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140 characters changed Harrellson's life

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Harrellson1.jpegIn late October, shortly after Josh Harrellson recorded a whopping 26 rebounds in the Blue-White Scrimmage, head coach John Calipari wondered out loud whether Harrellson's big night was his hard work or the byproduct of a glorified practice.

Harrellson didn't take too kindly to Calipari's words.

The next day on Twitter, for everyone to see, Harrellson tweeted out his dismay with his coach's comments. Harrellson was subsequently punished and sentenced to a month's worth of conditioning.

Fast forward four months later and Harrellson is still doing the conditioning. He's not averaging quite two dozen rebounds a game, but he is second in the Southeastern Conference in rebounds per game (8.9) and leads the league in offense rebounds per game (3.8).

On Monday, a full regular season since Harrellson's fateful tweet and a day from Harrellson's final home game at Rupp Arena, the evolution of Harrellson has come full circle with the most recent comments from Calipari.

Make no mistake about the words this time -- these were definitely a compliment, quite possibly the highest badge of approval a coach can have for his player.

"I don't know if I've ever coached a player that has gotten more out of his body and his skill level and his athleticism than Josh Harrellson, and I've coached a lot of players," Calipari said.

It's been that type of season for Harrellson. 

Before this year, Harrellson had only scored 151 points in his two years at Kentucky. During last year's Elite Eight run, Harrellson hardly even sniffed the floor, playing a total of 88 minutes behind the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Daniel Orton and Perry Stevenson.

When he did see the floor, he was often unproductive. By season's end, Harrellson had accepted his role as the jokester of the team and seemed destined for that role again this year when UK signed Turkish big man Enes Kanter.

During UK's trip to Canada for a three-game exhibition series, Harrellson continued with his joking ways until the coaching staff gave him an ultimatum.

"He had a choice between beating it, getting out of here or changing," Calipari said. "And he changed."

Harrellson is still a goofball - he still loves the nickname "Jorts," calls himself a "big kid" and is asking fans to wear denim on Senior Night in honor of his fashion fad - but he's become one of the hardest working players on a team that has so desperately needed him without Kanter.

"He's been, since the change, different habits, different body, different mentality, almost a fear of, I've got to do this now," Calipari said. "He's a totally different player and I'm proud of him. He went from 35 minutes in a season to maybe being nominated all-conference."

Who knew 140 characters could alter a young man's life.

"It could have been a really long season," Harrellson said of what would have happened to his season had he not tweeted, got in trouble and faced Calipari's pre-practice conditioning punishment. "I probably wouldn't be the player I am today. I probably wouldn't be doing the stuff I'm capable of doing."

Though his on-court production has seen its biggest strides this season, Harrellson's development hasn't been a one-year wonder.

In high school, Harrellson said he was a better baseball player than a basketball player and said his head coach had to convince the freshman coach just to keep him on the team.

"I couldn't make a left-handed layup and I used to have to stay an hour after practice just to learn how to do it," Harrellson said. "Then, I started making left-handed layups and forgot how to make a right-handed layup."

Harrellson said he didn't have a great work ethic in high school, but a 6-foot-10 frame led him to Southwest Illinois College and eventually to UK as a sophomore under former head coach Billy Gillispie. Harrellson endured a bumpy ride his first year, hitting a low point when Gillispie told him to go stand in a bathroom stall during halftime of game. Still, Harrellson wouldn't throw his former coach under the bus, even giving credit to Gillispie for some of his development.

"Without him, without boot camp, I probably wouldn't have been able to do the stuff I did at the beginning of the year, all of the conditioning Coach Cal made me do for tweeting," Harrellson said. "Without the way he coached and the way he pushed us, without him making my mental mindset tougher, I probably wouldn't have been able to compete and get through the stuff I did this year."

When Calipari joined Kentucky and he signed the nation's top recruiting class, most figured Harrellson would be one of the players on the way out. Calipari said Harrellson was never on the chopping block.

"A lot of people expected me to leave," Harrellson said. "There was, at times, people would send stuff like, 'You need to leave.' But I just looked aside from that and was like, 'You know, I'm here, I'm going to stay here, I'm just going to work hard.' And finally the rewards are paying off now and everybody that was saying I should have left back then, they're probably glad I'm staying now."

Harrellson hasn't given up playing basketball in the NBA or overseas, and Calipari believes he has a shot of making some money off the game. If his basketball future doesn't work out, Harrellson said he'll likely put his degree in corporate finance to use in public relations. He also didn't rule out teaching because of his love for kids.

Whatever the future holds for Harrellson, his dream of making an impact at Kentucky finally came to fruition. It only took a tweet to force him into the spotlight.

"It's just been a long, long journey and this year's been rewarding as it can be for me," Harrellson said. "Since I've been here my sophomore year, actually seeing the benefits and the rewards my senior year, that's all I can ask for. It's been a great ride."

Harrellson will be honored Tuesday night before the Vanderbilt game as the lone senior on Senior Night. Kentucky, which is fighting for the East's No. 2 seed for the Southeastern Conference Tournament, cannot afford to lose to the Commodores. Vanderbilt can clinch the No. 2 seed with a win over UK.

Video: Calipari previews Vanderbilt game

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UK Sports Report (week of Feb. 28)

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Men's basketball
- UK extended its home winning streak to 33 games, which is the second-longest streak in the country. The 33-game winning streak is tied for the longest streak in Rupp Arena history and the third-longest streak in program history. John Calipari is 32-0 at Rupp Arena as Kentucky's head coach.
- Over the last four games Darius Miller is averaging 18 points and 5.5 rebounds. He's made 25-of-47 shots for 53.2 percent, including 12-of-24 3-pointers. He's also blocked 10 shots.
- Kentucky will celebrate Senior Night on Tuesday, hosting Vanderbilt. The Wildcats are 84-6 all-time on Senior Night.

Women's basketball
- Senior Victoria Dunlap recorded a team-high 19 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks in a 76-62 win over Auburn in the final game of the regular season. UK improved to 22-7 overall, 11-5 in league play, which tied the school record for SEC wins set last season and tied the school mark for SEC road wins (five) set in 2005-06.
- UK has earned a No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament for the second consecutive season and is preparing to square off with the winner of LSU (No. 7 seed) and Alabama (No. 10 seed) in the quarterfinals.

Softball
- Kentucky went 3-1 at the Stanford Nike Invitational behind the play of Megan Yocke. Yocke batted .615 in front of her hometown and charted two hits in every game.
- Junior pitcher Chanda Bell tossed the second no-hitter of her career in a 7-0 win over Colorado State. The history didn't stop there as Bell also topped her own single-game record with 16 strikeouts, besting her previous high of 15. Additionally, she became the school's
all-time career leader in strikeouts thrown, passing Keary Camunas for first on the list.
- Kentucky has matched its best start in program history winning 11 of its first 14 games.

Baseball
- Kentucky rebounded from three losses during the season-opening weekend by winning four of five games last week, including picking up a series win over the University of Illinois Chicago over the weekend.
- UK has posted a .307 team batting average through its eight games in 2011 totaling five homers and 45 RBI. On the mound as a team, UK owns a 3.99 ERA with a pair of saves and 65 strikeouts in 70 innings.
- Individually, catcher Luke Maile leads UK at the plate with a .419 average with four doubles and five RBI. Shortstop Taylor Black, named this week's SEC Player of the Week, is coming off a monster week that saw him total nine RBI and a .529 batting average. On the mound, UK junior Alex Meyer has posted a 1-1 record with a 3.00 ERA through his first two starts in 2011. Meyer has struck out 20 in 12 innings, allowing only six hits and a .158 opposing batting average.

Gymnastics
- UK defeated LSU on Friday with a season-high score of 195.575. UK has now defeated the Tigers for the second consecutive season after posting its first win over LSU in 31 tries last year in the Lady Luck Invitational in Las Vegas. Kentucky has now posted back-to-back wins over an SEC opponent for the first time since defeating Auburn in 2005 and 2006. The victory in a SEC dual meet is the first for the Kentucky program since it took down Auburn on
Jan. 12, 2008.
- Kentucky finished third at the event, defeating Bowling Green 194.65-189.45, while No. 7 Nebraska won the four-team meet with a 196.5 and No. 15 Iowa finished second with a 195.5. Seniors Andrea Mitchell and Phylicia Reshard finished second and third in the all-around competition, respectively, with Mitchell earning a 39.25 and Reshard a 39.075.
- The meet wraps up a stretch of four meets in 10 days for UK, with Kentucky showing major improvements during the difficult stretch. The Wildcats faced five top-25 teams the last two weeks, defeating No. 20 LSU with its season-best score of 195.575. Kentucky also scored a 195.05 at then-No. 14 Ohio State and finished off the 10-day stretch with a solid-road score
of 194.65 Sunday at the Masters Classic. UK's best improvement throughout the last two weeks came on beam, where Kentucky improved its season-high mark from 48.375 to 48.7.

Rifle
- Despite getting strong performances on Sunday from newcomers Emily Holsopple and Henri Junghänel in air rifle, the Kentucky rifle team posted a 4672 total team score to finish second at the 2010-11 Great American Rifle Conference Championships.
- Holsopple and Junghänel led UK in air rifle, with both newcomers totaling a 591. Ethan Settlemires finished with a 588, while Megan English had a 590 and Heather Greathouse - who led UK in smallbore on Saturday - totaled a 578.
- The Wildcats, who won the regular-season title with an unbeaten slate, finished with a 4672 total team score, with No. 1 West Virginia winning the GARC Championships with a 4704 team score.

Track and field
- Junior Precious Nwokey launched herself to the 2011 SEC pentathlon championship with the third-highest point total in the NCAA this season, Friday in Fayetteville, Ark. With her performance the junior also broke her own school record with 4,185 points.
- Junior Keith Hayes took home the silver medal in the men's 60-meter hurdles with a career-best time of 7.78. Hayes' time ranks second on UK's all-time 60m hurdles list, only trailing former Wildcat star Mikel Thomas at 7.74.
- The women's team equaled their 2010 point total of 38 points but finished one spot higher in eighth place at the conclusion of the 2011 SEC Championships on Sunday.
- The men's team finished ninth with 20 points and had contributions from Keith Hayes (eight points), Josh Nadzam (three points), Colin Boevers (two points), the 4x400m relay (four points) and the distance medley relay (three points).

Men's golf
- The men's golf team scored the lowest team round of the tournament to finish in second, while sophomore Chase Parker finish tied for second at the final day of the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate.
- Kentucky (293-302-279-874) was extremely impressive in the final round, posting a 9-under-par for the lowest 18-hole round of the season en route to the lowest 54-hole tournament score of the year of 874. The final round of 279 was the eighth-lowest mark during the
Brian Craig Era.
- UK was led in the event by Parker (73-69-70-212), who finished in a tie for second place for his best collegiate finish.

Women's golf
- The Cats began play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate Golf Championship in New Orleans on Sunday. Kentucky was led by sophomore Ashleigh Albrecht who shot a 3-over par, 75. Kentucky, competing in one of the most competitive tournaments of the spring season, finished the first round with a 17-over par, 305.

Women's tennis
- The women's tennis team got wins at Nos. 1-3 singles, but fell to No. 37 Indiana at home on Saturday. Senior Megan Broderick, sophomore Jessica Stiles and freshman Caitlin McGraw each earned their fifth wins of the season in singles play.

Swimming and diving
- The men's and women's swimming units competed in a last chance meet in Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday and Saturday. The Kentucky men and women had 200-free relay teams earn NCAA (B) provisional times.

Upcoming schedule

Monday, Feb. 28
Women's golf at Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate (New Orleans)

Tuesday, March 1
Men's basketball hosts Vanderbilt - 9 p.m.
Women's golf at Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate (New Orleans)

Wednesday, March 2
Men's tennis hosts Murray State - 1 p.m.

Friday, March 4
Men's tennis at Ole Miss - 3 p.m.
Women's basketball vs. Alabama/LSU • 3:30 p.m. (Nashville)
Women's tennis hosts Ole Miss - 4 p.m.
Gymnastics hosts George Washington and Bowling Green - 7 p.m.
Baseball vs. Rice - 8 p.m. (Houston)
Track and field at Iowa State Qualifier

Saturday, March 5
Softball at Southern Illinois • 1 p.m. (Carbondale, Ill.)
Baseball vs. Houston • 4:30 p.m. (Houston)
Women's basketball SEC semifinal game - 4/6:30 p.m. (Nashville)
Softball vs. SIUE - 7 p.m. (Carbondale, Ill.)
Track and field at Iowa State Qualifier
Swimming and diving at Last Chance Meet (Columbus, Ohio)

Sunday, March 6
Softball vs. Wright State - 10 a.m. (Carbondale, Ill.)
Women's tennis hosts Mississippi State - 11 a.m.
Baseball vs. Utah - noon (Houston)
Men's basketball at Tennessee - noon
Men's tennis at Mississippi State - 1 p.m.
Softball vs. Purdue - 2 p.m. (Carbondale, Ill.)
Women's basketball SEC championship game - 5:30 p.m. (Nashville)

Harrellson: It's been a great run

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Senior forward Josh Harrellson


Head coach John Calipari

SEC women's basketball teleconference notes

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Mitchell.jpegAudio of Mitchell

UK Hoops wrapped up a school-record-tying 11-5 Southeastern regular reason with a win over Auburn on Sunday. With the win, the Cats earned the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament, meaning they will play the winner of a game between seventh-seeded LSU and 10th-seeded Alabama.

Coaches from around the SEC participated in a conference call Monday morning ahead of Thursday's start to the tournament in Nashville. Here are some of the highlights from UK coach Matthew Mitchell as well as from the coaches of UK's two potential Friday opponents: Van Chancellor of LSU and Wendell Hudson of Alabama.

- Mitchell opened by talking about the team's regular-season finale, saying he was "thrilled to win at Auburn" and praising the Wildcats energy and focus. Mitchell said he looks forward to a "very challenging" SEC Tournament, calling it "something I've always enjoyed."

- Mitchell was asked about Victoria Dunlap's candidacy for a second consecutive SEC Player of the Year award. Mitchell said he wasn't sure how much his opinion would affect things, but that he would strongly support her winning again. "I just think about the player of the year being the player that means most to their team," Mitchell said. "Victoria is clearly important to Kentucky and we are very partial to her so we certainly think she's worthy of being the player of the year." He continued to laud Dunlap, singling out the fact that she is "so productive in so many areas".

- Mitchell also talked about how this season has been a challenge for Dunlap in terms of dealing with the expectations associated with winning the award as a junior. "I think this season for her was much more difficult," Mitchell said. Last season, Mitchell made the comment that Dunlap was able to "fly under the radar" a bit more than this season because she came in not even making preseason all-SEC teams. However, in spite of higher expectations, point guard problems and focused attention from opponents, Dunlap has been able to have an even better year in 2010-11. "The way she's handled it and continued to produce in this season, I just think it has been a much better season for her," Mitchell said.

- In a light-hearted moment, Mitchell was asked about scheduling for SEC men's basketball versus women's and which approach was better. Mitchell responded by saying that that kind of analysis is "a bit above my pay grade". He continued, saying that he worries only about the schedule assigned to his team.

- Finally, Mitchell talked about the unique scenario of having to prepare for two different possible opponents in the team's opening game in the SEC Tournament. Mitchell said the coaching staff would complete limited preparation for both LSU and Alabama and then focus on a couple key areas once an opponent is known. During this time of the year, though, Mitchell said that his focus would be on his own team than on scouting any opponent.

- LSU coach Van Chancellor was happy with the way his team closed the season in a win against South Carolina and a tough road loss against Tennessee. Chancellor's team is on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, but he declined to speculate on what his team needs to do in Nashville to get over the top. He did say he didn't think any team matched up with the Tigers would be happy to see them: "I'd hate to play us," Chancellor said.

-To start SEC play, Alabama lost nine games in a row, including an 82-69 defeat against UK in Tuscaloosa, Ala. However, coach Wendell Hudson was happy with the way his team closed the year. He said his goal for the end of the year was to "get on a little bit of a roll" and his team did so in winning five of its final seven contests to nab the 10 seed.

- Alabama is headlined by senior forward Tierney Jenkins, who leads the Tide in points (15.7), rebounds (10.9), steals (2.9) and blocks (.97) per game. Jenkins is a candidate for postseason awards in the SEC and Hudson made the comment that she is, without a doubt, the player of the year for his team even though the Tide's record will likely prevent her from winning top honors in the conference.

Live Senior Day chat with Josh Harrellson

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Before the final home game of his career on Tuesday, senior forward Josh Harrellson will join us for a live chat.

Starting at 12:15 p.m. Monday, Harrellson will be available for 30 minutes to answer questions from fans in a real-time format, pending approval of the moderator.

Heading into Tuesday's game against Vanderbilt, Harrellson is averaging 6.6 points and 8.9 rebounds. He recorded a game-high 12 rebounds in the win over Florida on Saturday.

- Big victory for the Kentucky women's basketball team Sunday afternoon at Auburn. The 76-62 victory, coupled with Georgia's loss to Florida, means UK has clinched the No. 2 seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. UK will get a first-round bye and begin its tournament run in Nashville on Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET. The victory tied last season's school-record mark of 11 league wins and also tied the mark for SEC road wins (five).

- Results are starting to come in from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Two former Kentucky football players, Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, are in attendance and have ran the 40-yard dash. Both reportedly ran it in 4.46 seconds. That's a big improvement for Cobb over his previous workouts and should help his draft status. Cobb, on the other hand, was expected to run just a bit faster. Locke did receive positive reviews at the Senior Bowl a few weeks ago. The following link has pretty quick updates on the latest happenings at the NFL Combine.

UK's best, biggest game of the year?

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miller_bm.JPGFive hundred career head coaching victories is worth storing away in the memory bank, but John Calipari's 500th collegiate victory, a 76-68 slugfest win over Florida, may be worth remembering for a few other reasons.

The Kentucky men's basketball team played arguably its best all-around game of the year - it was certainly its most exciting - in a marquee victory at Rupp Arena on Saturday in front of 24,346 fans. The win not only preserved the nation's second-longest winning streak at 33, it kept the Cats alive in the final push for the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division second seed.

"This was a huuuuge game," Calipari said, raising his voice to stress the importance of the victory. "This wasn't like some little game. This was a huge game."

Why so big?

- UK notched arguably its most significant win since beating Louisville on New Year's Eve (Florida entered the game with an RPI ranking of 12).
- The aforementioned second seed is still alive. The top two seeds in each division receive an all-important bye in the SEC Tournament.
- Darius Miller, who scored a career-high 24 points, is playing the best basketball of his career. When he scores double digits this season, UK is 10-4.
-  The Cats proved they can win without Terrence Jones scoring a ton. He had eight points and nine rebounds.
- Brandon Knight isn't playing like a freshman anymore. After scoring 16 points and dishing out six assists with zero turnovers, he's the clear-cut leader of the team.
- And the most important: "Because you're talking a great basketball team that's well coached, that's coming into our building with an idea that they are winning this game, and I've got a fragile team at times on the road, and now you wonder, are they going to be fragile at home," Calipari said.

Let's address the latter first.

With Big Blue Nation in a (rightfully so) panic over Kentucky's 0-6 record in games decided by six points or fewer and the Cats' 1-6 road mark in the SEC, UK did what it has done all season and flexed its muscles at home.

While questions will continue to linger over Kentucky's ability to win a game on the road - the Cats only have one more opportunity, a date at Tennessee next Sunday, to answer those - any second guessing over the actual talent and potential of the team should quiet for now. Road stumbles aside, this is a very good team.

And the glass-half-full approach going into the postseason is that UK really won't play any true road games in the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

"We'll have so many people there, it will probably feel like we are at home," Calipari said.

The last time Miller was at home, he tied his career high with 22 points against South Carolina. This game was even better.

Offensively, Miller played with more confidence than he has in his entire career at UK. He took open shots when Florida gave it to him (2 of 4 from behind the arc), he beat defenders off the dribble and he looked for contact in the lane. Miller also finished with five rebounds, three assists and three blocks.

"I put the challenge to Darius," Calipari said. "I said, 'You're as good as anybody in this conference. Please, this is your game to show it.'  And he showed it."

Midway through the second half, with Kentucky leading 48-45 in a close game, Calipari looked like he called a couple of isolation plays for Miller. The junior scored three straight buckets for UK, two on close-range, one-on-one jumpers, to give UK a 54-49 lead.

From that point forward, the Cats started to pull away.

"He's just believing in himself," Knight said. "When he has that confidence, he can play with the best of them."

His best sequence of the game provided the dagger. After Doron Lamb missed a 3, Miller chased down a loose-ball rebound to keep the possession alive. When Miller got the rock back at the top of the key, he drilled a 3 to take a 69-58 lead. He turned around and trotted to the other end of the floor with a smile across his face.

"That's a big play because they could have came down and hit a 3 and it would have been a five-point game," said senior forward Josh Harrellson, who grabbed 12 rebounds. "That gave us life."

Miller showed some pride, too, in a bounce-back performance from his first outing against Florida. In the game in Gainesville, Fla., earlier in the month, Parsons posted a double-double, most of it against Miller, including several momentum-swimming offensive rebounds.

Parsons got his points (15) again, but this time around he recorded just one offensive rebound.

"I was definitely thinking about (the first Florida performance throughout the week)," Miller said. "I was thinking about how well I played personally at Florida. Coach Cal kind of challenged me to play better so I tried to come out and step up."

Kentucky has had some big wins this year (Washington, Notre Dame Louisville and Tennessee), but this one could have been the most important.

All things considered - losing four of the last seven games, the late-game misses, the confidence of the freshmen, the rigors of the road and the time of the year - this one was indeed "huuuge."

"I don't know if it's the biggest, but it was definitely a big game," Miller said. "They're a great team and we just came off a tough loss. It felt great to win this one."

Calipari: 500 victories about surviving

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John Calipari notched his 500th career victory as a head coach Saturday in Kentucky's 76-68 win over Florida.

Calipari's wins span stints at Massachusetts, Memphis and UK. After the game, Calipari was presented the game ball by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart while an honorary video showed on the video boards in Rupp Arena.

"All I was worried about was No. 20," Calipari said of UK securing a 20-win season. "That's all I was worried about. You coach long enough and you survive. I've been fired once, but you survive, you win some ballgames.

"I appreciate all of the players and staff that I've had. Hopefully I've helped them develop and reach their dreams, but the reality of it is I was only worried about Florida." 

Video: Cal, players talk Florida win

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John Calipari

Brandon Knight

Josh Harrellson

Darius Miller

Live blog: UK men's basketball vs. Florida

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Knight.jpegIn search of answers for the persistent late-game questions, the Kentucky men's basketball shouldn't have to look too hard to find some examples worth molding itself after.

Take the Florida basketball team, which meets the Cats on Saturday at 4 p.m. in Rupp Arena. The Gators are 9-3 this season in games decided by six points or less, including 6-1 in Southeastern Conference play and 3-0 in SEC overtime games. One of those close matchups included a two-point regulation win over Kentucky earlier in the month.

The nail-biting decision to Florida was just one in a pattern of heartbreaking losses. UK, following a one-point overtime loss to Arkansas, is now 0-6 in games decided by five points or less.

"We're not making the plays down the stretch," UK head coach John Calipari said. "We don't make that basket, we don't get that one stop, we don't come up with that one rebound. One of the things I said to them yesterday is 'It's almost like each of you are expecting the other to do something. You're all hoping someone does something just so it's not you.' You can't play that way."

Opportunities to make "the play" in the game in Fayetteville, Ark., were plentiful. UK allowed Arkansas guard Julysses Nobles to get an offensive rebound off his own miss to tie the game in regulation. Then, leading by one with the ball in the final minute, Brandon Knight turned the ball over on an errant pass, setting up Marcus Britt's deciding layup with 17 seconds.

Even so, UK had three shots in the final seven seconds, all taken by Knight, and all of which failed to go down.

"I'm just waiting for us to make that play, that shot, that tip-in," Calipari said. "Now, Darius (Miller) made an unbelievable 3, so there are signs that we're doing it; we're just not all doing it."

Calipari, visibly a bit more tense and frustrated since the Arkansas loss, said after Wednesday's loss that he didn't have all the answers. He looks more dumbfounded than he ever has in his time in Lexington.

The answers for him and his team may lie just down the hall in the Joe Craft Center.
Making the play at the right time seems to be the UK women's basketball team's M.O. The women are 4-2 in games decided by five points or fewer, including Thursday night's gripping late-game comeback against Arkansas.

The Cats trailed by five points with a little more than a minute to play, only to rally with a furious comeback in the final minute. A'dia Mathies capped the comeback with a left-handed layup with 4.4 seconds left.

Two weeks ago, the UK women stunned LSU just before the buzzer when Mathies drove into the lane and dished to Brittany Henderson for the game-winning shot with 1.1 seconds left.
In most cases this year, Mathies has been the common thread in the close wins.

"She's very talented, so she can do a couple different things," UK women's head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "She made three 3-pointers last night. She can make a midrange jumper. She can get all the way to the basket. So it's not like a player that you can just jump out there and play one way. If you step up and help, she'll dump to Brittany Henderson for the game winner."

To borrow a cliché, she seems to have ice in her veins.

"I think her demeanor and not being real excitable helps in those situations," Mitchell said. "It drives me nuts in other situations, but I think I'll take her in those situations."

Does the men's team have someone like Mathies, someone who is confident and capable of taking and making the last shot with the game on the line?

Last year it was obvious who was going to take the shot for the men's team. John Wall made numerous late-game winning plays for the 2009-10 team, a group that went 6-0 in games decided by five points or fewer.

The obvious candidate on this year's squad seems to be freshman point guard Brandon Knight, who took the final three shots in the loss to Arkansas. Knight also took the final attempt against Florida, a missed 3-point shot at the buzzer.

"Those are good looks (for us), they just didn't go down," said Knight, who conceded they may be physically tired at the end of games from a lack of depth.

For a coach like Calipari who has stressed "demonstrated performance," it's reasonable to believe a lack of demonstrated success could have a frustrating, contagious effect.

"We're not pressing," Knight said.

One thing everyone can agree on, from Calipari to Mitchell and Knight, is UK's lack of success in the closing minutes is not from a lack of blind fortune.

"I think you create opportunities," Calipari said. "I don't know if there is a whole lot of luck to it."

In the women's game Thursday, it was a full-court press, not luck, which changed the game for the Cats. Mitchell's team forced three turnovers in the final 52 by leaning on the team's staple for the whole season.

"There wasn't a lot of luck going into that," Mitchell said. "You have to be able to work hard to be able to get a five-second call on the sideline. That doesn't happen all of the time. The kids did a really good job with that. You have to work hard for that. Victoria Dunlap had to make two free throws in a very, very pressure-packed situation and step up there. And then to get the turnover so A'dia could make it - hard work went into those last 50 seconds. That's a credit to those kids."

Comparing the two UK basketball teams and their late-game success can be like comparing apples and oranges, especially when three of the four close wins for the women have been at home and all six of the men's losses have been on the road. But that would be ignoring the fact that one team is simply getting the job done when the game is on the line and the other one isn't.

Calipari said they could point to all the what ifs and almosts if they wanted, but he said the Cats are what their record is. In close games, that's 0-6.

In the end, it may just come down to playing harder.

"You've got to try harder than the other guy is trying," Calipari said. "You're begging, you're cajoling, you're grabbing, you're kissing, you're punching, you're doing whatever you can - just compete," Calipari said. "If that's not good enough, I'm fine. If that team is better than us, if they're more skilled, execute better, fine. But not 22 offensive rebounds, 14 in the second half, five in the last three minutes. Don't tell me that."

Liggins admits overreaction on technical: Junior guard DeAndre Liggins is a quiet kid off the court, but he may be earning a very different reputation on the court after two critical technical fouls in UK's last two road losses.

The latest came in the Arkansas loss when Liggins was whistled for showing his displeasure for a foul on Rotnei Clarke. Liggins' technical was part of a 10-0 Arkansas run.

"I guess I overreacted," Liggins said.

Liggins said he didn't say anything to the officials but certainly didn't agree with the call.

"I was shocked he gave me a tech because I didn't say anything to him," Liggins said.

Calipari said he's talked to Liggins about letting the calls go.

"We've talked to him about you've got stop with any kind of any arm waving or anything like that because these guys will do it to you," Calipari said.

Liggins did open his mouth when he was assessed a technical in the Vanderbilt game.

"I said, 'He can't guard me,' to (the Vanderbilt) bench," Liggins said.

Cal's draft evaluation: NBA scouts and draft gurus may have a couple of UK's highly touted freshmen on their mock NBA Draft boards, but Calipari didn't offer a ringing endorsement for the current future of his players Friday.

Asked if he would encourage any of his players to enter the NBA Draft if the season ended today, Calipari said, "If it were today, probably not, but we're still a month away."

Video: Mitchell wants UK Hoops to finish strong

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Bell sets career strikeout record

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SBL 09_10 UK_GA 1 11.jpgKentucky softball junior Chanda Bell surpassed Keary Camunas atop the program's career strikeout list during UK's game with Colorado State on Friday. Bell broke Camunas' mark of 550 Ks.

Bell broke the record early in Friday's matchup with Colorado State. As we speak, Bell has fanned eight of the nine batters she's faced through three innings of a 1-0 affair with the Rams. She also has not allowed a hit.

Just a couple of weeks into her junior season, Bell is expected to put the strikeout record far out of reach of anyone for the foreseeable future. She already owns the single-season record for strikeouts.

To follow the progress of Bell and the UK softball team, follow along here.

Update: Looks like Chanda Bell wasn't quite done making history Friday.

Shortly after setting the career strikeout mark, Bell tossed the second no-hitter of her career in a 7-0 win over Colorado State. One walk stood in the way of a perfect game for Bell.

And if that wasn't enough for the junior, she also set the single-game strikeout recrod as well with 16 Ks against the Rams.

Talk about a historic day.

UK improved to 9-2 with the win over Colorado State. Deb Moore, who is with the team, will have a full recap on the homepage later on.

From the Pressbox: Notes from Tom Leach (Feb. 25)

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So who's the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year this season?

Florida is tied for the fewest losses and is the league's highest-ranked team, but there is no one standout for the Gators. Kentucky's Terrence Jones ranks fourth in scoring and first in rebounding, but it will be hard for him to get enough votes because of the Wildcats' worse-than-normal league record.

We put the question to ESPN analyst and former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried.

"There are three or four guys that jump off the page," Gottfried said on "The Leach Report" radio show. "Number one is John Jenkins. I think he's probably the frontrunner, in my opinion. Right behind him, I'm probably leaning toward my man JaMychal Green at Alabama. I think what they're doing is terrific. Then you get into some guys like Scotty Hopson, Chris Warren, and Brandon Knight is in that conversation."

= = =

"We're a defense-first team" is the message John Calipari is continuing to push to his players as we head down the stretch run of the college basketball season, and he's also putting a heavy emphasis on rebounding.

That latter issue bit the Cats again in the overtime loss at Arkansas, as they gave up 22 offensive rebounds, including one that led to the game-tying basket in regulation play. Calipari noted before the Arkansas game that his team had made significant progress in the stat the coaches track that measure how often players attempt to go after missed shots, whether or not they actually capture the ball.

"If we have attempts to offensive and defensive rebound, normally we're pretty good," Calipari said. "From the Florida game to now, it's not even close. Our attempts are double what they were at Florida on offense and defense. We lost a close game because of three offensive rebounds late, so hopefully we've learned from that."

Obviously the Cats regressed a bit against the Razorbacks and that constant two-steps-forward, one-step-back progression for this squad has to be maddening to the coaching staff. Calipari knows that with a little more consistency, several of the Cats' losses would have been victories.

= = =

There are three left-handers among Kentucky's top 10 all-time leading scorers (Jack Givens, Kevin Grevey, Tayshaun Prince) and chances are that Terrence Jones would join them if he were to stay at UK for three or four years.

Jones has guard-like skills in a 6-foot-8, 250-pound body and versatility makes him very hard to guard, but one of those southpaw stars, Los Angeles Lakers scout Grevey, would like to see Jones spend more of his time in the paint.

"He's got so many weapons," Grevey said in a recent appearance on WKJK radio. "He can drive, he can pass, he can handle. You take what the defense gives you, yes, but sometimes you've got to force your own will on them. The defense has given him that outside shot and he (sometimes) settles for it and that plays into the hands of your opponent."

With an ability to dominate inside and out, not to mention his left-handed tendencies, Grevey said Jones reminds him of Lakers star Lamar Odom. 

"He has that ability to put that ball on the floor and we keep trying to tell him to take it to the basket, draw fouls, put pressure on the defense and create," Grevey said. "I think we need to see more of that from TJ and it will make his teammates better, too."

Gottfried, as a former coach, sees some of those same issues with Jones.

"I'd really like to see him be a more effective player (from) five feet and in," Gottfried said. "I think he's good there but he can get better and really punish people with his size. He's a great dribble-drive guy, but with his quickness, he can be very effective around the basket."

= = =

Hoop Scoop publisher Clark Francis recently released his annual prep All-America teams in Basketball Times and three future Wildcats, Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, were named to the first team.

Duke signee Austin Rivers joined them on the first team, along with one junior.

Fitting finish for an unlikely run of seniors

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Seniors.jpegIf you're going to cap off an improbable run by a senior class, why not finish it off with a celebration of an improbable comeback?

Trailing by five points with barely more than a minute remaining, the Kentucky women's basketball team pulled off a miraculous come-from-behind win on Senior Night at Memorial Coliseum when sophomore guard A'dia Mathies banked in a layup with 4.4 seconds to lift the Cats to a thrilling 55-54 win in front of 6,670 fans.

Arkansas guard C'eira Ricketts had a final heave from midcourt at the buzzer but it missed well right.

"What a heart-stopping, thrilling win," head coach Matthew Mitchell said.

Better yet, what a heart-stopping, memorable win for a pair of seniors, Victoria Dunlap and Carly Morrow, in their final game at home.

"It was really a great finish to send out Victoria and Carly the right way," Mathies said.

Mathies used a screen at the top of the key with the clock winding down for the game-winning drive. The sophomore guard dribbled right, cut back into the paint and then laid it off the glass with her left hand.

"I felt great once she attacked off the first couple (screens) and got everyone on her side and then when I saw her come back the other way, I knew she could get to the bucket then," Mitchell said. "That was tremendous poise. She made it look pretty easy, but that was a very difficult play that that young woman just made."

It was the second clutch play from Mathies in as many weeks. Her assist to Brittany Henderson in the final seconds of the LSU game provided the Cats with the win over the Tigers.

"She is just a very talented player and can see the floor and make good decisions," Mitchell said of Mathies, who finished with a game-high 17 points and team-high nine rebounds. "We want the ball in her hands."

How UK got that final play was hard to imagine. Leading by 15 in the first half with its typical pressure defense, the Cats looked poised to run away with the game. Arkansas star Ricketts was frazzled and the Razorbacks were having trouble just getting the ball past midcourt.

In an ever-so subtle way, UK let its guard down. By halftime, the lead was down to seven, and by the 12-minute mark of the second half, Arkansas had taken a 37-35 lead on a 3-pointer by Ricketts. The Hogs, on the back of a surreal 15-0 run, built the lead to 40-35 and led by as many as seven points as late as 4:31 left in the game.

On a scale of memorable senior sendoffs, this one was shaping up to be somewhere between nightmarish and unimaginable.

"That was laying heavily on my mind," Mitchell said. "I would have been devastated if Victoria Dunlap and Carly Morrow walked off on a lackluster performance like that."

UK went back to its full-court press late in the game and hung around long enough to give itself a chance. A tip-in from Dunlap with 1:10 cut the Arkansas lead to 54-51 and paved the way for the two biggest defensive plays of the game.

Inbounding the ball from the baseline, the Hogs turned it over when freshman guard Maegan Conwright reached in and tipped a pass away to Dunlap. The senior got fouled and went to the line for two free throws, which she calmly knocked down.

Arkansas got the ball in play on the next possession, but Delgado stepped on the out-of-bounds line in front of Mitchell on a cross-court pass from Ricketts with 17 seconds left. Mathies did the rest from there.

The nights of Dunlap (12 points, seven rebounds and four steals) and Morrow (zero points in three minutes) wasn't representative of the type of careers they've had, but a win was the only truly way to honor the seniors for their accomplishments over the years.

Before the last two seasons, Kentucky was stuck in a decade of mediocrity. With the help of the seniors, including Amber Smith, who will return next year as a senior because of a season-long knee injury, UK looks to be headed to consecutive NCAA Tournament berths for only the second time in school history.

The charge started in large part to Dunlap's sophomore-to-junior transformation, Smith's fiery energy and the leadership of Morrow. To lose on their day of recognition would have been a disheartening taint on otherwise immaculate careers.

"I was trying not to think about it," Dunlap said. "I was trying to keep my head up and my teammates going but I had thoughts about what was going to happen (if we lost). I tried to stay confident and positive about us winning the game."

The comeback capped a 30-2 run at home for the seniors over the last two years, a perfect end for the leading ladies of a comeback program.

"It was great to go out with a win," Dunlap said. "I'm happy."

Video: Cats cap off thrilling finish, home season

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Head coach Matthew Mitchell


Senior forward Victoria Dunlap and freshman guard A'dia Mathies

Video: Dunlap rocks national anthem

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It was Senior Night and Victoria Dunlap had just sang the national anthem in front of 6,670 fans in her final home game at Memorial Coliseum. Please forgive her if she felt like shedding a tear or two.

Dunlap, however, said she wasn't crying after signing the national anthem Thursday night. Turns out glossy eyes can be mistaken for a deer-in-the-headlights look.

"I was just really nervous," Dunlap said of singing the national anthem. "I thought I was going to throw up afterwards."

Dunlap decided to sing because it was her last night as a player at Memorial Coliseum, but she nearly backed out of it at the last minute.

"Two minutes before I was going to do it, while I was warming up, I thought I was going to pass out because I was hyperventilating," Dunlap said.

Dunlap received a standing ovation for the rendition and Mitchell gave her an "A-plus" for her efforts.

"I think I did OK," Dunlap said. "There were a couple of parts I was a little shaky. I was really nervous if nobody could tell. I was shaking."

Judge for yourself below. 

Senior Day live blog: UK Hoops vs. Arkansas

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Winding road leads star diver Ferrucci to UK

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Ferrucci.jpegThis time a year ago, Greg Ferrucci was in a situation familiar to many young adults struggling to find their way. He had tried his hand at one line of work but had decided to make a career change and was trying find a job in that field. In short, he was trying to figure out which direction to take his life.

What happened next was completely unforeseen.

Ferrucci placed a call to Kentucky head diving coach Ted Hautau to ask for a reference for a job application. Hautau was willing to provide the reference, but he offered him something more: a chance to come to the University of Kentucky on a diving scholarship.

As a result of that unexpected phone call, Ferrucci is now a standout diver at UK. He is coming to the end of a historic season that has seen him become the first Southeastern Conference Male Freshman Diver of the Year in school history. He is also on scholarship with a chance to earn a degree from a top university.

"I think it really gave him a great opportunity," Hautau said. "It kind of gave him a direction. It's been a blessing for him because he has a chance to get a college education. I'm excited as much for that as I am for our program."

It may not sound like it, but Hautau's offer was more than just a shot in the dark. Before rising to the college coaching ranks, Hautau was Ferrucci's youth diving coach in Huntersville, N.C., beginning when Ferrucci was 11. Hautau saw immediately that Ferrucci had a chance to be very good.

"I realized he had real potential," Hautau said. "I had taken him very slowly when I coached him in club because of that. We spent a great deal of time on the basics to make sure he had a good foundation."

However, Ferrucci had an accident in competition at the 2006 US Open when he hit the board, a nightmare scenario for any diver. After that, Ferrucci was out of diving for a year to recuperate. Right around the time that Ferrucci was returning, Hautau accepted a position with North Carolina State. Ferrucci made the decision to give up diving shortly thereafter.

His diving career seemingly behind him, Ferrucci graduated from high school in 2008 and attended cosmetology school. He completed the one-year program, but diving was something he just couldn't toss aside.

"Throughout the year I was in cosmetology school, I would go in and dive just to play around and see my old teammates and coaches," Ferrucci said. "They were always a big part of my life and good friends of mine."

Ferrucci worked in a salon for approximately six months after finishing his training, but it just wasn't for him. He heard from friends about an interesting opportunity that would allow him to dive again.

"I knew some people who were in the performing business and worked with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines," Ferrucci said. "They told me about their newest ship, the Oasis, having a diving show on it."

Ferrucci made an audition tape and received notice that Royal Caribbean was interested. Eventually, they called back in March of 2010 and requested a resume and references. When it came time to decide whom to list as a reference, Hautau was the perfect choice. The conversation went in a direction that neither expected.

"Mid-conversation while we were talking about some of my old experiences with diving, he was like, 'Do you want to come to Kentucky on a scholarship?' " Ferrucci recounted. "That completely shifted my life and I decided to go for it."

Hautau's recruiting pitch was a bit different than the one he was accustomed to delivering.

"I jokingly said, 'Why don't you come get some school paid for and get a college degree and you don't have to get sea sick when you're diving?' " Hautau said.

During that same recruiting season, UK had been involved with a number of the top divers in the nation but was unable to sign any of those top prospects.

"We were excited that we got some of the best recruits to come in and look," Hautau said. "The team was still in the rebuilding phase and we just didn't end up landing those top kids. That all worked out perfectly. I'm glad because I think I got the best one of the bunch."

To some, the way things ended up may seem lucky. Others may chalk it up to innovative recruiting and scouting by Hautau. Hautau, though, looks at it a different way.

"To be honest with you, I give credit to God," Hautau said. "It's providential. It's God's hand moving."

As talented as Ferrucci was, there were no guarantees things would end up working out as they did. Even though Ferrucci almost instantly leaped at the chance to go on scholarship, he did have a period during which he got "cold feet" because of how quickly things came together. Eventually, though, a trusting relationship with Hautau reassured him.

"He's always kind of been an inspiration in my life," Ferrucci said of Hautau. "He's a great guy. We didn't stay very close when I quit diving but we would catch up every once in a while. He's definitely like a father figure. I could talk to him about anything, not just diving."

Particularly with the way Ferrucci was coming to UK, Hautau recognized special attention would need to be paid to ensuring a smooth transition to college life. For that reason, Ferrucci came to UK for summer school to ease him into a new routine.

"I told (head swimming coach) Gary (Connelly) this kid is really talented, but what you didn't know was how he was going to adapt to school," Hautau said. "That first year is pretty challenging. We decided to bring him in for summer school and I think that was a really good move as far as him getting used to going to school. It got him familiar with our academic support program and got him in the habits of the team."

Another benefit of his early arrival was that Ferrucci hit the weight room seriously for the first time since giving up diving in high school.

"(The weight room) really significantly changed his body," Hautau said. "If you look at him from when he came in to where he is now, it's unbelievable. He really has bought in and worked hard and that's a credit to him."

Once he set foot on campus, Ferrucci was 100 percent devoted to capitalizing on the opportunity afforded him, which is evidenced by all of his hard work. Ferrucci is more mature than a typical freshman and also has real world experience that most college athletes lack. Hautau says that experience has honed his focus.

"He comes in as a pretty mature freshman," Hautau said. "He was out in the real world and it has really made him appreciate being in a university, so he's going to take advantage of it. He has more of a purpose about him."

Picking back up a complex and dangerous sport like diving as readily as Ferrucci has is really quite amazing, but Ferrucci talks about it as if it is as simple as riding a bicycle.

"Part of me will always be a diver no matter how much I try to push it away," Ferrucci said. "It's always there in the back of my mind. I guess just working on it for a while it all comes back."

At his first meet against Indiana, Ferrucci won the three-meter event. His initial success only served to motivate him further.

"It kind of sparked something in me," Ferrucci said. "I thought, 'I really am getting back into this pretty well,' so I kept working hard."

Hautau lauds Ferrucci's mental fortitude as the biggest reason why Ferrucci has been so consistent in his freshman season.

"The most impressive thing has been his head," Hautau said. "He has competed very well and I've been really impressed. Being off that long, you're going to have some practices where things are just not clicking. When things aren't clicking in diving, you're not able to make certain skills and you're crashing. He has a real ability to not panic and not worry. He's been faithful and confident that everything would fall into place."

Things have indeed fallen into place for Ferrucci. The freshman finished in third place on the platform at the SEC Diving Championships a couple of weeks ago, the second-best finish in the event in school history. He also finished in fifth in the one-meter dive and seventh in the three-meter.

His ultimate goal of qualifying for the NCAAs March 24-26 in Minneapolis, Minn., is still ahead of him, but already Ferrucci ranks in the top three all-time scores in the platform (second), three-meter (second) and one-meter (third) in school history.

Hautau said that Ferrucci will face some of the best diving competition the NCAA has even seen, but that he has the ability to rewrite the record book at UK.

"He's on pace to set some records here at UK as far as scores," Hautau said. "Making NCAAs is going to be tough, much less scoring there, but if he stays on pace and stays steady, we'll see what happens. I won't make any predictions but he's going to try to be the best diver that has even been here."

He certainly makes the case for the most unique path.

A little late on this, but for those of you that didn't see the postgame news conference from UK's loss at Arkansas on Wednesday, here it is:

Head coach John Calipari


Freshman guard Brandon Knight and senior forward Josh Harrellson

Report ranks Lexington top college basketball town

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Kentucky holds claim to having the most passionate basketball fans in the country, and now there are statistics to back it up.

According to a recent study by Media Audit, 76.3 percent of adults in Lexington regularly follow college basketball on radio or TV, a higher percentage than any city in the country. Louisville, home of the Louisville Cardinals, ranks second in the national survey with 70.6 percent of people who regularly follow college basketball.

Raleigh-Durham, N.C., home to several NCAA Division I schools, ranks third in the survey (62.9 percent), followed by Memphis, Tenn. (62.1 percent) and Greensboro-Winston Salem, N.C. (61 percent).

The Big Blueprint (Arkansas overtime loss)

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UK_ND_MBB_18_cw.JPGThe Big Blueprint is a rapid-reaction, nuts-and-bolts recap of the latest Kentucky men's basketball game. Formatted to relive the key moments from each game, the Big Blueprint will be used on the blog for road games that Cat Scratches does not attend.

The skinny: Same song, different verse. In a nail-biting affair, Kentucky lost an overtime decision to the Arkansas Razorbacks by a score of 77-76 as the Wildcats' much-talked about road woes continue. Following a UK turnover, Jeff Peterson hit Marcus Britt in the open floor for a go-ahead layup with 17 seconds remaining. Terrence Jones hit a 10-foot jumper off a Brandon Knight feed to give UK a lead with 1:21 remaining. The Cats got a defensive stop and had an opportunity to run clock and extend the deficit, but an errant Brandon Knight pass sent Arkansas on the deciding fast break. Knight, who scored 26 points on the game, had three opportunities for the win on the ensuing possession but was unable to get a bucket to fall. UK now falls to 19-8 and 7-6 in Southeastern Conference play, including 1-6 on the road in conference. Arkansas got 26 points from Rotnei Clarke and 22 points from Marshawn Powell, running its record to 17-10, 6-7 in SEC play.

The difference: Two hands. One of the most familiar refrains from this season has been John Calipari pleading with him team to be aggressive and secure the ball with both hands. UK committed just eight turnovers for the game, but a number of them were errors that stemmed from poor two handed ball security. The "two hands" problem reared itself most prominently on the glass. UK allowed an astounding 22 offensive rebounds to the Razorbacks. Eight of those offensive boards were team rebounds, balls that went out of bounds last touched by the Wildcats. If UK is able to grab just one or two more of those balls, Kentucky could be looking at a huge road win.

Player of the game:
Rotnei Clarke. The Arkansas shooting guard had DeAndre Liggins draped over him all game but managed to find ways to get his shot off and get to the foul line. He did not score any of his 26 in overtime, but he was the biggest reason why the game got to that point. Clarke shot just 3 of 9 from beyond the arc, but UK was overplaying his outside so dramatically that he was able to get defenders in the air to either draw fouls or to create space for him to get the ball inside.

Turning point: There were about a dozen candidates for the turning point Wednesday night with one standing above the rest. First, UK had surged to a 43-37 lead in the opening minutes of the second half after trailing by two at the break and appeared poised to take control of the game. Instead, when it looked like the Cats had a stop on defense, they allowed a big offensive rebound by Michael Sanchez. Then, Rotnei Clark drew a foul on Josh Harrellson on a 3-pointer and converted all three attempts. Harrellson compounded the error on the ensuing possession by committing a turnover. Clarke raced down the floor and drew a shooting foul on DeAndre Liggins, who reacted too strongly to the call and was whistled for a technical. Clarke hit all four free throws and staked Arkansas to a lead. A few mistakes by UK turned an expanding six-point lead into a deficit in a heartbeat.

Play of the game: Again, there are a number of possibilities here, but Knight's turnover and the following winning layup by Arkansas takes the cake. With 47 seconds left, UK had a full 35-second shot clock and a one-point lead. The Cats needed to bleed the clock and get a quality look. Knight simply lost control of a pass from the left wing and Arkansas capitalized. Calipari prefers to let his team play rather than call late-game timeouts, but in that situation, with a lead and needing to run clock, in the future he may indeed take the chance to set something up with his team.

Key stat: It was mentioned above, but 22 Arkansas' offensive rebounds bears a second mention. UK actually won the rebounding battle 46-43 thanks to 19 offensive rebounds of its own, but second-chance points absolutely killed Kentucky. Arkansas managed just 38.4 percent shooting for the game (14 of 39 in the second half and OT), so the Cats' field-goal defense was solid; they simply could not close out possessions with strong defensive rebounding.

He said what: "Josh was wide open right there on the block. They all ran (the play). What you're looking at is either the guy at the rim, the guy in the corner or the guy on block. We kind of threw it to the wrong guy, but that's not (the reason we lost). What cost us the game is the three offensive rebounds (on previous possessions). You either come up with that ball or you lose the game. Just grab it and we win the game." -- Calipari on the final play of the game

"If you're not angry by this -- like angry -- that this is happening ... then we won't change." --Calipari on the close losses

"(Arkansas) wanted it worse than we wanted it, and I don't have the answer to that. We seem to get on the road, and I don't know if it's we're afraid that we're not winning (or) we're playing not to lose -- I don't know. I've tried everything." -- Calipari on the road losses

Unsung hero(es): With Doron Lamb struggling (he only played 16 minutes), Knight, Liggins, Harrellson, Jones and Darius Miller were called upon to play nearly the entire game. All had their moments, but Knight and Harrellson stepped up in particular. Knight struggled shooting (8 of 23 from the field, 1 of 8 from behind the arc) but he survived foul trouble to post 26 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Harrellson posted a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds.

What this one means: UK now has just one more opportunity to pick up its second road win of the year. For better or worse, the NCAA Selection Committee looks heavily at performance on the road in evaluating teams and close losses don't look all that different from blowout losses. Kentucky is in no danger in terms of making the tournament, but its seed will suffer badly as a result of their road troubles. The committee will look at UK and wonder if its inability to close road games will translate to the high-pressure environment of March Madness. After two tough home games against Florida and Vanderbilt, one last trip to Knoxville, Tenn., to play the Volunteers is on the horizon.

Video: UK baseball back on track after Littrell's gem

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That "uh oh" feeling of panic that may have settled into the stomach of the young and inexperienced Kentucky baseball team after an 0-3 start in Charleston, S.C., last weekend has disappeared after a reassuring 2-0 midweek slate against Morehead State and Eastern Michigan.

UK collected its second win in as many days with a 5-2 win over Eastern Michigan on Wednesday in the team's home opener at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Freshman Corey Littrell (1-1), a product of Trinity High School in Louisville, pitched a gem Wednesday.

The lefty tossed 6.2 innings of two-hit, two-run ball and actually had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning of his first collegiate start.

Believe it or not, Littrell said he dreamed of pitching a no-hitter last night. See what he said about that and the sense of relief two midweek wins provided for this young UK team in the video interviews below. Brent Ingram has a full recap of the game here.

Head coach Gary Henderson


Freshman pitcher Corey Littrell

Dunlap.jpegNumbers will never be able to do justice the importance Victoria Dunlap has made on the Kentucky women's basketball program.

Her 1,721 career points, 1,042 career rebounds, 291 career steals and 170 career blocks, all which rank third on the all-time list at UK, are impressive, as are her 81 career wins, her Southeastern Conference Player of the Year honor in 2010 and her soon-to-be two NCAA Tournament berths.

But how does one measure a program changer, a difference maker and a hard worker maybe unlike anything the program has ever experienced?

Mitchell tried his best to put Dunlap's impact into words before Thursday's 6 p.m. Arkansas matchup, the final home game of the season and Senior Day for Dunlap and Carly Morrow.

"When we go out now and talk about the Kentucky program, I think that a lot of people think of Victoria Dunlap and what she has been able to do and how dynamic she is," Mitchell said. "She sort of gave us a face of the program that people identify with."

Dunlap, alongside Morrow, Mitchell and senior Amber Smith, who did not play this season and will return next year because of a knee injury, were the face of change.

Shortly after Mickie DeMoss abruptly resigned following the 2007 season, the UK administration tabbed Matthew Mitchell, an up-and-coming coach at Morehead State and a former assistant at Kentucky, to take over the reins.

Dunlap, Morrow and Smith had all signed on to play for DeMoss. Nobody would have thought twice if any one of them decided to go elsewhere.

"I think I talked about it with my parents," Dunlap said of possibly transferring. "It just depended on who the coach was going to be."

One can only imagine what the program would have looked like without Dunlap.

While not as high scoring or as physically dominant as Valerie Still (the three-time consensus All-American scored 2,763 career points at UK, more than any other men's or women's player in school history), Dunlap's impact has been nearly as far reaching.

"It's an honor," Dunlap said to be mentioned in the same breath as the program's individual standard. "I never thought I'd ever be anywhere close to being something like that."

During Dunlap's first two years, the program mirrored her game. Both contained talent and potential, but both were raw and untapped.

As Dunlap developed into a polished scorer, rebounder and defender, UK started to take off last year. At first, when Kentucky started to knock off ranked opponents and threatened Tennessee for the league title, it seemed like a surprise. But by the time Dunlap was named the program's first SEC Player of the Year and UK had knocked off No. 1 seed Nebraska to advance to the Elite Eight, the evolution of the program was no surprise - it was a steadfast growth, development and change.

"The biggest thing is just her development over the four years, being a kid that came in here that was extremely gifted and talented but didn't have a polished game and could have just shown up every day and got better incrementally by just showing up," Mitchell said. "Instead, she embraced everything that we asked her to do. She embraced individual workouts, she embraced getting better as a free-throw shooter and all these different things that we threw her way. She worked herself into being an All-American, which is really remarkable."

Called the nation's most versatile player by ESPN analyst Abby Waner, Dunlap's proudest accomplishment is to leave the program better than what it was before she arrived. Before Dunlap, Morrow and Smith arrived in Lexington, UK had been to just one NCAA Tournament in the previous eight seasons.

UK is expected to make its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance this year and will be a favorite to return next season with Smith returning from a season-ending knee injury and 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year A'dia Mathies back.

Of course, Dunlap didn't single handily pick up the program and carry it herself. She had help from senior teammates Morrow and Smith.

Morrow started in 59 of 111 career games and ranks seventh in career 3-pointers made with 180. Although her minutes have gone down this season, Mitchell said her importance cannot be overstated.

As Mitchell tried to establish a program that stressed development and responsibility outside of games, Morrow, a proclaimed "gym rat," was the first player to embrace the work ethic it took to play the type of style that has made Kentucky so successful over the last two years.

Morrow.jpeg"So many times when I would be in my office and you would hear the ball bouncing, it would be Carly Morrow in the gym, working hard to try to improve as an individual player which would make our team better," Mitchell said.

The transition to Kentucky's full-court, in-your-face defensive style probably wouldn't have been as successful without Dunlap, Morrow and Smith. Their personalities, in a way, have been the pillars for the success of the system.

"We have always said that we went to that last year out of desperation because we didn't have any tall players, but if you had short players that didn't work hard you wouldn't have had a chance to turn it into what it has become," Mitchell said. "Those three kids are really hard-nosed and competitors on the court. They are hard workers in practice."

Dunlap, Morrow and Smith have all lived together and have been pretty inseparable over the last four seasons. Although Dunlap and Morrow came to UK as Tennessee rivals, they've leaned on each other in good times and bad.

"Vic and Amber have been an incredible source of strength," Morrow said.

Dunlap said it won't "feel right" walking through Senior Day festivities without Smith, but both are hoping her return next year will ensure their hard work will pay off long after they're gone.

"We didn't want to see all the hard work go down the tubes after one year," Morrow said.
"That's actually one of the bright spots of Amber coming back next year. She knows what's to be expected. That gives me hope for the young kids next year."

Both players said they didn't know or understand what the potential of their careers or this team was when they arrived four years ago.

"I know that I will be forever changed by this program and this university," Morrow said.

The program is forever changed by them.

Baseball's Johnson out 4-6 weeks with broken finger

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Gary Henderson's inexperienced baseball team just got even younger Wednesday.

Speaking with Neil Price on the radio before Wednesday's home opener with Eastern Michigan, third-year coach Henderson announced senior outfielder Neiko Johnson would miss 4-6 weeks with a broken finger. Johnson was injured sliding into second base Tuesday in UK's game at Morehead State.

Johnson, who started UK's first four games of the 2011 season, is hitting .308 with a pair of runs and a stolen base. As Kentucky's leadoff hitter, Johnson was the Cats' best threat on the base paths.

Without Johnson in the lineup, it puts even more pressure on a young and inexperienced team, especially in the outfield.

Kentucky is back in action Wednesday for its home opener at Cliff Hagan Stadium. First pitch is set for 4 p.m.  

Video: Senior Day bittersweet for Dunlap, Morrow

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Guard Carly Morrow (left) and forward Victoria Dunlap

Head coach Matthew Mitchell

Web Wednesday: First pitch 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.
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Best on the 'net

Baseball: Alex Meyer named National Player of the Week (LEX 18)

A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer had a career game on Sunday vs. Miami (Ohio). The 6-foot-9 right-hander tossed a career-high seven innings in his season debut, allowing only three hits and one earned run, striking out a career-best 13.

Men's basketball: Rest of regular season rife with opportunity (John Clay, Lexington Herald-Leader)

Kentucky can still accomplish plenty. Look at the schedule. Opportunity knocks. Wednesday night brings a road game for a team that has won just once in conference on the road. Then comes the division leader, the division runner-up and the division's mystery men.

Let's start with the road bugaboo, the Wednesday night game at Arkansas, the scenario that forced the media to ask the dreaded road questions on Tuesday.

Men's basketball: The Bracket Project (a compilation of NCAA Tournament projections from around the country)

Women's basketball: UK Hoops gets rare win at Vanderbilt (Jennifer Smith, Herald-Leader)

What Kentucky has experienced in the past four days could be mistaken for a ride at Kings Island.

A Thursday drubbing at Georgia was the lowest of lows for No. 19 Cats.

"There's no worse feeling than losing a game and knowing that you didn't give everything you have," freshman Bernisha Pinkett recalled. "The 'I wish I would have done this or I wish we would have done this better.' That's the worst."

That lowest of lows on Thursday night ended in a big high Sunday as the Cats dropped Vanderbilt 80-71 to earn their first win at Memorial Gymnasium in 13 tries.

Women's basketball: Dunlap's career winding down (TJ Walker, Kentucky Kernel)

One of the most prolific players to ever wear a UK women's basketball jersey only has one home game remaining.

UK's senior forward Victoria Dunlap came into the season with lofty expectations, being named preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and a preseason All-American. And instead of backing down, Dunlap has shined

Men's basketball: Calipari keeping UK in right frame of mind (Brett Dawson, Louisville Courier-Journal)


The mind, it seems, is John Calipari's most pressing matter.

The University of Kentucky men's basketball coach made multiple references Monday to his team's mental makeup, going so far as to say that his team's state of mind played into a decision to keep his starters in late in Saturday's 90-59 rout of South Carolina.


Former Wildcats making headlines

Adrian Smith of Fiddlin' Five reflects on winning All-Star MVP (Jerry Crowe, Los Angeles Times)


At 5 feet 11 and 135 pounds as a senior, Smith attracted only one scholarship offer, later rescinded when he hesitated in accepting. After growing to 6-1 and 170 at a junior college in Mississippi, he signed with Kentucky.

In 1957-58, Smith averaged 12.4 points for the so-called "Fiddlin' Five," helping to bring legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp the last of his four NCAA championships.

Tim Masthay returns to UK to do 'Y' at Rupp (LEX 18)

Tim Masthay was excited to be asked to do the traditional "Y" in the Kentucky cheer Saturday against South Carolina.

What a season. Normally a kicker or punter gets singled out when they mess up. But, after the Packers beat the Bears to get to the Super Bowl, Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson called Masthay the MVP of the game.

Then, you not only go to the Super Bowl, but you win it.

Q&A with Patrick Patterson (Larry Vaught, Danville Advocate-Messenger)

Question: What did it feel like to walk to midcourt and get such a huge ovation?

Patterson: "It felt great. It was just like old times. I felt like I was in the jersey getting ready to step on the court and play in the lineup. It feels good to be back in Kentucky and back in Rupp Arena seeing all these familiar faces. I am just enjoying doing what I am now but to be back here seeing Darius, Josh and DeAndre show exceptionally well right now, I am so proud of them and so happy the team is doing well."

Patterson leads Rockets to win with career-best performance (Jonathan Feigen, Houston Chronicle)

Patterson scored 11 of his career-high 20 points in the fourth quarter, including seven in a row as the Rockets pulled away. And the rookie enjoyed himself as much as Lowry had enjoyed hoofing through a timeout, though unlike Lowry he did not deny it.

"There were times I kept looking over to see if Coach wanted to sub me out, but there came a point in time I realized, 'Hey, he's going to leave me in,' " Patterson said. "I was just having a ball out there. I loved it."

John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins too much for sophomores (John Hollinger, ESPN)

News flash: This season's rookie class isn't just Blake Griffin.

And while the hometown L.A. crowd roared, "We want Blake!" on Friday night, it instead was treated to a pretty good show by the tandem of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

Griffin played only 14 minutes in the Rookie Challenge to keep himself fresh for the dunk contest and All-Star Game, but Wall and Cousins -- two former University of Kentucky teammates -- ran circles around the second-year pros in the annual rookie-sophomore game.

News from UKathletics.com


Softball: Brittany Cervantes named SEC Player of the Week

Men's basketball: Terrence Jones named SEC Freshman of the Week

Men's tennis: UK closes National Indoors with win over Washington

Gymnastics: UK scores school-record vault score (with video)

Baseball: Offense explodes for 12 runs in first win

Video of the week

The highlight of the NBA's All-Star Weekend for Kentucky fans was the Rookie-Sophomore game on Friday night. DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe got to play together for the first time since leaving UK after their freshman seasons. Cameras followed around Cousins for the game, giving us an all-access pass to the Rookie Challenge. Not surprisingly, Cousins spent much of his time with his former teammates.

 

Final 4-game stretch will determine first-round bye

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If a cat really does have nine lives, the Wildcats are nearing the end of their Southeastern Conference life span.

To this point, the Kentucky men's basketball team has been able to stay in the SEC hunt despite road slipups to the likes of Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia, but a loss to Arkansas on Wednesday in Fayetteville, Ark., would officially end all hopes of the school's 45th SEC regular-season crown.

Technically, to even tie for the SEC overall title would take a lot, specifically a pair of Florida and Alabama collapses, a 4-0 finish for UK, and a chaotic scenario a little too long for the significance of this post. Point being, Kentucky's SEC regular-season championship hopes are positioned somewhere between slim and none.

However, getting a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament remains a very realistic possibility, although a loss from here on out, especially to Arkansas, would likely put those hopes on life support as well.

Entering Tuesday night's Vanderbilt-Tennessee showdown, UK (7-5 in the SEC) trailed Vanderbilt (8-4) by a game for the SEC East's second seed. The top two teams in the Eastern and Western divisions receive first-round byes in the SEC Tournament.

Like the women's bracket, getting that all-important first-round bye can be the difference between a championship run and an early exit. Since the league went to a 12-team tournament format in 1993, only three teams have won four games in four days. (It should be noted that Georgia and Mississippi State have pulled off the feat as recently as 2008 and 2009, respectively.) 

UK would like to do itself a favor and not have to try to become the third team in 11 years. The Cats would prefer a bye.

"We feel like every game is important at this point," junior guard/forward Darius Miller said. "We're trying to battle back. We have a tough schedule, but we're trying to win every single game."

While Miller said they really haven't talked about seeding in the SEC Tournament, hopes of avoiding the Thursday game in Atlanta have been restored in two confidence-building wins over Mississippi State and South Carolina.

"We feel confident," freshman guard Doron Lamb said. "Everybody's happy, smiling while we're having great practices and doing what (John Calipari) tells us in practice."

Has all been solved? Maybe not.

When asked what has enabled Kentucky to play better the last two games, Calipari offered a common denominator.

"Playing at home," Calipari said.

However, there were some subtle differences between the MSU win and the South Carolina victory worth pointing out, namely the margin of victory.

Unlike the wins against MSU, Georgia and the first South Carolina game, UK didn't allow the Gamecocks to crawl back into Saturday's game. When the lead reached double digits this time around, the Cats didn't take their foot off the pedal and made sure to put the game well out of reach.

"We played defense," was what Lamb characterized as the difference. "We really stepped it up on defense and focused on rebounding. We had more rebounding as a team, and if we keep doing that we're going to win a lot of games."

Of course, as Calipari pointed out, the killer instinct emerged at home in front of 24,000 forgiving Wildcat fans. As has been beaten to death in the local papers and blogosphere (including this site), that hasn't happened on the road in front of "white outs," "black outs," and hostile crowds, as the Cats have fallen behind more often than not and been forced to play catch-up.

That didn't stop the worn-down road questions from being asked at Tuesday's media opportunity with Kentucky carrying a 1-5 SEC road record to Fayetteville.

Instead of rehashing the same road woes, Calipari chose to look at the current road situation in a more positive light.

"You know what I'll probably talk to them about is that we've got two more road games," Calipari said. "After that, everything's neutral and our fans are everywhere, so let's use these to get better. Let's look beyond just wins and losses. Let's start playing better."

Calipari thought UK played pretty well in the four-point loss to Vanderbilt and is looking at the Arkansas game as an opportunity.

In a way, it's an opportunity for the four-game bridge to the final chapter of the season.  With the fickle nature of sports, win on the road - and maybe even do it in a close game - and a lot of still-lingering issues could be absolved.

Sure, the four-game stretch can be viewed as a bit brutal. Road games at Arkansas and Tennessee are daunting, and home matchups with Vanderbilt and Florida will test UK's home winning streak. But it's the perfect opportunity to still make a mark in the conference.

Win and the SEC bye is still in play. Lose on the road again, and well, it's time to let SEC hopes die.

Cal defends all-star decisions of signees

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There's been some recent controversy over the lack of Kentucky signees in this year's Kentucky Derby Festival All-Star Game. According to a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, it's the first time the game may not have a UK recruit since its inception in 1972.

Instead of playing in the Kentucky Derby Festival All-Star Game, which is slated for April 22 in Louisville's KFC Yum! Center, UK men's basketball signees Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer are slated to participate in the McDonald's All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. Per NCAA rules, prospective student-athletes are only allowed to participate in two all-star games from the time they finish their high school career until enrolling with a collegiate institution.

Of the all-star games nationwide in March and April, the McDonald's All-American and the Jordan Brand Classic are considered the cream of the crop.

Head coach John Calipari, speaking at his pre-Arkansas media availability, expressed shock Tuesday that the decision of four high school student-athletes to choose where they want to play in an all-star game was even a story.

"They wrote a story about that?" Calipari said. "Oh my gosh. Is this like a slow time for (the media)?"

Some have questioned why Calipari hasn't used his influence to persuade the future Wildcats to play in all-star game in Kentucky, but Calipari said the choice of what games those student-athletes decide to play in is strictly the decision of the players and their families.

"(We) don't get involved at all," Calipari said. "Families choose where their sons are going to play and that's the end of that."

Supporting Calipari's reasoning and the decision of their respective sons, the families of the Gilchrist, Davis, Teague and Wiltjer released a joint statement explaining the decision.

"We are honored that our sons have been considered for so many prestigious all-star games but the NCAA only allows them to play in two such events," the statement read. "Anthony, Michael, Marquis and Kyle will fulfill their lifelong dreams of playing in the McDonald's All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic."
 

Video: Cal, Miller and Lamb preview Arkansas

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Head coach John Calipari


Junior guard/forward Darius Miller


Freshman guard Doron Lamb

Feb. 20 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, Feb. 20:

Gymnastics: Kentucky Vault Lineup

The University of Kentucky women's gymnastics team had a school-record breaking performance Sunday against the Ohio State Buckeyes, scoring the highest team vault score in school history with a 49.4. The Wildcats were led on the event by senior Phylicia Reshard, who earned a career high 9.95, becoming only the sixth gymnasts in school history to earn a 9.95 or higher on vault. Fellow senior Jasmine Minion and junior Whitney Rose were just behind Reshard with a 9.875. Seniors Andrea Mitchell and Colleen Williams scored a 9.85, with Mitchell's mark tying a career high and Williams' score setting her career high. Video of all five vaults

Softball: Brittany Cervantes

Junior Brittany Cervantes rewrote the UK history books in helping the Blue and White to their best start in school history with an 8-2 record through 10 games of action. Cervantes was simply magnificent in putting on an offensive show in leading UK to the Garnet and Gold tournament crown. The junior started four games at third base and one at catcher and batted a blistering .625 with a 10-for-16 weekend while also reaching base four more times by way of a walk. She ripped three home runs and a double while driving in seven runs. Additionally, Cervantes swiped her first three bases of the season along the base paths. She had a blazing 1.250 slugging percentage and a remarkable .700 on-base clip.

Cervantes' history lesson began with her matching a career best with two home runs in the win over Georgia Southern on Saturday. She then opened the Florida State game on Sunday with a long ball to strike for a UK-record three consecutive homers in as many at-bats. Furthermore, between the two games Cervantes has reached base seven straight times including six consecutive by way of a hit. Her four hits in the tournament-clinching win over Florida State is a career-best. With a hit in every game this weekend, Cervantes has charted a career-high six-game hitting streak which extends back to a hit in the final game of the FIU Combat Classic. Her three runs scored in the win over Middle Tennessee State is a career-high. Cervantes totaled three games with multi-hit performances and charted a pair of games with multi-RBI. With the three home runs this weekend she pushes her career total to 24 and is now nine shy of setting the UK career home run record in just her third season of action.

Men's basketball: Terrence Jones

Recorded back-to-back double-doubles in helping lead the Cats to a 2-0 record on the week ... Has tallied four double-doubles in last six games ... Tied career high with five assists against Mississippi State ... Tied career high with five offensive rebounds against South Carolina ... 10 defensive rebounds against Mississippi State was most since pulling down 15 against Notre Dame on Dec. 8.

Baseball: Alex Meyer

Junior Alex Meyer had arguably the best game of his career in his season-debut on Sunday vs. Miami (Ohio) ... The 6-foot-9 right-hander tossed a career-high seven innings, whiling striking out a career-best 13 ... The Greensburg, Ind., native allowed only three hits and held the Redhawks to a .143 batting average ... Meyer's 13 strikeouts marks his sixth career double-digit strikeout performance ... A preseason All-Southeastern Conference selection by Baseball America, Meyer was the hard-luck loser in a 3-1 loss to the Redhawks, allowing one run in the fourth inning, with Miami taking the lead in the seventh inning on an error that would have retired the go-ahead run at home plate ... While tossing the quality start, Meyer allowed only three runners to reach scoring position and struck out eight of the first 12 hitters he faced on the season.

Men's basketball: Darius Miller

Tallied back-to-back double-digit efforts helping Kentucky to a 2-0 record on the week ... Hit 3-of-7 3-pointers in victory over Mississippi State and followed it with a career best 6-of-8 performance against South Carolina ... Recorded career-high 22 points in win against USC ... Missed double-double by one rebound ... Blocked three shots, one short of career-high.

Women's basketball: Bernisha Pinkett

  • Freshman Bernisha Pinkett averaged a team-high tying 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in UK's two SEC road games last week.
  • Earned her first career start vs. Vanderbilt and did not disappoint as she posted UK's second-highest point total with 14.
  • Also grabbed six rebounds in a career-high 36 minutes of play in helping UK chart its first win over VU in Nashville since 1986.
  • UK's second-leading scorer with 12 points off the bench in a tough loss at Georgia.
  • Grabbed a career-high eight rebounds vs. the Lady Bulldogs.
  • Hit 7-of-8 free-throw attempts in the two games.
  • Has now scored at least three points in 12 consecutive games.

Women's basketball: Keyla Snowden

  • Despite playing with a stress fracture in her right foot, junior Keyla Snowden averaged a team-high tying 13.0 points, 2.0 steals and 1.5 assists in UK's two road games last week.
  • Earned a spot back in the starting lineup vs. Vanderbilt, scoring an SEC-high 22 points in the pivotal win over Vanderbilt.
  • Went 7-of-10 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from behind the arc vs. the 'Dores.
  • Moved up to eighth place on UK's single-season 3-pointers made list with 52, passing her total of 51 from the 2009-10 season.
  • Charted just her second 20-plus point game of the season in helping UK chart its first win at Vandy in 25 years.

Rankings update (week of Feb. 22)

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Men's basketball: Despite two fairly impressive wins over Mississippi State and South Carolina, UK remained at No. 22 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll. The Cats are a No. 5 seed in Joe Lunardi's Bracketlogy this week, slated to play the winner of Boston College and Gonzaga in Lunardi's projections.

Women's basketball: The women slipped a spot in the AP Top 25 to No. 20 following a 1-1 week. Like the men, UK is a No. 5 seed in ESPN's Bracketology.

Softball: At 8-2 on the season, UK softball checks in at No. 24 in this week's ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25. UK still sits just outside the top 25 in the NFCA Top 25, recieving 27 votes from the pollsters.

Gymnastics: UK is ranked 29th overall in the GymInfo national rankings, but the Cats are ranked in the top 20 in every event except for beam.

Calipari.jpegIf John Calipari was coaching a baseball team instead of basketball, the experts would say he lacks a closer.
 
Of course, in Cal's world, it's not about handing the baseball to a hardwood version of Mariano Rivera -- it's a team effort to make the plays on both offense and defense that make the difference in close games.

As the Wildcats prepare to head to Arkansas on Wednesday night, some, perhaps all of the players are thinking about the ones that got away in road losses to North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida and Vanderbilt, games in which it wouldn't have taken much more from the Cats to swing the outcome in their favor.

"We lost a couple of road games early and maybe that gets to you," senior Josh Harrelson said. "I just think we need to come out like coach is saying and don't worry about the score or where we're playing. If we play our game, I think it's going to be hard to beat us anywhere."

Sports operate in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately environment, so if the Wildcats suddenly win a couple of close ones, the conventional wisdom will do a 180-degree turn and being battle-tested in so many tight games could be viewed as an asset for this squad. That's "if" the Cats get a couple of those close wins.

"I asked Sam Cassell, when I coached him in New Jersey in the NBA, I asked him 'Why do you want the ball late, why do you want to make the game-winning shot, why are you not afraid to shoot the free throws?' " head coach John Calipari said in his latest pregame interview on the Big Blue Sports Network. "He said, 'Cal, you got it wrong. I'm not afraid to miss. That's why I'm good in those situations. If I miss, I miss and I go on to the next game. I'm not afraid of missing.' "

Calipari said it's all about having the right mindset.

"You can't play not to lose," Calipari said. "You have to play to win. You can't look at the scoreboard. You have to think about execution. You know if you're down eight or nine, you've got to speed up the game, and if you're up eight or nine, you've got to play but you've got to massage the clock a little bit. If it's a close game, you grind it out and make sure every shot matters and we're going to offensive rebound like crazy. Let's not play like we're afraid and we're going to lose a game. We've lost some games and we've lived. We've just got to get it better in those last four or five minutes."

Of course, there's a difference in saying how to play in close games and actually doing it. Calipari believes all the close games could eventually benefit the Cats.

"I like the fight in the team but demonstrated performance is the only thing that is going to build that confidence," Calipari said. "They've got to go into a close game and in the last four or five minutes, really play well. Don't worry about the clock. Don't worry about the score. Worry about execution. A little bit more leadership on that court and we'll be fine."

And keep in mind what you've just read when you think about why players like Jon Hood, Stacey Poole, Jarrod Polson and Eloy Vargas don't get many minutes. That was a hot topic for some fans and media members Saturday when Calipari didn't empty the bench until very late in a blowout win over South Carolina.

"We've got to get better as a team," Calipari said on Monday's Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference. "If I'm going to play six or seven, then those six or seven have to get better.That's the first thing on my mind. I'm working the (players') psyche now, too,"

Focus on those last two sentences. Calipari's emphasis since the loss at Vandy has been on the message of closing out games the right way, and Kentucky has struggled to do that in wins as well as losses. 

Last Saturday's game was a chance to see if the six guys who are clearly going to carry this time in March were finally starting to understand what the coach wanted to see down the stretch of a game. Could they not only build a big lead, but could they hold it, something they didn't do in wins over South Carolina and Georgia in January and late in the win over Mississippi State.

This time, the Cats did not let the opponent get back into the game and make it closer than it should have been, so perhaps that was a sign of progress.

Yes, Calipari also talked about South Carolina continuing to press as a reason to stay with those top six players, but to me, the key point was the part about working on his team's psyche. Hood or Vargas or Polson or Poole will most likely have to help Kentucky win a postseason game or two because of foul trouble or a turned ankle or something else.

But it's clear by this time that Calipari knows his best chance at winning is to rely on those top six guys, and using any situation -- like a blowout win -- to get them more work on the proper way to close out games will hopefully pay dividends the next time the outcome of a game hangs on which team makes a few key plays in the final minutes.

Kentucky's team last season was like a tank in times in the way it could overpower opponents, but this season the Wildcats are going to have do it with "six shooters."

Cervantes swinging for singles, hitting home runs

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Cervantes.jpegSo much for that developing offense. The Kentucky softball team blasted that misconception in its first two weeks of play.

Off to the best start in school history (8-2) and fresh off a tournament championship in the Garnett and Gold Tournament in Tallahassee, Fla., Kentucky has experienced a bit of a surprising offensive outburst in its first two weeks of play.

UK is hitting .298 as a team and averaging 6.3 runs per game, well above its batting average of .273 and 3.6 runs per game of a year ago. The improvement has taken place without the best offensive player in program history, Molly Johnson, who graduated after last season.

"The cool thing about our offense right now is we're getting contributions from so many different people, from returners to new kids," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "(Brittany) Cervantes was on fire this past weekend and (Samantha) DeMartine was incredible the first weekend, so it's pretty cool because a lot of different people are stepping up."

The contributions have been wide ranging in experience and lineup order. Senior catcher Megan Yocke has embraced her new role as the leadoff hitter and is hitting .296 with two home runs and two RBI. Senior infielder Samantha DeMartine, tabbed as the most improved player in the offseason, is off to a .393 start. Sophomore shortstop Kara Dill, faced with the unenviable task of replacing Johnson at shortstop, is filling in just fine with a .333 average (Lawson has also been very impressed with her defensive effort).

But if you're looking for the biggest reason in UK's offense development, look no further than slugger Brittany Cervantes. Named Southeastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday, Cervantes is hitting .467 on the year with four home runs, four doubles, 13 RBI and 13 runs.

"The biggest thing is she is so mature up to bat that she is able to adjust so much faster," Lawson said. "She is very objective right now. She doesn't get outside of her game plan very often and it is really hard to fool her, so the mental part of her game has just improved light years. Because of that she has really stayed steady in the box and really is a major reason we are doing so well right now."

Cervantes sparked UK's championship in Florida this weekend with an offensive eruption. The junior belted home runs in three consecutive at-bats in wins over Georgia Southern and Florida State.

The Chatsworth, Calif., native admitted a little disappointment when she had to settle for just a single in her attempt for four straight round trippers on Sunday against Florida State.

"I haven't done anything like that in my career," said Cervantes, a third baseman. "My high school didn't have a fence, so we always had to run out a home run. I had a lot of triples but I didn't have that many home runs."

Ironically, home runs have defined Cervantes' college career, maybe to a point where it's held her back.

Already ranked third on UK's career home run chart, Cervantes admitted to being an all-or-nothing hitter in her first two seasons in college. Often times she would head to the plate with the mentality to swing as hard as she could regardless of the situation and count.

"My freshman year and last year I just wanted to swing for the fences," Cervantes said.

This year, Cervantes has evolved as a hitter. Instead of trying to belt one out of the park every time, she's become more focused on making contact. Even so, with better pitch selection and an offseason of strengthening and conditioning, her power numbers have benefited from it.

"My mentality going to bat is a lot better," Cervantes said. "I have a lot more confidence in myself and I have worked on certain pitches that I struggled with for the past two years."

On a weekend where Cervantes routinely circled the bases, it was a 12-pitch single late in the Florida State game that impressed Lawson the most. Needing an insurance run in the sixth inning with runners on second and third, Cervantes stayed alive through a full-count battle until she finally got a pitch she could hit.

Cervantes singled up the middle to bring in another run, completing a 4-for-4, three-RBI day.

"She used to get so enraged that she wanted to hit the ball 400 feet, which would have caused her to do something on a pitch that normally isn't a good pitch for her to hit over the fence," Lawson said. "I think that shows just how mature she has become because she was able to stay in that at-bat for as many pitches as she did and she never did the wrong thing in that at-bat. Whatever pitch was thrown, she did the appropriate thing, whether it was foul it off backwards, foul it to the right or rip it into our dugout. Whatever the case was, she picked the correct thing to do each time until she really got something she could drive."

Expecting Cervantes to continue her torrid pace would be unreasonable, but Cervantes' production in the middle of the lineup will be critical in the team's success this season. For a program that's been historically light on power, Cervantes now provides the perfect combo of hitter's mentality with home run power.

The mixture keeps the other team honest and makes the rest of the order better.

"The great thing about it is it forces people to pitch to the top two people in the order," Lawson said. "Every time she gets up to bat I know something good is going to happen.  Having her in the middle of the order has been everything to us this season."

SEC teleconference notes (Feb. 21)

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 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 is on the road Wednesday for a date with Arkansas and former UK player John Pelphrey. With that said, here are a few notes and comments from UK coach John Calipari and Pelphrey from Monday's Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference:

Calipari

- With two road games and two games left on the schedule, Calipari said he's just trying to do whatever he can do to make the team better and put the players in the right frame of mind at the end of games to succeed.

- In reference to a 1-5 road record in SEC games, Calipari said "we are what our record says we are." Despite all the close losses, Calipari mentioned they were down double digits in games at Alabama, at Florida and at Ole Miss.

- As always, Calipari expects another sellout on the road and expects to receive Arkansas' best shot. "It's going to be wild," Calipari said. "It's a great arena. It's a great environment. It's a great college campus. It's going to be a hard game for us."

- Calipari's initial appraisal of Josh Harrellson's performance last game wasn't too good. Upon further review, Calipari said he actually liked how Harrellson played in a six-point, nine-rebound performance in the win over South Carolina. Calipari credited Harrellson's improvement this year to his improvement in conditioning. "I think a lot of it is demonstrated performance," Calipari said. "You start building your own self-confidence, and I think he's done that."

- Cal said he's impressed with how hard Arkansas plays. He said the Razorbacks are very athletic and their forwards are "huge."

- Calipari defended his decision to stick basically with a six-man rotation Saturday despite a wide margin for most of the game. Calipari cited a few reasons for leaving Eloy Vargas, Stacey Poole, Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson on the bench for the most of the game, namely the improvement and psyche of his team. "We've got to get better as a team, and if I'm going to play those six or seven guys, then those six or seven have to get better," Calipari said. "That's the first thing on my mind." The success of South Caorlina's press also made Calipari think twice about putting his reserves in because the starters were having difficulties getting the ball across half court. "I didn't want the game to be one where I had to put players back in," Calipari said. "I'm working on psyche too."


John Pelphrey

- Pelphrey is extremely impressed with the way UK has played defense this year. "I think they're a very hard-playing bunch of guys," Pelphrey said. "They play together. They've obviously got size and length."

- As a former UK player, Pelphrey was asked how it sits with him that he has not beaten Kentucky as a head coach. "Obviously we want to win them all," Pelphrey said. "Every time we get ready two or three days in advance, that's the goal. It will be a big challenge on Wednesday. There's a lot of people that want to beat Kentucky. Not everybody gets a chance to do that."

- Rotnei Clarke (13.6 points per game) is still drilling 3-pointers for the Razorbacks, but Pelphrey said he's a better player inside the arc this year. "He has to be because people are so pressed up on him," Pelphrey said. Pelphrey is impressed with his improvement in putting the ball on the floor and using screens.

UK Sports Report (week of Feb. 21)

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Men's basketball
- The Wildcats went 2-0 on the week, earning wins over Mississippi State and South Carolina as Terrence Jones recorded back-to-back double-doubles in the wins.
- Brandon Knight recorded his 11th 20-point game of the season against Mississippi State, a UK freshman record. Knight scored in double figures for the 21st straight game against
South Carolina, marking the longest streak since Jodie Meeks had 32 straight in the 2008-09 season.
- The Wildcats extended their home-winning streak to 32, the second-longest streak in the country. UK is 31-0 at Rupp Arena under John Calipari. It's the second-longest streak for a UK coach in Rupp Arena behind Rick Pitino's 33 straight home wins in 1992-94.

Women's basketball
- Kentucky went 1-1 in its two SEC road games last week, rebounding from a tough loss at Georgia on Thursday to chart a monumental win at Vanderbilt on Sunday afternoon. UK defeated the Commodores 80-71, marking its first win in Memorial Gym since 1986.
- Five Wildcats scored in double figures sparked by 22 points from Keyla Snowden. The sharp-shooting junior nailed four 3-pointers while dishing out a team-high three assists in her first start since Jan. 19. Snowden has hit 52 three-pointers this season which moves her to eighth on UK's single-season list.

Softball
- UK captured the Garnet and Gold tournament at Florida State to improve to 8-2 overall on the season, which matches the best start to a season in school allure.
- Junior Brittany Cervantes made history for UK with home runs in three consecutive at-bats. Cervantes led the offense with a .625 batting average, which included a 4-for-4 day in the championship win over FSU.
- Junior pitcher Chanda Bell matched her own single-game record with 15 strikeouts in a win over Georgia Southern. She now has 25 games in her career with 10 or more fanned batters.

Baseball
- The baseball team opened its 2011 season as part of a three-game weekend in Charleston, S.C., falling to No. 20 College of Charleston, Marshall and Miami (Ohio).
- Kentucky got a sterling starting pitching performance on Sunday vs. Miami (Ohio) from junior Alex Meyer, who tossed a career-high seven innings, allowing only three hits and one earned run, while striking out a career-best 13. Meyer was the hard-luck loser in the 3-
1 loss to the RedHawks, with the go-ahead run scoring on an error.
- The Wildcats were held to a .181 batting average on the weekend, playing a host of newcomers and first-year starters. Sophomore catcher Luke Maile led the Wildcats at the plate, batting .364 (4-for-11) with a double and two RBI. Kapteyn batted .250 (3-for-12)
with a double, a homer and three RBI. Senior shortstop Taylor Black belted his first career triple to spark a run-scoring opportunity for the Wildcats in Sunday's game.

Gymnastics
- The gymnastics team posted a 49.4 on vault against the No. 14 Ohio State Buckeyes for the highest vault score in school history. UK was led on the event by senior Phylicia Reshard, who posted a career-high 9.95, becoming only the sixth gymnast in school annuals to post a 9.95 or higher on the event. Every Wildcat scored above a 9.85 on vault as UK had the top five scores on the event. Senior Andrea Mitchell notched a season-best 9.85, while Colleen Williams earned a career-best 9.85.
- UK also earned its highest overall team score of the year when it scored a 195.05 against the Buckeyes. Kentucky defeated Ohio State on vault and uneven bars to post the high score.
- Junior Storey Morris posted a 9.825 on bars for her highest mark of the season, earning her event honors. Freshman Audrey Harrison also had a great meet for Kentucky, scoring a career-high 9.775 on floor and a 9.65 on balance beam.

Men's tennis
- The men's tennis team wasted no time getting back on the winning track after falling to No. 5 Texas, posting a dominating 4-1 victory over No. 14 Texas Tech. Kentucky was flawless in doubles action to grab the doubles point and then continued its strong play into singles, scoring wins from senior Alberto Gonzalez, junior Eric Quigley and freshman Tom Jomby. Kentucky is now 5-0 this season when it wins the doubles point.
- UK followed its win over Texas Tech with a 4-2 victory over No. 29 Washington. The victory over No. 29 Washington was the sixth win this season for the Wildcats over a top-50 ranked team.
- No. 79 Anthoyn Rossi was the clinching point for the Wildcats against Washington when he scored a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 win over Tobi Obenaus at No. 5 singles. The native of France has been impressive for UK this season with a 6-2 dual-match record.

Swimming and diving
- The swimming teams wrapped up the SEC Swimming Championships on Saturday in style with six swimmers turning in times that rank in the top 10 all-time in program history. Senior Chatham Penrod now owns the top three 100 backstroke times and the top time in the 200 backstroke.
- Combined with the diving unit, the Kentucky women finished in seventh place with 236 points and the Kentucky men finished in eighth with 199 points.

Women's golf
- Senior Ashleigh Albrecht closed out the UCF Challenge with an even-par 72 and earned co-tournament champion honors. As a team, the Cats turned in their lowest 54-hole total of the year last Tuesday with a 17-over par 881. The score put the Cats in fourth place in the 17-team field.
- Albrecht's first-round 6-under par 66 is the second-lowest individual score in program history and the Cats' first-round score of, one-under par, 287 is the second-lowest team score in program history since records began being kept in 1987-88.

Women's tennis
- The women's tennis team picked up its first two wins of the season with a doubleheader sweep of Miami (Ohio) and Eastern Kentucky on Saturday.
- After dropping the doubles point, the Cats took down the RedHawks 4-3 to get the doubleheader off on the right foot. In the second billing UK defeated Eastern Kentucky without dropping a single match or set, winning 7-0.

Upcoming schedule

Monday, Feb. 21

Men's golf at Mobile Bay Intercollegiate (Mobile, Ala.)

Tuesday, Feb. 22
Baseball at Morehead State - 2 p.m.
Men's golf at Mobile Bay Intercollegiate (Mobile, Ala.)

Wednesday, Feb. 23
Baseball hosts Eastern Michigan - 4 p.m.
Men's basketball at Arkansas - 8 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 24
Women's basketball hosts Arkansas - 6:00 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 25
Softball vs. Memphis • Noon (Stanford, Calif.)
Softball vs. Colorado St. - 2:10 p.m. (Stanford, Calif.)
Baseball hosts Illinois-Chicago - 4 p.m.
Gymnastics hosts LSU - 7 p.m.
Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Saturday, Feb. 26
Women's tennis hosts Indiana - 10:30 a.m.
Baseball hosts Illinois-Chicago - 1 p.m.
Men's basketball hosts Florida - 4 p.m.
Softball at Stanford - 4:30 p.m. (Stanford, Calif.)
Softball vs. UC Davis - 9 p.m. (Stanford, Calif.)
Rifle at GARC Championships (Oxford, Miss.)
Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Swimming and diving at Last Chance Meet (Knoxville, Tenn.)

Sunday, Feb. 27
Softball vs. North Dakota State - noon (Stanford, Calif.)
Baseball hosts Illinois-Chicago - 1 p.m.
Women's basketball at Auburn - 2 p.m.
Gymnastics vs. Nebraska/Iowa/Bowling Green - 3 p.m. (Lincoln, Neb.)
Women's golf at Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate (New Orleans)
Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.)

It was only a matter of time ...

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... before someone remixed Wiz Khalifa's hit song "Black and Yellow" and changed it to "Blue and White." So without further ado, here's a remix from Brian Adams Productions.

Sunday links: USC roundup, Wall's All-Star weekend

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Men's basketball: Kentucky overwhelms South Carolina (Jerry Tipton, Lexington Herald-Leader)

If Kentucky wanted to solve the recurring problem of poor play in the final minutes of close games, this was the way to do it. UK never let it get close, scoring the game's first 15 points, leading by double digits the final 35:34 and by 20 or much more the final 28:21 en route to the 90-59 victory over South Carolina on Saturday.

Men's basketball: Liggins gives UK a boost off bench (Tipton, Herald-Leader)

For the game against South Carolina on Saturday, DeAndre Liggins took his turn coming off the Kentucky bench. It agreed with him. Liggins, who had made five of 17 shots (one of eight from three-point range) the previous two games, contributed 11 points to UK's 90-59 victory.

Men's basketball: UK gains momentum for late push (John Clay, Herald-Leader)

We're down to the final four now, the final four games of the regular season when a team wants to make its final push, to get things right on the freeway to the post-season. And for the first 20 minutes Saturday, and for much of 40, the Cats played some of their best basketball of the entire campaign.

Men's basketball: Miller's surprising week (James Pennington, The Cats' Pause)

To hopefully continue on his hot streak, Miller said he and his teammates just have to bear down and focus as best as they can. It's been a long season, he said, but the hard part begins as soon as the regular season ends.

Men's basketball: Liggins plays like Liggins on day he's honored for character (Larry Vaught, Danville Advocate-Messenger)

This time DeAndre Liggins played the way that Kentucky needs the junior to play to make the team the best it can be.

Women's basketball: Mitchell seeks consistency from UK women (Jennifer Smith, Herald-Leader)

There are some things that coaches just don't know. Most don't like to admit that, especially when it comes to discussing their own team, but Kentucky's Matthew Mitchell knows what he doesn't know.

Women's basketball: Video of Mitchell talking about UK's shooting slump

Women's basketball: Dunlap's family never far away on game days (Mark Story, Herald Leader)

OK, parents. How far would you go to support the endeavors of your kids? For Robin and King Dunlap IV -- whose daughter, Victoria, will soon depart the University of Kentucky as the best women's basketball player not named Valerie Still ever to play at the school -- that answer is literally thousands upon thousands of miles.

Men's basketball: John Wall learning to become a leader for Washington Wizards while learning the NBA (Michael Lee, Washington Post)

Rod Strickland noticed it the moment John Wall stepped on the basketball court for his first practice at the University of Kentucky. Coaches, players and fans were well aware that Wall had arrived in Lexington as the top high school recruit, but Strickland could tell through the first set of drills that although Wall possessed a lot of swagger he wasn't content to rest on his reputation. Even before he was told to take the reins, it was clear Wall was a leader.

Men's basketball: Wall gets his first taste of all-star festivities (Michael Lee, Washington Post)

On the night he arrived in the city where he trained before the Washington Wizards drafted him No. 1 overall, Wall was presented a challenge by Orlando Magic all-star center Dwight Howard at the celebrity pool tournament hosted by Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. Howard dared anyone to get on the stage and show who could do the best rendition of the popular dance, the Dougie. Boston Celtics reserve Glen "Big Baby" Davis joined Wall and several others in a Dougie dance-off, and Wall was fairly confident about who came away the winner.

Football: Behind-the-scenes look at the SEC coaches meeting (secdigitalnetwork.com)

Football: The SEC's impact redshirt freshmen (Chris Low, ESPN.com)

Brandon Gainer, TB, Kentucky: The weight room has been good to Gainer, who's bulked up to more than 215 pounds. He was pushing to play last season, but was slowed by injury. With Derrick Locke gone, the Wildcats need Gainer to make a move next season.

Swimming and diving: ESPN bio blast of Greg Ferrucci, SEC Freshman Male Diver of the Year

Swimming and diving: Six swimmers place in top 10 in UK record books (UKathletics.com) 

Seniors Kayla Sergesketter, Chatham Penrod, and Chip Aplin, juniors Claire Archibald and Matt Russell and sophomore Ramon Walton each swam times that put them in the top-10 all-time in UK history in their respective events on Saturday, day three of the Southeastern Conference Swimming Championships in Gainesville, Fla.

Softball: Cats off to a 7-2 start (UKathletics.com)

Kentucky improves to 7-2 overall on the year, while Georgia Southern drops to 4-6 overall. UK will now move onto the Championship game of the tournament will face Florida State for the second time in as many days.

John Calipari

Darius Miller

Terrence Jones

No late-game drama needed: Cats cruise past USC

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miller_web_cw.jpgIf you can't squeak by them, crush them.

With all the focus on Kentucky's recent late-game woes, the Kentucky men's basketball team used an alternate strategy Saturday to improve its home winning streak to 32 games: Get out to a huge lead and never look back.

That seemed to be the plan of action Saturday at Rupp Arena as the Kentucky men's basketball team buried a struggling South Carolina team with a game-opening 15-0 run. UK never trailed by fewer than 13 the rest of the way, led by as many 36 and won handily, 90-59, before a crowd of 24,338 fans.

The 31-point margin was the second-largest margin of victory for the Cats in a Southeastern Conference game this season. Kentucky pummeled LSU by 38 points in January.

It was only the second time in the last nine games UK has been a part of game decided by 10 points or more. The early cushion was a nice sense of relief with the microscope of Big Blue Nation so focused on the final few minutes.

"What I put on the board prior to the game was: Goal number one, let's just get better," Calipari said. "Let's improve. Let's try to go 40 minutes. Let everybody on this team know you know what your job is. Do your job."

Everyone did their job in the Kentucky effort, none more so than veteran Darius Miller. 

Proving once again that there's no figuring him out, the junior guard/forward had his second straight solid game with a groin injury. Miller scored a career-high 22 points on a career-high six 3-pointers. He scored six during UK's 15-0 opening-game run and also had nine rebounds and three blocks.

"I felt the same way as always," Miller said. "My teammates did a great job. We all executed plays and I was left open a lot. That's why I hit shots."

It was the second game in a row Miller had plenty of open looks. A game after Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury told his team to back off Miller and let him shoot it, Miller got eight looks from behind the arc and buried the first six of them.

"We weren't picking our poison," South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said when he was asked if Miller's open looks was a predetermined game plan to limit UK's other scorers. "We don't believe in leaving someone else open. Credit him for making open shots."

Despite the swoon of a week ago where the Cats lost three of four games, games like Saturday's and performances by Miller are why Calipari says he likes this team so much. Depth isn't there and experience isn't a luxury, but talent from one through six is pretty hard to look past.

It's why, about a month ago this time, Calipari started taking direct aim at his veterans to play better and take more control of the team. Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb were always going to get their points, but for UK to become a complete team, players like Miller and DeAndre Liggins had to step up their games.

When all five, in addition to Josh Harrellson are going, it's as talented of a six-man rotation as any team in the country.

"I think it's obviously a joke that anybody would refer to (Liggins and Miller) as role players," Horn said. "I don't know what that means. I don't know any role players that get 22."

Kentucky kept its hope alive for a first-round bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but the always-demanding Calipari left the game wanting more.

Even though Miller had a career night, Calipari focused more on a defensive lapse in the second half than Miller's perimeter performance.

"He had one stretch that I wanted to choke him because he had played so well, so aggressive, so strong, why would you go for two minutes and revert?" Calipari said. "You can't let yourself know that you can be that way."

Also, Calipari wasn't content with a 31-point win either. Although Kentucky's lead was never in danger, UK had stretches of sloppiness when South Carolina started to assert its full-court press.

"We try to play like we're scared to lose," said Jones, who recorded his fourth double-double in his last six games with a 19-point, 12-rebound outing. "It's difficult (to focus when you're up that much), but the way coach was coaching today like the score didn't matter, it made it better."

Calipari made sure this one wouldn't get close, burning two early timeouts in the second half. When South Carolina went on a 9-0 run, he called a 30-second timeout, and he used another one after a Sam Muldrow tip-in during a 7-0 Gamecocks run.

"I don't want them looking at the score whether we're up, whether it is close; just play and execute," Calipari said. "You may say, 'You are going nuts and you are up 25.' Yeah, because we were up 17, 18 and all of a sudden turned around and it was five (in previous games). We've done that a couple times.  So I'm trying to get them to forget about the score. Let's worry about execution."

The first time against South Carolina, UK let an 18-point lead slip down to six in the closing minutes, and against Mississippi State on Tuesday, the Cats let things get interesting in the final 60 seconds.

That wasn't the case Saturday as Kentucky went into the locker room with a 50-21 halftime lead.

"Coach (John) Robic, as we walked in, said, "What did you want, a shutout?" ' Calipari said.

Maybe he just wanted to avoid another cardiac finish.

Live blog: UK men's basketball vs. South Carolina

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Wall, Cousins put on a show to tip off All-Star weekend

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MBSK 09_10 UK_UL Web 18.jpgIt was just like old times at the Rookie Challenge.

John Wall was dishing out assists. DeMarcus Cousins was wearing out the iron out with emphatic dunks. The Kentucky boys were once again the story.

Wall and Cousins led the Rookies to a 148-140 win over the Sophomores in Friday night's Rookie Challenge game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, host of this weekend's All-Star game. Wall was named MVP after dishing out a Rookie Challenge record 22 assists - many of them to Cousins - in addition to 12 points.

"It was so easy," Wall told Craig Sager after winning the MVP. "We just wanted to get out and play. Coach told us to run a couple of plays. We did a great job of finishing."

One could have easily made a case for Cousins to be the MVP as well. The Sacramento Kings forward scored a game-high 33 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. He was the frequent recipient of Wall's passes, but one of the best passes of the game actually may have been from Cousins to Wall.

In the game's final seconds, Wall threw Cousins the ball on an outlet pass for a wide-open look. Instead of dunking it, Cousins threw it off the glass for his former teammate and Wall slammed it home with two hands.

"He always tells me he wishes he was playing with me more," Wall said. "I knew he could finish so I was looking for him."

Former UK guard Eric Bledsoe all took part in the game and finished with six points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Check out Wall's bounce-pass alley-oop to rookie sensation Blake Griffin here.

From the Pressbox: Notes from Tom Leach (Nov. 18)

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When Kentucky and South Carolina last met, the Gamecocks were 3-1 in the league, having already beaten Vanderbilt and Florida (on the road).  Now, USC comes into the rematch with UK having lost six of its last seven games. So what went wrong?

"They're a very young team playing in a very unforgiving division," said Andy Demetra, the radio voice for South Carolina men's basketball, noting this will be USC's fifth straight game against Southeastern Conference East foes, all of whom are projected to make the NCAA Tournament. "They have not quit and that's something for them to carry into (this game)."

South Carolina has three freshmen in its starting lineup, led by guard Bruce Ellington, but his shooting numbers have been on the decline lately. He's hit just 25 percent of his shots over the last four games, all Gamecock losses.

"As the season wears on, coaches have these things called game plans and they see a player once and they can adapt their game plan to defend him," said Demetra, adding that Ellington is nursing a bruised left calf muscle that had him at only about 70 percent in the loss at Tennessee on Wednesday night.

Demetra said foul trouble for Ellington hurt USC in the loss to Kentucky last month and said the Gamecocks' most productive game for points in the paint came in the loss to UK.

However, one of South Carolina's best inside players, Lakeem Jackson, is still nursing a foot injury and is not expected to return to the lineup until next weekend.

= = =

Kentucky is projected to be either a four or five seed in most NCAA Tournament projections you might see, but there is an opportunity for the Cats to make a significant move upward, so says Jerry Palm, the bracket analyst for CBS Sports and collegerpi.com.

"A good hot streak by Kentucky could get them to the 3 line and I wouldn't even rule out squeezing onto the 2 line," Palm said on "The Leach Report" radio show this week. 

Palm doesn't think there are any "great" teams this season, so games called "upsets" may not really be all that surprising to knowledgeable basketball observers. He doesn't even think it would be a big shock to see any one seed go down early come March Madness.

"The gap between the top of the bracket and say the four or five seeds is not nearly as big this year as it has been in other years," Palm said. "Usually, by this time, there are one or two teams that are dominant. We don't have anybody like Kansas and Kentucky last year (in the 2011 field)."

= = =

Last year's team excelled in the transition game and head coach John Calipari admitted he thought this team would be better than it has been in that area. Lately he's been pushing Brandon Knight to attack the rim in transition before worrying about setting up the offense.

"I think we're not attacking as much," Calipari said. "Some of it is our defense. When you're not getting any steals, when you're not getting anything off that glass to get you going, (you won't have as many transition opportunities). We're not playing a lot of people and guys aren't running (hard) on every possession."

Kentucky has been a low turnover team, but Calipari suggested that might mean his team is not aggressive enough. Barely making more free throws than their opponents in SEC play might back up that notion.

= = =

The rankings for the top prospect in the 2011 class may change from time to time but there's no question in Calipari's mind who the best player is -- it's future Wildcat Michael Gilchrist.

"If there's a better player in the country, they've got to show him to me," Calipari said on his weekly call-in show on the Big Blue Sports Network earlier this week, praising Gilchrist's "vicious will to win."

Here's what former Division I coach Brian Nash said of Gilchrist after watching him score 28 in a recent outing (courtesy Jeff Goodman's blog at foxsports.com): 

"Most gifted players at the high school level allow their talent to carry them on most nights," Nash wrote. "Gilchrist combines his talent with a passion and drive that you do not see too often from a high school athlete. His athleticism makes him an incredible rebounder who tracks down boards all over the floor and above the rim. His ball-handling has improved to the level where he can rebound the ball and lead a fast break while making good decisions. He is the ultimate mismatch as an offensive player in the halfcourt."

Video: Cal intent on closing out games better

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Head coach John Calipari


Senior forward Josh Harrellson


Freshman guard Brandon Knight

10-spot from Friday's basketball availability

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A lot of notes and smaller stories from Friday's men's and women's basketball availability, so instead of a traditional day-before-story, I thought I'd put together 10 notes from the news conferences, Title IX style (five for the men, five for the women), for those of you that prefer the written word over watching a video. 

Men's basketball

83_UK_UT_mbb_16_cw.JPG1. Cal concerned with late-game situations:
Men's coach John Calipari hears your complaints about the late-game slumps, and he's doing everything in his power to correct it. Asked about seeding for the NCAA and Southeastern Conference tournaments, Calipari said he isn't concerned about those at this point. "We're worried about the last five minutes of the game right now," Calipari said. "We're not worried about anything else. If we get that right, the other stuff will take care of itself." Late in the games, Calipari said Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb are his primary options to take late foul shots, but he said he'd have no problem with the ball being in the hands of Darius Miller, Terrence Jones or DeAndre Liggins either. The problem right now, as Calipari told us, is they're not getting the ball to the player who's the hottest at the line.

2. Guarding the 3: As Guy Ramsey pointed out Thursday, UK has given up a lot of 3-pointers. Over the last eight games, opponents are shooting 41.7 percent from behind the arc, and it isn't like the Cats' opponents are doing this on a regular basis. Take for instance Mississippi State. Coming into the game, the Bulldogs were averaging 34 percent from behind the arc. Naturally, what do they do against Kentucky? Hit 12-of-22 shots (54.5 percent) from long range. Calipari said it isn't a major concern, explaining that teams are simply making tough shots with defenders in their face. "They're going to shoot 30 3s," Calipari said. "If they make 20 of them with us hanging on them, then you go onto the next game. It just seems like guys who never make shots make contested shots falling down against us. Some of them bank in, some of them hit the scoreboard and come down and go in. That's just how it is when you play us." The troubling news for UK is South Carolina, Saturday's opponent, is averaging 24.5 3-point attempts over its last four games.

3. Ellington struggling? Speaking of South Carolina, the Gamecocks' leading scorer, Bruce Ellington, has hit a little bit of a freshman wall. Ellington is averaging 13.9 points per game this year, but he's made only 17 of his last 68 shots (25 percent) over the last four games, all Gamecock losses. Calipari refused to give into thinking Ellington was in a slump. "It doesn't matter who it is," Calipari said. "You've got guys coming into Rupp Arena or playing Kentucky, and it's the game they zero in on. They play better than stats. You don't need to look at tape. Tape is not going to tell how they're going to play."

4. Knight trying to be more vocal: Knight is a quiet kid by nature, but he's being asked by Calipari to assume the reins of this team and become more vocal. From my courtside seat at Rupp Arena, it's pretty obvious that Knight is talking more than he was at the beginning of the season, which could be especially important for a team trying to figure out some late-game kinks. That role of getting in players' faces wasn't always a responsibility Knight was comfortable with. "I wasn't a big talker," Knight said. "Sometimes I still don't talk as much as I should, but I've been getting at it. (Coach) told me it was a part of my description, a part of what I had to do. Over time I've kind of grown into a player that talks to his teammates. I'm a lot more comfortable with it now."

5. Miller's groin OK: Just in case there was any lingering concern over the health of Darius Miller's groin after a 13-point outing against Mississippi State, Miller reassured reporters Friday that it's "a lot better," although he isn't sure he could "throw one down" right now if he had to. With that said, Miller did practice Thursday and Friday and is expected to play Saturday.


WBSK 09_10 UK_OleMiss 40.jpgWomen's basketball

1. Now is not the time to panic: This time last week, women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell sounded as if he could use a couple of anti-depressants after back-to-back losses to Tennessee and South Carolina. The coach was in much better spirits this Friday despite suffering a 69-51 drubbing at Georgia Thursday night. "I think it's very important right now to have some perspective," Mitchell said. "The sky is not falling. We are, as bad as I feel, we are in fourth place with a chance to finish higher."

2. Another big game: As for those SEC standings, UK is one game behind Vanderbilt for third place in the SEC and two games behind Georgia for second place. With Georgia owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over UK, the second seed in the SEC Tournament appears to be out of the picture. Still, Sunday's game at Vanderbilt will be very important if UK hopes to earn a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. South Carolina, LSU and Auburn all trail the Cats by just a game for the fourth seed. The top four teams in the SEC receive first-round byes in the tournament. "We played great against Vanderbilt (the first time) and there's no doubt we can beat Vanderbilt (again)," Mitchell said of Sunday's matchup in Nashville. "It's not a question of do we have the talent. I think it's our mindset. We need to try and get as good as we can have it going to Nashville."

3. Shooting woes can be contagious: For as much as turnovers correlate to UK's victories, you're not going to win a lot if you can't put the ball in the basket. Over the last two games, a narrow win over LSU and a beating at Georgia, the Cats have struggled to score. UK is shooting 30 percent (36 of 120) over those last two games, including just 4 of 34 from behind the 3-point line. Shot selection usually has a lot to do with shooting percentages, but Mitchell has been pretty pleased with the looks his team is getting. "A game like last night where you're not making shots, everything gets magnified; everything seems worse than it is," Mitchell said. The coach admitted some of their slow starts have put pressure on them to make shots. "When Victoria (Dunlap) and A'dia (Mathies) aren't having a great start, I think that can affect a couple others to where a little panic sets in," Mitchell said. "We have to work our way through it because there isn't some magic pill we can give them to work that situation out."

4. Mathies banged up: Mathies, UK's second leading scorer and starting point guard, was tested for a concussion during Thursday night's game after taking an elbow to the head. Mathies did not suffer a concussion, but Mitchell said she did tweak her wrist when she fell to the floor. The UK training staff doesn't think it's a serious injury but Mathies was scheduled to undergo an X-ray later Friday.

5. Breaking through a wall: Mitchell was asked if players tend to hit a wall right before the postseason. After skirting around the question just a bit, Mitchell tended to agree. "It is very possible that right now we are a little down and were a little mentally and emotionally fatigued," Mitchell said. "They're not going to cancel these last three games for us. We have to fight through it but I would be pretty out of reality if I didn't recognize that as a possibility."

Video: Mitchell on UK's shooting slump

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Henderson.jpegRoster turnover can be a tricky evaluation of a college baseball team.

In one aspect, when you're sending players to the MLB Draft every year, replacements are going to be necessary. The mind frame is to rebuild and reload. In another very different aspect, roster turnover can create an unstable situation.

In that sense, predicting the 2011 Kentucky baseball season could be a bit of a head scratcher. UK lost 15 players from last year, nearly half of its team, many by way of graduation, some by the MLB Draft and a few by roster defections.

That meant head coach Gary Henderson had quite the recruiting haul to master this offseason, bringing in 18 newcomers to fill holes across the diamond.

Although it wasn't Henderson's most highly touted class he'd inked since he's been at Kentucky, this one may have a larger impact than any of his previous top-25 classes if only because it will have to play a much bigger role than any of his prior recruiting classes.

Significant playing time at right field, third base, second base and in the bullpen are all up for grabs, and many of the newcomers are not only expected to compete for the jobs but to take hold of them.

"Some of them are definitely going to have to step up into a role," junior infielder/pitcher Braden Kapteyn said. "That's our job as (veteran) leaders to help come into that role. We need all 35 guys on board and ready to go."

The roster overhaul will be a potentially scary situation for a team that is light on veterans but heavy on stiff competition.

"It's going to be interesting to begin with because most of the guys don't really know what college ball is about or even the SEC," senior shortstop Taylor Black said. "It's a big thing for us to get out there and win early so the guys know how we do it."

Kentucky's infield will need an immediate injection of help and talent from its newcomers, particularly at second base.

"I'd love to have a guy that was outstanding defensively that led us off and hit about .380," Henderson joked at UK's media day.

But John Shelby isn't walking through that door, so Henderson will take a solid defensive second baseman if he can get it.

"I'm really, really pleased to have some options and who can hit right-handed or left-handed pitching and who's going to pick it up in the eighth inning to turn the double play that gets us the win," Henderson said. "Those things we've got to wait and see and see how it plays out."

The favorite at second base heading into Friday's season opener at College of Charleston appears to be freshman Matt Reida of Russiaville, Ind., because of his reputation as an advanced defender. Reida also has top-of-the-order potential after hitting .429 with 32 runs and 10 stolen bases his junior year at Western High School.

But a guy that is "forcing (UK's) hand" because of his offensive ability is freshman J.T. Riddle, Kentucky's 2010 High School Mr. Baseball honoree. Riddle batted .514 with seven homers, 62 RBI and 32 runs in addition to a .973 slugging percentage last year at Western Hills High School in Frankfort.

Although Henderson isn't sure where Riddle will play - second base, first base and right field all remain options - he looks to be Reida's primary backup simply because he can put the bat on the ball.

"He keeps hitting line drives, and you don't have to be very smart (to figure out that) if they keep hitting line drives, you tend to find a spot for them," Henderson said. "He's a quality offensive player."

Junior Thomas McCarthy has likely nailed down the job at third base based on a prolific junior-college career. As a sophomore in 2010 at Feather River College, McCarthy hit .415 with 39 runs, three homers and 36 RBI. Behind McCarthy will be freshman Dallen Reber, who arguably possesses the most raw power on the team.

"McCarthy is kind of an unusual story in that he's hit .400 two years in a row in college baseball," Henderson said. "I'm not going to suggest he's going to do it for three in this league, but he's a good hitter. ... He's going to be able to get a hit."

Right field is anyone's guess right now. Senior Neiko Johnson, used primarily as a utility man and pinch runner his first three seasons at UK, may have a slight edge on the job right now, but Riddle and Lexington native Lucas Witt are pushing him hard. Witt, a freshman out of Lexington Christian High School, was a first-team all-state honoree as a senior and a second-team honoree as a junior.

The most exciting of the newcomers and potentially the most important could be pitcher Corey Littrell out of Trinity High School in Louisville. Last year's Louisville Slugger Kentucky High School Player of the Year not only brings in talent, he fulfills two very big needs.

For one, Littrell will add depth to a UK bullpen that was in serious need of some arms last year. And two, Littrell gives UK a bona fide left-handed option of the 'pen, a luxury Henderson didn't have last year when injuries started to pile up.

"It's really tough to get where you want to go in this league if you've only got one option left-handed down there," Henderson said.

Littrell (8-3, 1.90 ERA as a senior) has been compared to former UK pitcher Chris Rusin and will likely be a weekend starter down the road. For now, though, he provides the Cats with a potential middle-inning reliever to get the game from UK's dynamic starters (Alex Meyer, Jordan Cooper and Taylor Rogers) to its shutdown closers (Kapteyn and Nick Kennedy).

Junior-college transfer Alex Phillips (1.52 ERA at Lower Columbia College in Longview, Wash.), another lefty, could be used in a similar role. Hard-throwing freshman righty Trevor Gott, last year's Gatorade Kentucky High School Player of the Year, has really received rave reviews in his bullpen work this winter.

"We've got six or seven guys down there (in the bullpen) that I'm confident can throw strikes," Henderson said. "For the fans of college baseball, that's about as simple as it gets right there in the bullpen.  If you've got guys that can come in, they like to compete and they can throw strikes, then you've got a shot."

Throwing newcomers into the fire maybe isn't how Henderson envisioned it a year ago when entered the 2010 season with a collection of veterans, but he's bullish on this signing class. Of all the classes he's signed at UK, if there is one that can step in and contribute immediately, this is the class, he believes.

"It's been a long time since I've seen a group of freshmen that was as accountable and responsible as this group, so I'm really pleased with the kids that we've got in the program," Henderson said.  

Kentucky basketball by the numbers (Feb. 17)

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Similar to a post I did about three weeks ago, I'm going to run down some numbers and statistics for Kentucky's men's and women's basketball teams. We are closing in on conference and NCAA Tournament time, so we know quite a bit about both John Calipari's and Matthew Mitchell's squads.

With that in mind, what can the numbers tell us about what the rest of season holds?

RPI

By no means is the RPI a perfect measure of a college basketball team. There are holes in the system, but the fact remains that the NCAA Selection Committee uses the rankings to evaluate teams for the men's and women's tournaments, so the RPI is meaningful.

Updates of the official RPI standings from CollegeRPI.com are available just once a week on Sunday, but real-time rankings are available through the aptly named RealTimeRPI.com for men's basketball. We'll use that today since UK has played a game since Sunday.

In spite of the fact that the Wildcats are just 4-4 in their last eight games, the men's team checks in at No. 13 according to RealTimeRPI.com. UK has one of the nation's most difficult schedules to thank for its high ranking, sporting the 12th-toughest schedule.

Based on those numbers, it's pretty clear Kentucky is in excellent shape to make the NCAA Tournament come Selection Sunday. Add in UK's five wins over top-50 RPI squads and you can conclude that the rest of the season is about jockeying for a better seed, barring a disastrous collapse to close out the regular season.

As for UK Hoops, Kentucky comes in at 18th according to CollegeRPI.com as of this morning. With a strength of schedule ranking 18th nationally, Victoria Dunlap and company are in good shape to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.

Just like the men, UK Hoops has five wins over RPI top-50 opponents, and with tough road tests coming UK, that can be further improved upon.

Individual statistics

Both the men's and women's teams are rife with players who are having superb statistical seasons. The following players rank in the top 100 nationally of a major statistical category. All statistics are through games on February 13th.

Terrence Jones
Rebounds per game - 9.0 (43rd nationally)
Blocks per game - 2.0 (49th nationally)
Points per game - 17.9 (64th nationally)


Brandon Knight
3-point FG percent - 41.8 percent (28th nationally)
3-point FG's per game - 2.5 (64th nationally)
Points per game - 17.4 (75th nationally)

Doron Lamb

3-point FG percent - 49.0 percent (12th nationally among players with 2.0 3-point attempts per game)
Free-throw percent - 83.6 percent (78th nationally)

Josh Harrellson
Rebounds per game - 8.7 (52nd nationally)

Victoria Dunlap

Steals per game - 3.2 (11th nationally)
Points per game - 17.2 (55th nationally)
Rebounds per game - 8.8 (68th nationally)
Blocks per game - 1.5 (90th nationally)
FG percent - 46.6 percent (99th nationally)

Keyla Snowden
3-point FG percent - 45.3 percent (eighth nationally)
3-point FG's per game - 2.3 (86th nationally)


Evaluating the SEC slump for men's basketball

As I referenced earlier, UK is just 4-4 in Southeastern Conference play after a 2-1 start in conference. While Kentucky is still winning games at home and playing very competitively on the road, those four losses in the past month are slightly alarming because John Calipari had lost just six times in his first year and half at UK up to that point. I'm not about to press the panic button, but there are common threads in the Cats' recent struggles relative to past performance.

Taking a quick look at the numbers, I think the bulk of UK's troubles can be found on the defensive end.

Entering the game against Alabama on Jan. 18, the start of that eight-game stretch, UK was allowing just 61.9 points per game. However, in those eight games, opponents are scoring 68.5 points per contest, a 6.6-point (or 10.7-percent) increase.

When I discussed UK from a statistical perspective last time, though, I explained that raw scoring can be misleading without adjusting for pace. If Kentucky was allowing 10.7 percent more points per game but playing at a similarly faster pace, that change would not reflect poorly on UK's defense.

However, during the aforementioned eight-game stretch, the Cats are actually playing a slower pace than its average for the season. For the year, UK plays an average of 68 possessions per game, but only 66.3 during its last eight games, according to Ken Pomeroy. So, not only are the Cats allowing more points, but they are allowing more points on fewer possessions, a clear indictment of UK's defensive efficiency.

Over the past month, UK's opponents are scoring more than 1.03 points per possession
. Compare that with the 0.88 points per possession Kentucky allowed the first 17 games of the year and it's fairly clear that UK just isn't getting it done on defense like it did early in the year.

I would like to go deeper that just that though: what is driving that loss of efficiency?

A weakness of UK's defense all season has been turnovers. Has UK regressed further in that department, triggering the defensive stagnation?

The numbers do not suggest that to be the case. Early in the season, UK was very good defensively without forcing a great deal of mistakes. For the year, Kentucky's opponents are committing an average of 12.8 turnovers, but during the 4-4 stretch, UK is actually forcing more turnovers, an average of 13.0 to be exact. UK is forcing more turnovers on fewer possessions over the last month so it's safe to say that is not the reason for UK's issues.

What about defensive rebounding?

Again, that doesn't look to be the case. For the year, Kentucky is allowing just barely over 11 offensive rebounds per contest. During the last month, UK has allowed 11.3 offensive rebounds per game. Yes, that's an increase, but not enough to account for the Cats' precipitous drop in efficiency.

What about field-goal shooting?

UK's opponents for the season are shooting just 39.0 percent, an impressive number. During the games in question, though, opponents are shooting  41.8 percent. That's a more significant change than in rebounding, but it's again not enough to explain Kentucky's problems.

That evaluation of UK's field-goal defense is just a bit simplistic because it ignores a very simple fact: a 3-pointer is worth more than a two pointer.

UK may be holding opponents to low shooting percentages even in losing four of eight, but behind the 3-point line, the Wildcats problems become quite clear. Amazingly, UK's eight opponents over the past month are shooting nearly as well from beyond the 3-point line (41.7 percent) as inside of it.

Over Kentucky's first 18 games, the Wildcats allowed just 30.1 percent from beyond the arc, so the 3-point defense has gotten markedly worse. Even opponents like Alabama (306th in the nation in 3-point percentage) and Tennessee (254th) have shot exceptionally well from long range.

John Calipari often talks about how teams that play Kentucky will shoot better than they have all season just because they are playing UK. While there is likely some truth in this sentiment, the exceptional shooting of UK's opponents of late has to be attributed in large part to the fact that the Cats aren't contesting shots from deep as they should be and did earlier in the season.

Whether it is tired legs due to lack of depth or some other cause, UK absolutely has to find a way to get back to limiting and contesting looks from beyond the 3-point line as the Wildcats were early in the season.

UK Hoops playing for seeding

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UK_LSU_wbb_13_cw.JPGIt's pretty simple for the Kentucky women's basketball team. If the Cats want to have any shot at winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament in two weeks, the run essentially begins now.

Since the tournament's inception in 1980, only two teams - Kentucky in 1982 and Auburn in 1997 - have won the tournament without a first-round bye. Only one team, Auburn, has done it in the league's current 12-team format.

That places a significant importance on the final four regular-season games for UK, especially this week's games at Georgia and at Vanderbilt. Entering Thursday's game in Athens, Ga., the Cats (8-4 in the SEC) are in a two-way tie with Vanderbilt for third place in the SEC standings and trail Georgia (9-3) by one game. Tennessee has the No. 1 seed essentially locked up.

The top four teams at the end of the regular season receive a bye, but there is a logjam of teams right behind Georgia, UK and Vanderbilt with a very good chance of stealing a bye. Auburn and South Carolina both sit at 7-5 while LSU has a 7-6 record after the loss in Lexington on Sunday. Kentucky would also like to be the second or third seed to avoid being on the same side of the bracket as the Lady Volunteeers.

The importance of the last four games for UK isn't lost on head coach Matthew Mitchell.

"If you look back in the history of tournaments, I just think it's really hard to win it if you don't get that bye," Mitchell said. "It's one of the toughest tournaments anywhere to win. Every advantage you can give yourself is important. It's crucial that we get that bye and give us every advantage we can to win the tournament."

Said sophomore guard A'dia Mathies: "It's the difference between playing three or four games to win the SEC championship."

Such a critical stretch for UK will be magnified by the rigors of the road. Three of the Cats' final four regular-season games are away from the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum. Kentucky is 3-2 on the road in the SEC this season.

"I think it's coming at a good time," Mitchell said. "We need to find out where we are."

At 19-6 on the season with an RPI ranking of 18th, Mitchell believes UK has solidified a bid to the NCAA Tournament. He's hoping, however, to use the next two road games against two of the league's best teams as a barometer for his club.

"I told the team it's time for us to step up here and see what we're made of," Mitchell said. "These are two great opportunities."

Everything from this point forward is playing for a better NCAA Tournament seed - and of course, that all-important bye in the SEC Tournament.

"That's the thing that you tell the team is that you're in control of your path at this point in time," Mitchell said. "A three seed is better than a four seed. A four seed is better than a six seed. And a six seed is better than not being in."

I'll have a small written piece Thursday on just how critical these next two games are for the Kentucky women's basketball team.

Head coach Matthew Mitchell


Sophomore guard A'dia Mathies

UK Athletics in rhythm with DanceBlue

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DanceBlueLogo2.jpgSince 2005, DanceBlue has been a unique part of campus life at UK. Each year, hundreds of students participate, spending 24 consecutive hours dancing the day and night away, all in an effort to raise money for the Golden Matrix Fund, benefiting the UK Pediatric Oncology Center and Markey Cancer Center. This weekend, the sixth DanceBlue marathon will be held in Memorial Coliseum.

With the marathon being such a positive part of the culture of the university, it has always been important for UK Athletics to be involved such a worthy cause, including providing the venue for DanceBlue and setup for the event. Never, though, has the involvement of UK players, coaches and staff been more apparent than in 2011.

"DanceBlue is a huge thing for our campus," assistant director of marketing Nathan Schwake said. "We're also fortunate to have our own student spirit organization, TEAM WILDCAT, participating in DanceBlue this year with Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow."

Dancers participating in the marathon raise money to fund their participation and TEAM WILDCAT is one of the many student organizations taking part in DanceBlue. At a student ticket lottery last month, TEAM WILDCAT held a raffle that raised $1,500 to sponsor its dancers. UK Hoops coach Matthew Mitchell addressed the crowd and, with men's basketball coach John Calipari, matched the $1,500 raised during the raffle.

However, involvement by TEAM WILDCAT is not limited to participating in the event itself.

"It's something we have not done before through our student spirit organization and those kids have been eager to get involved and find out ways to help DanceBlue above and beyond just having the team," Schwake said.

At both men's and women's basketball games this week, DanceBlue has been front and center. Informational sheets about the event have been passed out and on-court promotions have been featured during halftime and a timeout. The signature blue and yellow colors that represent the cause have been worn by both the cheerleading and dance teams.

Numerous athletes, teams and coaches will visit the dancers and provide entertainment at DanceBlue. For example, UK football players and the dance team will put on a skit during the marathon. Football coach Joker Phillips asked freshman wide receiver Ed Berry if he could lead the production of the skit, but Berry wanted to be more involved.

"Coach Phillips was talking about sponsoring a dancer and putting together a little skit and if I wanted to head it up," Berry said. "I said it's an awesome cause, so I'll (dance) the whole 24 hours."

Once he made the decision to dance, the next step was for him to find people who would donate to the cause and fund his involvement. Berry knew he could count on his teammates.

From their own money, UK football players donated $300 to fund Berry's dancing with Phillips matching that total.

"It was awesome," Berry said. "Coach Phillips said he would announce (Berry's participation) in a meeting to see who can sponsor you and he would match whatever I got. So many of the guys were willing to give some of their money to a great cause."

UK students so often show their support of athletes in their on-field endeavors and this is a case of athletes returning the favor.

"These are the same students who have class with our student-athletes," Schwake said. "They're friends, they come and support our student-athletes throughout the year. It's a cool thing to see our student-athletes want to give back to them and support them in (DanceBlue)."

Proceeds from DanceBlue will enhance the lives of children and families suffering from childhood cancer through the Golden Matrix Fund. Last year alone, DanceBlue raised 636,638.58 for UK Children's Hospital Pediatric Oncology Clinic.

To learn more or donate to DanceBlue visit DanceBlue.org. You can also follow DanceBlue on Twitter.

Web Wednesday: UK Hoops heart-stopper 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

Men's basketball: UK continues winning ways in Rupp (Michael Grant, Louisville Courier-Journal)

Thanks to a strong second half, the University of Kentucky continued its mastery in Rupp Arena.The Wildcats downed Mississippi State 85-79 on Tuesday night to improve to 30-0 at home under coach John Calipari. Their 31-game home winning streak is second longest in the nation, and their home-court advantage has been vital this season because UK (18-7, 6-5 SEC) has struggled on the road.

Men's basketball: Darius Miller plays big despite injury (Larry Vaught, Danville-Advocate Messenger)

Miller injured his groin in Saturday's loss at Vanderbilt and did not practice Sunday or Monday and was listed a questionable for the game by UK coach John Calipari. He didn't start, but he came in and played 33 minutes.

"Darius being injured like he is, I thought he did a good job. Some of the shots he made were big," Calipari said. "He didn't practice yesterday. I just decided not to start him because of that. We weren't going to practice him. Maybe (not starting) helped him. Maybe it takes the edge off and made it easier."


Women's golf: Albrecht, Kentucky looking for playoff berth (Julie Williams, Golf Week)

For first-year Kentucky head coach Golda Borst, it's never too early to start thinking about the postseason. Kentucky is one of five teams in the 17-team field (of the UCF Challenge) that finds itself on the bubble for postseason play, even if it is a little early in the season to begin thinking about the NCAAs.


Baseball: UK embraces new, weaker bats (Ethan Levine, Kentucky Kernel)

"There are going to be a lot less home runs this year, but I feel like it helps our team," UK senior shortstop Taylor Black said. "We are a speed-oriented team. We like to pitch and play defense, so I think it's in our favor. But it will change the game."

UK Hoops: Henderson comes up big in clutch (Jennifer Smith, Lexington Herald-Leader)

With less than two seconds to play, Brittany Henderson barely had time to think.

Barely time to breathe.

But the forward clearly remembered thinking two things: "Put it in the basket and don't miss it," she said.

Men's basketball: NBA scouts weigh in on Jones, Knight (Seth Davis, SI.com)

(On Knight) Mature personality, fantastic worker, can really shoot the basketball. Winning matters to him. He's in the first round if he comes out, for sure. People try to compare him to Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, but he's not at their level. The one thing I will say about him is he's an absolute gym rat. He loves being in the gym and working on his game. He may not be a prototypical point guard, but with his work ethic, size, speed and ability to shoot, you have to take a chance on him.


Wildcats in the Pros


Randall Cobb's stock on the rise (Chip Cosby, Herald-Leader)

Cobb has been one of the fastest-rising players in draft projections since the deadline for underclassmen to apply passed on Jan. 15. During the season, Cobb was viewed as a middle-round prospect, and the NFL Draft evaluation that he used in helping to make his decision viewed him as a third-rounder.

But in his latest mock draft, ESPN and Scouts Inc. draft analyst Todd McShay has Cobb going in the first round to the Baltimore Ravens as the 26th overall pick.

UK fans have special relationship with John Wall (Adam McGinnis, TruthAboutIt.net)

The birth of the John Wall Dance phenomenon was fueled solely by Kentucky Wildcats' fans, before the craze went nationwide and ultimately became Wall's pop culture trademark. The initial act at Kentucky's Midnight Madness before Wall's freshman year was the first glimpse of the special relationship between Big Blue Nation and Wall.

Rajon Rondo makes case as Eastern Conference's best point guard (ESPN)

Picking the Eastern Conference's top point guard is no easy task because, of the candidates, each player's style is so different than the next. But here's the bottom line: The best point guard is the one who most consistently guides his team to victory, and no player has done that more in recent years than Rajon Rondo.

Daniel Orton unlikely to return this season (Zach McCann, Orlando Sentinel)

Magic first-round pick Daniel Orton is working out twice a day with Magic staff, rehabbing the left knee he had arthroscopic surgery on back in December. It's unlikely he'll be available to the Magic this season, even for practice. Orton said it's "hard to say" when exactly he'll begin playing basketball again. "It's tough," he said. "I'll just keep going at it."

News from UKathletics.com

UK Hoops: Dunlap named to Naismith Trophy midseason top 30 list

Men's basketball: Jones receives SEC Freshman of the Week

Men's tennis: UK prominent in latest ITA rankings

Baseball: Shortstop Black returns for senior season

Video of the week

In a defensive slugfest on Sunday against LSU, UK Hoops forced a Tiger turnover with less than 15 seconds left in a tie ballgame. In one of the most dramatic finishes of the season, sophomore guard A'dia Mathies came off a screen and hit Brittany Henderson for a layup with just 1.1 seconds remaining, giving the Cats a much-needed win. The game-winning layup is at the end of the video.

John Calipari

Darius Miller

Brandon Knight

Stansbury's technical sparks Cats' comeback

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Stansbury.jpegKentucky was in desperate need of a little break in the midst of a two-week, three-loss slump. Rick Stansbury offered the perfect cure.

Mississippi State's head coach wasn't solely to blame for the Bulldogs' loss to Kentucky on Tuesday night -- after all, UK shot 66.7 percent in the second half -- but he sure gave the struggling Cats a helping hand. Stansbury picked up a critical and untimely technical late for arguing a call in the first half of Kentucky's 85-79 come-from-behind win.

The T almost single handily changing the momentum of the game heading into the locker room.

With UK charging from an 11-point deficit, a foul to give and only a few seconds on the clock, Stansbury inserted seldom-used reserve Brian Bryant into the game to prevent Kentucky from getting off a clean last-second shot. After successfully fouling Knight on the first attempt, Knight wisely went into a shooting motion as Bryant fouled him again to get to the line.

"I want you to understand I told Brandon to shoot the ball. 'They're going to foul you," Calipari told Knight.  "He didn't shoot the first one. I looked at him and said, 'Do you understand what I'm telling you to do? They are going to foul you.  Shoot the ball.' "

Knight shot the ball and the whistle blew. The refs convened and said Knight was in a shooting motion, but obviously Stansbury didn't believe it.

"Print what I think," was all Stansbury chose to say about the call after leaving the postgame podium.

Over the next 60 seconds, Stansbury went into a sideline tirade that would have made Bobby Knight blush. He pulled his hair, stomped his feet and berated the officials.

Referee Jamie Luckie stared at Stansbury and gave him a warning, but Stansbury was getting his money's worth after the foul. Luckie T'ed up Stansbury, giving Knight the oh-so-normal five-shot free-throw visit.

Knight, who scored a game-high 24 points, made 4 of 5 to cut MSU's first-half lead to one heading into the locker room. As large as the four points loomed, it was the change in momentum that mattered most. Stansbury's tantrum changed the entire complexion of the game. 

"How we were down one at half, I have no idea," Calipari said. "We should have been down 15 at half." 

With an anxious crowd of 23,196 fans getting restless over the first-half start and the last two weeks hanging over their heads like a dark storm cloud, the technical awoke both the crowd and the Wildcats. Rupp Arena boomed and the Bulldogs started to wilt.

When the Cats took the floor in the second half, they looked like a different team. UK opened the half with a 19-10 run.

"I didn't help our team any with that last three seconds before halftime," Stansbury said.

Ultimately, Stanbury's technical didn't determine the game, but it went a long way in helping the Cats hold on.

It overshadowed Mississippi State's 3-point shooting clinic (12 of 22) and Ravern Johnson's 21 points.

More importantly for UK, it may have been the difference between nearly blowing a double-digit lead and an actual collapse.

After Kentucky had seemingly iced the game at 82-70 with Knight's 3-pointer at the 3:39 mark, the Cats took a page out of their late-game losses of the last two weeks and let MSU back into the game. Free-throw misses, bad shots and ill-timed turnovers allowed the Bulldogs to crawl within four points with 43 seconds left.

Imagine Stansbury had not picked up that technical late in the first half. What if it wouldn't have ignited an early second-half UK run? Just think about how big those final four points were in the outcome.

Kentucky will gladly take the gift, but it couldn't cover up for an ongoing problem to close out games.

"Down the stretch, it just bothers me," Calipari said. "At the end of this game, we missed free throws. If we make those it still is what it is, but how about the air-ball shot and the two turnovers? What are we doing? My thing with this team is 'Forget about the score, let's execute. Don't look at the score. I'll look at the score. You just play and execute.' "

Calipari sarcastically said his team must not have looked at the score and decided to just shoot instead. Either way, the late-game tensions have not been solved.

Two solutions that may have been figured out, at least temporarily, were Darius Miller and UK's full-court press.

Three days since injurying his groin in the Vanderbilt loss, Miller came off the bench to score 13 points. Stansbury said reporters were kidding themselves if they didn't think Miller was going to play, but he apparently didn't think Miller was going to make a difference as he was overheard during the first half telling his team to leave Miller open and let him shoot it.

"I don't mind them playing off of me," Miller said. "I'm glad he's saying it. I don't have a problem with it at all. I hope everybody says that."

UK's pressure defense also made a big difference in the second half. In turning a 41-40 halftime deficit into a 58-52 lead, the Cats forced six turnovers in seven-and-a-half minutes.

"We just had no fire, no fight," Calipari said of the defensive switch. "I said, 'You know what, we're pressing man to man. If you choose to go back, I'm subbing you. I did it so you can sub guys out. If you don't want to get up there and battle, then I'm taking you out.' "

The moves worked and Kentucky won to preserve its now 31-game home winning streak, but you have to wonder how much Stansbury's technical helped cover up for some still glaring problems.

"I'm happy we won," Calipari said. "You take it and you march on."

Live blog: UK men's basketball vs. Mississippi State

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Rankings updates: UK Hoops, softball, men's tennis

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UK Hoops: The UK women's basketball team dropped to No. 19 in both major polls this week after going 1-2 last week against Tennessee, South Carolina and LSU. UK does seem to be holding steady in its seeding for the NCAA Tournament, though, as the Cats are listed as a No. 5 seed in Charlie Creme's Bracketology projections.

Softball: Following a 4-1 weekend at the FIU Combat Classic in Miami, the UK softball team cracked the ESPN/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 this week at No. 24. Kentucky is just outside the other major poll, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll. UK is picking up 30 receiving votes and sits in 26th.

Men's tennis: With an 8-2 start to the season, including victories over top-50 opponents Wake Forest, Indiana, Boise State and Miami (Fla.), UK men's tennis ranks 13th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings. Three Wildcats, junior Eric Quigley (No. 3), junior Alex Musialek (No. 3) and sophomore Anthony Rossi (No. 79), are ranked in the ITA top 100.

Feb. 13 Performances of the Week

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albrecht ashleigh_2010-11.JPGEvery Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Feb. 13:

Women's golf: Ashleigh Albrecht

  • Led Kentucky at the UCF Challenge to its second-lowest team round in program history since records began being kept in 1987-88.
  • Shot an opening-round, bogey-free, 6-under-par, 66, the second-lowest individual round in program history.
  • Eagled the par 5 seventh hole from 59 yards out.

Women's tennis: Megan Broderick

  • Went 2-1 in singles play over the week and is tied for the team lead with three wins in singles play during the spring season.
  • Went 2-1 in doubles play over the week, including a win while paired with freshman Khristina Blajkevitch over the No. 13 doubles tandem in the country.

Swimming and diving: Lisa Faulkner

  • Earned a career-best score on the three-meter board (347.60).
  • Holds the second-best score on the three-meter board in UK history (347.60).
  • Finished in fourth place on the three-meter board.
  • Finished in the top nine on all three boards at the SEC Diving Championships.

Swimming and diving: Greg Ferrucci

  • Named SEC Male Freshman Diver of the Year.
  • Earned career-best marks on the one-meter, three-meter and platform.
  • Holds the second-best score on the three-meter board in UK history (400.55).
  • Holds the second-best score on the platform in UK history (336.00).
  • Holds the third best score on the one-meter in UK history (378.50).
  • Finished in the top-seven on all three boards at the SEC Diving Championships.

Men's basketball: Terrence Jones

  • Averaged a double-double on the week.  
  • Recorded his league-leading eighth double-double of the season against Tennesssee.
  • Tied season high with four blocks against the Vols.
  • Tallied team-high 25 points at Vanderbilt.
  • Has scored in double-figures in four straight games and 16 of his last 17 games.

Softball: Emily Jolly

  • Freshman Emily Jolly was the lone true freshman to start all five opening weekend games for the Blue and White when she made five starts at second base.
  • In her first career game, she had a two-run single to help upset No. 22/24 Ohio State.
  • Matched a single-game UK record with three doubles in UK's victory over DePaul, a feat only achieved by one other player in school history.
  • She also plated a pair of scores in that outing, including driving in the game's final two runs in the eighth inning to help UK secure a comeback from three down to defeat the Blue Demons by a 6-3 final margin.
  • For the week, she batted .308 with four RBI, three extra-base hits and a perfect fielding percentage, which included eight putouts and eight assists.

Men's basketball: DeAndre Liggins

  • Scored in double-figures in back-to-back games for the second time this season.
  • Tied career high with 19 points against Tennessee while recording career-high five steals.
  • Had an efficient shooting night by making 5-of-6 field goals and 7 of 8 at the foul line.
  • Posted ninth double-digit scoring effort against Vanderbilt.
  • The Wildcats are 8-1 when Liggins scores in double-figures.

DeMartine.jpegSoftball: Sam DeMartine

  • Sam DeMartine helped UK go 4-1 to start the season, which included a run-rule five-inning upset of No. 22/24 Ohio State in the opener.
  • UK has now defeated a top-25 ranked team in the season opener in two straight seasons.
  • DeMartine's RBI single in the top of the third proved to be the only offense UK would need to defeat the Buckeyes.
  • For the week, DeMartine led the team with a .462 batting average and a team-best two home runs.
  • One of her bombs led a three-run comeback effort to down DePaul in extra innings when she hit a solo shot in the top of the seventh to begin the rally from three back.
  • Her two runs scored against the Blue Demons is a career high.
  • She led the team for the weekend with two multi-hit games.
  • Teamed with Erika Silence for the first back-to-back home runs of the season in the win over Ohio State.
  • The three home runs against the Buckeyes matched a school record for home runs in a single game.

Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies

  • Averaged a team-high 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in UK's two games last week.
  • Hit 48 percent from the field and 87.5 percent from the free-throw line in two games.
  • Scored a game-high 16 points in UK's first win over LSU in Lexington since 1994.
  • Also charted a game-high four steals and two assists in the win. Her second assist fed Brittany Henderson who scored the game-winning field goal with 1.1 seconds remaining.
  • Scored 11 of her game-high 16 points in the decisive second half and at one point strung together seven straight points from the 8:38 mark to 6:01 remaining in the game, putting the Wildcats up 40-37.
  • Scored a team-high 16 points while recording seven rebounds and a game-high four assists against South Carolina.
  • Only Wildcat to score at least one point in all 25 games.
  • Has now scored in double figures 46 times in her career.

Track and field: Sharif Webb

  • Senior Sharif Webb grabbed a fifth-place finish in the men's 800-meter run with a time of 1:47.91 at the Husky Classic to capture his spot at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
  • Webb's time locked in the Wildcats first NCAA automatic qualifying time of the season.
  • The senior narrowly missed out on surpassing his career-best time of 1:47.86, set last season at Notre Dame. His personal-best time currently ranks second on UK's all-time 800m list, only trailing David Freeman who ran 1:47.40 in 2003.
  • Webb returned to Kentucky this season as the Wildcats' only men's indoor All-America honoree a year ago and with his performance Saturday will have an opportunity to duplicate that run.

Mississippi State magic

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With Mississippi State in town, memories of last year's dramatic Southeastern Conference Tournament championship come to mind.

If you can't remember what I'm talking about, relive the final few seconds of the last game between these two teams in the video below:

Tuesday notes: Miller's injury; pitching rotation set

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- In regards to the Darius Miller leg injury Tom Leach talked about in the story below, head coach John Calipari said on his radio show Monday night that Miller was "questionable at best" for Tuesday's game against Mississippi State. If Miller can't go, Calipari mentioned Jon Hood and Stacey Poole as two players who would have to step up Tuesday.

- Just a few days away from the start of the 2011 Kentucky baseball season, the weekend starting rotation has been set. Sophomore Jordan Cooper will get the ball Friday, followed by sophomore Taylor Rogers on Saturday and junior Alex Meyer on Sunday. UK begins its season Friday at College of Charleston. If you haven't heard exactly how big pitching will be for the Cats this season, check out my story from last week on the pitching staff.

- As the regular season nears a close and with Mississippi State big man Renardo Sidney in town, a large contingent of NBA scouts and general managers are expected to be at Rupp Arena on Tuesday for the UK-Mississippi State game. Men's basketball sports information director DeWayne Peevy said 12 scouts and five GMs will be in attendance. A total of 20 scouts and GMs came last week for the UK-Tennessee game. 

- In a couple of stories last week, I went into detail about how important pitching would be for the Kentucky softball team because of the loss of Molly Johnson and Natalie Smith. Well, what does the team go out and do during its season-opening weekend? Put up a ton of runs. UK scored 27 runs in five games at the FIU Combat Classic en route to a 4-1 opening weekend. Senior Samantha DeMartine, who was being touted as the most improved player in the offseason, went 6-for-13 with four runs, four RBI and two home runs.

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, so the old saying goes.  Someone on the Kentucky bench may be about to get some "luck" when it comes to playing time.

Unfortunately, it could be the result of bad luck for Darius Miller, who suffered a leg injury in the second half of Saturday's 81-77 loss at Vanderbilt. If Miller can't go, head coach John Calipari said after the game it would mean more minutes for sophomore Jon Hood. If Hood doesn't step up to meet that challenge, then perhaps someone else on the bench could get their chance.

Coming off the bench is a difficult role. As Calipari has said, if the score goes the wrong way for Kentucky, then the sub isn't going to last long on the court. 

Maybe that player who gets pulled out would have turned it around on subsequent plays, but most coaches aren't going to wait to find out when they have someone else that is proven sitting on the sidelines. It's just the dilemma faced by players who have not demonstrated enough in practice or games to warrant the longer leash from the coach.

However, when a thin team gets an injury, that mindset can change and the head coach will have to forgive a mistake or two more readily when he doesn't have that other option sitting next to him.

That's what happened in 1997 when Cameron Mills seized his opportunity to move from mop-up minutes to playing long stretches when the game's outcome was in doubt.

In a mid-January game at Rupp Arena, senior star Derek Anderson suffered a season-ending knee injury and Mills soon found himself getting the call to enter the game much earlier than usual.

"All of a sudden, because there's no other two guard, coach (Rick) Pitino had to give me playing time," Mills said last week in an appearance on the "The Leach Report" radio show. "(Until then) I was halfway through my  junior season and I was still the guy who would come in at the end of the game when we were up 30 or 40."  

In the first game after Anderson's injury, a matchup with Vanderbilt at Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum, Mills wasn't expecting to be summoned so soon and his stint was a short one. He missed three shots in three minutes, committed a foul and returned to the bench.  

For a walk-on player, that might have his one-and-done chance at meaningful minutes, but being short-handed meant the coach called on him early again in the next game for a Super Bowl contest at Arkansas.  

This time, Mills was ready.

Mills played 16 minutes and hit 4-of-5 shots en route to a career-best 12 points as the Wildcats got the win in Fayetteville, Ark., 83-73.

"He puts me in the Vandy game in the middle of the first half and it blew my mind," Mills said. "I wasn't ready for that. All of a sudden, middle of the first half, they say, 'Cameron, go,' and I'm like 'Go where?  Locker room?' But in the next game, I was ready. That Arkansas game, I knew I could shoot, so when I was open, I shot and they just started falling. But I was doing more than shooting. I played some good defense - relatively good for me. I even made a 3-point play the old-fashioned way, which is maybe the only time in my career I did that."

Before that day at Arkansas, Mills had played in 25 games in two-and-a-half seasons for a total of 48 minutes, scoring just 31 points. For the remainder of his career, Mills played in 59 games and scored 334 points, including a huge 3-point shot to tie the game against Duke late in the 1998 South Regional final.

Had Anderson not been injured, Mills' role might never have changed. Coaches don't like to "take a chance" and risk a loss with an unproven player -- unless they are out of options.   That situation led to Mills' opportunity to play through his jitters, inexperience or whatever you want to term it. There was no guarantee for the Cats that he was going to make the most of his chance, but to his credit, that's what he did. 

This week, a current Cat or two might get that same kind of opportunity but it will be up to them to be prepared to seize it. If they do, the payoff can be sweet.

Mills became a key bench player on teams that played in back-to-back national title games, winning it all in '98.  Still, he most remembers that breakout game at Arkansas.

"We're on the plane on the way home and I'm sitting in the front," Mills said. "We're getting ready to takeoff and Delray Brooks shouts at me from the back of the plane, 'Hey Cam, great game,' and that was so cool. Coach Pitino made a big point after the game of congratulating me. After the game, we fly into town and I immediately drove home to see mom and dad and I said, 'How about that?' "

4391661.jpegSaturday's players-only meeting certainly wasn't some revolutionary tactic to turn the season around that other teams haven't tried before. It wasn't even the first players-only meeting Kentucky has had this year.

But the fact that it's being called now in February with a month until the NCAA Tournament begins shows just how imperative it is the Kentucky men's basketball team gets its current drought resolved and turns around the season.

"We can't make excuses for why we are losing on the road when it comes down to pretty much the last five minutes," freshman forward Terrence Jones said of what was talked about in the meeting. "We had a will to go up by three points (against Vanderbilt). We can't just let three plays take us down. It felt like everybody's energy just went away and we already lost just because they took the lead back."

The team meeting, called Saturday after UK returned from an 81-77 loss at Vanderbilt, came just a few days before the Cats face Mississippi State on Tuesday at Rupp Arena. Both teams were expected to compete for the overall Southeastern Conference title this year, but both find themselves behind a pack of teams with six games to play.

"I didn't know they had one," head coach John Calipari said. "They had a players meeting? I hope it brings about change. We have to have a team full of guys playing. We can't have one guy that's not doing absolutely everything he can to get ready for the game. They know it."

Senior forward Josh Harrellson called the meeting immediately after arriving home from a disappointing loss in Nashville, the Cats' fifth loss this season by four points or less.
 
"We're sick of (losing)," said freshman guard Jarrod Polson, who has seen action in three of the last six games.

Jones said Harrellson did most of the talking but each player spoke out and had something to say.

"I told my team that I want to change and work harder and dig in for the last couple of games for the season," freshman guard Doron Lamb said. "I've got to step my game up on the court - more scoring, more defense and more energy on the court to help my team win."

The theme of the meeting, based on what the players said Monday, was to eliminate distractions. While none of the players would elaborate on what exactly those distractions were, the players said they've benefited from airing out some of their issues.

"We're all on the same page," Polson said. "We just told each other that from here on, it's all basketball. We just need to focus on basketball and not really anything else."

Calipari, who first learned of the meeting during his usual pregame meeting with the media, was asked if players-only team meetings help.

"If they think it helps, do it," Calipari said. "You know those bands people wear? If you think it helps you, wear that band. Medically, it doesn't say there is good use. But it seems to be good for you, so do it."

After sounding relatively and surprisingly positive Saturday after the loss to Vanderbilt, there seemed to be a general concession Monday that there are indeed some anxiety issues when the game is on the line. Calipari watched the tape of this weekend's game and pointed to key turnovers in critical junctures of the game as the difference makers.

The silver lining for Cal and the team, at this point though, is its still February and the team has six regular-season games to figure everything out.

"At the end of the day, I'm worried about where this team finishes, not where we are right now," Calipari said. "Other than the top five or six, seven teams, every team has hit a lull in their season. ... Everybody does. We have hit ours, now we have to bust through. Are we through it? I don't know yet. We will see Tuesday. We will see Saturday. But I still like my team."

And despite losing three of four games, including five of six league games on the road, UK's resume still looks pretty distinguished with an RPI ranking of 14th and key wins over Tennessee, Washington, Louisville and Notre Dame.

"I wish we were winning all of these games, but the one thing I told my staff this morning was when you are winning, you put your head in the sand," Calipari said. "So, what if Brandon (Knight) would have made that shot? What if Darius (Miller) would have shot the ball? What if we don't leave the guy in the corner and he hits a 3? What if we in all of those three games? You know what? I am sitting here telling you that all is good in Candyland.

"In reality, we still would have made the same mistakes that would have cost us down the road, so this is bringing them to life and this is bringing individuals to life and getting them really focused in. I'd much rather win from close wins than close losses any day, but sometimes it takes losses to wake me up some and get these guys thinking right."

Kentucky will receive a lift from its current slump with the first back-to-back games at Rupp Arena since mid-January. Whether it was by act or true revelation, Calipari expressed surprise on the SEC coaches' teleconference Monday when he was told UK had consecutive home games this week against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

Even still, Calipari is expecting a Mississippi State team that is chock full of talent to play up to its potential.

"This would be Mississippi State's breakout party from (Dee) Bost to (Ravern) Johnson, (Renardo) Sidney, all of them," Calipari said. "I'm watching them open up against Florida and the four man hits his first four shots by stepping out and shooting. I mean this is a talented team that is going to come and play us."

Junior guard/forward Darius Miller, who played sparingly through the second half of Saturday's game with what appeared to be a groin injury, is day-to-day for the game.

"We would like him to play, but if he can't play, he can't play," Calipari said. "It gives someone else a chance to step in and get an opportunity and show they should be playing more."

Video: Pre-MSU media availability with Cal, players

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Head coach John Calipari

Freshman guard Doron Lamb

Freshman guard Jarrod Polson

UK Sports Report (week of Feb. 14)

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Men's basketball
- Terrence Jones averaged a double-double on the week with 17.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocks en route to being named SEC Freshman of the Week.
-  Brandon Knight went for 20 points against Vanderbilt, his 10th 20-point game this season. It is the most 20-point games by any UK freshman in school history.
- Terrence Jones tallied his eighth 20-point game this season, tied for fourth among UK freshmen in program history.

Women's basketball
- Kentucky snapped a two-game losing streak Sunday with a thrilling last-second win over LSU in front of a season-high 7,646 fans in Memorial Coliseum. A'dia Mathies found Brittany Henderson open in the paint with 1.1 seconds remaining, giving UK a 49-47 win over the visiting Lady Tigers. It marked UK's first win in Lexington over LSU since 1994.
- Mathies recorded a game-high 16 points and four steals in the win, her third-straight game with 16 or more points.
- All-America candidate Victoria Dunlap added 15 points, a team-high four rebounds and a game-high three blocks. She also had three steals, which moved her to eighth on UK's single-season list.

Softball
- UK began its 2011 season with a 4-1 mark at the FIU Combat Classic which included an upset of No. 22/24 Ohio State on opening night. It marks the second straight season UK has began the year with an upset of a ranked opponent.
- Freshman Emily Jolly set a UK single-game record with three doubles in a win over DePaul.

Men's tennis
- The men's tennis team swept all three doubles matches to claim the doubles point and then continued its momentum into singles by claiming all six singles matches to take down No. 38 Miami (Fla.) 7-0. Kentucky also defeated Cleveland State 6-1 to complete
the doubleheader sweep.
- Kentucky was impressive in both matches, winning 11 of the 12 singles matches and all five doubles matches that were played Sunday. The Miami match marked the sixth time this year that UK has faced a top-50 team, with UK holding a 4-2 mark in those matches.
- UK claimed the doubles point against both Miami and Cleveland State. The Wildcats are now 4-0 this season when they win the doubles point.
- Junior Eric Quigley paced the Wildcats all week, winning three matches, including one over the 11th-ranked player in the country.

Track and field
- Sharif Webb locked in UK's first NCAA automatic qualifying mark of the year, running the 800-meters in 1:47.91, Saturday at the Husky Classic in Seattle.
- Webb was one of 10 Wildcats who claimed personal-best marks with at least one occurring at each of the three meets UK attended. In preparation for the conference championships that begin in two weeks, schools send split squads across the nation in search of the best competitions in each event area. Kentucky sent sprinters, jumpers and vaulters to the Tyson
Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark., distance runners to the Husky Classic and mostly throwers to the Akron Invitational.
- Shelby Kennard won the women's pole vault at the Tyson Invitational as the only athlete to clear 12-09.50/3.90 meters. The win marked Kennard's first during her young career and moved her up to second on UK's all-time indoor pole vault list.
- Precious Nwokey came away with personal-best marks in two crucial events, the 60-meter hurdles and long jump, that will help her make a championship run in the pentathlon at the SEC Championships. Nwokey won the women's long jump on her first jump of 20-02.50/6/16 meters and moved up to fifth on UK's all-time indoor long jump list. The junior also set a personal-best time in the women's 200 meter with a time of 24.50.

Rifle
- Newcomers Emily Holsopple and Henri Junghänel had standout performances in air rifle, leading the Kentucky rifle team to a 4675 total team score in the NCAA Qualifying Round, held on Saturday at UK's Barker Hall.
- Kentucky shot the qualifying round on Saturday, along with in-state foe Morehead State. UK's 4675 total team score clinches a berth in the NCAA Championships.
- Junghänel led the way in air rifle with a 595, while Holsopple contributed at 593 in air rifle. Heather Greathouse added a 582 in air rifle, with Ethan Settlemires and Logan Fox each tallying a 582 in air rifle. In smallbore, Junghänel led the team with a 584, with Greathouse totaling the second-best score on the club, a 582. Holsopple added a 579, with Fox contributing a 578 and Settlemires a 574.

Swimming and diving
- Kentucky concluded a strong start to the SEC Swimming and Diving Championships with three to-seven finishes by freshman diver Greg Ferrucci and three top-nine finishes by senior diver Lisa Faulkner. Ferrucci was named the SEC Male Freshman Diver of the Year after the SEC Diving Championships finished Sunday evening.
- Ferrucci now ranks in the top three all-time in UK history on every board, including the second-best mark on the three-meter board and the second-best score on the platform.
- Faulkner's score of 347.60 on the three-meter board is the second-best score in school history.

Women's golf
- The Kentucky women's golf team opened its spring season Sunday in Sorrento, Fla., at the UCF Challenge with the second-lowest team score in program history since records began being kept in 1987-88. Sophomore Ashleigh Albrecht led the way for UK with an opening-round, bogey-free 6-under-par 66. Albrecht's 66 is the second-lowest individual round in
program history and put her in a tie for first after day one.

Women's tennis
- The women's tennis team finished its opening road trip, which included five of its first six matches away from the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex, with a 4-3
loss to No. 31 Ohio State, 7-0 loss at No. 19 Northwestern and 5-2 loss at No. 53 Purdue.
- Senior Megan Broderick and sophomore Jessica Stiles went 2-1 in singles play for the week, and Broderick was a part of two wins in doubles play as well.

 

Upcoming schedule

Monday, Feb. 14
Women's golf at UCF Challenge (Sorrento, Fla.)

Tuesday, Feb. 15
Men's basketball hosts Mississippi St. - 7 p.m.
Women's golf at UCF Challenge (Sorrento, Fla.)

Wednesday, Feb. 16
Swimming at SEC Championships (Gainesville, Fla.)

Thursday, Feb. 17
Women's basketball at Georgia - 7 p.m.
Swimming at SEC Championships (Gainesville, Fla.)
Men's tennis at National Indoors (Seattle)

Friday, Feb. 18
Softball vs. Georgia Southern - 10 a.m. (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Softball vs. Middle Tennessee St. - 12:30 p.m. (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Baseball at College of Charleston - 5 p.m.
Gymnastics at Alabama - 8:30 p.m.
Swimming at SEC Championships (Gainesville, Fla.)
Men's tennis at National Indoors (Seattle)

Saturday, Feb. 19
Women's tennis hosts Miami (Ohio) - noon
Softball at Florida State - 12:30 p.m.
Men's basketball hosts South Carolina - 4 p.m.
Baseball vs. Marshall - 5 p.m. (Charleston, S.C.)
Women's tennis hosts Eastern Kentucky - 6 p.m.
Swimming at SEC Championships (Gainesville, Fla.)
Men's tennis at National Indoors (Seattle)

Sunday, Feb. 20
Baseball vs. Miami (Ohio) - 11 a.m. (Charleston, S.C.)
Women's basketball at Vanderbilt - 2 p.m.
Gymnastics at Ohio State - 3:30 p.m.
Men's tennis at National Indoors (Seattle)

Rankings, Bracketology update (Feb. 14)

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The Kentucky men's basketball team is getting close but hasn't quite fallen out of the top 25 yet.

The Cats are haning on to a national ranking in both major polls at No. 22. UK is one of three Southeastern Conference teams in each poll.

Also, Kentucky checks in as a No. 5 seed Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology. ESPN's NCAA Tournament guru, Lunardi has the Cats playing the winner of the Boston College/Memphis matchup in Washington D.C.

Kentucky-Memphis? Hmmm, think that might have some appeal to it?

AP Top 25
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Kansas (22) 24-1 1,549
2 Ohio State (14) 24-1 1,536
3 Texas (23) 22-3 1,535
4 Pittsburgh (6) 23-2 1,478
5 Duke 23-2 1,348
6 San Diego State 25-1 1,256
7 Brigham Young 24-2 1,217
8 Notre Dame 21-4 1,212
9 Georgetown 20-5 1,103
10 Wisconsin 19-5 1,044
11 Purdue 20-5 941
12 Arizona 21-4 795
13 Connecticut 19-5 786
14 Florida 20-5 775
15 Villanova 19-6 710
16 Louisville 19-6 683
17 Syracuse 20-6 496
18 Vanderbilt 18-6 471
19 North Carolina 18-6 420
20 Missouri 19-6 404
21 Texas A&M 19-5 377
22 Kentucky 17-7 320
23 Temple 19-5 208
24 Xavier 18-6 83
25 Utah State 23-3 75


ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Kansas (14) 24-1 753
2 Texas (13) 22-3 746
3 Ohio State (3) 24-1 706
4 Pittsburgh (1) 23-2 697
5 Duke 23-2 647
6 San Diego State 25-1 623
7 Notre Dame 21-4 588
8 Brigham Young 24-2 560
9 Georgetown 20-5 526
10 Wisconsin 19-5 460
11 Purdue 20-5 458
12 Connecticut 19-5 405
13 Arizona 21-4 363
14 Villanova 19-6 359
15 Florida 20-5 341
16 Louisville 19-6 332
17 Texas A&M 19-5 201
18 Vanderbilt 18-6 188
19 North Carolina 18-6 186
20 Syracuse 20-6 185
21 Missouri 19-6 159
22 Kentucky 17-7 140
23 Saint Mary's 22-4 139
24 Utah State 23-3 129
25 Temple 19-5 58

ncaa.jpgCollege baseball was starting to become an uncontrollable beast.

Four-hour games, 10-run innings were becoming the norm, small ball was becoming a lost art, and the long cat-and-mouse games between pitchers and batters were becoming downright annoying.

It just wasn't good for the game, so the NCAA decided to step in during the offseason, voting to implement rules that address the pace and play of the game. The sole purpose was to speed the game up.

Three major changes were implemented in the offseason that could make a very large impact at Cliff Hagan Stadium this season. Let's take a look at each three and how big of an impact they could make on the 2011 Kentucky baseball season:

1. Rule change - NCAA-certified bats: The NCAA has implemented a new testing method to make its aluminum bats perform more like wood than they did under the previous testing method, which measured the ball's speed off the bat. The new BBCOR testing - which stands for batted ball coefficient of resolution - measures how lively the collision is between the bat and ball.

In layman's terms: The NCAA is reducing the power of college baseball bats. Hitting home runs will be a lot tougher, requiring hitters to hit make solid contact and hit the sweet spot to launch the ball out of the yard. After an offensive outburst across the sport last year, especially in the Southeastern Conference, home runs are expected to be few and far between moving forward.

What UK is saying: "I think some of the complaining from some of the coaches in our league is a little bit overblown," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "You can still hit a home run, but you've got to hit it. You can't cap it, you can't get jammed, you can't be out front. You've got to hit it on the sweet spot. It's got to be a good, balanced stroke, and if you do, the ball leaves the yard. We've seen some of that.  We haven't seen a lot of it, but we've seen some of it with our kids.

"Some of the bats don't really have that same 'ping' like they did last year," senior shortstop Taylor Black said. "To get a read, it's going to be hard defensively. The ball is definitely not coming off near as fast. You'll see balls that look like they're going to go way out and they won't even make it to the warning track. It's going to play a big deal."

"It doesn't bother me," junior pitcher/infielder Braden Kapteyn said. "Obviously as a pitcher I like it. There are a little less cheap hits."

"I think it's going to separate the average hitters from the true hitters," Kapteyn said.

Impact on UK: High. The change in the bats could seriously alter the game of college baseball as it is, but it's expected to have an even bigger impact on the UK baseball team. On a team dominated by starting pitching and ripe with 18 newcomers, pitching and low-scoring games will be the key to this year's success. Cliff Hagan Stadium has always been known as a hitter's ballpark, but the new bats could alter that reputation. UK, for one, is hoping it does.


Thumbnail image for Kapteyn.jpg2.) Rule change - 20-second pitch clock: The 20-second time limit (or clock) starts when the pitcher receives the ball on the mound and stops when the pitcher begins his pitching motion. The time limit is used only when the bases are unoccupied. If a pitcher violates the 20-second rule he shall be warned by the umpire. After a pitcher is warned, if he continues to violate the rule a ball will be awarded for each violation. There is one warning per pitcher.

In layman's terms: The days of deliberate pitchers are over. No longer will a pitcher be able to take as much time as he wants in between pitches. When there are no runners on base, the goal will be to get the ball back in the pitcher's glove, go through the signs and make the next pitch. A pitch clock, which will be operated by the home team's athletics staff, will be visible for umpires, players and fans to see. The pitch clock will be on the scoreboard at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

What UK is saying: "I think the 20 second pitch clock will be almost a complete non issue," Henderson said. "I don't foresee it being an issue unless somebody has got to tie their shoe and you've got an umpire that isn't paying attention or doesn't have common sense or whatever it is, but I think that the 20 seconds is going to be a non issue."

"The game calling won't be affected," Henderson said. "That part, I think, that shouldn't get in the way, that piece of it. I think it does a couple things for you. It puts the runs at a premium. And again, I don't have a crystal ball, I can't predict what it's going to look like, but certainly the feel is it's going to be much, much tougher to go get a five spot when you've just given up some. I think you've got to be able to throw strikes, you've got to absolutely do whatever you can to keep the freebies to a minimum."

Impact on UK: Moderate. In terms of the actual effect of how UK plays the game, it should have a minimal impact. It may put some slight stress on how quickly signs must go from the dugout to the catcher to the pitcher, but 20 seconds is generally plenty of time. The clock should have a much longer impact from a fan's perspective. Games will be much shorter and move with a lot more pace, making it much more fan friendly. The pitch clock significantly reduced game times at last year's SEC Tournament.


2.) Rule change - 90-108-second time limit (or clock): The time (clock) starts with the last out in the inning and stops when the pitcher begins his windup for the first pitch to the first batter of the inning. If the offensive team is not ready within the 90second or 108-second time limit, the umpire shall call a strike. If the defense is not read, a ball shall be awarded to the batter. For non-televised games, teams have 90 seconds to be ready to pitch and have a batter ready to step into the batter's box after the end of each half inning. For non-televised games, teams have 90 seconds to be ready.

In layman's terms: The time between innings is going to reduce as umpires make a conscientious effort to move the game from one inning to the other. Pitchers will still have time to throw warm-up pitches, fielders will still be able to take infield and hitters will still be able to take a few practice hacks, but they'll have to move quickly from the dugout to the field in order to do so.

What UK is saying: "If your catcher just flew out and he's rounding second or getting to second base on a fly out or he was at second as a runner, I think you have a shot, if you're not paying attention, to be challenged between innings," Henderson said.

"I think the time between innings is going to be the biggest thing with the catchers," Black said. "If they're on base and they have to run in and get dressed real quick and run out there, I don't know if that's going to affect the catcher being tired throughout the game. I feel like that's the biggest part is just getting the catcher back out there."

Impact on UK: Medium. Of all the rule changes, this rule seemed to concern the Cats the most. Henderson sounded fairly concerned with the disadvantage it could place on catchers. Much like the pitch clock, it should improve games at Cliff Hagan from a fan's perspective as games will move with more pace.

Brittany Henderson's game-winning layup on a pass with A'dia Mathies with 1.1 seconds left saved the Kentucky women's basketball team from its second three-game losing streak of the year.   

Henderson's layup was the difference in UK's 49-47 win over LSU on Sunday in front of a season-high 7,646 fans at Memorial Coliseum.

The win was UK's first over LSU in Lexington since 1994. A full recap is available here.   

Head coach Matthew Mitchell


Brittany Henderson, Victoria Dunlap and A'dia Mathies (from left to right)

Live blog: UK Hoops vs. LSU

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Sunday links: Vandy roundup, baseball previews

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Men's basketball: Kentucky hits another roadblock, loses 81-77 at Vanderbilt (Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader)

"It was magical," Jenkins said of a performance in which he equaled a career-high of six three-pointers. For Kentucky, it was magical only in the sense of yet another possible victory that -- poof! -- disappeared in the final minutes of a possession-by-possession game.

Men's basketball: Miller injury puts Cats in bad spot (Darrell Bird from The Cats' Pause)

With a meager six-man rotation for the most part, Kentucky had been betting against long odds they would be able to avoid injury all season. But in Saturday's 81-77 loss at Vanderbilt, in the 24th game, luck finally ran out.

Men's basketball: Our postgame video interviews

General: Ranking the 25 coolest athletes of all time (Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader)

19. Dicky Lyons Jr. Remember when Lyons Jr. infuriated Rich Brooks by guaranteeing a road victory over Mississippi State in 2006? All Lyons Jr. did was go to Starkville, roll up 117 yards receiving and make a circus TD catch to spark the Kentucky victory that launched the turnaround of the Brooks era. Walking the talk is as righteous as sports gets.

Football: Former UK punt Masthay enjoying spoils of Super Bowl victory (Chip Cosby from the Lexington Herald-Leader) 

The celebrity treatment is operating in full force for Tim Masthay. Masthay and his wife, Amanda, had just finished lunch at a Green Bay restaurant and were ready to settle up when they received a message from the restaurant's manager. "They told us lunch was on the house," Masthay said. "That was a nice little surprise."

UK Hoops: Turnovers fuel UK women's attack (Jennifer Smith of the Lexington Herald-Leader)

Turnovers mean extra possessions. They mean extra chances to score, especially in transition. UK is averaging 25.5 points (23.3 points in SEC play) off opponent mistakes this season, which is a huge chunk of its offense.

UK Hoops: Our pre-LSU video interview with Matthew Mitchell

Gymnastics: Two coaches are greater than one (Matt Levine of the Kentucky Kernel)

The UK gymnastics team is asking the question; why have one head coach when we can have two? Technically, Heather Hite and Chuck Dickerson, the team's two coaches, are assistants, but they are the two who manage the team.

Baseball: Destination: postseason (Matt May from The Cats' Pause)

The Kentucky baseball team is tired of coming close. After back-to-back seasons where they finished a half-game out of the postseason the Cats are determined to make a return. "The past two years our goal was to make it to postseason and we came up a half-game short both times so this year we're hungry to get back," junior outfielder Chad Wright said. "I feel like if we play like we should we could win (the SEC) because we have a lot of experience back in our pitching staff."

Baseball/softball: My story on the year of the pitcher 

There used to be a time when chicks didn't dig the long ball, ground-ball putouts were the norm and a 2-1 score was just another day at the park. Those times are resurfacing at Kentucky's baseball diamonds. For the Kentucky baseball and softball teams to succeed this season, it's going to come down to pitching.

Baseball: Our video interviews with Gary Henderson and Alex Meyer from media day

Men's tennis: Cats are doing their first live blog Sunday

Track and field: Webb leads Cats, punches ticket to NCAAs (UKathletics.com)

On a day where a number of Kentucky track and field student-athletes excelled under the pressure of championship like fields and conditions, senior Sharif Webb rose to the top as he locked in UK's first NCAA automatic qualifying mark of the year, Saturday at the Husky Classic in Seattle.

Swimming and diving: Ferrucci, Faulkner finish in top 10 on day two of SEC Championships (UKathletics.com)

Freshman Greg Ferrucci and senior Lisa Faulkner turned in another great performance Saturday on day two of the Southeastern Conference Diving Championships. Ferrucci earned a career-high score of 400.55 in the men's three-meter board prelims, the second best score in school history. Ferrucci's score of 400.55 broke his previous career high by nearly 15 points.

Softball: UK rallies for extra-inning comeback over DePaul (UKathletics.com)

The Kentucky offense found its rhythm for five runs over the final two innings in a dramatic comeback 6-3 victory over DePaul in extra innings to preserve its perfect record at the FIU Combat Classic in Miami late Saturday night. Trailing 3-1 going into the top of the seventh, UK rallied for a pair of scores to force extra innings before plating three runs in the top of the eighth to secure its third consecutive victory to begin the 2011 season.

Jones.jpegNASHVILLE -- If there was ever such a thing as a boiling-point loss, surely Kentucky's heartbreaking defeat to Vanderbilt on Saturday had to have been it, right?

After all, Kentucky lost its fifth Southeastern Conference road game of the season, basically fell out of the conference title race and dropped to 0-5 in games decided by four points or less.

One could only assume this loss was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back and will send UK to a quick and miserable postseason. Or maybe not.

Anticipating a morbid postgame news conference with head coach John Calipari, the UK coach surprised everyone by putting a positive spin about the progress of his team. "We really matured" was how senior forward Josh Harrellson chose to portray it.

"I'm going to be honest," head coach John Calipari said, "we didn't play that bad."

But it still wasn't good enough. UK lost for the third time in the last four outings, losing 81-77 in front of 14,316 boisterous, black-clad fans. It was Kentucky's fifth loss in its last six games at Memorial Gymnasium.

Terrence Jones paced the Cats with 25 points and nine rebounds in what Calipari described as a very good game, but Kentucky couldn't overcome Vanderbilt's 11 3-pointers and John Jenkins' career-high 32 points.

"I thought Vanderbilt played great," Calipari said.

There was a lot of truth to Calipari's assessment after the game. Jenkins, for one, played lights out.

The sophomore guard got the better end of the hyped DeAndre Liggins matchup and torched freshman Brandon Knight when Liggins was out of the game. Jenkins hit 11-of-17 shots overall, including 4 of 5 from behind the 3-point line.

Vanderbilt also received a huge lift from its bench, including 12 points from reserve center Steve Tchiengang.

But for whatever reason, even when UK executes, as Calipari said they did frequently, the Cats cannot pull out a game on the road. Where last year's bunch appeared to thrive on the road, this team wilts.

"You're in a dogfight," Calipari said. "We've got a couple of guys that don't have that mentality. They don't come up with the ball, maybe don't attempt to."

Inexperience has been the scapegoat all season long in close road losses, but Kentucky is now 24 games into the year. How much of it is inexperience and how much of it is just a winning instinct is now a very real question.

Take Saturday's game. As Calipari emphasized afterwards, UK really didn't play all that bad. Vanderbilt dealt devastating blow after devastating blow, but Kentucky hung tough nearly every time.

From Darius Miller's groin injury, to Kentucky's constant foul trouble, to Jenkins' demoralizing daggers, the Cats almost always had an answer.

Even after Jenkins blew past Knight and hit an off-balance shot over Harrellson to give the Commodores a five-point lead with 3:47 to go, Jones responded with an old-fashioned 3-point play on a put-back. That cut the Vanderbilt lead to 71-69.

But when Vanderbilt staggered and Kentucky had a chance to tie or take the lead on back-to-back possessions, the Cats turned it over twice in a row. Liggins' errant pass in the lane resulted in a spinning Jeffery Taylor layup, and Jenkins picked the pocket of Jones and raced the other way for an easy layup.

That put the 'Dores on top 75-69 with 2:18 to go.

Jones hit a 3-pointer out of a timeout and Knight followed a pair of Ezeli free throws with a triple to cut the lead to 77-75.

"I like how we executed down the stretch," Calipari said.

Said Knight, who scored 20 points: "Down six is only two baskets. Terrence was able to hit a 3 and then I was able to hit a 3, so that's your six-point spread right there. It's just a matter of getting stops on the other end."

Kentucky didn't get those stops, though, and Brad Tinsley hits four free throws in the final 32 seconds to ice the game.

Sure, the Cats executed to make it interesting, but they always seem to do it when they fall behind, never when the game is on the line. 

"It's just like the rest of them," Harrellson said of the close loss. "It comes down to the wire and there a few things we don't do right."

It's a disturbing trend for sure, but is it a correctable one? Can poise in crunch time be found in a month?

Asked if he was encouraged by what he saw from his team Saturday despite the result, Calipari wasn't sure.

"I don't know until I watch the tape," Calipari said. "What I like is we did a lot of good stuff today. We really did. We missed so many wide-open 3s - like, wide-open 3s. Guys couldn't make it today. ... Short of that, (we) rebounded the ball against a big team, we only had eight turnovers and I'm playing all freshmen in that game on CBS at that high level.

"There was a lot of good. I just don't like losing."

Is it possible to have both at this point in the season? Was there progress in another road loss?

You be the judge.

Video: Cal, players on Vanderbilt road loss

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Head coach John Calipari


(From left to right) Josh Harrellson, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones

From the Pressbox: Notes from Tom Leach (Feb. 11)

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It's the overpowering force versus the immovable object matchup when Kentucky and Vanderbilt square off Saturday in Nashville -- not the teams necessarily, but one individual matchup. 

UK has arguably the best defender in the league in DeAndre Liggins while Vandy boasts the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer in John Jenkins.

Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said Jenkins is a crafty player.

"He's really a remarkable player," Stallings said. "He's not the fastest guy, he's not the highest jumping guy, but he knows to play. He knows how to use screens and he's got more game off the dribble than people think. He's got a great shot fake. When he lifts that thing up, you've got to respect it because he's such a great shooter. He really maximizes the skill set that he has and he has been incredibly consistent."

And the Commodores have the most famous "Festus" since Marshall Dillon's deputy on "Gunsmoke" in big man Festus Ezeli, one of the conference's most improved players.

"We saw him playing AAU basketball the summer prior to when he enrolled here," Stallings said. "There were other schools very interested in him, high-level schools, Florida, Connecticut, Boston College. He essentially came on the condition that we redshirt him, so he could learn how to be on a team. His progress has been incredible.

"(He was) very raw (when he arrived) but the work ethic you have to have to succeed at this level was completely new to him. He had trouble getting through an individual workout when he got here but he's turned into one of our best workers. He's extremely coachable and he gives you his best effort every day, and as a coach, that's all you can ask."

= = =

Brandon Knight could set a school record against Vandy. The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., product has nine games in which he has scored at least 20 points, tying the school record for a freshman, shared by Patrick Patterson and Rex Chapman until now.
 
Terrence Jones has seven, so he could break it, too. Both Knight and Jones are on pace to eclipse the freshman scoring record set last season by John Wall.

= = =

The stats on the last 10 or 12 games is no longer part of the team information sheets that members of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee examine as they compare one squad against another. But CBS Sports and collegerpi.com bracket analyst Jerry Palm said it's clearly still a factor, mainly in terms of seeding rather than getting invited into the field.

"If you look at last year's bracket and see teams like Marquette and Notre Dame as 6 seeds, there's no way they should (have been) that high unless you considered how they finished the season," Palm said. "They should have been barely in the tournament. Obviously, some committee members are still considering that kind of thing, because it's a subjective process."

Palm said Kentucky has a good chance to improve its stock this month because it plays several games against "tournament quality" teams (like Vandy on Saturday), given the strength of the SEC East this winter.

= = =

Happy birthday to UK center Josh Harrelson. He turns 22 Saturday.

Year of the pitcher

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There used to be a time when chicks didn't dig the long ball, ground-ball putouts were the norm and a 2-1 score was just another day at the park.

Those times are resurfacing at Kentucky's baseball diamonds.

For the Kentucky baseball and softball teams to succeed this season, it's going to come down to pitching.

With baseball experiencing a major roster overhaul - 18 newcomers make up the lineup - returning starting pitchers Alex Meyer, Jordan Cooper and Taylor Rogers will be counted on to make up for a developing offense.

"I think any time you look at a season and you start talking about what kind of club you have, I think you've got to look at starting pitching," baseball head coach Gary Henderson said. "If you can't do that then you're going to have a problem. We're going to have good starting pitching. How good, I don't know, but we've got three returning starters. We've got Alex Meyer, we've got Jordan Cooper and Taylor Rogers. They're all bigger, stronger, more accomplished, more skilled, smarter, the whole deal.  They're better, and it's pretty obvious."

Meanwhile, softball will have to figure out a way to cope with the losses of Molly Johnson and Natalie Smith. Without arguably the two best offensive players on a team that ranked second to last in RBI in the Southeastern Conference last year, offense will again be at a premium, at least early on. While the offense finds its way, junior aces Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley, who have combined for 54 wins over the last two years, will be leaned on to lead the team back to the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season.

"Pitching is everything for us," softball coach Rachel Lawson said. "We rely on them for a lot of reasons. Not only do they carry the bulk of the game, especially in softball, but on our team, Rachel and Chanda are very steady people. They are hard workers. They are great leaders. They do everything the right way."


Meyer.jpegBigger, stronger Meyer leads baseball pitching staff

Meyer has always had the potential.

As a one of the top overall prospects in the entire country out of high school, Meyer turned down a lucrative contract to play baseball at Kentucky. Conventional wisdom made it easy for people to foster such high expectations.

Instead of viewing Meyer as potential, people expected him to succeed early, and he did in spurts. In trips across the Southeastern Conference his first season, scouts lined the first-row stands as Meyer flashed his potential.

In his first career Southeastern Conference start against LSU, the eventual national champion in 2009, Meyer allowed two hits and three runs in five innings. Against SEC champion Ole Miss, he surrendered just two runs in 6.1 innings.

Meyer continued to sprinkle in quality starts the remainder of his freshman season but there was never consistency. Through 25 career games, Meyer is sporting a 6.34 ERA and 6-7 record. His fastball has remained electric, topping the high 90s from time to time, but he's failed to find the strike zone on a steady basis, walking 81 batters in 111 innings over his two-year career at Kentucky.

Word out of winter practices is Meyer's struggles are a thing of the past.

According to some of Kentucky's best hitters at media day, Meyer has been unhittable at times. They say he's developed more consistency, a calmness to find the strike zone and beefed up considerably.

"He's always had the talent, he's always had the arm and he's always had the pitches, but he's making the adjustments that he needs to do to be successful," junior infielder/pitcher Braden Kapteyn said.

While Meyer won't use it as an excuse, his extended growth into college, along with a bout with mononucleosis last year, has plagued him. When he left high school he was 6-foot-6, but he grew an inch in both his freshman and sophomore years.

"It's been somewhat tough trying to stay coordinated," Meyer said. "I feel like I'm a good enough athlete to do that, but now that I have stopped (growing), I can fully manage my body and be able to hold on and do everything I need to get the ball down and stay in the strike zone. With growing, the strength's got to be there or you're going to have limbs going everywhere and it's going to be tough to repeat your delivery."

Meyer, who admits he didn't lift weights in high school, made it a focus in the offseason to put on significant weight to his once rail-thin frame. He now stands at 6-9, 220 pounds, 35 pounds heavier than what he came out of high school with.

 But his most significant development in the offseason and what could make him the most coveted pitcher in the nation again has been the addition of a changeup to go along with a high-quality fastball and dirty slider.

"It pretty much makes it unfair," Kapteyn said of Meyer's newfound pitch. "All you can pretty much to do is pray for something straight you can hit."

It won't all be up to Meyer to carry the pitching staff and the team this year as he's just one part of a three-headed pitching rotation.

Juniors Cooper and Rogers will make up one of the most dynamic rotations in the SEC. After struggling to start the 2010 season, Cooper went 3-2 with 4.19 ERA as a starter, while Rogers emerged basically out of nowhere to become UK's most reliable starter. Rogers posted a 3-0 record with a 4.30 ERA in his first four collegiate starts before the rigors of pitching in 10 SEC games caught up to his projectable 6-3, 170-pound frame.

Having three different pitchers who can all throw different stuff, with varying deliveries, will be a huge advantage on weekends, Henderson said.

"You'll see programs where it seems like every guy is 6-1 to 6-3, tall, slender, right-handed; they're all the same guy.  I don't believe in that," Henderson said. "I'd rather not have that. Just from a gamesmanship focus, I think it helps you. I don't think there's any question. You've got left-handed (Rogers) with action and a second pitch, maybe a third pitch. You've got right-handed (Meyer) velocity, and you've got another guy (Cooper) that's got two pitches, one of them that sinks hard."

Of course, none of that will matter if the guys behind them can't get outs. The bullpen has given Henderson headaches in his first two seasons as the skipper, and he said he made improving the 'pen a top priority this offseason.

In addition to reliable relievers Kapteyn, Mike Kaczmarek and Nick Kennedy, all of whom are expected to be used to nail down games, Henderson said he finally has depth and more left-handers in the former of newcomers Alex Phillips (junior-college transfer) and Corey Littrell (Trinity High School in Louisville).

"In '05 we led the league in freshman innings pitched and finished last, and in '06 we got that ring," Henderson said. "Last year we were second in the league in freshman innings pitched, and what I'm expecting is to get a return on my investment."


Bell nears softball strikeout record

Bell has struck out so many batters in just two years at Kentucky that it's easy to lose count, even for her.

Entering the 2011 season, she needs just 47 strikeouts to break the career strikeout record at UK. Bell could conceivably notch the historic achievement this weekend at the FIU Combat Classic, where the Kentucky softball team will play five games in three days. Not that Bell would know or anything.

Bell.jpeg"I couldn't tell you how many I have right now to tell you the truth," Bell said. "It's exciting to be able to have the opportunity to break records and it's exciting to have people tell me after I have broken records, but I don't really pay attention to how many I have got."

Truth be told, Bell has already accumulated so many notable marks at UK that it's become easy for her to overlook exactly how much she's already done for the program in only two seasons. Her 288 strikeouts as a sophomore topped her own single-season record set a year earlier, she ranks second all-time in UK allure with 37 victories and her no-hitter her freshman season was the first in school history.

And according to Bell, we haven't even seen the best yet.

"I have learned so much," Bell said of how far she's come since her freshman season. "I know I can't take a pitch off. I always have to go hard. In high school, I could get away with going a little lighter on some pitches."

Bell and teammate Riley will make up not only one of the top pitching duos in the SEC but the entire country. Each has a sub-3.00 career ERA, and as freshman contributors, both have pitched so much that shouldering the pressure of the team's success while the offense finds an identity isn't asking them too much.

"We are going to be depending on them to keep us in games as long as they can," said senior Megan Yocke, who will be a key part of UK's pitching success as the team's primary catcher. "Even if we only score one run in the seventh inning, that's we need. We need them to hold zeroes across the board. That's a huge responsibility for a pitcher, but that's what we are going to need in the first couple of weeks."

In a sport where pitching is so important, Lawson has found the perfect combination of pitchers who throw two very different games. Bell can throw blazing power while Riley controls batters with off-speed pitches and a great mind for the game.

The two are so different in terms of style and so interchangeable that it's not out of the norm for Lawson to sub each other in and out for the other multiple times during a game, even for just a batter.

"We are able to game plan now," Lawson said. "We know that certain teams are better against lower pitches. Some teams are great against higher pitches. Some teams have a lot of power and will hit it out of the park all the time. Depending who you are facing, we have the diversity any day to really come in and game plan to shut someone down."

Both of the hurlers have developed new pitches, but the biggest improvement they've made is emotionally, Yocke said. 

"On the field, they have fine tuned things, but they came in knowing what they were doing," Yocke said. "They were very mature coming in for being freshmen, so that's what you need. As they get older, they just get more developed and emotionally mature. I know that they will hit their spots. It's a trusting thing. It goes both ways."

UK is without the services of departed pitcher Amber Matousek this year, but Lawson may have found her next Bell and Riley in freshman pitchers Lauren Cumbess and Ellen Weaver.

As a high school junior, Cumbess recorded a 0.34 ERA and struck out 214 in just 20 appearance, following that up with a 0.45 ERA her senior year. Weaver was named one of the top 100 recruits in the country by the Adidas Futures after earning an 18-3 record with a 0.85 ERA her senior season in high school.

Lawson said both will see action this year, but she isn't sure how she'll use them with the new three-games-in-three-days SEC format. Whatever she decides to do, there's no denying she's got plenty of options.

"I don't know how many teams have as many good pitchers as we have," Lawson said. "It's hard to say, but it's great."

'Memorial Magic' could magnify road woes

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Playing in Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium always brings about the same old quirky setup, baseline-on-the bench story.

But this isn't the same old story because this isn't the same old men's basketball team.
This isn't the team last year that lived to play on the road and silence the crowd. This isn't the team as the ones that won eight straight games in Nashville, Tenn., from 1994-2001.

Instead, this is a Kentucky team that has struggled mightily on the road, losing five of eight road games this year, including four of five in conference. Those problems will only be magnified Saturday in the unusual setup at Memorial Gymnasium, a place UK lost four straight times until last season's two-point win. 

"It's going to be crazy," junior guard DeAndre Liggins said. "We've got to stay on course and try to come out with a win."

Memorial Gymnasium, where the Commodores own a 72-10 record since the 2006-07 season, offers the most unique setup in all of college basketball. An opera-like setting, the court sits above a few rows of seating as if it were a stage. The stands on the baseline also stand considerably far back, creating an island-like atmosphere for the players. The view can create depth-perception problems for shooters.

But the most idiosyncratic feature of the arena and the one factor that gives Vanderbilt such a decisive home-court advantage - Nashville natives call it "Memorial Magic" - is the placement of the team benches on the baseline behind the basket.

For a half, when the Cats are going the opposite way of their coach, they'll be on an island of their own. With the players' backs to Coach Cal and the deafening noise level at Memorial Gymnasium, communication on offense will basically be non-existent for a half.

As talented and as mature as last year's freshmen were, even they struggled mightily to close out the Commodores in the hallowed gym.

"We played awful up there," Calipari said. "I watched the game (tape) - oh, my gosh."

That could spell trouble for a Kentucky team that requires much more instruction than Calipari's teams of years past. Calipari has said he's had to call more timeouts and designed plays for this team than any of his recent teams.

"I don't like (the setup)," freshman forward Terrence Jones said. "I like hearing (Coach Cal) because he tells us what to do and sometimes we need that. He helps us call the plays. We're going to have to talk out there on the court as a team and be more focused on what Brandon (Knight)'s saying and have everybody repeating it and just getting all the calls right."

Said Calipari: "He'll hear (my voice) underneath the basket when they go (to the other end). What's he think, this is women's (basketball of the past where they played half court) and he stays on the other end?"

Jokes aside, trust will be a big factor Saturday. It will be up to the players to communicate with one another and execute the play without Calipari's help.

"I don't think they listen to me much on the road (anyway), so I don't think it really matters," Calipari said. "I do know they will have to listen to each other. Maybe that will help them."

Calipari is hoping trust was built off the commitment each player made to Calipari and the team before the Tennessee game.

After losing back-to-back games to Ole Miss and Florida, Calipari had each player commit to something and it had to be an area each could come through with. Josh Harrellson's was to take charges. Doron Lamb said he would sprint the floor. Brandon Knight vowed to run the team. DeAndre Liggins' pledged to rebound. Jon Hood's was to talk more trash.

But the player Calipari may have been impressed with more than any other guy was Jones. On a night when UK's leading scorer was clearly struggling on the offensive end, Jones did other things.

Instead of letting a 2-for-9-shooting, eight-turnover performance affect the rest of his game, Jones played through his offensive woes and grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked four shots. The 11 rebounds were only his third double-digit rebounding performance in the last 15 games; his first eight games he had five of those.

"He's capable of that, but guys get into their mind that I've got to play a certain way," Calipari said. "It's not winning basketball and it's not for your team. That's all stuff we're got to learn."

Jones' commitment in the Tennessee game, of course, was to rebound.

After attempting to rebound only 31 percent of the time on defense against Florida, according to Calipari, he was at 81 percent against Tennessee. On the offensive side of the ball, he went after 86 percent of the balls against the Volunteers after a 24-percent performance at Florida.

The commitments worked for a game, but will they carry over to Kentucky's nemesis, the road?

"The biggest thing is you've got to do this together," Calipari said.

They'll need each other more than ever to counter the quirky confines of "Memorial Magic."

Four Kentucky men's basketball signees were named to the 2011 McDonald's All-American team Thursday, further adding to the legacy of the UK's 2011 signee class, ranked No. 1 by just about every major recruiting service.

It's the most McDonald's All-Americans in one class in school history.

UK signees Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer made the West Team while Michael Gilchrist is on the East Team. We'll have a full release on the home page shortly, but in the meantime, here is what head coach John Calipari had to say about his future Wildcats making the team:

"I'm happy for the kids," Calipari said at Thursday's media availability. "It's a great honor and a lot of hard work by those kids, all four of them. (They're) hard-working kids, good kids and it's quite an honor."

A signee for the UK women's basketball team was also named a McDonald's All-American as guard Bria Goss was named to the West Team. It's the program's second McDonald's All-American in school history. Freshman Jennifer O'Neill made the team last year.

Both games will be played March 30 at the United Center in Chicago. The women will tip off at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU and the men will follow a 9 p.m. CT on ESPN.

Video: Cal, players preview Vandy game

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Head coach John Calipari


Junior guard DeAndre Liggins


Junior guard/forward Darius Miller


Freshman forward Terrence Jones

Video: Henderson, Meyer at baseball media day

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Video of Kapteyn, Wright and Black

Head coach Gary Henderson


Junior pitcher Alex Meyer

Notes: Cobb a first-round projection; Cal's birthday

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IMG_6324.JPG- NFL scouts are finally seeing what we've been seeing out of Randall Cobb for years. As film of Cobb gets passed around and he continues to have superb offseason workouts, his stock continues to rise. Believe it or not, ESPN draft guru Todd McShay's latest projections have Cobb in the first round. McShay has Cobb going 26th in the first round to the Baltimore Ravens. Since you must be an ESPN insider to view McShay's projections, here is what he had to say about Cobb:

The Ravens need speed at wide receiver, and Cobb is an underrated offensive weapon who would fit the bill. He's a very savvy route-runner and can contribute in the return game. Baltimore also could look to fill needs at cornerback or defensive end.


- Thursday is men's basketball head coach John Calipari's 52nd birthday. As I was walking in this morning, I was surprised to see a giant card in the middle of the Joe Craft Center lobby (pictured to the right). Inside the card, UK Athletics employees have signed their name with birthday wishes to Coach Cal.

- We're doing pre-Vanderbilt media availability with the men's basketball team a day early, so I'll have some videos and a story later today. Stay tuned.    

Barnhart.jpgMitch Barnhart's foreseeable future is at the University of Kentucky as the department's continuing director of athletics.

With the announcement of a contract extension Wednesday, Barnhart's existing five-year contract will be extended by three years. Barnhart's annual "rolling" extension clause will be terminated with the extension and his overall compensation will be increased $125,000, from $475,000 to $600,000, including incentive clauses tied to the performances of the football, men's basketball and women's basketball teams.

You can read the complete details of Barnhart's extension here.

"In my judgment, Mitch Barnhart is one of the outstanding leaders in intercollegiate athletics today," UK President Lee T. Todd, Jr. said in a statement. "During his tenure, we've had consistent and, in many respects, unparalleled success for our entire program, not just pieces of it. We have a comprehensive athletics program at UK, which is directly attributable to Mitch's leadership and vision. This move ensures a sense of continuity for a department clearly moving in the right direction with a mission of being one of the top programs in the country."

Speaking at his contract extension announcement on campus Wednesday, Barnhart admitted he wasn't sure when he left the Oregon State athletic director job to take the gig at Kentucky that it was his final destination, telling a Lexington Herald-Leader reporter at the time that 10 years would be a good run. He even joked that the plan for a new basketball arena would be on the next athletic director's agenda.

Now it's on his.

Although he didn't close the door on possible future endeavors once his contract ends June 30, 2019, Barnhart said he's "not done yet."

"At the end of the day, I don't think we've finished the job," Barnhart said, "and I want to finish the deal."

Barnhart said there are peaks and valleys with every job and that everyone has to look at their career in the mirror at some point. Barnhart said he's had other opportunities and has explored other options, but most of the rumors of his departure, including recent Kansas rumors, have been exactly that - chatter.

Todd praised Barnhart at the announcement for his department-wide contributions and ability to relate with all sports, coaches and student-athletes.

"That's the kind of person we want at this university," Todd said. "I want him as long as he wants to stay here. It's the right thing to do and I can't tell you how good I feel about it."
Said Barnhart: "Nine years later, I'm as excited to be the athletic director at the University of Kentucky as I was on day one."

Barnhart said his goals remain unchanged, chief among them, to compete with integrity both inside and outside the lines, to give back to the university and improve academically.

Inheriting a program that had just been through three years of NCAA probation for violating recruiting violations, UK has committed no major NCAA violations under Barnhart's watch while raising the bar athletically across the entire department.

"The things we inherited nine years ago, we don't want to go back there again," Barnhart said.

A few years ago, Barnhart constructed the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan, a department-wide mandate to win at least 15 conference or national championships and rank among the NCAA's top 15 athletic programs by 2015.

Barnhart stressed that Kentucky's goals not just be about men's basketball and football. While those are the primary revenue sources for the department, he wants to make an impact across the board in the Southeastern Conference, a league he tabbed the most difficult in the country.

Barnhart has gained a reputation as being a passionate supporter of every sport at UK. Football head coach Joker Phillips said he knows the name of every single student-athlete, and Todd told stories of Barnhart sitting through swim meets, yelling at officials on the sidelines and traveling to Minnesota to prepare just one cross country runner for a meet.

"From A to Z, it's not just about football and basketball," Barnhart said. "You think those are the only ones that feel pressure? They all feel pressure to win. It is a daily deal. They all feel pressure because the stakes have been raised, and they all understand that."

Barnhart pointed to rifle coach Harry Mullins, who was in attendance, as an example for the job he's done with the rifle team.

"We've got a coach over here that just set a school record last week and won a conference championship by beating the No. 1 team in the country," Barnhart said. "Was it important to those kids? Absolutely it was important to those kids. It was important to them, so it makes it important to us. We're going to work as hard for them, hopefully, as everything we do with football and men's basketball."

Kentucky's coaches showed their support for Barnhart as well as a handful of them appeared at the announcement. Among them were Phillips, Mullins, women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell, volleyball coach Craig Skinner, and gymnastics coaches Chuck Dickerson and Heather Hite. Men's basketball coach John Calipari could not attend the news conference because he was on a recruiting trip.

"(Stability) is important," Phillips said. "But all of that aside, I am not worried about stability for me but stability for this university. Being a graduate of here, the first thing that you look at is having a good man running your athletic department and Mitch is a good person."

As Barnhart moves forward with the contract extension, he said one of his top priorities in finishing the job at UK would be an upgrade for the school's facilities, most notably a "personality uplift" to Commonwealth Stadium.

What those upgrades are, how much they'll cost and where the funding will come from, Barnhart isn't quite sure yet, but the video boards and a recruiting room will be one of the first steps. Barnhart said the video boards in Commonwealth, which have a 10-to-12-year existence, are in their 11th year.

A new or renovated Rupp Arena is also being explored by the city. UK will have an active voice in the final decision, Barnhart said, but there is no timetable set.

Todd, whose last day as the university's president is June 30, 2011, said he's been mulling a contract extension for Barnhart for two or three years.

The longtime Kentucky president was asked why he would extend the contract of an athletic director when the new president may want to bring in his own AD. Todd replied with stability, vehemently supporting his decision to extend Barnhart's contract.

"I'm doing a heck of a favor for the university, and don't think I'm not," Todd said.

Video: UK Hoops hasn't abandoned focus on SEC title

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The UK baseball team held its annual media day Wednesday for the upcoming 2011 season.

We'll have some upcoming feature stories on the team before next week's season opener and you can read the first part of an eight-part series from the team here, but in the meantime, check out the following videos below from a few of the players.

I'll post the remaining video interviews next week.

Senior shortstop Taylor Black


Junior outfielder Chad Wright


Junior pitcher/infielder Braden Kapteyn

SBL 09_10 UK_USC 2 Web 54.jpgWhat do you get when you lose the most accomplished player in program history, the backbone of the team's first two NCAA Tournament runs in school history, the program's first and only All-American, and the biggest offensive threat on an otherwise still-developing run-producing club?

The Kentucky softball team is hoping the answer isn't what you'd expect.

Life without Molly Johnson begins Friday for the Kentucky softball team. The lifeblood of the program for the last four years, Johnson has traded in her glove for a diploma and a bat for a whistle.

As an assistant coach on the team now, Johnson has exhausted her eligibility and the team must move on without her playing abilities. An expected drop in production would be the most logical thing to follow, but the Cats' goals this year are actually quite ambitious - it's to somehow take the next step without her.

"We obviously need to get to Super Regionals," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "I think we have been close both years, but we have fallen a little short. I think last year for us, we felt like we had the team that could go to Super Regionals. We just didn't finish the deal."

Now they'll try to finish it without Johnson and the much underrated Natalie Smith.

"We are really good again in the circle," Lawson said of UK's two-headed pitching monster of Chanda Bell (36-21 career record with a 2.56 ERA) and Rachel Riley (18-17, 2.62 ERA). "I feel really confident in our pitching staff. We not only have Chanda and Rachel, but we also have a good complement of newer people. I just think we need a little bit more experience right now. We are improving daily and our outfield is very strong. I feel like defensively we will be in a very good position this year.

"Where we have fallen short the last few years is offensively. We have had a strong top of the lineup, but all the way throughout the lineup we have been very inconsistent. I feel like we have more strength from top to bottom, and that's going to help us. That has kind of been the thing that has kept us back."

The change in expectations for the program is still a very new feeling. Before 2009, the program had averaged less than 22 wins per season and had never sniffed the postseason.

The last two years, thanks to the bat of Johnson and Smith and the infusion of aces Bell and Riley, the team made history by advancing to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years for the first time in school history winning more than 30 games in each season.

It has been a momentous step forward for a program stuck in neutral during most of its existence, but postseason is no longer just the goal. The Cats have added another step.

"If we put ourselves in a position to make the Super Regionals, then I think we have a really good chance of making the College World Series," senior catcher Megan Yocke said. "It's getting over that hump of Regionals that we haven't been able to get over yet."

Meeting and surpassing those goals likely starts and stops with Yocke and who she's catching behind the dish.

With one of the league's top duos in the circle and an offense that will be in search of a new identity, the success of the season could rest on the arms of Bell and Riley.

"Pitching is going to be really important, especially early on," Riley said. "I think we are going to have a lot of close games, so it is really going to come down to our pitching and our defense and getting outs."

It will come down to pitching and close games, if nothing else, because Johnson isn't at the top of the order to pace the offense again. For a team that ranked second to last in the Southeastern Conference last year in RBI, saying goodbye to a career .389 hitter and the school's all-time home run leader is a tough blow to absorb.

Sophomore Kara Dill is Johnson's heir apparent at shortstop, but it would be unfair and unrealistic to expect a second-year player who batted .246 with seven RBI a year ago to simply replace her. Instead, replacing the production of Johnson and Smith will be more of an effort-by-committee.

Yocke, the emotional leader of the team, will likely assume the leadoff role occupied by Johnson and has seven game-winning walk-off hits in her career; junior infielder Brittany Cervantes (20 career home runs) is the bopper in the middle of the lineup and is starting to develop more consistency; and senior center fielder Meagan Aull (52 career stolen bases) is the speedy veteran capable of hitting anywhere in the lineup.

The player who has made the biggest strides since last season and really increased her power, according to Lawson and Yocke, is senior infielder Samantha DeMartine.

"I have really seen Sam DeMartine do awesome in practice," Yocke said. "Whether it's live or off a machine, she is always taking good hacks and she is always hitting it hard."

Lawson will also have the bonus of arguably the top recruiting class to ever sign with UK softball. In addition to heralded hurlers Lauren Cumbess (0.34 ERA as a junior) and Ellen Weaver (Adidas Futures top-100 recruit), Lawson brought in depth and diversity in this freshman class.

"With our freshmen, I think we have had a huge surge in power," Lawson said. "Emily Jolly is a gamer. She has done a great job and we need her. We feel good about the freshmen, and I think as we gain more experience, we should be pretty tough."

While Lawson admits she'll never be able to physically replace Johnson, she doesn't think the team is moving backwards without her.

"We are certainly not going to have one person who does everything that Molly did for us," Lawson said, "but we certainly have a lot of people who can all do what she could do at one moment. I think overall the team as a whole is better and it should be good."

Kentucky begins its season Friday at 4 p.m. in Miami in the FIU Combat Classic. The Cats' first-round opponent is Ohio State, which knocked off UK in the last two NCAA Tournaments.

It's appropriate, in a way, that to get to the next step, UK will have to start against the team that has stood in its way and do it without Molly Johnson.

Web Wednesday: return of John Wall 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

Men's basketball: Liggins, Cats play with swagger (Eric Crawford, Louisville Courier-Journal)

Liggins finished with 19 points, five rebounds, five steals and three assists.

"He was fabulous, fabulous," UK coach John Calipari said. "Defended. I told our team we've got to figure out a way to get him eight to 10 shots a game. He made six tonight, but he got fouled a bunch. He deserves it, the way he defends."


Men's basketball: Boxing bag helps motivate UK in 73-61 win (Aaron Smith, Kentucky Kernel)

Heading into the Tennessee game, an unfamiliar training tool was brought out by UK head coach John Calipari.

A boxing bag.

It was to instill toughness in a team that had dropped two straight games on the road - two losses that also contributed to some pent-up frustration the players were able to take out.

"I was trying to break through that bag every time I punched it," Josh Harrellson said.


UK Hoops: Wildcats fall short against Tennessee in electric Memorial atmosphere (Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader)

Tennessee was in Memorial Coliseum, there was 6:10 left in the game and Kentucky -- having fought back from 48-38 down -- now led 59-58. For just a moment, the old barn rocked with a vigor that Adolph Rupp himself would've recognized.

Before a loud crowd of 7,126 and a national ESPN2 audience, Kentucky was standing toe-to-toe with the mighty Orange and had the giant wobbling.

Football: New assistant Glenn Holt motivated to get to bowl (Chip Cosby, Herald-Leader)

A lot of people might take Kentucky's five-game bowl streak for granted, but you can bet that former Wildcat receiver Glenn Holt won't be one of them.

Holt, who recently joined ex-UK quarterback Andre Woodson as student assistants on Joker Phillips' staff, lettered at Kentucky from 2002-05 and never got to play in a bowl game.  UK's bowl streak started the following year with a trip to the Music City Bowl.

Wildcats in the Pros

Super Bowl winner Masthay has fans in his hometown (Murray Ledger & Times)

Masthay signed with the NFL's Green Bay Packers a year ago last month, won the starting punting job and turned in the highest net average (37.6) yards of any Packers punter since 1976.

He was one of the most valuable players in the Packers' 21-14 NFC Championship victory over the Chicago Bears, limiting dangerous returner Devin Hester's impact of the proceedings.

That's a far cry from the fall of his junior year at Murray, his first playing football.

Jodie Meeks a fixture in Philadelphia back court (Delaware County Daily Times)

Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks have comprised the Sixers' starting  back court for the last 32 games. As a rookie last season, Meeks didn't  even play in 22 games, and in the 60 in which he did see action he  averaged a paltry 12 minutes.

Entering tonight's game in Atlanta,  Meeks has played 1,018 minutes this season. That's 300 more than he  logged last season and a little more than 200 minutes away from the  amount of time the 23-year-old played as Kentucky's scoring star as a  junior in 2008-09 - and the rigors of college ball are light years away  from the NBA grind.


DeMarcus Cousins impresses in Kings' loss to Utah Jazz (Silicon Valley Mercury News)

Although he played only 30 minutes and had foul problems early, Cousins still finished with his fourth 20-point effort in the past five games.

"Cousins is amazing. The sky is the limit for him," (Jazz forward Al) Jefferson said. "He's going to be something special."


Congratulations are in order for former Wildcat point guard Rajon Rondo. For the second consecutive season, the Celtics' maestro was named a reserve on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. UK will be well-represented on All-Star Weekend February 18-20 with Cousins, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe participating in the Rookie-Sophomore game in addition to Rondo playing in the main event.


News from UKathletics.com

Rifle: UK eying run at elusive national title

Men's Basketball: Knight named finalist for Cousy Award

Baseball: Kapteyn listed among NCAA's potential breakout performers

Tennis: UK falls against No. 1 Virginia

Gymnastics: VIDEO: UK registers season high vault, beam scores


Video of the week


The Rupp crowd was already revved up for a rivalry game against Tennessee, but the atmosphere was taken up a notch with John Wall in the building for the first time since leaving UK to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Wall was shown multiple times on the ESPN broadcast and on the big screens in the arena, but the moment of the night came when Wall completed UK's famous cheer as the honorary "Y."


Video: Wall happy to be back in Big Blue Nation

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Former Kentucky men's basketball point guard John Wall attended Tuesday night's UK-Tennessee game at Rupp Arena.

Making his first appearance at Rupp since turning pro, Wall was honored during the second half as UK's honorary "Y" in the spelling of "Kentucky." Wall received a thunderous applause when he took the floor at half court during the Cats' 73-61 win over the Volunteers.

Afterwards, Cat Scratches had a couple of minutes to catch up with postgame as he hung out with current players in the UK locker room. You can watch what he said in the video below.

Wall, the top pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, is averaging 14.8 points and 9.1 assists for the Wizards.

Veteran move: Liggins emerges for much-needed win

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Liggins.jpegJohn Calipari had been asking, begging and pleading for a few good veterans for the last couple of weeks.

He got two very good ones to step up Tuesday night to end the Kentucky men's basketball team's current skid.

Junior guard DeAndre Liggins tied a career high with 19 points and senior forward Josh Harrellson added another 16 as the Cats ended the first two-game losing streak of head coach John Calipari's UK career with a 73-61 victory over Tennessee.

Liggins played arguably the best game of his collegiate career while Harrellson returned to his pre-conference form. Even Darius Miller, who finished just 1 of 7 from the floor, drew praise from his coach for fighting and rebounding.

"Obviously, if Josh, DeAndre and Darius play like this, it's much easier," Calipari said. "Those three, it's important, especially when we go on the road. Terrence (Jones) struggled today.  Doron (Lamb) struggled at Florida. He never was into the game; not one second was he into the game. ... Well, that's like normal (for a freshman). You other guys got to come and play. That's why we're saying our veterans got to bring it every game."

They showed up at the perfect time.

With border-state rival Tennessee in town and a two-game losing streak putting Calipari into "crisis" mode, the Cats had to win Tuesday to hold on to any Southeastern Conference title hopes. A loss would have sent UK (17-6, 5-4 SEC) a game under .500 in the league standings and three games back of Florida in the SEC East.

"We needed it," Liggins said.

Contrary to Kentucky's way of doing things the past two years, times of need are generally saved for the veterans. Calipari called on his vets to step up after nearly letting the Georgia win slip away, and although it was two games later, they finally responded.

"We know in order for us to win games, us three veterans have got to step up and lead these freshmen," Liggins said. "We did it tonight. Now we've got to continue to do it on the road."

Liggins was a stat stuffer Tuesday night. His line of 19 points, a career-high five steals, five rebounds and three assists simply stood off the page.

"He was fabulous," Calipari said. "Fabulous."

Just a day ago, Calipari called Liggins the best defender in the country, but Tuesday he proved he was more than just a one-way player. In addition to diving on the floor, stealing the rock and guarding Tennessee's best player, Liggins decided to look for his shot against Tennessee.

"(Coach) wanted to be a little bit selfish today and be aggressive," Liggins said.

Liggins hit 5-of-6 from the field and 7-of-8 free throws to break the double-digit scoring margin for only the third time in the last 11 games.

On one such sequence late in the second half, Liggins knocked down a jumper, nailed two free throws, hit a knockdown 3-pointer from the top of the key, and then threw a baseball pass ahead to Miller for an alley-oop dunk for Harrellson. Those nine points, seven of which Liggins scored, buried the Volunteers for good.

" 'The way he's defending, he deserves to shoot more,' " Calipari told his team. " 'You guys figure out how to get him shots.'  I said, 'DeAndre, if we throw it ahead and can make plays, go make them.'  How hard he's working, he deserves it.  We got guys shooting balls, going through the motions. 'You don't deserve to shoot it.  Let him shoot it.' "

Of course, in typical Liggins fashion, he did all the little things, too. Scotty Hopson, UT's leading scorer, was limited to 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting with Liggins tailing him (although Hopson was coming off a left ankle injury). Liggins forced numerous jump balls, took a key charge on Hopson in the second half and even swallowed his ego by patting a referee on the behind after he was robbed of a surefire block. 

Maybe it's no coincidence that Kentucky's whipping of Tennessee came after Calipari decided to bring out a heavy bag and boxing gloves at UK's practice this week. The Cats came out swinging with a 19-point first-half lead and then showed the stamina of a prized fighter in the second half when they grabbed key rebound after key rebound to halt a UT rally.

Perhaps the only thing missing from this fighter's repertoire was a true knockout blow as Tennessee hung around, but it's one step at a time for a Kentucky team trying to get back on the right track - and that was getting back in the winner's circle.

"It made us tougher," Liggins said of practices this week.

Liggins credited Harrellson with being one of the hardest workers in practice this week, and it showed as the big man returned to his play of the first half of the season. After scoring just 31 points over his last eight games, Harrellson reestablished himself inside and scored 12-second half points.

The resurgence came after Harrellson reasserted his previously successful practice habits this week. For the previous two weeks, Calipari said Harrellson had been "BS'ing."

"Look, there's one person you cannot fool: yourself," Calipari said. "You can fool everybody else (but) you're not fooling yourself. If you go through the motions in practice and act like it's this, that, when you get in the game, the first raindrop hits your back, you know what's about to happen. If you work your butt off and the raindrop hits you, you're like, 'I'm not worried about that.' "

There's no fooling anyone either that one solid game by the veterans isn't a cure-all for a recent slide. And there's no fooling anyone that the freshmen will probably play the largest role down the stretch.

But for Kentucky to make a serious run at anything, it will, as Calipari said last week, have to be about the veterans, too.

You'd be a fool to think Kentucky could survive March with just a few good freshmen.

Video: UK stops 2-game skid with win over UT

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Head coach John Calipari


Junior guard DeAndre Liggins


Senior forward Josh Harrellson

Live blog: UK men's basketball vs. Tennessee

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rifle_action_2010-11_145.JPGSuccess is not a new thing for the Kentucky rifle team. During Harry Mullins' 26-year tenure as head coach of the program, high national rankings, conference championships and competing for national titles have been commonplace.

This season has been no different. In defeating top-ranked West Virginia in the final match of the regular season, UK wrapped up the Great American Rifle Conference championship. Kentucky now heads into postseason play looking to reach the one achievement that has eluded Mullins in his time leading UK rifle: a national championship.

"That's why we're in the business, to win championships," Mullins said. "It's something that's on my mind every single day."

While the next step for the program is a national title, the next steps for this team are the NCAA Qualifying Round (Feb. 12 in Lexington) and the GARC Championships (Feb. 25). If UK performs as expected, the Wildcats will likely garner one of eight bids to the NCAA Championships on March 9.

With Kentucky losing four seniors to graduation after the 2009-10 season, it may have looked on paper like UK would not quite be ready to compete on the level to which it had been accustomed. However, the emergence of newcomers Emily Holsopple and Henri Junghänel as contributors has helped UK to a 10-1 regular season and one of the deepest rosters in the history of the program.

Holsopple and Junghänel have consistently been among UK's top performers in both air rifle and smallbore, the two components in rifle competition. With that said, making up for the loss of All-Americans like Thomas Csenge, Leslie Angeli and Ashley Jackson has fallen on the shoulders of the team as a collective unit.

"I think the whole team overall really stepped up to the challenge," Mullins said. "We lost four seniors but we were not going to take the attitude that it was a rebuilding year.

Mullins cited the improvement of returners like Heather Greathouse and Logan Fox as vital to the team's growth.

"Heather Greathouse, a sophomore, has definitely developed in posting the scores that she is capable of doing," Mullins said. "She learned a lot from a tough freshman season. Logan Fox, he's a senior and last year he was fifth and sixth in smallbore, but he has moved himself up in the top three or four consistently."

UK's top performers will be in contention for All-Americaa honors when the time comes, but it's Kentucky's balance as a team that allows them to win any match they enter.

Take, for example, UK's recent win over West Virginia. The Mountaineers have reigning world champion Nicco Campriani (who has recorded a perfect 600 air rifle score this season) on the roster, but what Kentucky has is a complete team that has the ability to overcome individual mistakes with a combined effort.

"We didn't have anybody shoot a phenomenal number, but what we had was a collective team effort," Mullins said. "Individual mistakes are OK as long as they aren't repeated. We're going to live and die by what we all do."

Mullins said the team concept to a sport that can often be perceived as highly individual helps combat some of the pressure members of the team, especially the newcomers, may feel.

"We may only have one or two people going to the NCAA championship that have ever been there before," Mullins said. "It becomes a very mental game, so that part in itself puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the athletes. We've tried to get our guys to understand that 600 is the maximum, so even if somebody is struggling, you can't shoot a 610. The focus should only be on what you can do."

The result of that team approach has been a season during which UK's average team score has exceeded the highest individual match score that Kentucky recorded all of last season. Against West Virginia, UK set a season high of 4696 in a phenomenal team effort.

Since UK will almost certainly face off against the talented Mountaineers twice more this season at the GARC and NCAA Championships, the Wildcats will be called on to replicate or improve upon that performance. On the day following its loss to Kentucky, West Virginia posted a score of 4704, an NCAA high not only this season, but in the history of NCAA competition.

"On paper, (the Mountaineers) are an awesome team, but we feel we're a pretty good team too," Mullins said. "When the two get together, I think we both try to prove we're the better team."

Rifle is a unique sport in that no defense is played. That is to say that a team is in control of only its own score, meaning UK could post a season-best score in an effort to win a national title, only to be bested by an even better effort by an opponent.

What that means for Mullins is that he focuses only on his own team.

"Do I feel like this team has the capability of winning (the national championship)? Yes, but I felt that way on a lot of these," Mullins said, pointing to the seven second- or third-place NCAA trophies sitting atop his desk. "We're striving to break that 4700 mark. If we can do that and someone comes up and beats us, then we'll walk right up and shake their hands."

UK rifle wants desperately to bring home a national championship, but Mullins won't allow himself wallow in defeat if it doesn't come this year.

"Should (losing the national title) be a disappointment?" Mullins asked. "You should be disappointed you lost, but there still was that great road and process to get there."

50bradley.jpgAs John Calipari has said many times, playing at Kentucky is not for everybody. 

It takes a certain kind of personality to flourish in the fishbowl environment of playing for the Wildcats, but one player who basked in the glow of that spotlight was Ramel Bradley.

Now, the young man affectionately known as "Smooth" is playing professional basketball in Israel with the hope -- and a plan -- for reaching the NBA.

"I started up this thing called 'The One-Year Plan,' " Bradley said in a recent appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show. "I started it out this summer. Life is about goals and going after your dreams, and as I have come to learn, tomorrow is not promised to anyone. If you don't come after the things you want in life and don't do it today, then when will you do it? So, I am putting myself in the position to play the best basketball I can play and have the right people in my corner that believe in me, and by next year this time, I am back in the NBA."

Bradley said there's more to it than just playing well on the court.
 
"It is timing, it is push and it is also momentum," Bradley said. "This year, I am trying to build my momentum, my brand and have my agent have those guys look at me and have those guys stay on my trail and continue to keep up with the things I am doing over here.  It is so easy when you leave the states to be out of sight out of mind, so I am staying on top of him on those things. I also have my publicist, who is working very hard for me to keep me, give me all the interviews so that people won't forget about me and perform my best each and every basketball game while I'm over here. So far it is going really well."

Bradley plays for Maccabi Ashdod and his team sat in second place in the Israel Premier League standings at the time of the interview. Bradley was also his team's second-leading scorer and ranked second in steals.

"It is actually pretty fun," Bradley said of playing overseas. "I go outside and everyone knows who I am. The weather is gorgeous. It was about 75 degrees today so I cannot complain at all. We practice normally either once or twice a day and we play either Sunday or Monday. Other than that, I stretch. I am obsessed with stretching and doing yoga.  It makes my body feel really good. 

"I might head to Tel Aviv and catch a movie at the cinema or just relax (in my spare time). I am on Skype with my family a whole lot. I am really focused on this year and I really have to be dedicated because if you aren't dedicated in the things you want to go after, then you can't get to your goals and there is really no point."

Bradley said the competition in Israel includes some former NBA players as well as players he knows from his college days at Kentucky.

But "nothing compares to Big Blue fans at all and that is anywhere on the planet," Bradley said. "These guys get pretty crazy. They are banging drums and shooting confetti in the air and screaming and hollering. It is pretty crazy. They want to hug you at the end of the game and kiss you on your check it is pretty crazy. It is something to see."

Bradley has been keeping close tabs on his alma mater, where he scored 1,326 career points from 2005-08. He said he watches the Cats "all the time."

"Anytime they play, if I can catch the game online, I will watch it," said Bradley, who says he gets regular updates from Cat fans on his Twitter and Facebook pages. "Other than that, I wake up the next morning and check the scores right away."

What does he remember most about his days at UK?

"What don't I remember?" Bradley said. "If I had to say one thing that stands out in my mind is when we got that win over Florida (on Senior Day in 2008) and everyone was so excited. I remember looking up in the stands at Rupp and was like, 'Wow, this will be the last time on this court.' It was such an amazing feeling and I remember me hugging my boy Joe Crawford. I need to get back on that hardwood. I want to get back to do that 'Y.' Me and Joe, I want us to do it together. I really want to get back to that."

And Bradley admits to wondering wistfully how much fun he would have had playing in head coach John Calipari's Dribble Drive Motion offense.

"Coach Cal is a great coach, and any players that I speak to who played under him, they just say it is a pleasure to play for someone like that because he lets you play," Bradley said. "For someone like a guard, you can really go out and showcase your talents and it's a lot of fun. It is unfortunate that I couldn't play under him, but I really think I would have thrived under him."

Fans can keep up with Bradley through his website, dreamsmooth.com. You'll see how his basketball life is going and you can also keep with Bradley's musical exploits.

"It is going pretty good," he said of his musical career. "Actually, I was selected as one of the All-Stars in Israel and I got to perform my song called 'Fly' at halftime to all the people in Israel so, it was really good. Other than that, I have put the music on the back burner for basketball for this year."

It's not a part of The One-Year Plan to get back to the NBA.

Cats don't take consolation in coming close anymore

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The Kentucky women's basketball showdown with Tennessee on Monday night was billed as perhaps the biggest women's basketball game in Memorial Coliseum since UK won its lone Southeastern Conference title over the Lady Vols in 1982.

Big game, big crowd and big stakes were on the line.

Both teams played big, too. Kentucky stifled Tennessee in the first half with its trademark full-court defense, and UT's bigs took over inside in the second half.

"Everybody laid it on the line," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "The game could have gone either way."

Like it traditionally has, though, the victory ultimately went the way of the Lady Vols. Final: Tennessee 73, UK 67 in front of a Memorial season-high crowd of 7,126.

Big letdown for Kentucky? It depends on who you talk to.

Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell, for one, wasn't taking any moral victories in a loss to Tennessee. After leading the Lady Vols for much of the first half and late in the game, he was dejected and disappointed with the results, pointing to a few plays as the difference in the outcome.

For him, there was no consolation in coming close to Tennessee.

"I am just so disappointed because I believe in the team so much," Mitchell said. "I believe in those young women in that locker room. I am not mad at them; I am just so disappointed because if they had just done some things that we worked so hard on all year, if we had made some layups and free throws and broken them down better defensively, it may have been different.

"Tennessee is a fine basketball team. They are unbelievably talented and our margin for error is very slim, so we have to execute better to beat a team like that, but I do think they are capable."

They were ever so close to making capable and disappointed a reality and jubilation.

With the eyes of the nation on a primetime women's basketball game and the interest of the Bluegrass State nearing an all-time high, Kentucky, for the most part, delivered on what has got it to this point.

The Cats played tenacious defense yet again, taking a team that averages just 15.7 turnovers a game and forcing it into 17 first-half turnovers. The fourth-ranked team in the country, led by one of the most quickest guards in the country, looked mystified and confused because of Kentucky.

Victoria Dunlap was playing like a woman possessed, scoring the game's first seven points on a knockdown jumper and a step-back 3-pointer. On one loose ball in the second half, Dunlap poked the ball away, trucked over a Tennessee player and dove on the floor to call timeout.

The crowd was roaring; Jennifer O'Neill (nine points) was crossing over people and playing like the future star she's been touted to be; and A'dia Mathies (18 points) was breaking the Tennessee defense down with slicing drives and back-to-back 3-pointers.

After Mathies hit her second 3 in a row to cut a 10-point lead to one with 9:56 to go, dreams of an upset and step to the big stage weren't just hopes anymore; it was a realistic possibility.

Kentucky briefly took the lead three minutes later on a pair of Mathies' free throws, but Tennessee limited its turnovers in the second half, Shekinna Stricklen took over the game with 18 second-half points and the Lady Vols' size proved to be too powerful.

With seven players standing 6-foot-1 or taller, UT's length advantage eventually wore down the Cats. The Lady Vols out-rebounded UK 45-23 and scored 38 points in the paint.

"I think what we had to do was to be sharp in other areas," Mitchell said. "The rosters are what they are. They have who they have and we have who we have. That is not going to change."

But Dunlap wasn't willing to concede the game because of a simple height advantage.

"There's a lot you can do (to overcome that)," Dunlap said. "Boxing out, we missed a lot of box-out assignments. Coach talked about the three things that were going to be a factor in this game were hustle plays, rebounds and turnovers. We weren't effective on the boards."

UK, quite honestly, played about as good of a game as it could have played against a dominant Tennessee team. Other than shooting 40.3 percent and getting beat up on the boards, there wasn't much else the Cats could do.

Kentucky stood toe to toe with Tennessee.

"We can play with anybody in the country," Mathies said. "We had a chance to win."

Now, can they break through the final wall? Can they go from good to great? Can they finally pull off big games like Monday's?

Because close is no longer acceptable for the Cats from their viewpoint. Close was last year's Elite Eight run. Close was last year's near SEC Tournament championship. Close was the thriller at Duke.

"It's not like we're just here to play," Dunlap said. "We're here to win games, too, and not lay down for anybody."

Close is no longer good enough.

Live blog: No. 15 UK Hoops vs. No. 4 Tennessee

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Calipari: Crisis brings about change

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BOB_5581.jpgGive John Calipari credit for one thing: He sure knows how to relate to the unrealistic expectations of the Kentucky basketball fan base.

Dealing with his first two-game losing streak at UK and the first of his coaching career since 2005 season, Calipari called the current situation a "crisis" nearly 10 times during Monday's pre-Tennessee media availability.

Although the rest of the basketball world would consider a two-game losing streak a slight exaggeration, Calipari and the Kentucky faithful are on the same page in that losing is generally viewed as unacceptable.

"When you lose in this sport it's a crisis," Calipari said. "It doesn't matter if it's one half-court bank shot, it is a crisis. And if you play for me, you'll understand it's a crisis."

That wasn't Calipari's way of calling the Tennessee matchup Tuesday night a must-win game - although it terms of the Southeastern Conference standings, it basically is. It was his way, however, of saying Kentucky basketball (16-6, 4-4 SEC) has some serious problems it has to solve before it gets too late in the season.

"The bottom line is we've got to get better," Calipari said. "It's not just winning. We have to get better. And we have to shore up these areas so when March rolls around we're ready to go because we're not ready right now."

Chief among Calipari's concerns is the reoccurrence of previous issues he's addressed with the team and they've worked on.

"The thing that bothered me after Florida were the things that happened at Alabama and Mississippi, they happened again," Caliapri said. "Now I have a problem."

But the issues may not be what many of you think. They aren't execution or a lack of will to win at the end of games, according to Calipari. It's the middle stretches of games where the Cats are falling behind and digging themselves in a hole.

"That's where the game is lost," Calipari said.

In almost every defeat Kentucky has been able to climb back, but in every loss, at least recently, whether it's been from fatigue or not, the Cats haven't been able to completely close out the comebacks. UK is now 0-4 in the games decided by five points or less.

"I've never lost two games back to back," freshman guard Doron Lamb said in admitting it's the most frustrated he's been in his basketball career. "It hurts."

A year after losing just three total games, UK has already lost four in conference with two games each against Tennessee and Vanderbilt still remaining.

That may look like a snapshot of a team currently in a perilous situation, but Calipari, despite all the talk about a crisis, isn't painting a picture of panic. He thinks the current "rut" could be an opportunity for his freshman-laden squad.

"A crisis brings about change," Calipari said. "Meetings, individual meetings, they're a waste of time. Team meetings, they're a waste of time. Crisis will bring about change unless you really don't care. And if you don't care, everybody's going to see it. I think these guys care."

Sophomore guard Jon Hood shared in the team's frustration for losing but doesn't think the Cats are too far away from turning things around.

"I don't think we've hit complete bottom," Hood said. "We're by no means where we were last year, but a couple of shots here and there and we're talking about this a different way."

The problem for the Cats is the road back to SEC contention won't be nearly as easy as the one that led UK down the stray path it's currently on. After playing Tennessee (15-8, 5-3 SEC) on Tuesday, UK will travel to Vanderbilt, a place Kentucky dropped four straight games before last year's two-point win.

The Cats have the fortune of closing the regular season with four of six at Rupp Arena, but UK's final three games include the powers of the SEC: Florida (Feb. 26), Vanderbilt (March 1) and Tennessee (March 6).

And if that wasn't arduous enough, Tennessee will be back to full strength Tuesday for the first time since before the conference season.

Head coach Bruce Pearl will make his highly anticipated return after serving a league-mandated eight-game suspension. And although Pearl says junior guard and leading UT scorer Scotty Hopson is questionable after missing the last two games with a left ankle sprain, Calipari expects him to play.

"We're playing to get better," Calipari said. "That's what we're doing, and along the way you'll win games. I'm not talking to them as far as we have to win this next game. We don't. It's going to be a hard game. What we have to show is we're going to get better, because if we get better, at the end of the day this is all going to play out lovely. If we don't get better - you don't change and we don't get better - it will be ugly."

That would truly be a crisis.

Weekly polls, Bracketology update (week of Feb. 7)

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The Kentucky men's basketball team's first 0-2 week under head coach John Calipari meant UK's stock slid in the polls and Bracketology for the second straight week.

The Cats slid to No. 18 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll this week. UK also fell to a No. 5 seed in Joe Lunardi's Bracketology this week.

AP Top 25
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Ohio State (65) 24-0 1,625
2 Kansas 22-1 1,519
3 Texas 20-3 1,509
4 Pittsburgh 21-2 1,438
5 Duke 21-2 1,341
6 San Diego State 23-1 1,259
7 Brigham Young 22-2 1,212
8 Notre Dame 19-4 1,185
9 Villanova 19-4 1,047
10 Connecticut 18-4 1,040
11 Georgetown 18-5 1,009
12 Syracuse 20-4 919
13 Wisconsin 17-5 790
14 Purdue 18-5 754
15 Arizona 20-4 630
16 Louisville 18-5 604
17 Florida 18-5 534
18 Kentucky 16-6 519
19 Missouri 18-5 511
20 North Carolina 17-5 461
21 Utah State 22-2 347
22 Texas A&M 17-5 231
23 Vanderbilt 16-6 128
24 Temple 17-5 110
25 West Virginia 15-7 93

ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
RK TEAM RECORD PTS
1 Ohio State (31) 24-0 775
2 Kansas 22-1 732
3 Texas 20-3 721
4 Pittsburgh 21-2 678
5 Duke 21-2 642
6 San Diego State 23-1 614
7 Notre Dame 19-4 575
8 Brigham Young 22-2 564
9 Connecticut 18-4 496
10 Villanova 19-4 495
11 Georgetown 18-5 447
12 Purdue 18-5 401
13 Syracuse 20-4 369
14 Wisconsin 17-5 361
15 Louisville 18-5 350
16 Arizona 20-4 273
17 Utah State 22-2 257
18 Kentucky 16-6 246
19 Florida 18-5 243
20 Missouri 18-5 234
21 North Carolina 17-5 165
22 Texas A&M 17-5 128
23 Saint Mary's 20-4 64
24 Vanderbilt 16-6 39
25 Minnesota 16-7 37

Head coach John Calipari


Freshman guard Doron Lamb


Sophomore guard Jon Hood


Junior forward Eloy Vargas

SEC coaches' teleconference notes (Feb. 7)

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SEC Circle Gold Letters on White Background.jpgThe familiar surroundings of Rupp Arena will be a welcome sight for the Kentucky Wildcats Tuesday night against the Tennessee Volunteers after UK dropped two road games this week to Ole Miss and Florida.

John Calipari spent some time Monday morning talking about his team on the Southeastern coaches' teleconference. Calipari will have additional comments this afternoon, so make sure to check back for video of those.

Audio of Calipari

  • Similar to last week, Calipari pleaded ignorance about UK's upcoming schedule, saying  "When do we get home games?" when learning UK would again hit the road to play the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville after hosting Tennessee on Tuesday. Don't worry, Coach Cal, UK plays four of its final six in Rupp to make up for this long bout of road games.
  • Calipari talked a bit about what Kentucky needs to do to right the ship and win some close games. He didn't bemoan UK's inability to close, instead chalking up Kentucky's recent losses to extended stretches of poor play earlier in games, like the one the Wildcats had to begin the second half against Florida. "There are gaps in the game where we're letting go of the game, then we fight to get back and we're just a little bit short," Calipari said. "You're losing the game in this stretch, not the last shot."
  • A question was asked about Doron Lamb's play over the last week and Calipari said that his play is symptomatic of what the staff deals with in coaching freshmen. "The last game (against Florida) he didn't play the way he had been," Calipari said. He didn't have the energy, he didn't have the motor. Against Mississippi, he didn't guard. He made baskets to keep us close, but he also gave up baskets, but that's what happens with freshmen."
  • Calipari spoke about the play of DeAndre Liggins, praising him for his defense yet again but saying that he needs to be more involved on offense. "He is defending so well and doing so many things defensively that help us, he deserves to get more shots," Calipari said. Additionally, Calipari said that Liggins needs to be more effective in finishing his drives to the basket.
  • MBSK 09_10 UK_UL Web 23.jpgCalipari talked about the one-and-done rule in college basketball and whether another rule would be better for all parties involved. Calipari said he wasn't completely familiar with the negotiations on the topic, but that he had heard that owners were pushing for a rule requiring players to stay in college for two seasons. "Obviously having guys for two years would be better for college basketball, probably better for the NBA so they can evaluate (players better)," Calipari said.
  • Tennessee junior guard and leading scorer Scotty Hopson sat out the Vols' loss on Saturday to Alabama with a left ankle sprain. In his comments on the teleconference, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said he was "questionable" and would test the ankle Monday in practice to determine whether or not he would be able to play. Calipari said that he anticipates Hopson will play, but also that Tennessee is deep enough to overcome his absence. "It's the advantage you have when you have that kind of depth," Calipari said. "You've got enough other talented guys that can take up 10 percent and probably they're capable of doing 10 percent more, they just haven't had to. I think obviously they're better with him because he's such a good player but they'll be fine without him."
  • Tuesday's game will mark Pearl's return to the sideline after sitting out his team's first eight conference games serving a league-mandated suspension. Pearl said that he will face two of the leagues toughest challenges in road games against Kentucky and Florida in his first two games back. "It's an honor anytime you coach at Rupp or play there," Pearl said. "It's something that I think any player or any coach during the course of their career will remember."
  • Pearl praised the job his assistants did in filling in for him, especially associate head coach Tony Jones, saying "not a lot is going to change" with his return. However, he did concede that he could make a difference. "It's just one more helping hand in the sense that when I'm out it's one less voice," Pearl said. "Depth is an important factor (on a coaching staff) and it will be good to get back. I hope I can come back and help, obviously the schedule is very, very challenging and we'll just take it one at a time."
  • Finally, Pearl talked about the Kentucky team Tennessee will face Tuesday. Even though UK has lost two in a row, he praised the Wildcats. "Kentucky is a very talented basketball team," Pearl said. "They've got some really special players and they're playing really well together. Pearl continued, saying that winning in the SEC is a challenging proposition and the simple fact that UK has been in a position to win so many games is a credit to them. "To be able to go to Florida and have a chance to win that game against a very experienced, talented Florida team says a lot about their potential," Pearl said. "They're really close to blowing it open."

UK Sports Report (week of Feb. 7)

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Rifle
- The rifle team rode a school-record team score to a 4696-4680 win over No. 1 West Virginia, clinching the 2010-11 Great American Rifle Conference regular-season championship on Saturday at UK's Barker Hall.
- Kentucky completed an undefeated season in conference action with the win, besting the 2008-09 NCAA Champion Mountaineers, who also entered the match undefeated in league play and needing a win over UK to clinch the title.
- With the win, UK has clinched its fourth all-time regular-season GARC Championship and its first since the 2008-09 season.
- Kentucky's 4696 total team score eclipsed the school record set earlier in the year when the Wildcats totaled a 4691 win over Memphis in Oxford, Miss., on Jan. 21.

Men's basketball
- The Wildcats dropped a 70-68 heartbreaker at Florida over the weekend. After falling behind by 13, the Cats battled back to take a one-point lead late in the game, but a last-second 3-pointer by Brandon Knight fell short.
- UK hosts Tennessee on Tuesday. The Wildcats have posted a 160-51 (.758) record against SEC East teams since the league split into divisions in 1991-92. Kentucky is 5-1 in games following a loss this season.
- John Calipari is 28-0 at Rupp Arena as the UK head coach. The Wildcats have the second longest home winning streak in the country at 29.

Women's basketball
- Kentucky put together an impressive win over Auburn on Thursday for its seventh consecutive victory. The Cats defeated the Tigers 69-38 in Memorial Coliseum, marking the largest margin of victory in SEC play in school history. It also marked the first time UK has
held an SEC opponent under 40 points in school history.
- Sophomore Brittany Henderson led the winning effort with a career-high 13 points while also grabbing seven rebounds.
- Senior Victoria Dunlap collected her second consecutive and sixth double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. She has now eclipsed the 1,000-rebound mark (1,007), becoming just the second player in school history to chart more than 1,000 points
and 1,000 rebounds in her career.

Gymnastics
- Senior Andrea Mitchell took home the all-around title with a career-high score of 39.275 and the University of Kentucky gymnastics team posted season-high marks on balance beam and vault, but fell short in an upset bid at No. 22 Auburn 194.625-194.450.
- Mitchell was spectacular for the Wildcats, scoring season highs on vault, uneven bars and beam to post a career-high score in the all-around. The all-around win for Mitchell was the first individual all-around title for UK on the road in the SEC since 2006.
- Kentucky defeated Auburn on vault with a season-high post of 49.2 while also scoring a season-high mark on beam with a 48.375. UK took home event honors at three events with Jasmine Minion winning event honors on vault and Mitchell claiming honors on bars and beam.

Men's tennis
- The men's tennis team could not repeat its historic upset last season against Virginia, losing to the top-ranked Cavaliers 7-0 in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.
- Virginia, which boasts two top-10 ranked doubles teams and six top-105 ranked singles players, took control of the match from the beginning, winning the doubles point and all six singles matches.
- Kentucky took two first sets in singles against the Cavaliers.

Track and field
- The track and field team wrapped up competition at the Virginia Tech Elite Meet with a win by junior Walter Luttrell in the men's 5,000-meter run and placed six other student-athletes in the top six of their respective events on Saturday in Blacksburg, Va.
- Luttrell secured his victory with a personal-best and SEC-leading time of 14:29.50 in the men's 5,000-meter run, claiming the Wildcats lone win of the day. The junior is now the two-time defending champion and record holder in the event at the VT Elite Meet, previously
winning with a time of 14:41.65, Feb. 5, 2010.
- Senior Mary Angell recorded her third consecutive top-six finish in the women's shot put with a throw of 50-07.25/15.42 meters. The senior's season-best mark of 51-01.75 currently sits second in the conference.
- Junior Keith Hayes ran his second-fastest 60-meter hurdle race this season, in 7.82, approaching his season-best time of 7.80, which currently ranks ninth in the NCAA.
- Freshman Kyron Joseph recorded two top-five finishes Friday, claiming fifth in the 60-meter dash with a time of 6.82 and third in the 200-meter dash with a time of 21.58. Joseph was followed closely in the 200-meter by fellow freshman Kadeem Kushimo who grabbed fifth in 21.79.

Women's tennis
- The Kentucky women's tennis team fell to No. 7 Michigan 7-0 on Saturday at the Varsity Tennis Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
- Kentucky will host Ohio State on Wednesday at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center for its first home match of the season. Matches will begin at 1 p.m.

Upcoming schedule

Monday, Feb. 7
Women's basketball hosts Tennessee - 9 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 8
Men's basketball hosts Tennessee - 9 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 9
Women's tennis hosts Ohio State - 1 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 10
Women's basketball at South Carolina - 7 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 11
Softball vs. Ohio State - 4 p.m. (Miami)
Men's tennis at Illinois - 6 p.m.
Women's tennis at Northwestern - 7 p.m.
Softball at Florida International - 8 p.m. (Miami)
Diving at SEC Diving Championships (Gainesville, Fla.)
Track and Field at Tyson Invitational (Fayetteville, Ark.)/Husky Classic (Seattle)/Akron Invitational (Akron, Ohio)

Saturday, Feb. 12
Men's basketball at Vanderbilt - 1 p.m.
Softball vs. DePaul - 6 p.m. (Miami)
Softball vs. North Florida - 8 p.m. (Miami)
Rifle hosts NCAA Qualifier
Diving at SEC Diving Championships (Gainesville, Fla.)
Track and Field at Tyson Invitational (Fayetteville, Ark.)/Husky Classic (Seattle, Wash.)/Akron Invitational (Akron, Ohio)

Sunday, Feb. 13
Softball vs. Memphis - 11 a.m. (Miami)
Women's tennis at Purdue - noon
Men's tennis hosts Miami - 1 p.m.
Women's basketball hosts LSU - 2:30 p.m.
Men's tennis hosts Wright State - 6 p.m.
Diving at SEC Diving Championships (Gainesville, Fla.)
Women's golf at UCF Challenge (Sorrento, Fla.)

Jones 1 of 8 finalists for Dunk of the Year

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Thanks to the power of the Big Blue Nation, Terrence Jones' powerful dunk against South Carolina on Jan. 22, has been selected as a 2011 Intersport Dunk of the Year finalist.

In the national competition wholly determined by fan voting on Facebook, Jones landed 61 percent of the vote in week four to overcome impressive slams by Indiana State's Dwayne Lathan (18 percent), Washington's Isaiah Thomas (13 percent) and Missouri Southern's Jason Adams (8 percent). 

Jones' dunk, in which he crossed over his defender to throw down a thunderous slam, will join seven other dunks in the finals, which begins March 7. Fans can support Jones by visiting the Dunks of the Year fan page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dunksoftheyear.

High Point's Shay Shine, Missouri State's Jermaine Mallett and Oregon State's Jared Cunninham are currently in the finals alongside Jones.

"Dunks of the Year" will be announced April 2 on ABC.

Masthay gets his Super Bowl ring

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From unemployed to Super Bowl champion, it's been quite a year for former Kentucky punter Tim Masthay.

Just a year after losing a job with the Indianapolis Colts, Masthay won his first Super Bowl ring Sunday night as the Green Bay Packers edged the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV.

Masthay, who played an integral part in getting the Packers to Super Bowl, once again played an important role. The former Cat, who played from UK in 2009, punted the ball six times Sunday night night with a 40.5-yard average. He pinned the Steelers inside their 20-yard line once and had a long of 51 yards.

Congratulations to Masthay and the Packers. To read more about Masthay's journey, read Guy Ramsey's feature from last week.

Similar to Guy Ramsey's Web Wednesday, we're going to put together a links post on here every Sunday to recap some of the best stories from the last few days.

Men's basketball: Liggins lives life by simple credo (Matt May of The Cats' Pause)

Maurice Davis was the latest basketball star to blossom on the Southside of Chicago. Long, lanky, equally adept at scoring and rebounding the athletically built 18-year-old senior was an honor student, captain of the Englewood Technical High School basketball team and on the radar of Division I-A college scouts. He was going to score a rare victory over the streets. And then, in the flash of a gun's muzzle, he was gone. Another victim of the struggle. DeAndre Liggins was just 14 at the time, another youngster trying to steer clear of the violence and drug war that claimed so many of his friends and neighbors.

Men's basketball: Another road game, another close loss (John clay from the Lexington Herald-Leader)

John Calipari said it again. "What we know is that we're good enough to win," the Kentucky coach said Saturday night, standing in the back hallway of the O'Connell Center. And yet, Kentucky can't seem to win. Not on the road. Not in a close one.

Men's basketball: John Calipari's back-to-back magic is snapped (Brett Dawson of the Courier-Journal)

John Calipari's back-to-back magic is snapped. Chomped, you might say. Florida's 70-68 win Saturday night at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center capped an 0-2 week for the University of Kentucky and gave Calipari his first back-to-back losses since he dropped four straight at Memphis in 2005.

Men's basketball: UK's small margin for error apparent again in Florida loss (Larry Vaught from the Danville Advocate-Messenger)

Kentucky had so much talent and depth last season that it had a much greater margin for error than John Calipari's second team does. That's why UK's 70-68 loss at Florida Saturday night -- Kentucky's fourth two-point loss this season and second in five days -- was so close to a huge, huge win for the Wildcats.

Football: 3 ex-Cats eager to coach (the Lexington Herald-Leader's Chip Cosby) 

Former Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson admits it hasn't been easy accepting that his football playing days are over. But coaching is something Woodson believes can help him cope. Woodson and ex-UK receiver Glenn Holt have joined Joker Phillips' staff as student assistants. Both have enrolled at UK for the spring semester. Woodson said he's about two semesters away from a degree in kinesiology, and Holt expects to get his sociology degree in December.

Men's basketball: Video interviews with Calipari, Knight and Jones following the game (The Kentucky Kernel)

Baseball: Meyer tries to turn around career (Conor Glassey of Baseball America)

Despite pitching well his senior season, Meyer's commitment to the Wildcats was so strong that he fell to the Red Sox in the 20th round in the 2008 draft. Boston went all-in with their signings that year and made a hard push to pry Meyer away from Kentucky at the deadline. Meyer said turning down the Red Sox was the toughest decision of his life, but he never second guesses himself.

Baseball: Nidiffer hopes to be first Cat to play for Legends (Mark Maloney from the Lexington Herald-Leader)

Drumming up interest for their 11th season, the Lexington Legends did something at their annual publicity "caravan" Thursday that they'd never been able to do before -- introduce a Kentucky Wildcat who very well could be on their opening-day roster. "That would be a cool thing," Marcus Nidiffer said. "I'm ready to be the first."

Women's basketball: UK's blowout of Auburn a nice warmup for Monday's Tennessee game (Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader)

Matthew Mitchell pondered the question for just a millisecond. On a scale of zero and Armageddon, where does No. 16 Kentucky's Monday evening showdown with No. 5 Tennessee rank? Pounding the table for mock emphasis, Mitchell said with a smile "gotta go with Armageddon. This is big. Game of the Century." OK, maybe not. But it is going to be big.

Rifle: Rifle topples No. 1 WVU, claims conference crownd (UKathletics.com)

The Kentucky rifle team road a school-record team score to a 4696-4680 win over No. 1 West Virginia, clinching the 2010-11 Great American Rifle Conference regular-season championship, on Saturday at UK's Barker Hall. "I was really proud of the team, they really did great," UK head coach Harry Mullins said. "This was the first step in our journey this year."

Football: Kentucky's Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb rising quickly (Todd McShay of ESPN.com)

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the extreme competitiveness and impressive football character Cobb and Locke display, which contribute to their rising stock. Kentucky's defense was just okay in 2010 and the quarterback and offensive line were average at best, but the Wildcats hung around in a lot of games because of these two players. Locke could be seen lowering his shoulder while Cobb continued to make tough catches over the middle no matter the situation or score, and scouts notice that.

General: Athletes see ups, downs of social media (Elizabeth Merrill from ESPN.com)

But social media is here to stay, and it's all over the news. In Egypt, Facebook and other forms of social media are being used by people on all sides of that nation's crisis to spread information and show solidarity. Back here in the U.S., Twitter has been responsible for three of the biggest stories in the NFL postseason.

Football: Packers' Masthay makes most of chance (Sean Leahy from USA Today)

Tim Masthay had an exit plan. Eighteen months ago, the punter for the Green Bay Packers was newly married but also out of a job. The Indianapolis Colts had sent him to the scrapheap of NFL specialists. And suddenly Masthay, then 22, had to confront the possibility that his future -- and his income -- would not be that of a professional athlete.

Football: Former Wildcat Masthay playing major role in Packers' Super Bowl run (Guy Ramsey with Cat Scratches)

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.

Women's basketball: Video of Mitchell, Dunlap on the upcoming Tennessee game

Softball: Video interviews with softball's Rachel Lawson and Rachel Riley

Gymnastics: Gymnastics team learning to overcome beam (My story on Cat Scratches)

If you've ever wondered what it looks like to see a team collectively hold its breath all at once, watch the Kentucky gymnastics team during its beam routine. Historically an area of concern for UK, beam, one of four routines in a gymnastics meet, is once again the proverbial mountain to climb that separates the Cats from moving up the Southeastern Conference ladder. At season's end, the team will likely look at beam as either the team's key to a successful season or the anchor of disappointment.

Men's basketball: Profile of signee Marquis Teague (USABasketball.com) 

What helps you stay motivated?
I just love the game. I always want to get better. That is my motivation, I just love the game.


video platform video management video solutions video player

The Big Blueprint (Florida loss)

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The Big Blueprint is a rapid-reaction, nuts-and-bolts recap of the latest Kentucky men's basketball game. Formatted to relive the key moments from each game, the Big Blueprint will be used on the blog for road games that Cat Scratches does not attend.

The skinny: Kentucky dropped consecutive games for the first time in the John Calipari era and the first time since 2009 with another heartbreaking loss, a 70-68 defeat to Florida. It was the same script, different night for the Cats on the road. Similar to the Ole Miss and Alabama losses, UK fell behind by double digits before rallying late in the second half. UK and Florida traded leads down the stretch, but the Gators took the final lead of the game at 67-66 on a pair of free throws from Erving Walker. Brandon Knight's 3-pointer before the buzzer from the top of the key missed short. Knight finished with 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 4 of 5 from behind the 3-point line. Chandler Parsons paced Florida with 17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. Kentucky falls to 16-6 overall, 4-4 in the Southeastern Conference. Florida improves to 18-5, 7-2 in the league.

The difference: Experience and depth. Florida, picked in the preseason to win the SEC because of its experience, played like the veteran team down the stretch. Although the Gators let a 13-point lead slip away, they did not fold and panic when UK took the lead. Kentucky played with more toughness for 40 minutes than it did earlier in the week - quite frankly, Florida played very well Saturday night - but UK has not figured out how to pull out a close game. Also, foul trouble once again tested the Cats' depth. DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson were riddled in foul trouble most of the game. The Gators feasted in the paint at times without a plethora of big bodies to stop them.

Player of the game: Parsons. Knight would have been your player of the game with a win, especially had he drilled his 3-point attempt just before the buzzer. The freshman guard took over in the second half when Kentucky fell behind double digits and played with a calming, follow-me attitude. Ultimately, though, Florida got the win and built its lead on the all-around play from Parsons. The senior forward had 17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists and seemed to come up with key plays at the right moment. His back-to-back put-back dunks after the Cats had stormed back halted the UK momentum.

Turning point: Florida and UK were trading the lead until Harrellson fouled out on what looked to be a tie-up situation. Walker went to the line and drained two free throws with 1:51 left, and Alex Tyus followed with a leaning jumper to go up 69-66. The Gators never relinquished the lead.

Play of the game: Knight's 3-point miss that hit the front of the rim. Head coach John Calipari will likely take some heat for UK's last possession. Instead of calling timeout with 13 seconds left and a chance to tie or win the game, Calipari elected to let Knight dribble the ball up and make a play. There appeared to be some confusion between Knight and Terrence Jones at the top of the key in the closing seconds so Knight decided to launch a 3-point shot.

Key stat: Kentucky fell to 0-4 in games decided by five points or fewer. All four of those losses were by two points each. Some of that is misfortune; some of it is clutch play by the other teams. But some of it may be due to youth and inexperience. You can't show a player or a team how to win late in games. Becoming clutch isn't taught. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins naturally knew how to win in tight games last year. One could argue Florida knew how to win Saturday because of its experience. This UK team is still learning, but time is running out on how to pull out close games.

He said what? "He willed us to that (comeback)." - Calipari on Knight

"The last play, I've got to watch it on tape. The guy in the corner didn't want to come out. He went backdoor, which is OK. We still go the ball screen, which is what we wanted. We had to go through Brandon down two. Normally I'd say we're going after them but there were no calls. We were not going to go in there. Terrence went in there three times and we got nothing, so our best bet was going through Brandon. He got a great look late. I didn't want them to press us, didn't want them to change different things, didn't want them to change to a zone. I liked the situation." - Calipari

"We're just not quite where we need to be. What it shows you is we're good enough to beat anybody. It also shows you is we have spells in a game where guys (don't do what they're supposed to)." - Calipari 

"I think they're getting tired of the finishes. ... I told you guys every game we play will be a four-point game. We've just got to get to where we're finishing off some games." - Calipari

Postgame video interview with Calipari, courtesy of the Courier-Journal

Unsung hero: Eloy Vargas has been a punching bag for criticism this year because of his timid play, but the junior forward provided the Cats with 14 big minutes Saturday. He only logged two points, four rebounds and one assist, but he filled in admirably for Harrellson while he sat on the bench in foul trouble. Vargas won't be pleased with a loss, but he can take consolation in the fact that he played well in his return to Florida, where he played at his freshman year.

What this one means: Kentucky's SEC championship hopes just went from slim to slimmer. At 4-4 in the league at the midway point, UK is not only two and a half games behind Florida for the SEC East lead, it also trails a surprising Alabama squad by three games for the overall league lead. Making matters worse, Alabama owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over UK thanks to the game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a couple of weeks ago. Kentucky isn't mathematically out of the SEC race at this point, but it's pretty darn close. Anything short of a 7-1 or 8-0 finish will likely end the Cats' one-year reign as conference champs. Oh, and did we mention UK still has to play Florida again, Vanderbilt twice and Tennessee twice? The outlook does not look pretty. And though Calipari told Dick Vitale before the game that seeding in the SEC Tournament is all that matters, that is starting to slip as well.

WBSK 09_10 UK_GA Web 39.jpgWhen Pat Summitt's Tennessee Volunteers come to town, there has never been any doubt about the magnitude of the game for the Kentucky Wildcats or any other team for that matter. With Tennessee having dominated women's college basketball in the Southeastern Conference for more than 20 years, the motivation to knock off the powerful Lady Vols has always been there.

The Wildcats have long considered Tennessee a rival, but with Matthew Mitchell leading UK Hoops, the rivalry is finally starting to become mutual.

No. 16/18 Kentucky (18-4, 7-2 SEC) will host No. 5/4Tennessee (21-2, 9-0 SEC) at 9 p.m. Monday on ESPN2 and Mitchell has no qualms about admitting how important the game is to his team.

"It's Armageddon," Mitchell quipped when asked how big the game was on a scale of zero to Armageddon. "It will be a big game for sure."

Kentucky's win over Auburn on Thursday kept the Wildcats in a tie for second place in the SEC and two games behind the Vols, who are a perfect 9-0 in league play. The Wildcats are contending for the SEC crown for a second consecutive season, but seeing Tennessee at the top of the standings is a familiar sight.

"Tennessee shows up and plays very consistently and they've done it over and over for many years in this league," Mitchell said.

While Kentucky has had some good teams in recent years, the program is beginning to show some of the signs of consistency that measure the true greatness of a program. UK had a banner season in 2009-10 that ended in a run to the Elite Eight, but the team's sustained success this year in spite of integrating six newcomers is evidence the program may be ready to compete with Tennessee on an annual basis.

Under Mitchell, Kentucky has shown it is capable of competing with Tennessee on the floor and actually winning, especially in Lexington. Over the past two seasons, the Wildcats and Vols have faced off four times with Summitt's bunch winning three. However, UK has stayed within eight points or less in two of the losses, and Tennessee's last trip to Memorial Coliseum in 2009 ended in a 66-56 UK victory.

While Mitchell freely admitted that the game is a big one, he minimized the difference between playing Tennessee and playing other SEC squads.

"I think, for us, every time we take the floor in the Southeastern Conference, there are three things that you have to do," Mitchell said. "With Tennessee and the talent they have and the firepower they have, you have to raise your level a little bit see what you can do."

The first area that Mitchell cited was hustle.

"Can you out-hustle your opponent and win those 50-50 plays where you have a chance and the other team has a chance to come up with the ball?" Mitchell said.

Second was rebounding, which Mitchell called particular attention to in light of Tennessee's proficiency in that department.

"It takes a lot of hard work to rebound in this league and to win that battle on the board," Mitchell explained. "Tennessee's probably one of the powerful rebounding teams in the country and certainly statistically the best rebounding team in our league."

Lastly, Mitchell talked about turnovers.

"Can you somehow find a way to have the discipline on offense to take care of it and on defense play hard enough and play disciplined enough to carry out your assignments and turn the other team over?" Mitchell said.

Since a three-game losing skid that spanned the team's final nonconference game against Duke and its first two conference games, UK has succeeded in those areas, leading to a seven-game winning streak that has set up Monday's game in Memorial as such a can't-miss affair.

"I think we're very excited (about the game)," senior forward Victoria Dunlap said. "I know I am. I talked to a couple of my teammates about it and we're excited. Tennessee is a great team, they're ranked top five in the country, and we have a great opportunity to go out here and win the game."

When you consider the fact that UK has knocked off Tennessee two of the last three times in Lexington and Kentucky's rise in the SEC, it's not just a big game because Tennessee is coming to town. It's a big game because it carries weight for both teams for the rest of hte season.

"Really, every game for us is big, but right now we're in a position to be in the upper echelon of the conference and Tennessee's at the top right now," Mitchell said. "We need to see if we can take some steps forward because we're trying to get to the top too, so it's definitely a big game for us."

As if all of that were not enough, adding to the intrigue are the close ties between the two programs. Mitchell was a graduate assistant for a season under Summitt while assistants Kyra Elzy and Shalon Pillow played at Tennessee.

Tying everyone together is former UK head coach Mickie DeMoss, who returned to as assistant coaching role at Tennessee after leaving UK in 2007. DeMoss has had a major impact on the careers of Mitchell, Elzy and Pillow, having hired Mitchell as an assistant at UK and coached both Elzy and Pillow.

"I would not be standing here talking to you right now if it weren't for Mickie DeMoss," Mitchell said. "I love her and she has done more for me than any single person in my life professionally. I know she's very influential with both the women on our staff that played there."

Mitchell won't have any trouble putting that aside when the teams take the floor. The Vols are too talented for him to think about anything else. Mitchell said this Tennessee team fits the mold of dominant Summitt-coached teams of the past.

"A typical Tennessee team is first of all unbelievably talented," Mitchell said. "There's no one in our conference over the last 15, 20, 30 years who's done a better job recruiting than Pat Summitt. Tennessee is the most talented team in our conference without a doubt."

Even though Tennessee remains the gold standard for SEC basketball, the Wildcats are starting to earn the Volunteers' attention. Mitchell's staff has landed some very high profile recruits, most recently UConn transfer Samarie Walker, signaling UK's ascent.

Ultimately, though, it's about what happens on the floor.

"I think they are (starting to look at Kentucky differently)," Dunlap said. "We're starting to show the SEC and the entire country that Kentucky basketball is not just about the guys; it's about the girls too. Our program has changed. Teams have to be ready to play us."

With so much on the line Monday night, it's a safe bet that both squads will be ready to play.

Harry Mullins' team has done it again.

The Kentucky rifle team shot school-record score of 4,696 to defeat No. 1 West Virginia on Saturday. The victory clinched the 2010-11 Great American Rifle Conference regular-season championship, the school's fourth GARC title.

The question now, with NCAA qualifying next weekend, is how good is this year's team? Mullins' squads routinely compete for the national championship, posting seven top-three finishes in Mullins' tenure, but the team has yet to actually win one. Is this the year the Cats can finally do it? How does this team compare to the ones that came so close to winning it all over the years?

I will explore some of those topics with Mullins in a feature later on in the week as the team gets ready for its national championship run.

In the meantime, check out the full details from Saturday's upset of West Virginia in a recap here. The story will be updated with quotes from Mullins later on.

Video: Mitchell, Dunlap on upcoming Tennessee game

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Head coach Matthew Mitchell


Senior forward Victoria Dunlap

27_UK_UGA_13_JW.JPGWhat's the old saying, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take?" That adage has a whole new, twisted meaning for Darius Miller after the Ole Miss loss.

Beaten up, both by fans and himself, for not taking a wide-open, last-minute shot against Ole Miss, Miller has become more recognized in the past week for the shot he didn't take than any shot he's ever taken.

"I don't know (why I didn't shoot it)," Miller said. "If I knew I'd tell you."

That non-shot, a passed-up 3-point attempt from the right corner in which Miller could have buried the Rebels' upset hopes, ended up a hesitated pass to DeAndre Liggins, a shot-clock violation and an upset loss to a struggling Ole Miss team. Instead, by passing up that shot, Miller almost instantaneously erased any positive vibes he had built recently with the best five-game stretch of his career.

After the game, Miller sent out a tweet apologizing to his teammates and fans. On Friday, just a day before the Cats play Southeastern Conference Eastern Division leader Florida in a crucial game in Gainesville, Fla., Miller shouldered the blame for the loss.

"I just felt like I had a really bad game," Miller said. "I felt like I was one of the main reasons we lost."

Miller said he was hoping to use Tuesday's performance as motivation.

"Good," UK head coach John Calipari said. "I hope something does it."

Truth be told, Miller's shot was just a glimpse into a much larger veteran problem.

The play of veterans Miller, Liggins and Josh Harrellson has been magnified in recent weeks, and a few days after Calipari stressed their importance, the trio of leaders laid in egg in Oxford, Miss. The three combined for nine points, 12 rebounds and six turnovers in 80 minutes in the last game, and their production has weighed heavily on how the Cats have fared this season.

In Kentucky's wins this year, Miller, Harrellson and Liggins are averaging a combined 26.3 points and 18.7 rebounds. In UK's five losses, their scoring and rebounding averages have dropped  to 19.0 points and 15.0 rebounds.

That means, despite having three freshmen lead the team in scoring, UK has to have more from its experience.

"We don't have enough room for error," Calipari said. "If two guys really play poorly, like, really play bad, we're trying to play with three and a half guys."

The play of the veterans has drawn mixed reviews so far this year. Each one has had his ups and downs.

Harrellson was the story early in the season but has tapered off of late. Liggins has shown signs of the type of scrappiness and defense that earned him minutes last year, but it's been too inconsistent. Miller has been criticized for his pattern of disappearing for stretches of a game, but he was starting to surge the last handful of games until the Ole Miss loss.
Calipari took the blame for being too complacent with them.

"There are things that they're not doing that we must have let go because that's where they are," Calipari said. "It always comes back to me. We've accepted certain things, and for us to move forward, we can't accept those things. Those are so important. That's one or two possessions in a couple-bucket game. And for us, every game we're going to play is going to be a couple buckets. Those two possessions are game."

The prime example was Miller's lack of a shot.

Calipari said he spoke to Miller about passing on the last-minute possession and pointed out that, despite a loss, Miller is "still alive."

" 'When you get that shot next time, shoot it,' " Calipari said he told Miller. " 'If you miss it and we lose, you'll live. We'll be fine. And if you make it, you'll feel good.' (I told him that) just to say this isn't life or death. 'You're treating it that way.' "

Not taking the shot wasn't a lack of confidence, Miller said, but Calipari seemed to hint that it was.

"At the end of the day, it's what's inside you," Calipari said. "I believe in him. I keep telling him, 'I believe in you. I think you're as good as anybody in the league. Now you've got to go do it.' "

Miller said he isn't "letting (the shot) go," adding that he hopes to learn from it. He'll have a chance to redeem himself Saturday in an all-important primetime game against the Gators.

In addition to the national spotlight of ESPN College GameDay's broadcast of the week, UK is in dangerous territory as it enters the halfway point of the league schedule. A loss to the Gators would not only put the Cats two and a half games back of Florida in the SEC East, it would also bury Kentucky behind a host of other SEC teams with five games still remaining against Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.

That's a ton of pressure for a freshman-laden team to shoulder. That's why it's imperative the veterans step up in another hostile environment on the road.

"It's a good game for us to play right now - great game," Calipari said. "It's a bounce-back game and you better bounce back."

Video: Knight, Poole return home to face Gators

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Head coach John Calipari


Freshman guard Brandon Knight


Freshman guard Stacey Poole


Junior guard/forward Darius Miller

Friday notes: Rondo an all-star; GameDay at Florida

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- Former Wildcat Rajon Rondo has been selected to the NBA All-Star game as a reserve for the second straight season. Rondo, one of four Boston Celtics to make the roster, is averaging 10.6 points and a league-high 12.5 assists per game. Despite missing a chunk of games earlier in the season, Rondo is once again on pace to break the franchise record for assists, which he set last year.

- The official invitation list to the NFL Combine is out, and two Wildcats are included in the list. UK's Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke have been invited to attend the Combine, which will be held this year from Feb. 23 to March 1 in Indianapolis. A total of 53 players from the Southeastern Conference were invited to attend.

- Saturday's Kentucky-Florida men's basketball game will be the site of this week's ESPN College GameDay. The show will air from the Stephen C. O'Connell Center from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday with the first hour appearing on ESPNU and the second hour on ESPN. An additional hour of coverage will originate from inside the O'Connell Center at 8 p.m., culminating with Florida and Kentucky at 9 p.m. GameDay analyst Digger Phelps has a quick breakdown of the game in the video below. You can check out more GameDay videos and coverage of the UK-Florida game at the College GameDay website.

From the Pressbox: Notes from Tom Leach (Feb. 4)

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When Florida was losing pre-conference games to the likes of Jacksonville and Central Florida, some observers wrote off those preseason predictions for the Gators to win the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.

 But at the midway of their conference schedule, Florida is sitting in the driver's seat.

"This is a team that's hard to figure," longtime Gator radio network play-by-play man Mick Hubert told tomleachky.com. "At 6-2 and leading the East, I guess we've done what people expected, but the way we've gotten here has been a twisting and rocky road. They can be really good at times but they can also go into these long offensive droughts."

Hubert says a big key for the Gators is getting production in the paint from Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus.

"When they play well, they get Vernon Macklin involved early," Hubert said. "He's made great progress and his offensive game has come along very nicely. When he's able to get into double figures, the Gators are pretty good. The same can be said of Alex Tyus but he's really struggling right now (14 points in the last three games). When those two guys don't have an effect early in the game, the Gators can struggle.  And they've struggled against some zone defenses."

One thing the Gators have learned how to do over the last month is win games ugly.

"They're not a finesse team anymore," Hubert said. "This is a team that's quite comfortable at grinding out games."

Defensively, Kentucky may not see much of the press that has been a staple of Billy Donovan's system over the years.

"The younger guys have been better at pressing," Hubert said. "Their bench is largely all freshmen and they're very athletic. They've got a sense of toughness about them and they defend. They're not a great scoring group so they press more with the younger guys. They're not really pressing and trying to score off it. They're trying to slow teams down. They're not as much of a pressing team as they've been in the past."

= = =

The most consistent aspect of this young Kentucky team has been its ability to take care of the ball, but the Cats committed a season-high 18 turnovers at Ole Miss and they paid a dear price for that.

Ole Miss got up 12 more shots and became the first team this season to shoot a lower percentage from the field and beat the Wildcats. Only South Carolina last season was able to score as few as the 71 points Ole Miss put up and defeat UK.

= = = 

Gary Parrish covers college basketball for CBS Sports' website and was courtside Tuesday night to see UK's loss at Ole Miss. Parrish recently picked the Cats as one of his picks for the Final Four and he's not ready to waver on that thought yet.

"I wouldn't change my opinion," Parrish said. "Can they make a Final Four? Of course.  Will they?  Who knows. I think you'd be smart to have Ohio State in there, and at this point Texas is playing like a Final Four team. But I think Kentucky's ceiling is higher than anybody else because they have (future) pros. Sure, they've got problems, but everybody's got problems.

"This Kentucky team is not as talented as last year's Kentucky team but you're not going to have to be great to go to the Final Four. I'm not sure there's one (great team). I understand why Kentucky fans are disappointed, Cal included, but I don't think their problems are that much worse than anybody else in the country."

And Parrish discounts those who are skeptical of John Calipari being able to win a national championship by relying so heavily on freshmen.

"John's way of recruiting has allowed him to win 30 games five straight years," Calipari said.  "John will be, I believe, the first coach in history to win a national championship with a freshman-laden team and then all these questions will go away. I think you get the best players you can get and try to win with them. People say you can't win (a title) with a freshman guard but John would have already done it (with Memphis) if Mario Chalmers (of Kansas) hadn't hit a ridiculous shot (in the 2008 finals)."

Video: UK Hoops crushes Auburn; Tennessee next

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In a battle to remain in second place in the Southeastern Conference, the Kentucky women's basketball provided some separation from Auburn with a decisive 69-38 win over Auburn on Thursday.

UK's suffocating press forced 28 Auburn turnovers and a balanced attack did the rest. Sophomore forward Brittany Henderson paced the Cats with a career-high 13 points and senior forward Victoria Dunlap posted 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

Kentucky set two records Thursday. The 31-point victory was the largest margin of victory in SEC play in school history and Auburn's 38 points were the fewest the school has surrendered in SEC play in program annals.

The Cats are now riding a seven-game winning streak heading into a huge showdown with SEC leader Tennessee on Monday at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

Asked how big the game was on a scale of 0 to "armagedon," head coach Matthew Mitchell joked it was the latter.

"This game is big," Mitchell said. "We will get ready for them tomorrow and see what we can do, but it will be a big game for sure."

Head coach Matthew Mitchell


(From left to right) Brittany Henderson, Victoria Dunlp and A'dia Mathies

Live blog: UK Hoops vs. Auburn

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Video: UK softball eager to kick off season

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The Kentucky softball team has been outside just twice this year because of the winter weather, but the team is only a week away from starting the 2011 campaign.

UK will head south for the FIU Combat Class in Miami on Feb. 11 to begin the season. The Cats' first opponent in the tournament will be Ohio State, which has ended Kentucky's NCAA Tournament run in each of the last two seasons.

I'll have some upcoming feature stories on the team over the next couple of weeks on the blog, including some additional baseball stories as well, but in the meantime, check out a pair of videos from interviews I conducted with head coach Rachel Lawson and pitcher Rachel Riley. 

Head coach Rachel Lawson


Junior pitcher Rachel Riley

If you're having serious doubts about the UK men's basketball team after watching the Cats lose to Ole Miss on Tuesday, Luke Winn has a story on SI.com that may lift your spirits.

Winn includes Kentucky in his "Magic Eight." The Magic Eight, as Winn describes it, "is not a list of the eight best teams in college basketball, nor is it a prediction of the Elite Eight." Winn calls the eight teams "merely a pool of teams that's guaranteed to include the national champ."

In other words, Winn thinks Kentucky is one of only eight teams capable of winning it all. Here's what Winn has to say about UK:

 

Of the teams that already rank in the top five efficiency-wise, the Wildcats have the most upside. Their two highest-usage freshmen, hybrid forward Terrence Jones and point guard Brandon Knight, have yet to hit their peak, and junior leader Darius Miller has been surging in his past five games. They fit the teams-with-NBA-talent-win-titles formula -- Jones and Knight, at the very least, have a future in the league -- and they're a much better shooting team than the loaded club that went ice-cold in last season's Elite Eight.

 

It should be noted that Winn's evaluation and the publication of the story was before UK's loss in Oxford, Miss.

The other teams making the list were BYU, Duke, Georgetown, Ohio State, Texas, Tennessee and Washington. Notice some marquee teams missing?

Check on Winn's full story at SI.com to read more about the Magic Eight and who didn't make Winn's list.

Woodson, Holt return to UK as student assistants

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Kentucky football can confirm that former quarterback Andre Woodson has returned to the team as a student assistant. The Cats' Pause Matt May and WTVQ's Kent Spencer initially reported the story.

In addition to Woodson, former wide receiver Glenn Holt will also serve as a student assistant. Both players joined the staff in January to help the team while they finish their degrees.

Woodson guided UK to back-to-back bowl in the 2006 and 2007 seasons and went on to play for the New York Giants and Washington Redskins in the NFL. Holt lettered at UK from 2003-05, leading the team in receiving in 2004. Holt went on to the NFL for stints with the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings.

Phillips energized by Signing Day haul

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Phillips.jpegCome National Signing Day, there is an inevitable temptation to dwell on the one or two prospects that got away. Inking every top prospect on a recruiting board is a near impossible task for any football coaching staff.
 
Rather than mourning the loss of the ones that got away, Joker Phillips is focusing on the ones that didn't and challenging fans and media not only do the same, but also to identify the recruits who will turn into the next generation of great Kentucky football players.
 
"I want you guys to try to figure out who they are," an enthused Phillips said as he talked about his 2011 class. "We (the coaching staff) know who they are, the guys that have a chance to be the next Randall Cobbs, the guys who have a chance to carry this program."
 
Interest in Signing Day has reached an apex in recent years, with much of the conversation centering on player and team rankings by one of the number of popular scouting services. Phillips does not buy into the notion that rankings tell the whole story.
 
"We don't worry about the star system," Phillips said. "We worry about the guys that fit our profile."
 
Phillips described what he considers a successful student-athlete looks like at Kentucky.
"Number one is character," Phillips said. "Second, we want a guy that truly wants to get a degree here. And the third thing is that a guy that has passion for the game of football and a guy that has passion not only for football but to play football here at Kentucky."
With that said, Kentucky's 2011 class in among the most highly rated in the history of the program. The class features 26 prospects from nine states, including Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, California, Alabama and Louisiana. 
 
The class accomplished the goal of enhancing UK's overall talent, but perhaps more importantly, it fulfilled a number of key areas of need.
 
With top targets Cobb and Chris Matthews leaving the program to pursue professional careers, wide receiver was clearly a position that needed to be addressed.
 
"Our needs were at wide receiver," Phillips said. "We had a lot of production that walked out the door this year. We had to replace that."
 
Kentucky signed four prospects that project as wide receivers: Rashad Cunningham (Mobile, Ala.), Nile Daniel (Griffin, Ga.), Demarco Robinson (Ellenwood, Ga.) and Daryl Collins (Gadsden, Ala.).
 
Unlike the 2007 recruiting class when Kentucky also had to address needs at wide receiver, Kentucky was able to sign players who had played the position in high school.
 

"We had to replace those guys in 2007 with five receivers that were signed in our class and only one played wide receiver (in high school)," Phillips said. "We had to go out and find quarterbacks that were great athletes to fulfill that need."

"Now, with where our program is, we have been able to fulfill that need with wide receivers."
The staff also recognized that the loss of Derrick Locke meant that it needed to find players with an ability to replace his production at the running back position. UK's running back recruiting was perhaps the greatest success story of the class.
 
"We were able to go out and get the top two running backs that we targeted," Phillips said of Marcus Caffey (Atlanta) and Josh Clemons (Fayetteville, Ga.). "Very seldom is a program able to go out and do it."
Phillips and his staff also faced the task of filling needs at quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker and were able to secure commitments from at least two prospects at each position.
 
Outside of positional needs, the staff looked to upgrade the overall athleticism of the team in this class. Phillips wanted to bring in elite athletes who could benefit from UK's first rate strength and conditioning program led by Rock Oliver.
 
"Tall, long, lean, athletic explosive (players), we can't sign enough of those," Phillips said. "Bring them into your program, feed them some food with substance and watch them grow and see what (they become)."
 
Particularly with UK's imminent switch to a 3-4 defense, athletes capable of playing the crucial pass rushing defensive end/linebacker position are priorities. Even though the 3-4 switch has only been in order for a few weeks, a number of today's signees fit that mold.
 
Perhaps the best athlete and crown jewel of the class, though, is a four-star safety from East St. Louis, Illinois: Glenn Faulkner. Faulkner also excels as a basketball player and Phillips recently had a chance to watch him play his second sport.
 
"I feel like this is, from top to bottom, the most explosive group we have signed here, and Faulkner is one of those guys," Phillips said. "(Defensive line) coach (David) Turner has commented that the only thing that keeps him in the gym is the roof."
If Faulkner and company aren't enough for fans to get excited about, Phillips has a message for those who are preoccupied about the ones that got away.
"Don't be," Phillips reassured. "Trust us. We have put together some classes that you guys have been excited about. (You) will be even more excited about this class we have put together this week."

Signing Day video: Who is the next star?

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Head football coach Joker Phillips, speaking at his Signing Day news conference, talks about who the next stars of UK football could be. Phillips also briefly talks about some of the 2011 signees.

 

Web Wednesday: National Signing Day 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

Football: New assistant Steve Pardue is a Georgia legend (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Pardue's looming presence in Georgia was a main attraction with Kentucky's job offer. He led LaGrange to the state playoffs in 14 of 17 seasons, winning three state championships. If Pardue didn't meet an opposing coach during the season, he likely chatted with him at passing leagues or coaching clinics. He also was heavily involved with Georgia Athletic Coaches Association (GACA).

UK Hoops, women's tennis: Siblings in the spotlight

Carly gave up tennis early on, because she didn't want to wear a skirt and enjoyed the physicality of basketball and soccer more. Similarly, Meredith dropped soccer when she made it to middle school. The season conflicted with tennis, and she wasn't wild about contact sports anyway.

They still play tennis against each other every once in a while - with predictable results. Meredith creamed Carly the last time they faced off. Most of the time, they work together during training for their respective sports.

Men's basketball: Larry Brown says John Calipari is family (LEX 18)

In the history of college basketball, there aren't many like Larry Brown. As a star for North Carolina, he played against Adolph Rupp.

"I've always been impressed with Kentucky," says the Hall of Fame coach and dear friend of Calipari's who was in town evaluating UK.

Men's basketball: Cats still have more growing up to do (Kentucky Kernel)

After rallying to take a one-point lead thanks in large part to the inspired play of freshman forward Terrence Jones, who made four clutch free throws late down the stretch to initially put the Cats ahead, the Cats had an opportunity on the second-to-last possession of the game to put the game out of reach or at least force Ole Miss to play for a tie at best.

Instead, with a 69-68 lead, the Cats' execution failed them as it seems to have done at the most inopportune times this year.

Harrellson_web.jpgMen's basketball: UK's success hinges on veterans (Sporting News)

It may be true that UK's trio of elite freshmen gives the team an opportunity to develop into something approaching extraordinary, but they would be adrift without the consistency of junior wings DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller and senior center Josh Harrellson.

UK Hoops: Victoria Dunlap leads rally past Alabama (Lexington Herald-Leader)

"About midway through the second half, we just tried to change our energy and start hustling a little more," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I thought Alabama was outhustling us up to that point, and I thought the players changed their energy and worked hard and our defense made some plays coming down the stretch. We were able to pull out a much needed victory.".

Wildcats in the pros

Brandon Webb making "dramatic strides" (Dallas Morning News)

The Rangers took a calculated risk when they signed right-handed pitcher Brandon Webb in January.

The best case scenario is that the 31-year-old returns healthy and effective after having shoulder surgery 17 months ago. If that were to occur, Webb could step into the starting rotation spot vacated when Cliff Lee signed with Philadelphia.


John Wall growing on and off the court (Washington Post)

Barely 20 years old, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's NBA draft is adjusting to his new life as the face of the Washington Wizards. He is dealing with the pressures of being the foundation of a team rebuilding project, of being a team captain while still trying to learn the NBA game, and going through the physical challenge of playing back-to-back games and fighting through injuries.

DeMarcus Cousins is shaping up quickly (Sacramento Bee)

Cousins - about to enter his second NBA semester - is skipping a few grades. The emotional outbursts and immature incidents are diminishing. The on-court production is consistently improving. There even appears to be some breathing room between his uniform and a chunky 283-pound body that is beginning to take NBA shape.

"It's still a process," admitted Cousins, who would like to lose another eight or 10 pounds. "I'm still learning my body."

While we're on the topic of the Draft Cats, it bears mentioning that Wall, Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe have been named to the Rookie team for the Rookie-Sophomore game on Friday night of All Star Weekend (February 18-20). It should be a lot of fun to see the "Three Amigos" on the floor together again. 

The honor was the second of the week for John Wall, as he nabbed Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors for January.

News from UKathletics.com

Swimming and Diving: UK sweeps Cincinnati, falls to Virginia Tech

Track: UK collects four wins on final day of Rod McCravy Memorial

Football: UK couldn't afford to lose Tee Martin

Men's tennis: Cox's thrilling win propels No. 12 UK to National Indoors

Video of the week

After his second of back to back banner games this weekend, DeMarcus Cousins was interviewed by Kings' announcers Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds. Cousins learned it was Reynolds' birthday and gave him an impromptu present.

Cat Scratches to host live Signing Day blog

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Live blog at bottom of the post

For the third straight year, Cat Scratches will be hosting a live Signing Day blog to bring fans the latest football Signing Day news.

With the help of the CoveritLive blog application, UKathletics.com will bring fans the latest and most accurate football Signing Day news on Wednesday. Cat Scratches will host a live blog from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Nutter Training Facility, the football headquarters for Kentucky.

As soon as UK receives the National Letter of Intent, Cat Scratches will be the first to report the official news.

In addition to the news of the signees, the live blog will also include interviews with some of the UK assistant coaches, live from the Nutter Training Facility. In between their busy day of recruiting, several of the coaches will sit down with Cat Scratches to discuss the latest signees, how the Cats' recruiting class is shaking up, and answer fans' questions and comments in a real-time format.

Fans can submit their questions and comments during the live chat from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Questions will be posted pending approval of the moderator.

UKathletics.com will also have coverage from the Signing Day news conference at 3 p.m. as well as video and bios of the signees. Cat Scratches will have additional posts on the blog throughout the day.

The Big Blueprint (Ole Miss loss)

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The Big Blueprint is back. A rapid recap of the game, the Big Blueprint looks at the nuts and bolts of the latest UK game. Some of you may remember the Big Blueprint from the 2009 football season. Cat Scratches is re-introducing it for the Kentucky men's basketball game Tuesday night and will use it for road games that we don't personally attend. 

The skinny: Ole Miss pulled off a shocker over the Kentucky men's basketball team in Oxford, Miss., on Tuesday night on Chris Warren's go-ahead 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left. After storming back from an 11-point deficit in the closing minutes and taking a one-point lead on four straight Terrence Jones free throws, the Cats dropped a heartbreaker to a struggling Ole Miss team when Warren rattled in a 3-pointer from three feet behind the arc. Freshman guard Doron Lamb, who scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, missed a 3 at the buzzer. The loss drops UK to 16-5 on the season, 4-3 in Southeastern Conference play. Ole Miss, in desperate need of a victory to turn its season around, improves to 14-8, 2-5 in the league. Jones led UK with 22 points and 12 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the year. Warren was the man for the Rebels with a game-high-tying 22 points.

The difference: Focus and intensity. Ole Miss desperately needed a win and played like it. UK did not. The Cats looked like a team that may have been peering ahead to Saturday's showdown in Gainesville, Fla., and it showed. UK committed a season-high 18 turnovers and played with the same lack or urgency and focus in the first 15 minutes that it did at Alabama.

Player of the game: This one's pretty simple. Warren has been a one-man show for the Rebels this year. Although he had help from the likes of Zach Graham (16 points), Reginald Bucker (12 points, five blocks) and Terrance Henry (12 points), Warren provided the biggest shots of the game when the Rebels needed them the most. Warren finished 9 of 15 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from the 3-point line.

Turning point: After Kentucky took a 43-41 lead on a bucket from Lamb, Ole Miss broke the game open with a 13-0 run. Warren's lob pass to Reginald Buckner for a dunk got the run started, followed by a Warren 3 and a fast-break dunk by Buckner. UK aided the run with crucial turnovers, including three bad ones from Darius Miller, whose best five-game span of his career was ended with a three-point, four-turnover night. Lamb finally ended the drought with a layup with 11:29 left.

Play of the game: Ten straight points by Brandon Knight to pull Kentucky back in the game was quickly overshadowed by one nasty rejection from Buckner. After pulling within five points, Knight tried to posterize Buckner with a one-hand dunk, only Buckner wasn't having any of that. The 6-foot-9 forward stuffed Knight at the hoop, setting up a fast-break layup for Graham. The sequence gave Ole Miss a 65-55 lead and stole momentum from UK.

Key stat: Liggins' foul trouble loomed large in this loss. Thought to have a decisive size advantage over Warren because of his 8-inch height advantage, Liggins struggled to stay on the floor with frequent foul trouble. After picking up his fourth foul with more than 12 minutes left in the game, head coach John Calipari was forced to move Liggins off Warren for most of the remaining game.

He said what? "You've got to give Ole Miss credit. They battled and wanted it worse than we did. We're not going to win that way. We are what we are. We're playing six or seven guys. If a couple of guys don't show or play poorly, we'll struggle." -- Calipari

"I told them, 'You can't go on the road and expect freshmen to carry us.' Two of the freshmen played well; one didn't play particularly well. We didn't get enough from the upperclassmen." -- Calipari

Unsung hero(es): The performances of Knight, Jones and Lamb will be lost in this one, but all three played spectacular. Without Knight's personal 10-point run and Lamb's smooth shooting, UK could have been blown out of this one. Jones struggled at times, but his five blocks were big late the game, and his four straight free throws in the final two minutes nearly pulled off the comeback win.

What this one means: That Kentucky's road woes haven't been solved quite yet. All five of UK's losses this year have come on the road, and this one might have been the most disturbing. Calipari has emphasized the need for experience since the Georgia win, but his veterans did not step up Tuesday. Kentucky's trio of leaders, Miller, Liggins and Josh Harrellson, combined for nine points, 12 rebounds and six turnovers in 80 minutes of play. Half the season still remains, but UK's once promising hopes of defending its SEC title took a major hit, especially with six games still remaining against Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. If Florida defeats Vanderbilt late Tuesday night, the Cats will trail the Gators by a game and a half heading into Saturday's game in Gainesville. The depth issue also came up in this loss. Foul trouble really limits how far a six-man rotation can take a team.

Jan. 30 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. 30:

Women's basketball: Victoria Dunlap

  • Averaged a team-high 21.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals in UK's two SEC road wins over Ole Miss and Alabama last week.
  • Hit 52.9 percent from the floor and 63.6 percent from the free-throw line for the week.
  • Scored 16 of her team-high 18 points in the decisive second-half vs. Ole Miss.
  • Grabbed her 27th career and fifth double-double of the season vs. Alabama with a team-high 25 points and 15 rebounds.
  • It marked her sixth career 25-point and 15-rebound game, her first of the season.
  • With 43 points in the two games and 1,639 in her career, she moved up two spots to No. 3 on the all-time scoring list, passing Pam Browning (1,598 points from 1974-78) and Sam Mahoney (1,601 points from 2005-08).
  • With six steals and 274 in her career, she moved up to No. 3 on UK's all-time steals list, passing Patty Jo Hedges (271 steals from 1979-83).
  • Just three rebounds shy (997) of joining Valerie Still as the only two players in school history to pull down 1,000 rebounds in a career.

Swimming and diving: Lisa Faulkner

  • Won both events she competed in, the one- and three-meter dive.
  • Received a career-best score of 321.20 on the one-meter board.
  • Score of 321.20 on the one-meter board is the third best in program history.

Swimming and diving: Greg Ferrucci

  • Won both the one- and three-meter board competitions.
  • Has won the last six diving events he's competed in.
  • Recorded a career-best score of 368.85 on the one-meter board.
  • His score of 368.85 on the one-meter board is the fourth best all-time at Kentucky, bettering his previous best score of 362.25 which was then the fourth-best score all-time at Kentucky.

Men's basketball: Doron Lamb

  • Tallied game-high 19 points in helping lead Kentucky to 66-60 win over Georgia on Saturday.
  • Recorded 14th multiple 3-pointer game this season.
  • Hit two free throws late to help ice the game against the Bulldogs

Women's basketball: Jennifer O'Neill

  • Averaged 7.5 points off the bench in just 14.5 minutes per game in UK's two SEC wins over Ole Miss and Alabama last week.
  • Was critical in UK's win over Ole Miss, scoring eight of her 10 points in the final minutes. With UK trailing by two points with less than seven minutes remaining in the game, O'Neill hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Cats a lead they would not relinquish.
  • Also dished out a career-high-tying four assists vs. the Rebels.
  • Scored five points in 11 minutes off the bench in UK's win over Alabama.
  • Has made at least one 3-pointer in six consecutive games.

Swimming and diving: Chatham Penrod

  • Part of two Keating Aquatic Center record times.
  • Swam first leg in victorious 200 medley relay which set a KAC pool record time of 1:45.07.
  • Won the 200 backstroke by setting a KAC pool record with a finish of 2:02.63.
  • Won every race she was a part of.

Gymnastics team learning to overcome the beam

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UK_UGA_gymnastics_18_cw.JPGIf you've ever wondered what it looks like to see a team collectively hold its breath all at once, watch the Kentucky gymnastics team during its beam routine.

Historically an area of concern for UK, beam, one of four routines in a gymnastics meet, is once again the proverbial mountain to climb that separates the Cats from moving up the Southeastern Conference ladder. At season's end, the team will likely look at beam as either the team's key to a successful season or the anchor of disappointment.

No wonder everyone is so tense when Kentucky is on the beam.

A week and a half ago, UK was on the verge of upsetting No. 13 Arkansas. Leading after two events, UK headed to the beam with floor exercise to go.

The thought process was pretty simple: Get through the event with a decent score and slam the door shut on Arkansas on floor. But that's easier said than done when walking a tight rope in front of thousands of people.

The Cats fell that night. And they fell again. And again. Three falls in six performances on the beam ended all hopes of upsetting Arkansas. It was and still is the difference between UK and teams like Arkansas.

"It's very frustrating," assistant coach Heather Hite said. "I think the hardest part for me is that I know they are so good at that event. They could be very successful, and my job here is to get them to reach that potential. When I see them fall, I see they are not getting to where they could be and we have to work on what makes them do their best. In the competitions, they aren't showing these people how good they really are, and I was so disappointed for them because they do such great things in practice. We want to show how great they are."

For a team that has no problems staying on the beam in practice, it ultimately comes down to overcoming a mental hurdle. Years of struggling has a way of adding up into one heaping pile of frustration.

"It's one hundred percent mental," Hite said.

It's contagious. When one person falls off the beam, the already overbuilt pressure snowballs into even more pressure and anxiety.
 
For the next person on the beam, the focus then becomes more about not messing up than executing, which is obviously not the mentality Hite and fellow assistant coach Chuck Dickerson are looking for.

"It's almost like a domino effect," Hite said. "They tell you that if more than one person falls, it's a totally different thing. Mentally you are thinking, 'I have to stay on and salvage this.' Then they hold back to stay on the beam and that's not what you want them to do. You don't want them to think like that.

"Instead, you want them to do their routine, and if everyone else falls, at least I did my routine. You kind of want them to look selfishly at the balance beam."

It isn't a matter of not being able to succeed on the balance beam, gymnast Andre Mitchell said. According to the senior, the Cats frequently nail the beam routines in practice.

"All of our problems are mental because we could come in here any time of day and hit a routine and do it in our sleep," Mitchell said. "We have done it before. It's just in our heads."

Maybe no other gymnast has had to overcome the mental aspect of beam more than Mitchell.

Self-described as an overly competitive gymnast, Mitchell tends to take things like falls tougher than anyone else on the team. The problem is those frustrations can sometimes carry over into other events.

"I get so mad knowing that we could have beaten them," Mitchell said. "It eats me up. It's a challenge for me going into floor because usually I mess up on the next event because I am so upset and my head is somewhere else."

In that aspect, Mitchell has come a long way, Hite said. She's practiced patience this year and learned to move on from event to event.

It's shown as Mitchell is arguably the best all-around performer the Cats have. She's finished second in the all-around at every meet this season with the exception of a third-place finish against Georgia last week. Ironically, if she hadn't fallen off beam in the meet at No. 1 Florida, she would have set a career best in the all-around.

"The difference is night and day," Hite said of Mitchell's improvements. "She used to get so frustrated with herself and get down. It was hard for her to get out of that and move on to the next event. She's very competitive and wants to win. This year, individually, she is taking care of her business and realizing the rest of the team will succeed because she is doing her part for the whole team."

After a season-low score of 46.400 at Florida and the nightmare against Arkansas, the team showed significant improvements last week.

Junior Whitney Rose, arguably the Cats' best gymnast at vault, was taken out of the beam lineup last week because of confidence issues and a freshman, Audrey Harrison, took her place. The Cats ended up with a season-high score of 48.175.

"We are improving each week which is a good thing to look at," Mitchell said. "Even though we are struggling on beam, we are making progress each week and that definitely leads to confidence. It definitely makes me feel good that we are progressing at an even pace."

It should come as no surprise either that once Kentucky improved its beam score, its total score benefitted as the Cats notched a season-high 195.000 overall mark against Georgia.

The only problem for UK is the road never gets easier in the SEC. Having already faced four nationally ranked teams, including No. 1 Florida and No. 3 Georgia, UK will head to Auburn to face the No. 22 Tigers.

Although the Cats want to win every meet, the ultimate goal is to improve their team score each and every week to make regionals and nationals at the end of the year.

"It's not all about winning," Mitchell said. "It's about improving, too. It's definitely about putting a good score out there."

UK-Ole Miss now on ESPN2 and ESPNU

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for espn_logo.jpgThe Big 12's loss is Kentucky's gain.

The postponement of Tuesday night's Oklahoma-Baylor game in Norman, Okla., means that Tuesday's Kentucky-Ole Miss men's basketball game at 7 p.m. will now be on ESPN2 in addition to ESPNU.

Inclement weather sweeping the Midwest has postponed the Oklahoma-Baylor game, which was originally scheduled to air on ESPN2. With an open time slot to fill, ESPN has decided to simulcast the UK-Ole Miss game, originally slated to air on just ESPNU, on both ESPNU and ESPN2.

We have not confirmed yet whether the game will be online at ESPN3.com as well. The Oklahoma-Baylor game was scheduled to air on ESPN3, so the UK game could take the place of that as well. 

UK Sports Report (week of Jan. 31)

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Beginning this week, we're going to start posting the UK Sports Report on the blog. The UK Sports Report is a weekly recap of UK's athletics events from the week before that we've typically handed out to the media, but from this point forward, we're also going to post it on here. I hope to have a slightly cleaner format next week and we'll likely post it on Mondays, but for now, here's the first online edition of the UK Sports Report:

Men's basketball
- UK improved to 16-4 and 4-2 in the SEC with Saturday's 66-60 win over Georgia. Doron Lamb scored a game-high 19 points and was joined by Darius Miller (14), Brandon Knight (11) and DeAndre Liggins (11) in double figures.
- Kentucky is 28-0 at Rupp Arena under head coach John Calipari. UK has won 29 in a row at home, beginning with the 2009 NIT game at Memorial Coliseum and continuing with the last 28 at Rupp. It is the second-longest active streak in the nation.

UK_Vandy_wbb_43_cw.JPGWomen's basketball
- Senior All-American Victoria Dunlap averaged a team-high 21.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals in UK's two SEC road wins vs. Ole Miss and Alabama last week. Dunlap scored 18 points in the come-from-behind win over the Rebels, including 16 in the decisive second half.
- Against the Tide, Dunlap paced the winning effort with 25 points and 15 rebounds, marking her 27th career and fifth double-double of the season. She also moved up to No. 3 on both the all-time scoring and steals lists at UK.
- Junior sharpshooter Keyla Snowden came off the bench for 13 points after netting 4-of-5 3-point attempts.
- Sophomore guard A'dia Mathies added 12 points and four assists in helping the Cats win their sixth consecutive game.

Gymnastics
- The gymnastics team scored its highest team score of the year behind an incredible individual performance from senior Phylicia Reshard, who took the all-around crown, but the Wildcats fell just short to No. 3 Georgia 195.550-195.000.
- Reshard was excellent for Kentucky on all four events, posting two career highs en route to earning Kentucky's first all-around title in an SEC dual-meet since 2007. She scored a career high on uneven bars with a 9.775 and beam with a score of 9.825. The senior also tied a career high on floor with a mark of 9.875. Reshard, who was participating as an all-around for only the second time in her career, scored a career high in the all-around competition with a 39.250 to take home event honors.
- Junior Whitney Rose took home medalist honors on vault for the third time this season and the 12th time of her career. On floor, the Wildcats scored the top four scores with Reshard and fellow senior Jasmine Minion taking home event titles. It was the first career event title on floor for Reshard and the fifth of Minion's career.

Men's tennis
- Senior Brad Cox outlasted No. 100 Danny Kreyman 15-13 in a second-set tiebreaker to seal No. 12 Kentucky's 4-0 victory over No. 22 Wake Forest, advancing the Wildcats to the National Indoors for the second consecutive season. UK defeated No. 42 Boise State 4-1 on Saturday.
- With the win Kentucky earns one of 16 spots in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Men's Team Indoor Championships to be held in Seattle on Feb. 18-21. The appearance in the National Indoors is the second consecutive for Kentucky. Last year, Kentucky defeated Wake Forest 4-3 in Lexington to earn its first appearance in the round of 16 of the indoor or outdoor championships since 2005.
- On the week, UK went 3-0 with wins over three teams in the ITA top 50. Individually, Kentucky was led by Cox and junior Eric Quigley. Cox went 3-0 with a win over No. 100 Kreyman to improve his season record to 6-0. Quigley was just as impressive, going 3-0 with wins over No. 45 Jonathan Wolff of Wake Forest and No. 62 Damian Hume of Boise St.

Thumbnail image for UK_UofL_swim_09_cw.JPGSwimming and diving
- The men's and women's swimming and diving teams topped Cincinnati on Saturday but dropped races to Virginia Tech in a double dual meet among Kentucky, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech.
- UK set five Keating Aquatics Center records throughout the afternoon. All four of UK's relays etched their names into the KAC record books and senior Chatham Penrod set a new clip in the 200 backstroke.

Track and field
- The track and field team tabulated four individual victories and placed six others in the top five of their respective events, at the Rod McCravy Memorial Meet this weekend.
- Precious Nwokey put together the best performance of her career, setting the school record in the pentathlon with 4,024 total points. The junior's score is currently No. 4 in the NCAA and No. 1 in the SEC, narrowly missing out an NCAA automatic qualifying mark of 4,075.
- Senior Sharif Webb won the 800-meter run. It was his first attempt at the event this season, finishing with a time of 1:50.59.
- Sophomore Cally Macumber notched her first career victory in the women's one-mile run with a personal-best time of 4:48.70. Macumber earned All-SEC honors in cross country, indoor and outdoor track a season ago.
- Freshman Julie Nunn picked up the first win of her young career, in the women's 400-meter dash with a time of 54.78.
- In his final season in the blue and white, Keenan Hall won his first long jump title, landing in the pit 23-07.25/7.19m from the launching board. Hall was the only UK athlete entered into the event.

Upcoming schedule

Tuesday, Feb. 1

Men's basketball at Ole Miss - 7 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 3
Women's basketball hosts Auburn - 7 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 4
Gymnastics at Auburn - 8 p.m.
Track and field at Virginia Tech Elite Meet

Saturday, Feb. 5
Women's tennis at Michigan - noon
Men's tennis at Virginia - 6 p.m.
Men's basketball at Florida - 9 p.m.
Track and field at Virginia Tech Elite Meet
Rifle hosts West Virginia