John Calipari guided UK to its first Final Four since 1998 this past season. (Photo by UK Athletics)
The Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings are taking place this week in Destin, Fla. A UK contingent is in attendance, of course, including men's basketball head coach John Calipari. Around lunchtime this afternoon, Calipari stopped in to chat with Dave Baker and Tony Barnhart of the SEC Digital Network and, as always, had a few interesting things to say. Here are some of the highlights:
- Calipari will serve as the chair of the basketball committee this week, a distinction that was earned by his team's success this season, though Calipari may call it something other than a distinction. "If you go to the Final Four, you (have to) be the chair, so we will never be at the Final Four again because it's not worth having to chair this," Calipari joked. He said he would handle his duties by doing his best to move the agenda along and involve everyone.
- A prime topic at these meetings will be divisional play in SEC basketball. With the strength of the East division compared with the West division over the past few seasons, the split has been called into question and will be discussed at length, a conversation that Calipari said should take place."You always have to look at it and say, 'How do we make our league better?'" Calipari said. "'How do we get more teams in the tournament? How do we make sure our best teams have high seeds?'" Calipari was clear in saying that such decisions should be made with the goal of helping SEC teams win national titles, not to generate parity, though he said he did not have the answer. All in all, Calipari seemed to come down in favor of scrapping the divisional setup.
- Yet another topic that will come up this week will be bumping the SEC's 16-game conference slate to 18 games. Calipari was quick to state that a change should be made only if it helps the best teams get high seeds and to get as many teams in the NCAA Tournament as possible. In this case, Calipari was clearer about his opinion. "My belief is what moves the needle more than anything else is non-conference strength of schedule and high (non-conference) RPI," Calipari said. Adding two more conference games takes away two non-conference games, which is not ideal. Calipari said that the focus should be on how each team can play the best non-conference schedule possible and win games.
-C alipari talked about what it has been like playing in the SEC for two years and what his perception is of the conference now. "It's a solid, strong league top to bottom," Calipari said. "You have great coaches. You have unbelievable facilities. You have great support. It's one of those leagues that you want to coach in." Calipari also talked about how welcome a change it is to be in a league where the schools have "like missions" rather than a disparate set of priorities and circumstances that make it difficult to get anything done.
-Barnhart asked Calipari about how the so-called "charge circle" that will be added the college game this year. The circle denotes a restricted area in which off-ball defenders are not allowed to draw charges. Any contact in that area will automatically be called a block. Calipari anticipates that the rule change will help his team. "The way we drive the ball, it's a benefit to us," Calipari said. He continued, saying that he will encourage his team to seek out contact in the restricted area and also that he believes the change will open up more lob passes around the basket.
- Calipari also took the opportunity of talking about rule changes to praise officials in the SEC. "I've been in three leagues where you start talking about officiating, it's an hour and a half and guys are so made steam (comes out of their ears)," Calipari said. "We have a 10-minute meeting about officiating (in the SEC)." Who says that coaches and referees can't get along?
- Baker jabbed at Calipari, wondering how he can possibly fit in everything he does into his schedule between his charitable involvement, his role with the Dominican Republic and his job at UK. Baker was a little disbelieving when Calipari said he had a chance to spend a few days relaxing at the beach with his family before meetings got underway. Calipari went on to talk about the Dominican Republic, saying he decided to get involved because he wanted to help "build basketball" in the country, from teaching fundamentals to improving education.
I hope everyone enjoyed a long holiday weekend. With softball wrapping up its great run on Sunday, things are pretty quiet, but here are a few notes to get your short week going.
- As he told you last night, Eric Lindsey will be on a well-deserved vacation this week (believe it or not). I will be posting content, but it will still be a bit of a slower week than usual. There will be another notes post or two like this one along the way, as well as coverage of anything else that happens to pop up. Also, we will be beginning a series of stories later this week that I think you will really enjoy, so keep an eye out for that.
- With the NBA Finals getting underway this evening in Miami, there are a few UK ties worth mentioning:
- Jamaal Magloire: As you know, the Heat big man was member of Kentucky's last national championship team in 1998. He hasn't played a great deal in the postseason but did get on the floor in a pair of games in the Conference Finals against the Chicago Bulls. - Pat Riley: Riley may not be taking the floor in this series, but Riley deserves a lot of credit for getting the Heat to where they are now. As team president, Riley helped to orchestrate the signing of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, as well as the re-signing of Dwyane Wade. Riley will forever live in UK lore as member of the famed Rupp's Runts, who advanced to the 1966 national title game, and he now has a chance to add to his professional legacy as a player, coach and executive. - Dirk Nowitzki: The German star's connection to UK is not quite as strong as Magloire's or Riley's, but it's still pretty interesting. Before heading to the NBA, Nowitzki considered Kentucky and actually visited, a fact that John Calipari reported on Twitter last week: "How bout (Dirk Nowitzki) last night? I hear Dirk is a UK fan (and Wayne Turner) hosted him on his UK official visit. We need (to) get him (to Rupp Arena)." Who knows, maybe Nowitzki will make a return trip to Rupp next year as a newly crowned NBA champion? - LeBron James: James is a friend of Calipari's and has made a pair of memorable visits to Lexington since Calipari became UK's head coach two years ago, including serving as the "Y" for a game during the 2009-2010 season.
- It's been a couple days, but I'd like to take another opportunity to congratulate coach Rachel Lawson and the UK softball team on their great run in the NCAA Tournament. It didn't end the way they wanted it to, but it was a special season and the future is bright. Eric had a great article below on the team that you should check out if you haven't already. Also, Lawson is on Twitter (@UKCoachLawson) so you can offer support and congratulations to the team there.
- With the spring semester wrapped up, a lot of attention will now shift to the NBA Draft, which takes place June 23. UK won't match the unbelievable five first-round picks it had last year, but with Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson all looking to get their careers started, it should still be a good night.
If you pay attention to mock drafts, it's looking more and more like Knight will be headed west. Both ESPN and Draft Express have projected that the Utah Jazz will select him third overall since the lottery a couple weeks ago. Of course, there are plenty of things that can change that quickly (trades and otherwise), but that would be a good spot for him.
On the other hand, there seems to be little consensus about Kanter, Liggins and Harrellson. Kanter, after a very strong showing at the NBA Combine, looks to be a near-lock to go in the top ten. I've even seen him mentioned as an outside contender to be picked first, but it seems more likely he'll end up somewhere between four and eight. Liggins and Harrellson are both traveling to multiple workouts in the coming weeks looking to impress.
- As if you needed another reason to be excited about UK's incoming men's basketball class, Jason King of Yahoo! Sports gave a list of 16 SEC newcomers to watch next season. Yep, you guessed it: Anthony Gilchrist, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer were all mentioned. You're not going to learn anything you didn't already know about the four UK signees, but I'm sure you'll want to take a look anyway.
-Brett McMurphy of CBSSports.com wrote a story this weekend about the charitable side of John Calipari. The piece focuses on Calipari's relationship with his late mother and his involvement with the V Foundation for Cancer research, among other charities. It's a very worthwhile read and has a lot of good stuff, but probably the most telling quote for me was from Coach Cal's peer, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins:
"To me what it's about is when your players come back, when they respect what you try to do for them," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "And John's guys always come back. John's a very, very loyal guy. I don't think that comes out enough. John is involved in a lot of [charities] that mean a lot to a lot of people."
- Finally, I would like to encourage everyone to keep former Kentucky tight end T.C. Drake in your thoughts. Drake has been hospitalized since a car struck his motorcycle on Sunday evening. Please join the UK family in praying for a full and speedy recovery.
Just wanted to let everyone know that the blog could be a little slow this week since I'm on vacation through June 6.
If all goes according to plan, I won't be opening up my laptop very much during that time as I try to recharge my batteries from a busy but successful 2010-11 athletics year for the University of Kentucky.
Fortunately for you all, Guy Ramsey will be filling in periodically this week with some notes and a story or two, including the kickoff of a a six-part series we're going to do over the summer. Guy will have the details on that in a few days.
Senior Megan Yocke and Annie Rowlands hug after playing in their final career games at UK, a 9-0 loss to California in game three of the Lexington Super Regional. (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
In terms of heartbreaking comparisons, Sunday's 9-0 game three loss for the Kentucky softball team felt like standing someone up at the altar.
After gaining confidence, igniting 1,690 rowdy fans at the UK Softball Complex and run-ruling No. 7 California 8-0 in game two of the Lexington Super Regional, it looked like Kentucky might win two games in a row against the nation's most dominant pitcher and continue its historic march to the Women's College World Series.
And then, with one questionable ball four and a five-run first inning, the pendulum swung and the bottom dropped out. By the time Cal's Elia Reid struck out to end the top of the first, nine hitters had come to the plate in a frame that completely changed the momentum of the game and ultimately the outcome.
To force a game three with a five-inning win in the second game of the series but lose 9-0 in game three was a devastating way to end a magical year.
"We pissed them off," senior catcher Megan Yocke said. "They came out angry (in Sunday's) second game. We came out on fire and made our adjustments in the first game. They did the same thing right back in the second game."
Both of Sunday's results were a bit of a surprise.
California pitcher Jolene Henderson entered game two of the series with a nation-best 0.78 ERA, 38 wins and an earned-run scoreless mark against UK in 21 innings of work. After two innings, however, she'd been tattooed for six hits and five earned runs, the most she'd given up this season.
Going into game three, many thought the Cats had not only gained insurmountable momentum and confidence, but there also appeared to be a notion that they'd figured out Henderson, a pitching Rubik's Cube.
Seven more innings of shutout ball later, everyone learned that was wrong.
"She had a whole different swagger the second game," Yocke said. "She was walking around like that was her ballpark."
Henderson returned in game three as strong as ever, yielding just three hits in a complete-game victory. If there were any nerves after a rough outing in game two, Henderson's offense picked her up with five runs to begin game three.
Cal scored the first one run on a bases-loaded, full-count walk to Ashley Decker. What many thought was an inning-ending strike three opened the doors for a big inning. Victoria Jones followed with an infield RBI-single and Jordan Wallace brought in two more runs with a double over the head of senior Annie Rowlands in left field.
That was it for UK ace Chanda Bell, who lasted just two-thirds of an inning while giving up five runs, four of them unearned. Hindsight is 20-20, but Lawson didn't second-guess her decision to go with Bell in game three after Riley's shutout in game two.
"I thought Chanda did an awesome job yesterday," Lawson said. "Actually, going in, what I thought would happen was Chanda would come in and she would throw about four good innings and then I was going to bring Rachel in to close the game. I think it's really hard for one pitcher to throw two games back-to-back now against a team like Cal. I thought what would happen was, later in the game, Rachel would start getting hit. Rachel's such an awesome closer that (I thought) we would be able to close the game with her. Unfortunately we got down early, so I had to bring Rachel in earlier than I wanted to."
With a five-run lead, Henderson was able to shake off the psychological damage of the first game and put her game in cruise control. Yocke said the first inning meant "everything" for Henderson. As it turns out, it also meant the end of a season for Kentucky.
"It was kind of a knock in the jaw," Yocke said.
The end of the year marks the most successful season in Kentucky softball history by just about every measure.
UK notched five single-season offensive records, a school-best 40 wins and the third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, but the most important achievement -- an accomplishment that fans of the program will remember long after this team graduates and moves on to other things -- was making it to a Super Regional and hosting it.
All year long, the players and coaches talked about setting new standards and breaking through new barriers, and to walk the walk and actually conquer previously unreachable heights has clearly taken the program to a new level.
To think that this team was happy just making it to the Southeastern Conference Tournament three years ago puts in perspective how special it was to be within one game of the Women's College World Series.
"In like a week, probably even two days, we're going to feel pretty good about everything we've done," Lawson said.
But that didn't make Sunday's ending any easier. When Lawson started to think about bidding farewell to seniors Yocke, Meagan Aull, Samantha DeMartine and Annie Rowlands, the laidback coach finally cracked.
UK President Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr. spoke to the UK softball team after its historic run to the Super Regionals. (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
"Nobody thought they could win," Lawson said, fighting back tears. "I love DeMartine and Aull. Yocke's OK. I love Rowlands for her to be able to come up with that big hit (last weekend). I wanted them to go to the World Series."
After the game, Lawson, with Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and UK President Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr. at her back, held her players in the dugout to tell them how proud she was. It was an excruciatingly tough speech for a coach who realized that Sunday was the end for four of the most special players she'll ever coach.
"When it's over, it's over," Lawson said.
Eyes red, it was clear Yocke was already devastated, but at that moment, as Lawson explained how difficult it was to bid farewell to the seniors, it appeared the end of a sensational career and historic run finally hit Yocke.
The heart, the soul, and most importantly, the rock of the program for the last four years, tried to stare straight ahead before her lips started to quiver and her head fell down.
It may take a while for her to pick it back up, but when she does, her and the rest of the senior class will look back and smile at the most magical softball season Kentucky has ever experienced. They've built a foundation and created a future few would have ever imagined for this class.
"We have the pieces in place to have a great team," Lawson said. "We have a tremendous work ethic within the program and it really started with this senior class and they've just handed it down. I feel good about our work ethic. We're incredible bright so I know that those things will pay off. I think when people see these fans on TV and all that sort of stuff, I think that's really going to help recruiting a lot. I feel really good about the future of the program."
Senior catcher Megan Yocke was the only Wildcat who managed a hit off Jolene Henderson in UK softball's 1-0 loss to California on Saturday in game one of the Lexington Super Regional. (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
If the Kentucky softball team is going to continue its historic run and advance to the Women's College World Series, it's going to have to figure out a pitcher that has been nothing short of dominant against Kentucky.
Jolene Henderson pitched a complete-game shutout Saturday to lead the Bears to a 1-0 victory over UK in the first of a best-of-three series in the Lexington Super Regional. Stifling an offense that has set five single-season offense records this year, Henderson used a "quick pitch" approach to strike out four while allowing just one hit and three base runners in a pivotal opening-game win over the Wildcats.
"It definitely took our hitters awhile to get used to how fast she was getting back on the mound and throwing," said senior catcher Megan Yocke, who tallied UK's only hit of the game. "Unless we had our timing down, it was difficult to get set."
Henderson, the 2011 Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year, is now 3-0 against Kentucky , which includes a 6-1 win in last year's season-opening Kajikawa Classic and a 1-0 victory in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Even more troubling for UK is she has yet to allow an earned run in those 21 innings of work and has surrendered just 10 hits.
"She is a lot more mature this year and I think that she is great," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "She does so well, and it is not so much that she quick pitches, which we haven't seen a pitcher like that yet, but she changes her motion throughout the game, throughout the inning and throughout the batter. That was something that we were having a hard time adjusting to timing wise and have not seen yet this year."
Henderson's game should be of no surprise as she improved to 38-7 on the year while lowering her ERA to 0.78, but if the Cats hope to win two games Sunday to advance in the tournament, Kentucky will, in all likelihood, have to beat Henderson twice.
"It gets frustrating, but we have been there before and we bounce back," Yocke said. "Look at the Michigan game. We had four total hits and then were able to come back. That is what is going to have to happen tomorrow. I think that our team will make the adjustments tomorrow and come back and get the win."
As dominant as Henderson was, Kentucky had a prime opportunity to spoil her perfect mark in the third inning when Yocke lined a single into left field. Sophomore Alice O'Brien, who reached base on a walk and advanced to second on a fielder's choice, took a big turn around third base, but the liner was hit so hard to Jamia Reid in left field that assistant coach Kristine Himes was forced to hold O'Brien at third.
In the next at-bat, sophomore Kara Dill lined a rocket to the left side of the infield with two outs and runners on the corner, but the shot was right at Cal third baseman Jace Williams. Kentucky would never reach past first base again.
"I think all great pitchers can do that," California head coach Diane Ninemire said. "They make big batting averages look small some days. Jolene threw a great game today and she kept them off balance. Kentucky has a great hitting club and we have to come out tomorrow with the same intensity we had today."
One pitch the difference in Bell's tough-luck loss
Junior Chanda Bell allowed just six hits and one run Saturday but suffered the loss in California's 1-0 victory over the UK softball team in game one of the Lexington Super Regional. (Photo by Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
Chanda Bell threw 94 pitches on Saturday for UK. For 93 of them, she was just as dominant as Henderson.
Bell's one mistake, a 1-2 pitch to Frani Echavarria over the heart of the plate, ended up over the fence in center field, the difference in UK's 1-0 loss to California. Echavarria's solo shot -- her first home run of the season -- spoiled a sensational effort by Bell, who hurled six innings of six-hit, one-run ball while pitching out of several big jams.
"Overall I felt pretty strong and thought it was a good day for me out there," Bell said. "I had one bad pitch and it is kind of upsetting that one bad pitch can change the whole game."
Bell said she didn't get enough spin or velocity on the pitch, but Lawson took the blame for the pitch.
"I think that the person that called the pitch shouldn't have called it," Lawson said. "She clearly could keep her hands up and got it out of the park, so I think I should take responsibility for that."
Whether or not Lawson will use Bell again for Sunday's first game or turn to junior Rachel Riley (12-5, 2.57 ERA), who picked up the regional finals victory over Michigan, remains to be seen.
"I don't have anyone in mind (yet)," Lawson said. "I will tell you that I thought Chanda did an exceptional job. The fact that Cal is the second-place team in the Pac-10 and second to only Arizona State (says a lot). She basically shut them down.
"I am going to wake up tomorrow morning and see how she feels. Honestly, we feel very comfortable with Riley and I think that Riley can come in and keep us in the game. I also feel equally comfortable with (Ellen) Weaver and (Lauren) Cumbess. We will see how she feels. We are going to have to use more than one pitcher to get through the entire day tomorrow so the order that I use them in is kind of irrelevant. It's more if I can do a good enough job game planning to keep us in the game."
Record-setting crowd played a positive factor
A record 1,717 fans packed the UK Softball Complex on Saturday for UK softball's first Super Regional game in school history. (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
About an hour and a half before the first pitch of Kentucky's first Super Regional appearance, more than 500 fans lined the parking lot at the UK Softball Complex to witness history.
When the gates finally opened, hundreds of them -- some of them painted up -- spilled into the facility to get a prime seat. The facility was just about full 30 minutes before the game, and by the time Henderson fired a first-pitch ball, a record-setting 1,717 fans had crammed into what was once one of the smallest ballparks in the Southeastern Conference.
"It was crazy," Yocke said. "We were in the bullpen and the rest of the team came out from hitting and everyone started cheering. Chanda and I just smiled and said, 'This is insane.' The cool thing is about it, I think, is that Cal has no idea what this feels like for us. They are probably used to playing in big atmospheres. I have seen their stadium and I'm sure they fill it up all the time. It's a neat thing and one that all of us are trying to take in and enjoy."
Kentucky installed temporary bleachers in left field, right field and along the third-base line to accommodate an unprecedented demand. By Tuesday morning, tickets for both days of the Super Regional were sold out, creating an intimate, big-time feel at Saturday's game.
"I have never been to the World Series but I would imagine this would be a close second," Echavarria said.
The Cats soaked in the atmosphere and appeared loose in warm-ups, but Lawson said her team's pregame attitude and approach was no different from any other game.
"We always play that way," Lawson said. "That is how we practice and how we do everything. I think that the crowd was great. I think that it helped us. If anything, I think that it helped us in the situations where we did make a mistake and they had runners on and I think the crowd really helped Chanda stay in the game and helped put pressure on their hitters. ... The crowd was a big plus for us today."
UK softball coach Rachel Lawson has guided her team to the postseason in three of her four years at Kentucky. (UK Athletics)
Four years ago when Rachel Lawson took over the reins of the Kentucky softball program, she never imagined her team would be two wins away from the Women's College World Series this quickly.
"I remember I was talking to one of our administrators and they were redoing how your contracts are made and stuff like that and I remember her thinking, 'OK this is what happens if you make the NCAA Tournament, but the SEC Tournament, you should be making that anyway,' " Lawson said. "And I remember thinking, 'My god, if I make the SEC Tournament this year I should be getting a Cadillac or something."
If we're going to use that scale, maybe she deserves a Rolls Royce for making it to the program's first Super Regional.
Yes, the spoils of making it this far have been very sweet for the Kentucky softball team. Since defeating No. 10 Michigan on Sunday to advance to the Super Regionals, UK has enjoyed more exposure and more support than the program has received in its 15 years of existence.
The players, making sure to soak in every moment of the historic week, brought cameras to practice on Wednesday to take pictures as officials turned the UK Softball Complex into a 1,200-seat stadium. For many of them, they're living a dream.
"This is something they've watched since they were little girls," Lawson said. "It's something they've dreamed about the whole time."
Now, the question is, will this weekend be just another memory to capture or will it be the end of a historic run? Guarding against complacency is certainly on the mind of Lawson as she prepared her team this week for its showdown with No. 7 California.
"We knew we had to get out of regionals to get into Super Regionals, but ultimately I think everybody wants to go to Oklahoma City," Lawson said. "The ultimate goal is to do that and we know we need to win two more games to do that."
Before this year, the players and coaches admitted they were just happy to make the tournament. There was a sense of satisfaction in just making it to the regional finals, and who could blame them? Those two years marked the first NCAA Tournament berths in school history, so no matter how well they did or how far they advanced, they were already blazing new trails and setting new standards.
But after making it to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, the expectations for this year's team changed. All along, the team has talked about having bigger goals to make it to the Super Regionals.
Now that the Wildcats are there, will they be satisfied with just that, similar to the historic regional appearances of the previous two seasons? Or will they want more and build on the opportunity?
"The way we beat Michigan, I think it makes us want it more," senior catcher Megan Yocke said. "The fact that we went to what I think was one of the hardest regionals and came out on top, played so well as a team and had so much fun, nobody wants it to end. Whether it's Super Regionals or the World Series, nobody is going to settle. We want to go all the way and take it home."
Just getting this far is already uncharted territory for the program, but putting that history aside and turning the page to California will be extremely important this week.
Even with the magnitude of last week's wins on their minds and the increase in exposure, Yocke said they turned their attention to California by Tuesday's practice (the team was off Monday) and fell back into their normal routine.
Lawson thinks it may have happened even sooner than that.
"On the bus ride coming home, I think (is when they turned the page)," Lawson said. "While they were certainly giddy and excited, they were already talking about California. They certainly mentioned the big plays that happened and the big crowd they had in Ann Arbor, but the entire time they were keeping up with Cal (in the Louisville Regional) and were talking about Cal's pitchers, their offense and when we played Cal last year."
Kentucky lost to California in both of its meetings last year, falling 6-1 in the season-opening Kajikawa Classic and 1-0 in last year's NCAA Tournament. California ace Jolene Henderson was the difference in both of those games as she allowed just one unearned run and nine hits in 14 combined innings.
Henderson has built on that freshman campaign with a 37-7 record, 0.80 ERA and 302 strikeouts in her sophomore season. By comparison, Chanda Bell, UK's record-setting ace, is 15-6 this year with a 2.10 ERA and 196 strikeouts.
"You don't get to be the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year without being exceptional," Lawson said.
Henderson owns an arsenal of pitches, but her bread and butter is her changeup. Kentucky struggled to hit the changeup Sunday against Michigan ace Jordan Taylor until senior Meagan Aull stayed back on one in the bottom of the seventh and smacked a game-tying home run over the fence in right field.
"The key is staying between your legs," Yocke said of hitting a changeup. "You definitely have to keep your weight under you and you've got to sit back and recognize (the pitch) early."
As dominant as Henderson has been this season and was last year against UK, junior third baseman and home run leader Brittany Cervantes (15 round trippers) pointed to Kentucky's record-setting offensive year that has resulted in five single-season records, including home runs, runs scored and RBI, as a reason for why things could be different this weekend.
"I remember we were able to hit this girl last year but we couldn't get timely hits," Cervantes said. "We've gotten better as hitters this year."
The Bears' offense is much different from the one Kentucky faced in Michigan last week and even the California team the Cats saw a year ago. Due to roster turnover and a key injury, California is without several of its big bats from last season.
Even so, Lawson thinks this California team, made up of what she calls "rabbits," is more dangerous because of its speed on the base paths.
Paced by junior Jamia Reid (.419, 42 runs and 29 stolen bases) and freshman Britt Vonk (.419, 44 runs, 26 stolen bases), the Bears have stolen 92 bases on the year and 1.71 per game, which ranks 24th in the nation.
That puts a premium on the UK defense this weekend, which played perhaps its best ball in Michigan last week.
"I like when teams have a lot of stolen bases because it gets me amped up," Yocke said. "I like the challenge. We play in the SEC, which, in my opinion, is the fastest conference in the country. I've had people trying to steal on me all year. I think our defense is ready for it and my arm will be ready for it."
It appears Kentucky isn't ready to settle just yet.
The UK Softball Complex will be able to seat roughly 1,200 fans comfortably this weekend for the UK-California Super Regional series. (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
One school's loss is another one's gain.
When the Kentucky softball team learned it would host its first Super Regional appearance in school history -- No. 7 California, the higher-seeded team, cannot meet the minimum NCAA facility criteria -- the program jumped at the opportunity.
Since receiving official word Sunday night that the UK Softball Complex would be one of eight sites to host a Super Regional, Kentucky officials have been busy transforming what was once a 500-seat venue into a 1,200-seat facility that has the feel of a big-time college softball stadium.
Spearheaded by Assistant Athletics Director for Event Operations and Championships Kevin Saal, a crew of 75 to 100 people that includes UK staff members from administration, event management, facility, grounds, ticket, marketing and media relations have been working around the clock this week to mold a facility that does more than just meet NCAA Tournament requirements.
Heading into the biggest weekend in UK softball history, Kentucky officials are doing everything they can to make sure they don't miss out on a monumental opportunity to showcase the program, its fans and the city of Lexington. In terms of exposure, recruiting, program and facility growth, it won't get much bigger for the program than this weekend.
"The big picture is you have eight locations that are getting to do this and we're one of eight," Saal said Wednesday as he bounced around from project to project at the UK Softball Complex. "We want to put on a really good face. We have some facility challenges that have made it a little difficult, but we're going to do some special things that will really make this facility look good. I don't think that a random person watching on TV is going to say, 'Oh, that's just a bunch of temporary seating.' It's going to have that stadium look and feel. I think it's going to be a really cool scene, a goose-bump-type scene."
Weeks before Kentucky had even been selected to the NCAA Tournament, in mid-April to be precise, UK officials met to determine if the school was even capable of meeting the NCAA Tournaments criteria to host a Regional or Super Regional.
The facility has been sufficient in building an upstart program, but hosting a Super Regional was a giant leap.
Meeting NCAA criteria meant checking off a long list of requirements that included everything from being able to host a news conference, lighting, field specifications and lodging, in addition to typical event operations like parking, traffic, tickets, seating, concessions and security.
The biggest concern, however, at least initially, was seating.
The NCAA requires a host to be able to seat 500 fans, but before this year the UK Softball Complex barely had that.
UK added a set of bleachers in left field and right field to accommodate a high demand of tickets for this weekend's UK-California Super Regional. (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
UK added bleachers behind the first-base dugout before the season started and had plans to add another set of bleachers behind the third-base dugout in its submission to the NCAA. That would have brought the seating capacity to around 820.
But when Kentucky announced to the public it was hosting and tickets were bought faster than anyone anticipated -- both the Saturday and Sunday sessions were sold out by Tuesday morning -- UK made the decision to not only add the temporary bleachers on the third-base side and left field but another one in right field as well.
"The entire SEC has had so much exposure in softball, but most of the exposure that we've had for Kentucky has happened on someone else's field," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "To be able to create that sort of excitement in Lexington is really special and I'm glad to be a part of it."
In addition to what will easily be the biggest crowd in program history, Kentucky must accommodate nearly a dozen cameras and roughly 50 people from ESPN for broadcasts on ESPNU (Saturday) and ESPN (Sunday).
ESPN's staff alone will take up the majority of the press box, forcing the largest media contingent ever to cover a Kentucky softball game -- UK received more than 40 media requests -- onto a designated press row in front of the press box. A permanent awning has been built overhead for those media members.
In total, the facility is now capable of seating roughly 1,200 people comfortably, giving the ballpark not only a new look but a new feel.
"I love our stadium the way it is, but this definitely has more of a stadium feel now with all the stands," senior catcher Megan Yocke said. "It's going to be packed. We played in front of about 2,000 fans in Michigan, but our field has such a small-field vibe to it that it's still going to feel just as packed and just as loud."
Fortunately for Saal and his staff, they game planned for the possibility of hosting a Super Regional when they saw California was a possible opponent. With a facility evaluation already in place well before last weekend's historic wins, UK officials were able to meet Monday morning, finalize the plans and have the facility ready to host by Thursday evening.
The behind-the-scenes work, the opportunity and the stage is not lost on the players. Several of them brought cameras to practice Wednesday to capture the transformation of the place they call home.
Lawson, appreciative of the work and support UK officials have put in, said the additions have made her players feel important and confident heading into the weekend.
"We're getting put on the map," senior Brittany Cervantes said.
Although Kentucky won't have a band like the one that Michigan featured at last week's Ann Arbor Regional -- Lawson said she didn't want to break out of a routine they've had all season -- her team is expecting a home-field advantage unlike anything they've ever experience before.
"I expect the crowd to be awesome," Lawson said. "When we played Tennessee and Florida, which were the biggest crowds for us, I believe, and perhaps Louisville, the crowds were awesome. Every time we made a play it sounded like the place erupted. I can't even imagine doubling it. I think it's going to be really special for the team and hopefully it will be the edge we need to push us over the top."
Kentucky has released a statement in response to an ESPN article involving DeAndre Liggins that says Liggins was withheld from the first nine games of the 2009-10 season by the NCAA because of eligibility issues related to his recruitment.
We won't get into the details on here, but the story reports on Liggins' relationship with Mike Barnett, an Indiana Elite founder, during high school.
Here is the full statement from UK:
"It was the University of Kentucky's choice to withhold DeAndre Liggins from competition at the start of the 2009-10 season while eligibility questions were being resolved. Once they were resolved the number of games we voluntarily withheld him from was considered sufficient. The original withholding was not mandated by the NCAA."
... when someone creates a rap song after your team. Yeah, believe it or not, there is now a YouTube rap song on the Kentucky softball team and its meteoric rise circulating on the Internet. The song is below:
The University of Kentucky Athletic Association Board of Directors approved UK Athletics' operating budget for a 2011-12 fiscal year in a meeting held Thursday on UK's campus.
The budget was approved at $83.6 million, which is estimated to be the sixth- or seventh-largest budget in the Southeastern Conference in the upcoming fiscal year. UK Athletics is estimating a $4 million increase in escalating expenses next year but will remain self-supporting.
Among UK Athletics' expenses are upgrades to some of the department's facilities and operations, which include:
- Concrete/structural repair in Commonwealth Stadium ($150,000) - Shively Sports Center renovation ($950,000) - Video board at Softball Complex ($300,000) - Cosmetic upgrades at the Center for Academic and Tutorial Services ($100,000) - Commonwealth Stadium steel painting ($150,000) - Commonwealth Stadium scoreboards ($1.65M) - New track and field project ($1.1M)
Thursday was the final UK Athletics board meeting for outgoing President Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr. and his wife, Patsy. UK Athletics presented Patsy Todd with a blanket made of every one of UK's team shirts.
Barnhart, speaking with Dawson in an extensive Q and A, said that while 2011 was a disappointing season, Henderson will return next year for his fourth season.
BD: And you're confident you're moving forward with Gary Henderson as your coach?
MB: Yeah. We're going to go get after it and make some adjustments. The draft is a huge part of baseball, and that's been damaging to us. There's some squads that have more bodies on their 11.7 (scholarships) than we do, in terms of guys that can play in this league, and the draft is not quite as damaging to them. For us it's been pretty devastating. The last couple years we've really taken some hits. Hopefully we'll be able to get past that. We had a young man that we signed, Blake Perry, last year. Big right-hander, and we thought he was going to be (with us) and he went and signed (with the Arizona Diamondbacks). The last couple years, we've had some things that really impacted us on the mound. We've got to find some help in that area.
Barnhart told Dawson that he and Henderson have met about some adjustments that can be made and what they need to do to compete for another Southeastern Conference title. Among those suggestions were getting back to being a blue-collar team with a lot of energy.
Dawson covers a lot of topics with Barnhart in the Q and A, including Barnhart's recent trip to Ethiopia, department-wide success, John Calipari's contract and more. Because it's a Cats Illustrated exclusive, you'll have to read the full Q and A over at the Rivals website.
Apologies for the lack of content the last couple of days. I've been away from the blog doing a few other things, but we'll have coverage for you this weekend on the UK softball appearance in the Super Regionals. Here are a few notes and links we didn't get to in the links from this morning:
- Rock Oliver has been profiled before, but ESPN.com takes a unique look at what type of strengthening Oliver is trying to do in the weight room. His biggest area of concern, according to the ESPN story, is the size of an athlete's neck.
"The No. 1 mechanism that's absorbing a lot of the shock is the neck, so we need to get that bigger," Oliver says in the ESPN story. "We're really proud of that. Ten years ago, I wouldn't have ever been talking about that. Ten years ago, I would have been talking about our bench [press] and our vertical jumps."
- Still about a month away from the 2011 NBA Draft, but below are the latest projections. The consensus among the four linked below is that Brandon Knight is headed to the Utah Jazz with the third overall pick. DeAndre Liggins is also listed in the second round in every one of the mock drafts with the exception of Chad Ford of ESPN's, which does not have a second round listed.
- Football head coach Joker Phillips will be featured on "Spotlight: 2011 SEC Spring Football," on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on SportsSouth. The show will air between games three and four of the second day of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament. Phillips will discuss the current status of his team, his coaching philosophy heading into the new season and what his team needs to be successful in 2011.
- Interesting quote by former UK football star Randall Cobb in a story on RotoExperts.com. Cobb, a second-round selection with the Green Bay Packers told writer Scott Engel that he would have waited in the green room until the seventh round if he knew the Packers were going to select him. You can read the full feature on Cobb here.
- Made it out to the UK Softball Complex this afternoon to watch some of the preparations going on for this weekend's Super Regionals. I can tell you firsthand that a big chunk of UK's staff is putting in a lot of hours behind the scenes to make sure Kentucky's first Super Regional is done right. To give you an idea, Kentucky is accommodating 50 people from ESPN's broadcasting crew alone. I'll have details like that in a feature sometime Thursday, so keep an eye out for that.
The now legendary tweet about his head coach that Josh Harrellson sent out last year has been tabbed as the turning point for Harrellson's storybook senior season. By and large, it was the beginning of a transformation.
But maybe Harrellson's summer had an effect as well. If you can remember back to last summer, Harrellson traveled with Reach USA on a cultural exchange tour through China and developed into one of the stars of the team.
Harrellson came back a more confident player and had a huge game at the Blue/White Scrimmage before he tweeted about John Calipari.
Well, maybe the same thing is happening for current UK big man Eloy Vargas. After averaging just 1.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in 38 games for the Wildcats last year, Vargas is having is having a pretty good summer with Reach USA in China.
Through six games, Vargas is averaging close to a double-double with 9.8 points and 9.0 rebounds. He's also blocking 1.7 shots per game. Playing against a Lithuanian club team and a Brazilian all-star squad, Vargas is 24 of 54 from the field and has scored in double figures in five of six games.
Best sleeper: Kentucky Granted, only very sound sleepers are still dozing on the Wildcats after they made use of a nationally televised spotlight to twice beat No. 10 Michigan in Ann Arbor and advance to the program's first super regional in dramatic fashion. But the Wildcats are unseeded as they prepare to host No. 7 California, and they may still reside a little closer to "nice story" than "championship contender" in the minds of a lot of outside observers. But take away the unfamiliarity of Kentucky colors playing over Memorial Day weekend, and this looks more like a team with the potential to still be playing a week after Memorial Day than a team lucky to be playing instead of barbecuing over the holiday.
No coaching caution for John Calipari when he envisions the Kentucky team for 2011-12.
"We're going to have a good team," he said in speaking to reporters before the Dick Vitale Gala on Friday night. "Usually, I don't say that, but put that down. We're going to have a really good team."
A third straight No. 1 recruiting class comes to UK this coming season. Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague -- all rated among the top 10 prospects in the high school class of 2011 -- join holdover veterans Darius Miller, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones.
Teague and Gilchrist, and the rest of the team, encountered a feeling of displacement in Germany. It was inevitable; teenagers less than a year removed from being driving-legal were flown across the Atlantic Ocean to play basketball.
A heat wave pushed temperatures in Germany around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The hotel rooms, only accustomed to typical northern hemisphere weather, had no air conditioning. The food was different - although there were McDonald's, which the team went to frequently to keep some semblance of normalcy in their lives.
"You take them out of what they're used to, then you see what those kids are made of in those situations," Showalter said. "And Teague and Gilchrist came through with flying colors."
On Tuesday, we received our annual Academic Performance Rate from the NCAA. It gives me great joy to see Kentucky's name alongside Vanderbilt's atop the SEC's APR standings. This is a reflection of what teamwork throughout our program and within our exceptional athletic department is capable of producing off the court. It truly is as important as our on-court success over the past two seasons (trips to the Eilte 8 and the Final 4).
While studying elementary education, competing on UK's swimming and diving team, and teaching swimming lessons in the summer, one would never guess that Lash is also living with a disability.
Lash has a moderate-to-severe hearing impairment that has been the source of many struggles for her throughout her life. While she now benefits from wearing hearing aids and the support from her professors and mentors, she hasn't always been so open to receiving help.
"I briefly wore hearing aids in high school, but I stopped because I was so self-conscious," Lash said. "I eventually taught myself how to lip read, but when I got to college that wasn't always an option, being in large lecture halls and all."
"When I knew I was going to become a father, my whole mindset changed," Liggins said this week at the NBA Draft Combine. "How hard I worked, what I did off the court, how I presented myself, how I talked to people -- all that came into play knowing I was having a son, because he needed a role model to look up to, and I wanted to be that."
Fatherhood wasn't the only factor in Liggins' decision to turn pro after three seasons at UK (despite pedestrian career offensive numbers), but it was the most significant.
1) Enes Kanter, F/C, Fenerbahce (Turkey): By far, more teams were impressed with this young big than anyone else who attended the combine. They love the fact that he was willing to take part in drills (though he probably didn't have a choice, since no one has seen him play in more than a year, having been declared ineligible to play for Kentucky). They love how hard he played. One gym rat at Tim Grover's Attack Athletics who's seen Kanter work out all season said that the more there is contact, the more Kanter likes it. And that seemed to be the case in Chicago. Still don't see him going with the first pick overall, but anything after that would not surprise. (His camp must obviously think he's not getting past Cleveland, which has the fourth pick as well as the top selection -- or, at least that's the impression they're trying to create by having him skip an interview with Toronto, picking fifth.)
Now Calipari has mentored Knight, who declared for the NBA Draft after his freshman year with the Wildcats. Knight, a former standout at Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest High, could be taken as high as No.3 by Utah in the June 23 draft.
Although he won't be drafted No. 1 overall, as Rose and Wall were, Knight thinks he can make immediate impact like they did.
"Yeah, I believe so,'' Knight said Friday at the NBA Combine, which began Wednesday and concluded Saturday in Chicago. "That's my goal. That's what I want to do with whatever team I go to."
With a very slow part of the year nearly upon us, it's time to start looking forward to next season. Here is the latest highlight video from the next in line among John Calipari point guards, Marquis Teague. Highlight videos bear the name "highlight videos" for a reason, but this gives you an idea of the quickness, athleticism and passing ability that Teague will bring to Rupp.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes.
These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, May 22:
Softball: Meagan Aull
With the Wildcats trailing by one run going into its last at-bat, Aull used a 2-2 count and lofted a ball over the right field wall for her 10th homer of the season. The round tripper tied the score at one, setting the stage for UK's walk-off victory. Aull also made a spectacular snag in center field in UK's victory over Notre Dame. Aull sprinted approximately 30 yards and corralled the ball over her shoulder as she ran into the wall to rob the Irish of a multi-base hit.
Softball: Samantha DeMartine
Senior Samantha DeMartine paced the Wildcat attack in its 3-0 week at the Ann Arbor, Mich., Regional. DeMartine went 6-for-8 at the plate with four doubles, four RBI and three runs scored on the weekend. She was responsible for the game's winning hit in the rout of Notre Dame with a two-run single. Against Michigan in the winner's bracket, DeMartine was 3-for-3 with two doubles in UK's win. In the clinching victory, DeMartine posted another double and was plucked with a pitch to load the bases in the seventh inning. DeMartine was also tremendous in the field with 18 putouts and an assist in the three games.
Softball: Rachel Riley
The junior right-hander worked 8.0 innings of action in two games and captured a save and a win in two combined victories over Michigan. In the decisive victory over the Wolverines, Riley limited the high-octane offense of Michigan to just one hit. The Wolverines plated an unearned score in the contest. She allowed just four bases runners to reach by way of walk while also registering a team-best five assists in the contest. Riley was called upon in the bottom of the seventh in the first game against the host Michigan team. With UK clinging to a one-run advantage, Riley quickly dispersed of the bottom third of the order by forcing a pop-up to third base before striking out the final two outs to preserve UK's win.
Softball: Annie Rowlands
UK's senior left fielder came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning in the Regional final with the bases loaded with Wildcats. Rowlands' wasted little time in advancing the Blue and White to the school's first NCAA Super Regional with one swing of the bat. Rowlands took the first offering she saw and lofted the ball over the out-stretched glove of Michigan's first baseman to plate pinch runner Macy Allen for the walk-off RBI single. For the weekend, Rowlands recorded a hit in every game and went a combined 3-for-8 with a pair of RBIs and a run scored. Rowlands' defensive effort was also magnificent which included a pair of diving catches. She registered seven putouts on the weekend in a flawless defensive effort.
Senior Annie Rowlands delivered the walk-off win with a game-winning single in the bottom of the seventh inning. (UK Athletics)
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- "Woots" and "dubs" is what the players were calling it.
Woots, a thumb and pinky finger in the air (similar to the Texas "hook 'em Horns" gesture), symbolized a moral victory. Dubs, a circular sign of the thumb and index finger with the other three fingers straight up (similar to the Kentucky basketball team's 3 goggles), represented wins.
They were the two battle cries of the Kentucky softball team at the Ann Arbor Regional this weekend at the University of Michigan. The way the players saw it, a couple of woots would lead to some dubs, and a few dubs would result in the program's first Super Regionals appearance.
Silly, maybe, but the hand gestures and posters of the words atop UK's dugout were tangible symbols of an untouchable belief. Sure, Ann Arbor, Mich., was home to the No. 2 ranked team in the country and featured the hardest collection of teams in the nation, and yeah, Kentucky's softball success is still in its beginning stages, but the Wildcats believed they were capable of making history this weekend.
On Sunday we learned what faith can do.
With Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Jordan Taylor forcing UK's hitters into more whiffs and dribblers than woots and dubs, it appeared Kentucky was going to have to win game two to advance in the NCAA Tournament. Composed and confident after a humbling Saturday, Taylor returned to All-American form in the regional finals with an almost unhittable changeup.
Taylor was so dominant than even the general of belief was getting ready to regroup.
"Honestly, I was planning my middle-of-the-games speech," head coach Rachel Lawson said as UK headed to the bottom of the seventh inning with three hits, 10 strikeouts and a 1-0 deficit.
Lawson was sending the heart of her order to bat, but of all its players to lead off the inning, senior Meagan Aull was probably the most overmatched when it came to hitting a changeup. If Lawson had to guess, Aull has hit maybe a handful of changeups in her four-year career.
But Aull believed.
With 2,036 fans roaring and a changeup inevitably coming, Aull stayed back, held her form and swatted a 2-2 offspeed pitch down the right-field line.
"Right when I hit it I thought it was out," Aull said. "I was just hoping it would stay fair. She's a great pitcher and she was throwing predominantly in (inside) all day, so I was looking for it."
The ball stayed straight and fair, about 10 feet inside the right-field line and 15 feet over the fence. Just like that, with one big woot, Kentucky had a chance to capture a walk-off dub.
Taylor, visibly rattled by the home run, started to wilt. She threw eight straight balls to the next two batters and then plunked Samantha DeMartine to load the bases. With no outs, Lawson elected to pinch hit freshman Lauren Cumbess for Alice O'Brien, but Cumbess struck out swinging, sending senior Annie Rowlands to the plate.
With the No. 9 hitter following her and Rowlands batting a meager .143 entering the game, a suddenly promising situation looked like it could go up in smoke.
"It's funny because before we even started here at regionals, my dad and I were talking and he was like, 'How funny would it be if this came down to you?' " Rowlands said. "Obviously I'm not the most powerful (or have the) best numbers on the team, but it's just kind of that thing where you always dream about it."
After watching Rowlands get dominated in her first two at-bats, Lawson could have easily pinch hit for Rowlands and nobody would have second guessed her.
But Rowlands, with the confidence of a .400 hitter and the belief of a slugger, went to the batter's box anyway. Classmate Megan Yocke reminded Rowlands that the bases were loaded and that Taylor couldn't afford to hit her, so Rowlands stepped up, crowded the plate and waited to see a curveball.
"When it was winding up that way for me, I was like, 'This is going to happen,' " Rowlands said. "I didn't know how it was going to happen ... but I knew it was going to happen."
Rowlands didn't get a hold of the pitch - far from it - but she connected just enough of a curveball over the outside portion of the plate to get it in the air. With a little bit of fate and a whole lot of belief, Rowlands' bloop went over the head of Dorian Shaw at first base and into right field.
Rowlands' walk-off single, the biggest woot of the season, captured the biggest dub in the history of the program. In the program's third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, the Wildcats finally broke through with a Super Regionals berth, the first in school history.
"It's a great thing to be a part of," Aull said. "From where we were our freshman year, we have made it a long, long way. It's great to see this program rise and continue to do great things."
"Woots" (left) and "dubs"(right) were the battle cries behind Kentucky softball's 3-0 weekend at the Ann Arbor Regional.
Doubt may have crept into Lawson's mind after 6.5 innings, but her belief in the resiliency and heart of this Kentucky team after a three-year meteoric rise never wavered.
"I'm not surprised by our resiliency because this is why we've gotten to where we are," Lawson said. "We're not always the biggest team (or the fastest). ... The reason we are where we are is because they're tough, they've very coachable, they play the game the right way and they wouldn't be where they're at without that type of resiliency."
Overshadowed in the victory was a stellar pitching performance by junior Rachel Riley and another tremendous defensive effort. Riley allowed just one hit and an unearned run and got help from plays like Brittany Cervantes' leaping grab at third base, a diving stop by Emily Jolly at second and a headfirst plunging catch by Rowlands in left field.
"Our defense was the reason why we won that game," Lawson said. "All of our defensive plays plus Rachel's pitching kept us in the game long enough so we could have that awesome seventh inning. Without those amazing plays, (Michigan) would have ran away with the score and we wouldn't be sitting right here; we'd still be out on the ball field. It's a real credit to their work ethic."
Since California, Kentucky's Super Regional opponent, is unable to host, UK will host next weekend's Super Regional at the UK Softball Complex. Although it will be a welcomed home-field advantage for the Cats, it hardly matters at this point where it's at.
With two wins over a storied program like Michigan and the confidence of regional championship, Kentucky believes it can beat anybody.
"I'm really impressed with Kentucky," Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said.
As she should be. The Wildcats are now just two dubs away from the College World Series.
The Kentucky softball team is headed to Super Regionals for the first time in program history with a 2-1 win over 10th-seeded Michigan.
Senior Meagan Aull belted a game-tying home run in the bottom of the seventh and senior Annie Rowlands delivered the game-winning single five batters later with a bases-loaded bloop over the first baseman's head.
Here is video of the hit and the ensuing postgame celebration. We'll have more coverage on UKathletics.com and on the blog as the day continues.
Or is it early morning? Whatever the actual time of the day is, let's run through a few notes from Sunday that we didn't get around to because of the softball game and tennis match:
- Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News is reporting that the Southeastern Conference will consider divisions in men's basketball. The idea is expected to be discussed at the upcoming conference meetings in Destin, Fla. The central idea behind the proposal, according to Solomon's story, is that there is a feeling by some that the SEC's structure gives a false picture of the best teams to the NCAA Tournament selection committee. The last three SEC West champions have failed to make the NCAA Tournament. How to seed the tournament, scheduling and other factors will be talked about at the meetings. Here is the full story from Solomon.
- John Calipari attended the sixth annual Dick Vitale Gala to benefit The V Foundation for Cancer Research on Friday. Calipari was one of the featured speakers at the event. CoachCal.com has the transcript of his speech as well as some behind-the-scenes photos.
- The Kentucky men's tennis team's NCAA Tournament run came to an end Saturday in a 4-1 loss to No. 2 Southern California. While it was a tough end for Dennis Emery's club, I think the run made some people realize how strong the tennis program is. Athletics can be an up-and-down business full of emotional peaks and valleys, but Emery has somehow managed to keep the program on solid footing in just about every year of his three decades at UK. The Cats will lose a few seniors to graduation but will return the core of this year's team, including star Eric Quigley, Alex Musialek and Tom Jomby.
- After the Kentucky softball team's win over Michigan on Saturday, I wrote that UK is in the driver's seat to make it to super regionals -- and I still believe that notion -- but Michigan certainly gained some momentum Saturday evening with an amazing five-run comeback against Notre Dame. Facing a disappointing and devastating collapse, the Wolverines rallied from down 8-3 in the sixth inning to win 9-8. That comeback up a rematch with UK on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Alumni Field. UK only needs to beat Michigan once while the Wolverines will have to win two in a row to advance, but you have to wonder if Michigan finally gained some confidence with that Notre Dame comeback (and the five-run inning against Chanda Bell in the seventh inning against Kentucky, for that matter).
- Speaking of Bell, head coach Rachel Lawson said she has not decided who she is going to start in game one Sunday. She said she is going to wait until Sunday morning to see how her pitchers feel. Although Lawson said she could throw freshmen pitchers Ellen Weaver or Lauren Cumbess, chances are it's going to be Bell or Rachel Riley. My guess is Lawson will go with Riley just to present Michigan a different look. Riley relieved Bell on Saturday when the wheels were falling off in the seventh and closed the door shut with three straight outs. Look at it this way: Even if Bell is your ace, you can always start her in game two if it comes down to that. By going with Riley in the first game, you offer a different look and give Bell time to recover. But again, that's just my opinion.
- We'll once again have a live blog of the action Sunday in addition to the ESPN telecast. Should be a great enviornment again at Alumni Field with Michigan still in the tournament.
- The UK baseball season ended Sunday with a 19-3 loss to No. 4 Florida, and while the year didn't go as hoped, Thomas McCarthy deserves some recognition for the way he played down the stretch. The third baseman finished the year on a 10-game hitting streak, raising his average in SEC play to .411 and his overall average to .371, just shy of the SEC batting title.
Senior Samantha DeMartine was 3 for 3 Saturday with two RBI in the win over Michigan. (UK Athletics)
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Kentucky softball team entered the 2011 NCAA Tournament touting bigger hopes and higher expectations. Making its third consecutive trip to postseason play, the Wildcats talked about making it beyond regionals for the first time in school history.
But in a region that features No. 10 overall seed Michigan - which was ranked No. 2 in the polls to end the year - and Big East champion Notre Dame, the talk from the Wildcats appeared to be exactly that - just talk.
Or maybe not.
With Michigan mounting a furious last-inning comeback, Rachel Riley relieved starter Chanda Bell and closed the door on the Wolverines to preserve a historic 7-6 win over the Wolverines at Alumni Field in Ann Arbor, Mich. It was the second eye-opening victory in as many days for the UK softball team - the Cats run-ruled Notre Dame in five innings on Friday - and pushed Kentucky to the regional finals for the second time in school history.
More importantly, in a double-elimination format, it means Kentucky only has to win once Sunday to advance to its first super regional. UK's opposition, no matter if it's Michigan, Notre Dame or Western Michigan, has to beat the Wildcats twice in a row Sunday.
It wouldn't be totally impossible for a team like Michigan, which lost only its fifth game of the season Saturday, to win two in a row against Kentucky, but Saturday's victory clearly put UK in the driver's seat heading into the final day of regional play.
"That's very important, especially if our offense continues to do what it's been doing, and with our deep pitching staff, we don't have to worry about them tiring one of our pitchers out," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "We have a lot of options, so this is a good situation for us to be in."
It's a great situation for Lawson's club to be in. The Cats will play in Sunday's finals with a boatload of confidence, an ace that was untouchable until Saturday's seventh inning and an offense that is red-hot.
Facing one of the nation's best pitchers in Jordan Taylor (30-4, 1.41 ERA), Kentucky tagged her for seven runs (six of them earned) in 4.2 innings of work. It's the most runs the All-American has surrendered this year.
"We just had a game plan," said senior Samantha DeMartine, who blew the game open with RBI doubles in both the third and fourth innings. "That's what you're supposed to do, especially in big games like this. Coach has taught us well with that. Our game plan was hit the hard pitch and I think we did that very well."
Specifically, UK stayed back on Taylor's changeup and worked the count, especially the bottom of the order. Although all of the team's .300-plus hitters and 43 of the club's record 64 home runs sit in the top five in the order, it was the bottom four in the lineup that got the job done against mighty Michigan.
Led by DeMartine's 3-for-3 day, Kentucky's bottom four hitters were 6 for 12 with six RBI. Every single hit seemed to come in a clutch situation.
"It just keeps snowballing," DeMartine said. "Hopefully we can take it to tomorrow."
Even with the offensive outburst, the Cats found themselves on the verge of devastating defeat in the seventh.
Junior Chanda Bell had twirled back-to-back gems and had a two-hitter after five innings, but Michigan plated a run in the sixth and slammed Bell - literally - in the seventh.
"Of course I was thinking, 'There's no way they can score six runs in this inning; we've got this,' " Bell confessed.
Whether or not Bell let her guard down or Michigan just figured her out is up for debate, but Michigan tallied three singles and a walk before Ashley Lane, Michigan's big bopper, slugged a grand slam to left field to cut the margin to just one run.
Lawson was hoping Bell would force a pop-up, but she believed things were still under control even after the "unexpected" grand slam. She had her mind made up when she was going to bring drop-ball specialist Rachel Riley into the game.
"Chanda did great all day," Lawson said. "She threw the ball hard and it spun like crazy and that's why we were able to do what we were able to do. Luckily my parents paid a lot of money (to go to college) so I knew how many runs we could give. I felt confident that Riley could come in, in that part of the order and get them out. I was just really kind of waiting it out for that part of the order to bring her in."
But for a team that dropped two games last year to Michigan in Ann Arbor in similar comeback fashion, the grand slam evoked nightmares of last season's letdown, especially when the Michigan fans started roaring.
"It was a little scary for me," Riley said.
Nevertheless, Riley came in and closed the door with a line-drive out to Brittany Cervantes and back-to-back strikeouts, forcing Michigan to the loser's bracket and another game Saturday evening.
"I think we wasted a lot of innings," Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins said. "We weren't in a one-pitch (mindset). If they don't learn the lesson, it will be over. This is a wakeup call."
Or maybe it's a wakeup call to the rest of the tournament. The Kentucky softball team is good, confident and dead set on getting to its first super regionals. No matter who the opponent is Sunday, UK is squarely in the driver's seat to do just that.
"It's going to give us momentum," Bell said. "Even if we get other teams that are ranked, the ranking doesn't matter; we know we can beat them now."
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Making its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance and fresh off a record-setting offensive year, there were several reasons for optimism for the Kentucky softball team heading into its game with Notre Dame.
But to post an 8-0 mercy rule win against a team that was technically seeded higher than the Cats and had lost just nine times this season, that had to be a little surprising, right?
"I'm shocked, actually," head coach Rachel Lawson admitted after UK's five-inning win over the Fighting Irish in Ann Arbor, Mich. "I think Notre Dame is a tremendous team and they have great pitching, great coaching and they have a great offense. They've done a great job all year. I expect them to have a different outing tomorrow. I just think we were excited to finally get out of SEC play and play another team."
Kentucky dominated Notre Dame from the outset in setting the program record for wins with 37. Senior Samantha DeMartine singled in two runs in the first inning and the Wildcats never looked back. UK totaled 11 hits overall, including a pair of two-run home runs from junior Brittany Cervantes and senior Megan Yocke.
Junior Chanda Bell allowed just two hits to pick up her 14th win of the season, picking up key defensive plays from seniors Meagan Aull and Annie Rowlands.
The biggest thing to take out of the win for UK is that it avoided having to win four in a row to get out of the regional. A loss on Friday would have forced Kentucky into that win-four-or-go-home hole in the double-elimination regional.
"It's the most important thing to win the first game," said Cervantes, whose 35th career home run in the third inning tied Molly Johnson's record mark. "If you lose, you put yourself in a hole. You don't want that for your pitchers, your offense, your defense - nobody wants that. It just puts more pressure."
Kentucky will play the winner of the Michigan-Western Michigan game on Saturday at noon on ESPN.
If it is indeed Michigan, which, despite being the No. 10 overall seed in the tournament was ranked No. 2 in both major polls to end the season, the Cats have redemption on their minds. UK lost two games in Ann Arbor last year, both of which they led late into the game.
"Those games were a little bitter," Cervantes said. "We were ahead those games and didn't back it up. We scored the runs. Of course they're going to score runs; they're the No. 2 team in the nation. But we're still a little bitter (about last year). If we get the chance to play Michigan, I think it's going to be a completely different game than last year because I think they're a completely different team than last year."
Watch and listen to the full comments from Lawson and Cervantes from postgame interviews:
Tom Jomby clinched UK's bid to the national quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament with a thrilling third-set victory against Florida on Thursday.
Rewind to May 21, 2010. A successful season by Kentucky men's tennis was ended in the Sweet 16 by a 4-0 loss to defending and eventual national champion Southern California. UK head coach Dennis Emery called the Trojans "a little too good for us."
Now, back to the present day. The Wildcats have enjoyed an even more successful follow-up campaign, reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships for just the fourth time in school history with a 4-2 win over No. 7 Florida on Thursday in Stanford, Calif.
In the wake last year's loss to USC, Emery foretold of his team's success this season.
"What we'd like to think is that this match isn't the end of a season, but the beginning of a great run next year," Emery said at the time. "We're returning our top five players who played today. They will be a year older. While certainly we're all smart enough to understand you need to take advantage of these situations when you have them, the positive is we're in a good position (next year) with a very talented group returning that really cares about each other a lot."
How fitting is it then that, one year to the day after UK's 2010 season ended at the hands of the Trojans, the Wildcats will face off against USC with a chance to take a special 2011 season to the next level?
"Yes (it is fitting)," Emery said. "While we would like to play the No. 2 team in the country in a later round, this is what it is. For us to win a national championship and for us to break through and go to the Final Four, we're going to have to beat the best teams."
The challenge that the two-time defending national champion Trojans will present is a momentous one, but these Wildcats are up for it. UK has notched two wins over top-10 teams already this season en route to a school-record 29 wins. Along the way, a deep group has made for some stirring comebacks and heart-pounding finishes.
In this week's win over Florida, a victory that avenged an Southeastern Conference championship loss to the Gators, the Wildcats overcame a loss by No. 1 singles star Eric Quigley with wins by each member of the bottom half of the rotation. No. 6 singles player Tom Jomby punctuated the afternoon, coming back after losing the opening set without winning a game to clinch the match for UK.
The Nantes, France, native has struggled when losing opening sets during his freshman season, but the Sweet 16 was the second time Jomby has come back from such a deficit to clinch a match against Florida.
To a man, these Wildcats refer to their team as a "family" above all else. Jomby is by far the newest member of that family, having arrived at UK in January of this year, but fellow France natives Anthony Rossi, Alex Musialek and assistant coach Cedric Kauffman have helped ease the integration process for him and pave the way for his big wins against Florida.
"The other French guys on the team have really tried to mentor him and bring him along through the year," Emery said. "They've helped him learn how important it is to not go away in those matches emotionally and our guys have done a really good job of that."
That sort of team-first attitude really typifies what UK has been about all year. Tennis at the college level is truly a team sport: no single player can win or lose any given match. The fact that the Wildcats have so willingly embraced that concept helps explain, in large part, why the Wildcats are where they are.
"We feel like we're a really talented team, but the best part about our team is our intangibles," Emery said. "Our guys take a lot of pride and ownership of the program. We're constantly trying to stress to them that it's their program and I think they really take that to heart."
Throughout this 2011 season, it has been impossible to predict which of these Wildcats would step up on any given day. Jomby, Anthony Rossi and Alberto Gonzalez led the way against Florida, but it was Alex Musialek that won the clincher against Louisville to advance to the Sweet 16. Quigley has had his share of his big moments and is currently ranked sixth in the nation, while Brad Cox has been the man at times in his senior season.
"This year, I think I clinched two matches," Gonzalez said. "Alex clinched a few. Tom clinched a few. It's more of a team dynamic this year. I'm just really happy that everybody's contributing and we're doing really well."
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about these Wildcats is that they don't mind sharing success.
"It just shows you the character of the team," Gonzalez said. "We love each other so much that we don't want to lose."
For a team that has already played 37 matches this season, it would seem more likely that UK would be fading late in the season instead of playing its best tennis. However, that collective team-first mentality has made this unit strong.
"When you get to the end of the season, what you see a lot of times is that teams kind of fall apart because they don't get along and they don't care enough about each other," Emery said. "Our guys have been just the opposite."
On the strength of that approach, the Wildcats have broken records and helped Emery accomplish goals he hasn't reached in his nearly three decades in Lexington. Even so, the journey is far from over.
"We're really happy but at the same time, we understand that we have a tough match on Saturday," Gonzalez said. "We are not satisfied yet. We're going to try to go all the way."
A matchup with USC (24-2) awaits on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET at the Taube Tennis Center. Although UK failed to score a point in last season's Sweet 16 tussle with the Trojans, the Wildcats have reason to be confident.
"We felt like we played a really close match with them last year," Emery said. "We lost 4-0, but we were either up or even on the other three courts and we felt like we would have won those three matches. The score did not really reflect where we were at."
USC's top singles player from last year, Robert Farah, has since gone on to the professional ranks, so UK will no longer have to contend with him. Additionally, last year's match was moved indoors due to inclement weather, which benefited the big hitters of Southern Cal.
Playing the match outside will allow UK to capitalize on the Wildcats' athleticism, an advantage the Trojans will counter with experience and precision.
"I feel like we are more talented athletically than Southern Cal," Emery said. "The tradeoff is that they have more experience and they have, in some cases, better tennis skills because of that experience."
USC is an extremely talented team and it will take a remarkable effort by the Wildcats to pull off the upset of one of the dominant programs in college tennis. This time around, though, the Wildcats won't be in awe of their opponent.
"To be honest, we came into the match last year with too much respect for them," Gonzalez said. "I think this year we believe more. We believe we can go all the way. I think we are better mentally and I think we are physically ready."
If UK can play its game, a close match could be in order, which is precisely what Emery and his Cats are looking for.
"The confidence and intensity that they bring to the table, are we going to be able to match that early and make it a close match?" Emery said. "If we can keep it close at the end, we feel like our athletic ability can take over."
No matter what happens, the Wildcats look forward to seeing how they stack up with such a high level of competition.
"We're excited to play Southern Cal," Emery said. "They and Virginia have clearly been the dominant teams in the country the last two years. We feel like we're a better team this year than last year and we're excited to play the match and see how it plays out."
- Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter and DeAndre Liggins attended the NBA Combine in Chicago on Thursday. There was a lot of buzz on Twitter about the play of Kanter and the athleticism he possesses. Brett Dawson, now with Cats Illustrated, and Matt May, from the The Cats' Pause, were in Chicago to cover the event. I'll link a few of Dawson's pre-Combine features below as well as some notes from May on the message boards (you must be a TCP member to view them).
One interesting thing to take note of: The annual UK-North Carolina game is typically the first Saturday in December, which would be Dec. 3 this upcoming year. That's two days after the St. John's matchup. UK's schedule for the 2011-12 season has not been completed and there is no official word on if that will be the date or whether it might get changed.
- Eloy Vargas had a nice showing in his first game for the Sports Reach team in China. Vargas posted a line of 12 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and two steals in a 77-75 loss to Lithuania.
- I'm with the softball team this weekend for the NCAA Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich. Although the first and second rounds from the Ann Arbor Regional will be televised on ESPN2, we will have live blogs of each of UK's games. You can join the forum on Friday.
As I was watching the team practice Thursday at Alumni Field on Michigan's campus, I overheard ESPN's broadcasting crew talking about how stacked the Regional is in Ann Arbor. I noted the other day that three of the four teams in Ann Arbor are ranked in the top 22 of the NCAA's RPI, but what I failed to realize is that Michigan was ranked No. 2 in both major polls to end the regular season despite being given a No. 10 seed in the tournament. The conclusion from the ESPN broadcasting crew is that the Ann Arbor Regional is clearly the toughest draw. UK has its work cut out for itself this weekend.
- The Southeastern Conference has entered into a new agreement with the Alabama Sports Foundation and the City of Hoover, Ala., ensuring that the league's annual SEC Baseball Tournament will remain at Regions Park through the year 2016.
Jacob Tamme ended his career at UK with 133 catches for 1,417 yards and 11 touchdowns. (UK Athletics)
Jacob Tamme became a bit of a fantasy football legend this past year for the Indianapolis Colts.
Tamme entered the season with a career-high six catches for 47 yards and zero touchdowns. He finished the 2010 season with 67 catches, 631 yards and four touchdowns.
For those who were lucky enough to pick up Tamme before 2010 began, that's what you call a steal.
"I've heard that about 15,000 times, which is cool," said Tamme, who was in Lexington on Tuesday to speak at the annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes Victory Dinner at Southland Christian Church. "I didn't even know how the whole fantasy team thing worked. My brother, apparently, had me on his fantasy team since my rookie year, putting up zero points every week for years. He finally got rewarded with a couple of points there last year. He told me it was about time. It's a neat little side thing to have people interested in that."
Tamme didn't notice his real-world popularity pick up as much as his fantasy interest, telling reporters Tuesday that he's only noticed "a few" more jerseys around town with his name on the back.
"Most of them with my name on the back also have my name on their driver's license," Tamme said to the laughter of the media, "but there's a few that don't. It's a pretty neat thing."
But if Tamme isn't a household name yet, he was expected to be this season - if he ever gets a chance to play.
Like so many professional football players across the country, Tamme is waiting through an NFL lockout that has put America's most popular game on hold. Now a couple of months into the lockout with neither side close to budging, the uncertainty of the league is as high as ever and frustrations are teeming for just about everyone involved.
"I feel like I have very little control so I try not to get too bogged down in it," Tamme said. "I try to stay updated just so I can know what's going on, but I've kind of gone through phases where I've kind of read every single article and know what's going on and I go through a phase where I get really tired of it just like everyone else. It's just a situation where hopefully it gets resolved as soon as possible. I guess the bottom line is there's not a whole lot I can do other than get ready to play."
Tamme played the waiting game for his first two professional seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. Saddled behind All-Pro tight end Dallas Clark, Tamme, arguably the most prolific tight end to ever put on a Kentucky uniform, was relegated to six career catches and specials-teams duty.
But when Clark went down with a season-ending injury this past season, Tamme was prepared to seize the opportunity. Reminiscent of his days at Commonwealth Stadium, Tamme became an instant pass-catching threat for the Colts and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
"I think I was really, really blessed to be on a great team and have a great guy like Dallas Clark teaching me," Tamme said. "I was able to learn for a couple years kind of the tricks of the trade and prepare for a time to step in there. I really tried to work hard every week to be ready like I was the starter. And I think that's just kind of the mentality that you have to have."
Although Clark will be back this season, Tamme has become too important and too popular to go back to the bench. While the lockout has prevented him from building on his best professional season at team facilities, Tamme isn't letting it hinder his development for an even bigger season in 2011.
Tamme said the Colts' players already have an offseason practice routine that they've stuck to on their own. With veterans like Manning and Clark in the offense, the philosophy and goals of the team aren't lost without the official tutelage of the coaches.
"A lot of guys are still getting together and working out just like we would be," Tamme said. "Whether it's lifting, running, doing drills, throwing and catching, doing all that kind of stuff, we just have to find places to do it, which are top secret, and just kind of get it done. So it's not too much different, it's just a little inconvenient."
Inconvenient, but not career restricting. Now that he's finally been given his chance, Tamme's not planning on letting a lockout prevent him from building on his breakout.
Junior Eric Quigley is ranked No. 6 in the ITA singles rankings. (UK Athletics)
Just over three weeks ago, the Kentucky men's tennis team entered a high-stakes match with Florida. The Wildcats won an emotional victory to advance to play the Gators and went on to lose a tight 4-3 affair in the Southeastern Conference championship.
Last weekend the No. 10 Wildcats (28-8) earned yet another emotional victory, this time over archrival Louisville, to set up a rematch with No. 7 Florida (20-8) in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Championships on Thursday at 3 p.m. ET in Stanford, Calif. Playing for the chance to advance one step closer to a national title, the stakes are even higher than that last match with Florida. While UK will be looking for a different result, that SEC Championship loss won't be far from the Wildcats' minds.
"That loss sat with a lot of us," senior Brad Cox said. "Getting ready to play Florida, we can look back on that loss and remember how it felt and I think that's going to make us determined to get this win."
In fact, that loss to Florida in Gainesville, Fla., helped fuel the Wildcats' first- and second-round victories over Cleveland State and Louisville, propelling them to their second consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.
"I think we were all really motivated during that time off losing to Florida," No. 6 ranked junior Eric Quigley said. "That kind of stung having such a great run and losing in the finals. I think we were all really motivated during that time off to work hard to have a good run in the NCAAs since that loss at Florida hurt a little bit."
Following the SEC Tournament, UK had a nearly three-week layoff before opening play in the NCAAs. How the team would respond to that kind of time off was an unknown, but the Wildcats relied on the edge that Florida loss afforded them to hone their focus.
"I was really pleased with the way we played," head coach Dennis Emery said. "I thought we handled the three-week layoff better than any team we've had in the last 10 or 12 years. Our guys were really determined and very focused from a competitive standpoint. Although I thought we were a little rusty physically in our shot selection, I thought the fact that they were so determined really overcame that."
The Wildcats will bring that same determination to the Florida rematch but it is tempered by the confidence the team derives from knowing they are capable of knocking off the Gators. On April 1, Kentucky defeated Florida 4-3 to earn the program's first regular-season win in Gainesville since 1988.
"Both matches were at Florida and we won one of those matches," Cox said. "We're going to take confidence from that win that we got against them, but also take confidence out of the loss that they handed us just because we know how close it was."
There is a great deal of familiarity between these two conference opponents that have already faced off twice this season. Many of the doubles and singles matches that will be played on Thursday have already been played this season, so there won't be many surprises between these two foes.
"We obviously know our matchups pretty well, doubles and singles, since we played them twice already this year and they're in our conference," Quigley said. "I think we're all excited to play them again, but it will be tough."
Neither Emery nor Florida head coach Andy Jackson will be able to throw anything at each other that they haven't already seen, so that means this match will come down purely and simply to the team that plays better when the players hit the court.
"What we know about Florida is that if we win the doubles point we're going to have a great chance of winning the match," Emery said. "The other thing we know about Florida is that they know out personnel really well and they're going to fight really hard. This should be a great match, a match where both teams know each other very well, so I think it will be whoever executes better."
However, there is one important factor that will be different this time around. While both previous matches between the two squads were played in the Gators' backyard, this one will be in Stanford. Even though UK won there this season, Gainesville is a historically difficult place to win, so the change of scenery will be a welcome one.
"We've been very good on the road, but I think you'd have to consider it a big advantage to play at a neutral site for us," Emery said. "We're excited to play them outside of Gainesville."
In the SEC final, UK got off to a good start, but the Florida heat helped cause a late fade by the Wildcats.
"The biggest factor in the match we lost in the SEC final was that we won four first sets and, while we didn't go away in that match, the heat was just so oppressive it was very difficult at that point to finish the deal," Emery said. "The weather out here is a lot cooler, so that will really favor us."
Even though the stage in Stanford is big and UK has a rotation that features a freshman and a sophomore, Kentucky is well prepared. Having won so many close matches this season over tough opponents, the Wildcats are confident in their ability to collectively maintain a steady hand in the face of pressure.
Besides, they already proved they could do it last weekend. It's difficult to imagine an atmosphere more charged than the one that Saturday's UK-U of L match was played in, yet the Wildcats pulled off the victory. Playing in front of an electric, near-capacity crowd, junior Alex Musialek won a third-set victory that clinched the match and touched off a raucous celebration.
"The kind of atmosphere that we had in that match is going to help a lot because you have some of the same crowd sizes and atmospheres here at NCAAs," Cox said. "Our freshmen and the guys who didn't get to play last year at NCAAs got a good understanding of what it's going to be like here."
If the Wildcats can cope with the magnitude of the Sweet 16 and defeat the Gators, the USC Trojans figure to be awaiting them in the Elite Eight. USC happens to be the team that ended UK's season in the Sweet 16 last year, and though UK won't be caught overlooking Florida, the Wildcats can't help but notice a potential theme developing.
"Both Florida and USC are great teams and (USC) has obviously won the NCAAs the last two years so, needless to say, they're a darn good team," Quigley said. "It would be fun to play them again knowing we played them last year in the round of 16 and they got the better of us. I think we have a good chance to get some revenge on some teams."
His team has played better of late. Despite Sunday's loss, it took a series with Georgia for the first time since 2007. It was tied 3-3 in the ninth inning of the rubber game with No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt last weekend before losing.
Even Sunday, after trailing the Bulldogs 7-2, the Cats scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth, drawing to within one run of the visitors on a chilly, rainy day at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Alas, the Cats could draw no closer.
"The effort part of it, that's not been our problem," said Henderson, sitting in the muddy UK dugout afterward. "Now we've got to figure out the win part."
USA Basketball wanted Gilchrist, Teague and Davis to be on the team that will play in the World Championship for players 19 years old and younger June 30-July 10 in Latvia.
But the trio were among about 27 players who declined invitations to participate in the tryouts next month. Ford said that UK wanted Gilchrist, Teague and Davis to attend summer school and accelerate the process of becoming college players.
The University of Kentucky men's tennis team continued its longstanding reign over rival University of Louisville with a 4-3 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The No.10 Wildcats improved their series record over the No. 24 Cardinals to 26-0. It was the first meeting between the teams since Feb. 9, 2005, and a trip to the Sweet 16 in Stanford, Calif., was up for grabs at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center.
And now, TNT's David Aldridge has an article that ranks Harrellson as the No. 3 prospect at the center position. That's one spot behind Enes Kanter (although lots of picks would probably separate the two, as the draft is weak overall and weaker at the center spot). It's a crazy thought that Josh Harrellson may be the next center picked after Enes Kanter. A lot of his improvement can be credited to going against Kanter in practice.
But the dynamic proved mutually beneficial. Kanter was able to keep some semblance of game-ready form by being able to practice every day. Dozens of stories were dedicated to how the ineligible Turkish center helped the forced-into-playing American center. None were dedicated to the inverse, and maybe some should have been. And here's the quote, from a Pacific division executive (that's either the Lakers, Clippers Suns, Warriors or Kings), that made me think of writing this:
"You could have seen him go against Vanderbilt or Florida and you might not see him go up against a guy better than Harrellson."
Cobb has been working out on his own, but this week he will fly to Phoenix and join teammate Greg Jennings in group workouts organized by Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Former NFL receivers coach Jerry Sullivan helps conduct the workouts and recently veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb was there to throw passes.
The Kentucky receiver heard from Jennings soon after the draft and Jennings suggested Cobb come down and work out in Phoenix. Cobb will pack his bags for a several-week stay, hoping to sop up as much knowledge as he can from the others.
"I'm really looking forward to that," Cobb said. "There will be a lot of good receivers and quarterbacks there. They're going to help me to be an NFL receiver. I'll be there two weeks for sure or as soon as the lockout is over."
Wall averaged 16.4 points and 8.3 assists, was a near-unanimous choice for the all-rookie team and finished second to Los Angeles Clippers all-star forward Blake Griffin, the 2009 No. 1 pick, for rookie of the year. But Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld believes that Wall should've claimed top rookie honors. While discussing the Wizards' prospects in the draft lottery, Grunfeld expressed his excitement with picking Wall as the franchise cornerstone last summer and said, "He should've been rookie of the year, except for the rule of a second-year player being eligible."
So often in baseball, we hear or read about "the feel" of the game. There are different ways that a baseball player has that feel. In the case of right-handed pitcher Brandon Webb, it's all about re-gaining the feel he had back in 2008 -- his last full season of pitching in the major leagues before shoulder surgery sidelined him up to present day. How close is he?
"We're three feet away. The ball is coming out of his hand a lot better than when he first got here," said Keith Comstock, Rangers rehab pitching coordinator. "He is really starting to develop some arm speed through that zone. It's the last three feet of the ball I want to see that late life, and it's that finish that we are really working on right now for him to understand that he's still got a little protection going on where he felt the pain the last time that he was pitching. It's a mental breakthrough that he has really put the gas pedal to that he wants to get through here."
The Bulls are in the East finals with coach Tom Thibodeau's defense-first mentality, so you can make the case that Bogans-Brewer has worked just fine.
"If he's guarding you, you know he's guarding you. He's going to make you work. He's a physical player," Thibodeau has said of Bogans.
Points never have been what Bogans has been about. He said people "need to understand that's not why I'm here. I'm on the floor with Luol [Deng], Derrick [Rose], Carlos [Boozer]...there's aren't a lot of shots for me."
With spring sports seasons quickly wrapping up, there will not be a great deal to report on in the coming months, so we're going to be taking a look at an interesting tweet or two from or about UK athletes or coaches. First up, we have a tweet from former UK punter Tim Masthay, who spend Tuesday punting to his new Packer teammate, Randall Cobb.
"A blast getting to meet up with and punt to @rcobb18 this afternoon. I think that guy is going to have a great and long career as a Packer!" - @TimMasthay
Video of the week
ESPN NBA analyst Chad Ford stopped by ATTACK Athletics in Chicago earlier this week to check out an Enes Kanter workout. Kanter has been honing his craft with renowned trainer Tim Grover and he spent a few minutes with Ford talking about the draft, his game and his time at UK.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes.
These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, May 15:
Track & Field: Colin Boevers
Senior Colin Boevers claimed his second-straight SEC discus title on Sunday at the Spec Towns Track in Athens, Ga. Boevers used a career-best throw of 196-00/59.74m to secure his second-straight discus championship on his opening throw of the competition. The senior eclipsed the field by 12 feet, seven inches, defeating a pair of Auburn freshmen Stephen Saenz (183-05/55.92m) and Marcus Popenfoose (179-11/54.84m). The title extends UK's streak of discus champions to four straight dating back to Chase Madison in 2008 followed by Rashaud Scott in 2009.
Baseball: Thomas McCarthy
Junior third baseman Thomas McCarthy carried Kentucky to three wins during a four-game week, including a huge series win over Georgia ... McCarthy swung the bat at a blistering pace, batting .684 (13-for-19) with nine RBI during the four-game week and batting .714 (10-for-14) with two doubles, two homers and eight RBI during the three-game series with Georgia ... McCarthy got UK out of the gate strong on Friday night, batting 3-for-4 with his 18th double of the year ... During Saturday's series-clinching win, McCarthy had a career game, launching two homers and charting a career-high four hits, adding four RBI ... In the Sunday game, McCarthy again totaled three hits, adding three RBI and another double, his conference-pacing 19th of 2011 ... The Corvallis, Ore., native extended his hitting streak to a club-best seven games and owns five consecutive three-or-more-hit games ... In a win on Tuesday over Indiana, McCarthy went 3-for-5 with an RBI ... McCarthy's offense put the Wildcats on his shoulders during the week, helping UK to its first series win over Georgia since the 2007 season, falling just shy of sweeping the Bulldogs for the first time since 1993 ... On the year, McCarthy leads UK with a .359 average, totaling 19 doubles, one triple, seven homers and 34 RBI, swiping eight bases ... In SEC play alone, McCarthy has hit a club-best .392 with eight doubles, one triple, five homers and 19 RBI ... The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder leads UK with 27 two-out hits and has added 17 two-out RBI, hitting .403 with two outs ... In addition, McCarthy has charted a team-pacing 17 two-strike hits in 2011.
Several notable Wildcats are out of the country and traveling over the next week. Here are a few details on that in addition to a couple of other notes:
- Men's basketball head coach John Calipari is in the Dominican Republic as we speak for his introductory news conference as the new Dominican Republic national team coach. Calipari, in duties that are not expected to affect his role at Kentucky, will prepare and coach the Dominican Republic team in the Jenaro "Tuto" Marchand Continental Cup from Aug. 24 to Aug. 26 and the FIBA Americas Championship for Men/Olympic Qualifying Tournament from Aug. 30 to Sept. 11. Check out updates on Calipari's Twitter account.
- While Calipari is just a short plane ride over the Caribbean Sea, football head coach Joker Phillips, linebacker Danny Trevathan and offensive lineman Stuart Hines are across the Atlantic Ocean in Africa this week. In a continuation of sorts of the Gam3Day Ready Tour from last summer, the Gam3Day Ready staff is in Ethiopia to teach the game of football and do some community service.
- Speaking of Phillips, make sure you become a fan of his Facebook page for exclusive content. There are a lot of UK football and Phillips Facebook pages out there, but the page at the link is the official page of Phillips and the only one endorsed by UK's head coach. You'll want to check out the page for exclusive photos on the trip to Africa.
- If you thought Phillips was far away, UK men's basketball senior Eloy Vargas leaves Tuesday for the Far East. As a part of Reach USA, Vargas, alongside other collegiate players, will travel to Far East May 17 through May 31 to play nine total games against a Lithuanian club team and a Brazilian all-star squad. The release of Vargas' travels can be found here. What the release doesn't point out is this is a similar trip to the one Josh Harrellson and Jon Hood took a year ago. As we all know now, it was one of the seeds of growth for Harrellson and his sensational senior year.
- The lottery for the NBA Draft is Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN. A bucket full of pingpong balls will determine who picks where in this year's NBA Draft. With a couple of UK players expected to be taken early in the draft -- Brandon Knight and Enes Kanter -- you can expect they'll have a close eye on the lottery. Last year, the Washington Wizards' pingpong ball was surprisingly first, paving the way for the Wizards to select UK point guard John Wall with the top overall pick.
- Josh Harrellson isn't going to go in the lottery or anywhere near it, but David Aldridge of NBA.com believes Harrellson has a very good chance of getting selected and actually has him rated as the No. 3 center in the draft, one spot behind Kanter. Here is what Aldridge had to say about Harrellson:
He won't wow anyone with anything he does. But when you look at the box score at the end of the game, you see that he had an impact most nights. He uses his improved body to move opponents out of the way and gets his hands on a lot of loose balls for putbacks and second-shot opportunities.
Some scouts who saw Harrelson at Kentucky's Pro Day earlier this month (Kanter did not work out then) were impressed with his perimeter skills and believe he could ultimately be a pick-and-pop player. But he'll have to be drafted by the right team and be allowed to grow in a system that will take advantage of his skills. Like many players, he would benefit from going to a good team late in the first round -- with the guaranteed money that first-rounders get as a bonus -- and work on his game for a year or two instead of being drafted early in the second by a bad team where he'd be expected to contribute more immediately.
- Tuesday is your final chance to watch the UK baseball team in action when the Cats host Western Kentucky at 6:30 p.m. in the final home game of the season. Kentucky has been eliminated from the Southeastern Conference Tournament race, meaning this weekend at Florida will be it for the 2011 season.
Junior Brittany Cervantes belted a team-high 14 home runs for the Wildcats this season. (UK Athletics)
Three years running now, the Kentucky softball team has gathered at a local Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.
Each year the Wildcats have watched and waited - coincidentally, UK has been one of the last teams called each year - to see "Kentucky" pop up on the digital bracket, and each year "Kentucky" has shown up to varying degrees of excitement.
The first year, the first NCAA Tournament selection in school history, was met with a raucous ovation. The coaches applauded, the players high-fived one another and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart pumped his fists. Last year, there were a few cheers and a couple of celebrations.
On Sunday, however, as the Wildcats learned they would play Notre Dame on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the Ann Arbor, Mich., Regional, the watch party was much more subdued. There was a clap or two and maybe a handful of smiles, but a casual bystander could have mistaken the UK softball team for Miami Heat fans as the NBA Playoffs played on the other big screens.
Maybe the tranquility was because Kentucky was still holding out hope on hosting its first Regional. Maybe it had to do with the fact that it was Louisville, a team UK just beat a few weeks ago, that received one of the 16 hosting bids. Maybe it was because Kentucky's region is loaded.
Or maybe it's none of that.
Having done this for three years now, maybe it has to do with setting the bar higher. After increasing their win total from the last two years, maybe the NCAA Tournament is just the standard now, another goal to check off the list.
"It's a little different now," head coach Rachel Lawson said Sunday night after learning of her team's third straight selection. "Instead of it being a big shock when you make it, the expectation is to be in it. Now you're trying to figure out how to beat the teams in our region.
How am I going to get out of there and go to Super Regionals? To get to Super Regionals, you're very close to the College World Series. Being in the SEC, we know how to play a tough three-game series. It's just a different feeling and it feels good to be that confident."
UK made it to the finals of the Regionals the past two years only to fall to host Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. With virtually the same team back for the third straight year, the expectations have shifted from making the tournament to advancing.
"We're going all the way," senior catcher Megan Yocke said. "We have one of the toughest regions. If we can get through that, I think we have a good shot of going all the way. Getting through the region is the first step, but getting past that is the ultimate goal."
What gives this team a better shot at advancing? Experience and the memories from their past trips, the Cats say.
"Two straight years of getting there but not getting out of Regionals, I think that leaves a little sting in the returners," Yocke said.
Statistically, UK is better equipped to make a longer run this year than it was the last two seasons.
Kentucky matched a program record with 36 wins and has been in the polls for 13 consecutive weeks. Offensively, UK set five single-season records this season, setting new highs in home runs (62), RBI (252), runs scored (290), walks (193) and stolen bases (72). All those records were broken despite having five games canceled late in the season.
UK's team ERA of 2.36 is also the lowest mark since 2000. Not only are junior aces Chandal Bell (13-6, 1.96 ERA) and Rachel Riley (11-5, 2.79 ERA) a year older, Lawson has added two freshmen to the mix, Lauren Cumbess and Ellen Weaver, who have combined for 12 of the team's wins.
"The one thing we have going for us is we have quite a few people on our team now who have experience," Lawson said. "Our junior and senior classes have all been to two and a lot of them have a bulk of our playing time and they know what to expect. It's not new. Some of those jitters you have when you go to Regionals for the first time aren't there. We've been playing good ball against great teams all year."
Of course, one could make a case that this weekend's competition will be the best selection of talent UK has faced all season. Of the 16 regions, Kentucky's could very well be the toughest, a big reason why ESPN will send its top television crew to Ann Arbor to broadcast every game of the Regional.
Sure, Western Michigan is the only team in the tournament with a losing record, but the three other teams in the Ann Arbor Regional - Kentucky, Notre Dame and No. 10 overall seed Michigan - are ranked in the top 22 of the NCAA's RPI.
Both Lawson and Yocke agreed that they've landed in the toughest region.
"I think it's brutal," Lawson said. "We're definitely going to have to play well to do it. Michigan is an outstanding team and they are coached well. So is Notre Dame. They're coached well and hit well. Both teams can pitch."
Notre Dame is led by Alexa Maldonado, who is batting .420 on the season with 14 doubles and 19 stolen bases. Two players have hit 10 or more home runs for Notre Dame, led by 12 from the bat of Heather Johnson. As a unit, Notre Dame is batting .334 on the season with 321 runs scored and 71 stolen bases. In the circle, Laura Winter owns a 24-3 overall record with a 2.22 ERA and 208 strikeouts on the year.
Should UK advance in the double-elimination format, the Cats would in all likelihood face Michigan, which ended the regular season with a 51-4 overall record and its fourth straight Big 10 title. Although it's a different site for the team this year - a reward for the kids in some aspects - the trip to the north won't be new territory as the Cats played at Michigan a year ago.
"It's an awesome place," Lawson said. "They have a great crowd and it's an awesome atmosphere. It's definitely a home-field advantage for them."
Regardless of the competition, Kentucky has its eyes set on more than one-weekend visit to the NCAA Tournament.
"We've had some good moments but I don't think we've played our best ball yet," Lawson said. "I think we've had some great innings. Our pitching looks strong. I think our defense, the last couple of days, has come around, and offensively we're better than we've ever been. I definitely think we're on the upswing again."
Softball - Kentucky has advanced to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid for the third consecutive season. - The Wildcats are one of just 31 teams in the nation to achieve three straight bids. Seven teams from the SEC have matched UK's feat. - Sophomore Kara Dill led the Wildcats in their opening round loss to eventual-champion Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. Dill was 3-for-4 with a triple and a run driven in. - Senior Megan Yocke was tabbed to the SEC first team for the second straight season. She is now just the second player in school history to earn All-SEC status in all four seasons. - Senior Meagan Aull was tabbed the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year. She is the first UK player to win the award. Aull and teammate Kara Dill were named to the All-SEC second team. Emily Jolly was tabbed to the All-SEC Freshman team.
Baseball - Behind the blistering bat of junior Thomas McCarthy and a red-hot offensive attack, the Kentucky baseball team posted three wins during a four-game week, including the first series win over Georgia since the 2007 season, falling just shy of the first UK sweep of the Bulldogs since the 1993 season. - The Wildcats rode a dynamic offensive approach during the four-game week, batting .393 overall with nine homers, 59 hits and 33 runs scored as a team. UK was led by McCarthy throughout the week, with the third baseman batting .684 during the four games and .714 (10-for-14) during the three-game weekend. McCarthy tallied his first career multi-homer game on Saturday, as UK clinched the series with a dominating 12-5 win. - The Wildcats have been led offensively by McCarthy, who paces UK with a .359 average, adding an SEC-leading 19 doubles, one triple, seven homers and 34 RBI and eight stolen bases. Chad Wright has hit .345 with 14 doubles, six homers and 34 RBI, swiping 16 bags. Shortstop Taylor Black has added a .308 mark with three homers and 37 RBI, while UK's two-man catching tandem of Luke Maile and Michael Williams have combined for 16 homers and 57 RBI. - On the mound, UK has been led by one of the top starting pitchers in the country, junior right-hander Alex Meyer (6-5, 3.06 ERA), who leads UK and the SEC with 101 strikeouts in 94 innings. In relief, UK lefty Alex Phillips (1-2, 2.36 ERA) has appeared in a team-high 26 games with two saves and only one walk in 34.1 frames. Freshman Trevor Gott (2-4, 2.73 ERA) has added two saves in 22 relief outings, with 32 strikeouts in 26.1 innings.
Men's tennis - With the score tied 3-3 and a spot in the NCAA Championships Sweet 16 on the line, University of Kentucky men's tennis junior Alex Musialek downed Louisville's Viktor Maksimcuk 6-0 in the third set, giving No. 10 Kentucky a 4-3 victory over No. 24 Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Championships. - The win for Musialek advances Kentucky to its second consecutive Sweet 16 of the NCAA Championships. It is the first time UK has advanced to consecutive Sweet 16s in 19 years when the 1991 team fell in the round of 16 and the 1992 team fell in the quarterfinals. The Wildcats are now 42-3-1 all-time against the Cardinals. - Kentucky continues to add to its school record for wins in a single season, moving the record to 28 wins. The Wildcat are now 6-2 this year against teams ranked 11-25 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings and 17-8 overall against ranked foes. - Kentucky finishes the season with an 18-3 record at the Boone Tennis Center and improves its home record to 46-9 since the start of the 2009 season.
Track and field - Senior Colin Boevers won his second-straight SEC discus title with a career-best throw of 196-00/59.74m on his opening throw of the competition. The title extends UK's streak of discus champions to four straight dating back to Chase Madison in 2008 followed by Rashaud Scott in 2009. - The leading point scorer for the Wildcats was senior Mary Angell, who, after a career performance on Saturday in the discus, put together a personal-best throw of 53-06.25/16.31m in the shot put to finish third. The senior is now third on both UK's discus and shot put all-time lists. - Keith Hayes finished third in the 110m hurdles with a career-best time of 13.70, which ranks second all-time at UK. Hayes continued his streak of personal records in the 400m hurdles with a time of 50.96, improving his place on UK's all-time list to third. - In two grueling long-distant events, the 3,000m steeplechase and 5,000m run, junior Luis Orta claimed top-five finishes in both. Orta added to his second-place finish in the steeplechase with a fifth-place performance in the 5,000m run with a time of 14:25.68. - The men's team finished seventh overall with 54 points while the women's team finished eighth with 42 points.
Tuesday, May 17 Baseball hosts Western Kentucky - 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 19 Men's tennis vs. Florida - 3 p.m. (Stanford, Calif.) Baseball at Florida - 7 p.m.
Friday, May 20 Softball vs. Notre Dame - 5:30 p.m. (Ann Arbor, Mich.) Baseball at Florida - 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 21 Softball vs. Michigan/W. Michigan - Noon/2:30/5 p.m. (Ann Arbor, Mich.) Men's tennis vs. Southern Cal/Ga. Tech - 3 p.m. (Stanford, Calif.) Baseball at Florida - 4 p.m.
Sunday, May 22 Softball vs. Michigan/W. Michigan/Notre Dame - 1 p.m./3 p.m. (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
The Kentucky softball team was selected to the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season on Sunday night.
UK, which has matched a program record with 36 wins, will play Notre Dame on Friday at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN2 in the Ann Arbor, Mich., regional. Michigan, the 10th overall seed, is the top seed in UK's region.
- Florida ended up beating Miami (Fla.) 4-0 late Saturday night in the NCAA Tournament, meaning UK and Florida will match up for the third time this season in the round of 16. Florida defeated the Cats in the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament a couple of weeks ago, but UK won the regular-season matchup, the program's first win in Gainesville, Fla., since the 1992 season. The upcoming matchup, with a bid to the Elite Eight on the line, will take place Thursday in Stanford, Calif.
- I failed to mention Saturday that, with the win over Louisville, Kentucky is now 42-3-1 all-time against its archrival.
- The UK softball team will learn where its headed for the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night. The NCAA selection show is at 10 p.m. on ESPNU.
- DeAndre Liggins, who decided to stay in the NBA Draft early last week, is starting to show up on mock draft boards. Draft Express, NBADraft.net and MyNBADraft.com all have Liggins going in the second round now:
- Wondering why there were no Kentucky men's basketball players or signees trying out for the United States' FIBA U19 World Championship team? Jerry Tipton from the Lexington Herald-Leader has the explanation in Sunday's paper.
- And finally, Chip Cosby takes a look back at his 10 years covering UK football in his final story for the Herald-Leader. Cosby is leaving Lexington's largest daily newspaper after more than a decade of work to take a job with cn|2. I'd recommend reading the insights of a guy who as been as big of a part of UK football as anybody else over the last 10 years. Again, best of luck at your new job, Chip.
As if advancing to the Sweet 16 isn't fulfilling enough, Saturday's second-round NCAA Tournament victory was even sweeter for the Kentucky men's tennis team with a 4-3 win over archrival Louisville.
With a rowdy, electric crowd of 686 fans watching at UK's Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex - it sounded more like a couple thousand - Alex Musialek smashed a forehand just inside the left line to win 5-7, 7-5, 6-0 and clinch the match for Kentucky.
Louisville, just moments earlier, had evened the match at 3-3 with Austen Childs' 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-4 victory over Eric Quigley, but Musialek fended off U of L's Viktor Maksimcuk in the final match in the rivals' first meeting since 2005.
Befitting of a match that felt like a Final Four showdown, the Wildcats stormed the court and piled on Musialek as he laid on one of the two center courts with his arms stretched in the air.
You can view that celebration and hear what Musialek, Quigley and head coach Dennis Emery had to say about the thrilling victory in the videos below. Evan Crane has the full details of the match here.
UK will now head to Stanford, Calif., to play the winner of Florida-Miami (Fla.), which was still going on at the time of this post, on Thursday in the Sweet 16. Kentucky lost to the Gators in the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals but beat Florida in the regular season.
The Sweet 16 appearance is the program's second straight and 10th since 1987.
The Kentucky men's tennis team's NCAA Tournament matchup with Cleveland State has been delayed because of rain.
The preceding match between Louisville and Cornell is still going on and has been moved indoors. As soon as that match ends, UK and Cleveland State will begin their match (outside if the weather permits).
Evan Crane will start the live blog as soon as UK gets underway.
While I wait through a rain delay at the NCAA Men's Tennis Tournament at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex, I thought I'd post a couple of notes from a slow Friday:
- A season after leading the Southeastern Conference in tackles, Danny Trevathan is up the preseason SEC Defensive Player of the Year in an ESPN SportsNation poll. Trevathan is one of five players in the voting but he needs your help. At the time of this post, Trevathan sat in third place with 17 percent of the votes, trailing Alabama's Dont'a Hightower and Arkansas Jake Bequette. You can vote for Trevathan here.
- One final reminder to head out to Cliff Hagan Stadium Friday night if you can. Alex Meyer, a projected first-round MLB Draft pick, is making what could be his final home start of his collegiate career at 6:30 p.m. against Georgia. And if you can't make it out, the game will be televised on the Big Blue Sports Network. The telecasts can be found on FSN South (Insight-Lexington channel 52) and in Central Kentucky on CWKYT-TV (Insight-Lexington channel 5). Here is an in-depth feature I wrote on Meyer on Thursday.
- Enes Kanter sat down with ESPN draft guru Chad Ford to talk about the draft process and what he's doing to prepare for the pros:
After struggling in his first two seasons at UK, Alex Meyer is enjoying the best season of his collegiate career. He has a 2.98 ERA with an SEC-leading 96 strikeouts this year. (UK Athletics)
Projectable. Potential. Upside.
Three words have defined Alex Meyer since he sprouted well over 6 feet and started hurling fastballs more than 95 miles per hour at Greensburg High School in Indiana. With magic in his arm and electricity behind his fastball, Meyer began garnering attention as a can't-miss prospect well before college.
Even Theo Epstein, the "golden boy" of major-league baseball and general manager of the Boston Red Sox, couldn't miss out on a chance to obtain the talents of Meyer.
So, at the end of Meyer's senior year and with the MLB Draft deadline approaching, Epstein himself, along with the Red Sox scouting director and director of player development, showed up on Meyer's doorstep in Indiana.
They wanted Meyer badly and they were willing to pay big bucks to pry him from his commitment to the University of Kentucky. The contract offer was a lucrative $2 million deal. Meyer would head to the minors first, develop and get on the fast track for the lights at Fenway Park.
As an 18-year-old kid who didn't know much beyond the circles of a dirt mound, Meyer was overwhelmingly flattered.
"It was almost like a dream come true," Meyer said. "The Red Sox were my favorite team growing up and to have their general manager there preaching how he wants me to come and join their organization, it's pretty special and makes you feel pretty good about yourself."
Meyer, shockingly, turned down the deal and maintained his commitment to college. Three years later, two of which didn't go as planned, the choice has paid off.
After struggling under the gargantuan pressure as a freshman and sophomore, Meyer has more than produced this year as a junior. Enjoying the best year of his college career, Meyer has a 2.98 ERA, including a 1.67 mark in his last four starts.
In his latest start, Meyer threw a complete-game shutout in a 2-0 win over No. 1 Vanderbilt, outdueling Sonny Gray, a projected top-10 pick in this year's draft. A two-time SEC Pitcher of the Week this year, Meyer leads the league in strikeouts (96), complete games (four) and shutouts (two). He also ranks second in the SEC in strikeouts per game (9.86) and seventh in opponent batting average (.220).
As Meyer's collegiate career potentially winds down - Meyer can enter the MLB Draft after this season - his stock is as high as ever and he appears to be a first-round lock, whether that's this year or next.
"I'm really happy for Alex and really proud of his progress," head coach Gary Henderson said. "One of the things that happens for kids that come in highly touted is the initial level of expectation is a little higher than it really needs to be. The world forgets that they're 18- and 19-year-old kids."
High expectations when he entered college included Meyer himself. Having just been wooed by one of the powers of major-league baseball, Meyer came to Kentucky with huge hopes.
"It was something I had really been looking forward to," Meyer said. "I expected to come in here and pitch on the weekends and be just fine. I'd be as good as the next guy."
If Meyer's expectations for himself were sky high, everyone else's were out of this world. Billed by some as a phenom and a savior, the hype followed Meyer to Kentucky. As Meyer began his college career, scouts - sometimes more than a hundred of them - lined the backstops with radar guns in hand as he began his first tour through the baseball-rich SEC.
Meyer hardly floundered and even impressed in starts against South Carolina and in hostile environments like LSU and Ole Miss. But his first year didn't go as he had planned either and neither did his second.
"I don't think I knew what I was getting in to," Meyer said in looking back.
The hard-throwing righty ended his freshman campaign with a 5.73 ERA in 13 appearances and 11 starts. Even before that, it hit Meyer that pitching in college wasn't going to be as smooth as he initially thought.
After struggling to find the strike zone in one of the final scrimmages during the fall of his freshman season, Henderson walked out to the mound and stared directly into the eyes of his confused freshman.
"Did you think it was going to be easy?" Henderson said.
"I thought it was going to be easier than this," Meyer said.
That, Meyer explained, is when he realized he had a lot of work to do to reach his potential, a word that would follow him throughout the course of his first two years at Kentucky, including an injury-riddled sophomore season that ended with a 7.06 ERA and more questions than answers about his professional future.
"Last year I had games where I'd go out there and be unhittable one inning and the next inning I couldn't get out of it," Meyer said.
Meyer quietly went about his business while he struggled on the field and did the little things to refine his artwork.
At 6-foot-7 his freshman year, Meyer weighed 190 pounds. Physics - or just good ol' conventional wisdom - will tell you that a frame that tall without bulk doesn't have much stability. As a result, Meyer struggled to repeat his delivery.
"I was just throwing the ball, trying to throw it past people," Meyer said.
Alex Meyer's fastball has been clocked in the upper 90s. (UK Athletics)
Meyer had never truly hit the weights until entering college, and when he did, he noticed immediate results. The problem for Meyer as he started to beef up is that he kept growing, an inch every season to be exact.
Finally, Meyer stopped growing this year and stands at 6-9, 220 pounds. His body looks stronger and his delivery looks as consistent and as honed as ever.
Of course, controlling his body is just a small difference in a list of changes. The biggest alteration that everybody seems to agree on is his mental makeup.
"He battled with who he was and what he was about (when he got here)," said Michael Williams, who has been behind the majority of Meyer's pitches as UK's catcher. "The SEC is a tough place and he kind of felt like he didn't fit in well."
Now, Meyer understands what it takes to get hitters out. He's consistent, confident and borders on unhittable at times. In his eight quality starts this year, he has a 1.71 ERA with four wins, four compete games, 73 strikeouts and only 22 walks.
"Body control, the ability to repeat the delivery, the ability to command the fastball, the ability to throws his breaking ball for a strike and now he's got command of a third pitch - all of those things are the result of a lot of hard work on the field, in the bullpen and in the weight room," Henderson said. "That's kind of the result from learning from all the past experiences, success and failures.
"The stuff that you can't necessarily see, I'm just as proud of that as anything. The ability to fight back from adversity, the ability to maintain your poise on the mound, and the ability to make a pitch when it really matters and the game is knocking on the door, he's gotten dramatically better on all that stuff."
That third pitch, a circle changeup, has been a game changer for Meyer. Equipped with a fastball that can touch just less than 100 miles per hour, the changeup prevents hitters from sitting back on a fastball count.
"That changeup is unbelievable," said Williams, who has caught most of Meyer's 239 career strikeouts. "It changes his world. It makes the hitters stay on their toes. In some ways, when the hitter steps into the batter's box, Alex owns the box now because of the ability to throw the changeup."
His ability to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues will be tied directly to his ability to command his changeup, Henderson said.
Meyer's numbers this year should actually be better than what they are. At 5-5 on the year, he has been victim of several blown saves and a lack of run support.
In 12 starts this season, UK's bullpen has an ERA of 8.27 and has allowed all six of Meyer's inherited runners on base to score. Meanwhile, Kentucky's offensive is averaging 4.2 runs per game in his starts.
Even so, Meyer is consistently one of the first guys off the bench when a player scores or a pitcher exits.
"It's part of the game," Meyer said. "I've gone through it before. I've had games where I've only lasted one inning or two innings and I'm sure guys have looked at me wondering why I'm even here. It's just part of what you're going to go through. Failure is a part of baseball. Everybody is going to go through it. It's about how you bounce back."
How he's managed to keep cool and stay positive in a year in which things haven't gone as planned for the UK baseball team is a testament to his development in college. He's mentored pitchers like freshman Corey Littrell when his mind could have been focused solely on getting to the MLB.
"One of the best attributes that Alex has is he's a tremendous teammate," Henderson said. "He's an exceptional teammate. There's no doubt about that."
If Meyer is indeed ready to leave after this season, Friday's game against Georgia will mark his final start at Cliff Hagan Stadium. After the season is over, Meyer will sit down with his family and figure out what's the best for him and his future.
"Anyone who says they're not thinking about (the draft) is lying to you," Meyer said.
Until then, Meyer said he'd rather focus on the last seven games of this year and stay focused on college, a place he'd turn to again if he had to do it all over again.
"It was the right decision," Meyer said of his decision three years ago to turn down the mega deal and come to UK. "I wasn't ready from a maturity standpoint. I'd never been on my own before, I come from a really close-knit family, never lived on my own, didn't know how to do laundry, didn't know how to do anything. I wasn't ready yet."
Meyer may still struggle with washing stains out of his jerseys, but he sure knows how to throw the hardball now. The process has turned the potential of Meyer into a refined product.
A couple of leftovers that we didn't get around to Wednesday:
- Head coach John Calipari announced on his website Wednesday that the men's basketball team posted a 3.14 grade-point average for the spring 2011 semester. Coupled with the fall, that comes out to a 3.015 GPA for the 2010-11 academic year, Calipair reported. He also posted that nine of his players had a 3.0 or better.
Calipari commended UK's Mike Stone, Tad Kilburn and their team of tutors for helping the student-athletes.
"It's one thing to make the type of run we made to the 2011 Final Four, it's quite another when you accomplish that AND watch these young men succeed in the classroom," Calipari wrote. "That is the TRUE philosophy we have at UK and it's one that I won't allow anyone to disparage or slander."
The University of Minnesota, where Smith currently coaches, released a statement on behalf of Smith.
"Amid speculation I want to make it aware that I did in fact undergo a procedure on April 21 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester (Minn.)," Smith said in the release. "During my regular physical last spring it was discovered that my prostate-specific antigen levels were high. A biopsy was done, and it was discovered that I had early stages of prostate cancer. I am happy to say that the cancer was contained and removed, and I am now cancer-free and feeling great."
- It's just about time to finally move from Enes Kanter and any lingering dreams of what might have been with him in the lineup, but just in case you can't let go, here is a YouTube video that hit the blogosphere Wednesday that shows Kanter in a workout:
There's a chance - and a good one at that - that one or both the Kentucky men's tennis team and Louisville fail to make it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, which will be hosted at UK's Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex, starting with the first round Friday.
But should UK take care of business against Cleveland State for the third straight season, and if Louisville defeats Cornell, it will renew a rivalry in the second round of the tournament that hasn't been played since 2005.
UK and Louisville go way back in men's and women's basketball, football, baseball, etc., but, oddly enough, the two rivals have not played each other in tennis in six seasons.
What was once a highly competitive rivalry that bordered on nasty in the early 2000s (historically UK has dominated the rivalry, posting a 41-3-1 all-time record) was mutually ended by both teams after the 2005 season.
When Louisville popped up on the opposite side of Kentucky in the first- and second-round regional, head coach Dennis Emery didn't think anything of it other than the benefits that could come out of playing the program's chief in-state competitor.
"I was kind of excited from the standpoint that we haven't gotten to play them and it's somebody different," Emery said Wednesday. "It is kind of a neat deal. The thing I like about it is I think we are going to get a lot of coverage and get a lot of people out here. It is a chance for us to really showcase our program."
If things work out and the two schools face off Saturday in the second round, a large contingent of what should be a huge crowd at the Boone Complex will be made up of Eric Quigley's family.
As a native of Peewee Valley, Ky., which is just a short 15-minute drive to the Louisville metropolitan area, and as the top high school player in the state of Kentucky, Quigley received an offer to attend Louisville and strongly considered joining the rebuilding effort Rex Ecarma was putting together at Louisville.
Quigley ultimately chose Kentucky, where he headlines the nation's 10th-seeded team and as the country's sixth-ranked player in the country.
"It was one of my big options but I think I needed to get away a little bit," Quigley said. "I just thought this was a little better fit."
Of course, being so close to Louisville means the Quigleys have a little bit of U of L red in them. Quigley, who owns a 116-35 collegiate record, said his family's ties between Kentucky and Louisville are split right down the middle.
Asked what color he expects most of them to wear Saturday if fate comes through, Quigley hopes his family will stay loyally blue.
"It'll be interesting," Quigley said, "if it happens."
Quigley and Emery were both quick to caution from looking past Friday's Cleveland State match at 3 p.m.
Although UK has defeated Cleveland State three times in the last three seasons, including twice in the NCAA Tournament, a closer look at this year's regular-season match shows that advancing is far from a sure thing for Kentucky.
In UK's 6-1 win in mid-February, two of the Wildcats' points came in three-set thrillers. On court one, where Quigley has dominated opponents to a 43-11 record, Quigley needed every shot in a 6-4, 7-5 win.
Interestingly, despite being the favorite in the region, Kentucky is the only one of the four teams in the Lexington region that didn't win its conference championship. Louisville captured the Big East crown, Cornell claimed the Ivy League title and UK's first-round opponent, Cleveland State, captured the Horizon League championship for the fourth straight year.
"We had such a close match with Cleveland State," Emery said. "I think if we just wore out Cleveland State, there would be some concern (of looking ahead). We played them a great match and they played us very tight at one, two and three (in singles). We played a different player at No. 4 and he lost that match. I think our guys understand we have a real challenge ahead in Cleveland State."
Even if an attractive matchup with Louisville lies ahead, Emery believes Cleveland State is all the motivation his team needs from from looking ahead.
"We have a veteran team and I just don't see them doing it," Emery said. "They have too much experience to be that dumb."
Rachel Lawson's softball team has made the SEC Tournament for a school-record third consecutive season. (UK Athletics)
OXFORD, Miss. -- The No. 20/22 UK softball team kicks off its run in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Thursday. The No. 6 seed Wildcats will face off against No. 3 seed Tennessee at noon ET ESPNU. I am traveling with the team and we arrived in Oxford, Miss. on Tuesday evening.
I had a chance to sit down and talk with Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson on Wednesday about the tournament, the season and the matchup with Tennessee. Here are a few notes and things to watch before the first pitch.
- Much like the SEC in football or the Big East in basketball, the SEC is absolutely dominant in softball. Kentucky has had one of the most successful regular seasons in UK history, winning a school-record 36 games, but due to the strength of the conference, the Wildcats are the No. 6 seed among the eight teams playing in Oxford, Miss., this week. With four of those squads ranked among the nation's top 10 and another three checking in the top 25, the action will be highly competitive.
"This is arguably the best competition in the country," Lawson said. "This tournament has become almost like a mini-World Series. A number of the teams in this tournament have a really good shot at going deep in the (Women's College) World Series and it's really cool."
In regular-season play, UK picked up series victories over both Tennessee and Florida, two teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time and still are, so the Wildcats are more than capable of beating any team they face.
Unfortunately for Kentucky, that also means each team in the tournament is equally capable of beating UK. It's that level playing field that makes this event so compelling.
"I believe, going into this tournament, the SEC has never been more even from top to bottom," Lawson said. "Just about any team, I think, could win the tournament. There are certainly some favorites, but at any given time during the year, those teams have lost to others that are here. I think it will be some great competition. I think that it's great for TV."
Consider this: If UK continues to win and no other upsets occur in other games, the Wildcats will face No. 7 Tennessee in round one, No. 3 Florida in the semifinals and No. 4 Alabama in the finals. That's a veritable murderer's row of national title contenders.
"You're going to have to bring your 'A' game not only every game, but every inning and every pitch," Lawson said. "It wouldn't have mattered if we were playing Tennessee or Alabama or Auburn or LSU; anybody can beat anybody here." Here's a link to the complete bracket
- As referenced earlier, the opening round UK-Tennessee game is a rematch of a March series that saw the Wildcats take two of three from the Volunteers. The Kentucky pitching staff allowed an uncharacteristic 10 runs total in the Wildcats' two wins, but the offense picked up the slack, scoring 14 runs behind Megan Yocke, Alice O'Brien and Emily Jolly.
The Vols will be out to avenge the loss and Lawson anticipates they will be well-prepared.
"I think they'll make huge adjustments," Lawson said. "They're extremely well-coached and I think they have a whole season worth of scouting and video to use."
Lawson expects Tennessee will do its best to limit UK's top hitters."
"I think they're definitely going to game plan to really attack hitters' weaknesses and to really not let our best hitters beat them," Lawson said. "There are going to have to be some other people on our team that really step up and be heroes that haven't characteristically been in those positions."
- The Tennessee series wasn't the only one in which the Wildcat offense excelled. UK has set school records for home runs (62), runs scored (289) and RBI (251) in spite of having seven games this season canceled due to inclement weather.
Under Lawson, Kentucky has undergone an offensive metamorphosis, but the fourth-year head coach credits assistant Kristine Himes for much of the progress.
"She's an awesome offensive coach," Lawson said. "She's very aggressive and she's done a great job with the short game. She's very intuitive, so she knows when to hit-and-run, when to bunt-and-run, when to suicide or to just go ahead and let the hitter hit."
This season, Lawson assigned third base coaching responsibilities to Himes, from which Himes makes all of UK's offensive calls.
"She has great instincts for the game and I think one of the best things that I've done this season is put her on third base in total control of the offense," Lawson said. "You can see by the results, that's where we've had the biggest jump and I think a lot of the credit does belong to her, along with our older hitters."
- Lawson's other assistant coach is Molly Johnson, known to UK softball fans as the most decorated player in program history. Johnson graduated last May and transitioned to coach this season. The transition would not be an easy one if not for the former shortstop's maturity and the way the team has handled it.
"She's had a really easy adjustment because she is wise beyond her years and she was always a mature player anyway," Lawson said. "How our team works is we're very professional in everything we do. Not only has her adjustment been easy, but our entire team has followed suit and handled the situation well."
In her first year, Johnson quickly contributed to UK's running game.
"Molly has been awesome on the base paths for us," Lawson said. "She's a great base runner herself and has awesome instincts. She's been able to squeeze a couple extra bases out of our base runners when I don't think I would have been able to do that."
- UK took the field this morning for practice at the Ole Miss Softball Complex and was joined by former Olympic gold medalists Jessica Mendoza and Michele Smith. The two softball legends are part of ESPN's broadcast of the SEC Tournament.
Mendoza and Smith couldn't help themselves and borrowed some UK gear and staged a quick batting practice session with Smith pitching to Mendoza and Yocke behind the dish.
Afterwards, the team posed for pictures and there were big smiles all around as the Wildcats had a chance to interact with two of their idols.
UK softball legends Michele Smith and Jessica Mendoza practiced with the UK softball team on Wednesday during practice for the SEC Tournament in Oxford, Miss. (Deb Moore/UK Athletics)
The Kentucky men's tennis team will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament this weekend at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex for the third straight year.
UK, the 10th overall seed in the 64-team field, will play Cleveland State in the opening round for the third straight year as well. The Cats also face the possibility of playing Louisville, which UK has not played since 2005, in the second round.
Emery and junior star Eric Quigley talked with the media Wednesday before Kentucky's opening round match on Friday at 3 p.m. Both believe the team can build off its experience from making it to the round of 16 last year and burst into the national semifinals this season, which they talk about in the videos below.
"We have beaten Georgia this year, which has been in the top four or five and was No. 5 when we beat them," Emery said. "We beat Florida, who is No. 7 now. Just as importantly, we had six match points on Tennessee when they were No. 2 in the country. We have played a lot of very close matches and we have won some, lost some. Because of our athletic ability, I believe this is a team that can go to the Final Four, and they are certainly ready to do that. Our expectation level at the beginning of the year was that. We are anxious to see how that plays out and that is what makes this weekend so exciting."
UK men's basketball signees Michael Gilchrist, left, and Anthony Davis, right, are featured on the cover of this month's issue of SLAM Magazine alongside Duke signee Austin Rivers. (Kareem Black/SLAM Magazine)
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
In just one second, that's how many shots the photographer's camera can get of Austin Rivers, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist as they pose together on the Thursday before the Jordan Brand Classic, the last of the national high school all-star games. It's a necessary speed considering the subjects: the top three high school basketball players in the country, all on the fast track to the NBA.
Kentucky guard A'dia Mathies is one of 35 players who have accepted an invitation to attend the 2011 USA Basketball Women's World University Games Team Trials this summer.
Louisville's Monique Reid also accepted an invitation, as have Southeastern Conference standouts Lasondra Barrett (LSU), Glory Johnson (Tennessee) and Shekinna Stricklen (Tennessee). Notre Dame's Natalie Novosel, a Lexington Catholic High School graduate, also received an invitation.
The tryouts will take place May 22-25 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
3. Marquis Teague, Kentucky, freshman - Even if Brandon Knight had opted to return for his sophomore season, Teague still likely would've been the Wildcats' primary ballhandler. Much like his older brother, Jeff, Marquis is a speedster who can change directions and is equally effective with both hands. Considering the talent that will surround him, Teague won't have to score much to have an impact.
2. Anthony Davis, Kentucky, freshman - Some recruiting analysts believe that the 6-foot-10 Davis - and not Duke's Austin Rivers - is the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2011. He's a bit skinny at 190 pounds, but that won't stop him from becoming a force during his one year at Kentucky.
NOTE: This list was compiled before Terrence Jones announced his return to Kentucky
"This is my state," Cousins said after the group returned to a Red Cross shelter at the Belk Activity Center to hand out shoes from Soles4Souls and NBA Cares shirts, sign autographs and film a Red Cross public service announcement. "This is the craziest thing I've ever seen. To know there was a building standing there and now it's nothing but rubble, it's crazy.
"To see the people suffering like this hurts. I'm going to try to give back as much as I can."
Cousins was joined Friday by former Kentucky teammate Eric Bledsoe and D.J. White. Bledsoe starred at Parker High School and now is a guard with the Los Angeles Clippers. White went from Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa County to Indiana and now is a forward with the Charlotte Bobcats.
Bogans, who started 82 games in the regular season and all nine playoff games, turned his ankle during Game 4.
"He's a top of the line competitor," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "And all these guys have something right now. You just got to get through it. He's a tough guy, he'll be ready to go [Tuesday night]."
"We'd be in there at 10 o'clock at night as a staff and Randall would pop in and listen to us game plan," said Tee Martin, passing game coordinator and receivers coach at Kentucky this past year. "He'd be a part of it. He was always around."
As a result, he was always involved, critically, in the Kentucky offense.
I linked above to a story about DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe returning to their home state of Alabama to assist in the relief efforts following the devastating tornado that ravaged Tuscaloosa and so much of the state. Here is some footage of their trip that gives a glimpse into the destruction of the storm and what Cousins and Bledsoe did to try to lift the spirits of those affected.
An aerial view of the demolition process of UK's old track facility. The new track facility, which will begin construction at the end of the demolition process, is expected to be completed by next spring. (photo courtesy of Aerial Innovations)
It's been a pretty slow day around these parts. Here are a few nuggets around Big Blue Nation:
- The NCAA is giving fans a chance to own a piece of Final Four history. Although it's not the hardware Kentucky fans were hoping for when the men's basketball team descended upon Houston, the NCAA is allowing fans to buy a part of the NCAA Final Four hardwood, a floor in which UK played in its first Final Four since 1998. The NCAA has two options to purchase, one for $49.99 and the other for $99.99. To buy a piece of the floor, click here.
- UK football punter Ryan Tydlacka was named to Rivals' All-Spring Team for his performance in the Blue/White Game. Here is what Rivals had to say:
Tydlacka, a senior, has improved his punting average each season and continued the trend during the spring. In the Blue-White Game, he punted four times for a 55.5-yard average, including a 70-yarder.
- It's old news at this point, but in case you didn't see it Monday night, head coach John Calipari explained his open invitation to former players to come back to Kentucky to work out and finish their degrees. In his explanation, which you can view on Coachcal.com, Calipari said it's all part of being a players-first program - offering former players to finish their academic pursuits while pursuing their NBA dreams. Calipari mentioned former player Wayne Turner as the perfect example. Turner graduated this past weekend while serving as a student assistant. Calipari also said John Wall has already contacted the university about possibly enrolling in summer classes.
- Tuesday night's UK-Indiana baseball game at 6:30 p.m. will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network. The telecast can be found on FSN South (Insight-Lexington channel 52) and in Central Kentucky on CWKYT-TV (Insight-Lexington channel 5). If you don't have anything to do Tuesday night, my suggestion is to turn off the TV and come out to the ballpark. There are only five home games left on the season. And if you can't come out Tuesday, make sure you're there Friday in what could be Alex Meyer's final home start of his collegiate career. Meyer is only a junior and hasn't announced what he'll do after this year, but chances are Friday could be the last time UK fans will get an opportunity to watch him pitch before he heads to the big leagues.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, May 8:
Softball: Chanda Bell
Junior Chanda Bell was electric for the Wildcats in the circle in leading the Blue and White to a 10-2, six-inning win over Auburn. Bell tossed the complete-game effort to earn her sixth victory against different league opponents this season. Bell allowed just four hits in the game while striking out seven. In the final game of the series, she entered trailing 2-0 and allowed just one hit in three flawless innings of play. For the weekend, she worked 9.0 total innings and allowed just five hits while striking out eight. Auburn batted just .156 against UK's right-hander for the weekend.
Softball: Emily Jolly
Freshman Emily Jolly capped her freshman campaign in stylish fashion with a .500 week in the series against Auburn. She started all three games at second base for UK and made her presence felt both in the field and at the plate. In the victory over the Tigers, Jolly smacked her seventh double of the season and would round home to score. In the final game of the series, she was plucked with a pitch twice and then had an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh to reach base in all three plate appearances in the game. As the No. 9 hitter, her RBI single brought in the team's only run of the inning but enabled UK a chance for a comeback effort with the top of the order coming to the plate and nobody out. In the field, Jolly made six putouts and seven assists throughout the weekend to lead the squad.
Baseball: Alex Meyer
Kentucky junior right-handed starter Alex Meyer turned in yet another gem in a pitching duel posting a complete-game shutout win over No. 1 Vanderbilt on Friday night. In a matchup with VU's Sonny Gray that was billed as the top two pitchers in college baseball, Meyer tossed the best start of his career, going nine full innings, allowing only five hits and one walk, striking out five. The complete game was Meyer's SEC-leading fourth of the year and the second complete-game shutout of the season. A 6-foot-9 native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer pitched UK to the 2-0 win over top-ranked VU, the first win over a No. 1-ranked team since UK upset David Price, Casey Weathers and Pedro Alvarez-led Commodores in Lexington in 2007. Meyer shut down the blistering-hot Dores, who entered the series leading the SEC in batting average, average in SEC games and on-base percentage, ranking second in runs scored. Meyer, who leads the SEC with 96 strikeouts, needed just 110 pitches for the complete game, with Vandy not getting a runner to second base until the seventh frame, throwing 72 strikes and first-pitch strikes to 17 hitters. Meyer faced only four hitters above the minimum and faced the minimum through his first six innings. Meyer allowed only five singles in the game in the first shutout surrendered by the Dores since 2010 vs. South Carolina . On the year, Meyer has fanned an SEC-leading 96 in 87.2 innings, owning a 2.98 ERA in 12 starts, allowing only 66 hits and a .220 opponent batting average. Of the 66 hits he has allowed, only 11 have come as extra-base knocks. The gem was his eighth quality start of the year for Meyer, who owns a 1.71 ERA in his eight quality starts and a 1.67 ERA in his last four outings. In his three-year career, Meyer ranks sixth in UK annals with 239 strikeouts in 197.1 innings. Meyer's stellar pitching has come despite getting minimal support offensively and in the bullpen, as UK owns a 8.24 ERA out of the bullpen in his 12 starts and have hit .269 with 4.2 runs scored per game in his outings. Overall, the UK bullpen has inherited six runners from Meyer in his starts, with all six scoring.
"I put in a lot of hard work at Kentucky," Liggins said Monday in an exclusive interview with Cat Scratches. "I overcame a lot throughout my Kentucky career. Everybody knows that. I think I'm mature enough to play in the NBA. I know it's going to be different than college. I'm going to be alone a lot and I'm going to have to make decisions by myself. But I'm old enough and I've got the support."
Liggins' decision wasn't easy. The draft process can be a fickle one, and Liggins said he was "50/50" after the Kentucky Combine early last week.
But after a combine in New Jersey last weekend, Liggins was told he was one of the five best players in the workout and stood a chance in the draft. For a 23-year-old who has overcome a tumultuous youth, a collegiate coaching change and has a newborn child, the window of opportunity was too open to put it on hold.
"I had to really think about my family and my son," Liggins said. "I just followed by heart, really."
Liggins said he received positive feedback from his workout in New Jersey. Although he didn't collect any promises from any NBA teams and understands he could still go undrafted, he's comfortable with his decision.
"There are a lot of teams that like me and will consider me," Liggins said. "There were a couple teams that said I should come back to school and work on such and such, but I just felt like I'm a worker and can do all that stuff at any point in the NBA. I'm a guy who likes to work on my game a lot. I'm a tough guy. I'm mentally tough. I just think guys who are mentally tough, who have a good work ethic like me, can be in the league for a long time."
Liggins knows his offensive game is still a work in progress, but he mentioned current players like Tony Allen, Ron Artest and Shane Battier as guys who have made a living off being defensive stoppers, similar to the role Liggins played at UK.
"I know I'm not going to be a superstar or anything," Liggins said. "I'm a role player. I was a role player here and I know my role. I know my weaknesses and I know what I can do well. I'm a guy who can play to my strength."
The role of a blue-collared, defensive stalwart is one that few, including Liggins, could have imagined after his first year in college.
After a much-maligned freshman season and rumors of a possible transfer, Liggins did not play in the first nine games of his sophomore season under Calipari. Some people called him a cancer and suggested Calipari rid himself of Liggins.
Soon thereafter, Liggins bought into Calipari's system, reinvented his game and became one of the best defenders in the country. Even now, Liggins said it's hard to believe he has this opportunity after the situation he was dealt with two years ago.
"Cal defined my game and told me what I was," Liggins said. "I didn't believe it at first but I started thinking, 'Maybe he is right. Maybe I do need to do this to become a better player.' I woke up and realized what I need to do to be successful, did it and it turned out to be good."
Whenever he looks back at his time at UK after his basketball career is long over, he said he'd like to chronicle his story of perseverance.
"I want to put a story together," Liggins said. "It would be a great story. It was hard, but it just shows that you should never give up."
Although Calipari suggested Liggins come back for one more season, Liggins said he received Calipari's blessing after they talked about the consequences - both good and bad - of making the leap.
"I told him, 'Coach, I think I'm built for this. I'm ready,' " Liggins said. 'I told him, 'Whatever happens I will never give up. I'm mentally tough and that's the only thing that's come into play for me. Coach Cal is a guy who, whatever you decide, is with you. He told me to finish up school and that he'll continue to help me."
Included in the talk with Calipari was the possibility of an NBA lockout. Calipari told Liggins he could come back, work out and finish school if there is a work stoppage next season.
"It's scary but it's part of it," Liggins said. "I've got to stay positive and keep working on my game."
Liggins said he didn't truly consider playing professionally until last summer. UK's run to the Final Four made his dream a possibility, and as he watched marquee players return to school and saw this year's draft class weaken, he decided to sit down with his high school coach, Tommy Dobson, and sort through the pros and cons of leaving early.
They talked about the possibility of building on this year's Final Four run and teaming up with next year's super signing class, which Liggins likened to the John Wall-led class of 2009.
Ultimately, as heartbreaking as it was to come so close to a national championship, Liggins viewed the Final Four run as a crowning accomplishment to a successful and storied career.
"It is going to be a deeper draft next year," Liggins said. "Where do I fit in? Would I start? Would I come off the bench? Would I be treated differently? I was thinking if I was going to go, this was the perfect time to go."
Liggins hasn't signed with an agent yet but said he's narrowed it down to a few people. Although he feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders, he plans on working out for individual teams and is considering attending next week's NBA Combine in Chicago.
"The process is not over," Liggins said. "It's just getting started. I had a good showing in New Jersey but it's not over. I could still work out for a lot of teams and, you never know, they could like me. My job is to keep working on my game and get stronger."
Regardless of what happens draft day on June 23, Liggins is happy with his decision.
"No regrets," Liggins said. "I made my decision and I've got to live with it now. I've got to step up to the plate. It's going to be a tough challenge for me but I'm ready. I earned every minute at Kentucky by how hard I worked in practice. That's going to carry on to the NBA."
Softball - With a 10-2 victory over No. 23 Auburn, Kentucky matched a single-season program record with 36 overall wins on the season. - UK has earned the No. 6 overall seed in the SEC Tournament for the third straight season. It marks the first time in school history UK has advanced to the conference tournament in three straight seasons. - Seniors Meagan Aull, Samantha DeMartine and Megan Yocke combined for an 8-for-10 day at the plate with six runs scored and eight RBI in the win over the Tigers. Aull was a perfect 4- for-4 with a career-high five RBI. - Junior Brittany Cervantes became just the second player in a single-year to record 50 or more runs in a single season at UK.
Baseball - The baseball team completed a three-game week with a series against the No. 1 Vanderbilt Commodores, opening the series with a 2-0 win before falling Saturday and Sunday with the Dores claiming the hard-fought series. - Kentucky rode the hot hand of pitching sensation Alex Meyer in the series opener vs. Vanderbilt. He tossed his second complete game shutout of the year and his league-leading fourth complete game of the season in a 2-0 blanking of the red-hot Dores. Meyer allowed only five singles in the game and one walk, lifting UK to its first win over a No. 1-ranked foe since the 2007 season. In the win, UK got a solo homer from Thomas McCarthy and added an insurance run from Braden Kapteyn for the difference. - In the next two games of the series, Vanderbilt posted wins to clinch the three-game set. In the Saturday game, Vandy rode the strong left-handed arm of 2010 Cape Cod League Pitcher of the Year Grayson Garvin, to a 10-3 win to even the series. In the finale, UK owned a 3-2 lead before committing an error in the seventh inning to even up the game. VU then plated three runs on five consecutive two-out hits in the top of the ninth inning to secure the series for a 6-3 win.
Men's tennis - The No. 10 UK men's tennis team will make its 22nd appearance in the NCAA Tournament when it hosts the first and second rounds of the event May 13-14 at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex. This is the third consecutive year UK has hosted a regional. All of UK's NCAA appearances have come under Dennis Emery's direction. The 29th-year Wildcat mentor ranks second in the nation among active coaches in NCAA Championship appearances. - UK enters the tournament after one of the best regular seasons in school history with a school-record 26 wins. The Wildcats are fresh off an appearance in the finals of the SEC Tournament, marking their second finals appearance in school history and the first since UK claimed the title in 1992. - Senior Brad Cox and juniors Alex Musialek and Eric Quigley will compete in the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships after receiving at-large bids into the field. Quigley and Musialek will play in the singles tournament, while Cox and Quigley will team up in doubles. Cox is the first player in school history to play in the doubles championship all four seasons.
Track and field - Colin Boevers, the reigning SEC champion in the discus throw, threw a season-best mark of 58.39m/191-07 to claim victory at the Billy Hayes Invitational. The season- and event-best throw extends the seniors SEC-leading mark, ahead of Auburn freshman Stephen Saenz who owns a season-long mark of 183-05. - Mary Angell also won the discus throw with a long throw of 51.25m/168-02, which is just shy of her career-best mark of 53.57m/175-09 set earlier this season at the Sea Ray Relays. - Boevers grabbed a runner-up finish in the shot put with a career-long toss of 17.14m/56- 03.00, moving him up to sixth in the SEC. Boevers had thrown his previous career-best mark of 16.91m /55-05.75 in Louisville, Ky., during the Kentuckiana Border Battler on April 9. - Angell produced a career-best toss in the shot put as well with a mark of 15.36m/50-04.75 to finish in fifth position. Angell's toss moves her into fifth place on UK's all-time outdoor shot put list, just behind current injured teammate Jennifer Svoboda, and seventh overall on the current SEC rankings.
Women's golf - The Kentucky women's golf team concluded its season Saturday with a 20th-place finish in the East regional of the NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championships held at the Legends Course at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. - Sophomore Ashleigh Albrecht led Kentucky with a final score of 9-over par to finish in a tie for 44th place. - Albrecht, a Murrieta, Calif., native, finished her season with eight rounds of par or better and now has 12 career rounds of par or better, both UK program records. - Albrecht's season scoring average of 75.36 is the second best in school history. - In UK head coach Golda Johansson Borst's first year of coaching, the Cats finished with a team scoring average of 306.30, the second best score in UK history.
Tuesday, May 10 Baseball hosts Indiana - 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 12 Softball vs. Tennessee (SEC Quarterfinals) - noon (Oxford, Miss.) Track and field at SEC Championships (Athens, Ga.)
Friday, May 13 Men's tennis hosts Cleveland State - 3 p.m. (NCAA Tournament) Softball vs. Florida/Auburn (Semifinals) - 3 p.m. (Oxford, Miss.) Baseball hosts Georgia - 6:30 p.m. Track and field at SEC Championships (Athens, Ga.)
Saturday, May 14 Men's tennis hosts Louisville/Cornell - 3 p.m. (NCAA Tournament) Baseball hosts Georgia - 4:30 p.m. Softball SEC Championship - 8 p.m. (Oxford, Miss.) Track and field at SEC Championships (Athens, Ga.) Baseball hosts Georgia - 1 p.m. Track and field at SEC Championships (Athens, Ga.)
If you would have told Kentucky fans in November during the Maui Invitational that Terrence Jones would return to school and Brandon Knight and DeAndre Liggins would bolt for the NBA Draft, most of them would have laughed and called you crazy.
But, sure enough, after three consecutive days of announcements, it is Knight and Liggins who are leaving the Kentucky men's basketball program ahead of schedule and Jones who will return for his sophomore year.
A glance at Liggins' offensive statistics would make one wonder why Liggins would even consider the draft this year. An 8.6 scoring average doesn't scream future NBA starter much less NBA Draft pick.
In all actuality, though, Liggins may have made a smart decision.
As everyone came to expect the last two years under John Calipari, Liggins flourished more as a defensive stopper than an offensive stalwart. What Liggins lacked in scoring numbers he more than made up for on the defensive end.
At 6-foot-6, Liggins earned a reputation as one of the premier defenders in the country. Above-average speed and a 7-foot wingspan gave Liggins the ability to guard the opposition's best player no matter what position he played.
If Liggins is going to succeed on the NBA level - and surely this is his main reason for leaving - it will be because of his defense. For as offensive-minded as the NBA game is, defensive players are highly wanted and very valuable.
On the right team and the right situation, Liggins could fit in as a defensive stopper. Think Bruce Bowen a couple of years ago for the San Antonio Spurs or Tony Allen, currently with the Memphis Grizzlies.
In a release on UKathletics.com, Liggins said Calipari encouraged him to return for his senior season, but Calipari wasn't completely against Liggins leaving early. If you can remember back to a roundtable session Calipari had with reporters in mid-April, Calipari said Liggins could be in a position to leave early if the right situation presented itself.
Even if Liggins were to come back next season, the chance of his draft position improving is pretty slim.
Plus, as good and as valuable as Liggins was this year, his numbers may have actually gone down next year with the star-studded recruiting class that is on the way (Calipari said in that roundtable interview that incoming freshman Michael Gilchrist, in addition to his offensive talents, may be a better defensive player than Liggins).
In the end, for as easy as it is for outsiders to make a decision for Liggins, it is nobody's decision but his. At 23 years old and with a kid to support, Liggins had to make what he felt like was the best decision for him and his family.
Time will tell whether or not Liggins made the right choice, but it's not as crazy as it once appeared to be.
The decision to withdraw his name from the NBA Draft was not an easy one. The star forward said he was "50/50" on whether to keep his name in the draft as recently as Thursday and said this morning that he spent "a long night tossing and turning" as he continued to wrestle with his decision.
Jones' return means that three of UK's top four leading scorers in 2010-11 will be on the roster next season. NBA-bound Brandon Knight led the Wildcats with 17.3 points per game, but Jones (15.7), Doron Lamb (12.3) and Darius Miller (10.9) give Kentucky plenty of returning scoring punch.
This past season, the highly touted group of Jones, Knight and Lamb had to step in immediately as freshmen and carry a massive scoring load after UK sent five underclassmen to the NBA following a trip to the 2010 Elite Eight. While the trio was successful in doing so, there were bumps along the road as they adjusted to the college game.
UK's 2011 class that features Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer is even more acclaimed than last year's newcomers, but Jones' return will allow them a potentially smoother adjustment to college. They will not be forced to immediately shoulder as heavy a load as Calipari's freshman have each of the past two seasons.
As successful as Calipari has been over his first two years at Kentucky, that success has come without the benefit of a strong core of returning talent in either season. For the first time, he will be merging one of his signature top-ranked recruiting classes with a group of returners who have proven ability at the college level, a scary thought for other contenders in 2011-2012.
Calipari also now has a luxury he certainly did not enjoy last season: frontcourt depth. Jones, Davis and Wiltjer all project to play both power forward and center next year, while Eloy Vargas will be asked to provide quality back-up minutes, something he did much more effectively during UK's postseason run. Even Miller and Gilchrist, who are both 6-foot-7, will be able to play power forward when Calipari wants to go with a smaller lineup.
With Jones a part of the frontline, UK will not have to deal with replacing his Southeastern Conference-leading 8.8 rebounds per game. Davis, Wiltjer and Gilchrist all were very strong rebounders at the prep level, but Jones' 244-pound frame and his ability to pull down the tough defensive rebound is a huge addition to a team that will lack bulk elsewhere.
Now that Jones has made his decision, attention now turns to DeAndre Liggins, the final undecided member of UK's water-testing trio. Liggins is currently participating in a mass draft workout hosted by the New Jersey Nets and has until Sunday to withdraw his name from consideration.
On Sunday, Kentucky student-athletes will walk across the stage at Rupp Arena in what will be the defining moment of their college careers.
It won't be a game-winning shot or a long touchdown pass, rather the simple handoff of a piece of paper. But that piece of paper -- their college diploma -- will mark the end of one chapter and the beginning of the rest of their lives.
Sunday is graduation at the University of Kentucky. A total of 66 student-athletes from UK's 22 varsity sports will participate in the 144th commencement ceremonies.
The graduates include several former athletes like Sam Maxwell, Wayne Turner, Johnny Williams and James Whalen, who returned to school to get their degrees.
UK has made some slight changes to this year's commencement ceremonies. Instead of having one large ceremony and separate college ceremonies, the university will host three larger commencement ceremonies.
The first ceremony of the day will honor graduate and professional students and will begin at 9 a.m. The second ceremony of the day recognizes undergraduates from the colleges of Agriculture, Gatton College of Business and Economics, Education, Engineering and Nursing. That ceremony begins at 1 p.m.
The third ceremony recognizing the undergraduates will be held at 6 p.m. in Rupp Arena. The students honored at this ceremony will be from the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Communications and Information Studies, Design, Fine Arts, Health Sciences and Social Work.
Below is a full list of UK's student-athletes graduating Sunday. Kentucky's graduate list includes any student-athlete, past or current, who has graduated or will graduate from December 2010 to August 2011.
Football Sam Maxwell Jorge Gonzalez Johnny Williams Brad Durham Antwane Glenn Stuart Hines Jake Lanefski Shane McCord Anthony Mosley Ronald Sneed Antonio Thomas Ryan Tydlacka Greg Wilson James Whalen Jacob Dufrene Taiedo Smith Mike Hartline J.J. Helton Derrick Locke Ricky Lumpkin Tyler Sargent Marcus Davis
Men's track and field Matt Frawley Colin Boevers David Banks
Women's track and field Keundra Bishop Brittany Cabler Jenna Martin Heather Smith
The taste of the Final Four, the idea of playing with next year's signing class and the dream of finishing his degree were tempting for Brandon Knight as he mulled his NBA Draft decision, so much so that Knight says he "strongly considered" returning next year.
Ultimately, though, the opportunity to be a top-10 pick in the draft was too much for Knight to pass up. On Friday, in a decision that most people saw coming, Knight announced that he is foregoing his sophomore season and will keep his name in this year's NBA Draft.
"Just knowing that we were so close this year, that's something I would like to come back and compete for, a national championship," Knight said. "(Having said that), it's kind of hard to pass up an opportunity like this."
Knight, one of the top players in the country out of high school, said he didn't have any intentions when he signed with Kentucky of becoming a one-and-done player, nor did he know for certain that he would stay in school.
But as the season wore on and high-profile players started dropping out of the draft, Knight's already upward-trending stock skyrocketed.
"I had no idea where I'd be at the end of the year," Knight said. "With the way I was playing at the beginning of the year, I wasn't going to be able to leave. You just never know. It's kind of a hard thing to do. You come here and you see what happens. The opportunity was here for me so I was able to take advantage of it."
Coming so close to winning a national championship made the decision even tougher for Knight. He considered returning at one point because of the love he has for Kentucky and the development he underwent under head coach John Calipari.
Falling short of the national title, however, didn't put a damper on what Knight was hoping to get out of Kentucky.
"My goal was to come here and get better," Knight said. "That was my main goal, to come here and get better and compete for a national championship. I think I accomplished those things this year and I think this opportunity just came up toward the end of the year."
Knight finished the year with a 17.3 scoring average en route to breaking the UK freshman scoring record (657 points). While filling the gigantic shoes of last year's No. 1 NBA Draft pick, John Wall, Knight was fourth in the Southeastern Conference in scoring and ranked second in assists (4.2 per game).
But Knight believes his biggest accomplishment this year was transforming from a talented, high-scoring high school player to a collegiate leader. He said he's learned to run a team from Calipari.
"At the beginning of the year I didn't know certain things like where guys should be, how to address certain guys, just talking in general," Knight said. "I didn't like to talk much. Over the year I got better at talking and leading the team."
Knight participated in the Kentucky Combine earlier in the week and got the confirmation he was hoping to hear. Although there are questions about what position he's best suited for, NBA personnel have told Knight that they believe he can be a high-scoring point guard.
"I helped my stock," Knight said. "I improved myself and I solidified my position that I was predicted to go."
Knight said his parents and Calipari were behind him the whole way.
"(Coach) kind of left it all up to me," Knight said. "He just kind of gave me what he thought. He said, basically, 'Whatever decision you make, I'm behind you 100 percent, whether it's staying or going.' He didn't really try to persuade me one way or another. ... Coach Cal is always trustworthy with his players and he's always behind them whatever decisions they make. He's going to fight for you, whatever situation it may be."
Now that Knight knows his future, the next step is preparing for the draft and getting ready for a potential NBA lockout.
Knight said he has not signed with an agent yet but plans to in the near future.
As far as the lockout goes, Knight is aware that it could reduce the number of games next year and prevent him from getting paid. If it happens and Knight finds himself without a league in the fall, he said he would likely return to UK to train and continue with his degree. He is currently at about 60 credit hours and plans to take courses this summer.
"I plan on spending as much time here as possible," Knight said. "I'll be trying to get as many credit hours as I can to get closer to my degree. I plan to train here throughout the summer and I also plan to go to class so I can get closer to my degree and also be able to live my dream at the same time."
With Knight out of the fold, the attention now turns to underclassmen Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins. Both have entered the draft but can withdraw by Sunday so long as they have not signed with an agent.
Liggins, a junior, is scheduled to participate in a combine in New Jersey this weekend for additional, last-minute feedback.
Knight said he's talked a little bit with Jones and Liggins but doesn't know what they're going to do.
"Everyone's in different situations," Knight said. "You talk to them and see where their mind's at and stuff like that, but everyone's in different categories as far as where they may fall. Everyone has different family situations, different schooling situations. It's totally different for each and every one of us."
For Knight, the situation was an opportunity to good to pass up.
If there really is a rhyme and a reason to everything in life, perhaps it's no coincidence Megan Yocke was born to play catcher.
The sport's most grueling position, the role demands toughness, leadership and a steady demeanor. It seems Yocke was born with all three.
"She has always been wise beyond her years," UK softball head coach Rachel Lawson said. "Even though she was a freshman, you could have sworn she was a 35-year-old who was in the middle of her professional career. She has always had that. It just comes naturally to her."
When things go wrong in the circle, it's Yocke's job to calm her pitcher down and make her take a deep breath. When runners are aboard and there's a pivotal situation, Yocke rises from her crouch and shouts out instructions. And if there's a play at the plate, it's up to Yocke, 5-foot-7 frame and all, to stand in the middle of the train tracks and hold as steady as a wall.
For four years as the starting catcher, vocal leader, and heart and soul of a turnaround senior class, she's never flinched. Yocke has been as strong as the chest protector strapped to her chest.
But for as invincible as Yocke has appeared to her teammates and as successful as her career has been, there is a pain behind the mask that Yocke hasn't shared with many people.
Not even a semester into her freshman year and just a few weeks since arriving at a campus thousands of miles away from home, her mother lost a battle with cancer.
A day after Yocke's mother passed away in Sunnyvale, Calif., Yocke returned to Lexington and got back to business. For nearly four years she's hidden the pain that hides behind the mask, but on Sunday, what will be Senior Day for Yocke and three other players, she'll be reminded of the great loss she suffered when she began her Kentucky career.
Perhaps its fate or maybe it's just a coincidence, but Yocke will play her final home game on Mother's Day.
'The day you always dread'
It's been about three and a half years since Sue Yocke died from appendiceal cancer, but Yocke still remembers the day she got the call like it was yesterday.
Yocke was sitting in her dorm room when her father, Paul, called with the bad news. Sue wasn't going to make it much longer.
"It was the day you always dread," Yocke said.
The Yockes thought she'd be OK when she was first diagnosed with cancer, but they were told in the months leading up to her death that she may not make it to Yocke's high school graduation. Yocke said she was as prepared as one can be for a traumatic experience like death.
"That was hard, especially having three older siblings and seeing everything they got to go through with mom and dad," Yocke said. "As a teenager you don't really realize what your parents do for them and you don't really appreciate them until something like this happens. I had never thought about my parents not going to my graduation."
Just a few months earlier Lawson had been hired as the new softball coach. It wasn't the same coach Yocke had signed up to play for and she had yet to make a connection with her. Although her mother was sick, Yocke was nervous to tell her coach she was going home, but Lawson didn't think twice in getting her a flight out of Lexington.
When Yocke arrived home to see her mother clinging to life, Sue wasn't happy to see her. They had talked long before of the inevitable scenario and Sue had instructed Yocke to stay in Lexington and focus on softball and school. The way Sue saw it, they had done their grieving already and she didn't want anyone to see her die.
Yocke came home anyway. Part of it was to stand by her mother's side and say her final goodbyes but another part of it was to support her father.
"Seeing Superman break down is definitely not easy," Yocke said.
Sue held on for days. Yocke had planned to be home for a week and it looked like she was going to be able to extend her trip, but Sue passed away the day before her flight. Going back to school was the last thing Yocke wanted to do, but since Sue didn't want a funeral, Paul didn't want his daughter missing classes and drowning in depression.
Paul did what he thought was best and had his daughter on her flight back to Lexington the very next day. He wanted her to get on with her life.
Holding steady in a shattered world
By most accounts, Yocke appeared to be back into the swing of things the day she returned to campus. To some it appeared as if nothing happened.
"She came back and you would have had no clue that her world was just shattered," Lawson said.
Fall practice was going on and Yocke was still adjusting to life as a college student. There was lifting, running and practice to attend, in addition to new classes and tutoring requirements Yocke had never dealt with before.
As meaningless as school and softball appeared to be at the time, school served as a distraction and softball served as a sanctuary.
Yocke leaned on a couple of people behind closed doors, especially her roommate and current senior Samantha DeMartine and former UK player and current friend Ashley Dimkich, but she immersed herself in practice the best she could.
The downtime is what hurt Yocke the most. When she was by herself in her dorm room and started to think about her mom, she'd collapse and cry.
One of the few people to see what Yocke was actually going through on a regular basis was Lawson. Although Lawson will tell you she didn't do anything special, Yocke credits her and assistant coach Kristine Himes with helping her move on.
"I can think of several moments where I broke down after a workout and they would just sit with me," Yocke said. "In a situation like that there is nothing someone can really say to make you feel any better. There is nothing someone can do. The fact that they could spend the time of their day to be with me was huge to me."
The foundation of the turnaround
As Yocke grieved behind closed doors, she steadily went about her business on the diamond that spring.
Though just a freshman, Yocke started all 54 games for Kentucky and finished the season third on the squad with a .287 batting average. UK went just 17-37 that season and Yocke admitted she didn't have high expectations of the program's future.
But the following season, with the nucleus of the team back and freshmen pitchers Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley in the mix, Kentucky pulled off a historic turnaround her sophomore season and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
The team returned to the NCAA Tournament last year as Yocke hit .325 behind the dish. There was a notion that UK could take a step back this season without the program's all-time best player, Molly Johnson, but Kentucky has built on the foundation of the last two years and is primed to make the postseason for a third straight season.
With a 35-11 record, including unprecedented success in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky has even higher hopes for the NCAA Tournament. After falling short in Regionals the past two years, UK is hoping to make it to Super Regionals and possibly the College World Series.
Yocke, who was named Miss Wildcat at Kentucky's annual CATSPY Awards, has been one of the staples of this season's success. She's batting a career-best .346 on the year with 10 home runs and 27 RBI, but Lawson said you can't measure her importance.
"The catcher is ultimately the ruler on the field," Lawson said. "She has been our defensive MVP from just a leadership standpoint all of her four years here. You really can't put a number on that."
More importantly, Yocke has been the spark behind a three-year run unlike anything the program has ever experienced.
"I haven't taught her anything," Lawson said. "The best thing you can do as a coach is recognize all of the great athletes you have and put them in a position to be successful. In Yocke's position, you step back and you kind of let her take control and do her thing."
Playing for her mother
What Yocke doesn't wear behind her mask you can find on her wrists.
Before every game, Yocke wraps her wrists in medical tape and writes her mother's initials. What started out as a way to remember her grandmother in high school has turned into a sacred ritual before every game.
On the bottom side of the tape on each wrist is the initials of her mother and grandmother. Yocke does it to remember them.
"I know I wouldn't be where I am without her," Yocke said. "She got me through everything. It's a nice reminder to think of mom. If something doesn't go right on the field, it reminds me there is something more important in the grand scheme of things."
Like a lot of teenage girls, Yocke butted heads with her mother growing up, but Yocke said her mother was always there for her at the end of the day.
When Yocke struggled with the first few weeks of college, she called her mom and asked her what she was doing in Lexington with a new coaching staff. Although Sue had never met the new staff, she calmed her daughter down and convinced her that Lexington was still the right fit.
Now, four seasons later, Yocke's collegiate career is on the brink of coming to an end.
On Saturday the team will don pink uniforms to raise awareness for cancer. The following day at 1 p.m., Yocke will play in her final regular-season game against Auburn. It just happens to be Mother's Day.
Her father, two brothers and sister will be in attendance, but there will be a noticeable void on the field during Senior Day festivities. When Yocke is presented with a framed jersey and takes a picture with her family and Lawson, she might think about what her mom would have said to her if she could have been there.
"I think she would be proud of the woman that I have become, the friend that I have become to my teammates and the support system that I have," Yocke said. "I think she would be very happy that I stuck it out. She would be really excited that we went from what we were our freshman year to what we have become now, but I think she would be more proud of the person that I am than the softball player I've become."
Lawson thinks Yocke will hold her emotions inside, but when you watch Yocke talk about her mother and think about playing on Mother's Day, you notice a small jewel of water in the corner of her eyes.
The unshakeable captain can't hide these emotions behind her mask. On Senior Day - Yocke's day - she'll be playing for her mother.
"I think mom made it work this way," Yocke said. "She made it fall on Mother's Day so that I knew she would be right there with me."
Calipari's role with the Dominican Republic team is not expected to affect his job with UK. Most of the practices will be at the Joe Craft Center and Calipari will hold a mini-camp in Lexington with some of the top Dominican Republic players, including UK forward Eloy Vargas.
Calipari will be on the sideline when the Domincan Republic competes in the Jenaro "Tuto" Marchand Continental Cup on Aug. 24-26 and the FIBA Americas Championship from Aug. 30 to Sept. 11.
- We should know by 10:30 a.m. Friday what Brandon Knight is going to do. Knight will hold a news conference on Friday at 10:15 a.m. to announce his decision on the NBA Draft. We'll have coverage of that Friday afternoon.
- Speaking of NBA Draft decisions, Terrence Jones took to Twitter Thursday night to say that he is still "50/50" on his decision to stay in the draft or come back. The deadline to withdraw from the draft is Sunday.
- Football coach Joker Phillips and men's basketball senior Josh Harrellson are helping Bourbon n' Toulouse sponsor a "Bama and Toulouse" day on Friady to raise support for the Alabama tornado victims.
Harrellson will be there from noon to 1 p.m. to sign autographs and Phillips will be there to lend a hand.
Boubon n' Toulouse will donate 20 percent of their total sales for the day to the Red Cross and will be accepting non-perishable items.
- If you've never had the chance to watch junior pitcher Alex Meyer in person, I'd recommend heading out to Cliff Hagan Stadium on Friday when UK baseball hosts No. 1 Vanderbilt.
Meyer has yet to announce his intentions for next year, but chances are Friday will be one of his final starts in a Kentucky uniform. Meyer is basically a first-round lock for this year's MLB Draft as one of the top pitchers in college baseball.
Over his last three starts he is 1-1 with a 2.31 ERA and 27 strikeouts. Hitters are batting a meager .179 against him in those three starts. Meyers also leads the Southeastern Conference in strikeouts (91), strikeouts per game (10.41) and complete games (three).
Not only will Meyer face the top team in the country, he'll also face arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Sonny Gray (9-2, 1.91 ERA). If you come out Friday, chances are you'll be watching two future big-league ballplayers.
- UK softball will finally return to action Friday after a near two-week layoff. Inclement weather last week, including the horrific tornadoes in Alabama, forced the cancelation of two series, and the Cats were off during the middle of this week because of final exams.
In talking with head coach Rachel Lawson on Wednesday for a feature story, I asked her if she was worried about the layoff. Lawson said she did not think about scheduling any extra games and doesn't anticipate the break having an adverse effect.
After signing three consecutive top-ranked classes, John Calipari is the Kentucky basketball coach normally recognized for his recruiting prowess.
Matthew Mitchell is giving him a run for his money.
With the transfer of DeNesha Stallworth to UK, Mitchell has recruited four McDonald's All-Americans to Kentucky over the past two seasons. Stallworth, a 6-foot-3 forward/center, could be just the kind of player to help Mitchell take the program's recent success to the next level.
"We feel like we have some good players here now and I think DeNesha is going to fit in with that," Mitchell said. "I think she's the kind of talent that can help us get a step closer to winning a championship."
Stallworth received Pac-10 All-Freshman honors in her first season as a member of the California Golden Bears and was first team all-conference as a sophomore. Projecting success at the college level is a difficult proposition in recruiting, so the fact that her talent has been proven in college made her addition a no-brainer.
"The first thing that got us interested is that she has proven what she can do on the highest level of college basketball," Mitchell said. "She is clearly a player that is talented enough to come in and make a difference in our program."
Mitchell has been the orchestrator behind UK's rise to conference and national prominence in his four-year tenure in Lexington. The Wildcats have utilized a combination of high-pressure, full-court defense and unmatched effort to win 53 games over the past two seasons, reaching the NCAA Tournament in each, and the Elite Eight in 2010.
Although UK has overcome disadvantages in size and even talent at times, Kentucky's margin for error has been consistently small. Teams with a combination of size and quickness have given the Wildcats particular problems. An athletic post with size, Stallworth is the exact kind of player that has spelled doom for UK, most recently in postseason losses to North Carolina and Tennessee.
"That's what you need to do every chance you have in recruiting is figure out how you can get better," Mitchell said. "We just thought she was clearly a person and a player at a level that could help us improve our talent level. She is going to make our frontcourt have more depth and that is something that you always need to be aware of."
The idea of combining that kind of talented size with Kentucky's signature style could prove to be a frightening combination for opponents.
"We hope so," Mitchell said. "We hope that it comes together. We hope that it is a good fit for us and we think that she is."
In essence, Stallworth becomes the fourth member of UK's 2011 recruiting class, joining Connecticut transfer Samarie Walker and high school seniors Bria Goss and Azia Bishop. Walker and Goss were also McDonald's All-Americans, as is rising sophomore Jennifer O'Neill. Mitchell said that the talent being attracted to Lexington can be attributed to a few vital factors.
"First, it says a lot about the university and what an attractive place it is to come and play basketball and get an education," Mitchell said. "Kentucky is just an exciting place."
However, without the passion and tireless work of Mitchell and his staff, recruits would never learn what UK is all about.
"We've been able to couple that with very, very hard working and talented coaches," Mitchell said. "Our assistant coaches work extremely hard to identify players that will fit here and have, not only the right talent, but the right character to come in here and fit into what we feel like is a very disciplined program that can provide a lot of opportunities for young women to come in and try to develop as people and players."
The Big Blue Nation is the final ingredient.
"The final piece of that is a true appreciation for basketball by people here in the Commonwealth," Mitchell said. "We are blessed to be in a place where people genuinely love basketball, that care about the players on our team. We have great support."
Stallworth and Walker will have to wait a while before they get to play in front of those fans. Stallworth will have two years of eligibility remaining after she sits out all of the 2011-2012 season, while Walker will be eligible in December at the conclusion of the upcoming fall semester.
Although the two won't be playing in games right away, they won't be treated any differently in practice.
"We've had very good success with players who have transferred in here," Mitchell said. "What I've tried to tell them is that basically the only difference between them and players who will play is that transfers get a little bit of time off during the two hours that we're playing a game."
Mitchell went on to say that Stallworth and Walker will have a chance to seize an advantage during the time they spend sitting out.
"I think it can be a very big advantage for them if they approach it the right way," Mitchell said. "It's a tremendous opportunity for improvement; it's a tremendous opportunity to get a knowledge of what we're trying to accomplish. I think if they approach it correctly, it can be a big advantage for them."
When Stallworth does play her first game in Memorial Coliseum in 2012, she will be joining arguably the most talented group in Kentucky history. A'dia Mathies and Brittany Henderson will be seniors; O'Neill, Bernisha Pinkett and Maegan Conwright will be juniors; and Walker, Goss and Bishop will be sophomores.
In other words, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about UK Hoops.
"When you work so hard to attract players to your school and you look up one day and you start seeing the roster with the kind of players you have on it, it is very exciting," Mitchell said. "As a coach, it makes me very motivated to try to do everything I can to get the most out of our players and try to realize some of these things we've been setting our sights on."
Mitchell has no qualms about stating what those goals are.
"Winning an SEC hampionship would be an incredible accomplishment for us," Mitchell said. "Being a perennial NCAA Tournament team that legitimately has the talent that gives you a chance to be a Final Four team, that's what we're looking for. We think that the players on the roster now will give us a chance to do that."
Now that he is recruiting like Calipari, it may just be a matter of time before Mitchell follows him to the Final Four.
On his feelings about being drafted in the second round by Green Bay …
“It’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me, to wait as long as I did and go to the team I did. God works in mysterious ways. For me to have the opportunity to play for Green Bay, such a powerful organization, so well known and so much tradition there, it’s going to be a great experience.”
On what it was like waiting that night…
“The first night, seeing everybody leave was a little hard on my family, not so much me, but more my family. The second day I went in there with the mindset of hopefully I’m getting off the table today. When the receivers started going it was a little bit of, ‘Where am I going?’ But like I said, God works in mysterious ways. I feel it’s probably the best position out of any of the receivers.”
On the experience of being in New York for the NFL Draft…
“It was great. We got to go to the New York Stock Exchange and do the closing bell, Play-60 (NFL service project) we got to do with the kids. We did so many events and if I hadn’t have gone I wouldn’t have had the chance to experience. It was my first time in New York and I got to do a lot of things I never dreamed of.”
On if the Green Bay Packers had been on his radar prior to the draft…
“I talked to them at the combine but that was the only time I talked to them. The more I learned about this process, the more it shows that some teams show interest but some teams don’t show interest so they can pick you up whenever they get the chance. It’s just a great experience and I’m happy to be where I am.”
On if he thought he may go in the first round…
“It was a possibility but I had my mind set on third (round). That’s what I had heard. I don’t listen to the experts. The experts aren’t the coaches. They have a job to try to inform people on their opinion, but their opinion is not always what the coaches are thinking. I don’t really get too hyped up when I see stuff like that.”
On what he knows about the lockout situation…
“I don’t know. I know as much as you all know. (I know) What I see on TV and what my agent tells me every now and then. But there’s not too much that I can do about it so I just try to focus on what I can handle and that’s being prepared and being ready whenever the lockout’s over and we start training.”
On what his role will be with the organization…
“Definitely as a receiver, but also as a return man and return specialist, returning punts and kicks. They have a couple receivers that are free agents, one that’s getting toward the end of his career, and you have Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson who had great seasons last year. They have a great receiving corps that I can learn from, with a great quarterback and Super Bowl winning team. It’s just a perfect fit for me.”
On his character becoming an asset…
“It is. I feel like good things come to good people. I feel like I’ve been a good person. I’m not saying I’m perfect and I do everything right, but I attempt to. I think that’s the most important thing, is that you’re attempting to be the best person you can be. I was fortunate enough and God blessed me with a great situation.”
On having so many general managers saying so many positive things about his character…
“That’s a great feeling that they have that much respect for me and the type of person (I am). But like I said, I’m not perfect and I don’t do everything right. It’s just attempting to and trying to be the best I can be.”
On going to a team with one of the best and most passionate fanbases in the country…
“So much love. I know they’re big on Twitter. I went from 16,000 (followers) to 22,000-23,000 (followers) in less than three nights. They just send me so many messages every day. I’m trying to have a contest up there and get a chance to get up there and meet some of the fans and learn about the city and the history of the Packers. It’s been remarkable, just the things they’ve been saying. They all seem happy that I’m there and happy that I’m going to be a part of their family now.”
On going to a team that is not in a rebuilding process…
“That’s very important in that I think it’s going to help my success as a player. I hope I can contribute and help them in any way I can. We have a quarterback that’s as experienced as Aaron Rodgers is and have a Super Bowl team that knows what it takes to get there. They know what we have to do to get back to that position. Just coming to a situation like that and being able to learn early how you get to a Super Bowl, how do you work, how do you push yourself, how do you pride yourself as a team and as an organization to get to that level. I think that’s very important. Me, becoming a part of that situation, I can learn a little bit faster so I can get there.”
On if he has talked to former Kentucky punter and current Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay…
“No, I tried to call him yesterday but I got the disconnected number. I want to mess with him about trying to take his job as a holder.”
On if he’s going to study up and learn about the Green Bay Packers history…
“Yeah, definitely. You always want to know about who you’re playing for. Whenever I came to Kentucky I wanted to know the history of Kentucky. Who were the people – the Bear Bryants, all the older names, the Tim Couches, the Craig Yeasts, all those guys that were able to do big things in the program? Who were the names that people look for, and try to compare yourself to them and try to get to their level and try to figure out how they got to where they were.”
On if he will use the fact that he was passed by teams as fuel and motivation…
“Yes. I’ve already been doing that. The day I got drafted I went and worked out that night. I (live) off that stuff and I’m going to use that as motivation like I always have.”
On if he leaves Kentucky feeling like mission accomplished or stones still unturned…
“I feel like I left it as mission in progress. I feel like we’ve made some steps and hopefully we’ve laid a foundation that the young guys can build on and the future Wildcats can build on. I hope that I left a sense of, we’ve got to get the job done. We’ve been close and we’ve got to a position where we can win, we just have to be to able to win now.”
On if not having to carry as big of a load within the team is a relief…
“I want to be able to contribute any way I can. I’m still going to put pressure on myself because that’s just the type of person I am. But I don’t think it’s going to be as much stress because we have so many great players that they’re going to do things and they’re going to care of their jobs and I just have to take care of mine.”
On if he’s had the time to reflect on his journey from Alcoa, Tenn., to an NFL player…
“I was thinking (about) it the whole time. It’s a dream come true. But this is just the beginning now. I’m at the beginning again and I have to start all over and continue to reach out for goals and make new goals to try to accomplish those.”
On how important it is for Kentucky to have some players be successful in the NFL…
“I think it’s big because we have players here. We have guys that can play on that level. We have to go out there and showcase our ability and help get Kentucky’s name out there, and get Kentucky’s brand out there and (show) the type of people and players we are, so hopefully these NFL scouts and the NFL coaches will want to continue to come back here and get players.”
On the Kentucky football program without him…
“It’s still Kentucky, nothing changes. Somebody else will have to pick up where I left off and where our team left off last year. They have some great players and some great coaches and they’re going to be able to do some great things. They just have to put it in their minds that they’re great and not let anybody tell them that they’re not and not listen to the naysayers.”
On if he’s talked to any of the Kentucky receivers since being drafted…
“Yeah, I have. I’ve talked to Brian (Adams), I’ve talked to La’Rod (King) and Matt (Roark). I told those guys, they’ve seen how I did it. They need to go out and do it themselves now. They have to prove to everybody that they can be who everybody wants them to be. They just have to put it in their minds to do it.”
On now having football as his job…
“I don’t believe anything changes. When you start looking at it more as a monetary value, then I think you lose the heart and the desire to play. I think that’s how guys separate themselves in four or five years. The guys that are playing for money aren’t playing anymore. The guys who are still playing for the love of the game are the ones having those long careers.”
On if playing in a small-market city like Green Bay, Wis., is a good fit for him…
“I think it’s a great fit. (It is) a small city like where I came from. The tradition is remarkable and I think that at Alcoa we have a great tradition. I’m still wearing some of my high school shorts now. I think that just coming from a small town and going to a small town, where football is football.”
On if he will still be by a TV on Saturdays trying to watch college football games…
“Oh yeah, definitely. I’m going to try and sneak and do all I can to watch Kentucky football and see my boys and make sure they’re taking care of business.”
On if he’s hoping to have a play in the playbook in which he would throw the ball…
“That’d be nice but I don’t think we’ll need that. They got to a Super Bowl last year without it so there’s no reason to put in anything. It might be fun, but it might be in a preseason game.”
As was outlined in a story on here last week, the relationship between the University of Kentucky and the UK Athletics Department plays a vital role in the growth of both parties.
The president of the university plays a big part in that.
But as outgoing President Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr. gets ready for retirement, there have been a lot of questions as to how his departure and the new president will affect the relationship between the university and the athletics department.
"I'm going to confess I'm a fan. I like college sports. I've been to all the basketball and football games at our university. This better be the last time I say this. I got introduced to the Blue Nation in Columbus, Ohio in I think 2004 when Kentucky came in as the #1 seed and my little UAB upset Kentucky. It was powerful and I sort of looked at that crowd and that commitment and that enthusiasm with envy. We were there with a small group of fans. I know how that kind of experience can build allegiances and commitment and community in powerful ways. I think it's important that you maintain high academic standards and integrity in your athletic programs. And I also know that the benefit you have that very few college athletic programs have across this country. There are only a handful that are self-sufficient. I'm at a university where we're in the bottom 25 percent in terms of what we can spend on athletics and we have to support it quite heavily. You have a program that through its successes is able not only to support what it does for your major sports, but what have been the most powerful experiences for me, is to see all those other sports that can be supported through the successes of basketball and football. Especially all your women's programs. That to me is another marvelous example of how you have an out of the classroom experience that builds character and discipline and so forth. So I view that as a great opportunity, I also know that it can help recruit students, people like that experience. I think you need to look for ways that you can sort of leverage that powerful tool in your tool box to mean even greater things for the university."
Both the NCAA Men's Basketball Rules Committee and the NCAA Women's Basketball Rules Committee recommended rule changes on Wednesday that could have significant impacts on the college game.
The men's committee recommended a restricted area three feet from the center of the basket where a secondary defender cannot legally take a charge. The arc, in essence, is the same thing the NBA currently uses and would take effect in the 2011-12 season if approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel.
In a story posted on NCAA.com, the NCAA says that the group will consider the proposal on June 9 during a conference call. The hope of creating a restricted area is to limit the number of collisions near the basket on charge/block plays.
The NCAA has played with the idea of a restricted area the last few years. According to the story on NCAA.com, the committee created an unmarked area in 2009 directly under the basket where a secondary defender could not legally take a charge.
The key difference next season, should the rule be approved, is the arc will be "clearly marked and discernable in the lane."
The women's committee, which also recommended the restricted area, has also proposed moving the 3-point line back from 19 feet, 9 inches to 20 feet, 9 inches, the same length as the men's current 3-point line.
According to a separate story on NCAA.com, the committee asked teams last year to track the number of 3-point field-goal attempts taken behind the 20-foot, 9-inch lane and the current 19-foot, 9-inch line during exhibition games and 40-minute game-like scrimmages.
The results were somewhat surprising.
According to the NCAA, teams hit a better rate from behind the 20-foot, 9-inch line (33 percent) than they did between the 20-foot, 9-inch arc and the 19-foot, 9-inch line (30 percent).
Like the men, the proposal will be reviewed by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel on June 9. If it's approved, the new line will go into effect for the 2011-12 season.
As the May 8 date for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA Drafter gets closer, talk about what Kentucky underclassmen Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins are going to do has clearly heated up.
First came comments Wednesday from Jonathan Givony of Draft Express on Twitter that suggested Jones could be returning to school.
"Could Terrence Jones go back to school?" Givony posted on Twitter. "From what I'm hearing that's a strong possibility. Would surprise a lot of people(.)"
Givony then dismissed the notion that there wouldn't be enough playing time for Jones or UK's incoming forwards if he decided to stick around.
"If Jones went back to UK, he'd be their starting PF," Givony wrote. "Gilchrist would play the 3, Davis at the 5. Plenty of minutes to go around for all."
"There really isn't anything new at this point," Linda Jones told the Herald-Leader. "I plan on talking with Terrence later (on Wednesday) to see what he's thinking, but no decisions have been made. He'll listen to what the coaches and (NBA) GMs have to say, and I think he'll probably use all the time that he has before he decides."
"Brandon got the confirmation that he wanted (that he should stay in the draft)," Calipari was quoted as saying in Katz's story.
The problem with that quote, of course, is that Calipari only said, "Brandon got the confirmation that he wanted." Make of it what you will, but Calipari did not specifically say the last part of the quote, hence the parentheses.
For what it's worth, there are no scheduled news conference for any draft announcements set for Thursday at the moment.
"From all indication the Combine was a huge success," Calipari wrote. "Our players - Josh Harrellson, Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins - all got the information they needed ot make the most educated decisions for them and their families. From the on-court evaluations to the one-on-one interviews, our Wildcats were able to hear directly from the NBA personnel themselves."
Fans won't have to try very hard this fall to experience the upgrades to Commonwealth Stadium. Their ears and eyes should pick up on the new additions fairly quickly.
As promised by Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart a couple of months ago and approved by the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees on Tuesday, the 38-year-old stadium will receive a facelift in the form of a new sound system and video scoreboards. The installation of both will take place this summer and are expected be ready before the first home game on Sept. 10.
"New boards, with upgraded technology, will enhance the viewing experience for fans through upgraded access to statistics, scoring updates from games, video replays and closed captioning, among other features," Barnhart said in a statement. "As importantly, the boards will generate increased revenue through the sales and marketing of video advertising."
The new video boards will be two large panels that use Light-Emitting Diobe technology, in addition to ribbon boards on the upper-deck sidelines and suite corners. They are expected to enhance fans' experience, providing a higher definition on a larger viewing service.
The boards will replace the existing video boards in the east and west end zones that were installed in 1999. The existing boards use Cathode Ray Tube technology, which has become difficult to maintain and outdated in comparison to modern facilities the school competes against on a weekly basis.
"The current video boards at Commonwealth Stadium are more than 10 years old and approaching the end of their useful life expectancy," Barnhart said. "Parts and supplies for the current boards, because of their age, are difficult to purchase. Moreover, they don't provide the kind of sophisticated viewing experience that fans have come to expect across the country."
Installation of the video boards and sound system will be paid for entirely with private funds.
NBA personnel from 20 teams rolled into the Joe Craft Center on Monday to check out Knight, Jones, Liggins and senior Josh Harrelson. Included in that group was former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Allan Houston, now an assistant GM with the New York Knicks. Calipari noted that the NBA personnel consisted of mostly general managers and directors of player personnel.
"These are guys who are going to make decisions," Calipari said. "There's not a bunch of scouts here."
The kid who, during his sophomore year (his first year at UK) was banished from the locker room at halftime of a game, became the catalyst behind the biggest, most impressive in-season reversal of bad fortune in recent UK history. For without Harrellson, no way UK wins 29 games, without Harrellson, no way UK wins the SEC Tournament, without Harrellson, no way UK makes the Final Four.
Simply put, a bona fide Big Blue hero was born. The one-time mystery man from the Show Me State, through his commitment to be the best basketball player he could be -- instead of settling for pine time -- became universally adored and admired among those who cheer the 'Cats. Fighting through the temptation to call it a career, Harrellson showed us all what hard work and dedication to an ideal can produce.
The UK volleyball team concluded its 2011 spring season with an impressive 4-2 win-loss record as it focuses on continuing the program's success, trying new strategies and filling the holes of its departed seniors.
"Spring has really been about getting our systems foundation in place for the fall and working on some new things," UK head coach Craig Skinner said. "We want to be successful, but winning and losing isn't the most important part. It's how well we develop and how we integrate some of those news things into what we want to do."
Alabama's three-game series against Kentucky was the only athletic event scheduled for campus over the weekend (in the wake of the storm, the school canceled the remainder of final exams and postponed commencement until August), but playing in Tuscaloosa was ruled out in deference to becoming a potential logistical distraction so near the devastation. There was discussion about playing the games in Birmingham, an hour north, or even at Kentucky, but in talking to his players, at least four or five of whom knew people killed in storm, it was clear to Murphy that playing anywhere was the wrong choice. For people who have put as many hundreds of hours into a task as the softball team, essentially surrendering any chance to repeat as conference champions was consequential. Just not on the same scale as what players saw when they set out on foot and carried cases of water into ground zero the day after the tornado. The players would then head home -- their real homes out of town -- asked to assemble again for practice the following Tuesday.
The event didn't really have a name, because Kentucky was instructed by the NCAA to make it a private event involving only the players and representatives of NBA teams. Felton represented the Spurs and said he expected that by the end of Tuesday afternoon's session more than two-thirds of teams would have visited one or both sessions.
"I thought it was a tremendous concept that Coach Cal came up with," Felton said. "To have an opportunity to get another look at these young men, and also to have an opportunity to interview them -- I would love to see more universities do this."
Now Woodson is back walking the same halls and charged with helping make sure the gap between back-to-back impressive seasons isn't nearly as long. Woodson joined the UK coaching staff as a student assistant this spring and has drawn rave reviews for his early work with quarterbacks Morgan Newton and Maxwell Smith.
Former Kentucky running back Derrick Locke finally got drafted, just not by an NFL team. Locke was picked in the ninth round of the United Football League's draft on Tuesday by the Omaha Nighthawks. Locke, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound speedster, wasn't selected in the NFL Draft last week after rushing for 887 yards and 10 touchdowns in his senior season despite missing four games because of a shoulder injury.
So what we have in Heat-Celtics is a player who both sides agree can tilt an otherwise tightly-contested series one way or another. Rondo is that valuable to the Celtics, that dangerous to Miami. If he has a superb game, then the Celtics are most likely headed to the East finals. If he gets whistled for fouls and trapped by an assortment of Heat players, as he was in Game 1, then the Heat's path will be that much smoother.
Rondo is not the best player on the floor, not even close, really. Just the most important.
The Packers remained patient, then added to that run at the "glamour spots" by taking Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb, who brings kick-return ability along with his pass-catching skills.
In a seven-pick stretch leading up to Green Bay's spot at No. 64 overall, five running backs or receivers were selected after just two went off the board in the first 23 picks of the night. The board was deep enough at those skill positions, though, and Cobb is the kind of multi-purpose athlete the Packers were happy to take.
His left knee, which forced him to miss his senior year of high school and most of this year, needs to get better. He tore his meniscus a little more than two years ago while a senior at Bishop McGuinness High in Oklahoma City, and then underwent arthroscopic surgery after his second D-League game this season.
The knee is OK now and hasn't limited him in workouts, but he hasn't played at full-speed with the team since the scope surgery in December.
From being drafted first overall in the NBA Draft to playing against superstars he idolized growing up, John Wall has gotten to do some pretty cool things since departing UK after his freshman season. Now, Wall can add attending the White House Correspondents Dinner to the list.
When you've never gotten anything less than an "A" on your report card in your entire life, there's a perception that academics come easy. As T.J. Daugherty of the baseball team can attest to, it's nowhere near that simple.
Daugherty, who will graduate Sunday with a 4.0 grade-point average, has endured his fair share of academic-related panic attacks. Receiving a "B" may not seem like life or death to most people, but to Daugherty, the mark of excellence was a standard he wasn't willing to part with.
"I set the bar high for myself," Daugherty said. "My parents did a good job when I was growing up of making sure grades were important to me. I always expected myself to get an 'A' because I knew that I was capable of that. Anything less meant I wasn't doing my best or I was letting myself down."
Daugherty's perfection wasn't without its close calls, however. There were two classes in particular, both in the same semester his sophomore year, that nearly ruined Daugherty's 4.0.
His key to academic success was to put the work in early in order to give himself a mental cushion before the end of the semester. But in this particular case his sophomore year, he found himself on the verge of a dreaded "B." He needed a 94 on the final paper in his Honors class and a 95 on his final exam in economics.
So, Daugherty, even with his responsibilities at baseball, did what any student would do - he ate, slept and breathed at the library. The workload of cramming with practices the next day was tough enough, but the pressure of keeping the perfect record alive felt overwhelming.
"Experiencing failure like that was something I didn't want to do," Daugherty said. "Most people wouldn't see it as failure, but I would have."
Daugherty ended up getting those "As," and was awarded the Male Scholar Athlete of the Year at the ninth annual CATSPY Awards last week.
"It's one of those things where I put all that effort because it's important to me, but it's not something I necessarily do for the recognition of anybody," Daugherty said. "But to be set apart from the rest of the student-athletes that night and to be recognized, it was a cool honor."
Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that the guy who has it all figured out in the classroom also has it figured it out on the baseball diamond as well. Or, well, close to it.
No, Daugherty hasn't played much for the baseball team during his four-year career at UK. As a walk-on out of Apollo High School in Owensboro, Ky., Daugherty didn't come to Kentucky with the intention of even playing baseball.
In 2008 he redshirted, in 2009 he never saw game action and the last two years he's totaled two hits in nine at-bats.
But the bench isn't Daugherty's home. He plays a far more important role.
A short jog down the right-field line next to a brick wall is an oversized shed with two mounds and a place Daugherty calls his sanctuary. As UK's bullpen catcher for his entire career, Daugherty has lived behind the shed's home plates getting Kentucky's relievers ready for game action.
Before UK's pitchers face the bright lights of the diamond and before being summoned to the mound to take the ball and stare down a batter 60 feet, 6 inches away, they must warm up with Daugherty in the bullpen.
"I've taken a lot of time and spent a lot of years down there kind of mastering that position to a certain extent," Daugherty said. "It's something that I take pride in and the pitchers have kind of come to expect of me. If I'm not there for whatever reason, like if I've gotten into the game, they joke that it's not the same without me down there. I think I provide a comfort factor for a lot of the guys down there because I've been doing it for so long. Guys know what to expect and they feel like they can trust me for feedback on their pitches and adjust them as they need to be."
Daugherty, in a sense, has served as a coach of sorts. He's responsible for making sure the pitcher is in the right frame of the mind. Whether that's calming a guy down, providing him feedback on his pitches or offering a few words of encouragement, it's Daugherty's job to get them ready.
"That comfort piece I can provide to those pitchers is big because when you go out in games, your heart rate gets going fast and there are a lot of things that get going," Daugherty said. "If that starts in the bullpen, it's not going to be a good day for you. I just try to keep guys calm and focused and send them out there with the best chance they have to succeed."
Obviously, Daugherty would have liked to have played more in his time at UK, but as a walk-on, Daugherty said he never had any expectations or demands to play. Head coach Gary Henderson said Daugherty may have played more had it not been for a few injuries, but to his credit, Henderson said he's never complained or sulked about his role, instead becoming a key leader in the clubhouse.
"The more of those guys you have in your program the better off you are, regardless of what their role is," Henderson said. "Having somebody like that who can provide leadership on how to go about your daily activities, I think that's important for any program."
Daugherty has understood his role from day one and embraced it. That understanding, along with his baseball intelligence and hard work, may be why he's flourished in his role and has become so invaluable to his teammates.
"I know I can help my team in more ways than just swinging the bat," Daugherty said. "Just because I'm not on the field doesn't mean I can't have a positive effect on the team."
Admittedly not blessed with the physical skills that some of his teammates are, Daugherty said he's earned everything he's gotten, which has helped him to appreciate every bit of playing time he's received.
Daugherty's fondest memory came in his first opportunity for playing time. In his first career at-bat last year against San Diego State, Daugherty roped a two-run single to the outfield.
"That was the most fun I've had running 90 feet in a long time," Daugherty said. "The thing about it that I will forever remember is not how I necessarily felt when I hit it or when I saw the ball get through, it was the reaction from my dugout. We were down by six runs or something in the ninth inning and in the grand scheme of things it meant very little, but the reaction from the guys in the dugout showed that they were absolutely pulling for me. That made it all the more special."
Daugherty didn't get to experience many more trots to first base in his career and the opportunity to do it again is closing as the 2011 season winds down. Neither Daugherty or Henderson would completely rule out a return next year if Daugherty were to decide to attend graduate school, but as a fourth-year junior, Daugherty said he's realized his playing days are likely numbered.
His baseball days, however, may not be completely over. Post-graduation, Daugherty is hoping to go into sabermetrics, the analysis of baseball statistics through objective evidence.
"It's basically taking the opposite approach of what traditional baseball scouts say," Daugherty said. "They see a player and they see how good he is physically, what his tools are and what he can do. Sabermetrics analysis looks at numbers specifically and says, based on this and what the numbers tell me about the player, how valuable is he, how much is he producing and how much is he worth economically to my team. How many wins and how much money should we pay him based on his performance, not based on what he could do."
For someone who will graduate with a mathematical economics degree and a passion for baseball, it seems like a job tailored specifically for Daugherty.
"That would be the dream for me," Daugherty said. "It's just the perfect storm of baseball and numbers and economics. It doesn't matter to me in the long term how much money I make. I just want to enjoy my job."
He's been in contact with a couple of major-league teams - the Houston Astros and the Oakland Athletics - about possible future employment and hopes to make some connections this summer, quite possibly with the Lexington Legends.
Whatever Daugherty chooses to do, he clearly seems to have everything figured out.
"He's as impressive kid as you'll ever be around," Henderson said.
Eric Quigley is well on his way to becoming one of the most decorated players in Kentucky men's tennis history. After banner seasons as a freshman and sophomore, Quigley has posted 43 singles wins in 2011 en route to a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and a No. 6 national ranking.
With Quigley leading the way, the Wildcats have enjoyed one of the most remarkable seasons in Dennis Emery's tenure as coach.
Quigley may be the face of the team, but it has been the depth of this year's squad that has paved the way for a school-record 26 wins and a berth in the NCAA Team Championships.
"While you want to be very good at the top, the core of our team has really been our three, four, five positions this year," Emery said. "Those guys have just done a great job. Not only have they been good in singles, but they've been very, very good in doubles too, which is just as important."
Beginning May 13, 10th overall seed Kentucky will begin its run in the 2011 NCAA Tournament against Cleveland State in the opening round of regional play at the Hillary J. Boone Tennis Complex (should UK win, it could potentially face Louisville in the second round). This marks the third consecutive year that UK has hosted a regional, but it is the contributions of the back of the rotation that could allow the Wildcats to do even more damage this year.
No. 4 and No. 5 singles players Alberto Gonzalez and Anthony Rossi have been highly ranked much of the season, making UK that much more formidable.
"When your guys at four and five have been ranked in the top 100 like Gonzalez and Rossi have been this year, that makes a huge difference," Emery said.
Gonzalez and Rossi are joined by Brad Cox and Tom Jomby at the No. 3 and No. 6 spots, respectively, to form a balanced group.
"I think we are very strong at every spot, one through six," Jomby said. "We have six strong players, and even if two or three guys have a bad day, we know that there are three other good guys and we can win. Especially in doubles, we have three good teams. The fact that we have Eric, (who) is No. 6 in the country, is great because it's good to practice with him. He inspires us to give more."
The Wildcats are also balanced in terms of experience with two seniors, two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman in the rotation, and it's no accident.
"What we're always trying to do is to balance our classes," Emery said. "You're hoping your seniors do a good job of bringing your young players along. I feel like our seniors have done a very good job this year of doing that."
Cox and Gonzalez are the senior leaders, with Cox handling captain responsibilities for a second straight year. Emery called Cox a "natural leader" but said that Gonzalez has had to grow into the role.
"Gonzalez, when he came here, I would not say he was a team-first person or a natural leader and he has really developed into that for us," Emery said.
Gonzalez recognized his need to mature and addressed it.
"My freshman and sophomore year I was really immature when it came to practice, when it came to being on time, when it came to being a leader," Gonzalez said. "In my junior and senior year, I have changed completely. I'm more responsible coming to the courts and I'm a leader of my team."
Gonzalez underwent a transformation and realized that when taking the court, it's as much about the team as it is about any individual.
"I think the important thing is that, with experience, you can lead," Gonzalez said. "You're not playing for yourself, you're playing for your family, which is your team."
Jomby, a freshman, has especially benefitted from the leadership of Cox and Gonzalez. The native of Nantes, France, only arrived in Lexington in January yet has been a meaningful contributor in his first season.
"It's a tough deal coming in January like he did," Emery said. "He came in right at the start of the season and he missed the whole fall, all the preparatory stuff. I think it's important that those guys were able to bring him along. Gonzalez and Cox were able to mentor him."
When SEC awards were announced last week, Jomby became just the third Wildcat in school history to be named to the All-Freshman team, following in the footsteps of Quigley and Rossi. Jomby knows that the seniors have been crucial to his success.
"Before every match they help us to get very pumped because they talk to us in the locker room," Jomby said. "They talk about the strategy and starting strong. Even during the week, when we feel like it's going to be a big match, they help us practice harder. I'm going to miss them next year. Brad is a very good captain. He sends us a text before every early morning practice."
Perhaps Jomby's most memorable moment of the season came in UK's regular season win against Florida, the program's first win in Gainesville, Fla., since 1992. He was in the middle of a decisive match and found himself down a set and facing a 3-0 deficit in the second set, but he responded with the help of his teammates.
"(When UK played Florida in the regular season), Tom (Jomby) clinched the match coming down from a set and I was on the court next to him and I was like 'Tom, come on!' " Gonzalez said. "He lost the first set and he was down 3-0 in the second set and he came back and won that match."
With talented players like Gonzalez playing in the back half of the rotation, rivalry among teammates would seem difficult to avoid. That's simply not the case with this bunch.
"I think one of the strengths of our team is that our guys are not competitive with one another," Emery said. "What you see on some teams is there is jealousy with positions and I think really one of the major strengths of our team is our guys understand their roles. Not only do they understand them, but they actually really enjoy their roles."
The fact that each team member has willing accepted his role has made for a close-knit bunch that has played a number of close matches. UK won five of six games against teams ranked between 11 and 25 and went toe-to-toe with top-10 teams before finally getting over the hump in the SEC semifinal against No. 5 Georgia.
"We are very confident, especially after the SEC (Tournament) and the win against Georgia," Jomby said. "Every time we played a top-10 team, we lost 4-3 and now this time we beat them. Even though we lost in the final (against Florida), we are very confident. I know we can beat every team in the country."
That confidence has been instilled in the team from the very beginning of the season.
"At the beginning of the season we sat down with coach (Emery) and (assistant coach) Cedric (Kauffman) and we said we have the potential to do incredible things," Gonzalez said. "I think a big part of our successful year is everybody believing we can do it. We can go all the way and I think we're starting to believe that."
Emery has been at UK for the better part of three decades and knows to expect the unexpected, but knows that the postseason is what this team has been working for all along.
"I feel like this is definitely one of our better teams and we've fought all year to position ourselves to do well in the postseason," Emery said. "We're really excited to get going and see how things play out. We've won a lot of tough matches on the road, places that we haven't won for a long time. What I like about our team is that we have not only a lot of talent but a lot of character, and hopefully that's going to be reflected in the tournament."
Been out of the office for most of the day. Here's what we've missed so far:
- With a unanimous final vote Tuesday, the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees selected University of Alabama Birmingham Provost Eli Capilouto to be UK's 12th president. Capilouto will succeed Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr., who will retire June 30 after serving as president of his alma mater for 10 years. Capilouto will begin July 1. You can read the full story at the UKnow website.
Brandon Knight, G, Kentucky Wildcats Knight had a very good year at Kentucky and played well enough in the NCAA tournament to get himself drafted in the top 10. With Marquis Teague coming in next season, he risks being moved to an off-guard position and watching his draft stock plummet. Scouts still have questions about his position and upside, but in a draft that is weak on point guards, he should be the second or third point off the board.
Terrence Jones, F, Kentucky The question isn't whether Jones is ready. He's not. The question is whether his draft stock will ever be higher. It won't. With Michael Gilchrist coming in next season and Jones coming off a trip to the Final Four, his stock will never be higher. He's a likely top-10 pick. Next year, I'm not sure he cracks our top 15.
Ford also lists DeAndre Liggins as a player who should "Run Back" to college. Ford's column comes just a few days from the May 8 withdraw date for underclassmen and the final day of the Kentucky Combine.
- Chip Cosby who has covered Kentucky football for the Lexington Herald-Leader for a long time -- 14 years to be exact -- announced Monday that he is leaving Lexington's local newspaper for a job with cn|2, an Insight Communications local television channel serving the Louisville, Northern Kentucky, Lexington, Evansville and Bowling Green markets.
Simply put, Chip is one of the best in the business. Not only is he a great reporter and writer, he's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. It's been a pleasure working alongside Chip over the years and it's won't be the same at UK football practices without him.
Having said that, it's not like we won't be seeing Chip around. He'll be hosting a new television program focusing on sports coverage throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana as will serve as sports editor of mycn2.com.
Best of luck, Chip.
- The NCAA Selection Show for the men's tennis championships is Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. on NCAA.com. Kentucky, ranked No. 10 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, is expected to host a regional for the third consecutive year.
If you can't watch the show, Evan Crane will have a full release later on UKathletics.com on the selections, teams and match times for the first and second rounds, which are scheduled to begin next week. We'll also have a feature on the blog later this evening as well.
Maybe seeing really is believing, but the inclusion of the Kentucky women's golf team into the 2011 NCAA Championships is pretty clear evidence that the Wildcats believed well before they achieved.
In 2009-10, the Kentucky women's golf team missed the NCAA Championships for the eighth time in the decade. Despite playing in a golf-rich conference and making the postseason the year before, the Wildcats failed to capitalize and fell outside the cut to make the 2010 NCAA Championships.
"The University of Kentucky should never be where we were," head coach Golda Johansson Borst said.
Borst believed Kentucky deserved better.
That was the mind frame Borst had when she took over the job following the 2009-10 season. Faced with a roster that was light on depth, seniors and experience, the prospect of making an immediate impact in Borst's first year looked pretty bleak.
But Borst believed Kentucky was better.
After years in the Southeastern Conference as both a player and coach, Borst knew what it took to make it to the NCAA Championships, and she believed this team had it.
"The girls were that good," Borst said. The hurdle for Borst was making the rest of her team buy into that.
Barely removed from bidding farewell to former head coach Myra Blackwelder and fresh off a disappointing season, there wasn't a ton of confidence within the program. The team's best two players, Ashleigh Albrecht and Betsie Johnson, had just completed their freshman seasons and were still learning how to compete on the college level.
Even if the statistics weren't there to back up bullish expectations, Borst was going to make them believe anyways.
"I told them every day they were going to get better," Borst said. "Every day was 'get better day.' It was get better Monday, get better Tuesday. We've tried to teach them as much as we can and develop their short games, but it was more about believing in themselves when they're playing and believing that they could make their shots."
The first-year head coach used positive reinforcement to instill an expectation level to believe and want more. It resulted in a bid to the 2011 NCAA Championships, the program's 16th postseason appearance and second since 2000.
"The coaches tell us how good we are, how much talent we have and how hard we work," Albrecht said. "They tell us that no one works as hard as us in the SEC. There is no comparison. Having someone there to reinforce it, everyone starts believing it."
And some would argue that believing is actually seeing. Once the young Wildcats started believing they could be better, they started to improve. Even if the finishes in tournaments weren't great results, the mental toughness was much improved.
Playing in a much more difficult schedule than the year before and in some of the nation's top tournaments, UK showcased an ability to hang with some of the best teams in the country.
"When I first came, our girls were just wide eyed," Borst said. "They were like, 'Oh my god, there's Alabama,' and 'Oh my gosh, there's USC and UCLA and Duke and all these teams.' I think for a couple of tournaments, they got a feel of what it's like to play with some of those teams."
The intimidation soon subsided, which should pay dividends Thursday at the East Regional in Daytona Beach, Fla., where UK will face 23 of the top teams in the country.
"We're going to face those girls whether it's in summer golf or college golf," Albrecht said. "It's just a matter of when you face them. If you know you can play with them, you're fine."
Albrecht and Johnson were two of the main benefactors from Borst and her new philosophy. Johnson's season stroke average dropped by more than a swing from last year to this season's 76.52, and Albrecht has a team-best 75.40 stroke average, currently just .06 off the Kentucky school record.
Albrecht shot as low as a 66 in the UCF Challenge on her way to a tie for first in the UCF Challenge. Her 66 was one stroke off the program record for the lowest round.
"We have a lot of girls that can shoot around the 74s, the 73s, but I think Ashleigh is the one person who can shoot below 70 for us on any given day," Borst said.
Technically speaking, Johnson said she's benefitted the most from Borst's short-game approach. Borst said the players can hit balls on their free time, but when she has them for practice, most of the drills center on chipping, putting, and getting up and down from trouble spots.
"Putting and chipping is where you score," Johnson said. "Your swing is not going to be 100 percent all the time. I really had to rely on my short game because we've been doing all that stuff in practice."
After returning from tendinitis in her rotator cuff, Johnson is playing her best golf of the year heading into the postseason, placing 23rd at the SEC Championship in UK's last tournament. Albrecht has also been dealing with a hip injury, but Borst said she's rounding back into early spring form when she was playing at her best.
No matter what happens this weekend in Daytona Beach, the future appears very bright for the UK women's golf team. With seven of eight golfers returning next year, Borst believes Kentucky can not only crack the top 30 but make it to the final weekend of the NCAA Championship.
"We're going to try to go places we've never been before," Borst said. "This definitely sets the standard and from now on we've got to work on getting to nationals."
Softball - Kentucky has clinched a spot in the SEC Tournament for a school-record third consecutive season. - UK had all five of its SEC games canceled last week due to weather-related incidents. - The Blue and White wrap up regular-season action with a three-game series at home against Auburn. On Sunday, UK will host Senior Day for Meagan Aull, Samantha DeMartine, Annie Rowlands and Megan Yocke.
Baseball - The baseball team completed a four-game week, highlighted by a sweep-clinching win over rival Louisville, before falling in a series sweep at six-time NCAA Champion LSU. - Kentucky posted a 7-1 win over Louisville on Tuesday, clinching a series sweep over the Cardinals, the first sweep in the series since UK won two in 2006. - UK fell 9-5 Thursday night as LSU plated eight runs in the eighth inning to erase a 5-1 UK lead and post the series-opening win. UK junior Alex Meyer turned in another dominating outing, striking out 10 and allowing only four hits, with two hits going as infield hits. On Saturday, LSU used big innings to secure a 12-4 series-clinching win. In the series finale, LSU got a three-run inning in the first and rode a strong pitching outing from Ben Alsup and closer Matty Ott to a 8-4 win. Senior Neiko Johnson had the best weekend of his injury-shortened year, collecting four hits in five at-bats, including three doubles and four RBI. - Kentucky has been led offensively by junior Chad Wright, who has hit .331 with 11 doubles, two triples, four homers and 29 RBI. Senior shortstop Taylor Black has added a .324 average with 13 doubles, two homers and 31 RBI, while third sacker Thomas McCarthy has added a .311 average with an SEC-leading 16 doubles, four homers and 23 RBI. - On the mound, Meyer (4-5, 3.32 ERA) has established himself as one of the top starting pitchers in college baseball, making 11 starts on the weekends and tossing seven quality outings and three complete games. He leads the SEC with 91 strikeouts in 78.2 innings, allowing only 11 extra-base hits in his 61 hits allowed.
Men's tennis - Four men's tennis players were named All-SEC performers, setting a new school record for honors in a season. - Junior Eric Quigley was named to the first team, while senior Alberto Gonzalez and junior Alex Musialek were named to the second team. Freshman Tom Jomby was named to the freshman team. - The first-team honor is the second consecutive for Quigley, while Musialek has been named second team in back-to-back seasons. The All-SEC honor is the first for Gonzalez.
Track and field - Senior Keenan Hall captured the Kentucky school record in the triple jump with an event-winning leap of 15.72m/51-07.00, surpassing current teammate David Banks who set the previous school record of 51-05.50 in Columbus, Ohio, last season. - Junior Keith Hayes finished second at the Drake Relays with a career-best time of 13.76 in the 110m hurdles, shooting him to second in the SEC and on UK's all-time list. - Senior Sharif Webb collected the top spot among his collegiate competitors in the 800m run with a time of 1:48.48. The senior was the only collegiate athlete to run in the final, finishing sixth. - Six underclassmen recorded personal bests Sunday at the Payton Jordan Invitational, including sophomore Cally Macumber who moved up to No. 4 on UK's all-time 5,000m run list with at time of 16:19.13.
Women's golf - The women's golf team will begin play Thursday in Daytona Beach, Fla., in the East Regional of the 2011 NCAA Women's Golf Championships. - The Cats will field junior Ashlee Rose, sophomores Ashleigh Albrecht, Betsie Johnson and Heather Lott, and freshman Liz Breed. - Albrecht enters the East regional with the lowest scoring average on the team (75.40).
Thursday, May 5 Women's golf at NCAA Regionals (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
Friday, May 6 Baseball hosts Vanderbilt - 6:30 p.m. Softball hosts Auburn - 7 p.m. Women's golf at NCAA Regionals (Daytona Beach, Fla.) Track and field at Billy Hayes Invitational (Bloomington, Ind.)
Saturday, May 7 Softball hosts Auburn - 1 p.m. Baseball hosts Vanderbilt - 6:30 p.m. Women's golf at NCAA Regionals (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
- In the search to replace Dr. Lee T. Todd, Jr., who will retire at the end of June after 10 years as the University of Kentucky president, the UK Board of Trustees has selected Eli Capilouto, provost of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, as the preferred candidate to be the 12th president of the University of Kentucky.
Capilouto, 61, has been provost at UBA since 2005. In that capacity, he serves as the chief academic officer for a university with 11 schools and colleges, 17,543 students and some $460 million in annual external research.
According to UKnow, Capilouto will travel to Lexington for a series of forums on Monday with faculty, staff and students as well as other meetings. The Board of Trustees will meet Tuesday to consider whether to extend a formal offer to Capilouto.
What does this all have to do with UK Athletics? As was outlined in a story on this website Wednesday, the athletics department is hoping the next president will share the same vision and partnership with athletics as Todd did. The new president will have an effect on the UK Athletics Department one way or the other.
- A bit surprisingly, UK running back Derrick Locke was not selected in the final rounds of the NFL Draft on Saturday. While disappointed, Locke said he was not surprised and explained why he did not hear his name called, via Twitter.
"I was prepared for this to happen. Teams wouldn't pass me on my medicals & took me off draft boards but this not the end of my story"
"They say I have a spine injury which to some teams would be bad for business but I feel fine and have played after my injury wit no problems"
Usually players would have the opportunity to sign free-agent contracts immediately following the draft, but that process has been halted by the NFL lockout.
The personal workouts will include one-on-one interviews with the players and should give UK's underclassmen (Jones, Knight and Liggins) a fairly good idea of their draft stock before the May 8 deadline to withdraw from the draft.
The workouts are private and are not open to the media, therefore we likely won't be able to provide any coverage of how the workouts fared.