesn't score a ton of points per game.

With that little treatise out of the way, let's take a look at what Pomeroy's ratings tell us about this year's Kentucky team thus far. (Unfortunately, Pomeroy ranks only men's teams)

Overall, Kentucky is the sixth-ranked team in Division I, behind only Ohio State, Kansas, Duke and Texas, in that order. That's obviously a much higher ranking than either of the human polls, so Big Blue Nation should like seeing that, but what about this makes Pomeroy's ratings so partial to the Wildcats?

Offensively, UK is the ninth-best squad in the country and the reasons why are pretty simple (and also pretty similar to why Wisconsin is so good offensively). UK commits turnovers on just 16.2 percent of its possessions, which is fifth best in DI. UK also shoots the ball well and hits the offensive boards hard, leading to well-above-average ratings in both departments.

The one hole that UK has shown on offense, according to Pomeroy, is its ability (or lack thereof) to get to the foul line. This is a topic I have heard discussed before about this team, so it's interesting to see it borne out in the stats. UK is 184th in the nation at getting to the foul line, according to Pomeroy,

Jones and Liggins are the only two Wildcats to rank in the top 500 players nationally in Free Throw Rate (this stat is exactly what it sounds like it is). What I take away from that is that players like Knight, Lamb and Darius Miller need to be more aggressive in taking the ball to the hoop through contact.

On defense, UK is also highly rated, checking in at 11th in the country in defensive efficiency. The Wildcats' defensive calling card is limiting good looks at the basket, as UK is fourth in effective field-goal percentage. Kentucky is also solid in limiting opportunities for both offensive rebounds and trips to the foul line, ranking above average in both departments.

The one thing UK doesn't do so well defensively is force turnovers. Kentucky's opponents are committing turnovers on just 18.7 percent of their possessions, which puts UK at a paltry 266th nationally

With that said, this isn't as big of a cause for concern as you would think. None of Calipari's last three teams (two at Memphis, one at Kentucky) have ranked better than 89th nationally in defensive turnover percentage, including last year when UK was 218th. If you can remember, that team was pretty darn good. 

UK could stand to force a turnover or two more per game, but philosophically, Coach Cal's teams don't need to be forcing all kinds of turnovers to be effective on defense.

UK Hoops is back on track

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UK_Vandy_wbb_64_cw.JPGMatthew Mitchell has been in a different mood lately.

He's back to joking around with the media, he's smiling more and he was downright giddy in an interview Tuesday on the signing of Connecticut transfer Samarie Walker.

Clearly, things are going well for the Kentucky women's basketball team of late. That three-game losing streak two weeks ago that had Mitchell steaming mad seems like it was two years ago.

The Cats are now riding a four-game winning streak heading into a road date with Ole Miss on Thursday at 9 p.m. In the win over Vanderbilt, Kentucky pounded the Commodores on the glass, dominated the game defensively and thrashed Vandy by 10 points.

Flash back to UK's Elite Eight run last year and you'd have a tough time telling the difference.
But two weeks ago, that wasn't always the case. Overcome by youthful mistakes, offensive inconsistencies and a tough-three game stretch, Kentucky fell into a major midseason funk.

The Cats lost three straight to Duke, Arkansas and Georgia, plummeting in the polls from 10th to 19th. Mitchell was furious with his team's effort in practice and the play of the point guard position.

In desperate search of answers, Mitchell made two significant moves that led to the current turnaround.

The first was to solve the issue at point guard. Instead of relying on two inexperienced freshmen to run the offense, Mitchell went with his backup plan, A'dia Mathies. Last year's Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year slid from small forward to the point, and just like that, the offense started to run more smoothly in the half court.

The second thing Mitchell did was examine what he was doing wrong. Instead of digging frustrations any deeper, Mitchell stepped back and took a different approach with his team.

Realizing his team wasn't executing as well as it should, Mitchell moved practices into Memorial Coliseum in order to bring out big-screen TVs. Using those video screens next to the practice court, Mitchell was able to show the players firsthand what they were missing.

"Desperation was where the idea originated," Mitchell said last week. "You just are racking your brain trying to figure out something because we worked very hard. The staff worked hard. The players worked hard. Just for some reason we just could not make the connection. It was just so glaring and we had so much to try to correct (after the loss to Georgia) and the kids seemed so out of sync that I just felt like the immediacy of us watching it, then going to do it seemed like the right thing to do. The players have responded well to it."

As much as those moves worked, the real difference might have been a change in mentality.

Although the Cats had gotten off the losing track by the time they traveled to Florida, everything seemed to click when UK fell behind by 10 points to Florida late in the second half.
Kentucky stormed back to win that game and the confidence has been soaring ever since.

"I think that the Florida win was a great win for us," Mitchell said. "For us not to play our best for the entire 40 minutes and still be able to come out with a win, I think that everybody will have a hyped sense of awareness that we can't afford to have stretches in the game where you are not focused and you are not playing well and you are not producing. That's really what happened to us at Florida."

Freshman Jennifer O'Neill has found a groove, Mathies is excelling at the point and Victoria Dunlap continues to dominate games. All of it came together in the win over Vanderbilt, perhaps UK's most complete win of the year.

"It sure looks like we are gaining maturity," Mitchell said. "I was so pleased with that win against Vanderbilt. That was such a good win, and they I thought showed a lot of maturity, and they were emphatic enough to get a tough, tough win on the road and understand that we had to come in here and prepare for Vanderbilt. They did a good job.

"The thing that I told them yesterday was if we zoom out a little bit and look at the big picture, with five weeks left in the regular season, I think we have room to improve a tremendous amount. I think a lot of the teams this time of the year, they have gotten what they can get out of them and they sort of just have to get through the rest of the season. I think that we are still improving, so that's exciting on one hand."

Now, the obstacle for the Cats is to find out how to sustain success on the road. Of the Cats' four losses this year, three have come on the road, with last week's Florida game nearly being the fourth.

A freshman-laded roster was partly to blame for Kentucky's inconsistencies on the road, but Mitchell is hoping the Cats have finally grasped the difference in playing away from home.

"We had some good stretches and then we would on a four- or five-minute drought," Mitchell said of UK's latest road game. "Those are the times in the game which we are trying to progress through and not have these long stretches where we don't score. I think that Sunday, we should have gained some confidence. They were very energetic in practice yesterday so hopefully we will do better on the road this time."

Mitchell on Ole Miss ...


Mitchell on Walker ...

Ex-Cats Johnson, Masthay earns awards in NFL

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It's been quite the season for former Kentucky football players in the NFL.

Jacob Tamme stepped in at tight end for the injured Dallas Clark in Indianapolis, Wesley Woodyard has become a fixture of the Broncos defense in Denver and Trevard Lindley came up with a game-clinching interception for the Philadelphia Eagles near the end of the season.

Those were just a few of the success stories for former Kentucky players. That latest achievements for former Cats were Steve Johnson and Tim Masthay.

Johnson was recently tabbed the Vizio Top Value Performer for the 2010 season. Johnson caught 82 balls this year for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns while making just $470,000.

You can read more about Johnson's award here.

Meanwhile, as most of you already know, Masthay had quite the punting performance Sunday for the Green Bay Packers, who are headed to the Super Bowl after defeating the Chicago Bears.

Masthay was named Special Teams Player of the Week by SI.com writer Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback after Masthay booted five of eight punts inside the 20-yard line against the Bears. Masthay ended with a 41.8-yard average.

Here is what King had to say about Masthay's day:

Under the circumstances, I thought Masthay had one of the best postseason games I'd ever seen a punter have. With a wind-chill temperature of 7 degrees, and punting in 14-mph swirls, Masthay had eight punts for a 41.8-yard average, and held Devin Hester to 16 return yards on three punts. Five times he pinned Chicago inside the 20. Masthay has a beautiful backspin on his punts when he wants to make the ball come back to him on the short ones. Every one of his punts either landed inside the 20 or was fielded there. Here's where his eight punts landed: Bears 13, Bears 3, Bears 11, Bears 16, Bears 11, Bears end zone, Bears 10, Bears 18. Brilliant performance.

We're hoping to talk to Masthay sometime this week about heading to the Super Bowl. Keep your eyes peeled over the next couple of days for that story.

Web Wednesday: inaugural edition

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Each Wednesday here at Cat Scratches, we're going to take a look back at the latest week's news in UK Athletics from around the Web..

Best on the 'net

UK Hoops: UConn transfer Samarie Walker "very, very talented" (Lexington Herald-Leader)

When Walker is able to play for UK next season, she will have an immediate impact, said Tom Jenkins, who runs the Ohio Girls' Basketball Report. Jenkins has known Walker since she was in sixth grade.

"Kentucky's a great fit for her, and she's a great fit for Kentucky," Jenkins said Saturday. "The style that (coach Matthew Mitchell) has developed there: playing 94 feet with exceptional athletes, it fits Samarie perfectly. ... She has the size, the speed, the athleticism. She has it all."


Men's basketball: Calipari raves about his team's upside (Louisville Courier-Journal)

Calipari: "I think there's no team in America that has more upside than this team, based on the fact that individual players, I believe, aren't playing to the level I believe they're going to play in another month or so."

UK_Ark_gymnastics_18_cw.JPGWomen's gymnastics: "Gymkats' overcoming fears on beam (Kentucky Kernel)

The Gymkats have had solid results on vault, uneven bars and floor so far this year. They are now focusing their efforts on an improved team performance on the balance beam.

"Beam has always been a struggle for us at Kentucky and my main goal is figuring out why that is and how we can fix it," assistant coach Heather Hite said. "I think that we made a lot of steps toward fixing it as far as if we are falling, we're still getting good scores."


Men's basketball: Calipari molds style to fit young team (Sporting News)

"We're getting better," UK coach John Calipari said, "but we may be a little different team than I think. We might be an execution team that has to grind it a little bit more than I would like, but if that's how we have to play, then that's how we play."


Football: Minter planning transition to 3-4 defense (Herald-Leader)

"My ideal vision is what we could call a 3-4 with a hybrid linebacker who could also put his hand on the ground," (Minter) said. "That way if we needed to go with four down (linemen), we could get in and out of it without having to substitute."

Men's basketball: Lexington mayor Gray calls for Rupp redesign panel (Herald-Leader)

"There are many people who believe the civic center's arena and the convention complex need a total redesign and renovation to bring the facilities up to competitive standards," Gray said. "It needs to be the best -- state of the art. Making it the best is a responsible investment in our Lexington brand."


Wildcats in the pros

Chuck Hayes relishes challenge of guarding NBA's best post scorers (Houston Chronicle)

"He's tough," (Orlando Magic center Dwight) Howard said. "He's like a tree stump. You just have to shoot over him."

John Wall named Kentucky Sportsman of the Year (Herald-Leader)

...Wall was both basketball star and cultural phenomenon. In his one year in Kentucky, he launched a dance craze, became a lyrical staple in rap songs and earned first-team All-America honors by leading a 35-3 UK team.

Tim Masthay neutralizes NFL's most dangerous return man (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

"Tim played a huge role," receiver Greg Jennings said. "I don't know if he understands it. It will probably be overlooked, but for him to kick the ball the way he did and to keep it out of the hands of the most feared guy on the football field, it was a huge job by him."

2011 NBA Lottery (ESPN.com)

ESPN.com has Kentucky's Terrence Jones and Enes Kanter projected as top-five picks in its first 2011 NBA Lottery projections.

News from UKathletics.com

Men's basketball: Brandon Knight named SEC Freshman of the Week

UK Hoops: Samarie Walker too good to pass up

Football: Commonwealth attendance ranks in nation's top 25 yet again

Men's tennis: Roberts' tiebreak win No. 12 UK in win over No. 46 Indiana

Video of the week

Terrence Jones had a number of thunderous dunks against South Carolina on Saturday, but this ambidextrous crossover and throw down on Sam Muldrow was one to remember.

UK Hoops back on the move

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That three-game losing streak is now safely in the rearview window.

After dropping out of the top 10 and plummeting all the way to 19th, the UK women's basketball team is on a four-game winning streak and is restarting its climb in the polls.

The Cats checked in at No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 18 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll.

AP Top 25
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Baylor (24) 18-1 956
2 Connecticut (13) 18-1 942
3 Duke (1) 19-0 884
4 Stanford (1) 16-2 871
5 Tennessee 19-2 814
6 Texas A&M 17-1 793
7 Xavier 16-2 732
8 West Virginia 19-1 685
9 Notre Dame 17-4 641
10 Michigan State 18-2 613
11 UCLA 16-2 575
12 DePaul 19-2 544
13 Oklahoma 15-3 478
14 Maryland 16-3 456
15 North Carolina 17-3 405
16 Miami (FL) 18-1 372
17 Kentucky 15-4 335
18 Iowa 15-4 331
19 Georgetown 15-5 258
20 Georgia 16-3 210
21 Florida State 15-4 206
22 Green Bay 18-1 194
23 Iowa State 13-5 133
24 Ohio State 12-6 89
25 Georgia Tech 17-5 43

ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll

RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Baylor (20) 18-1 761
2 Connecticut (9) 18-1 748
3 Duke (2) 19-0 715
4 Stanford 16-2 683
5 Texas A&M 17-1 629
6 Tennessee 19-2 628
7 Xavier 16-2 583
8 West Virginia 19-1 546
9 Notre Dame 17-4 503
10 UCLA 16-2 493
11 Michigan State 18-2 454
12 Oklahoma 15-3 412
13 Maryland 16-3 387
14 North Carolina 17-3 346
15 Florida State 16-4 325
16 Green Bay 18-1 313
17 DePaul 19-2 302
18 Kentucky 15-4 271
19 Georgetown 15-5 209
20 Iowa State 13-5 178
21 Iowa 15-5 135
22 Miami (FL) 18-2 112
23 Ohio State 13-6 63
24 Georgia 16-3 59
25 Texas Tech 16-3 50

Jan. 23 Performance of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Jan. 23:

Women's basketball: Victoria Dunlap

  • Averaged a team-high 14.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists in UK's two SEC wins over Florida and Vanderbilt last week.
  • Hit a go-head jumper with 44 seconds left and then stepped up and hit the game-winning free throws with 10 seconds left in the game to give UK its first SEC road win and first win at Florida since 2006.
  • Grabbed a team-high eight rebounds vs. Florida.
  • With six steals during the week and 268 in her career, she moved up to No. 4 on UK's all-time steals list, passing Rita Adams (267 from 1999-2003).
  • With 977 career rebounds, she moved into second place on UK's all-time rebounding list, passing Jennifer Humphrey who had 964 rebounds from 2003-07.
  • Charted a near double-double with a team-high-tying 17 points and game-high nine rebounds in UK's win over Vanderbilt. Also charted a game-high four steals.
  • Has scored in double figures 16 times this season, including seven in a row.

Men's basketball: Brandon Knight

Knight, a 6-3 guard from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., averaged 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals in games at Alabama and at South Carolina. Knight scored in double-figures for the 13th and 14th straight games last week and recorded his eighth 20-point game with a game-high 23 points in UK's win at South Carolina. The eight 20-point games ties for third most by a freshman in school history, one off the record set by Patrick Patterson and Rex Chapman. Knight also pulled down a career-high seven rebounds in win at South Carolina. He has hit multiple 3-pointers in four straight games, hitting 13 triples over the last four games.

Women's basketball: Jennifer O'Neill

  • Averaged 12.5 points off the bench in just 21.5 minutes per game in UK's two SEC wins over Florida and Vanderbilt last week.
  • Came off the bench to score a career-high 15 points in UK's first SEC road win and first win at Florida since 2006.
  • Scored five straight points in the final four minutes in helping UK claw back from a 10-point deficit with just 5:29 remaining in the game.
  • Hit a career-high three 3-pointers vs. the Gators.
  • Scored 10 points in a reserve role in UK's win over Vanderbilt while also grabbing a steal and a block.
  • Perfect from the free-throw line during the week, hitting all five attempts.
  • Has scored in double figures in UK's last three SEC wins.

 

4306934.jpegFor those of you hoping Kentucky gets a new or renovated basketball arena in the near future - and I'm guessing that's just about all of you - there's good news: Lexington Mayor Jim Gray may have put a process in motion for getting one.

On Tuesday, Gray called for a study to determine the feasibility of redesigning and renovating Rupp Arena. Gray said he will appoint a task force in the next two weeks to conduct the study, according to a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

While Gray didn't specifically call for a new arena, he didn't rule out the possibility of a new one if the study finds that the current facility is no longer sufficient.

"The first step should be to examine the existing facility to determine whether it could be utilized or whether it could not be utilized," Gray said, according to the Herald-Leader story.

University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd, Jr. issued a statement Tuesday asking that UK be a part of the process.

"We appreciate Mayor Gray's interest in moving the Lexington Center to a new phase in the life of this facility," Todd said. "As the primary tenant of Rupp Arena, the university is very interested in being a part of the planning process. While past studies of a possible Rupp Arena renovation have identified several challenges, we are open to new ideas and participating in those discussions. We would encourage every idea to be considered, including the concept of a new arena."
 
According to the Herald-Leader story, Gray said Louisville's new KFC Yum! Center would be a "competitive benchmark" if a renovation was considered.

To read about the latest men's basketball facility news, including the thought of making Rupp Arena the "Wrigley Field of college basketball," check out Beverly Fortune's full story at the Herald-Leader's Web site.

From the Pressbox with Tom Leach (Jan. 25)

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Some of the rival coaches in the Southeastern Conference have suggested that this year's Kentucky team is harder to guard than the one that stormed through league play with only two losses last season. 
 
ESPN analyst and former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried doesn't buy it.

"When you're coaching, even if you're playing a team that's 0-20, they look like the Lakers, but I don't think so (that Kentucky is harder to guard)," Gottfried said last week on "The Leach Report" radio show. "I think this is a tough team to guard because they shoot it better. But you talk about trying to stop penetration from (John) Wall and (Eric) Bledsoe, with (DeMarcus) Cousins inside, and the bench they had last year, this is a different deal."

Gottfried said that group didn't play like freshmen, especially away from home.

"Those freshmen last year were phenomenal (on the road)," Gottfried said. "You're walking into environments where you're scouted well, and this (Kentucky) team has got some weaknesses. Those freshmen have to learn how to play well for 40 minutes on the road. That's the next step for them. There's not going to be a lot of easy wins for Kentucky."

So to compare the two teams would be unfair.

"I don't think this is a great team and I don't think the talent level is near where it was a year ago, and that's what people need to remember," Gottfried said. "They'll have nights when they're sensational and they'll have nights when they play like freshmen. When you look at what they lost and you look at the fact that they're back in the top 20, that's amazing what John (Calipari) has done."

By missing out on getting Enes Kanter onto the roster, Gottfried said the Cats are a little "shorthanded" in the paint. That can happen when players leave after one year, but the coach believes Calipari's teams will have balance in early departures and three- or four-year players the longer Cal is at UK.

Gottfried said he's "having fun for now" as a TV analyst and that he enjoys watching how other coaches run their practices, including Calipari.

"What he does so well, I think, is he gets players to play a high level," Gottfried said. "In practice, he's in control. He's demanding but positive at the same time; very organized and they play hard. I have enjoyed watching his teams practice."

As for the mini-controversy that arose when Calipari was caught on TV using expletives to criticize Terrence Jones in the Alabama loss, Gottfried believes it was much ado about very little. He said if a player believes his coach sincerely cares about him or her as a person, then the player is much more likely to take any kind of criticism the right way.

"Without question, players want a coach to help them be good," Gottfried said, noting it's a matter of "trust" for the players. "He (Jones) trusts (Calipari's) motives. He knows John Calipari is not trying to embarrass him. He knows John Calipari wants him to play a high level, and if I've got to stick my foot up your fanny (figuratively), one way or another I'm going to do it because the goal here is to help you, the player. That's what players want.

"(Salty language) happens a lot and you catch it on television. It's a little bigger deal (when the TV catches it), but players want to be good and they want to be coached -- the good ones do -- and that's what Terrence Jones wants."

Given Calipari's skill at getting players ready to succeed at the NBA level, a few expletives along the way seems like a small price to pay for success.

"There's confidence as a player with Cal's track record," Calipari said. "I may not like how this guy is getting after me, but I understand at the end of the day, if I can be like those guys, I'm all in."

Walker too good to pass up for UK Hoops

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4475984.jpegIn the days leading up to Monday's official announcement that freshman superstar Samarie Walker was leaving Connecticut and transferring to Kentucky, much was made about Walker's commitment, or lack thereof, to basketball.

In a statement from UConn's Geno Auriemma, the legendary coach said, "The coaching staff has known for quite some time that Samarie is struggling with her commitment level to basketball."

Auriemma has also said Walker has been losing her passion for basketball since the 10th grade.

Make of that what you will, Walker was too good of a player for head coach Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky women's basketball team to pass up.

Whatever personal issues Walker is going through right now - all of which would be unfair for this writer to speculate on - when a kid like Walker comes knocking at your door, you answer. You shake their hand. You let them in.

And that's exactly what Mitchell did. Upon UK's return from Thursday night's Florida win, the coaching staff received a release indicating Walker was going to transfer.

After recruiting Walker heavily out of West Carrollton, Ohio, and with the familiarity between the program and player, Mitchell wasted to time in pulling the trigger.

"We were on the phone with her that day as soon as we got the release," Mitchell said. "It moved pretty quickly after that. She was at a spot where she had to make a pretty quick decision, so we were fortunate that we already had a relationship with her, she had been on campus, it's close to her home and she had a comfort level with us."

Just about every coach in America would salivate for the chance to have the services of Walker. Once rated the top prospect in the 2010 class, Walker was ranked the 10th-best player in ESPN HoopGurlz final rankings.

Schools like Rutgers, Duke, Georgia, Maryland and Kentucky all made a run at the prized 6-foot-1 prospect last year, but UConn, the game's top program over the last decade, won the battle.

Or so it seemed.

Walker played in 17 games for the Huskies this season, averaging 6.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 18.8 minutes per game. She was a part of UConn's record-breaking win streak, which reached 90 wins before Stanford finally ended it. Walker was expected to be the centerpiece of any future UConn runs.

But for whatever reason, Walker just never felt at home in Storrs, Conn. Media speculation has centered on the belief that Walker wanted to play closer to her home and family in West Carrollton, and Mitchell said that, along with the familiarity of the UK program, certainly played a factor.

"Transfers are just a part of college life," Mitchell said. "We've been very fortunate that we've had Crystal Riley and Keyla Snowden come to us by way of transfer. It's been a great thing for our program."

Mitchell did not seem at all concerned about Walker's commitment to basketball or her passion level.

"I don't think that she would have wanted to act so quickly (if she wasn't committed to basketball)," Mitchell said. "She had to get a lot done in a short period of time for this to work out, so that doesn't signal to me that she's not motivated. I just think it doesn't work out sometimes. Sometimes you make a decision that doesn't work out in life and you have to regroup and go a different direction. I'm not anymore concerned about that than I am with any of our players. I made sure the passion level is right and the commitment is right."

When you consider what UK will lose next year, Walker could fill the gap from this season to next. An athletic, lengthy, swing forward, Walker, at least physically, fits the mold for Mitchell's full-court, up-tempo style of play.

"She was just real aggressive and very skilled offensively," Mitchell said of what he saw from Walker when he recruited her in high school. "She scored a lot, rebounded the ball a lot. She's clearly a talented player."

Though the Cats will lose Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Victoria Dunlap next year, A'dia Mathies, Keyla Snowden and a crop full of freshmen, including Jennifer O'Neill and Bernisha Pinkett, will return. When you throw in the additions of Walker and 2011 signess Azia Bishop and Bria Goss, Kentucky may not miss a beat next year.

"She definitely has the talent that helps soften that blow," Mitchell said. "I'll let everybody know when I see another Victoria Dunlap walk through the door, so I don't know when that will happen. I expect that void will be filled by a collection of people rather than just one person, but (Walker) will give us some depth in the front court that we'll definitely need."

Walker won't be eligible until after the fall semester due to NCAA transfer rules, but she will be allowed to practice with team immediately. Similar to the transfers of Riley and Snowden and the deferred enrollment of Pinkett, Walker will have plenty of time to get acclimated to the program.

"It's been a stressful few weeks for her, and now she can come in and work hard every day in practice, keep her basketball skills sharp while also having time to see what the style is and get integrated into the program without the added pressure of playing and figuring all that out at the drop of a hat," Mitchell said. "I think it's a really good situation for her and I think we've seen good results with people (in the past)."

When you take that all into consideration, whatever commitment issues she may or may not be having seem worth the risk. This was simply an opportunity just too good for Kentucky to pass up.

UK slips in latest polls, Bracketology

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The Kentucky men's basketball team slid to No. 14 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 and No. 16 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll.

A loss to a sub-200 RPI team will do that to you.

UK also slipped to a No. 4 seed in this week's Bracketology. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Kentucky playing Harvard in Tampa, Fla. Five Southeastern Conference teams make Lunardi's projections this week.

AP Top 25
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Ohio State (63) 20-0 1,623
2 Pittsburgh (1) 19-1 1,528
3 Duke (1) 18-1 1,490
4 San Diego State 20-0 1,386
5 Connecticut 16-2 1,314
6 Kansas 18-1 1,293
7 Texas 16-3 1,267
8 Villanova 17-2 1,199
9 Syracuse 18-2 1,095
9 Brigham Young 19-1 1,095
11 Missouri 17-3 887
12 Purdue 17-3 881
13 Texas A&M 17-2 847
14 Kentucky 15-4 709
15 Notre Dame 16-4 691
16 Minnesota 14-4 656
17 Wisconsin 15-4 614
18 Washington 15-4 584
19 Vanderbilt 14-4 317
20 Illinois 14-6 279
21 Georgetown 14-5 276
22 Florida State 15-5 218
23 Louisville 15-4 203
24 Florida 15-4 169
25 Michigan State 12-7 97


ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll

RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Ohio State (31) 20-0 775
2 Pittsburgh 19-1 727
3 Duke 18-1 712
4 San Diego State 20-0 677
5 Connecticut 16-2 624
6 Kansas 18-1 618
7 Villanova 17-2 580
8 Texas 16-3 563
9 Brigham Young 19-1 533
10 Syracuse 18-2 498
11 Texas A&M 17-2 436
12 Purdue 17-3 421
13 Missouri 17-3 398
14 Notre Dame 16-4 364
15 Wisconsin 15-4 323
16 Kentucky 15-4 307
17 Washington 15-4 271
18 Minnesota 14-4 264
19 Louisville 15-4 173
20 Georgetown 14-5 140
21 Illinois 14-6 136
22 Vanderbilt 14-4 74
23 Florida 15-4 67
24 Saint Mary's 17-3 58
25 Utah State 18-2 57

SEC coaches' teleconference notes

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SEC Circle Gold Letters on White Background.jpgThe UK men's basketball team doesn't play again until Saturday when the Cats host Georgia. With an open date and Georgia next on the schedule, head coach John Calipari appeared on the Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference to discuss what his team will be doing this week and the upcoming game with Georgia.

  • Calipari said Georgia just flat out beat them in the game a couple of weeks ago in Athens, Ga. "They player rougher than us," Calipari said. "They played physical. They were good. From (Trey) Thompkins to their guard play to their physical defense, we couldn't drive the ball and get a clean look. We weren't playing through bumps. They manhandled us."
  • Early in the season, Calipari said freshman guard Terrence Jones had the capability of being the best player in the country and Jones said he came to UK to be coached by Calipari and learn from him. Calipari was asked how Jones has responded to his coaching. "He's a great kid," Calipari said. "There are times I just look at him and I go, 'I love you, you know.' And he goes, 'I know, and I love you, too.' He is the greatest kid. He's young. He doesn't play with the kind of desire and fight that he needs to the whole game. When he does play that way, people look at him and say, 'Wow.' My job is to get him to play that way the whole time and have that mentality."
  • Jones isn't the only player that Calipari wants more from. Calipari said he doesn't believe Darius Miller is "scratching" where he needs to be, DeAndre Liggins isn't playing well offensively, Doron Lamb isn't playing with the type of motor he should be and Brandon Knight doesn't run the team the way he's capable of. The fact that Calipari isn't satisfied with their play is a good thing, he said. "I can go up and down this team and tell you this team's upside is enormous because individual players are playing 50, 60 percent capable of what they're doing and they're doing everything in spurts," Calipari said.
  • With the week off, Calipari said they'll do a few things differently. They'll work a little bit on their press, execution and situational things. "Situational things, probably more than any team I've coached in the last five years, this team needs it," Calipari said. "You would think they know this is a situation, we've got to get a great shot or get fouled. We don't know that right now. We're just taking a play. 'It's my turn,' or 'I'm going to take a hero 3.'"
  • "Hero" play was a term that came up a lot with last year's team. John Wall repeatedly used to stress the importance of not making those "hero" plays. Calipari was asked if he considered Jones' driving, one-hand flush on Sam Muldrow midway through the first half was one of those. "No," Calipari said. "A hero's play is you shoot a 3 or you fade away; a shot you have little chance at making. That's a hero's play. If you go at the basket and you try to dunk on somebody, that's what I want to see."
  • Georgia head coach Mark Fox was briefly asked about Kentucky. With Florida coming up Tuesday, the Gators are Fox's primary focus for now, but Fox didn't sound like he'll change much of the game plan after the Bulldogs handed Kentucky a 77-70 loss in Stegeman Coliseum. "I can't tell you I've really decided yet (on how we'll attack Kentucky)," Fox said. "We're so focused on the next game. We did play well here against Kentucky. It was their first road game in the league and we played well. We had the advantage of the home crowd and everything else in our favor. I think when we go over there, (it's important) that we understand that we'll have to play mistake free. As we get deeper in the week, we'll make some decisions on how we want to play and look back on how we played the first time."

Matthew Mitchell

Victoria Dunlap, Kastine Evans, Bernisha Pinkett

Live blog: UK Hoops vs. Vanderbilt

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UK captures elusive SEC road win

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Last year's trip to Columbia, S.C., spelled devastation. This year's visit was all about vindication.

Traveling to the same place that ended Kentucky's hopes of an undefeated season, the UK men's basketball team may have restored some hopes with its first Southeastern Conference road win of the year, a 67-58 the-score-was-closer-than-the-game-really-was victory over South Carolina on Saturday.

The Cats can now breathe a considerable sigh of relief as they squashed some pretty significant worries about their ability to tough out a win on the road.

"It's a good win for us," head coach John Calipari said. "We played pretty well."

Perhaps seldom-used guard Jon Hood said it best Friday before the Cats left for Columbia when he said, "You've got to go in, get up early and get out."

That's exactly what Kentucky did in a hostile environment.

Playing with the type of swagger that fans have been clamoring for on the road, UK outmuscled, outhustled and outplayed the Gamecocks from start to finish.

"We really needed to show we could win on the road to prove to ourselves that we can do this," said freshman forward Terrence Jones, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Jones, returning to the starting lineup for the first time in four games, set the tone early with three ferocious dunks in the first nine minutes of the first half. His crossover, one-hand flush in the face of shot blocker Sam Muldrow put UK up 20-12 midway through the first half.

The Cats hardly looked back.

"I thought our execution in the first half to start the game to get up 10 was as good as it's been with this team," Calipari said.

The lead ballooned to as much as 18 in the second half and Kentucky threatened to blow the Gamecocks out of the gym in arguably South Carolina's biggest regular-season game of the year. With the exception of a late flurry from the Gamecocks, it was as impressive of a win as UK has notched all year long considering the circumstances.

A loss would have put the Cats a game under .500 in the Southeastern Conference at 2-3, two games behind South Carolina and Florida, which improved to 4-1 in the league Saturday. Instead, UK (15-4, 3-2 SEC) is right back in the thick of the race, sitting one game behind the Gators for the Eastern Division lead.

The veteran play of Darius Miller had as much to do with the win as anything. Playing some of the best basketball of his Kentucky career, Miller scored a season-high 18 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots.

"He was aggressive," Calipari said. "That's all I'm asking him to do. You don't have to make every shot. He had four turnovers and about three balls jerked out of his hands. At the end of the day I want everything. I want him to grab all those balls (and) be tough with it so you don't turn it over and then play aggressive. The reason is I think he's that good. Now today he looked like one of the best players in our league. That's what I think he is."

Performances like Saturday's underscore what makes Calipari so frustrated with him. There have been times this season when Miller has mentally floated in and out of the game, and then there are games like Saturday's where he shows the potential to dominate games.

It seems - and Miller has displayed stretches like this before - that Miller is starting to gain more consistency. Over the last four games he's averaging 13.8 points and 4.8 rebounds.

The Cats will need that type of experienced play throughout the SEC season.

"When Darius plays like he did tonight, he's the best player in our conference at our position," Jones said. "It's hard to guard him and it's hard to guard us because it gives us another person that can shoot the ball and drive to kick."

Of course, much of the credit should also be pointed at another veteran leader, junior guard DeAndre Liggins.

He scored just one point in 36 minutes of play, but Liggins once again stepped up to a defensive challenge and shut down the opposing team's top offensive threat. South Carolina freshman guard Bruce Ellington, who is already being touted as the next Devan Downey, was limited to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting.

"He did a great job and he always does a great job of locking down the other team's best player," Miller said. "We can always depend on him, especially on the defensive end to lock somebody down. We feed off that."

The South Carolina win isn't enough to erase the nightmares from the Alabama and Georgia road losses, but it did show there is more toughness to this team than what it displayed in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

"We're trying to figure out the team," Calipari said. "I still haven't figured them out yet."

Thanks to South Carolina for providing the video.

UK_MissSt_wbb_20_cw.JPGMatthew Mitchell has had some choice words for the program's first-ever All-American, freshman point guard Jennifer O'Neill.

Mitchell has criticized O'Neill for her practice efforts, said Thursday night she doesn't know her behind from her elbow and even compared her to a one-way player as recently as Friday.

But that's mild compared to what Mitchell has labeled O'Neill in practice.

"(He told me) I'm the worst defender in the country," O'Neill said.

Ouch. That's not necessarily coddling the most highly touted player high school player to ever sign with the Kentucky women's basketball team.

It's all been a part of the rapid adjustment O'Neill, a consensus national top-30 player in the 2010 high school signing class, has had to endure this season. Thought to be a possible replacement for injured point guard Amber Smith, O'Neill has played sparingly this year and often times been the center of Mitchell's displeasure for practice habits.

Has it been a tough adjustment for O'Neill, widely regarded as one of the nation's top point guards coming out of high school? Try a rude awakening.

"It's something I'm not used to," O'Neill admitted. "A lot of the times when he would say it, sometimes it would make you really wonder, really question yourself like, 'Well, can I play defense? Am I good enough to play defense?' "

Mitchell was asked the same thing Friday, whether or not it's just a case that O'Neill can't play defense.

"No, no, no, no, no, and that's what upsets me so much," Mitchell said. "If it were a physical issue, then you're at a different spot and you're not as upset. But like last night, we're pressuring them and Florida gives a little bit of what the officials call a displacement and Jen just falls back 15 steps. Can you get some toughness about you can you square the ball up? Can you stay between the ball and the basket? That kind of stuff that I know she's strong enough to take but it's just not all coming together for her.

"But it's getting better."

And as of late, it's started to show. Although O'Neill still catches the ire of her head coach as much or more than any other player on the team, she's starting to turn it around and fall into the head coach's good graces.

After struggling to get off the bench earlier this season, she's averaged 14.4 minutes over her last seven games, including 24 minutes and 22 minutes in her last two games, respectively.

In those two games - wins over Mississippi State and Florida - O'Neill's offensive talents have started to shine through. She scored 11 points in the victory over the Bulldogs and netted a career-high 15 in Wednesday's come-from-behind win over Florida, a victory Mitchell said could potentially define the season.

"We would not have won the game without her offense (Thursday) night," Mitchell said. "I thought at the end of the game, what she did for us, she wanted to win and she's not afraid with her offensive talent, and her all-American mentally took over because she wanted the ball. She wasn't afraid at all and she actually did an OK job guarding at the end, so I think it was a step forward for her."

O'Neill has hit five 3-pointers over the last two games, displaying a talented, un-teachable ability to roll off screens and get off a shot in one smooth motion.

Mitchell wouldn't go as far as to say she's starting to "get it," but he has been encouraged with her progress.

"She's gone from getting nothing to some level of understanding of what we need her to do," Mitchell said earlier in the week. "It's exciting on one hand. You see what she can do for you offensively. She's just so supremely talented."

Still, defense continues to be an area O'Neill needs to make significant strides. Known as a late bloomer out of high school that caught on to the offensive part of the game quickly, O'Neill is hoping - and believing - she can catch on defensively soon.

"(Mitchell) wants to see me be more intense, pay attention to the fundamentals more," O'Neill said. "Sometimes I have a habit of staying with my man and not going to help side. He really wants me to understand when I'm supposed to go to man side, when I'm supposed to stay with my man, knowing personnel, just wanting me to give it my all and be as intense as I could be."

Mitchell thinks the defensive lapses tend to be mental, an assessment O'Neill wouldn't necessarily disagree with.

"I definitely thought that I would struggle with it when I got here because in high school it wasn't a big deal," O'Neill said. "It's something I'm not used to."

"O'Neill hit an emotional low about a month ago. She was at the point where she had accepted where she was at and questioned whether she could get better," Mitchell said.

Bouncing out of that and earning playing time wasn't easy for O'Neill. She said she relied on the encouragement of her coaches and teammates, particularly senior Victoria Dunlap, to bounce back and light a spark underneath her. 

"It was frustrating, but at the end of the day, they were still there for me and they were willing to help me in any way possible," O'Neill said. "I was just grateful for that and took advantage of that."

Mitchell said he's been extremely hard on O'Neill, admitting that he's maybe been a little too tough. After all, hearing you're the "worst defender in the country" isn't exactly positive reinforcement.

But to her credit, O'Neill has taken most of the criticism in stride and listened to the teaching moments.

"I think he says it to motivate me," O'Neill said.

Lately, it's starting to work.

Snowden expected to play: After missing the last three games with a stress fracture in one of her toes, junior guard Keyla Snowden is expected to play Sunday against Vanderbilt.

Snowden did not practice Friday but was expected to practice Saturday. Barring a clean bill of health from X-rays, which Mitchell doesn't foresee, Snowden's practice time will be "modified" the rest of the season.

"She'll just get in enough for scouting purposes and that's of great concern because she really benefits from practice," Mitchell said. "We'll just have to see what we can expect. She's been off for a couple of weeks so you really don't know what you'll get from her."

Despite missing four games this year, Snowden leads the team with 40 3-pointers and is third on the team with a 11.6 scoring average.

UK will also be celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day as well as Alumni Day on Sunday against Vanderbilt.

Proclaimed a national day each year since 1987 by Congress, National Girls and Women in Sports Day recognizes the progress of girls and women in sports and the benefits that sports and fitness activities can bring the lives of all girls and women.

In celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, UK will honor Ceal Barry with the third annual Susan B. Feamster Trailblazer Award at halftime.

Barry was a four-year letterwinner at Kentucky under coach Debbie Yow from 1974-77. After graduation, she spent four seasons as head coach at Cincinnati and 22 seasons at the helm of the Colorado women's basketball program before retiring in 2005. She now serves as the associate athletics director for academics/student services at CU.

UK will also host an alumni game Sunday at noon, which will feature former players like Sara Potts, Chelsea Chowning and Samantha Mahoney. Admission is free.

Cats hope to quiet 'Sandstorm,' road troubles

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It may not be comforting, but it seems appropriate in a way that to extinguish its demons of the road, the Kentucky men's basketball team will have to face one of its most haunting road memories from last season.

Mired in a road drought that has seen the Cats lose its first two league games away from home and three of five overall, Kentucky will travel to Columbia, S.C., on Saturday to face the South Carolina Gamecocks, who dealt UK its first loss last season after a 19-0 start.

"Since I've been here, we haven't had much success on the road at South Carolina," senior forward Josh Harrellson said. "They've got a great crowd, real loud, real intense, real vocal, and they can definitely get you out of your game quick with chants and stuff."

Since a lot of the players weren't even around for last year's defeat that ended the undefeated dream, the loss doesn't sit as particularly bad with this bunch as last year's team. But for those that were, one thing seems to reverberate in their minds about that loss, and it may not be what you think.

"They played it like Rocky Top," sophomore guard Jon Hood said.

What Hood is referring to is "Sandstorm," a techno song that became the unofficial rallying cry of Devan Downy and the South Carolina faithful.

"It was every timeout," Hood said. "The last 12 minutes, it's nothing but Sandstorm. They only play it when they're up and they only play it when they come back, so if you stay away from Sandstorm, you're playing well, you're taking care of them."

Although it's just a song, the hostile crowd at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C., played off it and made things difficult for the visiting Wildcats. With each momentum-changing basket  from South Carolina, the South Carolina staff blared "Sandstorm" and the fans went wild.

"That's a tough environment to play," Hood said. "You've got to go in, get up early and get out."

That's a concept this year's team hasn't quite grasped yet.

As frustrations of Kentucky's play on the road reach a boiling point, the Cats, ironically, are headed to arguably the hardest venue in the Southeastern Conference outside of Rupp Arena.

"We understand walking in it's going to be a sold-out building, they're going to play out of their minds, they're going to make shots they don't make; that's just how it is," Calipari said. "If we expect that we'll get some calls that will help us, stop, we're not. You're not getting help. You're either tough enough to win on the road or you're not."

Toughness and communication are what Calipari believes are the two biggest barriers that have led to UK's struggles away from home.

Harrellson said Thursday's practice, which was all about communication, was a success, but Calipari said they still have a long way to go.

"We're still not talking," Calipari said. "There were plays where two guys are working together and we make a call, they should be talking to each other. 'You know where you're going? OK, it's me and you now.' Well, they don't. They all do their own thing."

UK has been outrebounded in both of its conference road losses, trailed by 10 or more points at some point in the game and yet still had a chance to win in the closing minutes.

Most of that comes down to playing more aggressive, a trait the Cats can ill-afford not to bring against a South Carolina team that feeds on offensive rebounds and second-chance points.

"They're another scrappy team," Calipari said. "If they out-scrap us, it'll be hard for us to win the game, bottom line. Watching the tape of us down there a year ago, they out-scraped us. They just were more aggressive and they weren't afraid to foul. They went after balls. (Downey) made a couple shots at the end that were outrageous and we missed a bunch of layups. They just out-scrapped us."

Downey, who notoriously torched the Cats during his three-year career at South Carolina, ran out of eligibility and is no longer with the team. His heir apparent, 5-foot-9 freshman Bruce Ellington, is another small guard that can score in bunches.

Ellington is averaging a team-leading 14.9 points on the season, including a team-best 40.2 shooting clip from 3-point range. He's scored 21 or more points in four of his last eight games, including a Downey-like 31-point outpouring against Furman.

"Their little guard Ellington is really good," Calipari said. "He has a football body and he uses it that way. He really understands angles."

South Carolina was picked to finish last in the SEC East this season, but the Gamecocks are 3-1 through the first quarter of the conference season and tied for the East lead.

A win for the Gamecocks would not only vindicate their early league start and certify them as SEC title contenders, but a loss for Kentucky would put the Cats in a pretty significant hole through five games of the SEC schedule.

 In other words, this is another big road game for Kentucky. It seems fitting that a turning point - one way or the other - could come at South Carolina.

Potential playing time for Polson? In an effort to shore up some struggling bench play, Calipari may have a radical option for support in the form of seldom-used Jarrod Polson.

Despite averaging just 1.9 minutes of action in 11 games this season, almost all of it in mop-up duty, Calipari said Friday that the freshman guard out of Nicholasville, Ky., could see some more time in the upcoming games.

"I think I'm going to try to play Jarrod a little bit," Calipari said. "They played one-on-one a little bit, the guys that aren't playing, and Jarrod won going away because he played harder. Well, then he should be out there. Why shouldn't he be playing? Give him a chance. So I may throw him in the game."

Polson has scored six points on the season.

Video: Cal, Harrellson, Hood preview South Carolina

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Head coach John Calipari


Senior forward Josh Harrellson


Sophomore guard Jon Hood

From the Pressbox: Notes from Tom Leach

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For the Kentucky men's basketball team, the loss at Alabama was marked by a repetition of many of the same mistakes that cost the Cats in their loss at Georgia earlier this month.

"We just let them push us around again," head coach John Calipari said after the 'Bama loss. "We were taking bad shots and then we come down the last four plays, we break down on offense. I probably went at the wrong guys late but I'm still trying to figure out the team.  We've got some things to learn."

This team probably represents a bit of a learning experience for the coach. He coached teams at Memphis with outstanding freshmen, but I don't think any of them had to rely as heavily as his first two UK teams have on rookies to be the best players. This team lacks the strong on- and off-the-court leadership that Patrick Patterson provided to Cal's first UK squad.

= = =

"We're deeper and we're much more athletic than we were a year ago."

Now there's a scary statement about the South Carolina basketball team for Big Blue fans since the Gamecocks handed Kentucky its first loss last season in Columbia, S.C.  The statement comes from coach Darrin Horn, whose club comes off an overtime win over Arkansas on Wednesday night.

Notorious Cat-killer Devan Downey is gone but the Gamecocks have found a more than capable replacement in freshman Bruce Ellington, who leads the team in scoring at 14.9 points per game and 3-point accuracy at 40.2 percent.

"I'm not big into individual comparisons," Horn said. "Individual players have their own games. Devan was a special talent and had some unique abilities. Bruce is a different kind of player and trying to build his own career. He's capable of doing some really good things, but still a freshman as well."

= = =

Randall Cobb is out in Phoenix working on a training regimen designed to have him at his best for the NFL scouting combine next month. But before he left Lexington, Cobb received a special treat as he was asked to be the celebrity "Y" when the UK cheerleaders did their cheer spelling out "K-E-N-T-U-C-K-Y" at the LSU game last Saturday.

"If you would have told me 600 days ago that I would have had the chance to be the 'Y' at a basketball game, I wouldn't have believed you," Cobb said in an interview on WLAP's "Sunday Morning Sportstalk" show. "That was an honor."

Cobb was also flattered when one of the hosts said UK fans consider him one of the best to ever wear the blue and white.

"That's a humbling statement," Cobb said. "For people to think of me so highly, that really warms my heart. UK has been like my family for the past three years. I've loved everything about Lexington and I feel like this is home now."

Before leaving, Cobb said he got some advice from ex-Wildcat and current Washington Redskins' player Jeremy Jarmon.

"He just told me it's time to go to work now," Cobb said. "This is my job. I've got to make sure I'm 100 percent in. It's  a hard task, and I've got to make sure I'm taking care of my job."

Depending on where Cobb ends up in the NFL, his days of lining up at the QB spot in the "Wild-Cobb" formation might be over. If so, Cobb will miss it.

"Wildcat was always fun," Cobb said. "That takes you back to being a kid and playing in the backyard. You don't do anything but read your offensive line's block and try to hit a hole and go play football."

Minter to appear on ESPN First Take

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Minter.jpegTwo of football's rising coaching stars, Rex Ryan and Mike Tomlin, will go head to head Sunday when the New York Jets meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game.

Who better to talk about them than Kentucky co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter?

Minter will be on ESPN First Take on Friday on ESPN2 at approximately 10:50 a.m. to discuss the two coaches and their path to the AFC Championship game.

Now you might be thinking, "Why in the world is a Kentucky assistant coach the person to talk to about two coaches vying for a Super Bowl berth?"

Before Ryan and Tomlin made their way to the NFL, Minter gave the two one of their first significant coaching opportunities at Cincinnati. In the midst of rebuilding the Bearcat football program from 1994-2003 as head coach, Minter hired several notable coaches on his staff, including Ryan, who served as Cincinnati's defensive coordinator, and Tomlin, who served as a defensive backs coach.

Ironically, Tomlin actually replaced UK football head coach Joker Phillips as the defensive backs coach in 1999 after Phillips moved on to become the wide receivers coach at Minnesota.

Minter's coaching tree at UC was extremely impressive. In addition to Ryan, Tomlin and Phillips, current Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (special teams coach) and current Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher (offensive coordinator) served as assistants under Minter.

The first-year UK co-defensive coordinator is expected to go on ESPN First Take to talk about the two head coaches, their styles and what he remembers from them at UC.

ESPN First Take, with hosts Jay Crawford and Dana Jacobson, airs weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon on ESPN2.

Really, really slow last few days at the office this week with the basketball teams away for most of the week.

To pass the time - at least a few minutes of it - here's a video of Kentucky men's basketball signee Anthony Davis at last week's Flyin' to the Hoop Invitational.



Davis scored 32 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and blocked six shots with head coach John Calipari in attendance. Davis is one of four five-star signees (Davis, Mike Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer) Calipari has inked for next year.

"What a great temperament and great ability," Calipari said after watching Davis. "He's got to put on some weight, but he's not going to be DeMarcus Cousins; he's going to be Marcus Camby. He's going to be thin. He'll always be that. Seeing him made me laugh because it's what I saw when I saw Marcus Camby a long time ago. But Marcus couldn't shoot like this kid can shoot."

Although Calipari is already done recruiting Davis and secured the No. 1 signing class in America for the third straight year, Calipari said it's important to continue to watch the kids develop in high school.

"It's fun to watch them play and see them after, and I think they're all excited to see I'm there," Calipari said earlier in the week. "I think it's just as important that I see the kids that we've signed to let them know (we still care) than just seeing other kids, so I try."

Calipari said he hasn't seen as much from Wiltjer (Portland, Ore.) as he would like but said he plans on making a trip soon.

"I'm glad we went to Portland once because that's two days and dogsled to get to Portland," Calipari said. "That is an all-day trip. That's a hard one. But I have to get back out and see Kyle. They tell me he's doing great. I just have to get out and watch him."

UK baseball adds 18 newcomers to roster

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With one month left to go until the start of the 2011 baseball season, the Kentucky baseball team has released its roster for this season, which you can find here.

If you were around for last year's team, you'll notice the roster has undergone a pretty significant overhaul. A total of 18 newcomers have been added to the roster, including UK quarterback Ryan Mossakowski, who was a two-time all-district baseball player at Centennial High School in Frisco, Texas.

Eight of the newcomers are from the state of Kentucky, and I'm told there is a chance we could see one more change before the season begins.

Head coach Gary Henderson had the difficult task of replacing a bulk of last year's roster, including Lance Ray, Chris Bisson, Gunner Glad, Keenan Wiley and Andy Burns, but he somehow found the numbers and the talent in the offseason to transform the roster as UK's class was ranked No. 16 by College Baseball Newspaper.

UK's starting pitching rotation, which includes junior Alex Meyer, will be the backbone of the team, but there is no doubt Henderson will have to lean on some of the newcomers this year, maybe more than he would like.

We'll see how they shake out in about a month. Until then, here's a list of the 18 newcomers:

4              Paul McConkey                 IF            L/R         5-11       190         FR           Knoxville, Tenn./Halls
6              Matt Reida                          IF            L/R         5-11       175         FR           Russiaville, Ind./Western
7              Lucas Witt                           OF          R/R         6-1          190         FR           Lexington, Ky./Lexington Christian
10           J.T. Riddle                            IF/RHP  L/R         6-3          180         FR           Frankfort, Ky./Western Hills
12           Corey Littrell                      LHP        L/L          6-3          190         FR           Louisville, Ky./Trinity
13           Alex Lester                         RHP        R/R         6-2          185         FR           Nicholasville, Ky./West Jessamine
15           Ryan Mossakowski          1B/OF   R/R         6-4          225         R-FR       Frisco, Texas/Centennial
22           Dallen Reber                      IF/OF     R/R         6-1          215         FR           St. George, Utah/Dixie
25           Thomas McCarthy           IF            R/R         6-2          200         JR            Corvallis, Ore./Western Oregon/Feather River
26           Jonathan Paquet              RHP        R/R         6-4          200         FR           Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec/Cardinal-Ray
27           Damon Sanders                OF          R/R         5-10       180         FR           Louisville, Ky./Butler
29           Trevor Gott                        RHP        R/R         6-0          190         FR           Lexington, Ky./Tates Creek
37           Steven Hoagland              C/OF      R/R         5-8          150         FR           Lexington, Ky./Lexington Christian
39           Tyler Dunaway                  RHP        R/R         6-1          225         SO          Louisville, Ky./Eastern/Wabash Valley
40           Kevin Bein                           RHP        R/R         6-3          205         FR           Franklin, Tenn./Franklin
44           Alex Phillips                        LHP        L/L          6-4          215         JR            Tenino, Wash./Tenino/Lower Columbia
46           Thomas Bernal                  IF/C        R/R         6-0          195         FR           Paso Robles, Calif./Paso Robles
47           Tyler Raymond                  LHP/1B L/L          6-4          210         FR           Grove City, Ohio/Grove City
 

Video: UK Hoops in search of first SEC road win

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Valiant comeback can't cover up road woes

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20101118_MBB_Kentucky_AJB002.JPGTuesday night had all the makings of an epic comeback.

Down by 20 on the road in a hostile environment, the Kentucky men's basketball team had a chance in the closing minutes to pull off an improbably comeback. It wasn't quite the Bluegrass Miracle, but it certainly felt like a similar "Miracle on Main" a few days ago in Louisville.

Kentucky almost pulled it off. Almost.

Terrence Jones' half-court heave as time expired banked off the backboard, ending UK's bid for its first Southeastern Conference road win of the year. Alabama held on for a 68-66 victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 14,859 fans at Coleman Coliseum.

"Obviously they manhandled us in the first 25 minutes and the last 10 minutes I thought we got after them and played the aggressive way we have to play," head coach John Calipari said. "We also executed offensively, but even then we had a charge coming down the court. We just have young guys and we made those errors today."

The fact of the matter is Kentucky didn't deserve to win Tuesday night.

Say what you want about the gritty effort the last 10 to 15 minutes - a season-defining victory appeared to be on the brink - but the first 25 minutes of the game from UK was as bad of a 25-minute segment we've seen from a Kentucky team since Calipari has been head coach.

There was no intensity. There was no fire. There was no so-called swagger.

"They wanted it more than we did," freshman point guard Brandon Knight said.

It's that plain and simple.

"The biggest play I thought was when (JaMychal) Green had it inside, missed a shot and tipped it in," Calipari said of Green's tip-in to go up 64-61. "That was like he wants it worse than you want it. Even the last play when we were driving to the wing and we were going to do what we call a pitch or a pistol and the guy muscles Doron (Lamb) off. He just did not come off that hard. Those were the plays we will show on the tape and say this is why you lose ball games when they are close."

Calipari can be repetitive. Sometimes his speeches sound more like a politician's plea than a pregame speech. But for as numbing as Calipari's "we're going to get everybody's best shot" spiels are, he couldn't be more right.

Every game against Kentucky is the other team's Super Bowl. Every game is the biggest of the year for the other team.

Tuesday night was no different in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Nearly 15,000 fans packed Coleman Coliseum and treated it as if the SEC championship was on the line. Alabama's players fed off it; Kentucky's backed down from it.

Maybe the players understand what it takes to win on the road now. Maybe Alabama was just the better team Tuesday night.

But for whatever reason, this young UK team is struggling away from Rupp Arena. The Cats are now 0-2 on the road in the SEC and 2-3 overall. If you count the neutral games in Louisville for the Notre Dame game and Hawaii, the record is slightly better at 5-4.

Talent wise, it doesn't take a college basketball analyst to dissect which team from Tuesday's clash in Alabama has more overall talent and potential. One is worthy of a top-15 ranking and will still be the favorite to win the SEC. The other is closer to the team that lost to St. Peter's in November and has a current RPI of 218.

But talent doesn't always trump effort. For the first 25 minutes Tuesday, Alabama outhustled UK and played like the better team.

The Crimson Tide won the loose balls, played more physical and hit shots it usually doesn't make. Alabama entered the game having made three shots from behind the 3-point line in conference play. The Tide nailed seven against UK.

It wasn't that Kentucky got off to the slow start that Calipari has feared, but it didn't play with the poise and "I'll show you" attitude that last year's team seemed to play with on the road.

At least it didn't until the final 15 minutes.

After falling behind by as much as 52-32 on the heels of an Alabama 22-5 run, the Cats chipped and clawed their way back into the game. Instead of looking to the officials for calls or expecting Alabama to let up, Kentucky became the aggressor and started to dictate the game.

Jones came alive down the stretch, scoring 11 of his 17 points in the second half, and Knight started to knock down 3s.

The Cats closed it within a point on three different occasions but were unable to take the lead. Lamb missed a wide-open trey from the right corner with 2:03 remaining and a chance to storm in front, and Knight's handoff to Lamb for a potential game-winning shot in the final seconds never materialized.

Ultimately, it wasn't too little, but it was certainly too late. The hole had been dug too deep to climb out of.

It takes a different type of team to consistently win on the road. It takes a certain, special mentality.

Kentucky hasn't figured out what that is quite yet, but it has six more opportunities to figure it out before tournament play. The next one is Saturday at South Carolina.

We all know how that one went last year.

Jan. 16 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Jan. 16:

Women's basketball: Victoria Dunlap

  • Averaged a team-high 21.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.0 steals in UK's two SEC wins last week.
  • Recorded her 26th career and fourth double-double of the season with a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds against Mississippi State. She also added a game-high five steals and three assists.
  • Scored a team-high 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in helping UK secure its first conference win of the season over South Carolina. She also collected three steals and two blocks in the win.
  • Her 22 points vs. the Bulldogs moved her up to No. 5 on UK's all-time scoring list with 1,567 career points, passing Sara Potts (1,563 points from 2001-05).
  • Took sole possession of third place on UK's all-time double-doubles list with 26 career double-doubles, passing Josh Mills (25 from 1990-93).
  • Two blocks vs. South Carolina moved her up to No. 2 on UK's all-time list with 157, passing Valerie Still (156 blocks from 1979-83).
  • Has now scored 20 or more points six times this season, including three of her last four games.

Swimming and diving: Greg Ferrucci

  • Won the one- and three-meter boards against Alabama on Saturday.
  • Named SEC Male Diver of the Week for his performance against the Crimson Tide.
  • Set a new career-best score of 362.25 on the one-meter board.
  • Ferrucci's score on the one-meter board ranks fourth all-time at Kentucky.

Men's basketball: Terrence Jones

  • Came off the bench and broke the UK freshman single-game scoring record with 35 points against Auburn.
  • Shot 11 of 17 from the field, including a career -est four 3-pointers. 
  • Also pulled down eight rebounds in the win.
  • Came off the bench in win over LSU and scored 17 points while pulling down seven rebounds.
  • Has scored in double figures in 10 straight games.

Men's basketball: Brandon Knight

  • Scored in double figures for the 11th and 12th straight games in helping lead UK to a 2-0 record on the week.
  • Along with his 13 points against Auburn, Knight also pulled down five rebounds and dished out six assists.
  • Hit a career-best five 3-pointers, going 5 of 7 from behind the 3-point line against LSU, scoring a game-high 19 points.
  • Also pulled down six boards in the win.

Women's basketball: Bernisha Pinkett

  • Averaged team's second-highest point total with 15.5 ppg in UK's two SEC wins last week.
  • Came off the bench to notch a career-high 18 points and four assists in a career-high 25 minutes of play in helping UK secure its first conference win of the season over South Carolina. Her previous high was 17 points vs. No. 12 Notre Dame.
  • Hit a season-high 72.7 percent, connecting on 8-of-11 attempts from the floor against the Gamecocks.
  • Dished out a career-high four assists vs. USC.
  • Followed that performance with 13 points in a reserve role vs. Mississippi State. Also added four rebounds and three assists in the win.
  • Has now scored in double figures six times this season.

Basketball teams slip in latest Bracketology

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Perhaps a late reflection of Kentucky's road loss to Georgia a week and a half ago, the UK men's basketball team has slipped a bit in Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology for ESPN.

If the tournament were to start today, Lunardi has the Cats as a No. 3 seed, playing 14th-seeded Bucknell in Tampa, Fla.

Kentucky's league, the Southeastern Conference, has looked better as of late, and the recent improvement is reflected in Lunardi's latest projections as five SEC teams are in this week's mock bracket. South Carolina is on the early bubble as Lunardi lists the Gamecocks in the "Next Four Out" category.

Check out this week's Bracketology here.

As for the women's side, well, that three-game losing streak hurt. UK tumbled to a No. 5 seed in this week's mock bracket.

Charlie Creme, who projects the women's bracket for ESPN, has the Cats playing Bowling Green in Charlottesville, Va.

Six SEC teams are projected to make the field with Tennessee as a No. 1 seed.

View the women's projections. 

UK Hoops holds steady at No. 19

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AP Top 25
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Baylor (25) 16-1 981
2 Connecticut (13) 16-1 966
3 Duke (1) 17-0 911
4 Stanford (1) 14-2 887
5 Tennessee 17-2 838
6 Texas A&M 15-1 811
7 Xavier 14-2 741
8 UCLA 15-1 674
9 West Virginia 17-1 667
10 North Carolina 16-1 664
11 Notre Dame 15-4 587
12 Michigan State 16-2 569
13 DePaul 17-2 520
14 Oklahoma 13-3 445
15 Maryland 14-3 359
16 Georgetown 14-4 340
17 Miami (FL) 18-1 316
18 Iowa 15-4 311
19 Kentucky 13-4 304
20 Iowa State 13-4 183
21 Green Bay 17-1 163
22 Florida State 14-4 158
23 Arkansas 15-2 131
24 Georgia 14-3 123
25 Ohio State 11-6

77


ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll

RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Baylor (20) 16-1 761
2 Connecticut (9) 17-1 749
3 Duke (2) 17-0 713
4 Stanford 14-2 683
5 Texas A&M 15-1 650
6 Tennessee 17-2 627
7 Xavier 14-2 578
8 UCLA 15-1 555
9 West Virginia 17-1 516
10 Notre Dame 15-4 481
11 North Carolina 16-2 432
12 Michigan State 16-2 413
13 Oklahoma 13-3 400
14 Maryland 14-3 309
15 Green Bay 17-1 293
16 Florida State 14-4 292
17 Georgetown 14-4 280
18 DePaul 17-2 272
19 Kentucky 13-4 252
20 Iowa State 13-4 186
21 Iowa 15-4 164
22 Miami (FL) 18-1 126
23 St. John's 13-5 64
24 Arkansas 15-2 60
25 Texas Tech 16-1 48

078_UK_LSU_028_CW.JPG"Josh is doing exactly what I thought he could do."

Robbie Speer looks like a prophet now, but making bold predictions about Josh Harrellson last summer would have gotten Speer some strange looks, especially outside of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Speer works with the Sports Reach Christian ministry program, and Harrellson and fellow Wildcat Jon Hood were part of a team that Speer took to China for a series of exhibition games last summer. Harrellson led the Sports Reach team in both scoring and rebounding on the trip to China, a noteworthy accomplishment considering one of his teammates was Xavier Silas, who led the nation in scoring for a time earlier this season.

"A lot of people don't realize the talent level is really good in China, and the things that Josh did in China are the very things he's doing now," Speer said on "The Leach Report" radio show recently. "He stayed around the basket, rebounded and defended. I told him, 'Josh, if you do these things here, you can do this in the Southeastern Conference.  You're not going to face any bigs any better,' and so he did that."

Speer also remembered how the big men were most effective in head coach John Calipari's system at Memphis. Speer saw a player that would fit that mold in Harrellson.

"(Those) Memphis teams did not have great centers," Speer said. "They were guys that were physical, rebound, score around the basket.  And I said, 'This is Josh Harrellson.' We didn't play a dribble-drive but we did a lot of penetrating and pitch stuff so we had guys that could get to the basket and kick it off. I would see Josh hanging in there and was ready for those kinds of passes. That's where I felt like he could really make a difference and he can just take it to another level."

The Cats' Pause founder Oscar Combs is a good source for putting a current Cat's contribution into a historical context, and when I asked him if Harrellson reminded him of any former UK players, he wasted no time in responding.

"Mark Pope," Combs said. "If you remember, Mark was the rough diamond on that '96 team. He was the least talented player by a distance. He wasn't the most athletic fellow but he played smart. At the end of the day, he got himself a championship ring. I almost see a clone here (in Harrellson)."

Harrellson is leading the SEC in rebounding (9.5 rebounds per game) and scoring 6.7 points a game partly because he's found his role on the team, Speer thinks.

"Life is about finding our spot and finding our role and playing it the best we can," Speer said. "I think sometimes that's difficult and I think that's what Josh has done."

Speer is also optimistic about Hood's ability to help the current Kentucky team based on what the former Kentucky Mr. Basketball from Madisonville, Ky., did on the trip to China.

"Jon played well for us," Speer said. "(He) didn't shoot the ball extremely well but did everything else well. I think a whole lot is Jon's confidence and one of the difficult things, always with your guys coming off the bench, you have a limit of playing time and sometimes it's really hard be coming off the bench to play relaxed."
 
Hood has said he has had issues with confidence and Speer said he could see that in China.

"He will get his opportunity and he'll be OK, but confidence is a funny thing," Speer said. "It's not just something that all of a sudden I wake up and have that confidence back, but we're hoping and praying that he'll work everything out."

Speer said Hood can learn a thing or two from how Harrellson has approached his game this year.

"You look at Jon and Stacey Poole and more often than not, they'll get a shot up very quickly within the time they check into a game. I think part of the issue for them is there is a mindset to impress the coaches, to go in and start scoring and making shots. I think the way for either or both of those guys to get the minutes they want and the minutes their coaches would like to see them get is to do what Josh has gotten a handle on, like (DeAndre) Liggins did last year. Get deflections, stay between your man and the basket, rebound, get those 50/50 balls, all those kind of hustle things. You can go 0 for 5 in the time you're on the floor if you do all those other things; you'll keep getting minutes."

Cal honored to be a part of MLK town hall discussion

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Kentucky men's basketball head coach John Calipari was part of a national town hall meeting Friday that focused on the topic of the current image of the black athlete as a part of ESPN's celebration of the 25th anniversary of the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Movie producer and noted sports fan Spike Lee served as executive producer and as one of the panelists, live from the New Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. King's spiritual home. In addition to Calipari, the panel consisted of athletes, coaches and entertainers, including ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon, current WNBA Tulsa Shock player and world champion track and field athlete Marion Jones, and former University of Miami football coach Randy Shannon.

Calipari spoke to the media Monday on MLK Day on taking part in the honor:

Better starts a key to road games

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The players say they understand. The coaches beat it into their heads. We writers like to use it as a storyline.

But truly, there is indeed something different about playing away from the friendly confines of Rupp Arena.

For as great of a seller as John Calipari is, he's not pitching any type of motive when he talks to his team and the media about the rigors of the road. Since he's been at UK, every single one of his six losses has come away from Lexington.

UK is 27-0 at home under Calipari but 22-6 away from Rupp (not that a .786 winning percentage is bad or anything).

Whether the players truly understand the difference, playing on the road games, especially against familiars in-conference opponents, really is tougher.

Kentucky, which fell victim to Georgia in its last road trip a week and a half ago, will get another crack at its first Southeastern Conference victory of the year Tuesday night at Alabama (10-7, 2-1 SEC).

Calipari is still unsure if his team grasps how much harder it is to play away from home in the league.

"I don't know until we get out there and play," Calipari said. "We're talking (about) a young team. We seem to start games better (lately). We seem to play better defense. We haven't sustained it."
 
Slow starts are what plagued UK in its three losses this season, but as of last week, getting out of the gate hasn't been a problem.

Against Auburn, Kentucky rolled out to a 33-9 lead and never looked back and led LSU 40-16 before halftime.

But those were at home. The Cats trailed by double digits in two of its three road/neutral losses this year, meaning catch-up isn't always easy.

"It's hard to win on the road, especially with a young team that's learning," Calipari said. "I'll be honest with you, winning at Louisville, wining that game against Notre Dame, and that Portland game is looking better and better. We've done OK. The North Carolina game we didn't play particularly well and Georgia just beat us up. They were more physical than us. And the crazy thing, both those games we had chances to win."

Coincidence or not, the quick starts of the last two games came with Doron Lamb in the starting lineup and Terrence Jones coming off the bench. After Jones scored a combined 52 points in victories over Auburn and LSU, Calipari is unsure if he'll keep Jones out of the starting five.

"I don't know yet," Calipari said. "I'm going to watch practice today. He was really good in practice two days ago and I want to see him today. (We've) got to get him to pass the ball. Right now he's not passing as much as he needs to. We have that movement, and it's not only that there's a high-energy level with that other group, there's also pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass. And if it goes, pass, pass, you hold it, stop. You're not going pass, pass, pass, pass. You're going pass, pass, stop. So we've got to get him moving."

Regardless of what five begin the game, playing aggressively from the tip has been echoed throughout the team.

"We cannot let them take it to us," senior forward Josh Harrellson said. "We have to initiate everything. We have to be the first ones to score, the first ones to throw the first punch, and from there keep taking it to them and not back off. It is a big step for us as a young team to get ahead of our opponents and not give that up."

Alabama has won four of its last five games on the back of a sturdy frontline. Junior forward JaMychal Green is averaging a team-high 15.4 points and Tony Mitchell isn't far behind him with a 14.4 points-per-game mark and 7.9-rebound average.

"Their inside guys remind me of the Georgia players; very physical, get you near the basket, and if you're playing half speed, you're going to get killed," Calipari said. "(Alabama is) very active in the zone, they trap, they do good things and they run their stuff. They run good stuff. I'm trying to find a tape to build my confidence up and I haven't found one. The games we played with them last year, they were right (there). They had chances to beat us both games."

Oh, and those road worries -- Alabama is 9-0 at home this season. 

Video: Cal, Jones, Harrellson preview Alabama

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Head coach John Calipari


Freshman forward Terrence Jones


Senior forward Josh Harrellson

UK moves up to No. 12 in both polls

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Two wins in conference play was enough to bump the Kentucky men's basketball team up a spot in the Associated Press Top 25 and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll.

The Cats checked in at No. 12 in both polls this week.

AP Top 25
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Ohio State (49) 18-0 1,606
2 Kansas (6) 17-0 1,526
3 Syracuse (8) 18-0 1,523
4 Duke (1) 16-1 1,393
5 Pittsburgh (1) 17-1 1,382
6 San Diego State 19-0 1,294
7 Villanova 16-1 1,265
8 Connecticut 14-2 1,148
9 Brigham Young 17-1 1,057
10 Texas 14-3 1,015
11 Texas A&M 16-1 996
12 Kentucky 14-3 975
13 Missouri 15-3 758
14 Purdue 15-3 672
15 Minnesota 14-4 513
16 Notre Dame 14-4 495
17 Michigan State 12-5 467
18 Wisconsin 13-4 448
19 Louisville 14-3 438
20 Washington 13-4 409
21 West Virginia 12-4 266
22 Saint Mary's 16-2 195
23 Georgetown 13-5 146
23 Illinois 13-5 146
25 Cincinnati 16-2 125

ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Ohio State (28) 18-0 772
2 Kansas (2) 17-0 738
3 Syracuse (1) 18-0 715
4 Pittsburgh 17-1 653
5 Duke 16-1 641
6 San Diego State 19-0 633
7 Villanova 16-1 594
8 Connecticut 14-2 531
9 Brigham Young 17-1 529
10 Texas A&M 16-1 491
11 Texas 14-3 454
12 Kentucky 14-3 439
13 Purdue 15-3 371
14 Missouri 15-3 337
15 Louisville 14-3 276
16 Notre Dame 14-4 266
17 Wisconsin 13-4 207
18 Michigan State 12-5 187
19 Minnesota 14-4 183
20 Washington 13-4 182
21 Saint Mary's 16-2 153
22 Illinois 13-5 120
23 Georgetown 13-5 119
24 Kansas State 13-5 66
25 Arizona 15-3 60
 

Vertical.jpgFor most cheerleading programs, second place is something to aspire to. Most years, a second-place finish means a school has the best cheerleading team in the nation -- other than University of Kentucky, of course.

At the 2011 College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Fla., second place was where UK found itself, meaning that a dynastic streak of three consecutive national titles had come to an end, as the Wildcats finished behind the Alabama Crimson Tide.

"We're disappointed," UK cheerleading head coach Jomo Thompson said. "It's not what we came here for. We came here to get first place and we came up a little short. These things are to be expected; you can't win them all."

Second place was an unfamiliar spot for the Wildcats, as UK has won an unprecedented 18 national championships.

"We had a great performance," Thompson said. "We had two mistakes, but overall I thought we were above everybody else; we were just unable to persuade the judges."

Defeat is a tough thing to swallow for a program that has ruled the world of college cheerleading over the past two decades. On top of winning three consecutive titles, UK had won 14 of 16 Universal Cheerleading Association national championships, only falling short in 2003 (second place) and 2007 (third place).  

In each of those years, UK bounced back by winning the following national title with the previous defeat as a prime motivator. Thompson and his team will look to accomplish that again.

"The past three years, we've had a good feeling, a celebration," Thompson said. "This year, there's no celebration and I told them to remember this feeling and use it. This should be something that drives them all next year."

The new national champions, Alabama, are led by David McDowell, a former UK cheerleader and assistant coach with close ties to the program.

"First of all, I want to congratulate David and the Alabama cheerleaders," Thompson said.  "They had a great team and I feel like we had a part in that. He cheered here and was an assistant here. He learned a lot from me and just from watching this program."

Even though Thompson takes pleasure in the success of a former colleague and pupil, he looks forward to the chance to compete with him again next year.

"We won three in a row and just weren't able to get that fourth one," Thompson said. "We just have to use it and focus hard on next year."

UK's dance team also participated in the national championship under second-year head coach Dawn Duncan Walters. UK finished fourth in the pom category and sixth in hip hop, an improvement from last year's fifth-place finish in pom.

Video: Cats turn up defense again in win over MSU

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Live blog: UK Hoops vs. Mississippi State

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Assistant coach John Robic


Freshman guard Brandon Knight


Junior guard/forward Darius Miller


Sophomore guard Jon Hood

Live blog: UK men's basketball vs. LSU

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If injured point guard Amber Smith didn't agree with Matthew Mitchell's assessment that she was probably "leaning" towards coming back next year, she had every chance to squash that line of thinking during an interview Thursday.

Instead, Smith confirmed what many are starting to believe, that she will not return this year and come back for her final year of eligibility next season.

"Every day that passes I am leaning toward coming back next year because it's less games that I am going to play if I come back this year," Smith said.

Smith said she's still leaving her options open and hasn't made a definitive decision one way or the other, but the expected timetable of her return - Mitchell is expecting her to be cleared for full activity in three weeks - would leave her with roughly eight regular-season games, the Southeastern Conference Tournament and presumably the NCAA Tournament.

Although she doesn't have a certain number of games that would coax her into returning, the less there are, the less likely she'll return.

"The less it is just makes me think about it more," Smith said. "Do I really want to come back and play this amount of games where I could play a whole season (next year)? I'm just going to see where the team is at during the time."

Smith's rehabilitation process is nearing an end after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during a pickup game in mid-July.

The senior point guard from Winter Haven, Fla., had been rehabbing seven days of week. The rehab has recently been knocked down to six days a week, but the focus has now turned to strengthening her knee and quad, and getting her conditioning, agility and speed back.

Smith started running, shooting and jumping a few weeks ago.

"Everything feels good," Smith said as she showed her two-inch scar on her knee.

Smith had every intention of coming back this year when she initially injured her knee, but she's since had a change of heart.

When she started to consider how many games she'll have left, the time it takes to redevelop rhythm and chemistry with her teammates, and how long it would take to get back into game shape, she realized the decision wouldn't be as easy as she thought.

"I get flashbacks," said Smith, who tore her ACL and meniscus her freshman season. "My sophomore year, it had been eight months (since my knee injury) and I came back, but I had a terrible year with my knee. Mentally it was really rough on me and I think jumping right back in it would be really tough, but I think I would be able to handle it better because I have been through it already."

The one thing holding her back from ruling out this season is her senior teammates, roommate Victoria Dunlap and Carly Morrow. The thought of going out with them, who, along with Smith, changed the culture of the program, is hard to pass up.

"I talked to Vic and she told me how she feels and supports me in whatever I want," Smith said. "She said she wants to play with me and she expresses that to me daily, especially during the tough times like the three-game losing streak. I feel for her. I know what me, Carly and her have been through the first two years and how far we have come."

Smith wants to either play or coach basketball after college, and Smith said her mother believes a full year of school and a jumpstart on her graduate degree would be the better option for those goals.

Still, witnessing some of the struggles UK has endured at the point guard position, a spot Smith started at least year and flourished, doesn't make the decision as black and white as it may appear.

"I can see if the struggling was happening in some other position, that might make it a little bit better, but the point guard position is pretty tough," Smith said. "I was praying that wouldn't be what happened but it is."

Watching has been difficult, but it has helped Smith get a firsthand account of what it's like to be a coach. Mitchell has emphasized to Smith the importance of her energy to the team, regardless of whether she plays or not.

Recently, Smith has embraced the role. Just before the tip of every game, Smith is in the middle of the pregame huddle to energize her teammates.

"I have learned a lot about myself," Smith said. "Coach Mitchell has pointed out things to me that I can improve. I am trying to be consistent with my energy. That's what I struggled with in the beginning and it was harder because he wants me to come in and be involved and I didn't think I needed to. He showed me how important it is. When we are struggling at the point guard position, I need to be there for them more."

Although all signs point to a Smith-less 2011, don't count her out just yet. Although she's leaning one way, she never ruled out a surprise return.

"You never know when I will be back," Smith said with a smile.

Knight stepping out of Wall's shadow

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UK_Penn_046_cw.JPGFor all the accolades Brandon Knight possessed when he signed with Kentucky, he entered an unenviable situation.

Knight was tabbed to be the heir apparent to John Wall, Mr. UK superstar, the program's first No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and the man largely behind Kentucky's quick turnaround.

Wall was somewhat of a legend around these parts. A drink was named after him, a dance was imitated by millions and his flashy dunks were frequently revisited on ESPN.

There was a certain aura that surrounded Wall. Though he was just a student-athlete, there was something about Wall that spelled superstar.

And Knight was expected to replace all that.

"It was everywhere basically," Knight said in a recent interview with Cat Scratches. "Being compared to previous players and what they would expect of me was difficult. Over time, you learn to accept that's just what's going to happen. You have to play through it."

But it wasn't easy. Knight was so well revered in Lexington and became such a symbol for UK basketball that it became easy for fans' imaginations to drift. With head coach John Calipari seemingly lining up the No. 1 point guard in class after class, it seemed like a formality to some that they could expect the same type of player each and every year from its point guard.

Quite frankly, despite being rated the No. 6 overall prospect by Rivals.com and the 2009-10 Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year, the expectations were unrealistic and unfair for Knight.

"I was prepared for it and I wasn't really worried about it because I was just coming in to do the best that I could do and lead our team no matter who was here before," Knight said. "I just wanted to come in and play and do the best that I could do."

Knight's humbleness and business-like approach are what have made the transition easier. An intelligent kid that was hailed for his success on and off the court, Knight came to Kentucky with the right approach to succeed.

Instead of trying to be John Wall, he tried to be Brandon Knight.

"I know who I am and that's just not the type of guy that I am," Knight said. "I just came in to do what I do."

Because what Knight does, while not as flashy or as athletic as Wall, is pretty darn good, too. What he lacks in highlight-reel dunks - he can still throw one down with the best of them, by the way - he makes up for with a more polished jump shot.

Through the first 16 games of his career, Knight is hitting 46.2 percent of his shots, including 38.8 percent from 3-point range. If you take out Knight's worst stretch of the season, a three-game swing in Maui, Hawaii, where he struggled at times, Knight is actually shooting 46.1 percent from behind the arc, including 14 of his last 28 attempts.

"All I could do was try to be myself," Knight said. "John has what he does well and I have what I do well."

Still, for as much as Knight respected Wall and as prepared as he was for the unparalleled expectations, all the comparisons had to gnaw at Knight just a little bit, didn't they?

"It was kind of motivation," Knight said. "Coming in and being compared to him, people saying you're not going to be as good as him, you're not going to make the impact that he made, I just kind of use it as a motivational factor. He was a great player, but the most I could do was focus on myself and try to get better. That was my main goal for coming here is to get better as an individual and have a chance at a national championship."

Though Knight doesn't get the publicity that Terrence Jones does and doesn't have a trademark dance like Wall, he's blossomed into one of the nation's top point guards already.
The freshman from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is averaging 17.4 points and 4.0 assists in leading the Wildcats to a 13-3 overall record. As his assist figures have started to climb lately, his turnover numbers have started to drop.

Calipari said Knight is becoming a more complete point guard.

"I'm so proud of him," Calipari said recently. "How many of you were in Hawaii with us? Different player, isn't it? Different player. And that's what you are trying to see with guys that want to change and want to get better. We're on him about his defense and you know what, he went out and said, 'I'm going to guard better,' and he did."

Looking back at the first half of the season, Knight said the hardest part about the transition from high school to college was figuring out what Coach Cal wanted from him at the one position.

As the No. 1 point guard in America last year, Knight's main job at Pine Crest High School was to score the basketball. Knight has displayed an uncanny ability to continue to score on the collegiate level, but when he first arrived, Calipari's focus for him was getting his teammates more involved.

"He zeroed in on me, especially after Maui," Knight said. "He started coaching me a lot more and getting on me for every little thing from when I should be passing to how to run our team. I thank him for doing that because it's made me a better player. I hope he continues to stay on me so I can continue to get better."

Knight said his struggles in Maui were difficult for him, but he's since learned to become a better leader and better distributor. His biggest improvement to this point, he says, is his ability to read defenses.

"Before Maui I was getting to the basket, but then I would try to shoot a layup over three guys when I just drew three defenders," Knight said. "Now, when I get to the basket, I'm making reads and I'm seeing guys that are open. I've got my head up, I'm looking for the lob, I'm looking for the skip pass and I'm looking for guys that are open. It's opened my game up more."

Knight and the Cats are back in action Saturday against LSU at 4 p.m. in Rupp Arena. UK, 1-1 in the Southeastern Conference, is looking for its second straight win.

UK_Auburn_084_cw.JPGThe Kentucky cheerleading team will be in search of its unprecedented 19th national title when it heads to the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Fla., this weekend for the 2011 College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships.

The competition, which begins Friday, is expected to conclude Sunday night.

If the cheerleading team claims the 2011 title, it would be the squad's 15th in the last 17 years and fourth straight.

Kentucky won eight straight national titles from 1995 to 2002 before finishing second in 2003. The Wildcats then won three straight from 2004 to 2006, falling short in 2007 with a third-place finish. UK has since claimed the title the last three years. Since Kentucky won its first title in 1985, it has won in 1987, 1988, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010, more than any other Division IA school.

The UK dance team will be looking to improve on last year's fifth-place finish under second-year coach Dawn Duncan Walters.

The Cats will once again compete in the pom category in addition to the hip-hop category.

For the most up-to-date results, check out the UCA website. We will have complete results from the competition late Sunday night.

From the Pressbox: Notes from Tom Leach (Jan. 14)

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ESPN.com's Southeastern Conference blogger, Chris Low, writes this week that the time was right for Randall Cobb to leave for the NFL, but Low will certainly miss getting the chance to cover Cobb's exploits on the college gridiron for Kentucky.

"He is absolutely one of my favorite players in the SEC and college football because, as I have said so many times, we can take Randall out and have a race and he probably won't be the fastest, he is certainly not the biggest guy ... but when you put pads on him and turn the scoreboard on and give him the football, he is magnificent," Low said earlier this season to tomleachky.com. "If you get the football on the 4- or 5-yard line and have one play to score a touchdown and I can pick anyone in the SEC to give the football to, it would be Randall Cobb because he can do so many things."

= = =

Of all of the impressive numbers Cobb posted during his UK career, for me the most significant is setting the school record for touchdowns. It's more than just the number.

So many of those 37 touchdowns Cobb scored came at key points in close games. It was fitting that the record-breaking score was the game-winning touchdown in a win over South Carolina, which was among the most noteworthy during Cobb's time in Lexington.

For the record, Cobb said Thursday his most memorable TD was his first one against Norfolk State.

"It was just that feeling that I had finally done something," Cobb said. "I think that was the best one."

= = =

If you're a Jamal Mashburn fan, you can still say he holds the UK freshman scoring record -- for players who started the game.

After Mash's record of 31 points had stood since 1991, UK's latest rookie crop has broken it twice, the latest being Terrence Jones' 35-point explosion against Auburn on Tuesday night.

CBS Sports' Gary Parrish says he's been a little surprised by how well Jones has played, and he thinks the UK coaches might be a little surprised, too.

"A lot of guys are big and talented - I mean they're all over the country right now, and yet, there's a special little thing that makes some of them ready to go right from the start, whether it's an intensity thing, a connection thing (or) just a little bit more skilled than you thought," Parrish said recently on "The Leach Report" radio show. "But it's either there or it isn't, and I honestly think you can't see it until the games start. You can see potential in anybody when they're in high school, if you're looking for it.  And the guys who are McDonald's All-Americans, the upside's very easy to see. What's a little more difficult is being able to project when it's going to be reality, and you can't always do that.

"(Michael) Beasley comes in, he's a monster from the start - that makes sense. (Kevin) Durant comes in and he's a monster from the start - that makes sense. What DeMarcus (Cousins) did last year was, I think, better than most thought and I would say the same thing with Terrence Jones. I would tell you this: I'm surprised about how dominant he's been in the games to date, but so is John Calipari, so is (assistant coach) John Robic, so are the other people on that staff. I think they knew, like everybody knew, they were getting a talented prospect, (but) I don't think they knew they were getting a great player right from the start. That's very clearly what they got."

= = =

LSU had some bad losses in the pre-conference portion of its schedule but the Tigers are off to a 2-0 start in the SEC as they prepare to visit UK this weekend.
 
LSU radio voice Jim Hawthorne said defense has been the key.

"In the Auburn game and the Arkansas game, they relied primarily on a 2-3 matchup zone," Hawthorne said. "Playing man-to-man, they were getting into foul trouble and they just don't have a lot of depth. I think (the zone) has been the biggest change that's been the most productive for them. They run at the 3-point shooter and try to back them away from the 3-point line. It's been effective but it's only been a couple of games."

Like Kentucky, LSU's top three scorers are all freshmen. One of them, Ralston Turner, has been slowed of late with a leg injury and is a question mark for the Kentucky game. The Tigers' inside strength comes from Ole Miss transfer Malcolm White, who led the Tigers in scoring in their win over Arkansas Wednesday night.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for espn_logo.jpgAs a part of ESPN's 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari will make a guest appearance Friday night on ESPN's National Town Hall Meeting.

The two-hour show, which will air Friday from 6-8 p.m. on ESPN, will include a "town hall" discussion about the current image of the black athlete with director Spike Lee and other prominent panelists.

Hosted by Good Morning America's Robin Roberts and Outside the Lines' Bob Ley, Calipari will join athletes, coaches and entertainers, including ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon, WNBA player and world champion track and field athlete Marion Jones, and football coach Randy Shannon, to focus on the topic of the current image of the black athlete.

UK-Pitt_135_cw.JPGOne day after bidding farewell to one of its most valuable offensive stars in program history, Kentucky will get back one of its best defensive players in recent memory in Danny Trevathan.

The junior linebacker, who was contemplating turning pro a year early, scooped everyone Friday morning and announced on Twitter that he is coming back for his senior season.

"I just wanna kno is the #BBN ready for me to stay another year?!" Trevathan tweeted. "It's official "one more year"!!! #unfinished business #leggo"

The return of Trevathan seems to have partially cushioned the blow of losing Randall Cobb, who announced Thursday he was foregoing his senior season to jump to the NFL.

Trevathan will return as one of the Southeastern Conference's defensive stars. The league's leading tackler this past season (144), Trevathan will anchor a defense that is expected to return its top 11 tacklers and 13 players who have started.

Trevathan has been pretty open about the decision he was wrestling in his head. The senior-to-be has detailed the tough decision he was undergoing on Twitter multiple times throughout the week.

In the days leading up to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., he told WTVQ's Kent Spencer that his NFL evaluations projected him as a fourth- or fifth-round prospect.

Finally, on Friday, the day before the deadline to declare for the 2011 NFL Draft, Trevathan seemed to express a sense of relief with the announcement that he'll be returning for the 2011 season.

"In life sometimes the "Easy" way isn't always the best way!" Trevathan said via Twitter. "God has yet to steer me wrong! Just a little further he told me!! Hey like I said, #godisleading"

Tony Neely, UK's football sports information director, will have a complete release in a little bit on Trevathan's return on the homepage of UKathletics.com.

Matthew Mitchell

 

Kentucky needed some type a spark to snap a three-game losing streak.

It got it from an unlikely source.

Freshman guard Bernisha Pinkett scored a career-high 18 points to lead the Kentucky women's basketball team past South Carolina 66-48. The Cats got back to their defensive ways to key a second-half surge that ultimately buried the Gamecocks.

Kentucky outscored South Carolina 36-15 in the second half for its first Southeastern Conference win of the year.

"I am extremely proud of our players tonight," UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "This was a very good win. We were down on the mat there with three losses in a row. The team came back here Tuesday and Wednesday and really practiced hard. They were focused today and came out and earned a very tough victory, even when it looked like it was not going that great for us. I am very, very proud that they just hung in there and kept plugging. This was a really good win for us."

After struggling mightily on offense the last three games - UK failed to shoot above 30 percent in losses to Arkansas and Georgia - the Cats hit a season-high 54.5 percent from the field. Pinkett was 8 of 11 from the field, Victoria Dunlap (20 points) was 10 of 18 and A'dia Mathies (15 points) was 7 of 13.

In addition, UK forced 28 turnovers, imposing the type of defensive intensity that led the Cats to the Elite Eight a season ago.

"I thought we did a good job in the first half of making them take some contested outside shots," Mitchell said. "I told them that if we could defensively find a way to hang in there and keep guarding ... and make them take contested jumpers all night that we could finally get it turned around." 

A loss would have all but put the Cats (12-4, 1-2 SEC) out of the league race just three games into the season. Mitchell said he didn't fear losing his team with another defeat, but he certainly changed some things to prevent it.

Instead of going with freshman guards Maegan Conwright and Jennifer O'Neill to run the point guard position, Mathies got most of the minutes at the one.

"I think it was (a team effort)," Mathies said. "A lot of people play a lot of positions and have a lot of tasks and jobs, and they carry that very well I believe. I think that just everybody stepped up to their potential today. If you work hard, I think (we learned) that's why the outcome was what it was."

Mitchell also significantly cut the game plan down. Equipped with about 30 set plays, Mitchell decided to let his team play loose Thursday night and scaled down the play calls significantly.

"We went very basic tonight," Mitchell said. "Everybody knew what we were trying to get done."

And that was to end a three-game losing streak.

Bernisha Pinkett, Victoria Dunlap and A'dia Mathies (from left to right)

Live blog: No. 19 UK Hoops vs. South Carolina

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Pre-LSU video interviews with Cal, Hood, Polson

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Head coach John Calipari


Sophomore guard Jon Hood


Freshman guard Jarrod Polson

Column: Loss of Cobb can't mean loss of next year

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UK-Pitt_036_cw.JPGArguably the most talented player to ever put on a Kentucky football uniform - the program's most dynamic, most versatile and all-time touchdowns leader - has played his last down at the University of Kentucky.

Randall Cobb is headed to the NFL.

The junior wide receiver, professing his love for the University of Kentucky and internal battle he wrestled to make, announced his decision to forego his final year of eligibility on Thursday at a news conference.

"I have had the dream since I was a child growing up since I was 4 years old," Cobb said as he started to choke up. "I was lying in bed and that was the only thing I wanted, to play football in the NFL. As hard as this is for me, I feel as if I am physically and wrmentally ready for the next level."

Head coach Joker Phillips was happy for Cobb and his decision.

"You come to college for two things," Phillips said. "You come to get an education, and if you're a college athlete, you come here to put yourself in a position to play professionally. Randall has an opportunity a year early to do that. That speaks volumes to me on his commitment to this program and speaks volumes to how far this program has come."

But this one still hurts.

The loss of Cobb is as deflating as it is damaging. Not only will Kentucky lose its go-to player, who has rushed for 1,313 yards, caught for 1,661, passed for 689, returned punts and kicks for 1,700, and scored 37 total touchdowns, it loses the face of the program.

"It's painful," Phillips said, "but we've lost players before. We haven't lost one of this magnitude this early, but the timing is perfect for us."

In the process of losing program-changers Andre Woodson, Jacob Tamme, Keenan Burton and Wesley Woodyard, among others, to graduation and the NFL after the 2007 season, Kentucky found another prized gem in Cobb that was able to keep the program from taking a step back.

Cobb marveled fans with his ability to do a little bit of everything. When needed to play quarterback, Cobb did and succeeded (many to this day still think he should have been the one taking snaps under center this season). When teams kicked to him and gave him a chance to return kicks, Cobb was one of the best in college football. And when he was asked to switch over to wide receiver and reduce his role taking snaps, Cobb obliged for the betterment of the program.

But perhaps his most defining trait, the one that will make him millions of dollars at the NFL level and helped him succeed the most at the college level, was his heart and desire.

At 5-foot-11, 186 pounds, Cobb was far from a prized high school recruit. While one coach said he would never play Division I football, and schools like Cobb's home-state school of Tennessee hesitated on him, Kentucky saw something in Cobb and jumped at the chance to sign him.

Later, coaches like Urban Meyer regretted whiffing on Cobb.

Although Cobb was initially recruited as average, he was far from it, and he demanded even more. Sometimes frustrated by the program's inability to take the next step in the Southeastern Conference, Cobb's love for the program almost always outweighed his desire to individually succeed.

"I had a vision when I came here of all of those things (beating Tennessee and winning an SEC championship) happening," Cobb said. "I talked to Coach Phillips and he is going to keep it going. One thing that goes with players is that we pass through. We pass through the program. There are going to be guys that will carry that tradition and keep the program going. I know that Coach Phillips will recruit kids that will have passion and that will want to play in games like that."

Despite all the yards and touchdowns Cobb posted while he was at Kentucky, his leadership and character will be the hardest things for the Kentucky football program to replace.

"You can't fake being a leader," wide receivers coach Tee Martin said. "You can't fake going to work hard. He was just like that. You've got to find somebody like that, and that's why we're out recruiting right now and getting to know kids on the recruiting trail, but you can't expect a guy to be Randall Cobb because he's one in a million. I've been around a lot of guys and he's special. You don't replace those guys every day."

Kentucky owes Cobb a lot. Without his playmaking abilities for the last three seasons, who knows where the program would be.

But it's time for both parties to move on.

Cobb has a promising future at the NFL level and he may never have a chance quite like the one he has this year.

"This decision has been waiting on me for a while, and as hard as it was, I had to make the best decision for me," said Cobb, whose NFL evaluations listed him as a third-round prospect. "I felt it was my time to go and pursue my dream to play in the NFL."

Kentucky, moving forward, wasn't always going to be able to rely on just Cobb. As Phillips said Thursday, UK needs to find 10 more Randall Cobbs, not just one.

"We were looking for a Randall Cobb when we found Randall Cobb," Phillips said. "We've got to try to find our next Randall Cobb. We've been able to go out and recruit some really talented wide receivers. We've got to continue to develop that and develop the ones that come in here. Hopefully the next one of those guys that comes here is the next Randall Cobb."

While a critical blow to the immediate outlook of the team, Phillips said the decision came at a perfect time. Unlike two years ago when the Cats were blindsided by the dismissal of quarterback Curtis Pulley, the coaches have time to sign players to replace Cobb and develop the underclassmen who have been ready to take his spot.

Torn between staying and leaving, Cobb said he put his emotions aside and did what he thought was the best for the team. He's confident that the program will move forward without him.

"I know without a doubt in my mind my teammates will carry on the tradition, and we will continue to recruit top athletes and develop the best players," Cobb said. "I will continue to represent this university to the best of my ability and wear my UK blue and white with pride."

Cobb, who vowed to return to the place he now calls home and loves to get his degree, will be missed at Kentucky. He'll go down as one of the most revered and admired players in Kentucky football history.

But his absence cannot mean a step back for the program. If the coaches, players and fans want to build on the legacy and standard Cobb built at Kentucky, the next step is to move on without Cobb and continue to succeed.

Cobb was the bridge between Woodson and Co. Who will be on the other end?

Video: Cobb announces he's entering NFL Draft

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Randall Cobb made it official Thursday. He's off to the pros, bypassing his senior year of colleg eligibility for the 2011 NFL Draft.

We'll have complete coverage of his decision on the homepage at UKathletics.com, as well a written blog post or two on here later. For now, check out Cobb's full news conference below on video:

Junior wide receiver Randall Cobb


Head coach Joker Phillips


Wide receivers coach Tee Martin

Phillips to appear on Outside the Lines at 3 p.m.

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Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips will make a guest appearance on "Outside the Lines: First Report" on Thursday at 3 p.m. on ESPN to discuss college football opportunities for African-Americans.

Phillips is one of five black head coaches currently in a BCS conference.

Kentucky wide receiver Randall Cobb will hold a news conference Thursday at 12:45 p.m. to announce a decision about his football future.

Cobb is contemplating between making a jump to the NFL or returning for his senior season.

Check UKathletics.com and Cat Scratches later this afternoon for coverage of the decision.

WBSK 09_10 UKatTN Web 16.jpgIn the midst of a three-game losing streak and with the timetable of Amber Smith's injury prognosis nearing an end, the questions about her return are becoming more frequent with every game.

The point guard position has been a liability for the Kentucky women's basketball team in recent games and the Cats have suffered the consequences as a result. With so much of what Kentucky does hinging on the point guard position, will Smith try to come back for the remainder of the season for her final year of eligibility?

According to head coach Matthew Mitchell, Smith is "leaning" towards sitting out the rest of this season and returning next year.

"Amber's health is good and she's progressing well," Mitchell said. "We're still probably three weeks away from any kind of definite decision. Right now it looks like she's probably leaning toward returning next season. I don't want to hide information from you, but we literally don't know. That's talking about it today. We've always tried to talk about as it is happening today. In three weeks when she's released and feeling great and wants to come back, then she can do that if that's what she wants to do."

The factor for Smith becomes, is it worth it at this point to return and burn a final year of eligibility? The Cats are still very likely to make the NCAA Tournament and are expected to be a contender, but as the games tick away and the calendar continues to turn, how important is this season to Smith to bypass a full season next year?

If Mitchell's prognosis is true and they really do make a decision on Smith in three weeks, she'd have roughly eight regular-season games left, the Southeastern Conference Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.

Getting Smith back up to speed and in-game shape will be an immediate hurdle. She runs the risk of trying to find her role and rhythm with the team right before the tournament. 

"I think for a return this year, it would have to be 110 percent in her mind that's what she wants to do and she's going to fight whatever discomfort there is," Mitchell said. "If she's there, I think she'd have time enough, if we can play well enough - right now, I don't know if we can play well enough to get into the NCAA Tournament - she would have time enough to round into shape for the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. If that's worth it for her, who am I to say what decision she should make?"

Mitchell said the decision is ultimately up to Smith but said he'll be there to offer support for whatever Smith decides to do.

"I would absolutely be honest with her on my opinions on what she should do," Mitchell said. "I will give her my input. I think she's earned the right to, if she wants to walk out of here with her senior class and that's what she wants to do, that's what I'm saying I will let her do."

As for ending the three-game losing streak, UK takes on South Carolina on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum in search of its first league win of the year.

"They reacted to practice well yesterday," Mitchell said. "We didn't talk about the losing streak. We just tried to talk about the Georgia game and how we lost the Georgia game and how we can correct that. I guess we will find out."

Mitchells expecting second child: On Wednesday, Mitchell and his wife, Jenna, announced they are expecting their second child, on all of all places Twitter.

Unbeknown to Mitchell, his wife tweeted that she was eight weeks pregnant. When Mitchell's Twitter inbox started to fill up with congratulatory messages, he retweeted the news.

"We are expecting a child," Mitchell said. "We are prayerfully hoping to have the child in August. We'll see what happens in August."
 

 

Baseball, softball practices underway

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011211_practice 055.jpgIt's hard to believe with the calendar reading January and snow still falling from the sky that baseball and softball season is right around the corner.

But believe it.

The Kentucky baseball and softball teams began practicing this week for the upcoming 2011 seasons. The baseball team opened practice Wednesday while the softball team started Monday.

Both teams are practicing inside the Nutter Field House until the weather outside improves.

The baseball team begins its season Feb. 18 at Charleston, S.C., while the softball team opens play in Miami against Ohio State.
The goal to become a top-15 athletics program by 2015 is off to a rough start in 2011.

After one semester of athletics, Kentucky is tied for 98th in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings for the 2010-11 athletics season, which were developed as a joint effort between the National Association of College Director of Athletics and USA Today to rate the top athletic departments in the country.

UK is ranked 98th at the conclusion of the fall semester of sports, which included football, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's soccer, volleyball, women's field hockey, and men's water polo (UK does not compete in field hockey and water polo). Two semesters of sports, as the Directors' Cup standings defines them, remain to be played for the final standings, which will be released June 30.

Halfway through the athletics season, UK has picked up 50.0 total points for placing 33rd in volleyball and 46th in football. Stanford, by comparison, has 399.00 total points and leads the standings. Stanford, which has won an unprecedented 16 straight Directors' Cups, has a built-in advantage over schools like Kentucky because of the number of varsity sports the department competes in.

Last year, Kentucky scored 89.0 points in the fall semester before amassing 445.0 points in the winter, sixth highest among all schools in Division I. With two nationally ranked basketball programs at the moment, the school could be poised for another big winter.

Kentucky uses the rankings as a measurement for its 15 by 15 by 15 Plan, a department-wide mandate to win at least 15 conference, tournament or national championships and rank among the NCAA's top 15 athletic programs.

UK has four championships already (two rifle titles in 2009 and two men's basketball crowns in 2010) and was at one point ranked in the top 15 of last year's standings. UK finished 29th in 2009-10, the third-highest finish in school history and best since the 1997-98 athletics season, when the school was awarded the full allotment of points in men's basketball for winning the national championship.

Phillips: Losing season not a step back

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A losing season, Kentucky's first in five years, was not enough to put a damper on Kentucky football head coach Joker Phillips' outlook on the program following his first year as head coach.

"We had some good accomplishments in the 2010 season," Phillips said in a briefing with the media before Tuesday's basketball game against Auburn. "We won some big games that led to another bowl game. Obviously the season did not end like we would have liked and everybody else would have liked, but I feel good about the program."

Kentucky is fresh off a disappointing 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

With the 2010 season closed and the offseason now in full gear, the two lingering questions for the Cats as they look ahead to 2011 revolve around Randall Cobb and Danny Trevathan and whether or not they will declare for the NFL Draft.

Phillips said he doesn't have a gut feeling on what either player will do but remained confident on what UK will return with or without those players.

Among the strengths Phillips mentioned for next year's team, he noted four starters returning on the offensive line, quality redshirt players, wide receiver La'Rod King, a full arsenal of tight ends, tailback Raymond Sanders and the majority of UK's top tacklers.

Still, if Cobb decides to turn pro, UK will be without several offensive stars from 2010, including departing seniors Mike Hartline, Derrick Locke and Chris Matthews. Defensively, Phillips will have to replace defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, defensive end DeQuin Evans and possibly Trevathan.

Phillips likened the losses to the 2008 season when UK lost the likes of program-changers Andre Woodson, Keenan Burton, Jacob Tamme and Wesley Woodyard. The Cats still won seven games, including the Liberty Bowl.

"We're not that far away," Phillips said. "The way the ball bounced this year, we were a couple of bounces from winning eight games. We were also a couple of bounces from winning four, too."

Phillips noted that he was not happy with winning six games, adding that there is nobody in or around the program that wants to go to more bowl games and win championships than he does.

The key in getting more victories and taking the next step, Phillips said, is consistency.

"We've got to be more consistent in being a hard-nose program, being consistent in our discipline and we've also got to be consistent in being a physical football team," Phillips said.

Talent wise, Phillips is confident Kentucky will return plenty next year. Asked if he was worried about the recruiting aftereffects of losing a bowl game heading into the offseason, Phillips said no. He pointed to last year's signing class, one of the best in school history, which came after the loss to Clemson in the Music City Bowl.

No more staff changes are expected in the offseason, Phillips said, including co-defensive coordinator Steve Brown. But who will play quarterback next year is anybody's guess.

Junior-to-be Morgan Newton, who won five games as a freshman and started this year's bowl game in place of the suspended Hartline, is thought to be the early favorite for the job because of experience, but Phillips said it will be a wide-open, three-way battle between Newton, sophomore-to-be Ryan Mossakowski and grayshirt freshman Maxwell Smith.

Phillips said both Newton and Mossakowski are farther along in their development at this point in their careers than Woodson and Hartline were.

"If you look across the country and even in the league, the difference between winning and losing games is the quarterback position," Phillips said.
Jones_4_cw.jpgIt seemed fitting in a way that the first time the Kentucky men's basketball team opened its postgame locker room to the media in a regular-season game in nearly a decade, head coach John Calipari may have aired his displeasure with some of his team by shaking up the lineup.

Kentucky won handily Tuesday night, manhandling an overmatched Auburn team 78-54 for the Cats' (13-3, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) first league win of the season, but the bigger story after the game was the lineup changes, particularly Terrence Jones coming off the bench. UK had its first lineup change of the season, and for the first time in Jones' 16-game collegiate career, UK's leading scorer did not start (Doron Lamb started in place of him).

Calipari said postgame that Jones didn't start because of an illness. A stuffed-up, nasally Jones said he has a sinus infection, coughing, sneezing and even spitting up some blood early Tuesday, but after 35 minutes of play, it was pretty clear to everyone in the media room that, a couple of days after Calipari hinted Jones may not start, the benching may have been more about proving a point than your run-of-the-mill sickness.

"I kind of liked him coming off the bench," Calipari said. "Maybe we'll keep him there. (I) kind of liked our start, too, with him coming off the bench, so maybe we keep him there. (He) rebounded better; just went after balls. He went after balls with two hands above the rim."

For one night at least, Jones got the message.

The freshman forward came off the bench and responded with a freshman-record 35 points. Three weeks after Doron Lamb broke Jamal Mashburn's longtime mark of 31 points with 32, Jones topped them both in a rare off-the-bench performance. (Oddly enough, UK's freshmen break the scoring record twice in a season a year after stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins came to campus; plus, both Lamb and Jones did it off the bench.)

"I just had the mindset of coming in and trying to play my hardest," Jones said. "(Calipari) told me not to use the excuse that I was sick."

Perhaps the most impressive parts of Jones' performance were his quick start and efficiency, both of which haven't been up to par of late.

Jones first entered the game at the 15:11 mark, got his first points on layup with 13:13 and never stopped from there. Jones tied the record late in the second half with a 3-pointer from just right of the top of the key and broke it with a pair of free throws.

"He's a grown man," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said.

As if he was making a case to be back in the starting lineup already, Jones finished 11 of 17 from the floor, 4 of 5 from 3-point range and 9 for 13 at the free-throw line. He also had eight rebounds, three steals and just one turnover.

"I've had (some) slow starts, so I knew that (Calipari) was thinking about (not starting me)," Jones said.

Jones wasn't the only player Calipari directed a point to Tuesday night.

As Lamb made his first start of the season, players like Jon Hood, Eloy Vargas and Josh Harrellson received stern in-game messages.

Hood saw action earlier in the game than he usually does but was yanked pretty quickly after a missed 3. Vargas was the first sub of the game but was in and out of the game like a yo-yo. When Vargas played how his coach has preached and ripped a rebound away with two hands, the crowd applauded him, but just moments before he was stuffed on an easy dunk opportunity.

"I'm trying to see if we're going to be able to use some of these guys in the higher-level SEC games," Calipari said.

Even the reliable Josh Harrellson, who has played more consistently than just about anyone else on the roster this year, struggled in the first half. The SEC's leading rebounder recorded zero rebounds in the first half and did not start the second half.

"Josh reverted to a year ago," Calipari said. "Every ball he went after with one hand. That was who he was a year ago. Well, then you don't deserve to be on the court. A lot of times guys are reading what they're saying about them. All of a sudden you change how you play. When you go down that slippery slope, that's exactly what it is: slippery. It's hard to come back up. That's why I'm trying to make sure we keep the pressure on this team." 

Clearly, Calipari could get away with it against an Auburn team that is having a year to forget. The Tigers have lost to the likes of UNC Asheville, Samford, Campbell, Jacksonville and Presbyterian.

But UK, now two games into conference play, is at the point in the season where it's time to find a consistent identity. Non-conference play has passed, February is approaching and March Madness is sooner than the players realize.

"One mistake and we were out tonight," said Harrellson, who regained his composure in the second half and finished with eight points and four rebounds. "He wants everybody to play as hard as they can in SEC play. It's time to step up and play as hard as you can the whole time. If you get tired, take yourself out. He's not going to take any crap. He wants to win it all."

The messages are even being sent to veterans like Darius Miller, who once again switched from hot to cold as if someone turned the handles on a faucet. Miller started the game with a quick six points and a pair of strong rebounds but largely disappeared after that.

"I said some things in the huddle (to Miller)," Calipari said. "I said, 'You guys watch, he won't do this, this and this when I put him back.' Well, he did one of those things. If I was him, I'd have looked right at me (and said), 'Yeah, you don't think I can do that?' May not have said anything, but I'd have looked right at the coach. I would have loved it.

"Where is that lion, (that) tiger?  Where is it? Come out."

Maybe the lineup changes, the quick hooks and the messages Calipari sent Tuesday night was enough to prod the inner lion, er Wildcat, to wake up.

John Calipari

Terrence Jones

Doron Lamb

Jan. 9 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Jan. 9:

Women's basketball: Victoria Dunlap

  • Averaged a team-high 17.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in a tough three-game stretch for Kentucky.
  • Jumped four spots on UK's all-time scoring list to No. 6 with 1,525 points.
  • Put together her third double-double of the season against Arkansas with 26 points and 13 rebounds and now has 25 in her career to tie Josh Mills for No. 3 all-time on UK's all-time double-doubles list.
  • Hit 8-of-10 from the free-throw line against Georgia and now has 376 career free throws, moving her into third place on UK's all-time free-throws made list.
  • Totaled four blocks in the week and needs just one more to move to No. 2 on that list.

Swimming & diving: Greg Ferrucci

  • Came in third place in the men's one-meter championship at the Tennessee Diving Invitational on Jan. 3
  • Earned a sixth-place finish in the men's three-meter championship at the Tennessee Diving Invitational on Jan. 4.
  • Came in fifth place on the platform at the Tennessee Diving Invitational on Jan. 5
  • Recorded a second-place finish on the three-meter board in Columbia, S.C., in the Cats' double dual meet against South Carolina and the College of Charleston.
  • Scored a 385.90 to win the one-meter board in the Cats' double dual meet against the Gamecocks and the College of Charleston.
  • Currently holds the second best score in UK history on the platform dive, the third best mark in the men's three-meter board and the fourth best score in the men's one meter board.

Gymnastics: Andrea Mitchell

Performed well in the team's first event of the year, finishing in the top five in three events to help Kentucky defeat No. 17 Illinois and Northern Illinois with a score of 194.350 ... Was solid on each event, however was the star of the meet on floor, posting a career-high mark of 9.95 for her first career event title on that event ... The high score was the third highest posting in school history, becoming only the seventh gymnasts in UK history to record a score of 9.5 or higher on floor ... With the impressive mark, Mitchell ranks No. 1 in the country on floor, posting the highest score on the event so far this season ... Was also impressive on bars, where she has developed a new routine for this season, scoring a solid score of 9.775 ... Finished third in the all around competition and first on the UK team with a score of 38.975.

Live blog: UK men's basketball vs. Auburn

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Despite a three-loss week, the Kentucky women's basketball team remained in this week's polls.

However, the Cats did suffer a pretty significant drop, falling from the top 10 to 19th in both major polls.

AP Top 25

ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Baylor (20) 14-1 761
2 Connecticut (9) 14-1 746
3 Duke (2) 15-0 712
4 Stanford 12-2 681
5 Texas A&M 13-1 642
6 Tennessee 15-2 624
7 West Virginia 16-0 604
8 Xavier 12-2 546
9 UCLA 13-1 523
10 Michigan State 15-1 462
11 North Carolina 15-1 451
12 Notre Dame 13-4 431
13 Maryland 13-2 345
14 Oklahoma 11-3 307
15 Florida State 14-3 305
16 Iowa State 12-3 274
17 Georgetown 13-4 254
18 Green Bay 15-1 244
19 Kentucky 11-4 236
20 Iowa 14-3 226
21 DePaul 15-2 202
22 St. John's 12-4 109
23 Arkansas 14-1 100
24 Ohio State 10-5 55
25 Miami (FL) 16-1 48

Speculating about Selection Sunday is part of the fun of being a college basketball fan, and no one evokes more speculation and predictions than ESPN's Joe Lunardi, who more or less invented the concept of "Bracketology."

So when Lunardi recently suggested in one of his online posts that Kentucky was a strong candidate for a No. 1 seed, it generated a lot of discussion.

Big Blue fans love it, but Lunardi said he's received plenty of pushback from other college hoops followers questioning his reasoning. In an interview on "The Leach Report" radio show last week, Lunardi said he saw no reason to back down.

Lunardi projects Duke to get a No. 1 seed, along with champions of the Big East and the Big Ten. After that, there would be several contenders for the other one seeds and he thinks Kentucky will have the kind of resume it takes to get it.

"I think their best basketball is still ahead of them," Lunardi said. "And you know what, who's to say Kentucky doesn't have, I don't know, 26, 27 or 28 wins after the SEC Tournament. I think they're going to be right there for a No. 1 seed, hence the prediction."

Although his analysis was posted prior to UK's loss at Georgia (Lunardi's latest projections can be found here), Lunardi was already thinking the Cats would lose at least three road games in league play. Georgia would certainly qualify as a "quality loss" at this point.

"(Despite knocks on the SEC), it is still a solid, multi-bid league," Lunardi said. "It may not be six or seven teams (deep), but it's going to be four or five, I think, anyway. The winner of that league will particularly dominate the regular season and they win it by a game or two or three, which is what I think is going to happen for Kentucky. Again, that's kind of the basis of putting UK on the short list of teams that can get a No. 1 seed two months from now."

Now, on to some other topics for Lunardi:

Question: How do you like the expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 68 teams?
Lunardi: I believe that when the TV negotiations occurred (last year), the NCAA was prepared to go to 96 and do it right now for this season. I know they have modeled it and they had done some mock brackets. But I think what happened was that the network partners, in this case TBS and CBS, were willing to give the NCAA the number, meaning the dollar figure they were looking for, without the additional inventory of games. So those of us who were opposed to expansion -- and count me among them -- got a little bit of a bonus I suppose, in that this little taste of expansion, which won't dramatically alter the kind of complexion of the field and the way tournament unfolds. This expansion is going to create more bubble talk for the three extra positions, but it isn't going to change for most viewers the way the tournament rolls out. So in that respect, I'm happy with it and I hope that the powers that be in the networks are happy with it so it doesn't get any crazier than this down the road. Will it happen down the road? Probably. How many sports have contracted?

Question: Are the national rankings important for a team to help its seeding?
Lunardi: I think they are at the very top of the bracket. If you study these things, there's a decent correlation between the best teams in the polls and the one, two and three seeds, let's say. After that, it becomes more of a resume issue, where the committee members seem to find it a little easier to deviate from the polls. Generally, come Selection Sunday,  we can identify the three, four, five, six teams that are in contention for a one seed and then the conference tournaments tend to short that out if there's a dispute. I'm still of the opinion that if you win the regular season and conference tournament in one of those top six power conferences, you're going be hard pressed not to get a one seed. And that's kind of why I like Kentucky. I just like the way their freshmen are playing, short of the one kind of stink bomb there in Hawaii. It's been a pretty solid first two months for what is a very, very young team.

Question: What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about the tournament and the process of selecting and seeding teams?
Lunardi: Literally coaches call, directors call, commissioners call, in addition to e-mail and online comments from fans. You know, I'm mimicking a process that 10 really smart people spend a lot of time on. There's so much scrutiny with the process now, by people like us, for that to take place.  I mean, these committee members work at it like a full-time job for four months. And while we may quibble with a decision here or there, by and large they get it right because they really have all of the data at their fingertips. You can question how they might interpret that data, and certainly I question it as anyone else, but the integrity of the process now is beyond repute, in my opinion. (Some fans) still think there's matchmaking going on, deal-making going on, storylines for TV being orchestrated, that type of thing, and I'm here to tell you and to tell everyone that when you build these mock brackets, every week for three months as I do and a lot of people do, you realize following the principles and procedures that are in writing for the committee members is hard enough without playing match maker. It just can't happen.

Cats still a No. 2 seed in latest Bracketology

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A loss to Georgia wasn't enough to damage the Kentucky men's basketball team's NCAA Tournament status in the eyes of ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi.

The Cats are still a No. 2 seed in Lunardi's latest Bracketology projections. If the tournament started today, Lunardi has them playing No. 15 seed Coastal Carolina in Tampa.

Lunardi projects four Southeastern Conference teams to make it at this point. UK head coach John Calipari has said he thinks the league will end up getting five or six teams in.

Full projections can be found here.

SEC dominance

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SEC Circle Gold Letters on White Background.jpgUntil another conference proves otherwise, the Southeastern Conference stands above the rest in football.

For the fifth straight year, an SEC team won the BCS national championship as the Auburn Tigers defeated the Oregon Ducks 22-19 Monday night in a classic in Glendale, Ariz.

The SEC's current national championship run is unprecedented. Since the formation of the NCAA, the SEC is the first league to win five straight national titles.

It seems like a formality that the SEC will be in line for a sixth next year, or at least have a shot at it. Who is your pick to win it next year?

The SEC went 5-5 in bowl games this year.

Video: Players preview Auburn; Cal talks Kanter

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I'm taking a much-needed day off after the trip to Birmingham, Ala., and women's basketball work Sunday, so video is going to have to suffice for the Auburn preview.

You'll want to check out the videos below as Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins talk about playing with a more aggressive mentality, how the players reacted to Auburn's six-point half against LSU, and what head coach John Calipari had to say about the Enes Kanter decision.

I guarantee you won't want to miss out on the commets from Cal on Kanter.

John Calipari


Darius Miller


DeAndre Liggins


Eloy Vargas

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SEC Circle Gold Letters on White Background.jpgThis morning, all 12 coaches from around the league participated in the weekly SEC coaches' teleconference. This week, rather than providing a complete transcript of John Calipari's comments as well as those of UK's upcoming opponents, we'll be running down some of the more notable comments from the coaches.

This week, UK hosts Auburn and LSU at home so we have quotes from Tony Barbee of Auburn and Trent Johnson of LSU, as well as Mark Fox, whose Georgia Bulldogs knocked off Kentucky on Saturday.

John Calipari

- Calipari opened by talking about UK's two opponents for the week, saying that Auburn and LSU are "two teams that are playing better." Calipari will have to watch a little less tape this week because Auburn and LSU played against one another on Saturday at Auburn, a game which was won by LSU 62-55. Auburn was down 32-6 at halftime of that game but mounted a furious second-half rally that fell short.

"Auburn in the second half really did some great stuff," Calipari said. "They had a bad start which put them in a hole they couldn't overcome."

Calipari went to talk about Auburn's win over Florida State on Jan. 3.

"I just watched them play Florida State and I think Tony (Barbee) is shorthanded right now but has done a great job," Calipari said. "Florida State is going to win a lot of games in their league and they were up as many as 10 and held off a good Florida State team a week ago. I think he has them playing well."

- Calipari was later asked about whether the NCAA's final ruling against Enes Kanter the day before Kentucky's game against Georgia affected his team's performance negatively.

"Well,  maybe it inspired them because I thought it was as much about Georgia because they wanted it worse than we did," Calipari said. "I don't think it had anything to do with anything other than they played better, they were better coached and they deserved to win the game."

In answering that question, Calipari mentioned a new phrase he is emphasizing to his team in the wake of the loss.

"I've got some guys that have to learn what it means to be committed and we talked about it as a team last night," Calipari said. "There's a difference between being content.  I've got a couple guys that are content because they're getting minutes, they're scoring, so they're content, but they're not committed."

- Calipari talked more about the loss, citing shot selection and defensive breakdowns as major factors.

"The tape we watched last night was our shot selection," Calipari said. "When they got physical, we couldn't play through bumps and so we started just throwing balls that had no chance of going in. The second thing we showed them was our defensive breakdowns. When we got the game close, we broke down four our five times and gave them dunks and layups."

- After the loss at Georgia, Calipari talked about the possibility of bringing Terrence Jones off the bench. During his comments this morning, he didn't mention Jones specifically, but he did talk about shaking up his starting lineup.

"We may have some guys that need to come off the bench that don't need start," Calipari said. "Maybe they need to come off the bench and get it right."

- Calipari was then asked about the role that Kanter would play as a student assistant and exactly how that role would be defined.

"He's allowed to practice with us and be on the court and travel with us," Calipari said. "As far as everything has gone, that's what he's allowed to do right now."

Finally, Calipari was asked about how that role would help the team. Although I'm sure Kanter's presence will indeed continue to benefit the team, Calipari was resolute in saying that his ultimate priority is Kanter's future.

"I'm more worried about it helping him," Calipari said. "I'm not worried about it helping our team. He's the youngest player on our team by four months and this has been a shock to him and his family. I told him, 'You're part of our family, you're part of my family and I'm going to be there for you.'"

Auburn coach Tony Barbee

-Barbee is in his first year at Auburn and will be coaching against John Calipari, his mentor, for the first time in the SEC. He spoke about the relationship of the two and what it will be to coach against him and to take his team into Rupp Arena on Tuesday.

"We're looking forward to the game tomorrow night against Kentucky," Barbee said.  "Going against my former coach and my mentor John Calipari and having gone against him three times in Conference USA is always fun. It's an intense matchup because I know how competitive he is and he knows how competitive I am."

Barbee made it clear that the fact that he and Calipari are competitive does not affect their relationship.

"We talk all the time," Barbee said. "Even though we're competitors and back in the same conference competing against each other, it doesn't affect our friendship and our relationship.  I've said it before and I'll continue to say it: There hasn't been another male figure in my life outside of my dad that's had the kind of impact that he's had on me personally and professionally."

"It's always fun trying to match wits against one of the best coaches in the game in Coach Cal."

- Barbee also talked about what it will be like to bring his team into Rupp Arena.

"It's going to be a difficult game obviously taking a young team, an inexperienced team like I have on the road to an atmosphere like Rupp Arena for the first time," Barbee said. "We're going to come in and play hard and guard our tails off and hopefully make some shots."

On Saturday against LSU in the first half, making shots was quite a challenge. Auburn managed to score only six first-half points, but rebounded in the second half.

"I think we set the game back about 50 years with our offensive performance (in the first half)," Barbee joked. "I've never seen anything like that. But it is what it is, we're on offensively challenged team. I was proud of the effort of our kids to battle back. You burn up so much energy trying to come back, we just didn't have enough to get over the hump."

- Barbee also spoke about the winter storm in the Southeast and how it affected his team's travel plans. Barbee said Auburn arrived in Lexington Sunday night, a day earlier than they had planned, in order to avoid the storm that is impacting so many people.

LSU coach Trent Johnson

- LSU plays against Arkansas at home before traveling to Lexington for Saturday's game against the Wildcats, but Johnson spoke briefly about playing Kentucky in Rupp.

"I haven't seen Kentucky play that much other than maybe a half on TV," Johnson said. "I'm trying to concentrate on our next opponent. My thoughts on Rupp Arena are just like my thoughts on any other facility or venue that you go to that's one of the premier in college basketball. It's exciting and I'm looking forward to the opportunity."

- LSU is among the youngest  in college basketball and Johnson was asked how his team has coped with that inexperience in light of a 9-7 start to the season.

"Somebody brought to my attention that out of 345 Division I teams, we're ranked 346th in terms of our youth and inexperience," Johnson kidded. "This has been a group that's stayed together and is working extremely hard. It hurts us right now, obviously, going into league play. For the most part, they're done a very good job and team chemistry is very, very good.  We just haven't made enough plays to win our share of games."

Georgia coach Mark Fox

- Kentucky doesn't play Georgia again until Jan. 29, but Fox was asked about his impressions of Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight. He was so effusive in his praise of the freshman that I thought his comments were worth reporting.

"Brandon Knight is terrific, absolultely terrific," Fox gushed. "I think he's a better player in the half court than John Wall was.  I think he's just a dynamite player. He is really good, I mean he is really good. There's nothing he can't do."

It's one thing to compare Knight to Wall, but it's another thing entirely to say he's better than Wall, so Fox was asked to expand upon the comment that Knight is better in the half court.

"He shoots the ball better," Fox said. "He goes tight on the dribble. He's got a super mind for the game, makes passes and makes players better. He's a complete player in the half court. He is terrific."

UK falls in polls after Georgia loss

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It was a rough week for Kentucky sports, culminated Monday by the men's basketball team's drop in the polls.

Following a loss to Georgia to open Southeastern Conference play, the Cats feel to No. 13 in this week's Associated Press Top 25 and No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll.

AP Top 25
1. Duke (65); 15-0; 1,625;1
2. Ohio St.; 16-0; 1,549;2
3. Kansas; 15-0; 1,489;3
4. Syracuse; 16-0; 1,443;4
5. Pittsburgh; 15-1; 1,353;5
6. San Diego St.; 17-0; 1,249;6
7. Villanova; 14-1; 1,248;7
8. Purdue; 15-1; 1,105;11
9. Notre Dame; 14-2; 1,069;14
10 . Connecticut; 12-2; 1,058;8
11. BYU; 16-1; 925;15
12. Texas; 12-3; 842;12
13. Kentucky; 12-3; 808;10
14. Texas A&M; 14-1; 807;16
15. Missouri; 14-2; 781;9
16. Illinois; 13-3; 655;20
17. Washington; 12-3; 540;23
18. Louisville; 13-2; 345;--
19. Temple; 11-3; 232;--
20. Wisconsin; 12-3; 231;--
21. Kansas St.; 12-4; 217;17
22. Georgetown; 12-4; 211;13
23. UCF; 14-1; 170;19
24. Georgia; 12-2; 145;--
25. Cincinnati; 15-1; 144;24

ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Duke (31) 15-0 775
2 Ohio State 16-0 742
3 Kansas 15-0 713
4 Syracuse 16-0 682
5 Pittsburgh 15-1 641
6 San Diego State 17-0 618
7 Villanova 14-1 589
8 Purdue 15-1 549
9 Connecticut 12-2 494
10 Brigham Young 16-1 482
11 Notre Dame 14-2 450
12 Missouri 14-2 407
13 Texas A&M 14-1 395
14 Texas 12-3 354
15 Kentucky 12-3 346
16 Illinois 13-3 323
17 Louisville 13-2 224
18 Washington 12-3 193
19 Georgetown 12-4 156
20 Kansas State 12-4 122
21 Wisconsin 12-3 95
22 UCF 14-1 85
23 Temple 11-3 81
24 Michigan State 10-5 75
25 Minnesota 12-4 74

Something's not quite right with the Kentucky women's basketball team.

That much is clear from a three-game losing streak, UK's longest since losing four in a row during the 2008-09 season.

The latest was a heartbreaker to an up-and-coming Georgia squad. The Cats lost 61-59 after A'dia Mathies 4-foot runner came up short as time expired. The loss snapped a 25-game winning streak at Memorial Coliseum.

Mathies' full-court drive following Ronika Ransford's free-throw miss with 6.6 seconds left was hardly the problem. In fact, Mathies was one of the few bright spots in the loss. She finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists. She was basically the lone spark in another offensive struggle.

"We are struggling offensively right now," said head coach Matthew Mitchell, who could not hide his total displeasure with the way his team is playing right now. "We're not making real good decisions at the point guard position. I think we played a little bit better when A'dia got there, so maybe that's the answer."

For the second game in a row, UK failed to shoot 30 percent, going just 29.5 percent from the field this game.

Starting point guard Maegan Conwright, who played extremely well at the beginning of the season, continued her midseason struggles and made just 1-of-6 shots from the floor.

Sharpshooter Keyla Snowden, who has led UK in four of the last six games, was also 1-for-6. And leading scorer and reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Victoria Dunlap was 4-of-14 from the floor.

Clearly, the offense is missing injured point guard Amber Smith right about now.

Mitchell thinks the problem is decision making and took the blame for the recent losses.

"I've got to do a better job of coaching them in practice," Mitchell said. "I'm evidently not coaching them very well because offensively we are miserable right now."

Kentucky, which has looked uninspired at times in losses to nationally ranked opponents Duke (No. 3) and Arkansas (No. 25), played better defense Sunday and forced 28 turnovers, but the Bulldogs still shot 50 percent from the floor.

The Cats fought back from an 11-point deficit in the first half but could never regain the lead.
Every time Kentucky had a chance to take the lead in the second half, Georgia would hit a big shot and reclaim momentum.

Most of the time it came from freshman guard Khaalidah Miller, who finished with 24 points, including a shot-clock-buzzer-beating 3-pointer from five feet behind the arc with 1:46 left, or Porsha Miller, who came up with two key defensive plays down the stretch to preserve the win.

"We seemed to have an answer," Georgia head coach Andy Landers said. "We had the resolve today to stay the course."

Which is something Kentucky used to do but can't right now. For some reason or another, things just aren't clicking as the Cats face their first significant wall since last year's magical run.

"It's bad," Mitchell said of the current situation. "The mood's bad in the locker room right now."

Coaches get all the credit in the world for successful seasons - which this one could very well end up being - but Mitchell is about to earn his paycheck now. Facing the toughest adversity his team has faced in years, how will he try to turn it around?

How will his team respond?

Live blog: No. 10 UK Hoops vs. Georgia

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Notebook: Georgia spoils UK's SEC opener, 77-70

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Well, it wasn't exactly a day to remember for the Big Blue Nation. After the football team lost to Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl, the UK men's basketball team looked to salvage the second half of the doubleheader in their Southeastern Conference opener on the road against the Georgia Bulldogs.

The Wildcats fell by a score of 77-70 and were doomed by a crucial 19-6 run that turned a tie game into a 77-64 Georgia lead. The crowd in Stegeman Coliseum was the toughest I can remember UK facing in recent years. The Bulldog faithful was justifiably excited,because Mark Fox's team looks like it will be a force to be reckoned with throughout SEC play. In fact, look for UGA to be ranked in next week's polls or at least among the top teams in the "also receiving votes" category.

I was not in attendance in Athens, Ga., but here are a few notes and observations from the defeat:

- Even though a loss is never fun, it's hard for me to be too discouraged because this is a game that I think the Cats can learn quite a bit from. 

Repeatedly and as recently as after Monday's game against Penn, John Calipari has warned his team that some of their first-half performances would put them in a hole if repeated against SEC foes. Lo and behold, UK came out flat in the opening half and found itself down 41-30. UK shot poorly, committed seven turnovers and allowed nearly 50 percent shooting on defense.

- Even after a very difficult non-conference schedule that I wrote about yesterday, Calipari steadfastly warned of the step up in intensity in conference play. His team got a lesson in exactly what he was talking about. 

Georgia came out firing and staked itself to a 7-0 lead. UK responded and was down just 28-26 when Terrence Jones committed his second foul with 6:32 remaining in the first half, at which point Georgia seized control. Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie combined for 22 points and eight rebounds in the first half, showing exactly why they are shoo-ins for All-SEC honors.

Thompkins finished with 25 points and seven rebounds, while Leslie had 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists. 

- With that halftime deficit UK faced, its margin for error was almost non-existent in the second half, especially with Jones' foul trouble. Calipari called Jones' number early and often in the second half and pleaded with his team to cut out the easy buckets Georgia enjoyed in the first half. UK responded and rallied to tied the game at 47 within the first 7:33 of the first half.

After that, it was nip and tuck until Georgia's clinching run, but in the end, foul trouble and an inability to make shots doomed UK. Darius Miller, Doron Lamb and DeAndre Liggins fouled out, while Jones had foul fouls. Many of those fouls came on calls that were protested by UK. 

The Wildcats were unable to improve much on 37.5 percent first-half shooting, managing only 38.5 percent in the second. The normally deadly outside shooters for UK went cold, hitting just 6-of-20 3-pointers, including 3-of-12 in the second half. UK was able to get a number of good looks from deep and around the basket, but converting those looks was another matter. Miller, in particular, missed a number of shots from short range, managing just 2-of-11 shooting for the game.

- Terrence Jones finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds for the game in 23 foul-limited minutes, but Calipari was left wondering why his pattern of slow starts continued. Calipari mentioned after the game that bringing him off the bench may be the answer in the future. We'll keep an eye on that heading into Tuesday's game against Auburn in Rupp.

UK's leading scorer before Jones' furious finish was Lamb, who finished with 18 points, but it took him 18 shots to get those points, as he struggled with his touch after a hot start. UK's other star freshman, Brandon Knight, had his quietest game in a number of weeks, scoring just 10 points and notching three assists.

- In the end, this was a game that came down to physicality and experience. Georgia is a deeper team than Kentucky, especially inside, which led to a 41-37 rebounding edge and contributed to many of the shots missed from close. With Georgia's four juniors and three seniors, UK was unable to find a way to finish a close game.

The Wildcats are clearly a work in progress and this was a game that exposed much of what UK needs to improve upon. 

Lack of execution a sour note to losing season

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4448676.jpegBIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A 6-7 record hangs over the Kentucky football season and Joker Phillips' first year as head coach like a nasty storm cloud.

Sure, there's plenty of sunny opportunities on the other side of the cloud, but the black mark of a losing record has a way of tainting things.

It has a way of erasing the buzz of Phillips' first year as head coach, spoiling one of the best individual performances by a player (Randall Cobb) in school history and underscoring a team that had its opportunities, but failed to capitalize on them.

"It's very disappointing," junior Randall Cobb said. "It's something I've been preaching about all season. We didn't execute. ... We had a great game plan; we just didn't execute."

And so, with a 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl, the season will end on a sour note.

For the first time in five years, Kentucky will enter the offseason with a losing record. After a three-game bowl winning streak, the Cats have now lost their last two bowl games.

"This is not the way you want to end your career, with a loss like this when you prepared for a month and you know what to expect, then you go out there and look like poop," an emotional Ricky Lumpkin said. "We were out there on defense calling when they were going to run the ball, yet we couldn't stop it."

And that's what made this season so frustrating. For a coach who preached discipline and execution all season long, the Kentucky players seemed to lack both when it mattered the most.

The Cats knew Pittsburgh was going to try to run the ball down their throats. And yet Pitt did it anyways. The Kentucky coaches knew they had to get the ball in their best players' hands. And yet Cobb and Derrick Locke didn't touch it enough. UK knew it couldn't afford to turn the ball over.

And yet it did with poorly executed fourth-down plays.

Talent is no longer an excuse. After four winning seasons and five bowl game appearances, Kentucky has the talent. The Cats just simply fell short of executing and building upon bigger expectations this year.

It will either be a vital learning lesson as the program moves forward with Phillips or a setback in transition.

"We've got to try to take the next step," Phillips said as he looked to the future. "You can't come into every season talking about how young we are. We expect those guys to mature in a hurry. I'm talking about mature on and off the field. The way we take this program, even to the next level, is we have to be a really good, disciplined team and physical football team - similar to what we saw today."

Pittsburgh was just flat out more physical than UK from the start of Saturday's game, bullying the Cats defensive front and running at will. The Panthers gashed Kentucky for 261 rushing yards, running for an average of 5.7 yards per play.

"(They) whipped our butt," newly hired co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "What we saw out there on the field today defensively, while I'm not discouraged, is unacceptable - totally unacceptable."

Arguably the three biggest plays of the game came on fourth down, the ultimate teller of execution.

Tied at 3-3 in the second quarter with UK driving at the Pitt 37, Phillips elected to go for it on fourth-and-less-than-a-yard. 

Sophomore quarterback Morgan Newton, playing for the suspended Mike Hartline, was stuffed at the line on a quarterback sneak. Pitt took advantage with a 33-yard field goal to go up 6-3.

"Good heavens," Newton said, "it's my fault. I've got to be more aware on the (sneak). I've just got to get the first down."

One drive later, Kentucky was taking no chances on going for it on fourth down again. Faced with a fourth-and-11 from the UK 41-yard line, Pitt's Andrew Taglianetti snuck into the backfield untouched and blocked Ryan Tydlacka's punt.

Pittsburgh recovered at the Kentucky 10 and scored three players later.

"Blocked punt, that was the game there," Locke said. "The momentum, it killed us."

The fourth-down woes weren't over.

Early in the third quarter, with momentum seemingly hanging in the balance and the Cats trailing 13-3, UK tried to fake a punt with wide receiver Matt Roark. Before Roark could get a pass off on fourth-and-8, he was sacked for a 12-yard loss.

Pitt took the short field and scored four plays later to take a commanding 20-3 lead.

But even more discouraging was the lack of touches Locke and Cobb received. Playing in perhaps his final game in a Kentucky uniform, Cobb got just nine offensive touches and only three in the first half.

Meanwhile, Locke, despite a 5.9 rushing average, carried the ball just 12 times.

"We had some plays dialed up for Randall, but we didn't get the ball to him enough, obviously," Phillips said. "It is always been said when you don't win the game, that you didn't get the ball enough to Randall, didn't get the ball enough to Locke, didn't get the ball to our playmakers, that is always going to be said."

It was a frustrating end to a frustrating season, a year in which opportunities were abound (momentum off a South Carolina win, a down year in the Southeastern Conference East and a manageable schedule), but UK couldn't capitalize on.

Perhaps Locke, a departing senior, said it best when looking at the future of the program.

"With the coaches we've got now, I think that the young guys have got to take advantage of what we got here," Locke said. "I want them to take advantage of (the coaches). If they get on your butt, just say, 'Yes, sir. What do you want me to do? What can I do to get better?' If they carry that into next season and can really be coachable, they'll be a good team. We've got talent."

Not all is lost after one losing season, but opportunities were missed. For the first time in a long time, Kentucky didn't take the next step forward.

Cobb mum on his future at Kentucky

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UK_WKU_14_cw.JPGBIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Was that really the last time Randall Cobb will suit up for Kentucky?

If Cobb knows, he's not telling - not yet.

With the BBVA Compass Bowl over and the deadline to declare for the NFL Draft looming on Jan. 15, whether or not Cobb stays at Kentucky becomes the most important news as the Kentucky football team heads into the offseason.

UK's all-time touchdown leader and the Southeastern Conference's single-season record holder for all-purpose yardage said he didn't know if Saturday's 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh was his last game in college.

"I don't know," Cobb said. "It's something I have a week now to figure out. I had a chance to go home and talk to my family daily. I'll have a decision made by next weekend."

If Cobb leaves, his last game won't be a memorable one. He finished with 62 receiving yards, 23 rushing yards and no touchdowns.

"It's very disappointing," Cobb said. "It's something I've been preaching all season. We didn't execute. Offensively, we didn't do the things we talked about. We had a great game plan; we just didn't execute it. We didn't do the things we've been doing in practice the past couple weeks. If you don't move the ball, move the sticks and keep your defense off the field to give them a break, it makes it hard."

Cobb got just nine offensive touches and only three in the first half.

"We had some plays dialed up for Randall, but we didn't get the ball to him enough, obviously," UK head coach Joker Phillips said. "It is always been said when you don't win the game that you didn't get the ball enough to Randall, didn't get the ball enough to (Derrick) Locke, didn't get the ball to our playmakers, that is always going to be said."

Junior linebacker Danny Trevathan, who is also considering the NFL, had his wrist X-rayed after the game and was not available for postgame interviews. He led the SEC in tackles this year.

Barnhart: Phillips did 'fine' in his first season

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Joker Phillips became the first head coach in Kentucky football history to go to a bowl game in his first year, but the season didn't quite end like he hoped with Kentucky suffering its first losing season since 2005.

Even so, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart was satisfied with the job Phillips did in his first year at the helm.

"Joker did fine," Barnhart said following UK's 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. "He was fine. It was a learning process. You've never been a head coach until you've been a head coach. He was a head coach for the first time this year and it is no different than a guy moving into a starting quarterback role or something like that. It moves quickly. ... He did a lot of good things. We were a good offensive team at times but eventually the two things that hurt us the most was turnovers at critical times and the special teams. And at times we just flat out made mistakes that cost us."

Phillips wasn't shy about taking disciplinary action with the team, handing out multiple one-game suspensions throughout the season. The most controversial one was the latest, a one-game suspension to starting quarterback Mike Hartline, who did not play Saturday because of an off-the-field incident.

Phillips maintained throughout every suspension that the team had to conduct itself better on and off the field, adding that he was at Kentucky to prepare his players for the rest of their lives.

Barnhart fully stood behind his football coach and his decision to hand out suspensions.

"He established some of the things he wanted to put into the program," Barnhart said. "He had some hard lines he had to draw early on about the way that he was going to conduct his business. That came back to hurt us at times because he sat some guys down when it probably wasn't the most popular thing to do and sometimes it wasn't the most popular thing in the locker room, but he did it because he thought it was better for the long-term piece of the program, and I appreciate that."

As expected, Barnhart was noticeably disappointed following the loss, but he remained positive for the future of Kentucky and for Phillips.

"We have guys that have been around this program and now it is time for us to continue to grow," Barnhart said. "We don't want to be a 6-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-5 type of program and you have to grow. It is a tough league to grow in and we know that. I want to thank the seniors as they leave because they have given a lot to this program. The guys that came when they said we couldn't get anything done, they made something happen for us."

BBVA Compass Bowl live blog: UK vs. Pitt

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UK seeks all-important winning season vs. Pitt

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for cobb td 1 b.jpgBIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- So there is football after all.

After more than a month of waiting and plenty of pre-bowl distractions, Kentucky and Pittsburgh will finally take the field at Legion Field on Saturday at noon ET for the BBVA Compass Bowl.

"We've had a really good week of preparation down here in Birmingham," head coach Joker Phillips said. "We had great workouts at Hoover High School and we're just ready to put all the preparations behind us and let it show up on the field."

Excuse Phillips and his team if they're anxious to play. When the Cats take the field Saturday, 42 days will have passed since the final regular-season game.

Although the game is significantly separated from the regular season, it could have a major impact on how the season is viewed. At 6-6, Kentucky is one win away from that all-important winning season, which would be the fifth straight for the school.

A loss, however, would be UK's first losing season since the Cats went 3-8 in 2005.

"Anyone on this team that's been here for more than one year has never had a losing season," senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "We've either been 7-6, 8-5, whatever, it's always been a positive record and that's something you want to keep going. That's another streak you don't want to lose. You don't want to be known as the team that finally had a losing season."

Speaking at the pre-bowl news conference Friday at Legion Field, junior wide receiver Randall Cobb, whose future for next year remains in the air, said a win would be a vital step for next year's team in keeping the winning mentality alive.

"This is really like the first game of next season because it's the first game of this year," Cobb said. "It'll be a different team next year, but it will still be a team that's very familiar to this team and you'll see what we'll look like next year."

The bowl game will be the first one for Phillips as head coach, who ironically played in two bowl games at Legion Field as a player on the 1983 and '84 UK teams.

It's the first time in school history that a Kentucky head coach has gone to a bowl game in his first season, but a loss and a losing season could damage how his first season is perceived.
"It's very important, especially for Coach Phillips," Cobb said. "We want to start him off on a good note and start him off with a winning record. That's our main concern is making sure we take care of the game for him."

Kentucky will face a Pittsburgh team that's faced more distractions in between its last game and the bowl game than most teams face in 10 years.

The Panthers will be without Big East Defensive Player of the Year Jabaal Sheard (elbow surgery), their head coach from the regular season (Dave Wannstedt), their initial replacement for him (Mike Haywood, who was fired after 16 days after being arrested) and their regular-season offensive coordinator.

Even interim coach Mike Bennett, who will lead the Panthers in the bowl game, will head to Baylor afterwards as the Bears' new defensive coordinator. Baylor announced the hiring during Friday's BBVA Bowl news conference.

Through all the whirlwind and controversy - Pitt was also just a game away from a BCS bowl game after huge preseason expectations - Bennett emphasized Friday that they've stuck together as a team.

"We are excited about the opportunity that we've been afforded to play the University of Kentucky tomorrow," Bennett said. "We think we've overcome some of the initial shock of what's happened. We've always said this is a player's game. These guys have worked extremely hard in preparation for this game. As I've told them, we're in an SEC territory and it's going to be a challenge for us."

Phillips said Pitt's coaching carousel will have no effect on how it handles the Panthers on Saturday. Phillips expects Pitt to play physical defense and try to run the ball down their throats, as the Panthers have done all season.

Dion Lewis, a preseason dark-horse Heisman candidate, rushed for 956 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. His backup, Ray Graham, also had 832 yards and eight scores.

"We're going to run the ball," Bennett said. "I'm sure that we're going to come in and face an eight- and nine-man box and everybody in the stadium will know that you're going to have to do some things to loosen them up."

Meanwhile, Kentucky will be breaking in Morgan Newton, who will make his first start at quarterback this season as Mike Hartline serves a one-game suspension.

Newton won five games as a freshman starter last year, including road wins at Georgia and at Auburn, but he's thrown just four passes for 54 yards in mop-up duty this season. The sophomore from Carmel, Ind., has received rave reviews in the workouts leading up to the bowl game, and Phillips said he intends to throw most of the playbook at Newton.

"The plan is to have one quarterback," Phillips said. "We'd like to go with Morgan as long as we can and as long as we are making progress offensively, but (Ryan Mossakowski) could play also. We're not going to say he won't play because he could play if we're not productive on offense."

Without Hartline in the mix, Cobb could play a more significant role at quarterback.

"We might use a lot more snapping it to him if Morgan is having problems settling down," Phillips said. "You're always going to try to snap it to him five or six times a game, but that might turn into more if Morgan needs settling down."

If it is Cobb's last game in a Kentucky uniform, one thing is certain: All attention will be on stopping one of the most electric players in college football.

"Cobb is a phenomenal player," Bennett said. "Randy (Sanders) does a great job of putting the ball in his best player's hands. He's a guy that lines up all over the field. He's very elusive, and we've got keep him going east to west. We can't let this be a vertical game."

Video: BBVA Compass Bowl news conference

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Kentucky

Pittsburgh

Here is UK's response to the NCAA's ruling Friday that Enes Kanter has been ruled permanently ineligible:

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart

"We are disappointed in the result and equally disappointed in the process. We have spent significant effort and resources to help this young man play college basketball in the United States. This has been on our radar screen daily for 10 months.

"We were informed by the NCAA that the flexible decisions made by the NCAA staff in other high-profile cases could not be used in case precedent and were not binding on the NCAA going forward. The University of Kentucky was very hopeful that our student-athlete might receive the same type of consideration afforded to these other athletes but that did not happen. We were also reminded on a regular basis that the amateurism and professionalism piece, including benefits received from a professional team, is the one area of Bylaw 12 that has not been deregulated."


UK men's basketball coach John Calipari

"We are obviously disappointed in this decision and find it unfortunate that a group of adults would come to such a decision regarding the future of an 18-year-old young man.

"This has never been about our program or the University of Kentucky, it has been about the wishes of Enes and his family to have their son educated in the United States. It is a shame that Enes had to endure the constant speculation and misinformation that was furthered by certain media organizations in the smear campaign conducted by his Turkish team.

"The silver lining is that Enes will always be part of this team.  My job will be to prepare him for his entry into the NBA Draft, which this decision by the Association will likely necessitate. Enes will always be a part of our family and I plan to be by his side in the green room whenever he is drafted."


UK President Lee T. Todd Jr.

I'm very disappointed in what appears to me to be an inconsistent decision that leaves an outstanding young man without any recourse. It's very disappointing that this young man, who along with his family intended to do everything the right way and in compliance with the rules, won't be able to pursue his dream of playing at UK and in intercollegiate athletics. As an NCAA board member, I continue to be puzzled and confused by the reasoning behind this decision, which seems to be an inconsistent and arbitrary application of the rules. It is unfortunate and disappointing that Enes and his family have been negatively impacted by this process. It is certainly a matter I will continue to try to understand and question in my remaining time on the board as part of an organization, whose stated purpose is to put families and student athletes first."

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for NCAAenhancedlogo.jpgAfter the long await on Enes Kanter's eligibility, the final word just came down from the NCAA and it isn't good news. Kanter has been ruled permanently ineligible once again. Here is the complete release from the NCAA. UK is expected to have a response later on:

INDIANAPOLIS ---University of Kentucky men's basketball student-athlete Enes Kanter has been ruled permanently ineligible for receiving impermissible compensation from a professional team.

The NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee has upheld the NCAA staff decision that Kanter received $33,033 above his actual and necessary expenses for one year while playing for a club basketball team in Turkey.

The reinstatement committee is the final appeal opportunity.  The independent committee is composed of representatives from NCAA member colleges, universities and athletic conferences.  It can reduce or remove the conditions but cannot increase the conditions imposed by the staff.

As a result of the ruling, Kanter will not be allowed to compete, practice or travel with the team as a player, but is able to receive financial aid to continue his education at Kentucky.  The university has indicated it plans to designate Kanter as an undergraduate student-assistant coach.  In this capacity, Kanter could perform limited coaching duties with the team. 

Actual and necessary expenses are defined by NCAA rules and generally relate to a player's expenses directly necessary for practice and competition on a team.  Some examples include meals and lodging directly tied to practice or competition, coaching, medical insurance and transportation tied to practice or competition.

Kanter played three seasons with the Turkish sport club Fenerbahce from 2006-07 to 2008-09. Although he competed primarily for the club's under-18 junior team, he did compete on the club's senior team in 2008-09. According to facts agreed to by the university and the NCAA Eligibility Center, Kanter received $33,033 more than his actual expenses for the 2008-09 season.  

Although a recent NCAA rule change allows prospective student-athletes to compete on teams with professionals while maintaining their amateur status before  college enrollment, the membership maintained the longstanding rule that receipt of money above actual and necessary expenses from a professional team is a violation and defines the individual as a professional under NCAA legislation. That was the case here.

Kanter was initially ruled ineligible Nov. 11 by the NCAA reinstatement staff.  Before reaching its decision, the reinstatement staff considered a number of factors, including:  the nature and seriousness of the violation; any impermissible benefits received; the student-athlete's level of responsibility; any mitigating factors presented by the university; applicable NCAA guidelines; and any relevant case precedent.

The original staff decision was upheld by the reinstatement committee on Dec 2.   

On Dec. 8, the university asked for and was granted reconsideration of its case based upon new information. This is in keeping with NCAA policy allowing schools a second opportunity to state their case should new information become available.

The new information did not change the original statement of facts that had been agreed to by the university and the NCAA prior to the start of the reinstatement process. 

After considering the new information, the reinstatement staff once again ruled Kanter permanently ineligible Dec 10.  In response to the staff decision, the university chose to appeal a second time to the reinstatement committee.  Kentucky's appeal was heard on Jan. 6 and the school was informed on Jan. 7 of the committee's decision.

 "While unfortunate for Enes and the University of Kentucky, the final decision of the reinstatement committee is completely compatible with the collegiate model of sports our members have developed, since he received a significant amount of money, above his actual expenses from a professional team prior to coming to college," said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs.

Summary of timeline

Kanter moved to the United States in 2009 and attended a prep high school before enrolling at Kentucky in the fall of 2010.

The NCAA Eligibility Center staff first contacted Kentucky in March 2010 and Enes Kanter directly on March 24, 2010, with questions about his involvement with a Turkish professional basketball team.  From the beginning and throughout the process, the university and the NCAA conducted multiple interviews and compiled documentation pertinent to the case. 

In June, the NCAA staff provided Kentucky and Kanter with information it received indicating Kanter received benefits from the Turkish team.  In August, Kanter and his father acknowledged receiving those benefits. From August to mid-October, NCAA staff assisted Kentucky as it pursued factual and interpretive appeals.

On Oct. 25, Kentucky agreed to the statement of facts in the case and on Oct. 27 asked the student-athlete reinstatement staff to rule on his eligibility. The staff, after an initial review, asked for more information on Nov. 1.  Kentucky responded on Nov. 4 and 8, and the NCAA reinstatement staff made its decision on Nov. 11.  Under NCAA student-athlete reinstatement guidelines Kanter was allowed to practice but not compete or travel with the team during the appeal process.

On Dec. 1, the NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee heard the first appeal.

On Dec. 2, the committee notified the NCAA reinstatement staff it had upheld its decision of permanent ineligibility.  NCAA staff then notified the University of Kentucky. During the notification call, the university indicated it had new information and requested a reconsideration.   

On Dec. 8, the university forwarded its case based upon the new information to the NCAA reinstatement staff.

On Dec. 10, the NCAA reinstatement staff upheld its initial ruling of permanent ineligibility. 

On Dec. 20, the university notified the NCAA it planned to appeal the second staff decision.

On Jan. 6, the reinstatement committee heard the school's appeal before rendering its decision.

On Jan. 7, the University of Kentucky was notified that its appeal had been denied.

Thumbnail image for SEC Circle Gold Letters on White Background.jpgAlready this season, the Kentucky men's basketball team has made trips to Portland, Ore., Maui, Hawaii, Chapel Hill, N.C., and Louisville on two occasions. 

The Cats have played historical rivals, perennial powers and upset minded mid-majors. UK has traversed the continental and non-continental United States, taking the floor in friendly home environments, split neutral sites and hostile road venues.

You can point out that these Wildcats are young, short-handed or even inconsistent, but do not call them untested.

As Kentucky tips off regular season play in the Southeastern Conference against the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, John Calipari may not have a wealth of veteran talent, but thanks to one of the more challenging non-conference schedules in the nation, he does have a team that has successfully navigated a series of stiff tests.

"We're a young team and we've played a lot of tough games: at North Carolina, at Louisville, UConn, Washington, Notre Dame," senior forward Josh Harrellson said. "Just having played a lot of those tough teams has gotten us prepared for SEC play. Hopefully we're ready right now."

The non-conference schedule has been as diverse as it has been difficult, with games against teams with differing styles and teams from all over the nation. 

In fact, Kentucky is one of only four teams from the six BCS conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac 10, and SEC) to have played at least one team from each of the other six major conferences. That variety figures to have prepared the team for what they will face in SEC play and beyond.

"I think that helped us," sophomore guard Jon Hood said. "Playing Penn, a team that slows the ball down and passed it 20 times before they took a shot, and then playing other teams that just run up and down really prepares you for SEC play because there are teams that play all different styles."

Even so, John Calipari is quick to point out that the intensity level UK will face will take a step up in conference play.

"It will be rougher and it will be higher intensity," Calipari said. "League play comes up a notch."

As for the notions that this is a down year for the SEC, the Wildcats aren't buying that they will have it any easier.

"I think every team in the SEC is pretty good," Harrellson said. "They all have good players. They may not be playing to their potential but we know against us they will. Every game is going to be a tough game no matter who we play."

Hood agreed.

"There's tons of talent with Mississippi State, everybody on Tennessee (and) Florida's back," Hood said. "I wouldn't call it down by any means."

UK starts off with one of the tougher tests the conference has to offer: a road game against Georgia in Stegeman Coliseum. The Bulldogs, along with Kentucky and Vanderbilt, have been the most consistent performers in the SEC so far this season, returning stars like forward Trey Thompkins and guard Travis Leslie, both juniors with futures in the NBA ahead of them.

"Georgia is one of the best teams in our league and playing like one of the best teams in our league," Calipari said. "They haven't lost at home and we were one of the few games they lost at home last year. Thompkins is preseason player of the year and rightfully so, and Leslie is as good of an athlete as we'll face all season."

Mark Fox is in his second season at Georgia, posting a 14-17 record in his first year. However, the Bulldogs were very competitive in conference play in 2010, winning five regular-season games and losing another six by four points or less. 

With so much talent returning, the Bulldogs were a sleeper pick by many in the SEC. Thus far, they have not disappointed, sporting an 11-2 record with both losses coming in the Old Spice Classic to Notre Dame and Temple in close games.

This is the second consecutive season that the Bulldogs and Wildcats have opened SEC play against one another. Last year, the Bulldogs traveled to Rupp Arena and gave UK everything it could handle, with Leslie (20 points and six rebounds) and Thompkins (17 points and 13 rebounds) doing the heavy lifting in a 76-68 UK victory.

"Georgia had us at our place; they had a chance to beat us here," Calipari said of last year's SEC opener. "We came in acting like we got this and they had us beat."

Just like every opponent UK will face in conference play, the Bulldogs will be motivated against the defending regular season and conference tournament champions.

"The other team is going to be so hyped they're going to play so well and their fans are going to be so into it," Calipari said about league road games. "You dip at all and you're going to lose the game."

With yet another young team, Calipari will have to make sure his team's attention is squarely focused, but road environments that the Wildcats have already faced against rivals Louisville and North Carolina have at least given them a flavor for what to expect.

Although Calipari looks forward to seeing how his team responds in conference play, he made sure to explain that the priority for his team is preparing for a run in the NCAA Tournament.

"We never talk about (winning) the league or league tournaments," Calipari said. "Our issue is getting better. Our issue is that games are important for seed in the NCAA Tournament.  We want to win the league because it gives you a better seed, but the reality of it is that our picture is bigger than the league."

Legion Field pictures

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Here are some pictures from Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., site of Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl. The fifth annual bowl game matches Kentucky against Pittsburgh.

Legion Field used to host the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn. The stadium has seen better years -- there's no hiding the fact that it's old and a little worn down -- but there's still a mystique here from its glory days.

IMG_5721.JPG IMG_5720.JPG IMG_5718.JPG IMG_5722.JPG

Head coach John Calipari

Doron Lamb

Josh Harrellson

Jon Hood

Say what you want about the type of year the Southeastern Conference is having in basketball, but opening at Georgia will be no easy task.

"The two most dangerous places on the road, as of today, are Vanderbilt and Georgia. Those are teams that tend to go under the radar with the (fans) and maybe some of the young players as well."

So says The Cats' Pause founder and longtime UK basketball observer Oscar Combs as the Wildcats prepare to open SEC play Saturday at Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum.

"Georgia has arguably the top two NBA prospects in the league in (Trey) Thompkins and (Travis) Leslie," Combs said. "Two guys can carry you a long way, especially on a home court."

Another longtime observer of UK and SEC basketball is Larry Conley and the former Big Blue star is also bullish on Georgia right now.

"(Thompkins) is back and playing 100 percent and he's playing really well," Conley said in an appearance on "The Leach Report radio show (podcast at www.tomleachky.com. "I think Travis Leslie is one of the best athletes in the Southeastern Conference and he's playing really well, too."

= = =

Mister Cobble isn't your typical scout team defensive tackle. Offensive guard Larry Warford knows that all too well from their battles on the practice field all season long.

Now that Cobble has regained his eligibility in the classroom, his scout team days are over and Warford thinks Cobble can make an impact in the bowl game even though it will mark Cobble's first college game action.

"Big, strong, physical guy," Warford said of Cobble. "I don't think I've played against anyone stronger than him. We'll be double teaming him and he won't move. He really has a chance to be an All-SEC player."

Because he wasn't eligible to play in games this past season, Cobble spent extra time in the weight room and said his max on the bench press is up to 450 pounds.

Warford benefitted from going against Cobble every day as he earned All-SEC honors this year.

= = =

Turnovers played a major role in the losses the UK football team suffered this season and it was the same story with Pitt. In its seven wins this year, the Panthers committed only six turnovers but had 14 in their five losses.

= = =

Do you realize that neither Derrick Locke nor Randall Cobb has played on a winning bowl team?

Locke was injured in both 2007 and 2008 and Cobb missed the '08 Liberty Bowl with an injury.

= = =

Jerry Claiborne played on Bear Bryant's first teams at Kentucky but Claiborne's bio indicates he missed the 1947 season. That would mean he missed out on the win in the Great Lakes Bowl that year, meaning Joker Phillips could become the only Kentucky coach to win a bowl game for the Wildcats as head coach and as a player if the Cats can defeat Pitt.

And here's an ironic twist: If it happens, both wins would have come at the same place: Birmingham's Legion Field.

How's that for trivia?

Hartline shows his support at bowl game

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FB 09_10 UK_Bama WEB 21.jpgBIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Mike Hartline didn't have to come to the bowl game.

For all intents and purposes, his football career at Kentucky was over the day he was nailed with a one-game suspension for the BBVA Compass Bowl. Hartline can't practice with the team and won't be in uniform Saturday.

And yet, there Hartline was Thursday at Kentucky's final full day of football practice in Birmingham, Ala. As Morgan Newton was being groomed Thursday for the starting job in what would have been Hartline's final collegiate game, Hartline walked the sidelines and the field with playbook in hand.

"He's handled it well, as well as he could for a guy missing his last game with as much as he went through with this program" head coach Joker Phillips said.

Dressed in a Kentucky street clothes, Hartline pointed out things to the quarterbacks and talked up his teammates. In the Cats' honored "last tackle" tradition, where the seniors get to make their last tackle in practice, Hartline was the final player to run through the line and tackle a tackling dummy.

He also broke down the team in the final huddle of practice.

"We feel like he is part of us again since he is here with us," senior tailback Derrick Locke said. "We have to win for him."

Junior wide receiver Randall Cobb, a close friend of Hartline's who has been through plenty of battles with Hartline and even took the starting quarterback job from him two years ago, said he took the initial suspension of Hartline hard.

"We wanted him down here, we wanted him to be a part of it and he wanted to be a part of it," Cobb said. "That shows how much he cares about this team."

Video: The seniors' 'last tackle'

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The Kentucky football seniors got to participate in an honored tradition at practice Thursday in Birmingham, Ala., the team's final full day of practice before the BBVA Compass Bowl and the end of the season: the "last tackle."

The team's freshmen, sophomores and juniors line up in two lines to form a runaway to a tackling dummy. Having just undergone their final practice in pads in their Kentucky careers, the seniors run down the line and tackle the dummy for their "last tackle."

Senior Mike Hartline, who was at practice Thursday (more on that in a separate post), did participate in the drill. Although he was not in pads and could not practice with the team, he was the final Wildcat to tackle the dummy and broke the team down in its final huddle.

Check out video of the "last tackle" below:

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Minter.jpegBIRMINGHAM, Ala -- Rick Minter came to Kentucky with a reputation as a no-nonsense, get-in-your-face-type coach.

In the short time he's been with the Kentucky football team - nearly three weeks, to be exact -  the Kentucky football players can tell you his reputation has certainly preceded him.

"He's made a huge impact," head coach Joker Phillips said Wednesday, pointing back to the defense that was still out on the field as the offense walked off, a sight that's been all too common in Minter's first few practices. "He coaches every day, every minute. He's teaching them football, and he's also helping with the attitude over there. Some guys needed attitude adjustments."

Some guys needed a good kick in the butt after a regular season that saw the unit rank 46th nationally in total defense but 72nd in scoring defense.

"All I do is I want an intense atmosphere but I also want a very teacher-pupil relationship," Minter said in Birmingham, Ala., site of Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl. "I'm a cerebral guy and I want to teach their guys a lot about football. I want to try to raise their IQ in football. To do that, you've got to be a teacher and a communicator. I'm smart enough to know it doesn't happen by yelling and screaming all the time or you'll lose your effectiveness. They'll tune you out."

But right now, to gain their attention and understand the sense of urgency of an impending bowl game and the need to improve next year, there has been a lot of yelling. There has been extra conditioning. And there has been extra practice.

"His impact is well felt throughout this whole defense," said the Southeastern Conference's leading tackler and junior linebacker Danny Trevathan. "He really emphasizes turnovers and getting to the ball and playing with enthusiasm and 100 percent. That's what we need. We thought we were playing 100 percent, but it's not really happening. He's really getting us to the next level."

Minter has been placed in a unique situation. As a longtime defensive guru and longtime coach, Minter was brought in by Phillips one month ago as a co-defensive coordinator with longtime UK assistant Steve Brown to inject some intensity and flavor.

The only problem is that times time.

"Putting in a defense is a process," Minter said.

Minter will have plenty of time in spring practice and the summer to instill a new attitude and make improvements, but in the meantime, he has a bowl game to get his new defense ready for.

Pittsburgh has a formidable running duo in Dion Lewis and Ray Graham, who combined for 1,788 yards and 20 touchdowns this year. The Panthers like to line up and run the ball down teams' throats, a scary thought for a UK defense that has struggled with tackling all season.
Minter has had all that to catch up on while he's still busy learning his own defense.

"I still don't know all the names," Minter said. "I'm trying. Right now they're all jersey numbers."

Making it all the more difficult to instill the type of principles Minter is hoping will start to grow at the bowl game. Will it be a well-oiled machine Saturday? Far from it. But to get the players' attention and start the process, Minter has hit the ground running with his no-nonsense attitude.

"We're trying to make an impact certainly, and we've gotten their attention, I can tell you that," Minter said. "Is it as effective as I want it to be? Naturally, no, because I've never been in this circumstance nor have a lot of players around the country."

It isn't like Brown didn't get on players or get in their face, but senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said Minter brings a different kind of intensity.

"He's a lot more in your face, getting after you," Lumpkins said. "He's non-stop with it. He doesn't care if you're mad at him or not, he's going to coach you hard. That's what we need because different players need different coaching. He's one of those guys we need here to get some guys going."

The players say nothing has changed in the way Brown handles things, and Minter continues to emphasize that he looks forward to working alongside Brown, calling him a classy, high-integrity coach who will be essential when Southeastern Conference play rolls around.

The defense fans will see at the bowl game will look very familiar to the one they've watched all year in terms of schematics. Minter said the short time he's had with the players is simply too short to change 100 percent of what they do, not to mention they haven't recruited players yet who fit the 3-4 style.

Heading into the future, though, Minter conceded that UK could use more 3-4 bases, a recent staple of his in stops at South Carolina, Notre Dame and Marshall.

"Down the road I think it's a necessity," Minter said. "There are some good four-down teams and that's all they do. We're playing one Saturday, so you can get it done playing four down all the time. But I just think with all of today's spread offenses and all the multi-groupings and facets of the game you're getting from the offense, it's good to have the flexibility within your base defense to jump into a 3-4, whether it's to drop eight or blitz eight."

In the meantime, though, Minter said the focus is on getting his team ready for a bowl game and sending the seniors out on a positive note.

"The deadline is we have a game Saturday at 11 o'clock," Minter said. "We're trying to get through this game with what we have. It's like I've said: I've married into a family with kids. I've got to accept them all. They're all teenagers. Some are heading out the door after Saturday. So it's been a unique opportunity for me to come in here and try to have some type of impression and imprint on these kids for one game without wholesale changes."

4395580.jpegSometimes it takes a little adversity to turn things around.

In the Kentucky gymnastics team's case, it's making the most of a situation that could fracture a lot of teams.

After seven seasons, the school and longtime head coach Mo Mitchell parted ways about three months ago. With the season just around the corner, instead of hiring a new head coach during the middle of preseason preparations, Kentucky elected to stick with its two assistant coaches, Chuck Dickerson and Heater Hite, to run the squad in 2010-11.

The situation has been unique. Neither are the official head coaches, but both are sharing head-coaching duties, managing the day-to-day operations of the team, practices, matches, recruiting, etc., as any other head coach would.

"It's been a learning curve how to go about everything, but we've learned a lot," Hite said. "I think that's a great thing. It's given us an opportunity to see what goes into the program and how much goes into the gymnastics alone."

Where one head coach and two assistants used to run things, it's down to two assistants for this year as Hite and Dickerson split the duties. The key, both have said, has been organization.

Everything, from practices to recruiting to budget meetings and e-mails, has been split up between the two. Dickerson has taken more of a leadership role in the gym while Hite has dealt with more of the paperwork and the behind-the-scenes work.

"It's been trying at times," Dickerson said. "Having two coaches instead of three has been a little different. But it's been good. What's made the transition good is the kids. They've accepted it and moved forwarded and stayed together as a tight unit. That's actually made the transition pretty easy."

And that, more than anything, is the biggest story as the UK gymnastics team heads into its annual Excite Night, the season-opening event for the Cats. When Kentucky hosts Illinois and Northern Illinois on Saturday in front of an expected crowd of a few thousand, it won't be as a splintered team without a head coach or leadership.

Instead, the team fans will see Saturday, as Hite and Dickerson tell it, will be a unit that's rallied around adversity; that has fused in a difficult situation and formed a strong, more unified leadership core.

"It was tough, but the kids made the transition easy," Dickerson said. "They came in and said let's stay together as a team and let's fight and let's work and get this thing done. ... Sometimes it takes a bad situation to make a good situation. I feel like they've got more heart than any team we've had here. Sometimes when things happen out of the blue that you don't expect to happen, it can bring a team together, and I think it has."

The biggest challenge for the two assistant coaches has been practice. In most college gyms, the team is split up into three groups with each coach presiding over an event. With only two coaches now in the mix, they've had to split up into two groups of more performers and make the most it.

"We wanted it to be run and organized the way if there was a third person here," Hite said. "Our whole goal was to make it for the girls and show the administration that we are capable of getting everything done. We knew from the very beginning that we were willing to do whatever we had to do, however we had to split it up to get things done."

3602357.jpegTurning a difficult situation into a positive happened pretty fast thanks to captains Whitney Rose and Storey Morris.

"Obviously it affected them some, but they decided they're not just here for us coaches," Dickerson said. "They're here for the University of Kentucky and they're here for each other and God has them here for a reason. They brushed themselves off and got after it."

Rose made it to nationals last year as an individual performer in the vault. Hite and Dickerson are hoping Rose's experience will pay dividends for this year's squad.

"We're hoping she blazed a trail for us last year," Dickerson said. "We've got to get to nationals. She got there last year, and when she came back, she sat the team down and said, 'Listen, I just paved the way for us as a group.' "

The Cats welcome seven freshmen that will see some time in a few events, but by and large, the veterans - four seniors and two juniors - will be the core performers. Unlike past years where UK has struggled a bit on the beam and bars, Hite anticipates a pretty consistent team.

Rose is fully healthy for the first time, Andrea Mitchell is in her fourth year of doing the all-around and UK is expected to do riskier routines this year, which will pay dividends if the team can execute them.

The goal this year is to make a leap in the Southeastern Conference. The Cats annually contend for a top-25 ranking but have struggled in the nation's best league. A jump in the conference would place the program among the nation's best.

"If we could go fourth or fifth in the SEC, that's great," Hite said. "If we could higher than that, that's icing on the cake. That's our ultimate goal is to make a jump in the SEC. If you're jumping up in the SEC, you're anywhere from 18th to 12th in the nation."

As for the future of Hite and Dickerson after this season, they want to be at Kentucky. As a former gymnast (Hite) and a longtime assistant (Dickerson), both have remained adamant that Kentucky is where they want to be in the future and admitted that this year is a quasi audition.

Hite is just two years removed from being on the team and is in her second year as an assistant, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have aspirations for being a head coach. The current situation she's in gives her a great chance to prove herself.

"She's done well," Dickerson said. "I've watched her grow up a lot this year as a coach. She's become more of a mentor to the girls."

Hite said she's still learning a "ton," but fortunately she has a longtime veteran in Dickerson to lean on.

"He's my biggest fan and just pushes me along," Hite said. "We live maybe five feet apart from each other, so I'm always going over and knocking on the door and saying, 'OK, how did this go today? Is this OK?' "

Coaching futures aside, the focus as Excite Night and the 2011 season looms, both for the coaches and UK's administration, is on the success of this year's team.

The players and assistants have done all the right things and come together in a difficult situation. They've rallied around one another and put together what they say is one of their strongest preseasons in years (UK is ranked No. 24 to start the year).

Now the question is how they will perform on the big stage. Everyone is anxious to find out.

"What are they going to do?" Hite said. "Are they going to go out there and be nervous or are they going to go out there and kick butt? That's what I'm waiting on. I'm waiting on to see how they handle the pressure and the season."

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Derrick Locke was upfront about his visit to the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Ala., where the Kentucky football team will play in the BBVA Compass Bowl later in the week.

In all honesty, Locke didn't want to go. At first he felt like it was just a mandatory team field trip, an obligation for being in a bowl in Birmingham, more so than it was a privilege.

And then he saw the old buses of Birmingham that were segregated, walked the same streets as Martin Luther King Jr., looked at pictures and murals of the 1950s and '60s, and relived the differences in rights for whites and blacks just decades ago.

Locke, his teammates and coaches got a firsthand look at the civil and human rights struggles past generations battled through, fought for and even died for.

"It's a wakeup call," Locke said. "I'm glad coach made us go through that. I wasn't really feeling it at first, but when I got there, I really wanted to read and learn about everything our people went through. It's eye opening."

After Tuesday's practice, the team visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a learning center and museum that traces the journey that African-Americans made from the founding of Birmingham in the 1870s through today. The BCRI has special emphasis on the turbulent decades of the 1950s and '60s, when the struggle for civil rights was at its peak.

For sophomore quarterback Morgan Newton and the Wildcats, it was a "flashback" opportunity to be able to understand everything their parents and grandparents lived through.

"It humbles you," Newton said. "It lets you know where we've come in the last few years even though we haven't really been a part of. It was a great experience. It makes all the history lessons you had back in elementary school and middle school come to life. It gives you a different viewpoint. It's the type of things our parents tell us about that we don't really understand. I still don't know if I completely understand everything that happened, but it puts things in perspective for sure."

Locke said it made him appreciate how good the players have it now. To be able to play in a bowl game, regardless of its prestige, is an honor.

"It made you think about a lot of things," Locke said. "They got through a lot of stuff and now we're complaining about simple stuff. It made me think, if we had the mind frame of how they were back in the day, our lives would be easy."

The primary objective in the trip to Birmingham is to win a bowl game and improve to 7-6 on the season, but the game is only half the story.

"This is a business for us, there's no doubt about it," head coach Joker Phillips said. "Our goal is to have a winning season, which would be our fifth straight. That's one of our goals. But you've also got to have some fun or they won't want to come back to another bowl. When it's time for business, we're down to it. But then when it's time for free time, we want the guys to have fun also."

In addition to the player development, the national exposure and the extra game a bowl provides, the bowl game is also about the experience the players have together as team, Newton said.

"Football is kind of the excuse to come down here and learn so much more and experience so much more," Newton said. "The Civil Rights Institute was one of those things that came along with a bowl game that we really didn't expect, but it's going to make us better people, and I think that's the objective of bowl games."

If the Kentucky players get nothing out of the trip other than the bowl, the visit to the Civil Rights Institute was evidence enough of the importance of bowl games.

"All this color stuff, we play at Kentucky, black and white people together as one," Locke said. "We don't see color. We see blue and white. We're a team. If everybody could be like that, the world would be a better place."

I wasn't at Tuesday night's thriller at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but I did want to say a few things after watching the UK women's basketball team fall in a heartbreaker to No. 3 Duke on Tuesday, the recap of which you read here:

The reaction from Big Blue Nation following the game seemed to be that Kentucky was done in by a couple of non-calls late in the contest with the game on the line.

While there were some eyebrow-raising whistles and non-calls, the fact of the matter is Duke came up with the big plays down the stretch and UK didn't. The Cats led 48-46 with 2:42 remaining but were unable to score a point the rest of the game.

Duke went on a 6-0 run to end the game, ending Kentucky's bid at a monumental signature win.

After the game, Mitchell pointed to UK's first-half performance as the reason for the defeat. The Cats trailed by nine at halftime and came all the back to make it a game. In the end, though, Kentucky just ran out of gas.

"We just can't come in to a quality team's gym, as talented and as tough as Duke is, and play one half," Mitchell said. "That's just so disappointing. From a coaching standpoint we tried to get prepared for the game and we clearly weren't in the first half.  Some were but our entire success depends on everybody doing their part, and we just didn't get that for a complete 40 minutes. So I'm still convinced that we have the opportunity to be a very good team, but you're not going to beat Duke playing one half of basketball."

What put the Cats in a first-half hole was simply rebounding. Duke outrebounded UK 31-10 in the first half.

"The rebounding stats were just embarrassing at halftime," Mitchell said. "I've never been a part of a game like that. I've never seen that kind of rebounding margin ever at halftime against a team that's supposed to be top 10 in the country."

As disappointing as the final result was for Kentucky, the coaches, players and fans can take comfort in the fact that UK more than proved it belonged among the nation's elite.

The Cats gave everything the undefeated Blue Devils could handle. Playing against a team that had beaten the likes of No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 4 Xavier, UK had stymied Duke for much of the game.

Kentucky held a veteran Duke team to an abysmal 26.5 percent from the floor and forced 17 turnovers. With the exception of the end of each half, Duke senior Jasmine Thomas was held in check.

If there was any doubt about last year's run or notion that it was a fluke, Tuesday night's near-victory - along with the early season victory over No. 12 Notre Dame - should have silenced those thoughts. Kentucky, now at 11-2 on the season, is very much here to stay among the nation's best and should be a contender come March.

"Hopefully we can see that even against a team that's much bigger and has a lot more size and is very, very physical and very well-coached, that we can, if we put our minds to it, we can play with them," Mitchell said.

From the Pressbox: Tom Leach previews Pitt

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Who knows what to expect from the Pittsburgh Panthers when they take the field against Kentucky in Birmingham, Ala., this Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl. 

Their coach, Dave Wannstedt, was pushed out, followed by a messy parting with interim coach Michael Haywood. And then when Wannstedt had one final chance to coach his team following the firing of Haywood, he decided to forego the chance to coach them in this game.

All that is in addition to a team dealing with unfilled expectations. The Panthers were ranked in the top 20 in preseason polls.

"I think a couple things went wrong," said Paul Zeise, who covers Pit football for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "There was a number of players on this team that read the headlines and started to think they were better than they were, and early on, I  think there was a sense of entitlement amongst some of these players and they didn't show up to play.

"By the time things started to snowball, there were all kinds of chemistry issues and I think they had personnel issues, and I don't think Dave Wannstedt had a good season either. It's one of those things where everything seemed to fall apart and they couldn't find a way to put it together ever. I don't think I have ever said this about a team, but they went through 12 games, and outside of the Syracuse game where they won 45-14 and played four good quarters of football, I don't think this team played a good game all year."

Zeise said Pitt fans envisioned a 10- or 11-win season and a trip to a BCS bowl game. Falling a game short of a BCS game with the weakness of the Big East Conference only served to intensify the feeling of disappointment for the Panther nation.

In games like the one against Syracuse and in too-short stretches of other games, Pitt could look dominant, Zeise said.

"They were running a ball down teams throats, their defense was dominant, their front seven was dominating the offensive line, and they were going on these back-breaking eight-minute drives, really just grinding the other team into the ground and making things miserable for teams to try and stop them," he said. "If (the opponent) is lining up and pushing you off the ball and getting five, six, seven yards every play, there is nothing more demoralizing, and at times they were able to do that. 

"But they weren't able to sustain that and far too often, those kind of drives were sidelined by turnovers, mistakes, holding penalties, by guys going offsides, by two guys going in motion at the same time, by one guy missing a block and creating a sack and creating second-and-12. Those are the type of things that have happened to this team all year." 

Zeise said it was much the same on defense, as the Panthers could overpower opposing offenses at times, but he said penalties or blown coverages would scuttle the momentum.

One interesting thing about Pitt: it rarely blitzed. Wannstedt preferred to use the front four to rush and then have the other seven players drop into coverage. That front four was good enough to notch 30 sacks. However, two starters, including Big East Defensive Player of the Year Jabaal Sheard, will miss the bowl game with injuries.

Zeise did note that Pitt's defense has often struggled against the multi-threat type of quarterbacks that Randall Cobb becomes when he lines up in the Wildcat formation.

And he said the Panthers had mixed results with their special teams.

"Their punter (Dan Hutchins) is excellent" Zeise said. "He was unbelievable and really the way they play, he was tremendous at winning field position battles for them. As a placekicker, though, he was shaky. He missed too many kicks, clutch kicks that would have made the difference between winning and losing games. There were probably two or three games where he missed a kick that would have helped them win the game, so special teams are shaky."

Hutchins kind of epitomizes the year Pitt has been through.

"We've seen moments where they play really well and when they have you look and say they can play with anybody," Zeise said. "But they continue to shoot themselves in the foot, not because they weren't good enough, but because they lacked concentration, lacked focus sometimes and didn't play as hard as they could play. When you do those sorts of things, you become 7-5."

We'll start the chat at 9:30 p.m. ET with senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin and senior wide receiver Chris Matthews, so get your questions ready.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- It's been 38 days since the Kentucky football team last played a meaningful down in Knoxville, Tenn.

So one can imagine the Wildcats have been itching to get back into a game week after such a long layoff and play in this week's BBVA Compass Bowl against Pittsburgh.

"Our guys are definitely ready to play," UK head coach Joker Phillips said Tuesday. "We've been beating on each other and we're ready to go against some opposite-color jerseys."

Tuesday's practice at Hoover High School in Hoover, Ala., was Kentucky's 14th practice since the end of the regular season against Tennessee. The Cats practiced before the Christmas holiday, broke for a few days, returned before New Year's, and then broke again before traveling to Birmingham, Ala.

Phillips related the postseason practices to spring practice but said he has had no problem with the long layoff.

"I think this has definitely helped us," Phillips said. "I really like the timing. We'll get two more physical practices in. We'll have a total of 16 practices and we'll have a walkthrough on Friday. It's given us a chance to develop some of the young kids, which is what we tried to do early. Now we're focusing on getting ready."

Of all the bowl games, the BBVA Compass Bowl has had more than its fair share of preseason storylines.

From the coaching carousel currently going on at Pittsburgh, to the additions of assistant coaches Rick Minter and Steve Pardue to the Kentucky staff, the suspension of UK quarterback Mike Hartline, and even the ongoing mystery of Randall Cobb's future, there has been little football played and plenty of distractions.

Cobb is happy just to get back on the field and put all those distractions aside.

"We're getting into game week now," Cobb said. "A lot of guys complained early on, but we're happy to be down here and happy for the opportunity to play in a bowl game. We've definitely taken it on here lately, not only today but in the last couple of weeks, just knowing the task at hand and what this can do for our program."

If there was any notion that Kentucky was disinterested in playing in a late-season bowl game, senior running back Derrick Locke squashed that perception.

"It's a bowl game," Locke said. "How many people are going to get a chance to have a bowl game? Of course we're not satisfied with where we ended up, but hey, we're playing another game. Other people are either playing, doing other stuff or sitting around at home on their butt. We're doing what they love to do, so we've got to take pride in that, be happy about that and take advantage of the opportunity."

The game will carry significant importance. The Cats enter the game 6-6. A losing record would cast a shadow over Phillips' first season as head coach, while a victory would be the program's fifth straight winning season, a continuance of Kentucky football's recent and uncharted string of success.

With Pittsburgh breaking in its second coach since parting ways with Dave Wannstedt, Phillips was asked if there were any last-week adjustments in how to prepare for Pitt and interim head coach Phil Bennett.

"No," Phillips said. "What we've got to is go on what we see on tape. We've got to assume they will do what we saw on tape, but you've also got to be ready to adjust should they come out and have some changes. We expect those guys to be physical like they've been. We expect those guys to run the ball and we expect those guys to be physical on defense."

One of the biggest positives of a long bowl season that Phillips has continued to emphasize is player development. Each bowl season, the additional practices have benefited a handful of players, most recently wide receiver Chris Matthews.

This year, sophomore linebacker Ridge Wilson has made the biggest strides, Phillips said.

"Ridge has been playing outstanding for us in these practices," Phillips said. "He's learning how to play. He's a guy that doesn't really know how to go hard every play, so we've used this in trying to learn how to push it."

Conference pride: After an 0-3 start to bowl play, the SEC picked it up on New Year's Day by beating up on its conference rival, the Big Ten.

As it stands entering Tuesday's Nokia Sugar Bowl, the SEC is 3-3 in bowl games this season, but the SEC East is 1-3. Phillips is hoping UK can continue to carry the banner for the SEC.

"Playing in our conference headquarters city, we're taking a lot into consideration that we're playing for this conference," Phillips said. "We're playing for Kentucky, there's no question about that, but we're also playing for this conference, which is located right in this city, so we want to represent well."

Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU and Auburn still have bowl games remaining for the league.

Six former Cats in NFL playoffs: Six former Kentucky football players will be playing in the NFL playoffs. 

On Saturday, fullback John Conner and the New York Jets will take on tight end Jacob Tamme and the Indianapolis Colts.  On Sunday, punter Tim Masthay and the Green Bay Packers will visit cornerback Trevard Lindley and the Philadelphia Eagles. Defensive tackles Corey Peters (Atlanta) and Myron Pryor (New England) are on teams that earned byes in the first weekend of playoff action.

Junior wide receiver Randall Cobb

Stat stuffers

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Josh Harrellson's phenomenal rise continues to get better with each passing game.

After Monday night's 12-point, 11-rebound performance, the reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Week leads the SEC in both rebounding (9.4) and field-goal percentage (.657). Even now it's still hard to believe what he's doing after averaging just 4.0 minutes in 22 games last season.

"He's going after every ball with two hands," head coach John Calipari said after Monday's win over Penn. "Look at him. Every ball with two hands, and he's leading our league in rebounding. Josh Harrellson is leading our league in rebounding because he's changed his habit and he's going after every ball with two hands." 

As I perused Harrellson's stats online in relation to the rest of the SEC, it got me to thinking, where does UK stack up in the rest of the statistical categories? The results were actually pretty startling. Kentucky leads in or ranks right near the top in a bunch of categories.

I'll quickly highlight some of those rankings below. Keep in mind that all stats other than the Harrellson note above are from the beginning of this week. Games starting Monday of this week were not included the SEC's compilation.

Team
Scoring offense: No. 1 (80.3)
Scoring margin: No. 1 (plus-17.5)
Field goal percentage defense: No. 3 (.384)
3-point field percentage: No. 1 (.409)
Rebounding margin: No. 2 (plus-7.5)
Blocked shots: No. 2 (6.6)
Assist/turnover ratio: No. 1 (1.2)
Defensive rebound percentage: No. 1 (.724)
3-point FG made: No. 2 (8.2)

Individual
Scoring: Brandon Knight - No. 3 (18.0)
Scoring: Terrence Jones - No. 5 (17.7)
Rebounding: Josh Harrellson - No. 1 (9.4) includes Monday's game
Rebounding: Terrence Jones - No. 2 (9.2)
Field goal percentage: Josh Harrellson - No. 1 (.657) includes Monday's game
3-point field goal percentage: Doron Lamb - No. 1 (.538)
Offensive rebounding: Josh Harrellson - No. 1 (3.8)
Defensive rebounding: Terrene Jones - No. 1 (6.8)

And while we're at it, let's not forget about the women's team either, which ranks at or near the top in its fair share of league categories:

Team
Scoring offense: No. 1 (80.4)
Scoring margin: No. 2 (plus-20.3)
Free throw percentage: No. 2 (.687)
3-point field goal percentage: No. 3 (.343)
Steals: No. 1 (13.8)
Turnover margin: No. 1 (plus-10.25)
3-point field goals made: No. 1 (6.7)

Individual
Scoring: Victoria Dunlap - No. 2 (17.1)
Rebounding: Victoria Dunlap - No. 4 (9.4)
Field goal percentage: Victoria Dunlap - No. 3 (.486)
Free throw percentage: Victoria Dunlap - No. 3 (.746)
Steals: Victoria Dunlap - No. 1 (3.7)
3-point field goal percentage: Keyla Snowden - No. 1 (.486)
3-point field goals made: Keyla Snowden - No. 1 (3.2)
Blocked shots: Victoria Dunlap - No. 1 (2.0)

Jan. 2 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Jan. 2:

Women's basketball: Samantha Drake

  • Recorded her first career double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds against UT-Martin. Also charted a career-high three steals in the win.
  • First UK freshman to grab a double-double since Victoria Dunlap in 2007-08.
  • Scored a career-high 14 points after netting 8-of-12 from the free-throw line.
  • More than doubled her previous career high of six rebounds, with a career-best 13 rebounds, including eight offensive boards.
  • With two blocks in the week, is now T-7th in the SEC in blocks and leads all freshmen in the category.

Men's basketball: Josh Harrellson

Scored double-digits in both games this week, including a career-high 23 point in UK’s win at 22nd ranked Louisville … Tied career high with 14 rebounds at Louisville … Recorded his third double-double this season and fourth this year … 20-10 game against Louisville was first of his career … Hit second 3-pointer this season, during a stretch where he scored 12 of UK’s first 17 points of the second half against the Cardinals

Men's basketball: Brandon Knight

Dished out career-best and game-high eight assists in win against Winthrop … Hit multiple 3-pointers in win against Winthrop, it was his 10th time doing so this season … Tallied game-high and career-best 25 points in win at No. 22 Louisville … Hit multiple 3-pointers against the Cardinals for the 11th time this season and eighth straight game … Scored seven-straight point in crucial first-half run for the Wildcats against Louisville to help extend UK’s lead from five to 10 (21-16 to 28-18) … Scored in double figures for eight games

Women's basketball: Keyla Snowden

  • Led UK to wins over Middle Tennessee and UT-Martin last week with 16 and 17 points, respectively.
  • Led UK in field goal percentage, netting 11-of-20 from the field, including .562 percent from beyond the arc.
  • Totaled 9-of-16 (.562) from 3-point land in two games, moving to the top of the SEC in three-point field goal percentage and three-point field goals made per game.
  • Has hit four or more threes in four consecutive games.
  • Has now hit 20-of-35 three-point field goals during the last four games.
  • Had a season-high tying three assists against UT-Martin.
  • Increased her school-record streak to 22 consecutive games hitting at least one three-pointer.

11_UK_Penn_06_cw.JPGIf the Kentucky men's basketball players are tired of having head coach John Calipari beat the importance of intensity for 40 minutes, Penn head coach Jerome Allen offered a pretty good perspective following UK's 86-62 win over Penn on Monday night at Rupp Arena.

"Once the ball goes up in the air, whether you're on the playground or whether you're in Rupp Arena or whether you're in the Palestra, you've got to play the game," Allen said. "It's great for you guys to write about and the history and all that, but as long as I have the opportunity to coach these young men, no matter what arena we go into we are going to expect to win. That's the habits we got. Our habits match our expectations."

That advice may have been beneficial for Kentucky before the game.

Whether it was a Louisville hangover, looking ahead to conference play or just a pesky Penn team that lived up to its historic success, Penn looked past the banners in Rupp Arena and took the fight to Kentucky the first 15 minutes of Monday night's game and led 31-19.

Guard Tyler Bernadini, who entered the contest averaging 7.7 points per game, nearly had a career night before halftime. The senior hit 5-of-6 shots in the first half, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range for 16 points. He finished the game with 22.

Kentucky, with a stunned Rupp Arena crowd of 21,681 fans, looked headed for a loss similar to that of Gardner-Webb and San Diego of years past. Penn was getting wide-open looks and burying them with ease.

"They weren't missing," freshman point guard Brandon Knight said. "We were leaving guys. We were missing assignments. They were playing great in the first half. We were giving them open opportunities. On the offensive end, we were missing easy shots and easy layups that we normally make."

And then, as if UK head coach John Calipari flipped a switch, Kentucky turned it on, closing the first half with a 12-0 run and burying the Quakers by the halfway point of the second half.

The Cats turned up the pressure on the defensive end, started closing on the perimeter shots and started making baskets at a lights-out rate. For every layup Kentucky missed in the opening minutes, the basketball gods made up for with an unbelievable shooting stretch.

From the 2:55 mark in the first half when Doron Lamb made a layup until Terrence Jones' dunk with 2:53 left in the game, Kentucky hit 22-of-25 shots. The contagious shooting streak transformed a 32-21 deficit into an 86-52 blowout.

"When you look at this, we have got good stuff," UK head coach John Calipari said. "But you know what, we want more. I want more than just, 'OK, we won by 12.' I want this team to start understanding, you've got to be a little bit of a juggernaut and that means five guys, one heartbeat. We are not one heartbeat right now. We are about a heartbeat and a half. We are not, bang, bang, bang. We are not there yet."  

Calipari still isn't satisfied because he sees flashes of greatness that are held back by lapses of unfocused play.

When Darius Miller goes for nine points and six rebounds in the second-half alone, how can you explain a two-point first half? When a player like Josh Harrellson has improved so much and posts his second straight double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds), why does it feel like Eloy Vargas isn't making progress?

And if a team gets five feet of space in the first half to drain seven first-half 3s, how do you then limit them to just one trey in the second half?

"Subbed some guys, subbed some players," was Calipari's answer. "It only takes one guy breaking down.  The first half, we left corners, which we never do. We just left guys in corners. We don't leave corner shooters."

It's inconsistency Calipari is still dealing with, and it's not all youth.

"That's all effort and hustle plays," Calipari said. "You want us to play like that all the time. And I know I'm asking a lot. I'm asking guys to come every game ready to go and ready to battle. But I think if you demand a lot, you get a lot. If you accept mediocrity, you're going to get it every single time. If you accept what they want to give you, that's what they are going to give you. I'm not accepting anything but your best."

Knight and Lamb have clearly gotten the picture. Lamb has accepted his role off the bench and continues to be instant offense (16 points Monday), and Knight (22 points) has improved day and night since the Maui Invitational.

"Different player, isn't it?" Calipari said of Knight. "That's what you are trying to see with guys that want to change and want to get better. We're on him about his defense, and you know what, today he went out and said, 'I'm going to guard better,' and he did."

Jones was the epitome of the inconsistent performance. He finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, but it was a quiet double-digit effort and a far cry from the opening-season play of the freshman forward.

"At the end of the day, if I have done my job, and Terrence has responded, Terrence Jones will be the best player in the country by the end of the year; if he wants to be; if he wants to listen and change," Calipari said.

Monday was just another example of how close Kentucky is to being a legitimate contender and how razor-thin the margin is for being one-and-done in March. Inconsistency can plague this team or effort and intensity can overcome it.

And that's why Calipari, no matter how impressive the Louisville win was or how dominating Monday's second half was, continues to want more.

"Shouldn't I expect that?" Calipari said.

Anything less and a first half like Monday's will be the team's shortcoming come March.

 

Video: Cal, players on second-half surge

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Head coach John Calipari


Junior guard/forward Darius Miller


Senior forward Josh Harrellson


Freshman point guard Brandon Knight

Live blog: UK men's basketball vs. Penn

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UK_Notre Dame_BM_005.JPGAs far as midseason tests go, it won't get much stiffer than Tuesday for the Kentucky women's basketball team when it travels to Durham, N.C., to face No. 3 Duke.

What the Cats face at 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPNU: An undefeated traditional power, Cameron Indoor Stadium, a national TV audience and a chance at the program's best regular-season win since toppling No. 1 Tennessee at Rupp Arena in 2006.

The stakes aren't lost on Matthew Mitchell, but he's a little concerned about his players.

"The conversation I had to have with them is that this is a big game," Mitchell said. "We're walking around like we're trying to get a lunch reservation somewhere. This is probably the biggest women's basketball game in the country tomorrow night."

Tuesday's game is by no means a make-or-break game for the Cats. As men's basketball coach John Calipari often says, win and it's a huge game. Lose, and well, there are still 16 regular-season games left.

In that respect, even with youth, Mitchell said his team gets it.

But Tuesday does provide a huge opportunity for the Cats. Not only would be a marquee win that could significantly improve Kentucky's seeding come NCAA Tournament time, it would also be a huge confidence booster heading into Southeastern Conference play.

Mitchell hopes his team understands the opportunity that Tuesday presents. Despite an 11-1 record, Mitchell is worried that his team has been so up and down in terms of intensity that an off night could turn ugly.

"What I do think is important and should give us some sense of urgency is we have no in between with this team," Mitchell said. "Either we play very hard and we are competitive and can play with just about anybody or we don't play very hard and Duke can really take it to us."

Mitchell doesn't want his youth to get exposed.

Although he feels like his team has the horses and athleticism to match up with the Blue Devils, youth has plagued this Kentucky team at times. Practice intensity hasn't always been consistent, and at times, the Cats experience midgame lulls.

Duke, on the other hand, is experienced, balanced and steady. Three seniors start for the 13-0 Blue Devils, and six players average 6.0 or more points.

"The advantages are their experience and talent against our talent that's very inexperienced," Mitchell said.

Freshman point guard Maegan Conwright is the perfect model for UK's talented inexperience. She will likely draw the duty of guarding Duke's senior leader and top scorer Jasmine Thomas, who is averaging 14.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

"Up to this point, she's had a difficult time understanding all what we need the point guard to do," Mitchell said. "Maegan is a real outgoing kid, great personality, but when she gets on the court, she chooses the wrong time to stop using her personality. We need her to be more fiery, we need her to be more vocal, we need her to clap her hands and get the huddle together a little bit tighter, just all the things you want a point guard to do."

One of the team's early season surprises, Conwright won the starting point guard duties over highly touted guard Jennifer O'Neill and veteran Crystal Riley the second game of the year. She scored 15 points in a win over Miami and eight points in a signature victory over No. 12 Notre Dame.

Of late, though, Conwright has fallen off a bit. She was suspended for the Arkansas Pine Bluff game because of conduct detrimental to the team, and she's hit just 8-of-22 shots over the last three games. Mitchell doesn't buy that she's hit a freshman "wall."

"I just think those are maybe a little bit easier games to play in because not everybody's got it together," Mitchell said. "Ignorance is bliss at that point. At that point, she just turned loose and played. She still needs to do that, but there are a few more things (she needs to do).

Defenses are a little more advanced at this time of the year and will throw different looks at her. You have to use your mind a little bit more. You can't play mindlessly hard."

"She's just so darn talented and is struggling to put it all together. When she puts it all together, I think we're going to be pretty darn tough."

The big-game opportunity hasn't been lost on senior forward Victoria Dunlap, who has this top-10 showdown circled on her calendar for some time.

"I'm really excited about it," Dunlap said. "Even when I first heard that we were playing them on the schedule I was pretty excited about playing Duke and the program they have. We're ready to show more of the world about Kentucky and that we can actually play basketball and that we're ranked where we need to be ranked."

Barring a major setback in practice Monday, Dunlap is expected to play and start against Duke. The reigning SEC Player of the Year suffered a scary injury last week against UT Martin when she collided with teammate Crystal Riley going for a steal.

Dunlap laid on the floor several minutes before being carried off. She missed the rest of the game and was diagnosed with a knee bruise.

"Knee feels great," Dunlap said. "I did some more biking today. I'm going to get on the court and do some half-court stuff today, maybe some jogging, so I'm good. According to the trainers, (the soreness) was real consistent with how much stuff I was doing for rehab. I made sure I iced, got a lot of pressure on it and a lot of rest."

In a game like Tuesday's with an opportunity like this at stake, count on Dunlap being 100 percent.

"It's a big game," Mitchell said. "That's where we want to be. We want to play in these types of games."

Video: Mitchell, Dunlap on facing No. 3 Duke

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Head coach Matthew Mitchell


Senior forward Victoria Dunlap

Men's basketball cracks AP top 10

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Fresh over a win over archrival Louisville, the Kentucky men's basketball cracked this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Cats are ranked No. 11 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll.

It's the first time UK has been ranked in the top 10 since the fourth week of the season, a week after the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

AP Top 25
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Duke (65) 13-0 1,625
2 Ohio State 14-0 1,551
3 Kansas 13-0 1,491
4 Syracuse 15-0 1,437
5 Pittsburgh 13-1 1,358
6 San Diego State 15-0 1,198
7 Villanova 12-1 1,187
8 Connecticut 11-1 1,168
9 Missouri 13-1 1,116
10 Kentucky 11-2 1,052
11 Purdue 13-1 930
12 Texas 11-2 902
13 Georgetown 12-2 834
14 Notre Dame 12-2 688
15 Brigham Young 14-1 648
16 Texas A&M 12-1 569
17 Kansas State 11-3 523
18 Michigan State 9-4 504
19 UCF 13-0 490
20 Illinois 12-3 328
21 Memphis 11-2 313
22 Vanderbilt 11-2 238
23 Washington 10-3 173
24 Cincinnati 14-0 159
25 UNLV 12-2 136


ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Duke (31) 13-0 775
2 Ohio State 14-0 742
3 Kansas 13-0 714
4 Syracuse 15-0 678
5 Pittsburgh 13-1 639
6 San Diego State 15-0 600
7 Villanova 12-1 577
8 Missouri 13-1 536
9 Connecticut 11-1 516
10 Purdue 13-1 489
11 Kentucky 11-2 477
12 Texas 11-2 424
13 Georgetown 12-2 417
14 Brigham Young 14-1 356
15 Notre Dame 12-2 316
16 Texas A&M 12-1 285
17 Kansas State 11-3 271
18 UCF 13-0 204
19 Michigan State 9-4 203
20 Illinois 12-3 142
21 Minnesota 11-3 128
22 Memphis 11-2 110
23 Louisville 11-2 73
24 Vanderbilt 11-2 71
25 Cincinnati 14-0 56

SEC coaches' teleconference (Jan. 3)

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SEC Circle Gold Letters on White Background.jpgMonday kicked off the first of this year's Southeastern Conference men's basketball teleconference with the league's coaches. Cat Scratches will have the full transcript of head coach John Calipari each week, as well as Kentucky's upcoming SEC opponent head coach.

Kentucky opens SEC play Saturday against Georgia. Here is what Georgia head coach Mark Fox and Calipari had to say:

Full audio from each head coach

Mark Fox

Question:
Can you give us some brief comments on your team entering SEC play?
Fox: I think we're off to a good start. We have beaten the teams we're supposed to beat, but I think we're improved as a team. I think we're a little better basketball team than we were last year. I think we have a more complete team this year. We have found some ways to win. That doesn't mean we've played great every night. We enter league play knowing that we have to play a lot better to win games because we are going to play some terrific teams. We open with a great one who is also playing very, very well.

Question: Can you talk about what ways you feel like you are a more complete team and the things you've seen from Kentucky that have impressed you?
Fox: I think that we can score the ball from more places this year. We feel like we're a deeper team. We certainly feel like we're a more experienced team. We have a deeper, more experienced roster. We have some guys who are in their second year of our system, so they're more comfortable doing what we're trying to do. Kentucky, they're just terrific. They're shooting the 3 at a very high clip. I think they're scoring from lots of different places. I think they're playing together. They're a terrific defensive team, probably underappreciated in how good their defense is. This is a very good basketball team we're getting ready to play and a team we have a lot of respect for. We'll have to get geared up.

Question: Coach, can you talk about how Gerald Robinson has played this season?
Fox: Gerald Robinson is off to a good start. He's averaging double figures for us and is leading us in assists as well. He would probably be the first one to tell you he could play better, but I think he's off to a good start because he was able to sit out last year. He really used his redshirt year as a way to get better. He added almost 20 pounds to his frame. He's really made an impact on our team and he's a guy who I think will continue to get better throughout the year. He had a little bit of a rough start, but he's hungry to get all the rust knocked off.

Question: Can you talk about how Trey Thompkins has played so far this year and do you remember anything about Josh Harrellson from last year?
Fox: Thompkins, the injury that he had really came at a terrible time for our team. He missed basically the entire month of November in practice. We played him down in Orlando after basically completing one practice prior to the tournament, the day before the game, a walk-through practice before a three-game tournament. He's really kind of been thrown back into the fire without much practice time. We've tried to get him back in a rhythm, back in shape and get the ankle back in shape, and that's really taken some time. Taking that into consideration, I think Trey has had a pretty good start. It's hard for a guy to be as productive as he's been if you don't practice, but he was still able to be very productive for us. I think he's finally starting to feel like his old self. I think he's feeling healthy, and that's good for us because he's a terrific player. Harrellson is obviously getting so much more time this year because they don't have as many big bodies. Last year the focus was on John Wall and Patrick Patterson and (Eric) Bledsoe and everybody else, but like all players, he's waited his turn and taken full advantage of it.

Question: I'm wondering how you view the league going into SEC play.
Fox: There have been some losses. I think every league has that. I think it was yesterday, maybe the day before, I looked at the RPI, and I think in the top 20 of the RPI, which is going to be used by the selection committee, I think we had three teams. I don't think - and you'd have to check this before you throw me into the fire - I don't think there was a Pac-10 team in the top 20 and I think there was only one ACC team, and we have three from our division in there. I think it's strong. We do have a couple losses like every league that you wish you didn't have, but I don't think that's just an issue with the SEC. I think you could point to teams in every conference.

Question: How is Travis Leslie doing this year and what are you looking for from him?
Fox: Travis has improved. He's a much more complete player than he was last year. He still has a spectacular play now and again, but I think he's been much more productive in the unspectacular areas. He has really played well for us and he really worked hard for us in the offseason. I think he's having a good year. He's putting up pretty good numbers and we can talk about that instead of just his spectacular dunks.

Question: Did his spectacular dunks kind of feed the way he played before?
Fox: I don't know if that motivated him or gave him an extra boost. I think he was really hungry in the offseason and has been throughout this year to be a more complete player. He's rebounding the ball well. He's a guy that has more assists than he has turnovers. He really, I think for us, been a more complete player for us, and that's kind of one of the things we challenged him in becoming.


UK_ND_MBB_18_cw.JPGJohn Calipari

Question:
Can you give us some brief comments on your upcoming matchup with the (Georgia) Bulldogs?
Calipari: Well, we play Penn tonight. Basically, we haven't done a whole lot of scouting or film work on Georgia. I saw them against Notre Dame since we had to play Notre Dame and they're a really good team. They're one of those teams I talked about, and they're proving me right, they're 11-2. (Georgia) had Notre Dame beat (and) could be 12-1. (Georgia) had Temple beat; now all of a sudden they're 13-0. Mark (Fox) is doing a great job at defending. They're playing how they have to play to win games and be there so it's going to be a tough challenge for us.

Question: Can you talk about how much easier it is when you have a really good point guard? You've had several in a row now. Can you just talk about how much easier it is when a guy can run what you want run and get the job done for you.
Calipari: Well, the one thing I want to tell you is it takes time for all those guys. I can remember Derrick Rose, we go to New York and Dick Vitale is saying, 'He's out of control. He's not a point guard. He's just shooting balls.' And I can remember Tyreke (Evans) down in Puerto Rico having like seven charges and people coming up saying, 'Oh my gosh.' And even Clark Kellogg, who had us at Georgetown saying, 'I'm not so sure.' Even Brandon (Knight) out in Hawaii. So it takes time for those guys, especially with the way we play. But when they get it, when they feel it, then all of a sudden it changes everything for our team and that's happening with Brandon right now. He still breaks down the offense at times. He still takes some shots he really has no business taking or turns it over in unnecessary ways, but when he gets those things in check, and he will. He's got to defend better. He's not defending as well as he needs to. But when he does, I think you'll see our team take that next step up.

Question: Have any of the freshmen kind of exceeded expectations at this point? And where is Terrence Jones at right now?
Calipari: When I'm coaching these guys, I want people to watch my players and say, 'I can't believe that young man is playing that way. I didn't know he had that in him. I didn't know he could that.' Our job as coaches is to bring that out of them, is to help them reach their dreams and make them understand they can do things they did not think they can do. Whether it's Doron (Lamb), Brandon or Terrence, they've all stepped up and done more than most people, and even maybe I think they could do. Terrence, we've got to get him playing with more intensity right now in a more consistent way. We've got to get him more physical. What we're doing in practice with Terrence is the minute I see him jog or get out of a stance or play half speed, I take them off the court and they get on the treadmill and then he gets back on the court. I'm just not going to let him back up anymore. I told him, 'You're capable of dominating games and you're not doing it now.' That's because of how he practices. He's got to develop better habits. But (he's) a great young man. He's gotten so much better. He's one of the leading rebounders, if not the leading rebounder, in the SEC. As we get into league play, he's going to find out that all this comes up a notch.

Question: I'm curious how you view the SEC coming in and strength of the league.
Calipari: I'm zeroed in on our half right now. The West five years ago was the dominant side and now it's shifted a little bit over to this side. But when you're talking about wins over Pittsburgh and Notre Dame and Villanova and Kansas State, Washington State, North Carolina - that wasn't by us - Louisville on the road, and Xavier on the road, you're talking about a lot of good wins. When you're talking about our half, every game we play is going to be a hard game. That's 10 games. You have leagues and you'll have teams say, 'Well, our league is this and that.' Yeah, but you don't play each other twice. You're only playing that team once. And those three you're getting at home. You're not even having to go on the road to play them. So our strength of schedule with Florida and Tennessee and ourselves, the strength of those schedules non-conference - ours is like 15 right now. When we have to go Tennessee twice, Florida twice, South Carolina twice, Vandy, who may be the best team in the league, and Georgia, who may be right there with them, those 10 games, our schedule strength will still be in the top 15. I look at that and I say, you know, this league is going to be fine. I'm watching Vandy and I don't even want to think about coaching in the end zone up there. And I'm watching Georgia and I'm scared to death going in there. You know Tennessee, if they can beat Pittsburgh and Villanova, they can beat anybody in the country. I really don't know what's going on right now (at Tennessee), but I do know that. So now all of a sudden you're saying, Florida, they're picked to win our league. As they figure out what they're doing, it's almost an impossible game to play down there. I think it's being hyped a little bit because everyone is trying to posture for their league. We're fine. I'm looking at our league and we're going to be fine. I still think we're going to get five teams in and maybe six.

Question: When you talked about the other day that you gave up on Josh, is that easy for a coach to admit? And you talked about how that kind of taught you something, how will that help you with some of your other guys the rest of the year?
Fox: First of all, I never said I gave up on him. I think he gave up on himself, which I didn't try to bring anymore out of him. 'If that's all you have, then you're not good enough to play here.' That's basically what I said. You've got to do this. It's got to be two sides to this. You've got to have players that are on a mission to get better. What happened to Josh is he's in the best shape of his life, and then he went in and said, 'Man, I'm doing stuff I didn't even know I can do.' And he built his own confidence, his own self-esteem, and I don't want to take credit for that. I want him to take credit for that, and I want other players to know it's not me. Now, yes, we have to challenge guys. But the other side of it is I need to step up and look at the other guys who aren't playing well and spend some time with those guys to help them get better. Eloy (Vargas) really needs me right now to do that, and so does Jon Hood and Stacey (Poole), so I've got to spend more time with those guys, understanding that they're going to be important pieces of what we're trying to do here. The other side of it is, I'm not a guy that likes to go 6 in the morning and have four-hour practices and beat them up. I just don't that. But some guys need that. Josh proved that. There are some guys that need to be up at 6 in the morning conditioning to toughen them up. But Brandon Knight doesn't need that. Neither does DeAndre. You coach individuals different. Even though you're trying to be fair, that doesn't mean you do the same for every kid. They've got to understand, it's not punishment if you need it. You're using this to improve yourself.

Kentucky a No. 2 seed in latest Bracketology

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ESPN NCAA Tournament guru Joe Lunardi has released his first Bracketology of 2011 and has Kentucky projected as a No. 2 seed.

Lunardi has UK played 15th-seed Lipscomb in the first round with a possible Minnesota (Tubby Smith) matchup in the second round. Only four Southeastern Conference teams make Lunardi's Bracketology this week.

Check out Lunardi's full projections at ESPN.com.

Report: Defensive coordinator to coach Pitt vs. UK

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As long as the wait has been for the BBVA Compass Bowl, there has been no shortage of storylines leading up to the game for both sides.

The latest is the coaching situation for Kentucky's opponent, Pittsburgh. Michael Haywood was hired to take over for Dave Wannstedt, who will not be back next year, but Haywood was fired Friday night after being arrested.

The question now is who will coach Pitt for the bowl game? Wannstedt, who has remained with the university as an assistant to Athletics Director Steve Pederson, won't be the guy.

According to report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will be named interim coach for the Panthers and coach them in the Birmingham, Ala. Wannstedt informed his coaching staff Monday morning that he would not coach the game, according to the report.

How the recent coaching turmoil will affect Pitt remains to be seen. Will the Panthers rally around each other and their new coach? Will the game plan be any different? How does a new coach affect the way Kentucky game plans for Pitt?

I'll have coverage leading up to the bowl all week long starting Tuesday from Birmingham. Stay tuned.

Video: Cats not looking past Penn after U of L win

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Head coach John Calipari


Senior forward Josh Harrellson


Junior guard/forward Darius Miller


Junior guard DeAndre Liggins

Newton looking to capitalize on second opportunity

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FB 09_10 UK_Georgia Web 02.jpgThis was supposed to be Morgan Newton's year.

After a freshman season in which he started his team's final seven games in the absence of the injured Mike Hartline, Newton's sophomore season was thought to be the year when he took over the job permanently and put his stamp on the quarterback position at Kentucky.

However, after an open competition spanning preseason workouts and practices, first-year head coach Joker Phillips opted for the veteran presence of Hartline over Newton and fellow second-year quarterback Ryan Mossakowski.

Newton may not have gotten the call to lead his team at the beginning of the season, but due to a suspension of Hartline for the BBVA Compass Bowl against Pittsburgh, Newton's opportunity is coming after all, and he plans on seizing it.

"I've been blessed with another opportunity," Newton said. "I have an opportunity to get better for the Pitt game and for next year and that's what I've been trying to do."

Although the circumstances of his shot at starting the bowl game are less than ideal, Newton is clearly energized by the prospect of taking meaningful snaps again, particularly in light of the disappointment of being relegated to backup duty for the first 12 games.  

Admittedly and understandably, Newton was frustrated.

"I'm not going to lie, it was tough," Newton said in September. "I'm a competitor. I pride myself on being a competitor, but with that said, these are the cards I was dealt."

To Newton's credit, he was able to rebound from a difficult situation and commit to his role as a backup and continue to improve in that role.

"For the most part, he did a good job coming out here and working hard every day during the season knowing he was the backup," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "That's a little tougher situation, especially not getting as many reps."

As a backup, Newton may not have gotten as many reps as he would have liked, but his ability to maintain his focus in spite of his own frustration allowed him to improve while Hartline enjoyed a stellar senior campaign.

"He is definitely better at reading (defenses) than he was last year," Phillips said. "He can handle (changing) the protections a lot better and he should be able to. He has been in the system two years, so he should be better and he is."

"I'm a different quarterback," Newton said. "A lot of accuracy issues come from just knowing where you need to be and where the ball needs to be quickly. Having extra film work and time around the guys has helped out a lot."

Newton isn't the only one to improve since he last took a meaningful snap.

UK had obvious receiving talent in 2009, but that talent was underdeveloped to a significant extent. Randall Cobb was in the midst of a transition to wide receiver, while junior-college transfer Chris Matthews and freshman La'Rod King were just beginning to cut their teeth at the Southeastern Conference level.

A year later, Cobb and Matthews were the leading receiving duo in the SEC, with King as a clear and viable third option. Needless to say, Newton looks forward to working with the talented group.

"Everybody is a year older from last year and we didn't really lose anybody," Newton said. "All of the guys have had great seasons and we want to finish strong."

Hartline was largely responsible for the great seasons of the receivers Newton will now be targeting, and though Hartline cannot travel with the team to Birmingham, Ala., for the bowl game, Newton continues to benefit from Hartline's presence with the team.

"Mike has been very valuable," Newton said. "He's a guy that's played five years in the program and he knows all the intricacies of the offense. He's a guy that you can always lean on."

Also aiding in Newton's transition to starting is the fact that this is not the first time he has been thrust into the job. Newton acknowledged that he was affected by the pressure of starting last year, but this time around he believes he is much better prepared.

"I'm not feeling much pressure," Newton said. "I've been dropped into this job before, so I just have to come out and try to lead, try to help the team and score points."

When Newton took over the job last year, he did so while running a significantly scaled down offense. Sanders made a mathematical analogy, saying Newton was "adding and subtracting" while Hartline was doing "trigonometry". 

Thanks to a year of development, Sanders said Newton is up to "Algebra II." To the average football eye, only a few will be able to notice differences in the offense next week with Newton under center.

"There will be a few differences," Sanders said. "Probably 90 percent of the people out there won't see a lot of difference, but coaches watching the game will be able to notice some things."

In spite of Hartline's experience, Newton was the popular choice among many fans prior to the season due to the promise and athleticism he brings to the table. That athleticism presents a challenge to opposing defenses that both Sanders and Newton say will be exploited.

"We'll be running most of the same things Mike ran, but we'll add a few things to use all of my weapons," Newton said.

With Newton as the likely heir to Hartline at quarterback during his final two years on campus (Newton's start over Mossakowski in the bowl game likely gives him a step up on next year's job heading into the spring), much of the team's preparation has had an eye on the future. Newton realizes he remains a work in progress, but he has more immediate priorities than simply improving for next year and beyond.

"I expect to try to score points and to move the ball," Newton said. "We don't really have any specific goals, but we expect to put up a lot of yards and a lot of points. We're all out here to win games and that's what we're going to try to do."

UK_MTSU_03_cw.JPGKeyla Snowden has seen thousands upon thousands of shots go through the net in her career, so it's understandable if she felt like she could rely on her sharpshooting talents to help her succeed.

Of course, talent alone isn't enough to succeed at the college level.

Although a shooter's best asset is a short memory, the key for Snowden, according to head coach Matthew Mitchell, is repetition. The more shots she watches go through, the more confidence she gains and the more baskets she makes.

"She may not agree with this, but it's very important for her to get repetition," Mitchell said after Kentucky's 68-47 win over UT Martin on Thursday. "I think that really helps her confidence."

At the beginning of the season, Snowden wasn't getting the repetition she needed to, admittedly easing up on her work ethic. She wasn't putting up enough shots before, during and after practice, and she suffered the consequences because of it.

After injuring her knee in UK's season opener, Snowden returned to hit just 12 of her next 49 shots, including 9-of-28 from behind the 3-point line. The low point came during a woeful 1-for-12 afternoon against archrival Louisville.

"At times she loses a little focus," Mitchell said. "We didn't think she had been in the gym a whole lot."

Snowden quickly changed her habits with a little prodding from the coaching staff.

A couple of weeks ago, assistant coach Matt Insell pushed the guards, including Snowden, to make at least 100 shots a day.

"Definitely being a shooter, you don't want to go that bad (as the Louisville game) from the field," Snowden said. "I guess it's more of a confidence thing. You've got to stay focused every night you go out."

Mitchell also had a talk with Snowden, who set the Akron's single-season 3-point record her freshman year before transferring to UK and hitting another 51 treys last season.

"I have to kind of stay after Keyla," Mitchell said. "Keyla is an interesting young woman; very talented. She and I met up to make sure that she keeps her feet on the ground. She's done much better lately with doing what got you there."

And since then, she's been on fire.

Over the last six games, Snowden has hit 32-of-57 shots, including 24-of-41 long-range shots. After an abysmal start, her field-goal percentage has risen to .418, and she's hitting 48.8 percent from behind the arc.

"She has a repeating stroke," Mitchell said of Snowden's shot. "It is the same every time and she has great balance. She is very square. Her elbow is a little out, so it's not classic underneath the ball, but it repeats. She has a great follow through and a great repeating snap of her wrist and the rotation is beautiful."

The most important part of Snowden's recent upswing is she has emerged as UK's much-needed third scoring option. Since finding her touch, Snowden is averaging 19.0 points over the last four games.

Snowden is now third on the team in scoring with a 12.6 scoring average.

"She is very gifted," Mitchell said. "She's been blessed with that ability."

And now she's building on it.

The day after links

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UK_UofL_17_cw.JPGIt's been nearly 24 hours since Kentucky dismantled Louisville, but a victory as sweet as Friday's for UK fans doesn't wear off anytime soon. To help some of you relive Friday's glory, here are some links from around the nation:

- John Clay from the Lexington Herald-Leader writes that the Cards were no match for the Cats' cool competence

- Herald-Leader columnist Mark Story says Brandon Knight points Cats in right direction

- Herald-Leader beat reporter Jerry Tipton on the early tug of Terrence Jones

- The Courier-Journal's Michael Grant writes that Josh Harrellson was surprised by his game

- Matt May of The Cats' Pause thinks DeAndre Liggins' defense keyed UK's victory

- Knight's rhythm directed the Cats, says James Pennington from TCP

- Enes who, asks Eammon Brennan from ESPN.com

- Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio fame, writes about Harrellson's big day in his new gig at CBSSports.com

- Nick Craddock from the Kentucky Kernel writes that UK spoils the Yum! Center's debut as setting of Battle of the Bluegrass