It can be hard to keep up with everything going on in the University of Kentucky's 22 varsity sports. With that in mind, we will highlight the best from around Kentucky sports each week. We'll recognize the best performances from Wildcat teams and players, we'll show you the coolest videos and photos that you may have missed and we'll mix in some new stuff along the way. Here are your award winners for this week:
Team of the week - Rifle posts NCAA-record score, returns to No. 1
The defending national champion UK rifle team started out the season ranked first in the nation. However, West Virginia eclipsed Kentucky in the national rankings two weeks into the season even though the Cats had been impressive in a pair of season-opening wins. In their first match after falling to second, the Wildcats responded in a big way.
Against conference foe Memphis, UK tallied a score of 4711, breaking their own NCAA-record score set during last season's tournament run. Emily Holsopple led the way with a score of 597 in air rifle as the Cats turned in a performance that returned them to the top of the polls. Player of the week - Luis Orta stands out at SEC Championships
Cross Country junior Luis Orta has been one of the stars of the fall sports season at UK, winning SEC Men's Runner of the Week honors on three separate occasions. Teams throughout the SEC met in Maryville, Tenn., for the conference championships and Orta showed just how deserving he was of all those accolades.
Orta finished fifth among all runners, leading the men's cross country team to a fourth-place finish, the program's best since 1992. The Venezuela native also earned first-team All-SEC honors for his performance, becoming UK's first runner to earn that distinction since Thomas Morgan in 2003.
"Really proud of Luis Orta for earning (first) team All-SEC honors at the SEC Championships," Barnhart tweeted. "He finished (fifth and) led the team to (fourth) place. Luis really embodies what being a student-athlete at UK means. He doesn't only excel on the field, but also in the classroom and community."
Game of the week - Volleyball defeats No. 13 Florida in five
Mired in a conference title race with top-20 opponents Tennessee and Florida, every match the Wildcats play down the stretch is a big one, but Sunday's match against Florida felt just a bit bigger. Tied at seven midway through the decisive fifth, UK scored eight of the match's final 10 points to upset the No. 13 Gators and maintain control of its own destiny in the race for the SEC title.
UK won the first and third sets, but Florida responded both times to even things up at two entering the final game. The Wildcats then kicked things into another gear to win in the fifth. As an observer, seeing the intensity of the team during that final stretch and the jubilation they displayed once they got the job done was pretty amazing.
Whitney Billings and Ashley Frazier led the attack with 17 and 16 kills, respectively. Billings also joined Christine Hartmann as one of two Cats to post a double-double. Stephanie Klefot had a career-high 28 digs in the win, carrying her to SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Play of the week - Josh Mulvany scores a beautiful goal on Senior Day
Facing off against No. 15 SMU on Senior Day, UK got a pair of goals from departing seniors and held on for a 2-0 upset victory to send the class out in style. The second of those goals was from Josh Mulvany, who came up with a loose ball about 25 yards from goal and spotted the Mustang keeper too far off his line. He volleyed a shot high into the left "upper V" and over the outstretched arms of the beaten keeper.
Mulvany's goal takes place at the seven-second mark of the above video.
Photo of the week - Volleyball celebrates Florida win
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
Alumnus/alumna of the week - Andrew Albers pitches Team Canada to Pan American gold
Former Kentucky left-handed pitcher Andrew Albers became the second Wildcat in as many weeks to earn a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, following Molly Johnson. Albers started the gold medal game for Canada against Team USA, pitching 6.2 innings and allowing just a single run in picking up the win for his native country.
Facing an American team that featured some of baseball's top prospects, Albers struck out eight batters while walking none, helping Canada to its first gold medal in a senior national event in its history.
Joker Phillips held his weekly press conference on Monday as Kentucky begins to prepare for a home matchup against Ole Miss on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The UK head coach addressed a number of different topics, ranging from this week's opponent to his team's injury situation to keeping his Cats confident and motivated. Here are a few of the most prominent storylines: Newton, Smith to compete at quarterback
Maxwell Smith's strong play in UK's loss to Mississippi State over the weekend led Phillips to say after the game that there would be a competition this week at quarterback between Smith and Morgan Newton. The freshman completed 26-of-33 passes in defeat, orchestrating a Wildcat offense that moved the ball very effectively throughout the second half.
Phillips' tune was the same on Monday. No decision is forthcoming and Phillips said a one may not be made until late in the week. Both Smith and Newton will have opportunities in practice to show they deserve the starting job.
"We will compete with those two guys this week, see which guy gives us the best chance to win this game," Phillips said. "Both will get reps with the ones and the twos and we'll find out which one and decide which one we feel like gives us the best chance to win versus Ole Miss."
The reasons Smith played on Saturday were ankle and shoulder injuries sustained by Newton. The coaching and training staffs determined the injuries would not allow Newton to protect himself, so Smith stepped in. Phillips said Newton "should be fine" for practice and the game this week and he expects the junior to handle the competition well.
"If you're any type of competitor, and I think Morgan is a big time competitor," Phillips said, "you want the competition."
Phillips strongest evidence of Newton's competitiveness and dedication to the team was his demeanor on the sideline while Smith was in the game.
"When Max Smith was in the game on the sideline, I went over to try to find Morgan, and he's sitting beside Max and talking to him about here's what's going on," Phillips said. "A guy who doesn't want the competition would have said, 'hey, you're on your own, big fella.' But Morgan was trying to help him, help this football team."
Just a week ago, it appeared Newton was in line to start the rest of the season. Smith had struggled in his two previous appearances in relief and seemed headed for another rough outing against Mississippi State, taking a sack on his first play, but he settled in from there.
Smith was praised for his work ethic and dedication during the summer, but with school work and the fact he's been the backup, his intensity may not have been quite as high as the season has progressed. Phillips expects him to return his summer form having gotten a taste of action this week and having to put into practice everything he thought he knew when he was watching from the sideline.
"The intensity level is not as (high) as it was in the summer because it's just human nature," Phillips said. "He hasn't been a starter, and I think that'll change here this week, because a lot of times when you don't play, you think you know more than you really know." Wildcats not lacking drive, determination
With preseason talk about competing for titles in 2011, UK's 3-5 start to the season has been disappointing to players and coaches alike. With some of those goals for year out of reach, motivation and effort would seem to a concern the rest of the way, but Phillips has seen no reason
"Our guys have shown up every week and went about their business the right way," Phillips said. "This is an important week because it gets tougher and tougher every week. You know, some of your goals start slipping away from you every week now. So we have to continue to keep them going, but thus far it has not been very tough (keeping players focused and motivated)."
The Wildcats had their sights set on bigger things coming into 2011, but there is plenty to play for over the final four games.
"We've still got a chance to have a special season," Phillip said. "(We) still (have) a chance to reach some of our goals. You have to get up every week. Everybody's in this game to play, and when you come to play, you have to play with emotion."
Big play ability of Ole Miss presents challenges
Like UK, Ole Miss has struggled in SEC play this season, as the Rebels are 0-5. Early in the season, the Rebels were unable to move the ball consistently on offense, but have since inserted Randall Mackey as full-time starter and have made progress. Ole Miss has scored 47 points in its last two SEC games and averaged 376 total yards. Of particular concern is the offense's "home run ability."
Running back Brandon Bolden averages 5.7 yards per carry, while fellow back Jeff Scott leads the team with 472 yards on the ground. Scott is also a dynamic returner and has taken a punt back for a touchdown.
"They're averaging 27 yards punt return, which is huge," Phillips said. "I'm not sure we've had 27 (punt return) yards total all year."
Defensively, Phillips pointed out linebacker Mike Marry and cornerback Charles Sawyer as players to watch out for. Marry leads the team with 63 tackles, 4.5 of which have gone for loss, while Sawyer has four interceptions on the season including one he took back for a 96-yard touchdown. Sanders, other injured Cats healing well
Running back Raymond Sanders missed the Mississippi State game with a sprained ankle, but has improved enough that he is expected to practice on Tuesday. Other Wildcats coping with injury are fullback D.J. Warren, defensive tackle Mister Cobble and running back CoShik Williams are all preparing as if they will play Saturday.
Stephanie Klefot and the UK volleyball team moved up to No. 19 in this week's AVCA poll. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With two wins this weekend, including Sunday's upset of then-No. 13 Florida, Kentucky volleyball vaulted five spots to No. 19 in this week's AVCA Coaches Poll.
The Wildcats have ridden 18 wins in their last 20 matches to their highest ranking of the season. UK is also in the thick of a tight race atop the Southeastern Conference, sitting just a game behind first-place Tennessee with a 12-2 record in conference. The Cats control their own destiny in their quest for the school's sixth conference title and first since 1989.
UK is one of three SEC teams ranked in this week's poll, with Tennessee checking in at No. 16 and Florida at No. 17 in spite of the Cats owning victories over both during the last three weeks.
Also making news for UK volleyball on Monday was junior libero Stephanie Klefot. For her performances in wins against South Carolina and Florida, Klefot was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week, averaging 5.75 digs per set and posting a season-high 28 against the Gators.
Jones received 33 of 65 votes for first team honors and is joined on the team by three fellow sophomores and a senior. Ohio State sophomore forward Jared Sullinger, North Carolina sophomore forward Harrison Barnes, Wisconsin senior guard Jordan Taylor and Connecticut sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb were the other honorees.
Named preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year just last week, Jones returns to Kentucky after a banner freshman season when he averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds and earned the SEC Freshman of the Year award as voted by the coaches.
Football - The Kentucky football team fell to Mississippi State 28-16 on Saturday as the Wildcats wore black uniforms for the first time in school history. - True freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith had a career game, completing 26-of-33 passes for 174 yards, while senior wide receiver Matt Roark totaled a career-high with both 13 catches and 116 receiving yards. Roark's 13 receptions rank second on UK's all-time single-game list, tying Randall Cobb (vs. Tennessee, Nov. 27, 2010), while his 116 receiving yards is the most for a Wildcat this season. - Defensively, Kentucky forced three turnovers behind the strong performance from senior linebacker Danny Trevathan, who tied a career high with 17 tackles. Trevathan also earned his third career interception in the game, and is now leading the Wildcats in that category.
Men's basketball - Sophomore Terrence Jones scored 52 points in leading Blue to a 126-104 victory over White in the annual Blue-White Scrimmage at Rupp Arena on Wednesday. - The Wildcats drew 12,134 fans to the annual scrimmage and will begin the season ranked No. 2 in the nation. Volleyball - Kentucky earned two victories at home to remain perfect in conference action in the friendly confines of Memorial Coliseum, which included an upset of No. 13 Florida. - Friday night's victory over South Carolina marked the fourth time in seven seasons UK has totaled 20 or more victories in the Craig Skinner era. - Sophomore Whitney Billings posted a season-high 17 kills and added 12 digs for her third double-double of the season in the win over the Gators. - Junior Stephanie Klefot guided the defensive effort with a season-high 28 digs in the five-set win over Florida. Women's soccer - Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 4-2 to close out the regular season. It was the most goals for UK this season, tying Kentucky's four-goal effort against Alabama earlier this year. - Caitlin Landis recorded her second multi-goal game this season, including the game-winner. - Senior captain Kelsey Hunyadi continued her career year with four points on a goal and a pair of assists. Hunyadi leads the Wildcats in points and ranks second in the SEC (34). - Kentucky enters the 2011 SEC Tournament as the six seed, its highest seed since the 2006 tournament. The Wildcats take on Tennessee in the opening game on Wednesday in Orange Beach, Ala.
Men's soccer - In the 2011 home finale, the Kentucky men's soccer team got all of its scoring from the senior class, as Josh Mulvany and C.J. Tappel netted goals, and Sam Brooks and Josh McCrary added assists, to lead UK to a 2-0 win over No. 15 SMU on Sunday. - The Wildcats got a goal from Tappel in the second minute, while Mulvany added his goal in the ninth frame in the win over SMU. In the 28th minute, Mulvany was whistled for a red card during a collision with the SMU keeper, forcing UK to play with 10 men for the final 62 minutes. - UK got a six-save outing from sophomore keeper Tyler Beadle and a standout effort from its defensive backline to post its second shutout of the year vs. the red-hot Mustangs. - Kentucky finished the 2011 home schedule with a 7-2-1 record at the UK Soccer Complex. The Wildcats own three wins over top-15 opponents in 2011, including a 2-0 win over No. 9 Michigan, a 5-1 beating of No. 15 Brown and the 2-0 win over No. 15 SMU. UK's win over SMU in Lexington was its first since the thrilling 2-1 comeback win over the Mustangs in 2007.
Rifle - Behind a school-record air rifle performance from sophomore Emily Holsopple, the No. 2 Kentucky rifle team posted a school-record team score in a 4711-4633 win over conference foe Memphis on Sunday. - Kentucky rode the dominating performance from Holsopple, who set the new UK school record with a 597 score in air rifle. With a 4711 total team score, UK set a new school record, eclipsing the previous record of 4700 set during the 2010-11 NCAA Championships. UK finished with a 2339 total team score in smallbore, also setting a new school record. - UK also got another breakout performance from Stacy Wheatley, who fired a 596 in air rifle to equal the school record set by Henri Junghänel in 2010-11 that was broken by Holsopple on Sunday. Wheatley added a 583 in smallbore and owns a 592, 590 and 596 in air rifle in her first three matches of the year. Junghänel finished with a 587 in air rifle and a club-best 589 in smallbore, with his smallbore score setting a new school record. Women's golf - Through one round at the Alamo Invitational in San Antonio, the University of Kentucky women's golf team sits in second with a total score of 2-over par 290. Junior Ashleigh Albrecht is leading the Wildcats, sitting tied for fourth with a first-round score of 1-under par 71. - The Wildcats currently sit two strokes out of the top spot held by TCU, who is at even-par 288. University of Texas-San Antonio, who is hosting the tournament, and Baylor are tied for third at 5-over par 293. Men's golf - The UK men's golf team finished in a tie for sixth on Sunday at the UNCG Bridgestone Golf Collegiate in Greensboro, N.C. - Sophomore Cody Martin led the Wildcats with a 4-under par 68 in the final round of the tournament. - The Wildcats improved by seven strokes in the second round, surging from a tie for 12th to a tie for sixth. Martin's 68 moved him from a tie for 72nd to a tie for 15th. Swimming and diving - Greg Ferrucci, the reigning Southeastern Conference Freshman Diver of the Year, continued his prolific career, setting the school record in the men's one-meter diving competition posting a score of 387.37. Ferrucci did not stop there, as the sophomore posted a career-best score of 405.07 in the three-meter competition. - Tyler Reed, the Wildcat's freestyle specialist, led the way for Kentucky, winning three events in the 200-freestyle, 50-freestyle, and 100-freestyle. Reed posted a time of 1:40.80 in the 200-freestyle, finishing in first by over .0.7 seconds. - On the women's side, Christina Bechtel and Megan Eppler both won two events. Bechtel claimed the crown in the 200-butterfly and the 100-butterfly. Eppler posted a career-best in the 100-butterfly turning in a time of 51.22, and finishing in first place. Eppler also won the 50- freestyle with a time of 23.53. Julia Gerotto also won two events for Kentucky, as the Wildcat freshman from Sao Paulo, Brazil swam a winning time of 10:16.48 in the 1000-freestyle and won the 500-freestyle. Women's tennis - UK's standout performance of the day came from freshman Stephanie Fox, who earned the championship title for her singles flight. She had a tough road to the end, as she found herself in a tie with Sandra Herrera of Winthrop at the end of play. A head-to-head tiebreaker was required to settle the score, which Fox won 2-1 to take home the title at the College of Charleston Halloween Invitational. - Collectively, the team ended with seven victories in doubles and singles play combined. Upcoming schedule Monday, Oct. 31 Cross country at SEC Championships (Maryville, Tenn.) Women's golf at UTSA Alamo Invitational
Tuesday, Nov. 1 Women's golf at UTSA Alamo Invitational Wednesday, Nov. 2 Women's soccer vs. Tennessee - 3:30 p.m. (Orange Beach, Ala.) Men's basketball hosts Transylvania (Exh.) - 7:00 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3 Men's tennis at USTA National Indoor Championship (Flushing Meadows, N.Y. ) Friday, Nov. 4 Men's soccer at South Carolina - 6:00 p.m. Women's soccer vs. Auburn/LSU - 6:00 p.m. (Orange Beach, Ala.) Volleyball hosts Mississippi State - 7:00 p.m. Men's tennis at USTA National Indoor Championship (Flushing Meadows, N.Y. )
Saturday, Nov. 5 Swimming and diving hosts Southern Illinois, Missouri - 10:00 a.m. Football hosts Ole Miss - 3:30 p.m. Men's tennis at USTA National Indoor Championship (Flushing Meadows, N.Y. ) Sunday, Nov. 6 Women's basketball hosts Coker College (Exh.) - 2:00 p.m. Women's soccer vs. TBA (Finals) • 3:30 p.m. (Orange Beach, Ala.) Men's tennis at USTA National Indoor Championship (Flushing Meadows, N.Y. )
UK fan Andy Burklow sends this picture of a Wildcat-inspired pumpkin he and his two children carved for Halloween.
Happy Halloween everybody! I hope everyone enjoys the festivities tonight on this last day of October (that's hard to believe, isn't it?), but I feel more like talking about a big 5-1 weekend in UK Athletics.
If you missed it Sunday afternoon, the Kentucky volleyball team picked up a huge upset win over No. 13 Florida in an exciting five-set match. I wrote a column yesterday evening about the victory, which keeps UK right in the thick of a close Southeastern Conference race, and below is a video with highlights from the match and some comments from Craig Skinner.
Volleyball wasn't the only UK team to pick up a win over a top-15 opponent on Sunday. On Senior Day, men's soccer got two goals in the first eight minutes from seniors C.J. Tappel and Josh Mulvany en route to a 2-0 victory in the Cats' last home match of the season. UK had to play the final 62 minutes of the game a man down, but the UK defense withstood No. 15 SMU. Here is what Ian Collins had to say about his team's effort.
If you were worried about UK rifle resting on their laurels after a national championship last season, you can forget about that. The Cats are off to a perfect 3-0 start to the season, with each win coming against foes from the Great American Rifle Conference. Their latest victory was at home over Memphis on Sunday, with UK posting a new school and NCAA-record team score of 4711. UK's previous record of 4700 was set during the NCAA Tournament run a season ago. Sophomore Emily Holsopple also set a school record with a nearly perfect score of 597 in air rifle. The Wildcats were ranked No. 2 in the nation coming into the weekend, but Sunday's performance vaulted them ahead of West Virginia and into the top spot in the latest rankings released on Monday.
Men's basketball is preparing for the first of two exhibition games on Wednesday against Transylvania and John Calipari is having his team scrimmage more and more. Calipari has seven players he views as capable of starting (Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague, Kyle Wiltjer, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis) and has taken to putting two of those seven on a team together against the other five as a means to challenge them. That's what he did on Sunday with Jones and Kidd-Gilchrist. The pair responded and actually won. Eric Lindsey of CoachCal.com has a report from the practice I encourage you to check out if you haven't already.
Media day for UK Hoops is nearly upon us. Matthew Mitchell and members of the UK women's basketball team will be available for interviews on Tuesday. We'll have features, video and notes beginning tomorrow afternoon.
Whitney Billings had 17 kills in UK's 3-2 win over No. 13 Florida. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Midway through the fifth set, there was no separating Kentucky and Florida. The No. 24 Wildcats and No. 13 Gators had played to a near standstill, with the two teams splitting the first four sets and tied 7-7 in the decisive fifth.
It was then the Cats found a gear they didn't even know they had.
UK would go on to win eight of the match's final 10 points in route to a dramatic 3-2 (25-23, 19-25, 25-21, 17-25, 15-9) win over Florida. Knowing they needed a win to keep pace in a crowded race atop the Southeastern Conference, the Wildcats exerted their will on a team that had beaten them just a month ago.
"You get to that point in the game and you're so close you can taste it," senior middle blocker Becky Pavan said. "We made the switch to full out effort. We knew we were going to win at that point. They were on their heels and they felt our presence and we knew it."
Florida is a team that has been at the top of the heap in the SEC ever since head coach Craig Skinner arrived at UK seven years ago. He has carried the program to new heights during that time, but attributed the big win to no one else but his players.
"I have to give this one to the players," said Skinner. "They willed this win, they competed, they bent a little bit but didn't break. They trusted themselves the whole time and trusted each other and that's what you have to do to win tough matches against great teams."
All season, the Wildcats (21-4, 11-2 SEC) have been an enthusiastic group on the floor, but the exuberance went to another level during the decisive run. Sensing victory, players on the floor and the bench were jumping around and the crowd responded in a big way. That feeling doesn't figure to fade anytime in the immediate future.
"It was really exciting," said junior libero Stephanie Klefot, who led all players with 25 digs on the match. "I'm smiling ear to ear and I probably won't be able to sleep tonight."
It was clear UK had a full understanding of the importance of this match. The win puts the Cats 1.5 games ahead of Florida and just a game behind Tennessee. With six matches remaining in the conference season, including one against the Lady Volunteers, UK is exactly where it wants to be: in control of its own destiny.
"If we didn't win this match, it would have been a heck of a time trying to win the conference," said Skinner. "We would have had to rely on other people. Now we control what we do. That's not easy, but you want to be in that position versus relying on other people to stumble."
Pacing the Wildcats' attack were Whitney Billings and Ashley Frazier. The pair totaled 33 kills with each hitting at well over a .300 clip against a staunch Florida defense. UK has relied on a balanced offense during its current run of 18 wins in 20 matches, but the Gators fought against that balance as well as any opponent has all season. UK hit just .227 as a team and Florida was the reason why.
"They scheme a lot," Skinner said. "They put two blockers where they think the ball is going quite a bit and we knew that."
Early in the match, the Cats seemed to forget it though. At one point in the first set, the Gators had three consecutive blocks as they charged to a 9-5 lead. Skinner recognized he needed to call for time to compose his team.
"We got a little amped up too much at the beginning of set one and started trying to hit the ball too hard and in the wrong places," Skinner said. "You can't do that against Florida."
His message during the 90-second break was simple.
"We just couldn't hit it into the block," Skinner said. "It's a giant block. Florida is really long at the net and if you pull the ball down, you're going to get blocked. They had to hit to the deep third of the court and if we did, we had a chance to score."
From that point forward, UK used a combination of deeply hit and touch attacks and came back to win the first set and the match. The Cats may not have had four players reach double digit kills as they've had so many times this season, but setter Christine Hartmann still orchestrated an effective UK attack with 38 assists.
More than that, she picked her spots well and participated in attack too. She added six kills of her own at a .400 hitting clip, taking advantage of the schemes Florida used to limit UK's powerful hitters. She also had 10 digs, marking her third double-double in six matches.
The Cats will certainly take the opportunity to stop and enjoy this win, but they also won't lose sight of what's ahead. First up is a home match against Mississippi State, who defeated UK just two weeks ago, on Friday. Beating a top-15 team and SEC contender will get a lot of attention, but every game from this point forward is equally important to the team's ultimate goal.
"Every game in the SEC is important," Pavan said. "This one is just as important as any other game. Each game toward winning the SEC championship. If we want to win, we need to win the rest of the games we play."
Maxwell Smith completed 26-of-33 passes for 174 yards against Mississippi State. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Missed the game? Watched it but can't get enough or can't believe what you saw? Cat Scratches will break down the nuts and bolts from each and every game, including some postgame reaction and comments from the players who made the difference.
The essentials: In spite of playing its best half of football this season against a Southeastern Conference foe, Kentucky lost 28-16 against Mississippi State in front of 57,891 fans in Commonwealth Stadium. Maxwell Smith, in relief of the injured Morgan Newton, and Matt Roark headlined a UK attack that outscored a tough Mississippi State team 10-7 in the second stanza. On three second half drives, UK ran 39 plays for 189 yards and drove into Bulldog territory each time.
Entering Saturday's game, Joker Phillips was 5-0 as a head coach in games his team had won the turnover battle, but that streak ended with tonight's loss. UK forced three MSU turnovers and committed none on offense, but the Cats were forced to settle for field goals in the red zone on three occasions and the Bulldogs had multiple big plays in the passing game.
Entering tonight's game, MSU was averaging just 196.1 yards through the air, but the Bulldogs matched that total in the first half against UK. Rotating Chris Relf and Tyler Russell, Mississippi State managed 264 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 passing attempts. Kentucky set out to stop Mississippi State's bruising running game and the Bulldogs took advantage.
"We were so conscious of the run because that's what they had done against us," Phillips said. "They took advantage of us loading the box up and then hurt us with the pass."
Turning point: The UK defense forced turnovers on two of Mississippi State's first half drives on fumbles. Each time, the Kentucky offense took possession following the turnovers inside the MSU 25. However, the Wildcats managed just a pair of field goals on the two drives, allowing MSU to take a 21-6 lead into halftime.
With how well UK played in the second half, a touchdown on either of those two short-field opportunities in the first could have made things that much more interesting down the stretch, especially since UK kicked another short field goal in the second half. Player of the game: Entering Saturday's game, Maxwell Smith had completed 7-of-19 passes in his three previous appearances, so when the freshman had to come in for Newton in the first quarter, there didn't seem to be a great deal of hope for moving the ball the rest of the night. Instead, Smith showed the form that had caused his coaches and teammates to rave about his potential and completed an astounding 26-of-33 passes for 174 yards.
"He took some big hits, picked himself off the ground, came back in, stood in there and made some big throws," Phillips said. "I'm proud of him."
The injury to Newton was termed as a high ankle sprain. His status for next week is unknown at this point, but Smith has earned a right to compete for a starting position regardless.
"We have to make some type of a decision, yes," Phillips said. "He played good enough that we got to make a decision on that."
Talking about the freshman, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders ranked him among any quarterback he has worked with in terms of raw ability.
"He's got a lot of arm talent," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "He has the ability to throw the ball, he has the ability to get rid of really quickly and he throws accurately."
Smith's future is bright, especially if he brings the approach he had tonight to practice.
"He's going to continue to get better the more work he gets," Sanders said. "If I can get him to go to the practice field with that same kind of sense of urgency and that same intensity, it will be interesting to see how good he can get."
Smith took his share of hits and nearly had to exit after one particularly hard one in the fourth quarter, but he picked himself up. Sanders expects Smith to experience some soreness when he wakes up in the morning, which could only serve to motivate him more.
"If he's sore, hopefully he'll learn to get it out of there a little quicker," Sanders said. "I hate to say it but pain is a great teacher sometimes."
Unsung heroes: After being snubbed this week on the list of semifinalists for the Butkus Award, Danny Trevathan played arguably his best game of the season. He posted 17 tackles, a tackle for loss and an interception.
"Danny is a warrior," Phillips said. "Danny shows up to play. He's a guy that shows up every week. He's a guy that hurts after every game because he puts so much into this game."
His night is even more impressive when you consider he simply didn't have that many opportunities to make tackles. MSU ran just 53 plays on offense, six of which were incompletions. In other words, Trevathan made 17 tackles on 47 plays (36.2-percent) there was a tackle to be made.
On offense, Matt Roark was the Cats' most effective playmaker, totaling 13 catches for 116 yards, both season highs for any Wildcat receiver. The 13 catches were also tied for the second most in school history. Roark has been maligned at times this year and was actually benched at one point, but has maintained his focus and worked his way into the rotation. Injury report: Outside of Newton, there were only a couple other injuries. Cornerback Anthony Mosley was hit in the throat during a first half scuffle, forcing him out of the rest of the game with an injured diaphragm. Donte Rumph sustained an injury to his left knee.
What this one means: Falling to 3-5 on the season, the Cats' campaign to extend their six-year bowl streak becomes significantly more difficult with this loss. With four games left on the season all against SEC opponents, UK needs to win three to reach six. UK, though, can take positives from Saturday.
"We made some improvements," Phillips said. "We showed some improvement offensively. Obviously not enough to win this game because we didn't get the ball in the end zone, had to kick three field goals. But it's something that we have to build off of."
Phillips' message to his team at this point is to value the opportunities they still have to play the game they all love.
"Time is precious in this game, very precious," Phillips said. "You only get 60 minutes. We do get to get 60 minutes back on our clock that leads into the next week. We've got to take advantage of the time we have in this game. Yes, we did improve. But there needs to be even more improvement for us to line up and win SEC games."
Satellite radio: XM 201; Sirius 218 (you must have the "Sirius Premier" package to hear the game on Sirius) Digital coverage:Cat Scratches' live in-game blog; Gametracker; Twitter updates; Text alerts Game-time weather:49 degrees, clear skies, zero percent chance of precipitation Arrive early: Fans are highly encouraged to arrive at the stadium early to avoid parking delays and also to enter the stadium early to avoid long entry lines at the stadium gates. Directions and traffic into Commonwealth Stadium. Cat Walk: The "Cat Walk" will take place Saturday at 4:45 a.m. Fans wishing to participate in cheering on the Wildcats as they enter the stadium Saturday should be between the corner of Jerry Claiborne Way and College Way outside of Commonwealth Stadium gate one. The team bus will arrive at approximately 4:45 a.m., when the team will unload the bus and walk to the stadium. Guests are asked to line up on each side of the "Cat Walk" to allow for ample space for the team to walk from the buses to Commonwealth Stadium. Map of the "Cat Walk."
Parking: Parking information can be found on UK's Gameday site GuestAssist service now available: "GuestAssist" is a communications service that enables one-to-one text messaging between Commonwealth Stadium guests and stadium operations personnel.
Fans can ask questions about game-day information and/or report concerns regarding behavior through the convenience of their cell phones. Stadium operations personnel will monitor and respond to guests' game-day inquiries on a real-time basis and if needed, dispatch support, security, etc. to the guests' location. Fans wishing to utilize the service should text, "CATS, your message and your seat location" to 78247 (CATS must be the first four characters in the message body. Standard text message rates apply).
"GuestAssist" is not intended for emergency use. In the event of an emergency, guests should contact the nearest stadium event staff and/or dial 911.
The Associated Press released its preseason college basketball poll on Friday and John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats checked in at No. 2, their highest ranking in the preseason since being ranked first in 1995-96. As in the coaches poll that was released last week, UK trails only North Carolina in voting, only increasing the anticipation for a Dec. 3 matchup between the two traditional powers. The of UK's SEC counterparts were also ranked by the AP: Vanderbilt at No. 7, Florida at No. 8 and Alabama at No. 19.
Kentucky's performance against Jacksonville State was unquestionably the Wildcats' best of the season on both sides of the ball. Offensively, UK had a season-high 445 total yards, including 340 on the ground. On defense, the Cats forced three turnovers, scored a defensive touchdown and allowed less than 300 yards.
As UK resumes SEC play with a game against Mississippi State at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Joker Phillips will be calling on his team to continue that pattern of improvement against a higher level of competition. The Bulldogs may have struggled a bit in starting their season 3-4 (0-4 SEC), but Mississippi State features much of the same talent that won nine games a season ago.
Mississippi State may present a tougher challenge as the Cats continue their "second season", but Phillips has specific evidence of just how much a win over the Bulldogs could mean.
"If we look back on our past, there have been some games that have changed the whole season," Phillips said. "This game right here, in '06, changed our season and actually changed the attitude of the program. We're hoping this is one of those types of games."
Five years ago, UK traveled to Starkville, Miss., to face the Bulldogs sporting an identical 3-4 record to this year's team having lost two games in a row. Andre' Woodson tossed three touchdowns to lead the Cats to a 34-31 victory, a win that propelled UK to its current streak of reaching five consecutive bowls.
That game featured 668 yards passing between the Cats and Dogs, but this one figures to be a little different. Both squads rely on physical running games to move the chains.
"I'm sure that will be the whole game on both sides of the ball," Phillips said. "They've seen film of us in the (passing) game and we've seen the way they like to run the football."
In spite of playing without its top two running backs, UK excelled in the ground game behind a veteran offensive line that played the way so many expected entering the season. Raymond Sanders and Josh Clemons won't be able to play Saturday, but CoShik Williams and Jonathan George showed themselves to be more than capable of running behind a confident UK line.
"I think the best confidence you can give an offensive line is being able to run the football," Phillips said. "Our offensive line is definitely key to this next second half of the season."
The line has also protected well of late, allowing no sacks the last two weeks. That trend will need to continue as UK looks to bolster its passing game with Morgan Newton.
Like Kentucky, Mississippi State has played with two quarterbacks this season, though the Bulldogs do not seem to have settled on a signal caller as UK has. Chris Relf began the season as the starter due to his proficiency in the running game. Sophomore Tyler Russell, known more for his ability as a passer, replaced Relf and led a second half comeback on Oct. 8 against UAB before playing every snap at quarterback in a tight 14-12 loss against South Carolina.
Phillips did notice a difference in play calling with Russell under center, but the overall scheme Dan Mullen employs will remain mostly unchanged.
"They're still going to run their offense," Phillips said. "They did throw it a little bit more, but it was the same pass patterns they ran when Relf was in there. They don't run as much downhill run game; they run a lot on the perimeter with Russell. They run option, but most of it is to get it out of his hands and into the tailback's."
This will be the second week in a row the Cats have had to cope with an opponent that uses the option . Against Jacksonville State, UK stymied the option because of something simple the Cats will need to do again this weekend.
"One thing we did against (Jacksonville State) was our guys played their responsibilities," Phillips said. "You didn't see a lot of option stuff after the second quarter because we had played it so well."
Slightly disconcerting for UK is the fact that, in spite of their lackluster record, the Bulldogs have played even their toughest opponents extremely close. MSU had tight losses against South Carolina, Georgia, Auburn and even top-ranked Louisiana State. The Bulldogs gave the Tigers arguably their most difficult game of the season in a 19-6 loss, trailing by just a field goal entering the fourth quarter.
Phillips praised Mississippi State for the way they limited LSU's big plays and said that's exactly what the Cats need to do this weekend to beat the Bulldogs. UK has allowed touchdown drives of 50 yards or longer just 22-percent of the time so far this season, with most of those drives using big plays, or "X" plays in UK terms, to score.
Meanwhile, UK has been even less effective than its opponents in scoring on long drives, scoring just 18-percent of the time when having to drive 50 yards or more. In other words, UK needs to win the battle for field position on Saturday by limiting turnovers, moving the ball when opportunities are there and employing one its best weapons: punter Ryan Tydlacka.
"We've got to play field position, get a couple first downs, continue to move the chains, see if we can hit a couple big plays and, if we have to, punt the ball," Phillips said.
"You don't compete, you're going to get embarrassed out here. I feel like we're going to be a better team because of it."
That assessment comes from senior Darius Miller, who says coach Calipari's praise of Terrence Jones' work ethic on the practice floor is not an exaggeration.
"T Jones is extremely focused. You could see it in the way he prepares himself for practice and how he trains," Miller said.
Two years ago, the UK men's basketball team broke out black uniforms for a game honoring the late Mr. Wildcat, Bill Keightley. And later that year, coach Billy Gillispie brought them out for an SEC Tournament matchup with top-seeded LSU as a motivational ploy.
Miller remembers how excited the players were so he completely understands the buzz about the new black uni's for the football team this week.
"We really enjoy it, just mixing it up and getting a new look," he said. "Hopefully we get a chance to do something like that, too."
It wasn't anything fancy that got UK's offensive line playing better.
"Just trying to focus on our assignments and improving our technique," said senior left guard Stuart Hines after practice Tuesday. "We've been trying to stay positive. Now, we're just trying to keep the momentum going."
And Hines admitted that it felt good for him and his O-line mates to hear positive reviews.
"Obviously there are still things we need to clean up," he acknowledged, "but it was nice to get a little bit of praise."
It's obvious that the loss of all of the big play guys from last year's football team has taken a significant toll on this season's offense. But here's numerical verification:
Kentucky ranks 118th in the nation in plays of 10 or more yards with only 58 of them. Last season, with Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke, et al, Kentucky ranked 30th with 198 (according to cfbstats.com)
"The yardage kinda snuck up on me. I didn't know I had that many," said Coshik Williams of his career-best 148 rushing yards last Saturday in the win over Jacksonville State.
And Williams made sure to take care of the guys who took care of him.
"After every play, I tried to congratulate guys becuase they did really good," he said of the offensive line. "I feel like they've got their confidence back."
How did a young man from Hiram, GA end up being a walk-on player at the University of Kentucky?
"Trevard, he told me to give them a tape," Williams said of former UK star Trevard Lindley, himself a product of Hiram. "He gave it to coach Joker and he (Joker) to me to come up. It's alwasy tough sitting on the bench. But you just have to be patient and humble and when your chance comes, be ready to go. When guys go down, somebody has to step up."
In a piece of legislation that will take effect starting in the 2012-13 school year, the APR benchmark for all teams moves from 900 to 930. The implementation will be phased, with teams needing to maintain a 900 multi-year APR or a 930 average for the most recent two-year period to maintain eligibility for postseason play. In 2014-15, teams must achieve a 930 benchmark for their four-year APR or a 930 average in the most recent two years to be eligible for the postseason. In 2015-16, the new benchmark of 930 will be fully implemented and the "APR requirement for postseason play will be waived only in extraordinary circumstances."
Along with the new guidelines for maintaining postseason eligibility, a new three-tier penalty structure has been enacted. Level one limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week, with the four hours lost "to be replaced with academic activities." Teams being penalized at the second level will also be subject to reduced competition, "either in the traditional or nontraditional season." The third level allows for a "menu of penalty options", ranging from coaching suspensions to scholarship reduction to restricted NCAA membership.
Clearly, the NCAA is calling on its members to take academics seriously and these new requirements and penalty structure are proof.
Stricter academic standards for incoming high school and transfer students
Students enrolling in Division I schools from either high school or two-year colleges will face higher standards for eligibility beginning in August 2015. The following changes apply to high school applicants:
Student-athletes with a minimum core-course GPA of 2.0 will still be eligible to receive athletically related financial aid and practice and will be able to earn a second term of enrollment by passing nine semester or eight quarter hours.
The standard for immediate access to competition will be raised to a GPA of 2.3 and an increased sliding scale legislating required test scores.
Student-athletes who reach a GPA of 2.0 but fall short of 2.3 would essentially be subject to a so-called "academic redshirt year."
Also, in response to data that show the struggles of transfer students from two-year institutions, the Board increased the mandated minimum grade-point average of incoming students from such schools from 2.0 to 2.5 with additional rules on courses those students must take in order to gain eligibility.
Walter Harrison, the president of the University of Hartford and the Division I Committee on Academic Performance chair explained the new rules.
"We're trying to balance being tough with being fair," Harrison said. "These are noticeably higher standards than in the past, but we recognize we need some time to change behavior."
Additional athletics aid to address the "miscellaneous costs of attending college"
Colleges will now have the option of offering up to $2,000 or the full cost of attendance to student-athletes who receive full athletic scholarships or get other school financial aid. The rule applies to "head-count sports" like basketball and football, as well as equivalency sports who award the value of a full scholarship.
The Board also approved multi-year scholarships for use at the discretion of the member colleges, with one-year scholarships remaining the minimum. Institutions are now also allowed to provide financial aid to former student-athletes who remain at or return to school to complete their degrees.
Contact rules for men's basketball recruiting
Many of the restrictions placed on college basketball coaches regarding where, when, how and how often they contact recruits have been eased. Coaches will now be able to send unlimited text messages and make unlimited phone calls to recruits beginning on June 15 of the player's sophomore year. Social networking restrictions have also been eased. The new structure also provides for two additional recruiting periods in April and cuts the summer period to three four-day periods in July.
The following changes were also instituted along with this ruling:
A start date for official visits beginning January 1 of the junior year, with schools able to pay travel expenses for the prospect and a parent/guardian.
Permitting some contact at a prospect's educational institution during the junior year in conjunction with an evaluation, with some restrictions and requirements.
The July period will be limited to three four-day periods beginning Wednesday at 5 p.m. and ending Sunday at 5 p.m.
The April period will be limited to certified events that begin after 6 p.m. on Friday and end before 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Permitting staged, on-campus evaluations in conjunction with official visits, though further details will be considered.
Following a stretch of three consecutive road games, the Kentucky volleyball team returns home for a pair of key matches in Memorial Coliseum against SEC East foes South Carolina and No. 13 Florida.
The road trip that just wrapped up began inauspiciously, as UK fell to Mississippi State in front of a record crowd. With only a few days to prepare for matches at Georgia and Auburn, head coach Craig Skinner was concerned about the confidence of his team, especially when the Cats lost their opening set against the Bulldogs.
"I thought that was going to be a major challenge for us," Skinner said. "Losing to Mississippi State after beating Tennessee, I didn't know what the confidence level would be. Georgia beat us in the first game so I really thought that was a moment we had to step up."
Stepping up is exactly what they did. Behind a school record 20.5 blocks, UK won the final three sets to clinch a victory over Georgia, then outlasted Auburn in a five-set thriller. Leading the way was setter Christine Hartmann, who earned SEC Player of the Week honors for her performances. Hartmann tallied 54 assists in the win over Auburn, distributing 13 or more kills to four teammates.
That balance has been a hallmark of the offense all season and Hartmann deserves a lot of the credit for that. Skinner was happy she earned Player of the Week honors, but he didn't think it was the first time she was deserving.
"I think it's a little bit overdue," Skinner said. "She's done a really nice job this year of making sure we have several attackers getting numerous kills. She's done a spectacular job running our offense."
Hartmann actually started the season on the bench, but was inserted in the lineup in August and the Cats haven't looked back.
"You can see her confidence rise," Skinner said. "When someone has success and the team has success, you see the hitters believing in her and wanting Christine to set them the ball, it makes a big difference. She's not just evolving in her setting, but also in her defense. She's making a lot of plays defensively and blocking balls. If you get that out of your setter, you get a complete player."
Hartmann's emergence on defense has coincided with the team's best run of the season on that end.
"I think defensively we're playing as well as we have all year and I think that's going to be important for us," Skinner said. "As you get towards the end of the season and you're able to slow down what other opponents like to do with their offense, it gives you an advantage."
With the end of the regular season on the horizon and a big weekend of matches coming up, UK will need every advantage it can get. The No. 24 Cats are the thick of a tightly bunched race atop the conference and this weekend affords them an opportunity to make a statement and potentially a leap in the standings. UK currently sits at 10-2 in SEC play with eight matches to go, a game behind Tennessee and a half-game behind the Gators.
UK will play South Carolina (11-10, 2-9 SEC) at 7 p.m. on Friday at the same time the Lady Vols and Gators are doing battle in Knoxville, Tenn. On Sunday, the roles reverse and Florida will visit UK at 1:30 p.m. while Tennessee hosts South Carolina. At the end of it all, the Cats could find themselves anywhere from alone atop the standings in first place to three games back of first, looking up at both Tennessee and Florida.
Interestingly, UK has already faced both South Carolina and Florida this season on the road, defeating the Gamecocks and falling to the Gators. What that means is the Cats will be familiar with their opponents and their opponents familiar with them.
"There are no secrets anymore," Skinner said. "Everyone knows what we want to do and we know what South Carolina and Florida want to do so you have to bring your 'A' game. Execution is a big factor as you get to the second half of the SEC."
Joker Phillips spoke after Kentucky's practice on Thursday, the Wildcats' last before Saturday's matchup with the Mississippi State Bulldogs. With on-field preparation now complete, Phillips said the team must shift their focus to making sure they're ready mentally, particularly in light of the down time players have before the 7 p.m. game.
"Physical prep is over with, now it's all about getting our minds right and making sure we're taking care of our bodies," Phillips said. "We've got a lot of time between now and game time, a lot of idle time that they have to manage."
Phillips also provided an update on injuries, with fullback D.J. Warren leading things off. Warren participated in practice, but without contact. He is expected to play, but the Cats will employ more two tight end sets if he is unable to go. As for defensive end Collins Ukwu, Phillips had good news.
"Ukwu has looked really, really good," Phillips said. "He's a starter."
At running back, Raymond Sanders is no longer in a walking boot, but will not dress on Saturday. CoShik Williams and Jonathan George will step in for him as they did against Jacksonville State. Brandon Gainer is slated to be the third running back, but he was kept out of practice Thursday with flu-like symptoms and is working to make himself available for Saturday.
Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky Wildcats are preparing for the start of the 2011-12 season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky Wildcats are in the middle of preparation for the 2011-12 season. With 16 days before UK's season opener against Morehead State in Memorial Coliseum, the Cats went through a grueling and physical two-and-a-half hour session.
Cat Scratches had a chance to take in Wednesday afternoon's practice at the Joe Craft Center and here are a few observations from the action on the floor:
Mitchell opened practice with a few words for his team. He was looking for a step up in intensity and effort from the previous day and recounted a story from one of his own workouts earlier in the day. As a sign of solidarity with the team, he went through one of the same workouts as his players and talked about the importance of mental preparation to persevering through it. He went on to say that players choose to come to UK for a reason: because it's different from other places where "you can have a good day or a bad day and it doesn't really matter." That's not the case at Kentucky.
After a brief prayer at mid-court, the team split into groups of four for a shooting drill. The first group to finish earned the right not to run, which would be a continuing theme of practice. There are rewards and consequences for every single drill. Amber Smith, Keyla Snowden, Crystal Riley and Brittany Henderson were on the winning team for the opening drill.
Next up was a transition and shooting drill with no defense. Starting off practice, UK's guards shot exceptionally well. Also, it was immediately clear Smith is comfortable with the knee she injured a year ago. She is wearing a brace, but moved around well. Also, Smith's return to the point allows A'dia Mathies to return to her more natural off the ball position, which she figures to thrive in. Although Smith is back, Crystal Riley should not be forgotten. The senior consistently went toe to toe with Smith and held her own.
Throughout that full-court drill, Mitchell harped on playing at a high speed. At one point, he stopped a drill and told the players to run it back. "I want it a Kentucky pace now," Mitchell said.
After a free throw drill in which each player had to shoot and make four free throws to avoid running, UK went into the featured drill of the day for about 30 minutes: a full-court, full-speed, four-on-four rebounding drill.
Any explanation offered of this drill just won't quite do it justice. It was one of the most physical, demanding things I can ever imagine a team going through on a basketball floor. It opened with assistant coach Matt Insell shooting and missing from the top of the key. One team blocked out while the other tried to offensive rebound. Once the defensive rebounding team secured the board, they ran the length of the floor and tried to score on the other goal. It was an up-and-down drill with no holds barred. No fouls were called and there was no out of bounds. Players repeatedly hit the ground diving for loose balls. The only break the Cats was when the losers ran suicides or players broke off for a free throw shooting drill. When the season starts, there won't be a single opponent too physical for the Cats having seen through that drill.
During those rare breaks, Mitchell and his fellow assistants really were coaching up two of UK's gifted freshmen: Bria Goss and Azia Bishop. The coaches clearly believe the two can contribute right away and their talent is evident. There will be bumps in the road for both, but they have bright futures.
It's also abundantly clear why Mitchell is so excited about the addition of DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker via transfer. They responded well in general to the physical play. They are big, skilled and athletic and will make an impact when they are able to play. On a couple occasions, Mitchell actually singled out Stallworth as an example of how UK's bigs should play through contact. She's been through the battles at this level and it shows. With bigs like Stallworth, Walker and Bishop who are versatile, Mitchell is also asking his forwards and centers to bring the ball up the floor off rebounds when they are unguarded.
Once the rebounding drill wrapped up, the Cats went right into a full-court drill that emphasized trapping off ball screens. Teams played three on three to start with, but it became five on five after the initial possession. The drill was only slightly less physical than the previous one.
As practice progressed, players ran more and more and there's no getting around it at a Mitchell practice. Mitchell also continued to have his team shoot free throws throughout, emphasizing the importance of consistency at the stripe even when players are worn out.
It's a bit of a cliche to say the bench is the best motivator, but there's no question Mitchell is using his team's depth to his advantage. Roles are guaranteed for no one, including starters from last year and Mitchell isn't afraid to say it. UK has talent and a lot of it and not everyone will play as much as they would like because of it.
In her first year as a competitive runner, Megan Broderick has emerged for UK's cross country team. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For four years, Megan Broderick was the best player on the Kentucky tennis team. She played No. 1 singles each season, winning 64 matches and ranking as high as No. 55 in the nation before concluding her tennis career in the spring of 2011.
At that point, most athletes would be ready to call it a career, but Broderick just isn't built that way.
Instead, Broderick opted to take advantage of an NCAA rule that allowed student-athletes a fifth year of eligibility in a second sport, joining the cross country and track team for the 2011-12 season. The same competitiveness and determination that propelled her to a decorated tennis are what ultimately drove her to her second Division I career.
"Growing up, I played a lot of different sports and I've always had that competitive spirit in me," Broderick said. "It wasn't really a thought of mine whether I was going to fail or succeed. I just really wanted to do it. I thought that I could help the team in cross country and track."
To say Broderick has helped the team in her first two months as a competitive runner would be an understatement. In four races as a member of the cross country team, she has emerged as one of UK's top runners, finishing no worse than third among her Wildcat teammates.
"It's definitely a little bit of a surprise to me how well I'm doing right off the bat," Broderick said. "I owe a lot of that to the girls. They've really accepted me onto the team and the coaches and trainers have all done a great job working with me to allow me to be comfortable in the new environment."
Don Weber, head cross country and track coach, sees things a bit differently. He learned a great deal about Broderick's willpower and talent before taking her on the team, and had an inkling this kind of success would be on the horizon, but maybe not so quickly.
"I'm not really surprised she's doing well based upon what I know about her," Weber said, "but she's doing better than I thought she would do."
Chance training room meeting starts it all
Broderick was already planning on returning to UK for a fifth year. She had one class to finish up before her planned graduation in December and had heard about and researched the rule that would ultimately allow her to participate in cross country and track. Coaches don't often find themselves recruiting current college seniors, but that's exactly what Weber did when he ran into Broderick.
"Last year, sometime during the school year we bumped into each other in the training room and I knew she was a fourth-year senior," Weber said. "I asked her if she had any school beyond this. She said she did and I said 'Would you consider running in your fifth year?' "
Broderick didn't think too much about the possibility at first, but there were a few classes she knew she would like to take other than the one she needed to graduate. Weber continued to talk to Broderick about joining the team, appealing to the passion for running she had always had even during her tennis career. Ultimately, Broderick gave Weber the "yes" he was looking for.
"Based on how impressed I was with her, how much want-to she had and her very keen interest in doing this, I decided to invest in her and we'll see where it goes," Weber said.
Developing a plan
There was still the small matter of Weber actually seeing his newest runner in action. As soon as she finished the tennis season, Broderick went on a run with Weber looking on. Fortunately, the investment Weber had decided to make in her immediately looked like a good one.
"I was relieved and impressed that she could run pretty well," Weber said. "She looked pretty good and the pace she was running for those three miles was pretty good. After that run, we came into the field house and she did a couple of 200's to get a sense of her speed and how she might run on the track. That was impressive too."
The next step was to begin training. Broderick wasn't in Lexington for much of the summer, but she stayed in close contact with Weber throughout. He assigned her specific workouts with one preeminent concern in mind.
"I didn't have a whole lot of concerns because I was so impressed with her, but the biggest concern was regarding training," Weber said. "Since she had a relatively limited background in running, I didn't want to have her do too much too soon and her body not be ready for that."
The first race
When the season opening race, the Belmont-VU Opener, rolled around, Broderick expected her nerves to be jangling. She had participated in "one or two" races on the cross country team in high school, but this was another level. To her surprise, she was relatively calm on the course, mostly thanks to all her experience on the tennis court.
"I really thought I was going to be more nervous than I was," Broderick said. "Playing a tennis match, you're out there by yourself and everyone's watching you while in a cross country meet, you're running in a pack so eyes are not directly on you as much."
Her debut was an unmitigated success. She finished in 16th place overall and third on the team with a time of 14:53.73. In some ways, it's what she doesn't know that allowed her to start so quickly.
"She's not afraid of hills, she's not afraid of distance, she just competes and attacks," Weber said. "Other people who have done cross country longer, they know those things are additional challenges and, instead of freely accepting them, there's a measure of intimidation. She doesn't have any of that."
As the season has progressed, Broderick has only gotten better. In the team's last race, she turned in her best performance. The Panorama Farms Invitational two weeks ago was UK's longest race of the season so far (6K) and, for the first time in her career, Broderick was the first Wildcat to finish. With a time of 22:28.51, she finished 23rd overall in a strong field.
Broderick's precociousness would suggest it all comes easily for her, but she's gotten a firsthand education in what makes running competitively so different from running to stay in shape.
"I think the biggest difference is the amount of mental toughness it takes," Broderick said. "During my four years of playing tennis at UK, I became a better athlete, not only physically, but also mentally. When you're running races, it's painful and what gets you through is the ability to overcome that pain and be mentally tough."
Cross country season has 'flown by', track on the horizon
With all regular season races completed, UK's focus now turns to the postseason, which begins with the SEC Championships on Oct. 31 in Maryville, Tenn. The brief season has gone by very quickly for Broderick, though she knows there is a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks.
"It's flown by," Broderick said. "Every race, there's a lot of pressure to compete as best you can because there aren't many. We have SEC's and regionals coming up so hopefully we can perform well."
Broderick is optimistic about her and her team's prospects in the postseason, but she admits she doesn't know quite what to expect. Whenever the season does end, though, she'll jump right into training for track. Weber said he expects Broderick to focus on middle distances races such as the 800-meter and mile and he looks forward to seeing her compete in the more intimate atmosphere of track. Weber, though, called every day a "discovery" with Broderick, but there's one thing he knows he can always expect.
"I expect it to be a whole lot of fun working with her and it will be inspiring to see what she can do," Weber said. "The one thing I know for certain is we'll get her best, because that's the way she is." 'You run the way you do because of the way you are'
Megan Broderick was a standout in tennis at UK for four years before joining cross country and track. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Broderick may not go on to set any records or win any national titles during her one year as a runner, but she has come to represent everything Weber looks for in an athlete.
"I've done this for a long time and in terms of attitude, enthusiasm and personal stake in it, she's one of the best we've ever had in that respect," Weber said. "We have a saying around here: 'You run the way you do because of the way you are.' I think she's a pretty good example of that."
She isn't ready to start thinking too much about her legacy or just how unique she is for participating in two Division I sports at such a high level, but Broderick expects to feel graciousness more than anything else when she does reflect on her time at UK.
"I'm really thankful that (head tennis) coach (Carlos) Drada and (assistant tennis) coach (Kevin) Calhoun were able to develop me as a tennis player and to have the success I did in that," Broderick said. "Then, to run across Coach Weber and to have this awesome opportunity is amazing. I'll just really be thankful for all the people, all the experiences and all the competition I was able to enjoy."
Terrence Jones had 52 points and 16 rebounds in the Blue-White Scrimmage. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
With an entire SportsCenter episode's worth of highlights, every reason for the Kentucky Wildcats' high preseason ranking was on full display at Wednesday's Blue-White Scrimmage.
With an athletic and long combination of experienced and young talent, the Cats electrified fans with an arsenal of dunks, drives and alley oops as the Blue team defeated the White 126-104 behind a scrimmage-record 52 points from Terrence Jones.
As fun as the Cats were to watch, John Calipari made sure to point out just how far his team has to go to reach the heights so many are expecting of them.
"Everybody's excited because you saw a lot of high flying dunking, blocking, tipping," Calipari said. "That doesn't win, though. We have to play basketball. We have to be a great team. We're not right now."
Jones converted on 24 of his 31 field goal attempts on the night, while six other Cats had at least 19 points. The Blue team shot 55.9-percent from the field and repeatedly had easy looks at the basket. Calipari's teams have come to be known for defense, but this edition of the Wildcats just isn't quite there yet.
"I bet you we'd be really good against the Washington Generals," Calipari said. "We've got to be a great defensive team, and we're not."
In particular, the White team, which featured three of UK's four freshmen, had trouble containing the opponent. Jones wasn't the only one to take advantage of their inexperience either, as Doron Lamb scored 31 points and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 21. The teams were split just as they have been throughout UK's two weeks of full practice since Big Blue Madness, which has made it tough at times for the trio of newcomers.
"You wonder why one team played better," Calipari said. "Well, they had Terrence as a veteran, Doron as a veteran and Eloy (Vargas) as a veteran. The other guys had Marquis (Teague) as a freshman, Anthony (Davis) as a freshman, Kyle (Wiltjer) as a freshman."
Teague, the latest in a long line of highly touted Calipari point guards, was dynamic at times, but struggled in decision-making at times. Calipari said Teague's focus should be on playing with proper pace, which will be crucial as he tries to spread the wealth among his numerous talented teammates.
"You have to make easy plays when you're in that point guard position because you're going to have the ball a lot," Calipari said. "He's got a team full of guys that he's going to have to keep balanced as far as scoring."
Come the regular season, though, there won't be too many challenges Teague runs across that figure to be much tougher than facing off against the experienced talent of Jones, Lamb and company.
"It's tough," Wiltjer said. "We do that every day in practice but it gets us that much better when we're playing against guys that have been there and done that."
Foremost among those players who has "been there and done that" is Jones, who backed up all the preseason talk of him taking his game to the next level. Along with his 52 points, he added 16 rebounds and six assists, getting it done in every way imaginable. He scored on post-ups, drives, offensive rebounds, alley oops and outside shots, demonstrating a newfound attitude he has taken on with Calipari's encouragement since opting to bypass the 2011 NBA Draft and return for his sophomore season.
"I told him when he came back, 'if you're coming back, you're going to be the best player, top three in the country, or don't come back,' " Calipari said.
With his new physique and approach, Jones thrived in basically every set Calipari experimented with during the scrimmage. He attacked the basket in the traditional dribble-drive, found space in the pick-and-roll and made plays in the full-court press. Jones figures to be among the best players in both the SEC and nation no matter how the team ends up playing, but Calipari hopes to settle on a style more quickly than he did in 2010-11.
"We have to figure out what's the best way for us to play," Calipari said. "Last year it took us (until) February before we could figure out how we had to play. Let's hope it doesn't take us that long this year."
Apologies for the poor sound quality at a few points during the video. The gusty wind provided a few problems today.
Joker Phillips talked to the media about Kentucky's Wednesday practice in preparation for this weekend's matchup with Mississippi State. He said the team approached the session well, but is looking for improvement on Thursday.
"It was a good day," Phillips said. "We have to have an even better day tomorrow."
A handful of Wildcats practiced for the first time this week due to injury, including defensive tackle Mark Crawford. The senior is player who adds physicality and depth to UK's defensive line and his presence will be needed on Saturday.
"He's a guy we desperately need," Phillips said, "especially in a game like this."
Fullback D.J. Warren also returned to practice, but wore a red jersey to prevent him from being subjected to any contact.
Well that turned out to be quite a busy Tuesday. Between a surprise unveiling of UK's new black uniforms for Saturday's matchup with Mississippi State and preparations for Wednesday's Blue/White Scrimmage, there was plenty going on around the world of UK Athletics.
With everything that did go on yesterday, there are a few stories that we didn't quite get to, so let's catch up:
I'm sure many of you watched the HBO documentary Prayer for a Perfect Season that debuted Tuesday night. The feature documented the 2010-11 season of the St. Patrick Celtics, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's high school team, in their quest for an unbeaten season and a national championship. Kidd-Gilchrist was at the center of the documentary and, though his team ultimately lost in the state tournament, there was a great deal to be learned about UK's star freshman. We all knew how much he has been through in his young life and about his unselfishness as a teammate, but the documentary allowed us to see exactly what makes Michael Michael. His family is clearly the most important thing in his life and they have helped him persevere through challenges I cannot even imagine. I already was looking forward to seeing him suit up for the Cats this year and watching him on the small screen only serves to increase my anticipation. UK is lucky to have him.
This news appeared on our home page and Twitter account, but it bears mention here as well. The NCAA released its annual graduation report on Tuesday and UK student-athletes turned in record marks in both the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) and Federal Graduation Rate (FGR). UK's GSR of 77 percent was a three-percent improvement from a year ago and was UK's best in the seven-year history of the measurement. UK's FGR of 58 percent was also a school record.
Former UK softball star Molly Johnson won a gold medal at the Pan American Games earlier this week and last night it was baseball's Andrew Albers winning one. He made the start in the gold medal game for Canada, pitching his team to a 2-1 victory over Team USA with 6.1 innings of one-run ball. He struck out eight and allowed just six hits in picking up the win.
Before regular football availability this morning, volleyball head coach Craig Skinner will be addressing the media ahead of another big weekend for his team. The Cats currently sit within a game of first place Tennessee and a half-game of Florida with two games coming up on Friday and Sunday. On Friday, UK will play host to South Carolina before the No. 13 Gators come to town in a match with major SEC title implications. Skinner will be discussing both matches and we'll have coverage of his comments this afternoon.
Tomorrow, both men's and women's basketball will be participating in SEC Media Day. I will not be in attendance for the festivities, but will hopefully be providing whatever coverage I can from home.
More than any other annual series on the Kentucky football schedule, the games with Mississippi State seem to often turn out to be a defining moment for the season.
Take 2006. After a 49-0 drubbing at LSU, Rich Brooks' Cats needed a win in the worst way--perhaps to save the coach's job. And with Dicky Lyons, Jr having a career day in Starkville, making arguably the most difficult catch in UK football history, UK prevailed 34-31. That set the stage for an upset of Georgia a week later and that team went on to win a bowl game for the first time in 22 years.
And how about 2008. Randall Cobb made his first start at quarterback and he led the Cats to a 14-13 win at State, with Matt Roark providing the margin of victory with one of his patented PAT blocks. As the season played out, a loss there would have kept UK out of the Liberty Bowl game it won over East Carolina.
Remember 1998. When you look back, the season's sixth win, a 37-35 nail-biter over State, was the one that ultimately got Kentucky what it needed to get a chance to play in the Outback Bowl, the first New Year's Day bowl in a half century.
Ofcourse, the trend cuts both ways. In 2007, the MSU game came at a point on the schedule that followed three nationally-televised and emotionally draining games against South Carolina, LSU and Florida. An injury-depleted Kentucky just didn't show up that day and got thumped in a game that, along with the Tennessee loss, combined to keep the Cats from getting to play on New Year's Day again.
And the script was similar in 2009, when Kentucky just couldn't stop Anthony Dixon and the State rushing attack and UK droppped a seven-point decision. A win there might well have put the Cats in that often-discussed "better bowl."
In 1999, a last-second field goal gave an unbeaten MSU team a nationally-televised Thursday night win over the visiting Wildcats. A win might have meant a better bowl that year, too, and at worst, it would have been a top 10 win on the road--which would have been the first since 1964.
And finally, there was a Halloween night loss to the Bulldogs in 1992, when Doug Pelfrey's last-second field goal try was blocked. That thwarted a promising UK season and wasted a career-best 357-yard passing game by Pookie Jones.
Saturday's game will mark the 39th meeting between these two programs and Kentucky leads the overall series 21-17. Of those previous 38 matchups, 16 have been decided by a touchdown or less, with Kentucky holding a 9-7 edge in those games. And there's a good chance that both the winner and the loser will look back on this contest as the one that defined the season. State still has to play Alabama as well as Arkansas on the road, so a bowl trip would be a shaky proposition at best if the Dogs don't leave Lexington with a "W." And what would a victory mean for a seemingly resurrgent UK team that looked dead in the water just a couple of weeks ago?
The easy answer to that question is "a lot" and so count me in favor of Joker Phillips' move to break out the black uniforms. Is it a gimmick? Sure, but what the heck. This particular team, because of its slow start, has been emotionally beaten down through the first half of the season. Last Saturday's performance, which admittedly coming against a lesser foe, was nonetheless encouraging because of the way the Wildcats' offensive line dominated and the way the defense forced turnovers.
Suddenly, these players are feeling much better about themselves and so the coach's move to maximize that newfound confidence with the uniforms that players have clamored to wear for a couple of years is a smart play. If the Cats don't win, it'll be a footnote. But if they upset MSU, the black uni's will take on legendary status.
Darius Miller and the Kentucky Wildcats will play in the Blue/White Scrimmage at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In two seasons at Kentucky, John Calipari has proven himself willing to change his coaching style to fit his personnel.
In his first season, he adjusted to fit both the open floor ability of John Wall and Eric Bledsoe as well as the power in the post of Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins. In 2010-11, he developed a dribble handoff game with Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson.
With a versatile, talented and deep roster this season, there isn't a thing Calipari has taken off the table in terms of how his team will play. The way his players talk about all the different philosophies and sets the team has toyed with in practice, Calipari almost sounds like a mad scientist.
"I honestly couldn't tell you what Coach Cal has up his sleeve," Miller said. "We've tried just about everything it seems like. We've been doing dribble-drive, pick-and-roll, posting up, everything. I don't know exactly what we're going to do or how we're going to play but it's going to be fun to watch."
In the Cats' first scrimmage on Monday, Calipari was able to see how his team executed some of the things he installed in a game-like setting. Wednesday's Blue/White Scrimmage at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena affords him another such opportunity, but this time fans will get to bear witness to his ongoing experiments.
"We're still trying to figure out exactly how we're going to play, but I know it's going to be fun to watch, very exciting and a high-paced game, so hopefully they enjoy it," Miller said.
The pick-and-roll has been the hottest topic when it comes to X's and O's this preseason. Adding it to the mix has actually reenergized Calipari in some small measure.
"You have the same lesson plan for 10 years, you kind of get bored with it and this changes what we're doing," Calipari said. "We're doing different drills and we're even doing different things in the dribble drive."
In the past, Calipari has resisted the pick and roll because he believed it did not fit his personnel. Coaching the Dominican Republic National Team this summer, Calipari came to see just how effective it could be in studying it closely for the first time.
Also helping Calipari is the fact he has NBA resources at his disposal. UK's talented roster has professional coaches banging at the door of the Joe Craft Center to watch the Wildcats practice. Pick and roll is a staple for nearly every NBA team, so Calipari sets a precondition for all those coaches hoping to see Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist showcase their wares.
"Any NBA coaches that watch my team, they have to come early and I start picking their brains about different angles and what I've seen," Calipari said. "If you want to come watch my team, you have to talk pick and roll so I can get some stuff from you."
Very quickly, Marquis Teague has shown himself to be an excellent fit for the pick and roll. With the skilled big men that set picks for him and the dangerous shooters that dot the wing, Teague and the Cats could cause fits for opponents.
Calipari's experiments haven't been limited to pick and roll. Dribble handoffs have once again been a key fixture, and the Cats' size across all positions has caused Calipari to at least try out posting up nearly every player who figures to be in the rotation, from Teague to Miller to Kyle Wiltjer. Fans should even expect to see tweaks to Calipari's signature dribble drive motion offense. In coaching the Dominicans, Calipari noticed the way the team played the corners naturally and has incorporated some of that with his team already.
On defense, Calipari is evaluating nearly as many options as on offense. His team's athleticism figures to translate well to his traditional man-to-man approach, but he also wants to press.
"We started in a press with this team and I didn't like it so we're already to a different kind of press that suits this team better," Calipari said.
Calipari has pressed before, but can you imagine the Cats scoring on a pick and roll, then dropping back into a zone defense?
"This team, I hate to tell you, may be a zone team because we're just so long," Calipari said. "It's ridiculous how long we are. It takes away when teams just jam it into the post."
With so many offensive and defensive options on the table, basketball junkies have plenty to look forward to in tomorrow's scrimmage.
"I don't know how we're going to play yet," Calipari said. "We're going to play hard, we're going to play unselfish and we're going to be a great team from defense to offense and a great team from offense to defense. We're going to do it together and we're going to be our brother's keeper. Short of that, we're just trying to get it all figured out right now."
It may sound like Calipari is toying with altering the coaching style that brought UK trips to the Elite Eight and Final Four over the past two seasons, but the fundamental principles that underlie everything the Cats do will remain the same, no matter how many experiments Calipari may have going on.
"I'm not going to change how I coach," Calipari said. "We're not going to change our style. We may change how we get into our style depending on personnel. How we defend, we may do it different ways but we're going to end up being a great defensive team."
Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy had an especially early Tuesday morning.
On top of a regular team meeting at 7 a.m., the two star linebackers were called to the equipment room, otherwise known as "Fort Knox", for supposed maintenance on their shoulder pads mandated by coach Joker Phillips. Immediately suspicious of the true reason for their summons, Trevathan and Guy weren't sure what was up, but they had an idea.
The real reason for their early wakeup call was a modeling assignment. Trevathan and Guy were to don brand new black uniforms the Wildcats will wear for a matchup against Mississippi State at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Though Trevathan had an inkling what was coming, the moment he saw he was about to wear took him back to his childhood.
"I almost passed out," Trevathan said. "It was like Christmas."
Wearing their new get-ups, Trevathan and Guy stood outside the doors to the meeting room where Phillips was addressing the rest of team, waiting for the right moment to charge in and show their teammates the highly anticipated new look.
"It's something that we wanted to do to throw the guys a bone," Phillips said. "We pulled them out at the team meeting and had Danny and Winston came out dressed in them and the crowd goes wild."
The response was exactly what Phillips and the staff were looking for. Trevathan summed up the appeal of the uniforms when he said, "black is attitude," and the anticipation of wearing them will hopefully translate to just a little extra motivation during a week of preparation. Even so, Phillips made sure to impart to his team that the onus to play well is still on them.
"Anything that we can do to generate some excitement is good," Phillips said. "I think there will be more excitement if we are making plays in those black uniforms. We explained to them that these uniforms don't make plays and that the players wearing them have to prepare themselves and have the right attitude."
If they don't have the right attitude and play poorly on Saturday, the team should not expect to see the uniforms emerge out of "Fort Knox" anytime in the near future.
"They know that because that's the deal," Phillips said. "If we don't play well, we won't see them again."
Trevathan understands the arrangement.
"I think if we want to get more of this, we've got to perform," Trevathan said.
Guy went a step further, saying the uniforms cannot become a distraction. The Cats already knew what kind of intensity it was going to take to beat Mississippi State this weekend and the uniforms must not do anything but hone that focus.
"We've just got to play behind the look," Guy said. "We can't let the uniforms sidetrack us from what we've got to do on Saturday."
Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy modeled new black uniforms for the teammates on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky football team was in for a surprise a regular 7 a.m. team meeting on Tuesday. Head coach Joker Phillips addressed the team, but star linebackers Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy were conspicuously absent.
...until the pair emerged modeling the brand new uniforms the Wildcats will be wearing for a matchup with Mississippi State at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The highly anticipated black get ups will be worn as a part of a blackout for the crucial SEC clash, UK announced on Facebook Tuesday morning. Fans are asked to also join in and paint Commonwealth Stadium black.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Oct. 23:
Swimming & diving: Megan Eppler
Eppler swam a 23.61 in the 50-freestyle, ranking third overall in the event, which was one of the best performances of the day for the UK women in their season-opening meet in Knoxville, Tenn., this weekend. Eppler also swam a career-best 51.27 in the 100-freestyle placing fourth in the event.
Football: Winston Guy
Led UK with 12 tackles, including two pass break-ups. It marked the sixth time this season and 10th time in his career he has had double-digit tackles. Guy now leads the SEC in tackles with 79.
Volleyball: Christine Hartmann
Junior setter Christine Hartmann had the best all-around performance of her career in leading the Wildcats to a pair of tough-road victories. Hartmann notched a double-double effort, her third of the season, with 39 assists and 10 digs in a win at Georgia. The Wildcats set a school-record with 20.5 blocks in the match, and Hartmann had six. In adding to her repertoire she also posted a career-high four aces in the victory. Hartmann's impressive dispersal of the ball aided UK to have four players with .300 hitting clips or better in the match. On Sunday, Hartmann's play only improved. The St. Charles, Ill., native totaled a career-high eight blocks while passing out a career-best 54 assists in a five-set victory. Hartmann found four different players for 13 or more kills with one more posting nine.
Women's soccer: Kelsey Hunyadi
Kelsey Hunyadi tallied her third career multi-goal game against Mississippi State, leading Kentucky to a win and clinching the Wildcats a berth in this year's SEC Tournament ... She attempted a school single-game record and career-high 11 shots against the Bulldogs in the victory ... It was her career-best fourth game-winning goal of the season ... Hunyadi netted her 11th goal of the season against the Rebels, it's the most goals by a Wildcat since the 2001 season and her 30 points on the season are also the most since by a UK player since 2001 ... Hunyadi has attempted 72 shots this season, second most in school history, 15 shy of the school record.
Volleyball: Stephanie Klefot
Junior Stephanie Klefot notched 43 digs on the weekend to become just the third player in UK history to post 1,200 digs in a career. The 26 scoops vs. Auburn are the most in an SEC match this season for UK's starting defensive stalwart. In the match with Georgia, she posted a match-high 17 digs to lead five different UK players in double-figures for digs. Klefot continues to provide a steady presence for the Blue and White has she has posted 10 or more digs in every SEC match this season and in 22-of-23 matches overall this year. Furthermore, Klefot was targeted a team-high 46 times on the service line and committed just one error for an impressive .978 clip.
Football: Offensive line
Did a fantastic job for Kentucky up front, allowing the Wildcats to rush for 340 yards, which is the most since UK had 341 against Vanderbilt last season. It also marked the second-consecutive game UK has not given up a sack.
Volleyball: Jackie Napper
Freshman Jackie Napper's presence in the back-row helped lead the Wildcats to a pair of road victories this weekend. Napper recorded the first back-to-back double-figure dig efforts of her career with 12 in a win at Georgia and an SEC career-high 13 against Auburn. Napper also registered her second career kill in the win at Georgia. Furthermore, Napper's steady play on the serve-receive line continues to be impressive. This week, Napper was targeted 42 times and committed just one error for an impressive .976 average. Her 2.78 digs per set ranked as the second-best total on the team, and the best for a non-libero. For her career, she has notched seven matches with 10 or more scoops.
Football: Martavius Neloms
Started the scoring for Kentucky, sacking the JSU quarterback, causing a fumble which he scooped up and returned 40 yards for a touchdown. The fumble recovery for a TD in the first quarter was the first for UK since Ventrell Jenkins' 56-yard return vs. East Carolina in 2009 (Jan. 2). Ended the game with eight tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and a pass breakup.
Football: Morgan Newton
Rushed for a career-high 75 yards on 12 carries, including a touchdown run. Was also impressive in the passing game, throwing two touchdowns and going 10-for-16 on the day with 105 yards.
Swimming & diving: Tyler Reed
Placed first in the 100-freestyle posting a time of 45.24 seconds. The senior captain also placed well in the 200-freestyle with a time of 1:39.13. Reed swam the fastest split of any UK swimmer with a 20.04 split in the home stretch of the 200 medley relay in which Kentucky finished in third place.
It can be hard to keep up with everything going on in the University of Kentucky's 22 varsity sports. With that in mind, we will highlight the best from around Kentucky sports each week. We'll recognize the best performances from Wildcat teams and players, we'll show you the coolest videos and photos that you may have missed and we'll mix in some new stuff along the way. Here are your award winners for this week: Team of the week - Men's tennis dominates at Ohio Valley Regionals
Following a trip to the Elite Eight in the spring, the men's tennis team has backed up its post-season run with an exceptional fall. The four returners from last season's rotation have shown improvement and some new players have emerged, culminating in an incredible performance over the past week at the Ohio Valley Regional Indoor Championships in Knoxville, Tenn.
In singles play, five Wildcats (Eric Quigley, Alex Musialek, Tom Jomby, Anthony Rossi and Panav Jha) reached the quarterfinals, while Quigley and Musialek faced off in the finals. Musialek won the all-UK final 6-3, 6-3. UK's top six players at the event went 27-5 total and only one of those losses came to a non-teammate. Quigley and Musialek, just minutes after playing in the singles final, teamed up in the doubles final, losing to a team from host Tennessee. Co-player of the week - CoShik Williams has career day
In a much-needed 38-14 victory over Jacksonville State, junior running back CoShik Williams ran for 148 yards on just 22 carries. He anchored a UK rushing attack that rolled up 340 yards on the day and played a central role in ending the Cats' four-game losing streak.
With Raymond Sanders' status for Saturday's game against Mississippi State, Williams is in line to get even more opportunities in a big SEC matchup.
Co-player of the week - Christine Hartmann earns SEC honors
Junior setter Christine Hartmann was in the middle of a UK attack that brought the No. 24 volleyball team to consecutive road victories over Georgia and Auburn. She had a double-double with 39 assists and 10 digs against the Bulldogs, also contributing six blocks to a UK defensive effort that set a new school record. Two days later, Hartmann set a career high with 53 assists, orchestrating a balanced attack that featured four players with 13 or more kills. For her efforts, Hartmann earned SEC Player of the Week honors.
Hartmann and the Cats return home for a pair of matches in Memorial Coliseum this weekend, including a Sunday tilt with No. 13 Florida at 1:30 p.m. that will have major implications on the race for the SEC Championship.
Game of the week - Rifle bests No. 9 Ole Miss in season opener
Harry Mullins and the defending national champion UK rifle team are welcoming all comers in their title defense and it began with a season opener against ninth-ranked Ole Miss. The Rebels tied a school record with a score of 4654, but the No. 1 Cats bested them with a tally of 4680. Stacy Wheatley led the way with a career-best air rifle score of 592. On Sunday, rifle overcame another record performance from an opponent to defeat Nebraska.
Play of the week - Martavius Neloms gets UK going with defensive touchdown
Tied 0-0 late in the first quarter against Jacksonville State, UK was struggling a bit and looking for something good to happen. Junior Martavius Neloms obliged when he came on a blitz from the secondary. He sacked Coty Blanchard, forced a fumble, recovered it himself and raced 40 yards for the first touchdown of his career. The Cats didn't look back from there, racing to a 24-7 halftime lead and a 38-14 win.
In his first season at safety after moving from cornerback, Neloms has excelled. He has 49 tackles on the season and has five pass breakups.
The play is the first in the video above.
Photo of the week - Women's soccer Senior Day
Women's soccer seniors Kelsey Hunyadi, Kiondra McGee, Jenna Goblirsch and Emily Rogers were honored before Sunday's game against Ole Miss. Hunyadi scored the Cats' lone goal. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Alumnus/alumna of the week - Molly Johnson wins gold with team USA
In general, we try to switch up the winners of these awards from week to week, but let it be known that winning a gold medal in international competition is going to take this category almost every time.
That's exactly what former star shortstop and current UK assistant coach Molly Johnson did this weekend as Team USA upended Canada in the gold medal game on Sunday. Johnson was 2-for-2 in the final, capping an unbelievable tournament at the plate. She led the team with a batting average of .706 while making seven starts at shortstop. She also knocked in eight runs in leading an American offense that outscored opponents 78-8 in nine games.
Johnson will next compete for a spot on the 2012 World Championship team beginning in January.
Quarterback Morgan Newton threw two touchdown passes in a 38-14 win over Jacksonville State. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
On Saturday against Jacksonville State, Kentucky turned in its best offensive outing of the season in a 38-14 win. Rolling up 445 yards of total offense, the Wildcats consistently moved the ball, especially during the final three quarters when they scored 31 points.
Highlighting the UK attack was a ground game that repeatedly found space and broke off big runs. Kentucky ran the ball 55 times for 340 yards and was led by a career-best performance from junior CoShik Williams, who had 148 yards.
There's no question the effort on the ground was a welcome development, especially since it led the way in ending a four-game losing streak, but the Cats have no intention of turning into a one-dimensional offense the rest of the way.
"We want to (establish the run) but we have got to throw the football," Phillips said. "It's hard to manage first downs, manage touchdowns, just throwing the ball 16 times a game. We have got to be able to drop back and throw the ball."
Of the 16 passes UK threw against Jacksonville State, Morgan Newton completed 10 for 105 yards and two touchdowns, both to La'Rod King. He threw the ball efficiently when he was asked to, largely because of how much the effective running game opened things up in the secondary. Compared with how things have been at UK in the past under Phillips and former head coach Rich Brooks, that's a bit of a departure.
"Our philosophy around here has been throw it to run it (throw the ball to set up the run) and recently it's starting to go to run it to throw it," Phillips said. "I would like to get back to throw it to run it, but (I) have to feel comfortable with that."
Getting back to throwing the ball to set up the run may not happen this season, but, at the very least, UK must maintain offensive balance.
Not taking anything away from Jacksonville State, but the Cats face a step up in competition in the coming weeks. The last five games of the regular season are against Southeastern Conference opponents who will likely chew up and spit out any opponent unable to both throw and run. Beginning with Mississippi State on Saturday, Phillips anticipates throwing the ball between 25 and 30 times per game.
To do that, UK will be looking for improvement out of Newton. In his first full year as a starter, Newton has displayed the ability to effectively stretch the field with the deep ball, though his receivers have not always turned his quality throws into big gains. However, a strength of the UK offense in recent years has been putting receivers into position to make plays after the catch on shorter throws. In that area, Newton must demonstrate progress.
"The thing that Morgan has to get better is throwing intermediate passes," Phillips said. "If you look at those last couple of years, we have run more shallow crosses, trying to hit people on the run, which you have to do when you have your receivers that are struggling to get off vertically."
Newton has the kind of big arm that allows him to make any throw on the field, but he's also shown the tendency to fire the ball at receivers when a touch pass is called for.
"Sometimes you've got to (throw the) fastball and sometimes you have to have some touch to give those guys a chance," Phillips said.
To achieve the kind of improvement in the passing game UK is looking for, Newton isn't the only one who has things to work on. Kentucky's receiving corps has been among the most inconsistent units for the Cats all season and needs to progress over the final five games. Junior La'Rod King has emerged as a go-to guy, tallying 27 catches for 399 yards and six touchdowns, but there isn't a single other player on the roster with more than 12 catches or 89 yards receiving.
So, who are the wide receivers to watch for over the next month?
"We have got to get Brian Adams going because he's got some ability," Phillips said. "Gene McCaskill is another guy that has done it around here. He's done it in big games for us."
Adams has just two catches for 16 yards this season, but the two-sport sophomore has the kind of size (6-foot-4, 221 pounds), speed and athleticism that could make him a matchup nightmare for opponents. McCaskill has also been quiet this season after recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, but was among returning leaders in receiving with 344 yards coming into 2011.
Opportunities have been somewhat scarce at times for wide receivers since the Cats have thrown 25 times or fewer in five of seven games this season. But if UK throws as much as planned the rest of the way, there should be ample opportunities for Newton to establish a connection with Adams, McCaskill or another of the receivers.
Raymond Sanders "iffy" for Saturday
When you hear about a player suffering from a high ankle sprain, the immediate assumption is the player will miss at least a few weeks. Well, that's exactly the injury Raymond Sanders sustained on Saturday, but his is luckily not especially severe. However, Phillips termed the sophomore running back "iffy" for Saturday's game against Mississippi State.
Sanders is joined on UK's injury report by a handful of others. Defensive tackle Mister Cobble (bruised shoulder) and fullback D.J. Warren (sprained AC joint in shoulder) are recovering from injuries but are expected to practice and play this week. Kickoff specialist Joe Mansour has an injury to his right (kicking) ankle and his availability is unknown.
UK garnered 18 of 23 first place votes while second-place Vanderbilt received two and third-place Florida had one.
Jones was the lone Wildcat to be picked as a First Team performer by the media, but senior guard Darius Miller, sophomore guard Doron Lamb and freshman forward Anthony Davis were named to the Second Team.
Below are the complete order finish and all individual honorees as picked by the media:
Preseason Media Poll Pts Kentucky (18) -- 282 Vanderbilt (4) -- 265 Florida (1) -- 235 Alabama -- 219 Mississippi State -- 191 Arkansas -- 154 Ole Miss -- 119 Georgia -- 108 LSU -- 91 Auburn -- 80 Tennessee -- 71 South Carolina -- 57
*First-Place Votes in Parentheses
First Team All-SEC JaMychal Green, Alabama - F, 6-8, 228, Sr., Montgomery, Ala. Terrence Jones, Kentucky - F, 6-9, 252, So., Portland, Ore. Dee Bost, Mississippi State - G, 6-2, 176, Sr. , Concord, N.C. John Jenkins, Vanderbilt - G, 6-4, 220, Jr., Hendersonville, Tenn. Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt - G/F, 6-7, 225, Sr., Norrkoping, Sweden
Second Team All-SEC Anthony Davis, Kentucky - F, 6-10, 220, Fr., Chicago, Ill. Doron Lamb, Kentucky - G, 6-4, 210, So., Queens, N.Y. Darius Miller, Kentucky - G, 6-8, 235, Sr., Maysville, Ky. Kenny Boynton, Florida - G, 6-2, 189, Jr., Pompano Beach, Fla. Erving Walker, Florida - G, 5-8, 177, Sr., Brooklyn, N.Y. Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt - C, 6-11, 255, Sr., Benin City, Nigeria
Football - Kentucky returned to Commonwealth Stadium and performed well against Jacksonville State on Saturday, earning a 38-14 win. - The Wildcats' offense performed very well against JSU, totaling 445 yards of total offense, including 340 rushing yards. Junior tailback CoShik Williams paced UK's running attack with a career-high 148 yards, while quarterback Morgan Newton and wide receiver La'Rod King connected on two touchdown passes in the game. - Kentucky's defense caused three turnovers in the game, including junior Martavius Neloms' 40-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Seniors Danny Trevathan and Luke McDermott each grabbed an interception in the game, while the UK defense limited JSU to 270 yards of total offense. Winston Guy led UK with 12 tackles.
Volleyball - UK picked up two more victories on the road at Georgia and Auburn this weekend. In the victory at Georgia the Wildcats set a new school-record with 20.5 blocks in the match. - Junior libero Stephanie Klefot charted 43 digs for the weekend and is now just the third player in school history to amass 1,200 or more career scoops. - Junior Christine Hartmann had a great all-around weekend. She posted her third double-double of the season with 39 assists and 10 digs in a win at Georgia. On Sunday at Auburn she set a new career best with 54 assists and eight blocks to lead the charge. Women's soccer - The Wildcats guaranteed themselves a spot in the 2011 SEC Tournament for the second-straight year with a 2-0 win at Mississippi State on Thursday night. - Kelsey Hunyadi netted two goals in the victory, her third career multi-goal game. In the win, Hunyadi attempted a school-record 11 shots. She also netted her fourth game-winning goal this season. Hunyadi scored three goals on the weekend pushing her season total to 11, the most by a Wildcat since the 2001 season. She now has 30 points, also the most since 2001. - Kentucky's 12 wins this season is the most since 2006 as is the five league wins. - UK fell to Mississippi State 2-1 in overtime on Sunday.
Men's soccer - UK suffered a 2-0 loss to No. 10 Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., to start the week, before suffering the 2-0 setback vs. Memphis on Sunday. - Kentucky has now been mathematically eliminated from the C-USA Tournament, sitting in ninth place in the league, with the conference taking the top six teams. - UK has been led offensively by Tyler Riggs and Matt Lodge, with Riggs netting 10 goals and adding five assists. Lodge has added seven goals and 10 assists, with Charles Pettys owning three goals and seven assists.
Rifle - Paced by solid air rifle scores from Henri Junghänel and Stacy Wheatley, the No. 1 Kentucky rifle team posted a 4669-4626 win over Great American Rifle Conference foe Nebraska, on Sunday afternoon at UK's Barker Hall. - Kentucky rode strong scores from Junghanel and Wheatley to the win, getting a match-best 595 from Junghanel and the second consecutive 590 or better from Wheatley in air rifle. UK also got air rifle totals from Ethan Settlemires (581), Heather Greathouse (583) and Katie Fretts (586). - In smallbore, UK was led by sophomore Emily Holsopple, who charted a 584 to lead the team, with Junghanel totaling a 583. Wheatley tallied a 570 in smallbore, with Settlemires and Greathouse each totaling a 574. - In the season opener on Friday vs. GARC foe Ole Miss, UK got a splendid performance from Wheatley, who fired a 592 in air rifle to lead UK to the win, with the Rebels providing serious competition with a school-record performance. Men's tennis - Kentucky continued its dominance in fall tournaments, placing five players in the quarterfinals of the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional Indoor Championships. - No. 3 Eric Quigley and No. 20 Alex Musialek led the way for Kentucky, as they will compete against each other for the singles title, and then team up in the doubles final Monday morning. - Quigley and Musialek were joined in the singles quarterfinals by Anthony Rossi, Tom Jomby and Panav Jha. Sophomore Ryuji Hirooka also had a fantastic tournament, advancing to the singles consolation finals.
Women's golf - Junior Ashleigh Albrecht finished tied for seventh, her third top-10 finish of the season, at the Mercedes-Benz SEC/Pac-12 Challenge. Albrecht's 2-under par 70 in the first round tied the Cats' lowest single-round score of the year. - Junior Betsie Johnson shot an even-par 72 in the third round, her lowest single-round score of the season. - Junior Heather Lott shot a 1-over par 73 in the final round, her lowest single-round score of the season. - The Wildcats capped the tournament in 20th place overall as a team.
Men's golf - The Kentucky men's golf team finished seventh Tuesday at the inaugural AutoTrader.com Collegiate Classic, held in Duluth, Ga. - Sophomore Stephen Powers led the way for Kentucky. Powers finished in a tie for 25th at 7-over par, shooting an even-par 72 in the final round. - Freshman David Snyder played well in his first event in the starting line-up, finishing in the top 30 overall.
Swimming and diving - Megan Eppler led the way for Kentucky on the women's side in a double-dual meet against Indiana and Tennessee. Eppler posted numerous scores that placed her in the top 10 of two events. Eppler posted a career-best 51.27 in the 100-yard freestyle, placing fourth overall in the event. - On the men's side, senior captain Tyler Reed posted a time of 45.24 in the 100-freestyle, good enough to win the event. Reed also swam well in the 200-freestyle, placing second overall with a time of 1:39.13. - In the diving competition, John Fox stood out by leading himself to a 333.45 score, and placing second overall in the 1-meter diving competition. Christa Cabot also shined Saturday for Kentucky posting scores of 265.40 and 260.25 in the 1- and 3-meter diving competitions. Upcoming schedule
Monday, Oct. 24 Men's tennis at Ohio Valley Region Indoors (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Former star shortstop and current softball assistant coach led Team USA to gold in the 2011 Pan American Games. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Team USA put an exclamation point on its trip to Guadalajara, Mexico for the Pan American Games, defeating Canada 11-1 in the gold medal game. Record-setting former Kentucky shortstop and current softball assistant coach Molly Johnson was a key cog in the final, going 2-for-2 at the plate with an RBI.
Team USA brought a revamped roster to the event, but the team of 17 rookies didn't miss a beat. The Americans rolled to a perfect 9-0 record in competition, outscoring opponents 78-8 and batting a sizzling .428 as Team USA picked up its seventh straight gold medal in the Pan American Games.
From start to finish, Johnson was in the middle of it all. She began with a 3-for-3, four-RBI outing in a 10-0 opening win over Venezuela and went on to play in eight of the team's nine games. She made seven starts at shortstop while leading or tying for the team lead in batting average (.706), hits (12), on-base percentage (.706) and doubles (four).
Upon her return to campus, we will be catching up with Johnson to discuss the experience and her play, so watch for that.
This week's nominees for CoachCal.com's "Helmet Dunk of the Week" are Anthony Davis and Eloy Vargas. The nomination is the second straight for Davis and I think it's a pretty safe bet to say he'll be a regular candidate. Take a look at the dunks below then head over to vote for the winner:
Junior CoShik Williams rushed for 148 yards on 22 carries in a 38-14 victory over Jacksonville State. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
Missed the game? Watched it but can't get enough or can't believe what you saw? Cat Scratches will break down the nuts and bolts from each and every game, including some postgame reaction and comments from the players who made the difference.
The essentials: Kentucky ended a four-game losing streak, defeating the Jacksonville State Gamecocks by a score of 38-14 in Commonwealth Stadium. The Wildcats rolled up 445 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers.
With the score knotted at zero midway through the first quarter, UK scored three touchdowns and a field goal on the next drives, including a defensive touchdown that started it all. By halftime, UK held a 24-7 lead and never led by less than 17 the rest of the way. For a UK team that had struggled entering Saturday's game, taking care of business against an opponent that had proven itself able to compete at a high level did wonders for the Cats' confidence.
"You definitely try to savor that feeling, no question about that," head coach Joker Phillips said. "I don't think that our guys have forgotten how to win. I wouldn't say that. It was just good to come away with the win."
UK showed it knew how to win in withstanding Jacksonville State, who overcame a fourth-quarter deficit against Ole Miss a season ago. A kickoff return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter cut UK's lead to 31-14, but the Cats were able to run the ball effectively and stiffen defensively to close out the Gamecocks.
"It would have been easy for this football team after the kickoff return for them to come back, make a couple more plays and us turn the ball over and have them come back and win," Phillips said. "But our football team accepted the challenge. They remembered what we'd been talking about all week, and accepted the challenge and put this team away."
Turning point: During UK's losing streak, the Cats were desperate for a ball to bounce their way and for something good to happen. In the first quarter on Saturday, the Cats made their own luck.
Neither team scored through the first six drives when UK punted away. JSU picked up a couple first downs on the subsequent drive, leading to a second-and-nine on the Kentucky 49-yard line. Quarterback Coty Blanchard dropped back to pass and safety Martavius Neloms came flying in on a blitz from the secondary. Neloms laid a big hit on Blanchard, knocking the ball loose. He picked up the fumble and raced 40 yards for the first score of the game.
"We needed someone to make a play, and Neloms did," Phillips said. "He got a sack, caused a fumble and a return for a touchdown, so that got us going." Neloms said the effect of the play was palpable on the sideline.
"I think it settled everybody down because it was so early," Neloms said. "Once everybody got relaxed, we played our game and we played great."
The junior not scored a touchdown since high school and had been waiting for three years to get in the end zone again. In fact, Neloms said his dreams the night before the game were punctuated by seeing himself in the end zone.
"It's kind of ironic because I dreamed about that play last night," Neloms said. "I've always wondered what it's like to score a college touchdown and I was able to go out there and score one today."
Play of the game: UK took advantage of the momentum on its side after Neloms' score. The defense was able to get a stop and set up the offense on its own 24-yard line. The Cats relied on the running game to drive to the JSU 29-yard line and turned to play-action when they noticed single coverage on wide receiver La'Rod King outside.
Quarterback Morgan Newton gave King a chance to make a play, throwing the ball to the left side of the end zone with a Gamecock corner draped over his wide out. Even though JSU was whistled for pass interference, King jumped and corralled the pass for a touchdown to extend UK's lead to 14-0.
"Especially when you're 6'4", you've got a 5'9" defensive back on you, and it was good to see La'Rod go and attack the football aggressively," Phillips said. "He's a basketball player, and he's got to go get a rebound."
That wasn't the only "rebound" King would bring down on the day. He was targeted five times on the day and he made catches on each of his opportunities for a total of 84 yards. He also scored a second touchdown on a beautifully thrown fade pass from six yards out, skying over a defender to make the play.
Player of the game: If not for CoShik Williams and the UK running game, Newton likely would have never seen single coverage on King. Carrying the bulk of the work due to injuries to Josh Clemons and Raymond Sanders, the redshirt junior had career highs with 22 carries and 148 yards. The tough running style he has come to be known for was on display, as he consistently gained extra yardage and made the most out of the holes in front of him.
Phillips praised Williams during the two weeks since UK last took the field for his strong practice efforts and was thrilled to see him demonstrate that same kind of performance on game day.
"I mentioned earlier in the week that CoShik had had a really good week - really good two weeks - and it showed up," Phillips said. "It was good to see him get some results out of his hard work because he had done a really good job all week."
In addition to Williams' 158 yards, UK got 66 from Jonathan George and 33 from Brandon Gainer.
Unsung heroes: Just as King would not have his opportunities to make plays without Williams and UK's other running backs, the running backs would not have been able to make plays without an offensive line that turned in its best effort of the season.
"You can't run well as a running back unless the guys are doing their jobs up front," Phillips said. "(Williams) was making people miss in the secondary once he got there and running through some tacklers, but they did a good job of getting him started, the offensive line did."
Rolling up 330 yards on the ground and protecting the quarterback well, the now-healthy offensive line demonstrated the improvement Phillips said he had seen even in recent losses.
"Those guys have been playing better every week," Phillips said. "That was the group that was getting better. It didn't show because we weren't making any plays on the perimeter. We took some sacks. But those guys have been the group that's been improving the most."
Coming into the season, the offensive line was expected to be the anchor of a young offense, but injuries and ineffectiveness haven't allowed that to pass. With health finally on their side, the line is playing the way it was expected to.
"I don't know if we have the skill set up there to really be a dominant SEC offensive line," offensive coordinator Randy Sander said, "but we do have the tools to be a really consistent, really functional offensive line."
Injury report: Raymond Sanders left the game early with an ankle injury. Mister Cobble also left with a shoulder injury. The extent of the two injuries is not know at this point and Cobble and Sanders will be evaluated Sunday. Hidden stat: With Morgan Newton taking over at quarterback this season, UK expected to run from the quarterback position much more than in recent years. The staff has struggled a bit to find play calls that fit Newton's running style while Newton hasn't been able to find a balance between staying patient in the pocket and taking advantage of scrambling opportunities.
"We tried to get him more on the perimeter," Phillips said. "We've been running him up inside, we tried to get him more on the perimeter and make some good runs and make some throws."
Newton's effort on the ground against Jacksonville State was the closest to what was envisioned entering the season. He had 12 carries for 75 yards with big chunks coming on both scrambles and called runs. Newton has progressed significantly in making reads and timely decisions and it showed Saturday.
"At quarterback, things have got to happen fast," Phillips said. "Is he open? Is he open? No, let's go. 'Let's go' means get the ball out of my hand or pull it down and run it. We can't have (negative) plays, and he did a good job of managing the game as far as not taking those (negative) plays."
What this one means: Even though this was the seventh game of the 2011 season for UK, the Cats treated this one as if it was their first, calling it the opener of their "second season."
"We were 2 4 in the first season, and we have to take one game at a time in this second season," Phillips said. "We're 1 0."
With five games to go against much tougher opponents than the one UK faced Saturday, there is a lot of work ahead. Mississippi State is up next and preparation begins Sunday.
"We've got to go to work tomorrow, got to get to 2 0," Phillips said. "We've got a tough SEC opponent that had an open week to prepare, but we've got to deal with it."
There has been a lot of talk lately about having fun on the football field again, but the Cats couldn't quite do it until a few things went their way.
"In the end, it's still a game," Phillips said. "It's still a game, and our guys have to play it like that. You can't get all uptight and put pressure on yourself. You've just got to go play, relax and go play."
If the Wildcats can take that looser attitude into the last five games of their second season, it could make all the difference.
Satellite radio: XM 200; Sirius 220 (you must have the "Sirius Premier" package to hear the game on Sirius) Digital coverage:Cat Scratches' live in-game blog; Gametracker; Twitter updates; Text alerts Game-time weather:54 degrees, sunny, zero percent chance of precipitation Arrive early: Fans are highly encouraged to arrive at the stadium early to avoid parking delays and also to enter the stadium early to avoid long entry lines at the stadium gates. Directions and traffic into Commonwealth Stadium. Cat Walk: The "Cat Walk" will take place Saturday at 9:45 a.m. Fans wishing to participate in cheering on the Wildcats as they enter the stadium Saturday should be between the corner of Jerry Claiborne Way and College Way outside of Commonwealth Stadium gate one. The team bus will arrive at approximately 9:45 a.m., when the team will unload the bus and walk to the stadium. Guests are asked to line up on each side of the "Cat Walk" to allow for ample space for the team to walk from the buses to Commonwealth Stadium. Map of the "Cat Walk."
Parking: Parking information can be found on UK's Gameday site GuestAssist service now available: "GuestAssist" is a communications service that enables one-to-one text messaging between Commonwealth Stadium guests and stadium operations personnel.
Fans can ask questions about game-day information and/or report concerns regarding behavior through the convenience of their cell phones. Stadium operations personnel will monitor and respond to guests' game-day inquiries on a real-time basis and if needed, dispatch support, security, etc. to the guests' location. Fans wishing to utilize the service should text, "CATS, your message and your seat location" to 78247 (CATS must be the first four characters in the message body. Standard text message rates apply).
"GuestAssist" is not intended for emergency use. In the event of an emergency, guests should contact the nearest stadium event staff and/or dial 911.
At the Nutter Training Facility, the nerve center of Kentucky football, there is a board showing the Wildcats' schedule. Sometimes it shows a big picture view of the entire season with 12 games and the SEC Championship. Other times, it shows only the current week's game to hone the Wildcats' focus in on their upcoming opponent.
These last two weeks, the staff has done something new with it.
The schedule now shows only the final six games of the 2011, turning the page on the first half of the year that saw the Cats struggle to a 2-4 record. In essence, the Cats are looking to make the second half of 2011 a season unto itself. It begins Saturday at noon when they face off against Jacksonville State at Commonwealth Stadium.
"We always try to break the season down into four quarters," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "You've got the first three games and you've got the second three games. Well, we've played the first half of the season. We had a winning record in the first quarter and we lost the second quarter miserably. Now, what do we do in the third quarter and how do we finish in the fourth?"
Fortunately for the Cats, the schedule for the second half offers a reprieve relative to the brutal three-game stretch UK just played against Florida, Louisiana State and South Carolina. None of UK's final six opponents is currently ranked, though that doesn't mean the Cats will be taking any of them lightly.
Even though Jacksonville State is an FCS (formerly known as I-AA) squad, the Gamecocks are winners. At 5-1, JSU is ranked No. 10 among FCS teams and is a perfect 4-0 in Ohio Valley Conference play. The Gamecocks average over 200 yards rushing per game, led by former Georgia running back Washaun Ealey. Ealey has totaled 115.2 yards from scrimmage per game and six touchdowns, but he isn't his team's only weapon.
"They've got a couple SEC-type players," head coach Joker Phillips said. "It's obvious, one of them scored a bunch of touchdowns on us."
A season ago, Ealey was in the Georgia backfield for the Bulldogs 44-31 win in Lexington, Ky. He rushed 28 times for 157 yards and scored five touchdowns. He has immediately stepped in and become the centerpiece of the JSU attack, but coach Jack Crowe has two other runners with over 240 yards on the season. Calvin Middleton and quarterback Coty Blanchard have combined for 646 yards and seven touchdowns.
Not only does Jacksonville State have weapons, but they also have experience in playing with and beating the big boys. Two seasons ago, the Gamecocks led at Florida State with 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter before allowing two touchdowns and falling 19-9. Last year, JSU scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns in the season opener against Ole Miss en route to a 49-48 victory in double overtime.
In 2011, JSU relies on a defensive unit capable of forcing turnovers at any time. The Gamecocks have 15 takeaways, including three last week against Austin Peay they returned for touchdowns. All that is to say the Cats will have to do much more than show up to win the opener of their second season.
The last time the Cats took the field, they didn't do much more than that.
"When you have 96 yards of total offense, the offense's confidence is shaken," Sanders said of UK's 54-3 loss at South Carolina. "When you give up 600-something yards, the defense's confidence is shaken. You get beat 54-3, it probably shakes the fans' confidence a little bit and coaches are right in there too."
With a bye last week, UK had 14 days to prepare for this weekend's game. The Cats have used that time to instill some of the confidence lost during their current four-game losing streak and it began with quarterback Morgan Newton.
"When you're playing as bad as we have on offense, confidence does start to be a factor," Phillips said. "We've got to make sure we're playing with the type of confidence we need. We need to try to take some shots with (Newton) and somebody needs to make some plays to give him some confidence also."
Newton will rely on his wide receivers to make more plays than they have so far this season. Drops and inconsistency have plagued the unit, but the wide outs have taken it upon themselves to stay after practice and commit to correcting some of the mistakes they've made.
"All the receivers did extra work and it was much needed," Phillips said. "They're a little embarrassed at the way they've played and they're competitors."
Perhaps no receiver or even player has better represented the kind of approach Phillips wants his team to take the rest of the season than Matt Roark. Roark has been a lightning rod for much of the criticism the receivers have gotten, making a handful of costly drops. He found himself at the bottom of the depth chart, but kept working. He learned from his struggles, but turned the page, did something about them and has ascended back to the top of the depth chart.
"He did it by his attitude, his approach to practice and his approach to special teams," Phillips said. "What you tend to see when a guy moves down the depth chart on offense or defense is his whole demeanor changes and his special team play starts to lack. Matt did not do that."
Roark was able to pick himself up and the team as a whole needs to do the same. Contending in the SEC as UK had hoped to do entering the season may be out of the question now, but the game against Jacksonville State could be the start of something new.
"Our challenge is to have a winning record here in the third and fourth quarter," Sanders said. "If we do that, we get to six wins."
On Tuesday, Oct. 18, UK Athletics announced the redesign of its website, UKathletics.com. Senior associate director of athletics DeWayne Peevy had this to say about the new look of the site:
"We are excited about the new UKathletics.com," Peevy said. "In an increasingly modern age, it is important for school websites to remain the first destination for fans and the new redesign of the site will create a more user-friendly website for our dedicated fan base. We certainly appreciate IMG and CBS College Sports, in addition to our talented staff - headed by Pete Camagna and creative director Kim Troxall - in helping get the new site off and running."
Over the past few years, UK Athletics has made a leap forward into that "increasingly modern age", launching this blog, Cat Scratches; developing the UK Athletics Interactive site; giving fans unprecedented access to photo and video content; and prioritizing social media. Above all else, the redesign of the website was undertaken to emphasize that new content.
As with anything new, it will take some time to become accustomed to the new look and feel of the website, so here is a guide to some of the major changes: Home page interface - This will be the first thing visitors notice when navigating to the new home page. The media wall featuring the top stories in UK Athletics now features larger photos and videos and a tabbed view that allows readers to see the latest video, blog and photo content without leaving the home page. On the blog tab, there is even a column displaying the latest feature articles posted on Cat Scratches. Team-specific home page interface - The new home pages for each of UK's 22 varsity sports work just the same as the overall UKathletics.com home page with tabs for top stories and video, blog and photo content. The difference will be that only content for the corresponding sport will be shown on the page. Team-specific menu navigation - Under the old design, readers would have to look around the page to find relevant links to rosters, statistics, news, archives, schedules and more. In the new design, those links are located at the top menu for each sport. Social media a focus - Recognizing how often fans now turn to social media for the latest news on their favorite teams, Facebook, Twitter and other outlets have been integrated into the redesign. On all team pages, there are three buttons linking to that team's Interactive site, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Additionally, "Social Media" has a spot all to itself on the top menu navigation with links to Facebook and Twitter accounts for all UK teams. There is also a page exclusively dedicated to social media that features a directory of all coaches and teams using social media platforms.
Senior Kelsey Hunyadi scored both the Wildcats' goals in a 2-0 victory at Mississippi State. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics)
Coming to the end of their SEC slate, Jon Lipsitz and the Kentucky women's soccer team traveled to Starkville, Miss., and picked up a big 2-0 win over Mississippi State. Senior Kelsey Hunyadi scored both the Wildcats' goals, marking the third multi-goal game of her career.
The victory was so crucial because of the race for the conference tournament going on in the SEC. Coming into the match, UK was seventh in the standings with MSU in eighth, meaning the Cats and Dogs were fighting for the final two spots in the tournament. The win moves UK to 5-4 in SEC play, tied with Tennessee in sixth and the Cats own a tiebreaker over the Lady Vols.
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, UK's final two opponents of the regular season, are currently tied for last place. Wins over both would give UK a 7-4 record in conference and could position the Cats to be seeded high in Orange Beach, Ala., the site of the SEC Tournament.
Sunday's game against Ole Miss is the final home date of the season for the Cats. UK will be holding Senior Day festivities honoring Hunyadi, Kiondra McGee and Jenna Goblirsch. Come out to the UK Soccer Complex for the 1 p.m. game to send off the seniors and see the Cats continue their charge for the post-season.
Washaun Ealey will be going for a unique accomplishment this Saturday against Kentucky--to rush for more than 100 yards against the Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium in back-to-back years.
Ealey ran for 157 yards and five touchdowns last fall in Georgia's win here and having transferred to Jacksonville State of the FCS, he's back for a return engagement.
"He was a little beat up coming out of preseason camp. I really thought last week at Austin Peay, he showed maybe what he was like at Georgia for the first time," JSU radio voice Mike Parris said on "The Leach Report" radio show yesterday. "He'll have to have a big game for us to have a chance on Saturday."
Parris says this was thought to be veteran coach Jack Crowe's most talented team of his 12 at JSU but some injuries have led the Gamecocks to count more heavily on some younger players. One of them is quarterback Coty Blanchard, who was pressed into service when the starter was lost for the season in the first quarter of the first game.
Parris says some SEC schools recruited Blanchard as a defensive back but he came to JSU because he wanted to play quarterback--and he wanted to double as a baseball player, a sport for which he was recruited by Mississippi State.
Kentucky is loaded for a national championship run this winter, but John Calipari's team, like every other in the game, has a few questions to answer. For SportingNews.com college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy, one of those questions is the 5-spot.
Anthony Davis is wonderfully talented but DeCourcy wonders how he'll match up with other big men who bring more bulk to the court.
"He doesn't look like a typical college center. He's very thin. He looks a little bit like Sam Bowie but there aren't a lot of guys like that playing center now, so I don't know what direction Cal goes at that spot," said DeCourcy. "I think that's going to be the most fascinating thing to watch. They certainly have multiple options there but no ideal option. Last year, they had Kanter. It didn't work out but then they put Josh (Harrelson) in there and they were able to get him to be okay for awhile and then terrific when he needed to be."
The spotlight on a Kentucky basketball player can be intense and Davis already had a feel for that even before Big Blue Madness.
"When I came on a visit, Doron (Lamb), Darius (Miller), they all told me how it was going to be," Davis said. "Sometimes. But sometimes it gets overwhelming. Sometimes you just want to go hang out without being bothered."
We'll get our first extended look at Calipari's team under game conditions next week in the annual Blue-White game. And that means we could get a glimpse of that much-talked about hook shot of Kyle Wiltjer's.
"It came straight from my father. He's taught me since I was in the fourth grade, just doing these George Mikan drills," Wiltjer explained. "I thought they (the drills) were stupid but I'm really fortunate to have him in my life and teaching me about the game."
Miller says he was "surprised" the first time he saw Wiltjer's hook shot but the senior now has come to appreciate that Wiltjer is "really good around the basket."
The open date on the schedule gave Joker Phillips and his staff time to take an extended look at some of their younger players and the coach says a few of them had eye-catching performances in last Thursday's scrimmage.
On his radio show on the UK-IMG sports network Monday night, Phillips singled out linebackers Tim Patterson and Demarius Rancifer plus defensive linemen Farrington Huguenin.
Junior CoShik Williams is slated to back up Raymond Sanders at running back. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Once it was announced that leading rusher Josh Clemons had gone down for the season after undergoing knee surgery, the questions about who would step up immediately followed.
Of course, sophomore Raymond Sanders will step back into a starting role, but with the way Joker Phillips likes to keep his backs fresh and change up the pace by splitting carries, whoever earns the backup role will have plenty to do on offense.
With highly touted freshmen like Brandon Gainer and Marcus Caffey on the roster, speculation turned to the youngsters. Well, a week and half removed from Clemons' surgery, the freshmen have impressed, but there's another name that just keeps popping up as Kentucky prepares for Saturday's game against Jacksonville State: CoShik Williams.
"I really like what we've seen out of CoShik," Phillips said. "He's holding (the younger backs) off."
Williams may lack the pedigree of some of his younger counterparts, but he makes up for it in other ways. He arrived at Kentucky as a walk-on in 2008 with little fanfare and a slight frame. After redshirting his first year, the 5-foot-9, 178-pounder found his way onto the field in his very first game, carrying 10 times for 39 yards against Miami (Oh.).
Really, that's been the story of his whole career. When projections are made about the future of the running back position, Williams seems to be one of the last names mentioned, but he continually works his way into the mix with a tough running style that belies his small stature.
And when Williams has gotten opportunities, he's thrived.
The only other game over his first two seasons he got double-digit carries was against Charleston Southern when he toted the ball 13 times for 95 yards and three touchdowns. This season, his first opportunity came against Louisville when the Cats were trying to make a late-game comeback. He tallied 44 total yards, all in the second half, as UK nearly rallied to send the game to overtime.
Williams has learned there is no way to predict when his chances will come, so he never allows himself to lose focus.
"I just always practice hard, work out hard and try to stay focused in the film room," Williams said. "There's no telling when it will be my time so I always keep the mentality of going hard in practice."
His size and his former walk-on status has led some to overlook him throughout his career, but Williams pays no attention to anyone who calls him an "underdog", electing to put his head down and work instead.
"I just keep going," Williams said. "You have to block some of that stuff out and be ready when your time comes."
His intensity, tough running style and familiarity with the playbook have allowed him to stand out over the past two weeks and the coaches aren't the only ones who are taking notice. As the starter, Sanders knows having a bruising backup like Williams can only help him and has been thrilled to see what Williams has done on the practice field.
"He's coming out and working hard, finishing runs and pushing everyone," Sanders said. "Our goal is get through tackles and finish runs and he's doing a great job of that. He comes out and gives 100-percent every play."
Since Sanders returned from a knee injury a couple weeks ago, he has taken it upon himself to ramp up his team's intensity but also inject a sense of fun back into the game. With the Cats' struggles as a unit, it's no surprise that things have tightened up in practice, but Williams has joined in with Sanders in trying to make football a game again.
"When the team's not having things go their way, people get down on themselves so what we're trying to do right now is have fun," Williams said. "We've been out there having fun, smiling and laughing with each other."
Kentucky has made the most of a bye week before Saturday's matchup with Jacksonville State. UK has taken the opportunity to rest, get healthy and improve, but the Wildcats are now ready to take the field again.
"Two weeks ago we talked about needing the open date and looking forward to it," head coach Joker Phillips said after practice Thursday. "Now after the two weeks, we're ready to play."
It has been even longer since UK has taken the field in front of its home fans. The Cats were on the road at South Carolina and Louisiana State before the bye week and have not played in Commonwealth Stadium since losing to Florida on Sept 24.
"We're anxious to getting out on the field in front of our fans," Phillips said. "We've been away from them the last three weeks. We think we got better and we're looking forward to seeing how much we improved."
Phillips also clarified the availability of junior defensive end Collins Ukwu. Ukwu has been out with a knee injury and was cleared to play yesterday, but it was not announced whether he would play. After Phillips saw Ukwu get in more work during practice today, he was comfortable saying he would play, though he may not start."
"It's not a question, he's definitely going to play," Phillips said. "He got even more reps today in a team setting. Yesterday was more individual."
The top two teams in the 2011-12 Preseason Coaches Poll, UK and UNC, met in last season's Elite Eight. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
USA Today and ESPN released their Preseason Coaches Poll on Thursday and John Calipari's highly touted 2011-12 team came in at No. 2 behind only North Carolina, whom Kentucky defeated to reach the Final Four last season. UNC received 30-of-31 first place votes with the Cats getting the other. The ranking is UK's highest in the preseason since UK was No. 1 in 1995-96.
UK and UNC will face off against one another on Dec. 3 in Rupp Arena in the most talked about non-conference matchup of the season. The game could feature the nation's top-ranked teams at that point and unprecedented combined NBA talent.
Three fellow Southeastern Conference members were ranked in the top-17, with Vanderbilt checking in at No. 7, Florida at No. 10 and Alabama at No. 17. Two of UK's other non-conference opponents are in the top-25 as well: Louisville at No. 8 and Kansas at No. 13.
Here is the complete poll with first place votes in parentheses and UK opponents in italics:
Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart talked about fan feedback Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart sent a series of four tweets this afternoon thanking fans for their continued support and reaffirming the athletic department's commitment to taking feedback from the Big Blue Nation into account:
"I haven't been active on Twitter lately but I wanted to remind #BBN how much we appreciate having the most passionate fans in the nation," Barnhart tweeted. "It never ceases to amaze me how much you care about our programs and we greatly value the feedback you give us. We answer or address as much of your constructive feedback as possible and I will ensure that we will continue to do so. We are striving for greatness and you can help us by supporting our student-athletes, coaches and staff as you always have. #WeAreUK"
First, he sat down with UK baseball head coach Gary Henderson for a series of questions and answers. In it, Henderson talked about the fall, playing in the nation's toughest conference and some of his players' success in summer leagues. Make sure to read the full Q&A, but here are a couple highlights:
SEC Digital Network: What do you believe your strengths of your team this upcoming year?
Gary Henderson: "I think it's early, but I'm really hopeful that infield defense and depth on the mound are going to be some things that we can rely on. We're going to hit again, that part's pretty clear. We knew that coming in that we were going to have another good offensive club. How good, you don't know; just exactly how well balanced you're going to be, you don't know, because some of the younger guys have got to prove it first. We'll be another good offensive club, as are most clubs in our league and then it comes down to how well you play infield defense and how much pitching depth you have. It always comes down to that."
SEC Digital Network: What do you feel are the unique strengths of the University of Kentucky that benefit your baseball program? Gary Henderson: "Kids love to go to school here. Lexington is a great town; we would argue that it's the best town in the league and there are some people that would agree with us. It's a great place to go to school. The academic experience that our kids have here on campus is second to none. We love the town. [Athletics director] Mitch's [Barnhart] commitment to an overall department is fantastic and there is a tremendous sense of community and a tremendous sense of being a Wildcat on campus."
SEC Digital Network: How much does the support that you receive from your administration help your program moving forward?
Tim Garrison: "The support from our administration is unparalleled from what I've seen and from what I've heard from talking to other people. When you've got our athletic director and associate athletic directors coming into the gym to watch workouts, and come to our competitions, they are willing to give us everything we need to be successful and they've said that. The support is unreal."
SEC Digital Network: You still have a few months before your season begins in January, but how much excitement do you sense there is on your team for the start of competition?
Tim Garrison: "I don't think they know how excited they should be right now because they're in the grind, they're in the trenches of working hard. They're tired, they're sore and I think they've got a little bit of blinders on at this point because, right now, they're all those things and they don't see the product. They don't see the finish line just yet, which is great. The thing is, we're throwing curve balls at them all the time; they're going to be so ready for competition that I really think them understanding exactly where we're headed and what we're going to do is huge. When they get in a facility where there's 10,000 people watching and there's pressure and we're trying to qualify for something or beat a team that just opened the door for us, we're going to be able to do that. We're going to be able to walk right through that door."
Student tickets to UK's two exhibition games and the first game of the regular season are now available to the general public. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Beginning on Wednesday morning, the general public is able to buy unclaimed student tickets to men's basketball's two exhibition games and the season opener against Marist. Tickets can be purchased either at the UK ticket office at Memorial Coliseum or online at Ticketmaster.
The two exhibitions are Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. against Transylvania and Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. against Morehouse. The season-opening game against Marist is on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.
UK travels to play No. 10 Indiana after playing its best match of the season against Tulsa last Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Tomorrow, Cat Scratches will be traveling with the men's soccer team for the Wildcats' game against the No. 10 Indiana Hoosiers (8-3-2) in Bloomington, Ind. Brent Ingram and I will have a live blog of the action beginning a few minutes before Wednesday's 7 p.m. ET kickoff. IU is arguably the most tradition-rich soccer school in the nation, so seeing their facilities, team and fan support should be very interesting.
The match is UK's final non-conference affair of the season, so it won't affect UK's late-season run at making the Conference USA Tournament. However, a win would significantly strengthen the Cats' NCAA Tournament resume and would build confidence entering UK's crucial three-match C-USA stretch to close the regular season.
Here are five storylines to watch entering Wednesday's game:
1. UK looking to sustain offensive momentum - UK started the season on an offensive tear and were ranked second in the nation in goals scored for much of the early portion of 2011. However, the Cats went through a three-match stretch that saw them struggle mightily to put the ball in the goal. After scoring a goal in the 14th minute against UCF, UK did not score the rest of that match or the following two against Florida International and Marshall. The Cats lost all three matches and didn't score for the first 36 minutes of their next match against UAB.
Since that 331-minute scoreless streak, the UK offense has returned to form and then some. Ian Collins' team scored two goals in the final 24 minutes against UAB and posted three in the following match against Tulsa. Having scored five goals in just over 114 minutes, UK will be looking to keep its offense going.
UK will be tested by a stingy IU defense that has allowed just 0.85 goals per game, including six shutouts. The Hoosiers have outscored its opponents 24-11 on the year, but have only narrowly outshot their opponents. IU has just a 66-65 edge in shots on goal for the season, but goalkeeper Luis Soffner has saved 82.5-percent of the shots that have come his way.
What that tells me is UK's dynamic offense led by Matt Lodge and Tyler Riggs should be able to create chances. The question will be whether they are quality chances and whether they can beat the 6-foot-4 Soffner in goal.
2. Cats well rested - A major reason for UK's offensive struggles of a couple weeks ago was the brutal schedule the team had played. Over 23 days, UK played eight games spread across California, South Carolina, Nebraska, Kentucky and Florida. By the end of it, the Cats couldn't help but lose a step. Once they were finally able to settle in at home for a few days, the offense returned.
Now, for the first time since the season started in August, UK will have had an entire week without a game when the match kicks off tomorrow. Bloomington is a relatively quick drive from Lexington, so UK should be rested and ready on Wednesday, especially since Collins has mandated the team take some time off from training over the last week. IU is a quality opponent and makes for a difficult game, but the fact the Cats are well rested means they will be able to give it their best shot.
3. Weather to be a factor - Looking up the forecast tomorrow, the Cats and Hoosiers will be playing in conditions bordering on frigid. The temperature will be in the mid-40's with the wind chill barely climbing out of the 30's. There is a 70-percent chance of rain and the wind will be whipping at close to 20 miles an hour. The weather will make ball control difficult, but will also create opportunities for the offense. Defenders trying to react to the ball could have trouble getting their feet and it won't be easy for keepers to hold on to saves.
4. IU boasts tough home field - UK already dealt with one of the nation's best home environments this season in a trip to Creighton, but Bill Armstrong Stadium, IU's home, is an extremely tough place to play as well. In five home games this season, an average of over 2,800 fans has packed the venue. However, two of the Hoosiers' three losses this season have come at home so it can be done. 5. UK needs top defensive form - UK's three-goal output against Tulsa last week was certainly good to see, but it was the Wildcats' defensive performance that caused Collins to call the game the Cats' best performance of the season. Goalkeeper Tyler Beadle made four saves and only a disputed penalty call in the 87th minute ruined his clean sheet.
Dylan Asher's return from injury has gone a long way in steadying the UK defense and the team effort the Cats turned in last Wednesday will need to be duplicated.
Senior forward Kelsey Hunyadi ranks sixth in the SEC with 24 points in 2011. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics)
Forward Kelsey Hunyadi has had a dazzling senior season. She has helped the Wildcats to an 11-5-0 record in 2011, leading the team with eight goals and eight assists. Her 24 total points rank sixth among all players in the SEC, establishing her as one of the conference's top players.
Now, it's not only the statistics that proclaim Hunyadi among the SEC's elite. TopDrawerSoccer.com has named the top 20 players in each conference throughout the nation and Hunyadi is rated as the league's 10th best player, seventh best in the SEC's Eastern Division.
Hunyadi and the Wildcats dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker on Sunday against the Georgia Bulldogs on Sunday, but they return to action Thursday night in Starkville, Miss., against Mississippi State. On Sunday, Hunyadi will be honored along with two classmates on Senior Day before the final home game of the season against Ole Miss.
John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats are in the midst of the first full week of practice of the 2011-12 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats hit the court hard this weekend with two-a-days on both Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, the team had just one afternoon practice, but it was no reprieve. UK went through an intense two-hour, 10-minute practice that focused primarily on defense.
Most of Kentucky's practices before Big Blue Madness were offensively oriented, but Calipari is really beginning to instill the principles that have made his teams among the best in the nation on defense now that he has the full 20 hours of allotted practice time available to him.
- The session, Calipari said, is shorter than the ones most teams throughout the nation are going through at this point. The reason is that there are so few moments when the players are not running at full speed. If Calipari notices one of his guys loafing, he won't hesitate to send them to the sideline and the most frequent instruction from the coaching staff is "run". Not only are these players learning what it means to play for Calipari, they are also getting in shape.
- One thing that really jumps off the page when watching Calipari run a practice is the overall competitiveness he demands. There isn't a drill the Cats run when they aren't competing with one another and, most of the time, winning and losing has consequences. Whether it's a five-minute shooting drill, a two-on-one fast full court drill or a tip drill, Calipari is demanding his players value winning.
- In that aforementioned five-minute shooting drill, Darius Miller narrowly emerged victorious. He drained 54 3-pointers while Doron Lamb had 52.
- Outside of competitiveness, the thing Calipari probably demands most is enthusiasm. In fact, there was one drill after which he specifically told players to chest bump. "This should be the happiest time in your day," Calipari said of practice. "It's mine." From that point forward, there was a noticeable spike in chatter and clapping amongst the team.
- Early in Monday's session, the team worked on a few individual drills designed to improve footwork, but most of the drills from that point on were all about team defense. One, in particular, stands out. The team split up into units of four and each took turns rotating as the ball was thrown around the perimeter. In it, the Cats had to stay in a defensive stance for 30 seconds. The longest they'll have to stay in a stance in a game is about 20 seconds, but having to do so for longer is solid mental and physical preparation.
- Within that team defensive approach, Calipari is really hammering home the point that every player is defending the ball. In man-to-man defense, players can get caught up in focusing on the man they're assigned, but that's not acceptable to Calipari. He is emphasizing stunting and help defense constantly and the team is learning quickly.
- Throughout practice, my eyes continually drifted to the matchup between Darius Miller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The two are matched up with one another in nearly everything they do and they clearly relish challenging each other. Outside of playing the same position and being almost exactly the same size, Calipari has a reason for matching them up. As a senior, Miller has a lot to teach Kidd-Gilchrist. Miller has seen most everything throughout his career and has tricks up his sleeve that Kidd-Gilchrist never dealt with in high school. Kidd-Gilchrist, on the other hand, has a reputation for tireless effort and consistency and the fact that Miller has to cope with those things every day will make him a better player.
- There was one exchange in particular that highlighted just how good Miller and Kidd-Gilchrist are for one another. In a full court drill, Kidd-Gilchrist played excellent defense to prevent an easy layup, but Miller backed him down and put in a beautiful bank shot. "That's two ballers right there," Calipari said, praising both. Kidd-Gilchrist's high level of play brought the best out of Miller and Kidd-Gilchrist learned the lesson that great offense beats great defense at times.
- Calipari's quote about Terrence Jones when he said "the light went on" for him has gotten a lot play this pre-season. Seeing Jones on the floor it's clear why Calipari said it. Jones has added bulk while also seeming to actually gain some bounce. He had a couple plays where he looked like he would need to shoot a tough layup, but dunked instead. Jones led the team in plays that made Calipari shake his head in disbelief (in a positive way), including one spin move and dunk on Marquis Teague that could not be properly described in words. Wow.
- As for Teague, he looks the part of a Calipari point guard. Physically, he is more mature than John Wall or Brandon Knight and has the ability to penetrate at will. In fact, Calipari singled out Teague for praise every time he penetrated, even if it resulted in a mistake. He wants Teague to attack at every juncture and Teague appears poised to oblige.
- One thing Teague didn't do so well was hit the deck in hustle drills. For about five minutes, Calipari had the team practice drawing charges and diving to the floor for loose balls. Recalling moments when the UK faithful would erupt at a dive by DeAndre Liggins, Calipari said, "When you dive in Rupp Arena, they go bonkers." It wasn't that Teague didn't try his hardest, it was just that he couldn't quite figure out Calipari's command to slide on his back to avoid injury. A few awkward moments and laughter ensued.
- In the many defensive drills the Cats went through today, footwork was a major focus. Calipari is simply not willing to accept any laziness or cheating in terms of footwork in any drill.
- Jon Hood may be unable to play at this point due to reconstructive knee surgery, but don't tell him or anyone else he isn't a part of this team. He's dressed in practice gear and is standing next to assistant coach John Robic throughout practice. He constantly shouts encouragement and is involved in any drills he can be, whether as a passer or rebounder.
- Watching Calipari interact and coach this bunch, it's clear just how much he likes this year's team. In one drill, he made the point that almost every player who gets his hands on the ball is a threat, which makes this team very dangerous. Additionally, every guy can beat the opponent in multiple ways. Miller can hit a contested three, make a floater or post up. Anthony Davis is just as likely to score on an alley oop, a three, a put back or on the bounce. Kyle Wiltjer can shoot, post up or run pick and roll. I could go on, but I can already hear opposing coaches groaning.
- On the lighter side, I would very much enjoy hearing a John Calipari soundboard with all the different voices and noises he makes throughout practice. Sometimes he talks in a high-pitched voice, sometimes low-pitched. Sometimes he does imitations and other times he makes his own sound effects. He may not even be trying, but he's quite entertaining.
7. Anthony Davis (freshman forward, Kentucky). Not sure there's anyone more versatile in the nation and that's why many NBA types have him pegged as the top overall pick in 2012.
11. Terrence Jones (sophomore forward, Kentucky). What's it tell you about Jones that he was humbled, accepts his faults, is on his way up ... and is still this high on the list? If he can learn to go right with consistency, look OUT.
16. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (freshman forward, Kentucky). Do-it-all freshman could be a steadying influence for star-studded Wildcats.
48. Marquis Teague (freshman guard, Kentucky). A mix of the past two point guards that came through Lexington: Brandon Knight and John Wall. He's a pure point guard who is a blur.
69. Doron Lamb (sophomore guard, Kentucky). The freshmen will get most of the attention, but Lamb's shooting will be a key for the Wildcats.
Joker Phillips spoke to the media after UK's practice on Tuesday in preparation for a weekend matchup with Jacksonville State. Phillips was pleased with the team's effort on the day and is excited about seeing his team on the field for the first time in two weeks.
"We had a good practice," Phillips said. "I'm looking forward to watching them play to see how much improvement we've made."
Phillips, though, knows perceived improvement on the practice field means only so much.
"It doesn't matter how much we've improved out here," Phillips said. "It only matters on Saturday."
It has been nearly a month since UK played a home game and longer since the Cats have picked up a win. With those two factors at play, Phillips expects to see a motivated bunch take the field on Saturday.
"We haven't been home in a while," Phillips said. "We haven't won in a while. I expect them to come out with fire ready to play."
Rifle head coach Harry Mullins talks to Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart. (UK Athletics)
Sean Cartell of the SEC Digital Network, a University of Kentucky alumnus, was in Lexington last week to take in Big Blue Madness. While he was here, he spent some time around Harry Mullins, the head coach of UK rifle, the reigning NCAA championship program. Cartell interviewed Mullins and spent some time on the range learning how to shoot.
At this link, Cartell has a first person account of experience on the range and a question and answer with Mullins that addresses winning the school's first national title, some of the basics of rifle and how the sport has developed at UK over the years.
It's back to business for Mullins as his team begins pursuit of its second consecutive national title. His teams have always been in relentless pursuit of improvement and, just because the Wildcats now have an NCAA Title to their credit, this year will be no different.
"I have tasked this team right out of the gates," Mullins said. "If they want to be the NCAA Champions, then they have to win in 2011-12."
Knowing what I know about Mullins, he will have his team ready. They will spend their afternoons perfecting their performances, but more than that, they will spend their college experiences learning how to be successful in life.
Having spent just an hour on the range last Friday, it will nonetheless go down as one of the most memorable experiences I have had during my time in college athletics. The fact that the coaching staff of the national champion Wildcats spent their time helping me understand their sport and letting me try it myself, speaks to the experience that Mullins has created for countless student athletes over the years.
Though Kentucky has just recently claimed the NCAA Championship, Mullins has been creating champions in life for more than 25 years. Sometimes people are lucky enough to find their true calling and where they can do the most good for others.
It can be hard to keep up with everything going on in the University of Kentucky's 22 varsity sports. With that in mind, we will highlight the best from around Kentucky sports each week. We'll recognize the best performances from Wildcat teams and players, we'll show you the coolest videos and photos that you may have missed and we'll mix in some new stuff along the way. Here are your award winners for this week:
Team of the week - Men's soccer turns in best performance of season
Sitting at 0-4 in conference play, Ian Collins and the men's soccer team needed to get in the win column badly. With their Conference USA Tournament and NCAA Tournament future at stake, the Cats played their best match of the season against rival Tulsa en route to a crucial 3-1 victory. Charles Pettys had the first two-goal game of his UK career and Josh Mulvany added another goal. It was also a stalwart defensive effort as Tulsa's only goal came on a disputed penalty call.
UK's explosive offensive had been stymied of late, but forward Matt Lodge led the way to an explosion against Tulsa. Although he didn't score a goal, Lodge was the offensive star. He tied a school record with three assists, moving him into second place all-time on the single season assist list with 10 so far in 2011.
Player of the week - Luis Orta posts yet another top-10 finish
There hasn't been a single UK student-athlete this fall who has been more consistent than junior cross country runner Luis Orta. The Venezuela native finished in fifth place at the Panorama Farms Invitational this weekend, marking his fourth top 10 finish in as many races in 2011. His strong finish paced the Cats to fourth place as a team in the race and has already been named SEC Men's Runner of the Week three times in 2011. Cross country has a couple weeks off before post-season meets begin with the SEC Championships on Oct. 31. Game of the week - Volleyball upends No. 18 Tennessee in thriller
It's difficult to imagine a midseason volleyball clash meaning more than last Wednesday's match between then-No. 25 UK and No. 18 Tennessee. First place in the Southeastern Conference standings was at stake and ESPNU was broadcasting the match to a national television audience. Adding fuel to the fire was a raucous crowd participating in a "White out" and the fact that UK hadn't beaten the rival Lady Vols in five tries.
Safe to say, Craig Skinner's team responded to the pressure. In a heart-stopping five-set victory, the Cats emerged victorious and pulled into a tie for first in the SEC. In an evenly-matched affair, Whitney Billings filled the stat sheet. The sophomore had 15 kills at a .367 hitting clip along with six blocks and eight digs. Senior Becky Pavan had a team-high 16 kills.
Play of the week - Horner scores golden goal in double OT
With women's soccer teams in the SEC jockeying for position in the conference tournament in Orange Beach, Ala., UK hosted No. 14 Tennessee on Friday in a key match. The Cats played exceptionally well, outshooting Tennessee 22-11, but could not find a way to net a goal. It was a scoreless tie in double overtime when Kelsey Hunyadi found Natalie Horner in the right side of the box. Horner dribbled past a defender and shot into the top of the net for the game-winning goal. Go to the 30-second mark of the video above to see the goal.
Photo of the week - Silhouette shot of Matthew Mitchell as Michael Jackson
UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell was the hit of Big Blue Madness, introducing himself to fans with a spot on impression of Michael Jackson. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Alumnus/alumna of the week - Molly Johnson stars for Team USA in Pan American Games
A couple weeks ago, it was announced that former star UK shortstop and current softball assistant coach Molly Johnson would play for Team USA in the 2011 Pan American Games. Last week, the team played a few exhibitions to prepare for the tournament and Johnson earned a starting spot. The Americans played their opener in tournament play on Monday, earning a 10-0 win over Venezuela, and Johnson was at the middle of it all. She was 3-for-3 at the plate, including two doubles and four RBI.
Team USA plays a pair of games on Tuesday, facing off against the Dominican Republic at 2 p.m. ET and tournament host Mexico at 9 p.m.
Who will make up the starting five for this Kentucky basketball team?
It made for a great summer topic on my radio show, because the discussion focused on where senior Darius Miller fit into the mix. Marquis Teague figured to start because he's the point guard and Anthony Davis seemed like safe bet because of his size. Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb seemingly had to be sure things because they might well be the top two scorers but who would be the fifth starter? Would it be Miller, the senior, or highly-touted freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
Truth be told, the key question will be "who finishes the games" for Kentucky but whether you're talking about the starting five or the finishing five, it's hard for me to imagine Miller not being a part of it either way.
How does feel about the battle for minutes on such a talent-laden team?
"You should come here expecting that. It makes us better as a team," he said.
Do you ever envy players at other programs that don't have to compete as hard to get their minutes?
"I feel like they're rather be in my situation," Miller answered.
On a team built on the concept of versatility, Miller might be the most versatile of all. He's a 40-plus percent three-point shooter, has a great "floater" when he takes his man off the dribble and remember last year's Louisville game when he became a key factor in the UK offense as a postup player? Coach John Calipari's even mentioned Miller as a possible option at point guard if needed and Miller is fully capable of guarding anything from a point guard to an opposing center.
"We have a lot of versatile guys," said the senior from Maysville, KY. "We don't have any true, dominant post players. We haven't figured out how we're going to play yet."
One thing of which Miller is certain--Kentucky is much one of the "hunted" teams this season.
"I just feel like we're going to have a target on our backs. It should be fun. I think the guys have a personality where they're going to be ready for it," he observed. "We have a lot of competitive people on the team. And coach Cal is doing a great job of getting us ready for how it's going to be.
"This is a good group of guys," Miller added. "They didn't really come in with egos. They're good teammates and they listen to everybody."
Miller says he can remember his freshman year "like it was yesterday," adding that he's really enjoyed his time at UK. But how sweet would it be to get a national championship ring on the way out the door?
To make that happen, Miller will be counted on for not only his production on the court but also his leadership off of it. Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy sat in on a discussion by Miller about that topic at last week's Media Day and DeCourcy came away impressed with what he heard.
"I thought Darius really sounded like a leader. Cal said different players will take the leadership role at different times and I don't buy that. He's a Kentucky kid and he's got great presense and he's become a terrific player. I have little doubt that he's ready to lead this team," DeCourcy noted. "You don't always have to be the best player to be that guy but you have to have composure and a stately manner about you and I think he'll have that.
I think he's ready to do it. I've always liked him but I was really impressed with him. I think this team needs that because Doron and Terrence are really soft-spoken kids. And you've got a group of freshmen that really needs leading," said DeCourcy. And he took particular note of a comment that indicated Miller's self-awareness when it came to leadership.
"He said 'we allowed them to find their way (last year) and that wasn't the best way. The veterans need to stand up here and do it right'," DeCourcy recalled, adding "I think that recognition is a big part of being a leader."
Miller said he's ready to be more vocal and more assertive.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Oct. 16:
Men's golf: Joseph Barr
Junior Joseph Barr carded a career-best round of 66 (-5) in the first round of the Bearcat Invitational on Oct. 10.
Barr followed up his first round 66 with a 2-under par 69 in the second round to hold the lead entering the tournament's final round.
Barr finished the tournament in a tie for third, his best result of the season thus far, and helped lead Kentucky to a second-place finish.
Volleyball: Whitney Billings
Sophomore Whitney Billings continued her dynamic play in Southeastern Conference action. Billings was the difference maker in UK's upset of No. 18 Tennessee - its first loss of the SEC schedule. Billings struck for 15 kills, the highest total this season, on a sizzling .367 hitting percentage. She was the only UK attacker to post an above .350 attacking percentage in the victory. Billings' all-around play continues as she also notched a squad-high six blocks and added four assists in the win. Against Mississippi State she totaled her 10th match of the season with 10 or more scoops with 14 digs in the three-set match for an average of 4.67 scoops per stanza. Furthermore, Billings was served at 24 times for the week and she did not commit an error.
Women's soccer: Natalie Horner
Natalie Horner netted the golden-goal in Kentucky's 1-0 double-overtime upset of 14th ranked Tennessee Friday night. It was Horner's second goal of the season and her first in conference play.
Men's soccer: Matt Lodge
Junior forward Matt Lodge shined in a shellacking of UK rival Tulsa on Wednesday, assisting on a school-record three goals in the 3-1 win over the Golden Hurricane ... Lodge's three assists are the most in a single-game in school annals, marking the fourth time in UK history a player has accomplished that feat and the first since Barry Rice in 2006 ... Now owns 10 assists on the year, the second-most assists in UK single-season history, just three shy of Jamal Shteiwi's school-best 13 in 2003 ... Has added seven goals and 62 shots, with his shot total ranking as the second-most shots in UK single-season history ... 16 games deep into his junior season, Loge owns 17 goals and 15 assists (49 points), ranking among the career leaders in points (seventh), goals (eighth), assists (fifth), shots (137; fifth) and game-winning goals (six; seventh) ... With 24 points in 2011, Lodge ranks fifth in UK single-season history ...A Rossington, England, native and a 2009 Freshman All-America honoree, Lodge ranks among the C-USA leaders in shots (first, 62), points (fourth, 24), points per game (sixth, 1.50), goals (sixth, 7) and assists (first, 10).
Volleyball: Jackie Napper
Freshman Jackie Napper has been the epitome of consistency for the Wildcats with seven or more digs in six consecutive matches for the Louisville, Ky., product. Napper put together one of her best performances of the season in the upset victory over No. 18 Tennessee. Napper charted eight scoops, but it was her demeanor on the receiving end of serves that helped propel UK to the win. Napper was served at an astounding 42 times in the match and did not make a single error. Napper then went on to post seven scoops in three sets of action, for 2.33 scoops per set, well above her season average.
Cross country: Luis Orta
Luis Orta earned his fourth top-10 finish in as many races this season.
The junior from Caracas, Venezuela finished in fifth at the Panorama Farms Invitational, crossing the finish line at the 8,000-meter race in 24:29.74.
Orta has led UK in every race this season and has been named Southeastern Conference Men's Runner of the Week three times already.
Men's soccer: Charles Pettys
Junior midfielder Charles Pettys notched his first career two-goal game, in leading UK to a 3-1 beatdown of Conference USA powerhouse Tulsa on Wednesday ... Pettys notched both of UK's two goals to start of the game, getting his first in the 13th minute and adding his second in the 27th frame ... On the year, Pettys owns three goals and seven assists, ranking fourth in the league in assists and ninth in the conference in points (13) ... Pettys' first career two-goal game marked the 57th all-time two-goal outing from a UK player in program history ... In his two-year UK career, Pettys - a native of Los Angeles, Calif. - has played in 29 games with 20 starts, posting four goals and eight assists.
Women's soccer: Kayla Price
Freshman Kayla Price notched her fifth shutout of the season in the upset of Tennessee. She currently second among all-time UK freshmen in shutouts and her 1.19 GAA is the third lowest among freshmen in program history.
Women's tennis: Jessica Stiles and Khristina Blajkevitch
Junior Jessica Stiles and sophomore Khristina Blajkevitch have paired up for doubles play at the USTA/ITA Women's Tennis Ohio Valley Regional's and have yet to lose a match. Their impressive play has earned them a spot in the semi-finals in the main draw.
Jake Lewellen was honored on Monday as a member of the Allstate/AFCA Good Works team. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Junior defensive end Jake Lewellen thought he was coming to this week's press luncheon to talk to the media about Kentucky football and an upcoming game against Jacksonville State. Instead, he walked into a celebration honoring the fact he was named to the Allstate/AFCA Good Works Team for the extensive work he does in serving the community.
Lewellen's family and a few of the people he has worked with in his service to the community were in attendance as head coach Joker Phillips introduced Lewellen. In recognizing him for his work off the field, Phillips commended Lewellen for embodying the spirit of "Operation Win", the mantra UK football has embraced under Phillips' leadership.
"Jacob stands for what we stand for here at the University of Kentucky and what we call Operation Win," Phillips said, "which is winning in the classroom, winning off the field in the community and doing everything we possibly can do to win on the field."
Lewellen, a Louisville, Ky., native, regularly visits Lexington's Hope Lodge as well as area schools as a guest speaker and reader. He makes mission trips during spring break and works most closely with Athletes in Action, a Christian sports ministry organization, where he leads weekly on campus Bible studies. In fact, Lewellen had to miss one of his Bible studies to attend the press luncheon Monday and many of those he studies with were present to honor him.
Lewellen, to say the least, was surprised.
"This is really not what I expected at all," Lewellen said.
Lewellen credited his family for instilling the values in him that inspire all the work he does and the coaching staff for giving him an opportunity to play on the team and have the platform of a UK football player. After he got over the surprise of the moment, he was thankful to be surrounded by all the people that came to support him even though he doesn't naturally seek attention.
"This is a humbling experience to have friends and family surround you," Lewellen said. "To get the opportunities to what I've done because I play football here has been exciting."
Lewellen certainly appreciates all the recognition showered on him Monday, but he devotes so much of his time to helping others because of his own selflessness.
"It's something I'll continue to do the rest of my life because it's something fun and something that gives back," Lewellen said. "There's nothing like serving the community because seeing smiles on other people's faces is way more important than seeing one on mine."
Volleyball - Kentucky began the week with an upset victory over No. 18 Tennessee in a thrilling five-set match. - The win snapped a five-match losing streak to the Lady Vols and gave UK its unprecedented seventh consecutive season with 17 or more victories. - Junior Ashley Frazier led the offense with 16 kills and a career-high five service aces, while sophomore Whitney Billings continued her balanced play with 15 kills, six blocks and eight digs. Women's soccer - The Wildcats earned a split on the weekend with a 1-0 double-overtime upset of No. 14 Tennessee Friday night, followed by a 2-1 heartbreaking loss against Georgia on Sunday. - The Wildcats' win on Friday was their first win over a ranked opponent since beating 15th ranked Virginia Tech on Sept. 3 last year. - Kelsey Hunyadi assisted on the game-winning goal (scored by Natalie Horner) giving her 24 points on the season on eight goals and eight assists. Her 24 points and eight goals are the most by a Wildcat since 2005 and her eight assists are the most since 2002. - After going winless in their first 10 overtime games in the Jon Lipsitz era, the Wildcats are 3- 0-0 in matches that have gone to overtime this year. - Freshman Kayla Price recorded her fifth shutout of the season Friday night against Tennessee, the second most shutouts by a freshman in program history.
Men's soccer - In the biggest home game of the season for the Kentucky men's soccer team, the Wildcats rode three goals to a 3-1 win over Conference USA power Tulsa on Wednesday. - Kentucky entered the game with Tulsa with its backs against the wall after an 0-4 start to league action. UK responded in the must-win situation with three goals for a 3-0 lead, before Tulsa converted a penalty-kick goal in the 88th minute for the 3-1 margin. UK got two goals from Charles Pettys and the third goal of the year from Josh Mulvany, with Matt Lodge equaling the school-record with three assists. - The Wildcats have been paced in 2011 by an explosive offense that owns 31 goals through 16 games, a year removed from 18 goals in 19 games. UK has averaged 16.3 shots per game and a 108-71 mark in corner kicks. Cross country - The UK men's cross country team, led by junior Luis Orta, earned another top-five finish, coming in fourth at the Panorama Farms Invitational in Charlottesville, Va. The women's cross country team finished in seventh place Friday. - Orta earned his fourth top-10 finish in as many races this season, crossing the finish line of the 8,000-meter race with a time of 24:29.74. - Senior Megan Broderick had the fastest time on the women's team, finishing the 6K race in 23rd with a 22:28.51.
Men's golf - The UK men's golf squad finished in second at the Bearcat Invitational in Hebron, Ky. on Oct. 11. - Held at the Traditions Golf Club, Kentucky was led by juniors Chase Parker and Joseph Barr who each finished in a tie for third overall with a final score of even par. - Barr led the way in the early going for UK, carding an opening round score of 5-under par 66, a career-best, and a second-round score of 69. - The second-place finish is the third-straight top five team finish for the Wildcats. Women's tennis - Four members of the University of Kentucky women's tennis team were selected to compete in the USTA/ITA Women's Tennis Ohio Valley Regional's. - Junior Jessica Stiles and sophomore Khristina Blajkevitch have paired up for doubles play at the event and have yet to lose a match. Their impressive play has earned them a spot in the semi-finals in the main draw. Upcoming schedule
Monday, Oct. 17 Men's golf at Autotrader.com Collegiate Classic (Duluth, Ga.) Women's tennis at ITA Regionals (Memphis, Tenn.)
Tuesday, Oct. 18 Men's golf at Autotradercom Collegiate Classic (Duluth, Ga.) Women's tennis at ITA Regionals (Memphis, Tenn.) Wednesday, Oct. 19 Men's soccer at Indiana - 7:00 p.m. Women's tennis at ITA Regionals (Memphis, Tenn.)
Thursday, Oct. 20 Women's soccer at Mississippi State - 8:00 p.m. Men's tennis at Ohio Valley Region Indoors (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Friday, Oct. 21 Volleyball at Georgia - 7:00 p.m. Men's tennis at Ohio Valley Region Indoors (Knoxville, Tenn.) Rifle hosts Ole Miss Women's golf at SEC/Pac-12 Challenge (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Saturday, Oct. 22 Swimming and diving at Tennessee - 10:00 a.m. Football hosts Jacksonville State - Noon Men's tennis at Ohio Valley Region Indoors (Knoxville, Tenn.) Women's golf at SEC/Pac-12 Challenge (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Sunday, Oct. 23 Women's soccer hosts Ole Miss - 1:00 p.m. Men's soccer at Memphis - 2:00 p.m. Volleyball at Auburn - 2:30 p.m. Rifle hosts Nebraska Men's tennis at Ohio Valley Region Indoors (Knoxville, Tenn.) Women's golf at SEC/Pac-12 Challenge (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Another edition of Big Blue Madness has come and gone and there were plenty of memorable moments. With the pomp and circumstance out of the way, John Calipari and Matthew Mitchell's team can now get down to business. With full in-season practice time now available to them, the men's and women's teams are hitting the courts hard with college hoops season just a few weeks away.
Once basketball does get going in November, one of the busiest times of the college sports season will begin. Fall sports will be wrapping up while winter sports will just be getting going. Things will be even crazier around Kentucky because so many of UK's fall teams are well positioned to reach the post-season, especially volleyball, men's soccer and women's soccer. We'll have a more detailed post-season primer later this week, but here is a quick update on UK's fall sports from the last week:
Jon Lipsitz and the women's soccer team had an extremely eventful weekend, playing two SEC matches that came down to the wire at the UK Soccer Complex. On Friday, the Cats pulled an upset of No. 14 Tennessee with a goal in the 106th minute from Natalie Horner. UK turned around to play another match on Sunday against Georgia. Still regaining their legs from the double overtime win, UK let in an early goal to the Bulldogs before Arin Gilliland netted the equalizer in the 76th minute. With another overtime affair looking inevitable, Alexa Newfield, the SEC's leading scorer, dribbled almost half the length of the field and slid one past UK goalkeeper Kayla Price to break the Cats' hearts. The loss dropped UK to 11-5 on the season, 4-4 in SEC play. The Cats, though, still are in good shape to secure a berth in the SEC Tournament and their high RPI ranking has them very much in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament berth.
UK volleyball won its biggest match of the season on Wednesday of last week, knocking off No. 18 Tennessee in a five-set thriller to pull the Cats into a tie atop the SEC standings. Just two days later, Craig Skinner's bunch traveled to Starkville, Miss., to play the Mississippi State Bulldogs in a match that figured to be very difficult. A part of the university's "Bulldog Madness" event, the match set an attendance record for the school. The Cats couldn't overcome the raucous crowd, falling in straight sets. With 10 matches left in SEC play, the Cats (17-4, 8-2 SEC) are in third place just a game behind Tennessee. Next up are two road games this week against Georgia and Auburn on Friday and Sunday.
Following a 3-1 win over Tulsa last Wednesday in a performance coach Ian Collins called the team's best of the season, men's soccer got a much-needed break this weekend. UK has just four matches left in its regular season, three of which are in conference play. First up, though, is a trip to face Indiana in the final non-conference game of the season on Wednesday. The Hoosiers are among the nation's elite programs and should prove a major test. More importantly, the Cats play three Conference USA matches to finish up the season after the match against IU. At 1-4 in conference play, UK needs a strong finish to make a push for one of six berths in the conference tournament. If UK is able to reach the C-USA tournament, the Cats' strength of schedule could help them make a strong case to be included in the 48-team field for the NCAA Tournament.
Later this morning, I will head over to Joker Phillips' weekly press conference ahead of Saturday's matchup against Jacksonville State. We will have video of Phillips' comments and interviews with selected players as well as reports on the most notable happenings this afternoon.
Eric Lindsey of CoachCal.com described a men's basketball tradition of bestowing a Kentucky football helmet on players who are posterized by teammates for particularly thunderous dunks. This week, there are two prime candidates for the award: freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and CoachCal.com is soliciting votes for whose was better. Incidentally, each victimized the other and below you can see video of both:
There just really is nothing like Big Blue Madness. A combination of ebullient optimism about a season to come, dancing, dunking and pageantry, the event somehow seems to top itself season after season.
The 2011 edition was no different.
There were plenty of memorable moments from the evening, but here are my top five. 1. Hanging a banner
It's been 13 years since a new Final Four or national championship banner has been unveiled in Rupp, but that stretch ended tonight. 2. Mitchell channels MJ
Matthew Mitchell (not Michael Jackson) dances in front of the Rupp Arena crowd at Big Blue Madness. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell didn't do a tongue-wagging dunk like that MJ, but he did break out a white glove a la Michael Jackson.
After his team was introduced, the lights went down and "Billie Jean" played over the speakers. Mitchell took the stage and turned in a dancing effort worthy of the late pop star's legacy. The crowd absolutely ate it up, but there remains one problem: How on earth can Mitchell top himself next year? In 2010, Mitchell famously hit his Dougie to the delight of his team and Big Blue Nation, but he took things to the next level this time around. Needless to say, we're looking forward to seeing what he does next year. 3. Coach Cal's "Kentucky Effect" speech
Calipari gave a "State of the Union" address in his first season and the podium was dusted off again on Friday night. Cal talked at length about how Kentucky is a players-first program with the thousands in attendance giving their rapt attention. Check out the full transcript of his comments.
4. "I'm coming home"
Before Calipari and his team were introduced, the fans who trekked to Rupp got a treat. Nine former Cats currently playing in the NBA (Nazr Mohammed, Tayshaun Prince, Rajon Rondo, Jodie Meeks, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight, Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins) returned to Rupp to the raucous cheers of the fans that supported them through their college careers. Watching the nine NBAers soak in the environment and take pictures, I think they enjoyed returning to Rupp as much as the fans enjoyed seeing them. 5. High hopes reinforced
Coming into Madness, fans of the men's and women's teams had plenty of reasons to be excited about the upcoming season and tonight only solidified those feelings. There's only so much that can be learned from intra-squad scrimmages, but there's no doubting Calipari and Mitchell have talent having watched them play Friday.
Coach Cal's latest group of top-ranked freshmen looks as advertised. Anthony Davis seems sure to terrorize opponents on offense and defense with his athleticism and length. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is going to score tough buckets around the rim all season long. Kyle Wiltjer has a beautiful stroke and the kind of fundamental game that will frustrate anyone trying to guard him. Marquis Teague is as physical a point guard as Cal has coached since Derrick Rose.
As for the returners, Terrence Jones looks like even more of a physical specimen than a season ago and may have some additional bounce. Darius Miller looks lighter and quicker and confident with his jumper. Doron Lamb still hits any open shot he sees. Stacey Poole looked more athletic than in 2010-11 and Twany Beckham showed the kind of frame and skillset that could allow him to contribute.
Mitchell's team may not have Victoria Dunlap anymore, but his roster has experienced an infusion of talent. Amber Smith looks healthy and ready to lead her team in her senior season. A'dia Mathies appears ready to thrive as return to her natural off-guard position. Maegan Conwright looks scrappy as ever and confident on the ball. Transfer DeNesha Stallworth won't play this season, but she has size and skill that should make her one of the SEC's best from day one. Freshmen Bria Goss, Azia Bishop and Bra'Shey Ali have the ability to contribute both now and for the remainder of their careers.
Beyond talent, watching these two teams interact is reason enough for excitement. Cal's talented group genuinely enjoys playing together and Miller looks poised to emerge as a senior leader. Mitchell has to be glad to have Smith back. Even while redshirting last year, she was a team leader and is reprising that role this time around.
John Calipari delivered his State of the Commonwealth speech at the 2011 Big Blue Madness celebration. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Here is the full transcript of the speech given by UK men's basketball head coach John Calipari at Big Blue Madness:
Wow! What an incredible night to celebrate the things that make our program great, that make the Commonwealth's team the best program in the country.
To the thousands here in Rupp Arena, to the millions watching at home, across the state, country and globe - to every member of the Big Blue Nation - my family and I want to thank you for an incredible two years. You have made us a part of your family and Ellen and I appreciate it.
On this night, two years ago, millions across the college basketball world watched the rebirth of Kentucky basketball. We recalled the storied excellence of our program, as we turned the page from anticipation to preparation.
We paid tribute to coaches like Rupp, Hall and Smith. We honored legends like Keightley and Cawood.
We reflected on our revered teams we tell our children and our grandchildren about. Rupp's Runts, the Fab Five, the Unforgettables and the Comeback Cats.
A couple of weeks ago you camped out, to camp out, for Big Blue Madness. When we said you couldn't line up by Memorial until a certain day, you lined up across the street! Have I told you that you people are crazy? And how much I love it!
Two years ago, I shared a vision with you. That night, we stood together under the rafters of this hallowed arena and in one loud and united voice proclaimed that we would once again achieve the unimaginable for this program.
That night, I said we would ...
... be a program built on a foundation of integrity and fueled by class, the gold standard of college basketball ...
... I told you we would be a players-first program, one where kids across the country would want to play basketball, not only because of banners, rings and trophies, but because this is a place where their dreams become realities ...
... I told you my staff and I would recruit the best and the brightest players from around the country and bring them to a program committed to a high standard of academic excellence and graduate our players ...
... I stood on this stage and told nearly 25,000 people in this arena and countless millions across the world that we would make this the Commonwealth's team and that you would be proud to wear blue and cheer for your team ...
... have we done that? ...
But it hasn't been easy. We have faced our share of challenges. We have had some close calls, some heartbreaking moments. Each was an incredible learning opportunity that strengthened our program and helped us grow as a team.
In our first year, we won 35 games, grabbed the number 1 ranking and made the Elite Eight. A little short of our goal. We became the first program to pass the 2,000-win mark and continued our reign as the winningest program in college basketball.
In our second year, we returned to the final four for the 14th time in our program's illustrious history. A little short of our goal.
During those two years we won our 44th SEC Championship and clinched our 26th and 27th SEC Tournament titles.
None of it was possible without the players who make this program. As a players-first program, we are here to help them reach their dreams.
Two years ago our players broke a barrier when five were drafted in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft. It had never been done before and may never be done again, unless of course we do it!
Another four of them were selected in this June's draft.
This is also about seeing all of our seniors over our last two years walk across that stage with a diploma in their hands. This is about Wayne Turner returning to school to get his degree. This is about Mark Krebs going on to write a book and starting a TV career. This is about Scott Padgett and Tony Delk earning assistant coaching jobs.
These players are here to prepare for the rest of their lives. That's why we posted a team GPA of over 3.0 last season. That's why our team was first in the SEC with an APR of 974.
This is about reconnecting with past players who have left our campus and achieved excellence. This is about Keith Bogans, Jodie Meeks, Nazr Mohammed, Rajon Rondo, Chuck Hayes and Tayshaun Prince, and everyone else that's put on that Kentucky uniform.
It's about our players, past and current, making the next step in their lives. We're still here to serve these players and create an environment for them to succeed.
But, as I said two years ago, this program isn't for everyone.
Being a Kentucky player isn't easy. You're held to a higher standard both on and off the court. You've got to want this. We choose student-athletes who breathe their dream, who wake up every day with the fire to work harder and longer than they did the day before, to realize their wildest aspirations.
They have to be their brother's keeper. They've got to be built for this. They've got to have a mental toughness, a burning desire, a drive that's beyond the norm. You have to be unselfish. We call it being hungry and humble. Can you be the teammate you want to play with? You have to be to play here.
We do more than recruit talent. We recruit character. We want good people.
Why have we had the number 1 recruiting class three straight years? Because of results.
Yeah, they love our facilities, the SEC, the best league in college athletics, the aura of Kentucky basketball and Rupp Arena, and you, the greatest fans in the country. But it's more than that. They are seeing these young men in our program developing on and off the court, to go on to lead better lives.
We talk about the Kentucky Effect, that is the Kentucky Effect, having high aspirations and standards in everything you do. The Kentucky Effect is about being the best in all areas. It is pushing and promoting our players and putting them in the best position to reach their dreams. They will in turn help us create the lifelong memories and lift the banners that we all yearn for.
Tonight, I challenge this team and the Big Blue Nation with this: What's next?
Tonight, we begin to write the next chapter. Tonight, we feel the Kentucky Effect in full force as we, once again, redefine college basketball.
My challenge to this program, its fans, these players and this coaching staff is to embrace the belief and have an attitude that our potential is limitless, we see no plateaus and we see no stopping points. Let's persist beyond what is and create what was never before imagined.
We do more than move the needle, we are the needle. ... We Are UK.
Going forward, the competition will be as fierce as ever. We will be the Super Bowl for every team. And for some, we will be their season.
Now our challenge. We need to come together as a team in a short period of time, and become the best defensive team in the country. A great rebounding and shot-blocking team, and through the dribble drive motion offense we want to attack, attack, attack.
We are still aiming for the mountaintop. But just like every team we've had here, we're starting at the bottom of the mountain with a new team and a lot of young players. Once again, it is about becoming one unit with a single heartbeat, a single cause and a unified love shared among teammates, coaches, staff and the greatest fans in the world, the Big Blue Nation. ...
... before I finish, before we get a glimpse of our players and what is in store for our fans this season, there is one more thing. We talked about hanging banners, so let's hang this one tonight. Let's hang it as a symbol of what we've accomplished and the standard we hold ourselves to. We Are UK. Thank you!
Big Blue Madness turned out to be every bit the spectacle it was
expected to be. There was dancing (Matthew Mitchell did it best,
channeling Michael Jackson), 3-pointers, alley-oops and plenty of
optimism about this year's Kentucky men's and women's basketball teams. Here are a couple videos produced by UK Sports Video that really got the event rolling
Basketball season has nearly arrived. The Kentucky men's and women's
basketball teams will take part in Big Blue Madness 7:30 p.m. Friday
Oct. 14, ending the long wait for the highly anticipated 2011-12 season.
A capacity crowd will pack Rupp Arena to bear witness to the spectacle
that is Big Blue Madness, but fans keeping up with the festivities from
home have a number of options for watching on television and online.
Darius Miller said the Wildcats can be a "very, very good defensive team" this year. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When kids play in the backyard and count down the seconds until the buzzer sounds in the championship game, they typically are doing so with the ball in their hands, ready to take that final shot. That's the difference between the players on the 2011-12 Kentucky men's basketball team, and many other players around the country.
These guys want to defend that shot.
"I feel like we can be a very, very good defensive team if we make that a key point in what we work on," senior guard Darius Miller said. "We have a lot of versatile guys who can guard multiple positions. We can switch a lot of things and I think if we really focus in on defense we'll be a great team."
Miller would know, too. The Maysville, Ky., native enters his senior season having seen the ups and downs of UK basketball. After having advanced to the Elite Eight as a sophomore, and the Final Four as a junior, Miller enters his senior campaign with the most minutes and points on the team.
At UK's men's basketball media day Thursday, Miller said he and the rest of the returners have to help the younger guys out and be "big brothers" to them. Miller went on to say last year's team, himself included, may not have welcomed the incoming freshman and taken them under their wings as much as they should have.
"I feel like we didn't do a good job of that last year, the older guys anyway, of helping out the younger guys when they first got here," Miller said. "We kind of tried to let them do it on their own, really. I think it took us awhile to realize that, but since we've already experienced that I think it's been a lot better this year."
It also helps that this year's group comes in with so many minutes having already played together in numerous tournaments and events, and a common hard-nosed work ethic to get better and achieve their dreams.
"As a whole, I feel like our work ethic is the best out of the four years (I've been here)," Miller said. "We've had a lot of guys obviously in the past two years who have put a lot of work in, in the gym. But I feel like as a whole, all-around team, we have a lot more guys who are focused this year and a lot more guys who are trying to get better this year."
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward from Somerdale, N.J., is one such player who has shown what he's capable of on and off the court in the early going. A tenacious defender regarded by most as one of the top-five prospects in the entire 2011 class, Kidd-Gilchrist's fire on the court has drawn comparisons to DeAndre Liggins.
"(Kidd-Gilchrist's) starting point is where DeAndre Liggins finished," Calipari said. "That's what he is right now, only he's 6-7, he's long, he can play inside, outside, he can guard three positions, or four positions for that matter, like DeAndre. He just brings a burning desire to get better. He was in the building last night like at 11 o'clock shooting. He's like the guys that I've had here who - they are chasing greatness."
If that eighth banner is to be raised in the hallowed rafters of Rupp Arena sometime next year, it will be, in part, due to the Wildcats' defense. A worry spot for some, however, is the Cats' lack of a true center on that end of the floor.
"They are all threes and fours," Calipari said.
Sophomore shooting guard Doron Lamb didn't seem worried when asked about the lack of a true center.
"It's not a problem," Lamb said. "We have a lot of length on this team. We block shots and have a lot of big men who rebound. That's the main thing, rebounding and blocking shots, really. We have some great post players."
With the length of Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis, paired with the aggression of freshman point guard Marquis Teague, who has put on 17 pounds since arriving on campus, Kentucky has a slew of talented, and more importantly, willing defenders to get on opponents and cause problems.
"There's not one system to this," Calipari said. "It's about getting good players, who come together, and play, and care about one another, and understand that together, great stuff happens. We all have to give up.
"Marquis Teague is a pit bull but you also have Michael and then you have shot-blockers behind. Terrence Jones should be an unbelievable defender. He's in the best shape I've ever seen him."
After back-to-back runs deep in the tournament, Kentucky and Calipari will be looking to advance just a bit further this year to hang up banner No. 8. Expectations are soaring in the Bluegrass, true, but that's just par for the course around these parts and the players have admitted to knowing as much.
But on media day, a day where hoards of TV and print journalists both local and national descended upon the beautiful facilities located in the basement of the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Ky., the Wildcats - to a man - talked about defense before offense in leading them to raising another banner and winning games.
"It's really tough going up against these guys," Miller said. "You have guys like Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis, who can block almost anything, and you have a lot of tough guys on the perimeter. It's going to be tough. We can make it tough on a lot of other teams too."
John Calipari poses for a picture with LeBron James when James paid a visit to UK's facilities in July of 2009. (UK Athletics)
You may have heard this week about LeBron James' new Nike shoe that UK players will be wearing at Big Blue Madness tonight. CoachCal.com has more information about the shoe and a video with John Calipari and LeBron James' thoughts on the new kicks.
At noon on Saturday, Calipari will join a chat and video stream at Nike's Facebook page to talk about "the shoe, versatility and skill development".
LeBron James (a.k.a. King James) and Nike (the king of the shoe industry) have teamed up to create LEBRON 9, James' ninth signature shoe. With the help of John Calipari and Kentucky, the winningest program in college basketball and a Nike Elite school, Nike will debut the UK-colored version of the shoe on Friday at Big Blue Madness in front of a sold-out crowd at Rupp Arena. Players and staff have the option of wearing the shoe Friday and throughout the season.
"Coach Calipari has a special love for LeBron, and actually the way his teams are run really fits in with how the 9 was built," Nike Basketball designer Jason Petrie said.
The shoe is a reflection of James' versatile style of play. A version of the shoe will be specially tailored to fit UK's blue-and-white color scheme.
"With the 9, we've actually got the stability elements mixed in with the speed elements, so now you're providing for every player on the floor," Petrie said. "When it was time to do a shoe for Kentucky, we felt like the LEBRON 9 really fit perfectly with that program."
"We know what the expecations are. They really want us to win a national championship, after coming close two years in a row."
Freshman big man Anthony Davis is comfortable with those aspirations for the Big Blue fan base, in part because he was prepared for it.
"I expected it. When I came on a visit, Doron and Darius told me how it was going to be. Even coach Cal said 'it gets crazy here'. Sometimes it gets overwhelming," he said, adding the team draws strength being close. "We have really jelled together and have a good team chemistry."
Many pundits believe Davis will be the first pick in the next NBA draft because of the upside his game features. But for now, he knows he'll have to meet some interesting challenges, particularly when he faces off against a beefier, veteran opponent. But Davis got a taste of that this summer at the Lebon James camp, when he worked with Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger.
"It helped a lot," Davis said. "Sully is one of the top big men in college basketball and going up against him really helped me out a lot."
"That's a big honor."
That was the reaction of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, when a reporter told him coach Calipari compared Kidd-Gilchrist's defensive ability to that departed UK lockdown specialist Deandre Liggins.
"I love defense. That's my game right there," Kidd-Gilchrist said.
Marquis Teague hopes to become the latest in a line of Calipari-coached point guards who excel in their rookie season of college basketball. Teague says Calipari's Dribble Drive Motion system is a perfect fit for players at that position.
"He gives you a lot of freedom. That's one of the main reasons for coming here. He opens the floor up for you and lets you play," Teague noted, adding that the collection of talent around him makes his job even easier.
"It's almost easy playing with these guys. You make a pass to Doron Lamb and he's knocking it down. Throw that alley oop to Anthony Davis and he's throwing it down," Teague explained. "He (Davis) gets everything. He does something amazing every day."
"Just keep working, with a positive attitude, just keep going."
Morgan Newton says that is his mindset as he tries to bounce back from a miserable day at South Carolina. Newton appreciates the confidence-boosting efforts of offensive coordinator and QB coach Randy Sanders but says that tape doesn't lie.
"There's not really much you can reaffirm after a game like that. Just gotta keep going," Newton said after practice earlier this week. "Going back to the some of the fundamentals this week. You try to look at the tape, try to learn as much as you can."
Today marks the anniversary of the first-ever 300-yard passing game by a Kentucky quarterback.
Vito "Babe" Parilli did it, in 1950, throwing for 338 yards in a rout of Cincinnati for a Kentucky team on its way to a national championship.
Parilli is out with a new book, "Kentucky Babe," that chronicles his time at UK as well as the NFL and other professional football organizations, as both a player and coach.
Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist talks to reporters at his first media day. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For newcomers to college basketball , getting acclimated to new surroundings is a process that doesn't happen overnight. Freshmen have to adjust to their new teammates, to living on their own for the first time and to a new level of class work.
Quickly integrating a new crop of talented first-year players has become a hallmark of Kentucky basketball under John Calipari. His first two teams each heavily relied on the contributions of freshmen have advanced to the Elite Eight and Final Four in back-to-back years.
Calipari's latest top-ranked class has a leg up on even those precocious predecessors. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer have all known for at least a year they would be suiting up for the Wildcats in 2011-12
"It seems like we've been here forever," Davis said.
Teague announced he would attend Kentucky in April of 2010 and he says he's felt like a Wildcat ever since and everyone from fans to coaches to players have treated him like he was part of the team.
"Everybody treats us like we've been on Kentucky since we were 10," Teague said. "They take care of us out here and make sure we're all right. All the other players make sure we're good and if we need anything they help us out."
Teague committed early, but he wasn't even the first of the bunch to make his decision. Kidd-Gilchrist announced his commitment to Kentucky approximately a week before Teague and immediately put on his recruiting hat. Kidd-Gilchrist knew where he was going to be playing and he wanted his team to be as strong as possible.
"I wanted to have the best team coming in and that's what I have right now," Kidd-Gilchrist said.
Kidd-Gilchrist may have a future as a college coach once his playing career ends, because it was only days before Teague followed. A few months later, Davis and Wiltjer joined and the class was set. As a result, the four had the unique experience of watching the 2010-11 Cats, a team they already felt a part of, make a run to the Final Four.
"I remember being really excited watching the games with my family," Wiltjer said. "I felt like I was part of it already knowing all the guys. It was really exciting to watch them make that run and hopefully we can make a bigger one this year."
Each of the quartet reported intently watching all of UK's games throughout the tournament run and wanting to improve on it, but Davis took things a step further. When speaking of last year's team, he used the word "we" and recalled clearly the reason for UK's 56-55 defeat in the Final Four against Connecticut.
"They lost because they missed a lot of free throws," Davis said, referring to UK's 4-for-12 performance from the stripe. "Free throws are a big key. A lot of people practice free throws, even when we're tired because we don't want to be the team that lost because of free throws."
Senior Darius Miller was a part of that Final Four team and this freshman class is the third of Calipari's he has watched arrive on campus. He sees a similar talent level out of this group, but believes some of the growing pains of those previous classes could be avoided due to the relationships that have already been cultivated over the past year.
"With the visits they took, we've seen them a lot," Miller said. "They've all been introduced to us before they got here. They've been a part of our family for a while now."
Family is a word that has become closely identified with the Kentucky basketball program under Calipari. Establishing the kinds of relationships that merit the term takes time and work, but much of that time and work has already been logged.
"They've been around lot more, so we already had built relationships with them before they got here," Miller said. "Now it's just extending the relationships and making sure they carry over onto the court."
The process of carrying those relationships onto the court begins in earnest on Friday at Big Blue Madness. The team has been able to play pick-up games all summer and practice a handful of times, but Madness really signals the start of the season. For the four freshmen, the event will be a full circle kind of moment.
It was Big Blue Madness 2010 when Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague, Davis and Wiltjer first came together as a group. By that time, all four had announced plans attend UK the following season and a collective campus visit was organized. It was that night the countdown to Big Blue Madness 2011 began.
"It was something we've been looking forward to," Wiltjer said. "To finally be here, we're really excited about (Friday) night."
John Calipari addresses a throng of reporters at men's basketball media day. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari answered questions Thursday afternoon to get men's basketball media started, so here is the full transcript of his comments to get our coverage of the event started. Here are the first few questions and answers, but head over to CoachCal.com to see the complete transcript.
CALIPARI: How about this? Our women's volleyball
team is in first place in the SEC. They stomped on Tennessee last
night. How about that?
Q. You said if everybody played like Gilchrist you'd have a team on fire. What did you mean by that?
COACH CALIPARI: Yesterday in practice,
he was just his (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) level of intensity, DeAndre
Liggins' (meant to say -Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's) starting point is
where DeAndre (Liggins) finished. That's what he is right now, only
he's 6?7, he's long, he can play inside, outside, he can guard three
positions, or four positions for that matter, like DeAndre. He just
brings a burning desire to get better. He was in the building last
night like at 11 o'clock shooting. He's like the guys that I've had
here who ?? they are chasing greatness.
Q. I read that this was your most talented team?
COACH CALIPARI: Who said that? The old, 'I read it somewhere.' (Laughter).
Well, last year's team, it was more that they came
together as a group and a unit. That was one of the best teams I've
coached. I've coached three teams like that. I coached a team at UMASS
like that ?? I've only had three, and that last year's team was that
team. They just said, we are bringing it, I know we only have six guys,
I know someone else maybe had more talent than we had, but that's too
bad, we are winning anyway.
This is different. This is kind of like my first year
and a couple other years where I've had where you're in a short order
trying to get a group of talented players together to play. So it's ??
am I surprised kids want to come to Kentucky? No. Not at all. I would
be surprised if they wouldn't want to come. Why won't you want to
Q. Are you surprised how well you've been able to recruit here?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, yeah, the aura of
this program, the fans, the facilities, the SEC, there's a lot of
things here, and then all of a sudden, they see results of other past
players, and what's happening for those, why wouldn't you want to be a
part of this. Now, the issue, sometimes becomes, this is not for
The stuff ?? look at you. I mean, there's ?? this is
what it is, and they are going to feel it when they get in there. When
they saw 600 tents lining up around ?? let me go back, I think I was
misquoted, I think it was 570, what was the exact number, so we don't
have to have people search it out and have people say I misspoke. 550?
Is that exact?
So we are going with 600. I like that one better.
(Laughter) but when they see that for five days and see games they start
to realize, uh?oh. And I really think, that's one of the reasons that
Michael Gilchrist is in that gym at eleven o'clock and Brandon was and
John Wall was and Marquis Teague, Darius. They do this because there's a
sense of, wow, this is big, and I hope I'm for it. And that's why I
think the guys perform. They go farther than people think and they go
to the league and they do better than people think. It's kind of this
whole environment, I call it the Kentucky effect, just kind of does it
Q. On some rule changes heading into the season?
COACH CALIPARI: I like the arc
underneath the rim. I wish it was a little bit bigger but I like the
arc because we drive the ball and if you are in that arc you run the guy
over and it's a block, whether he's there. It can't be your own man
now. That arc is under there for the secondary defender, but we are
trying to beat our man on the dribble, which means there's secondary guy
Well, if you're in that area, you don't have to worry
about anything. Just run the guy over. Can't be there. The old stand
under the basket and take charges; that's why they have done that arc,
which I think is a good rule.
With Big Blue Madness on Friday, the college basketball season is nearly upon us. Left and right, different websites and publications are picking All-Americans and ranking teams in the preseason. Today, Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports offered their preseason rankings and John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats figure largely into the proceedings. The Cats are ranked No. 2 behind only North Carolina and the two writers had this analysis of the team:
Top returnees: Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Darius Miller. Top newcomers: Anthony Davis, Mike Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Kyle Wiltjer.
Outlook: John Calipari again has a freshman-heavy roster talented enough to win a national championship. Can he do it? Who knows? But the pieces are in place considering five guys are projected to be selected in the 2012 NBA Draft -- among them Davis, the likely No. 1 overall pick.
UK is one of three teams to rank in the top 11 according to CBS along with Vanderbilt (No. 7) and Florida (No. 11).
If you missed it earlier this week, Luke Winn from SI.com has been doing a series of ratings this week himself. He started by taking a look at the nation's top frontcourts, among which he ranked UK second:
Kentucky Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kyle Wiltjer, Eloy Vargas It wouldn't be a stretch to see a more mature version of Jones contend for the Wooden/Naismith Awards -- unless, that is, he's outshined by Davis, a 6-10 freshman who could very well be the first pick in the 2012 NBA draft. The tenacious Kidd-Gilchirst is expected to be one of UK's best wing defenders from Day 1.
Kentucky Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, Twany Beckham Teague is the latest in coach John Calipari's parade of elite freshman point guards to hit Lexington, and will likely follow the John Wall-Brandon Knight route of one-and-done to the NBA. Lamb is one of the country's most dangerous perimeter shooters, and Miller, a 6-7 senior, will be the only upperclassman in the starting lineup.
Doron Lamb Soph., Kentucky Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones were the Wildcats' most-hyped freshmen last season, but Lamb proved to be a highly effective perimeter weapon whom defenses helped off of at their own risk. He made 48.6 percent of his threes (68-of-140) and should be new point guard Marquis Teague's No. 1 option on drive-and-kick passes.
Needing a win after opening conference play with four defeats, Ian Collins and the men's soccer team put together their strongest performance of the season, dominating rival Tulsa en route to a 3-1 victory at the UK Soccer Complex on Wednesday night. Junior midfielder Charles Pettys registered the first two-goal game of his career and junior forward Matt Lodge tied a school record with three assists. As the Wildcats look to position themselves for the postseason, the win and the performance were extremely well timed.
Next up for UK is a trip to face No. 15 Indiana. The match will come after a badly needed week off and Cat Scratches will be traveling with the team to provide coverage as the Cats take on one of the nation's top soccer powerhouses.
If you missed it Wednesday afternoon, here is my story from the Wildcat Tipoff Luncheon. After his initial comments, John Calipari answered a few questions submitted by those in attendance and had some interesting things to say. Question: Talk about the four new freshmen on this year's team. John Calipari: They're really long, they're really athletic, they're really pretty skilled and they're a great bunch that enjoys each other.
Anthony (Davis) grew from 6-3 to 6-10 and when we recruited him I wanted to build trust right away. So I looked at him and said 'What position do you want to play Anthony?' He said 'I want to be a shooting guard.' I really wanted him and you have to tell the truth so I said 'OK,' but I followed it up with 'I want you to know we post up our shooting guards a lot.'
Michael Gilchrist: if you thought DeAndre (Liggins) played hard and slashed, wait 'til you see this young man. Coach Hall came in, and by the way, I love Coach Hall, he is my mentor, and he's been to practice three times. He said 'This is your best collection of players since you've been here.' I said 'Don't you tell anybody that. He watched Michael Gilchrist and he had seven blocks in one practice and he said 'This kid is unbelievable.' (He's) a great kid, just a wonderful young person.
Marquis Teague: point guard. (He's) physical. He's different from Brandon (Knight), different from John (Wall). When I talk to him, he is so zeroed in on me. Whatever I say, he does. He wants to be coached, he wants to do what we're asking him to do.
Kyle Wiltjer: he is a skilled big man. We brought in a speed coach to work with him. He's finishing in the top one, two or three every time we do running. The reason is his stride is from here to the camera man. His legs aren't moving as fast, they just don't have to go as many times. He can really shoot the ball and is a wonderful young person. He's like a seventh starter. Q: When you get to the bulk of your season, how many players do you foresee will be in your rotation during most games? JC: I would hope eight, but maybe nine. Stacey Poole and Eloy (Vargas) are way better. They still have to get better. I would love them to do a Josh Harrellson. I would love them to do stuff that you and I say 'I knew you could do it, but I can't believe you're doing it.' Stacey and Eloy have to keep taking their games up. Twany (Beckham) may be that guy because he may be a backup point. Jarrod (Polson) may be that guy because he may be a backup point. But I would say seven, eight, nine depending on the guys.
I'm only playing guys that can help us win. If you can't help us win, I'm not playing you. Last year I played six and if I had to play five I would have played five. You either help us win or you're not out there. Q: Outside shooting has been an issue occasionally. What do you see this team doing from behind the 3-point line? JC: I don't know but I would tell you that the two leading 3-point shooters we had, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb, who both shot 45-percent from three, are back. Anthony Davis can really shoot and so can Kyle Wiltjer. Terrence Jones is shooting the ball way better. If you look at Terrence now, you can see a light went off and he wants this. He's chasing it and he wants to be special. I think we'll be fine.
Q: North Carolina comes into Rupp this year and some commentators have said it will be maybe the best assemblage of NBA talent on a college floor in two decades. What do you think about that? JC: The '96 Kentucky team had nine NBA players on one team. They had nine. They were the most talented team that I've see together. It's hard for me to say that until this is over and we look back. You know what's great about putting those challenges out? We're chasing greatness, We're not chasing mediocrity in everything: conditioning, on that basketball court, socially, getting involved, academically. That's the Kentucky Effect.
This thing is about raising that standard and having them chase it. It doesn't mean we reach it every time, but it's a whole lot more fun chasing that up there than kicking a can in front of you and walking. We're chasing the mountaintop.
UK defeated No. 18 Tennessee in a heart-stopping five-set affair to move into a first-place tie in the SEC. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There was any number of instances when Kentucky could have called it a night during a matchup with No. 18 Tennessee on Wednesday night.
With a 23-20 lead and a chance to take a commanding two-set lead in the second game, the Lady Volunteers rallied to win 26-24 and end any notion of a quick night of work for the Wildcats. They could have packed it in then, but instead they rallied to win the third set. The Cats could have quit after the Lady Vols saved a match point to force a decisive fifth set, but they didn't.
In the end, the Cats overcame, ending the Lady Vols' 11-match winning streak and vaulting themselves into a tie for the Southeastern Conference lead in the process. It's difficult to imagine two teams more evenly matched than the two that took the court in front of a raucous crowd in Memorial Coliseum, but it was defense that ultimately made the difference.
"Statistically, you're looking at it before the match and you're thinking, 'this is going to be a great match' and it was," head coach Craig Skinner said. "Defense is what made a big difference for us."
Looking at the statistics posted by the two teams, it's nearly impossible to pick out any notable differences. UK and UT posted identical hitting percentages of .164; UK held a slim 65-63 advantage in kills; and UT had 60 assists to UK's 59.
Skinner is absolutely right in pointing to defense as the difference-maker. The Cats had 77 digs, nine more than Tennessee, and posted eight crucial service aces. Defense, more often than not, comes down to effort and determination. In that department, UK had a distinct advantage. With nearly 2,000 white-clad UK fans packing Memorial, Skinner's team had an inspiration to go after every loose ball, to respond in the face of adversity.
At no point did the crowd makes its presence known more than right before UK tallied match point. The Cats had just faced their latest bit of disappointment, losing a dramatic point to make the score 14-13. It was then that the crowd chimed in with a deafening chant of "Go Big Blue".
"I got goose bumps at point 14 when we were up 14-13 and the 'Go Big Blue' chant started," Skinner said. "That was pretty impressive."
From the crowd, the Cats received a boost that altered the course of the game.
"When your crowd does that and gives you that kind of confidence and momentum, it makes a major difference," Skinner said. "I think it changed the outlook of our team. Our team could have very easily gone the other way at the end of game four and we put it on in game five and came through. The crowd was a major part of that."
Senior Becky Pavan, who led UK with 16 killls, has trouble recalling anytime when the home crowd has so impacted a match.
"It was very amazing. It's been a long time since we've had such an excitable crowd," Pavan said. "They really participated in the White Out and they were just pumping energy into the team. It really helped us keep our energy up and really helped us to the win."
Though UK is just nine games into a 20-game SEC slate, the win over Tennessee served notice the Wildcats are a force to be reckoned with in the race for the conference title. The three teams atop the SEC's Eastern Division, UK, UT and Florida, each have one loss. UK will play both Tennessee and Florida one more time this season, including a trip to Knoxville, Tenn. Pavan expects the sort of even match fans saw on Wednesday to be duplicated anytime the Cats and Lady Vols face off.
"They have a lot of good players and we have a lot of talent on our team too so I think every matchup we're going to have against them is always going to be a close game," Pavan said.
However, UK won't make that trip until the final match of the regular season so the attention of the team is squarely focused on the next task at hand: a road match against Mississippi State on Friday.
"The most important thing for us now is getting focused on Mississippi State because it's a long season," Skinner said. "We're going to have to be ready to go."
John Calipari enters his third season as UK head coach after winning 64 games during his first two years. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Cat Scratches was in attendance for the annual Wildcat Tipoff Luncheon in Louisville, Ky., today. Below is a story I wrote about the event and stay tuned for a transcript of a brief question and answer session John Calipari had with fans.
The Greater Louisville UK Alumni Club held its annual Wildcat Tipoff Luncheon on Wednesday at the Louisville Downtown Marriott. Head coach John Calipari, President Eli Capilouto, Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart and UK supporters took part in the event that signals the start of basketball season. Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio and KSTV emceed the festivities, while Capilouto and Calipari each gave their thoughts on the upcoming season.
After a call to the post and "My Old Kentucky Home" were played, Jones introduced Capilouto, who shared his perspective as his first basketball season as President of the University of Kentucky approaches. Capilouto has yet to take in an event in Rupp Arena figures to be subject to an immersion course in what Kentucky basketball is all about at Big Blue Madness on Friday.
"This Friday night is my first experience in Rupp Arena," Capilouto said. "I'm not going to medicate myself, but I'm not going to sleep very much. I'm so excited for the energy of that evening."
Once Capilouto concluded his comments, Calipari stepped to the podium to a standing ovation from those in attendance. Calipari's 15-minute address touched on a wide-range of topics, but the focus of his comments was on Kentucky basketball "thinking big" in all they do.
He recounted a story of golfing great Arnold Palmer traveling to Bahrain to build a golf course. After completion of his work, the king of Bahrain offered Palmer his choice of a gift. Caught off guard by the offer, Palmer responded by saying he wanted a "golf club", thinking the king would send a jewel-encrusted driver, putter or iron. Instead, Palmer received a piece of mail from the king a couple weeks later that contained a deed to an actual golf club in Bahrain of which Palmer was given ownership. In short, "Kings think different than we think," Calipari said.
Calipari wants to inject that kind of thinking into all aspects of the Kentucky program, including in the classroom.
"I told my team, 'we want to compete on all levels,'" Calipari said. "'Let's compete for the highest grade point average in the country, not the league.' We had a 3.14 grade point average last term. We had a 3.16 this summer."
Clearly, his vision applies on the court as well.
"Then I said 'Let's chase that national title,'" Calipari said. "'Let's see if we can get six guys drafted.'"
Embedded in that vision, Calipari continued, must be an awareness that UK is a "players-first program". A national title is the goal, but the players are the means through which that can be achieved.
"This is about those young people," Calipari said. "This is about helping them reach their dreams. This is about them dragging us to moments that last a lifetime, not us dragging them."
In his first two seasons, Calipari has awoken the beast that is Kentucky basketball and reached an Elite Eight and a Final Four. As he enters his third season, expectations are higher than ever and UK fans are wondering just how many of those "moments that last a lifetime" are in store. Whether the program's eighth national title is in the cards is impossible to know, but Calipari knows his team has the motivation to do it.
"My vision would be at the end of the year we'll be one of those teams that's up at bat slugging it out for the whole thing," Calipari said. "I'm convinced of that because the more I'm around these young people, the more I'm convinced they really want this."
The passion of the Big Blue Nation is part of that motivation. The team spent time around the thousands of people who camped out in nearly 600 tents a couple weeks ago seeking tickets to Big Blue Madness. The Wildcats saw what they and their success mean to the fans and they came to understand the responsibility they have to them.
"You know (Big Blue Madness) does for my team?" Calipari said. "They walk out there and they have a little sense of responsibility. They're not only playing for each other. There are a lot of people relying on them to compete and do their best."
UK's four incoming freshman, Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer, were all in attendance for Big Blue Madness a year ago, but this will be the first time they take the floor at Rupp as players. With the addition of the four, UK boasts one of the most talented rosters in the nation. The roster is also much deeper than it was a year ago.
"This is an unconventional team," Calipari said. "We've got six starters. I don't know what I'm going to do. And we may have seven starters."
As for concerns over chemistry issues with so many talented players looking to play major minutes, Calipari doesn't buy in. He believes he has recruiting a group of players with high character who are willing to serve as their "brother's keeper."
"They are wonderful young people," Calipari said. "They want to do this together. They are looking after each other. It is family. You all (the fans) are a part of that family."
For his part, Calipari couldn't be any happier to be spending his third year as a part of that family.
"I will tell you that I'm truly humbled to be your coach in the greatest program in maybe all of sports," Calipari said. "I am honored to walk out in Rupp Arena and see all of you."
With the University of Kentucky's 22 varsity sports, it can be hard to keep up with everything going on in UK Athletics. With that in mind, we will highlight the best from around Kentucky sports each week. We'll recognize the best performances from Wildcat teams and players, we'll show you the coolest videos and photos that you may have missed and we'll mix in some new stuff along the way. Here are your award winners for this week:
Team of the week - Volleyball goes 2-0, enters national rankings
This is the first week we have given out these awards here at Cat Scratches, but it's safe to say volleyball would have been in contention for team of the week pretty much every week this fall. With two dominant wins this weekend over Ole Miss and Alabama, Craig Skinner and the Cats moved to 16-3 (7-1 SEC) on the season. UK held its two opponents to a .072 hitting clip, including -.012 against Alabama. Junior libero Stephanie Klefot anchored the defensive effort and tallied 31 digs, moving her into fourth place all-time in career digs at UK.
The two wins earned the Cats a long overdue ranking in the AVCA Coaches poll, moving to 25th in the country ahead of a huge SEC showdown against first place and No. 18 Tennessee. Come out to Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday at 8 p.m. to see some great volleyball. Even if you can't tune into ESPNU to watch the game.
Player of the week - Eric Quigley (men's tennis) wins event
I'm going to go out on a limb and say this won't be the last time UK's star tennis player will earn this honor. Playing a fall schedule in preparation for the spring, the tennis team has played very well and, not surprisingly, Quigley is leading the way. The senior is the third-ranked singles player in the nation and participated in the ITA Men's All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla., this weekend.
Quigley lost his opening match of the tournament, which placed him into the consolation bracket. He responded with five consecutive wins against players ranked in the top 40 nationally, including a straight-set victory over No. 10 Sebastian Fanselow of Pepperdine to claim the singles consolation title. Game of the week - Women's soccer posts 2-1 comeback win over Arkansas
Down 1-0 after the first half on Friday against Arkansas, head coach Jon Lipsitz was not happy with the way his team was playing. The Cats had allowed the Razorbacks a number of chances on counterattacks and had failed to produce anything on offense in a crucial SEC battle. However, Lipsitz made a few halftime adjustments and his team responded.
Within the first five minutes of the second half, Caitlin Landis and Natalie Horner pieced together an offensive move that resulted in an equalizing goal from freshman Arin Gilliland. The Razorbacks managed to keep UK from scoring the rest of the second half to send the game to overtime, but the Cats wasted no time in notching the game-winner when sudden death overtime began. UK drew a foul in the Arkansas box to set up a penalty kick for leading scorer Kelsey Hunyadi and the senior calmly put away the golden goal to send UK to victory. Play of the week - Gilliland's equalizer against Arkansas
It was a tough choice between Gilliland's game-tying goal and Hunyadi's winner, but the nod goes to Gilliland for the beautiful build-up that preceded it. UK attacked from the right side against the Arkansas defense, Landis was able to deliver a short, low cross right in front of goal, and Gilliland put it away. I'd say moving Gilliland from defense to attack at halftime was a pretty good move. Go to the 34 second mark of the video above to see the goal.
Photo of the week - Gilliland hurdles an LSU defender
(Chet White, UK Athletics)
Alumnus/alumna of the week - Corey Peters, defensive tackle, Atlanta Falcons
Former star UK football defender Corey Peters has played his way into a major role with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. After being selected in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, he signed a four-year deal with the team. He has played consistently in his first two NFL seasons, but he recorded his first career sack along with three tackles against Randall Cobb's Green Bay Packers on Sunday night. Peters missed a month with a torn tendon in his knee this fall, but he's back and better than ever now.
Peters had 11.5 sacks and 28 tackles for loss in his four-year UK career.
Tyler Riggs has scored a team-high 10 goals in 15 matches so far this season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Forward Tyler Riggs has had a breakout sophomore campaign. He earned all-freshman honors in 2010, but has exploded onto the scene in his second season with 10 goals (eighth nationally) and 25 total points. Michael Grant from the Louisville Courier-Journal, Riggs' hometown newspaper, wrote about Riggs' season, his decision to come to UK and his improvement since arriving on campus.
Here is an excerpt, but make sure to check out the complete article:
Riggs' high school career was as decorated as you can get. He helped the Tigers to the state championship for three straight seasons. As a senior he scored 30 goals with 13 assists as St. X went 23-1. The team's record during his final three seasons was 70-2.
Riggs received scholarship offers from the University of Louisville, Northwestern, Xavier, Saint Louis and Colgate. He said he wanted to get away from home -- so that eliminated U of L -- but not too far. He grew up a UK fan, and after his first visit he "fell in love with the atmosphere and the team."
Former star shortstop and current softball assistant coach is playing for Team USA in this month's Pan American Games. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
If you missed it a couple weeks ago, Kentucky softball head coach and former star shortstop Molly Johnson was named to USA Softball's roster for the XVI Pan American Games. Team USA has won six consecutive goal medals at the Pan Am Games and Johnson is looking to nab her first.
The United States begins play in the Pan Am Games, played this year in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Oct. 17, but had three exhibition games against Texas A&M and Houston in preparation for the tournament. The Americans swept a double header against A&M on Monday with 3-0 and 12-2 victories. Team USA followed that up with an 8-0 shutout victory over Houston.
Since finishing up her UK career in 2010, Johnson signed on to help coach the Wildcats. She helped lead the team to a Super Regional appearance in 2011, but has continued to pursue her national team career. A dynamic defensive shortstop, Johnson was UK softball's first ever All-America selection following a stellar junior season in 2009, setting records for runs, hits and on-base percentage in the process.
UK head coach Rachel Lawson is excited to see her former player on the field again and she tweeted the sentiment on Monday night. "Happy to see Molly Johnson back on the field w/ Team USA against A&M before Pan Am," Lawson tweeted. "Watching her play defense is a THRILL."
On Thursday, Johnson and Team USA will travel to Guadalajara and move in to the athletes' village. On Monday evening, the United States will open tournament play with a game against Venezuela, beginning a stretch of seven games in five days. The playoff round will be on Oct. 22 and the finals on Oct. 23. We will keep you updated on how Johnson and Team USA fare.
Freshman Anthony Davis was the nation's top-ranked prospect of the 2011 class according to Scout.com and ESPNU. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Anthony Davis' goal for the 2011-12 Kentucky basketball season is about as plain and simple as it gets: win it all.
"Our goal is to win the national championship," said Davis, a freshman forward on the Kentucky men's basketball team. "That's what we want to do at the end. If everybody works hard, plays hard in pickup, goes hard in the weight room and stays focused, then we think we can reach our goal. But there's no certain pressure or label that we put on us. We're all talented and we came here for a reason and that's to win a national championship."
The 6-foot-10 big man from Chicago comes to Kentucky as the nation's top-ranked forward prospect, and has already drawn comparisons to Marcus Camby, the star forward coached by John Calipari at UMass.
The expectations are high for Davis, who averaged an absurd 32 points, 22 rebounds and seven blocks per game as a senior at Perspectives Charter High School. Davis was one of five finalists for the Naismith Award, was a Parade first-team All-American and was the No. 1 ranked player by ESPNU's Top 100 and Scout.com.
By now, you've all probably heard the story; Davis was a 6-foot-2 guard as a high school junior and went on a huge growth spurt that now enables him to have the skills of a guard, but the body of a forward. That growth spurt has now made him a frustrating presence on the court.
"When we play pickup a lot of guys say they hate playing against me because I alter their shot or block their shot or something," Davis said. "I take pride in my defense. On the offensive end, I get rebounds and put them back in. I was 6-2 last year so I still have my guard skills so if we're on the break I can push it up, give it to the guard, lead the break, whatever it may be."
And he's right, his own teammates do hate playing against him.
"In practice when you're playing against him it's frustrating, but to know we have him on our team is a sigh of relief," said freshman guard Marquis Teague. "We don't have to worry about a lot."
Davis, with his long arms and wiry frame, said he doesn't really compare his game to anyone, but loves to watch Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett and attempt to model his game after them.
Part of the reason Davis likes Garnett so much is his defensive presence and how he guards pick-and-rolls. While Davis does have a strong offensive game and can hit the 3-point shot if given the opportunity, it's his defense that has garnered the most attention from coaches, teammates and opponents alike.
"I really take pride in defense," Davis said. "We have a lot of scorers on this team, everyone, really, can score. If we have a lot of scorers, I have to really take pride in defense then. My high school team, I had to really score. Now, I don't have to really score as much so now I can really focus on defense. If everybody's playing offense and nobody's playing defense we're not going to win a basketball game. So I say, OK, I'll lead my team on defense so we can start locking up people on the perimeter making sure nobody scores, and that will give us our momentum and we really all take pride on defense."
That pride in defense that Davis talks about has been evident in preseason workouts and pickup games. Blocked shots are prevalent each day, and if the players aren't in the gym putting up shots, they're in the gym putting up weights. Davis said he's trying to get stronger and put more weight and muscle on his body so he'll be able to hold his own in the paint against the big boys from the Southeastern Conference.
When talking to Davis, his inner drive to be better and push the envelope of his own abilities is ever-apparent. He wants to lift weights and work out, he wants to play defense and he wants to be a presence. A self-admitted basketball addict, Davis says to win a national championship they know they will have to work hard and be in the gym.
"Me, personally, I am obsessed with basketball. I'm really obsessed," Davis said. "If someone's like, 'Hey, let's go to this party,' or, 'Let's go play basketball,' I'll say basketball. Basketball is my passion, I love to play the game."
Though just a freshman, Davis talks about Kentucky and the men's basketball program as if he has been in Lexington for the past two years, referring to Calipari's first two teams at UK in the first-person as "we." In order to overcome the shortcomings of his predecessors at UK and accomplish his goal of hanging up banner No. 8, Davis said they'll have to work.
"Everybody's goal should be to win the national championship and that's what our goal was two years ago, and last year as well. We just came up short," Davis said. "People try to say two years ago was Elite Eight, last year Final Four, the only thing that leaves is national championship. We're thinking the same way as well. Big Blue Nation is dying to get number eight. That's all we're trying to do is work hard, stay in the gym and try to win it."
The Kentucky volleyball team is among the hottest in the nation. Having won 14 of 15 matches, the Wildcats have raced out to a 16-3 record, including 7-1 in the Southeastern Conference. This week, the No. 25 Cats will host a team that has matched them win for win.
The No. 18 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (15-2, 8-0 SEC), winners of 11 straight, travel to Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday to face a UK team only a match back of first place in the SEC in a match that will be televised on ESPNU. When they take the floor at 8 p.m. ET, both squads will be looking to make a statement and position themselves in the race for the conference title.
Being at the top of the SEC standings has been a regular occurrence for these two squads, which has made for excitement on the court.
"It's been a very competitive rivalry," UK head coach Craig Skinner said. "The last two or three years our programs have been in the top part of the SEC and it's no different this year. Them being in first place in the SEC and the rest of us trying to get to that point, it's a big match for us."
A "White Out" is planned for the match and Skinner expects a big crowd to be on hand. With the match being televised yet again, it's clear the rivalry has attained visibility on a national level.
"This match has done really well (in terms on attendance) the last couple years," Skinner said. "I think this won't be any different. It's the third year in a row it's been on ESPNU so I think nationally it's being recognized as a great match."
The national exposure is great, but Skinner is more concerned about what the match can do for volleyball in the Lexington area. He and his staff have worked tirelessly to help build the game locally and highprofile matches like this one can advance those efforts significantly.
"More importantly, it's great for volleyball in this area," Skinner said. "It's as high a level of volleyball as we're going to see around here and I think it's going to be exciting."
Unfortunately, the Lady Vols have taken five in a row in the series, though the Cats winning five straight before that. Skinner is most certainly aware of the ongoing streak against Tennessee and he wants to put it to an end.
"I told someone yesterday, 'It hasn't been much of a rivalry the last couple years,'" Skinner said. "They've won the last five and we need to try to do something about that."
Skinner said the team will have to turn in its best match of the season to earn a win on Wednesday, but the offensive and defensive balance the Wildcats have so consistently shown of late seems to have the team peaking at the right time. Six different players average more than two kills per set for the Cats and seven have led the team in kills for at least one match.
"The strength of (the team) is balance," Skinner said. "It's hard for me to tell who's going to lead us in kills each night so it's got to be hard to prepare for us."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Oct. 9:
Volleyball: Whitney Billings
Just a week after her defensive prowess proved to be the difference in a 2-0 week for UK, it was her offensive display that lifted Kentucky to a 2-0 weekend at home this week. Sophomore Whitney Billings posted consecutive matches of 10 or more kills for just the second time this season and did so on a blazing .447 hitting percentage. A sub .200 average player, was simply spectacular in her effectiveness charting just a mere five errors in nearly 40 attempts. Billings also provided a trio of assists and got in on four blocks to run her point total 3.43 for the week. Her 11 kill performance in the win over Alabama marked the 15th time in her career she paced the Wildcats in offensive output. She just missed out on a double-double effort with 11 kills and nine digs in the win over Ole Miss.
Women's soccer: Kelsey Hunyadi
Kelsey Hunyadi scored the game-winning goal against Arkansas. It was her eighth goal of the season, tying her career-high and gave her at team-high 23 points on the season. It was also her third game-winning goal this year. Hunyadi is 4-4 on penalty kicks this year.
Volleyball: Stephanie Klefot
Junior libero Stephanie Klefot led a defensive charge that limited opponents to a mere .072 hitting percentage in two UK victories this weekend. Klefot led the back-line effort with 4.43 digs per set and 31 total for the weekend. Klefot has now stretched her career total to 1,144 which ranks fourth all-time in UK history. Klefot had a season SEC-high 19 scoops in the victory over Ole Miss. She then picked up a match-high 12 digs in the win over Alabama. Kentucky's defense limited Alabama to a -.012 hitting percentage for the match and just 16 total kills. It was the first time UK held an opponent to 20 or less kills in a match since 2008. The negative hitting percentage was a first for the Wildcat defense this season and the first since October of 2010. Klefot has now led the Wildcats in digs per match 18 times this season. The junior also added a season-high three aces in the win over the Tide to add to the team's season-high 10 aces in a match.
Volleyball: Lauren O'Conner
Freshman Lauren O'Conner continues to bring a consistent presence to the Wildcat offense in helping UK improve to 16-3 and 7-1 in league play. O'Conner has charted eight or more kills in all seven of UK's victories in SEC play. This week she contributed in a variety of ways with a team-high five service aces and she also added seven blocks for an average of one rejection per set. Her four blocks against Ole Miss matched a career-high for the first-year player. The three service aces against the Crimson Tide is a new career-best - and she helped the Wildcat set a new match-high in 2011 with 10 service aces in the win.
Men's tennis: Eric Quigley
Claimed the consolation singles title at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Men's All-American Championship.
Quigley claimed the championship after taking down No. 10 Sebastian Fanselow of Pepperdine, dominating the highly ranked player for a straight-set win 6-3, 6-3.
During the event, Quigley won five-consecutive matches, all against opponents that are ranked in the top 40 in the nation in singles, including No. 8 Evan King, No. 10 Fanselow, No. 19 Finn Tearney, No. 25 Luka Somen and No. 36 Louis Cant.
Any college basketball pundit will tell you an NBA rule on the so-called one-and-done players is the only thing that would keep Anthony Davis at Kentucky beyond this upcoming season. But Davis' high school coach at Perspectives MSA in Chicago says his former protege is not one to look down the road.
"He is not looking ahead to the NBA at all. He is the type of kid that takes things one day at a time, and his goal right now is to get to Kentucky and make good of his promise to win a national championship," Cortez Hale told "The Leach Report" radio show earlier this summer. "That is just him, he sets his goals very high and aims to reach them, so why not go for the top goal."
Hale says Davis is a former six-foot-three point guard who grew into a dominant big man.
"His career has just taken off for the good right now. He started out as a nobody and nobody knew who he was except for the people in our little conference, to now being the number one player, where people recognize him everywhere he goes, it's amazing, just amazing," Hale said, adding that Davis retained the skills from his guard days and did not sacrifice any coordination.
"He is a tall point guard. He can handle the ball, shoot from outside, and he is not uncoordinated. He is comfortable being outside the perimeter," Hale noted, "where some guys his height are not comfortable being outside. Anthony can run the offense and things like that."
How scary is that prospect for UK's opponents this season?
"The thing that most impresses me first is his passing ability is remarkable. For a kid his size, he loves to pass the ball. Another thing, his basketball knowledge and his knowledge of the game. For a kid that is 18-years old, he knows the game and knows a lot of things and is always watching," said Hale. "He doesn't just watch who shoots and scores, he sees 'are they running the 2-3 zone or they are running this type of play'. He knows the game well. Another thing is his scoring ability. He hasn't shown it that much as far as the all-star games but he can actually shoot the ball very well, very well."
But the skill that has attracted the most attention during the early practice sessions at UK is blocking shots. Davis has the build to be good at it, but he has also the instincts.
"When he was a sophomore at 6-3, he was kind of a shotblocker. Now, it's easier for him because he is 6-10 with a 7-5 wingspan so it is easier to catch those shots now," Hale noted. "Sometimes in games, me and my assistant coaches we look at each other (and say) 'did he really just block that shot'. He is so long and is just perfect at it."
My UK radio network broadcast partner has compared Davis to a former University of Louisville star, Purvis Ellison, was the Final Four MVP in 1986. Hale can see that comparison but he points to a current NBA star as the player whom Davis reminds him of.
"We compare him to Kevin Durant because of the fact that he is 6'10 going on
7-feet and can shoot outside, handle the ball, and go inside when need be. A lot of people look at Anthony and think he is a power forward or a center but naturally he is a small forward," said Hale.
But the coach is confident that Davis can play the 5-spot at UK if needed.
"I think he would be great as a center because he could be that new age center where they can step outside and take people outside and not just be a banger," Hale explained. "As far as not having the beef in the SEC and nonconference teams, he will be okay because I know him and I know his motivation and work ethic and he will definitely be in the weight room getting bigger, so he will not be the same size as he was this year. He is going to be okay."
Hale says Davis became a celebrity in the Chicago high school ranks and so he's comfortable with being in the spotlight. Ofcourse, the attention in Big Blue Nation goes to a whole other level but Hale has no worries about Davis adapting to that part of being a Wildcat.
On the first practice day of Kentucky's off week, head coach Joker Phillips announced some tough news: freshman running back Josh Clemons has sustained a torn meniscus in his knee and will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery this morning.
Clemons, who leads the team in rushing, suffered the injury at some point during UK's loss at South Carolina. He started the game, registering four carries for 10 yards, and tried to play through the injury but was very limited. The freshman had a routine injury evaluation on Sunday and an MRI was scheduled the following day. After the tear was diagnosed during the MRI, he had surgery Tuesday morning.
For a team that has dealt with countless injuries on offense and has struggled mightily, the injury to one of its most effective playmakers is a tough one to swallow. Phillips understands that injuries are a part of the game though.
"It's football," Phillips said. "We understand the game and injuries happen. I'm not sure if it's buzzard's luck or not but that's the way things happen. We feel for Josh and the other guys also because he's a special guy to all the players on the team."
Raymond Sanders, who recently returned from his own knee surgery, will return to the starter role and will be backed up by Jonathan George, CoShik Williams and Brandon Gainer. On the bright side, Sanders' injury earlier in the season meant that George, Williams and Gainer have already seen playing time.
"We've got a couple backs who have played this year because of Raymond's absence therefore we expect those guys to pick it up," Phillips said.
As for true freshman Marcus Caffey, who has yet to play so far this season, Phillips anticipates he will be held out and his redshirt used.
Phillips called Tuesday's practice and "upbeat" one during which the team worked extensively on fundamentals. The focus right now is on improving the offense and the return game.
"We talk about flipping the field and we've flipped the field with our punting game and our coverage teams," Phillips said. "It's flipped back the other way with the way we've played on offense and the way we've played in the return game. We've got to get better on offense and we've got to get better on both return teams."
When it comes to coaching up an offense that's having trouble moving the ball, Phillips has some experience he will continue to put to use.
"I got this job because I took a struggling offense, fixed it and won a lot of games after getting it fixed," Phillips said. "I'm at that point now. I've got to get this struggling offense fixed."
Darius Miller returns for his senior season after averaging 10.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 2010-11. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Although he was certainly a veteran during the 2010-11 season, Darius Miller wasn't comfortable in a leadership role for much of his junior year. Miller knew the things a leader should be saying and when they needed to be said from his first two years at UK, but he wasn't quite ready to step up and say them.
Miller learned leadership from players like Jodie Meeks, Patrick Patterson and John Wall. He saw how they approached their teammates when something needed to be said, but he also noticed something else and it happened to be what was holding him back from being the leader so many wanted him to be.
"You have to do a good job of leading by example before you can say anything," Miller said. "You can't be talking to your teammates and telling them what to do if you're not doing it. They'll just look at you like you're crazy."
Midway through last season, Miller had certainly shown flashes of being able to lead by example. He teased fans, teammates and coaches with stellar games like his 17-point outing against Tennessee as a freshman and 20-point explosion in the NCAA Tournament against Wake Forest. Before January 2011 though, Miller had yet to string together consecutive double figure scoring performances in his entire career.
During SEC play and the Wildcats' run in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, that all changed. Miller had two separate double figuring scoring streaks of five and 10 games. Over the final 23 games of the year, he averaged 12 points per game and earned Most Valuable Player honors at the SEC Tournament. As his production became more consistent, he emerged as a leader as well.
"Me upping my game, that allowed me to be more of a leader because instead of just saying things, I was actually doing what I was telling everyone else to do," Miller said.
Full of the confidence earned over the second half of last season, Miller won't have any qualms about speaking up and leading in 2011-12.
"I'm very comfortable with it," Miller said. "I know I have to do that for us to be a successful team. We have a lot of young guys and I have to do a better job than I have in the past of being a leader and being more vocal."
Miller has the added advantage of having watched two different freshman classes arrive on campus to play for John Calipari. The group featuring Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe raced out to a 19-0 start, but there's a lesson from last year that he will be looking to help apply above all others.
"Everybody has to be on the same page," Miller said. "I think it took a little while for that to happen last year and that's why we struggled a little bit early. I think once we all got on the same page and focused on, we could play with the best of them."
While last year's group received attention for its offensive efficiency and shooting ability, Miller remembers clearly what carried the Wildcats in their postseason run.
"A lot of people talk about the dribble drive and all that, but we were successful last year when we were a defensive team," Miller said.
Holding the team back at times on defense was a lack of depth. With only six or seven players playing major minutes a year ago, there were games when the Cats' shallow bench came back to bite them. With four talented freshmen being added to a group headlined by Miller and returning sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, Miller sees a weakness turning into a strength in 2011-12.
"Last year, there were times when we were just fatigued," Miller said. "This year, with the depth we have we're going to do a great job of evening it out and everybody's going to be a big part of the team."
All that talent likely means the Wildcats will go from the underdog role they thrived in during last year's tournament to heavy favorites much like the 2009-10 team. Miller remembers how opponents came after them when they were ranked in the top five all that season and he sees things being much the same this year.
"We have to come out every single game ready to play," Miller said. "We're going to have a target on our backs, especially with the hype they put behind us. We're going to get everybody's best shot."
The way Patterson, Wall, Cousins and company responded to the target that was perpetually on their backs was to embrace it with a sense of confidence and a swagger that came to identify them. If Miller has anything to say about it, and he assuredly will, expect a reprisal of that response.
"We are looking forward to it," Miller said. "We know it's a challenge, but we have a lot of competitive people in here so I think we'll be just fine."
Fans and cheerleaders eagerly anticipate the start of Big Blue Madness in 2010. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
With approximately 26,000 followers, @UKAthleticsNews is one of the most popular Twitter accounts among all colleges in America. With Big Blue Madness approaching though, we want to take things to the next level. We have set a goal of reaching 30,000 followers by 2 p.m. on Thursday and if we do, one lucky fan will receive a pair of tickets to Big Blue Madness.
Te be eligible for tickets, all you have to do is be a follower @UKAthleticsNews and send a tweet with the hashtag #UK30K. If we reach 30,000 by Thursday, we will select one of our followers who tweets #UK30K at random to receive two tickets to one of the year's most anticipated events.
In short, follow @UKAthleticsNews, tell you friends to follow too, tweet #UK30K and you could win a couple tickets to Big Blue Madness.
Football - The Kentucky football team fell at No. 18/14 South Carolina on Saturday in Columbia, S.C., marking its third-consecutive game against a top-15 ranked team. - Senior safety Winston Guy led UK with 14 tackles, including two tackles for a loss. It marked the fifth time this season, and ninth time in his career, he has had double-digit tackles. - Linebacker Danny Trevathan, the SEC's leading tackler, totaled 13 stops and has double-figure tackles in 14 of the last 15 games, dating back to last season. Trevathan now has 303 career tackles becoming the 18th player in UK history to reach 300 tackles in his career. Volleyball - The Kentucky volleyball team earned two more victories this weekend to improve to 16-3 overall and 7-1 in Southeastern Conference action. UK has lost just one match since August. - Kentucky overpowered its two opponents, charting an above .300 hitting clip and holding its opponents to a mere .072 percentage. Kentucky's defense quieted Alabama to a mere 16 kills on -.012 hitting percentage. It marked the first time a Craig Skinner team limited its opponent to 20 or fewer kills since 2008. The negative hitting percentage was also the first this season for the Wildcat defense. - Junior libero Stephanie Klefot led the charge for UK's defense with an average of 4.43 digs per set to continue to set the standard for SEC defensive stalwarts. Klefot posted 31 total digs to move into fourth place on UK's all-time career list. - Sophomore Whitney Billings led the offense with back-to-back 11-kill performances on a blazing .447 hitting percentage. Freshman Lauren O'Conner continues to provide a consistent offensive hand as the Wildcats improved to 7-0 in league play when she posts eight or more kills.
Women's soccer - The Wildcats posted a split on the weekend with a 2-1 come-from-behind overtime win against Arkansas on Friday, followed by a 2-0 loss to No. 14 (Soccer America) LSU on Sunday. - The Friday win was Kentucky's 10th of the season, giving the Wildcats back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since the 2006-2007 seasons. It is head coach Jon Lipsitz's second 10- win season in three years at UK. - Kelsey Hunyadi continued her career season with the game-winning goal on Friday night off a penalty kick. Hunyadi leads the Cats in scoring (23 pts), goals (8) and assists (7). She ranks third in the SEC in assists, fifth in game-winning goals (3) and sixth in points and goals.
Men's soccer - The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a two-game week over the weekend, suffering a pair of losses against Conference USA foes Marshall and UAB. - UK returns to action this week, taking on defending league champion Tulsa on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET. - Kentucky broke out of a scoreless stretch with two goals in the 3-2 loss to UAB, as UK fell behind 3-0 before getting a furious second-half rally, led by Brendan Murphy's goal and club-leading five shots. UK fell short in its comeback attempt, despite owning a 9-0 advantage in corner kicks in the final period. - On Wednesday, Marshall netted a pair of goals early in the game and held off the Wildcats for the league win. - UK junior forward Matt Lodge now ranks second all-time in UK single-season history with 62 shots through UK's 16 games, adding seven goals and seven assists.
Rifle - UK completed an exhibition match with the US Army Marksmanship Unit on Monday, as Henri Junghanel and Ethan Settlemires led the way for the Wildcats, who just shot air rifle in the scrimmage. Junghanel finished with a 594 to lead the team, while Settlemires fired a 590. - The UK rifle team opens its official 2011-12 season on Oct. 21, hosting Great American Rifle Conference foe Ole Miss at UK's Barker Hall.
Men's tennis - Kentucky concluded a successful weekend at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Men's All-American hampionships with senior Eric Quigley taking home the singles consolation title. - Quigley, who is ranked No. 3 in the nation in singles, went 5-1 at the event with wins over No. 8 Evan King, No. 10 Sebastian Fanselow, No. 19 Finn Tearney, No. 25 Luka Somen and No. 36 Louis Cant. - The native of Pewee Valley, Ky., moved to 10-2 on the season, having claimed a title or runners up title in both tournaments he has played this fall.
Friday, Oct. 14 Women's soccer hosts Tennessee - 7:00 p.m. Big Blue Madness - 7:30 p.m. Volleyball at Mississippi State - 8:00 p.m. Women's tennis at ITA Regionals/Roberta Allison Tournament Cross country at Panorama Farms Invitational (Charlottesville, Va.)
Saturday, Oct. 15 Women's tennis at ITA Regionals/Roberta Allison Tournament
Sunday, Oct. 16 Women's soccer hosts Georgia - 4:00 p.m. Women's tennis at ITA Regionals/Roberta Allison Tournament
Next up in our season of pre-season player features is walk-on point guard Brian Long. Long is a native of Dumont, N.J., and his brother Travis spent a year playing for John Calipari at Memphis. His father, also named Brian, is the celebrated coach of River Dell High School, where the younger Long played before coming to Kentucky. Calipari offered a walk-on spot to Long in the spring of his senior year in high school and Long arrived on campus in August. Cat Scratches: You've had some time to adjust to the idea of playing for Kentucky. What do you think about it all? Brian Long: It's still kind of surreal. I'm at Kentucky, one of the most prestigious schools in the country, and I'm playing basketball for Coach Cal. It's unbelievable. I'm very fortunate to be a part of this program. It's something really special to be a part of this team that has the talent and the capability of doing something really special.
CS: What goals do you have for yourself in your career here at UK? BL: I have to do well in the classroom. I have to work hard day in and day out to try to benefit this team in any way I can. I want to get my education and I want to be a part of this for four years. I think this will be a special year.
CS: What do you think of your new home in Lexington? BL: It's kind of what I expected. It's a college town and it's a lot different than where I'm from. I'm from right by New York City so it's different than that, but I like it so far. CS: How has the team embraced you since you became part of the team? BL: They've been great. They've taken me in like I'm one of their own. I enjoy being here so far. CS: What can you tell Kentucky fans about your game? BL: I'm a guard. I'm trying to do everything I can to help us win. I'm going to stay on the perimeter away from all the bigs down there. They've got me by a foot and change. CS: What have you noticed about the relationships that Coach Cal has with his players? BL: He's always been a father figure to me and he does that for his players. He's always been really close to his players. He does everything he can to help them, whether it's telling them to come back another year or go to the NBA. He's always there for his players. CS: What do you think when you look around the gym and see so many talented guys? BL: This whole team is deep. We have seven, eight, nine guys that are going to be able to play. The team is good. I think we could do something special.
Stephanie Klefot leads the SEC in digs per set so far in 2011. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Sean Cartell of the SEC Digital Network posted a story this morning about Stephanie Klefot, Kentucky volleyball's star libero. The junior is the reigning SEC Libero of the Year and has followed up on her sophomore season with an even better junior campaign.
She became the fourth player in school history to record 1,000 career digs and has helped lead the Wildcats to a 16-3 start. UK also sits at 7-1 in SEC play, just a game behind first place Tennessee. The Cats will have a chance to close the one game deficit in a huge match 8 p.m. Wednesday on ESPNU in Memorial Coliseum against the Lady Volunteers. The Wildcats, Lady Vols and Florida Gators are jockeying for position in the hotly contested SEC East and Wednesday's match will play a major role in deciding the pecking order among the three teams.
We'll have much more on that match as it approaches, but let's get back to Klefot. She anchored a suffocating defensive effort in UK's sweep of Alabama on Sunday, as the Crimson Tide was held to a hitting clip of -.012. Klefot comes to UK from Assumption High School in Louisville, Ky., and is the latest in a long line of Wildcat defenders to come from the Commonwealth's largest city. Here is an excerpt from Cartell's piece:
Klefot says she understands the special responsibility that she holds by playing the libero position at Kentucky. She holds herself accountable to all the Louisville-area players who aspire to the same dream.
"It is unreal to be able to get to say that I play for UK," Klefot said. "A lot of kids are able to look up to people like us and say that this is what they want to do as they come up. This has been such a great opportunity."
Klefot has twice been named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Week this season and is one of only five players in the league this year to have posted 28 or more digs in a single match. She has eclipsed the double-digit digs plateau on 56 occasions in her collegiate career and has registered 20 or more digs in 16 career matches.
Despite Klefot's success, Skinner says that Klefot's best volleyball is still ahead of her, after transitioning to the libero role once she arrived in Lexington.
"She has really evolved in that libero role in the last three years," Skinner said. "She never played libero until her second year in college. She was the starting right-side hitter for a national championship AAU team at KIVA and then played DS her freshman year behind BriAnne Sauer. She still improves every day, every week and every season. As good as she has been, we still haven't seen the best of Stephanie Klefot."
Comparisons are something Marquis Teague should be used to at this point. Growing up as the younger brother to Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, Marquis has faced comparisons his entire life.
Now, Marquis, the five-star freshman point guard for the University of Kentucky men's basketball team, will face comparisons to other John Calipari coached guards such as Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight. It's a tall order, indeed, but it's one his head coach believes he's ready for.
"I think he's up for the challenge," Calipari said. "I wouldn't have brought him here if I didn't think he was up for it. But it's not going to be smooth sailing. There's going to be ups and downs, he's going to turn the ball over. Offense and defense will be spotty. By the end of the year, you'll see another guy in that line who can really get it done for us."
Marquis will handle the starting point guard duties for UK this year and is one of the headliners in perhaps the most highly touted freshman class Calipari has brought to the Bluegrass State. With that said, comparisons and pressure are two things the 6-foot-2 Indianapolis, Ind., native does not waste his time on. Being the top ranked guard in the top ranked class is motivation, Teague says, and he welcomes the talk.
"I don't try to look at it as pressure," Teague said. "I just want to come in and play my game and try to help our team win. ... It's motivation to me to make sure I'm in the gym working hard, getting better every day."
Getting in the gym is one thing Marquis has learned from Jeff. Off the court, the two don't always talk basketball, they are brothers after all and there is more in life. But when Jeff can make it out to Marquis' games, he does give his little brother words of wisdom.
"He's taught me a lot," said Marquis who admitted to never having beaten Jeff yet in a game of hoops. "The main thing he's told me is, every day you step in the gym make sure you go 100 percent."
A slashing guard with quick handles and a 3-point shot, Marquis comes to UK as a different type of guard than Rose, Evans, Wall and Knight. Where the preceding four guards were elite in scoring, passing or speed, Calipari said Marquis may be the best pick-and-roll guard he has recruited.
"On this team it may be something we do," said Calipari in reference to pick-and-rolls. "We may do more pick-and-rolls than I've ever done in my career."
With so many weapons on Kentucky's roster, pick-and-rolls should prove to be very difficult to defend. Marquis, who averaged 22.7 points, 5.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game at Pike High School, said the best part of his game is his ability to get to the basket, but his job this season will be facilitating the offense and getting everyone involved.
"I think I need to be a leader on the floor and get everybody involved," Marquis said. "We have so many scorers, so many people who can do so many things, I have to make sure everybody's getting the ball, keeping everybody happy. If we're all scoring at a high level and defending, I feel like it's going to be pretty tough for people to beat us."
One of the reasons it will be so difficult to defeat Kentucky this year is the amount of defense they will be applying to opponents.
Gone is defensive stopper DeAndre Liggins, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic in this summer's NBA Draft. But in his place comes defensive stalwarts like freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, shot blocking extraordinaire Anthony Davis and Marquis, whose speed and tenacity on the ball make him a nuisance to opposing guards.
While defense isn't always the most glamorous of duties, it's something the Wildcats seem to welcome and Marquis says will be the strength of the team.
"I think we're going to play defense," Marquis said. "You know, get in people, full court press, we're going to push the ball and run so that's our strength, playing D.
"If you can't score on us you can't beat us. We feel like we can stop you and that's going to lead to our highlights, getting steals, going down to dunk it, throw alley-oops, that's going to lead to all that. We want to defend first."
With the first game of the regular season just over one month away, Marquis is ready to face the comparisons and expectations. He's talked to his brother, he's talked to his teammates and he's talked to Wall and Knight. As the season gets ready to tip, Marquis had a clear explanation of what he wants the legacy of his freshman class to be.
"(We want to be) a great class, one of the best classes that has come here and worked hard and won the national championship," Marquis said. "That's our main goal: to win the national championship.
"That's why we're playing. There are only a few teams that are up there and can win a national championship people feel. We feel like we're one of them and we feel like we have a great chance."
We're still a few days away from Big Blue Madness, but if you're thinking about following John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, it might be time to starting making plans. Tickets to second and third round games at most sites go on sale this week, including those in Louisville, Ky., and Nashville, Tenn., the two sites nearest Lexington.
There are no guarantees about where the Cats would play in the second and third rounds (formerly known as the first and second rounds), but the teams seeded highest in the tournament are generally assigned to sites close by. If UK plays up to its very high expectations, there is a good chance the Wildcats would play in either the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville or Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Sam Malone is a walk-on from Boston, Mass. The freshman's father, Joe, is a long-time friend of Kentucky head coach John Calipari. Calipari offered a walk-on spot to Malone and the guard accepted right away. Malone sat down with Cat Scratches to talk about his decision to come to UK and what life has been like in Lexington, Ky., since he arrived in August.
Cat Scratches: When did you first find out about the opportunity come and play for Coach Cal at UK? Sam Malone: The fall or the winter time. My parents had come down for a game and Cal asked what I was doing next year and I wasn't sure yet. He asked if I wanted a spot and I took it right away. It was like a dream come true. I didn't even know what to say. I was jumping up and down in excitement.
CS: If it hadn't been for the opportunity at UK, what were your college plans? SM: It was always dream to play Division I ball. After the spring of my junior year I got hurt. I was out the whole summer and the first half of my senior year (with his third knee injury during high school). That limited me with recruiting. I was really in a tough spot and Cal helped me out.
CS: Did you have any idea what to expect about UK basketball before you arrived on campus? SM: My brother (Joe) is a junior here. He's told me how crazy the fans are and how much they love basketball. I thought I had an idea but since I've been down here it's been another level. CS: Has there been anything about UK fans that has particularly surprised you? SM: When Anthony Davis shouted me out on Twitter I got about 800 followers in half a day.
CS: How does life in Lexington compare to home? SM: The people are different, the food is different, everything is different. I miss the food up in Boston definitely but the people are a lot nicer here.
CS: What are your goals for your career at Kentucky? SM: I'm just looking help my team get better, get good grades in the classroom and whatever I can do. CS: The walk-on program has a rich tradition at UK. Are you very familiar with how UK fans make a habit of embracing walk-ons as their own? SM: I've heard a little bit. I've got an outgoing personality so maybe I'll make a few friends. CS: Has Jarrod Polson prepared you at all for the cries of 'SHOOT!' that will come from the crowd when you do enter a game? SM: That's what I've heard. They want you to shoot the ball and I'm ready to shoot the ball.
CS: What kind of player can fans expect to see when you hit the floor? SM: I'm a tough point guard and a good distributor. I'm a good shooter and great defender. Hopefully I'll be able to help my teammates get better.
CS: What do you think when you look around the gym and see some of the most talented players in the nation? SM: You have to take a step back sometimes, but when you're with them you wouldn't even be able to tell they're great players. They're just humble people and nice guys. They've welcomed me and Brian with open arms. Everyone is included in everything. They're always in our rooms and we're always talking. It's great.
CS: What do you see in your future after college? SM: I'd love to get involved in basketball in some way. I love the sport.
CS: What is your relationship with Coach Cal like? SM: He's a great guy to learn from. I watch him and pick up on everything he does. I've known him since I can remember. I've gone to camps every year since I was 10 years old, whether it was Memphis or Kentucky.
CS: With how much you've been through in your basketball career, how proud is your family to see where you are now? SM: They're definitely really proud. Overcoming three knee surgeries was tough and they know I'm working hard down here.
Ryan Harrow will sit out the 2011-12 after transferring to Kentucky. He averaged 9.3 points in his freshman year at North Carolina State. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Ryan Harrow will never play a game this upcoming season, but that's not to say he won't have a significant role on the team.
Each day in practice, freshman phenom Marquis Teague will take on starting point guard duties. But Teague won't have an easy run at things, not if Harrow has anything to do with it.
"There's nothing like it," said Harrow about facing Teague in practice. "We have to play hard against each other every game. If one of us lags off the other one is going to take advantage of that person and make them look stupid on the floor."
Harrow is known for his eyebrow-raising speed and quick handles with the ball. He can also drive past defenders and go up for dunks. In fact, when describing Harrow's game, nearly the exact same attributes can be accredited to Teague's game.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard from Marietta, Ga., comes to Kentucky as a transfer from North Carolina State. Due to NCAA rules, Harrow will sit out the 2011-12 season, but he will still be able to practice with the Wildcats, and that alone will aide Kentucky in its quest to raise banner No. 8.
Similar to Josh Harrellson facing Enes Kanter in practice every day last season, Harrow in 2011-12 will be asked to push Teague and thus push the team. With Harrow facing Teague, the age-old saying of practicing against the best to be the best rings out loud and clear on the practice courts at the Joe Craft Center.
Despite being named the Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year and a top-20 prospect in the class of 2010 by Rivals.com, Harrow still didn't receive the amount of attention of other star prospects because of committing to NC State fairly early in the recruiting process. As his freshman year approached, Harrow began having second thoughts about his commitment, but stayed true to his word.
"My mom always raised me to be a man, and my mom said that was a man's decision because after I committed, I was excited to go, but I wanted to make a change," Harrow said. "But she was like, 'No, you have to stay true to your commitment.' "
Harrow averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists per game as a freshman, starting seven of the Wolfpack's final eight games of the season. In his first career start at Florida State, he scored 17 points in just 21 minutes of action.
Walk around campus today and you hear whispers from people about his performances in pick-up games and his all-around skill set.
"He's one of the top guards I've ever played," Teague said. "He's real crafty with the ball, he's very athletic for his size. He's tough to guard. I feel like if I can guard him I can guard just about any guard in the country."
Though he will sit out this season, Harrow and UK head coach John Calipari do recognize the importance of working hard this year and what that can mean for next year.
"He should be in the best position of any point guard I coached in that he's got a year to be tutored without the pressure of having to play," Calipari said. "He's got a year to visually see it. He's got a year to learn it. When he steps off that treadmill, he should be flying."
Harrow agrees, noting that Calipari has never had a five-star point guard stay more than a year in his recent four-year run of star guards at Memphis and Kentucky.
"Me learning the system, me learning from a guy like Marquis Teague and battling against him every day in practice is going to be huge," Harrow said.
Off the court, the Wildcats have been one big family from the get-go. Whether it's playing video games, going out to get a bite to eat, working out and getting shots up in the gym, or just hanging out at the Wildcat Lodge, everybody has been inseparable. It's that bond and work ethic that Harrow believes will help guide them to their goal.
"As long as we have that tight bond with each other we'll do well and we'll get to the ultimate goal," Harrow said.
"I just think that, even though we're good already, we just want to be better. We want to make a statement. I know I can't play this year, but I'm taking this year as, I'll work as hard as I can so when I get on the floor next year I'm dominating. And I know that's how these boys feel now."
Junior outside hitter Ashley Frazier leads a balanced UK attack with 2.93 kills per set. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
If you attend tonight's volleyball match between Kentucky and Ole Miss at 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum, trying closing your eyes and simply listen. You'll hear the squeaking of sneakers, communication between players and coaches, and the cheers of fans, but above all else you'll probably hear one sound that's distinctly volleyball: the kill.
The sound a volleyball makes when cleanly hit by a powerful attacker can't quite be duplicated, but at UK's matches, there's one player whose strike is unique from the others. The ball just sounds a little different when it comes off Ashley Frazier's hand.
Craig Skinner's team boasts a balanced attack that features six players who are averaging more than two kills per set on the season. Each of the six adds something different to the mix, but the impact of Frazier and her high-velocity hitting on her team and the opponent is unmistakable.
"She's a very physical fast-twitch athlete," Skinner said of the junior outside hitter. "It's a very fast, heavy ball that comes off her hand and opponents definitely have to prepare for her because if they only have one block it's going to be very difficult to dig it. She adds a different dimension so if people load up on her, we're able to get it to other people and they have one block."
Frazier, who played her first two seasons at the University of Alabama, sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Without her, UK advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth season in a row, but Skinner knew coming into the 2011 season that the addition of Frazier to a talented crop of returners opened up the possibility for the kind of balanced attack UK has shown most of the year.
"I knew we probably had more capability of terminating the ball in a lot of different places in front of the net than we've had in the past," Skinner said.
Immediately, Frazier showed why Skinner was so excited about her becoming part of the team. She tallied 15 kills in UK's best win of the early season over No. 23 Tulsa at a .500 hitting clip but was a little inconsistent out of the gate, like the team as a whole. The Wildcats started the season 2-2 and Frazier managed just nine total kills in the two losses.
As the season has worn on, Frazier and the Cats have kicked it into high gear, winning 12 of 13 matches. Frazier has played at a high level throughout and has been central to UK's 14-3 start to the season.
"I know she's someone you can feed off in terms of what she does on the court," Skinner said. "The other nice thing about her is she's starting to get a little more consistent and little things don't bother her as much as they used to. When she plays with a confident, challenging demeanor, it definitely raises our level of play."
Looking at the statistics, there's no question the Wildcats are at their best when Frazier is playing well. UK is a perfect 13-0 when she tallies 10 or more points and just 1-3 when she does not. However, Frazier says her high level of play is as much a credit to the balance of the team as anything else.
"I've been on teams before where I've had to carry a large load and it's definitely more stressful," Frazier said. "With us, you have to prepare for every single attacker. That doesn't allow our opponents to focus on me or anybody else. I'm more successful because of my teammates and I know my teammates can get it done."
Frazier said the redshirt year she spent with the team allowed her to acclimate to her new teammates and coaches, but there is no substitute for actually taking the floor and playing. Now that she's had half a season under her belt, she has adjusted to the demands of playing for Skinner at UK.
"She's in a program and around athletes who have really high expectations," Skinner said. "We aren't O.K. with taking practices off or games off. That's a different mentality if you haven't been in that environment before and I think she is really embracing that now and understanding that if you want to be great, you have to do it every day."
When Frazier was looking for a new school, she wanted to find a place that would bring the best out of her. Kentucky was a program emerging in the SEC and on a national level and she wanted to be a part of it. Once she set foot on campus for a visit, she knew the school, team and staff were right for her.
"The program was up-and-coming and on the rise," Frazier said. "I really liked the coaching staff. One of my main focuses was I wanted to be able to get along with my coaches and my team. When I came here, it just seemed like a really good fit."
Frazier learned about how demanding playing at UK is as soon as she made the decision to become a part of UK. Stephanie Tracey-Simmons of UK's strength and conditioning program immediately put her on a strenuous weight-training regimen and her work has paid dividends.
"I've hit the ball hard my whole life, but coming here and getting in the weight room has made me a lot stronger," Frazier said. "I'm jumping higher and hitting harder."
The impact of Frazier's power isn't limited to spikes. On serve, Frazier leads the team with 30 aces. Knowing the damage she can do, Skinner and the coaching staff give her free reign to serve as she pleases.
"She has a chance to score each time she serves it," Skinner said. "Because she hits it hard and the ball moves and has a lot of topspin, it's hard to pass. We want to give her the freedom to go for it serving because if you can score with a serve, it's a big momentum changer."
This weekend, Frazier will have a chance to test out that serve against a team that knows her well. Following UK's game against Ole Miss on Friday, Frazier's former team will travel to Lexington, Ky., to take on the Cats. Facing off against them for the first time is an experience Frazier looks forward to.
"I'm really excited," Frazier said. "I played with them for two years and they've become some of my really good friends. It will definitely be interesting to be on the other side of the net."
More importantly, Frazier hopes the fans in Memorial will see the improvement she believes the team continues to make.
"I think we improve every week," Frazier said. "I think we've done better in blocking and defense because that's been our focus the last couple of weeks in practice. Hopefully they'll see that this weekend."
A year ago, Kentucky entered a matchup with Steve Spurrier's nationally ranked South Carolina team having lost three games in a row. The losing streak dampened the optimism many around the program had entering 2010 and left fans wondering what the rest of the season would hold.
Of course, the Wildcats overcame a 28-10 deficit en route to an upset of the No. 10 Gamecocks, the biggest victory of the Joker Phillips era. As the 2011 edition of UK football prepares for a game against that same South Carolina team under similar circumstances, there are lessons to be learned from last year's win.
"If we get down, we have to continue to play," Phillips said. "We were down 18 last year against these guys and we continued to play. Every chance we have to use some of the things that have happened around here in the past, we've got to use it."
UK (2-3, 0-2 SEC) has displayed the ability to play at a high level in short bursts, but have consistently been undone by a series of mistakes started by one simple one. Phillips knows the Cats must address that if they are to compete with the No. 18 Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1 SEC) on Saturday at 12:21 p.m. ET in Columbia, S.C.
Running back Raymond Sanders, who missed UK's last three games due to a knee injury, has noticed a tightness among his teammates that has precipitated that chain reaction.
"That's one thing that I did see," Sanders said. "I felt like guys were taking it too serious and worrying about making mistakes."
Sanders has recovered from his injury and participated in practice this week. Phillips complimented the sophomore for bringing energy and enthusiasm to practice that proved to be contagious as the Cats strung together two quality practices on Wednesday and Thursday. The impact Sanders had was not accidental. He made a conscious effort to buoy the spirits of his teammates and infuse practice with a spirit of fun he thought was missing.
"Give your all, but have fun," Sanders said. "That's what football is about: having fun. Enjoy it."
Sanders did not register a carry in last year's game against South Carolina, but he did return a pair of kicks. The running back also said UK can learn lessons in resilience and confidence from the 2010 upset, but his coach has made sure to emphasize these two teams are different from a year ago.
"This is a different team," Phillips said. "We can use some of that and some of the guys were here last year, but this is a different team and they have a different team too."
It also can't be forgotten that the two teams will play in front of a raucous crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium and the Gamecocks will have revenge on their minds. South Carolina was riding high and ranked in the top ten coming into last year's matchup when the Wildcats scored three second half touchdowns to send Spurrier to his first ever loss against a UK team.
"We're playing them at their place and they'll be a little more confident coming into this game," Phillips said. "Actually, they'll be jacked up also because last year they were coming off a huge, huge win and could have been (5-1) and we beat them. We expect to get their best game."
Assuredly, the Gamecocks best game will consist of handing the ball to Marcus Lattimore early and often. The sophomore running back has rushed for 677 yards in five games, third in the nation. He has scored nine touchdowns on the ground and has averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
The Cats don't need to look at statistics or film to know what kind of player Lattimore is after having to deal with him last year. Lattimore diced UK to the tune of 79 rushing yards and 133 receiving yards before exiting with an ankle injury that forced him to miss the second half. If South Carolina had been able to hand to the 233-pound back throughout the second half in 2010, the upset may never have happened.
The game against UK was a rare one for Lattimore in that he did the majority of his damage through the air. He found himself open on screen passes and needed just four receptions to top 100 yards. UK tried unsuccessfully to use defensive ends to peel on Lattimore and he took advantage. UK won't completely abandon that strategy on Saturday, but their approach will be much more aggressive this time around.
"We'll try to do some of that but we also want to get him into protections by bringing blitzes," Phillips said. "Now, if he releases we should have a clean shot at the quarterback so we want to bring as many blitzes towards him as we can and eat the back up in protection."
The quarterback who will attempt to cope with those blitzes is expected to be sophomore Connor Shaw. Senior Stephen Garcia started in the Gamecocks' 16-13 loss to Auburn last week, but Spurrier has said he will turn to Shaw against UK. Shaw played some earlier this season, so UK has tape on the new starter, though Phillips says he doesn't anticipate too much to be different.
"We saw (Shaw) earlier in the season against East Carolina," Phillips said. "Their offense didn't change any when Garcia went back in so it didn't change anything. Spurrier is a guy who does what he does and he's been doing it for a long time. He's never been a guy who went from a drop-back guy to an athletic quarterback."
Above all else, Spurrier will be looking for his quarterback to avoid mistakes regardless of who takes the snaps. He has a running game and a swarming defense led by two of the nation's top pass rushers good enough to carry the team. Defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney rank first and second in the SEC in sacks and have terrorized their opponents all season. A number of the plays they have made have directly resulted in turnovers and touchdowns, so UK's offensive line will have a tall task ahead of them even if Ingram does miss the game with injury as has been reported.
The offensive line has gotten healthier week by week and the result has been continual improvement. All five members of the veteran unit started last season's game against South Carolina and played well. A repeat performance by the group could be the first step to another season-altering upset.
"We opened up some gaping holes and protected the quarterback so I pointed that out to our guys," Phillips said. "We've got to get back to that level and we're getting closer and closer every week."
Steve Spurrier has never been one of those coaches to throw out a lot of faint praise when talking about an opponent. So it's interesting to see what the South Carolina head man had to say about the UK defense this week.
"They're as strong as probably any team in the conference up front, their defensive line and linebacker guys," the ol' ball coach said. "Florida had a bunch of long runs where they reversed field but as far as going straight at them, Kentucky is a very tough defensive front."
Is it hard to stay positive after three losses in a row? Senior All-America candidate Danny Trevathan says not so much.
"It's hard but it's necessary. It's necessary for leaders to stay positive and it's going to be beneficial. This team has been working too hard for us to just be negative," he explained. "I've been pushing these guys, trying to be out here and be more enthusiastic. You got to push yourself and keep that right mindset and I think these young guys are really making themselves better."
With a change at quarterback, some analyst foresee South Carolina relying more heavily on its running game and All-SEC candidate Marcus Lattimore. He only played a half last year against UK before getting injured but Trevathan remembers him well.
"I remember he was a big dude," said Trevathan, "like a freak of nature."
Kentucky has struggled to convert third-down plays into first downs this season but South Carolina is also having issues with its defense being able to get off the field on third down. USC ranks 80th nationally (according to cfbstats.com) by allowing opponents to convert at a rate of 42 percent.
As for some other interesting statistical notes...
There's a stark difference in passing accuracy this season for USC. Last year, Gamecock quarterbacks completed 65 percent of their passes. So far this season, it's just under 50 percent. Inside the opponents' 20-yard line, the completion rate falls to 37.5 percent with two interceptions. Where Kentucky needs to improve is inside its own 40. Morgan Newton is hitting only 41 percent there and thus the Cats are giving up too much field position on the punt exchanges and eventually, that takes its toll.
South Carolina has really improved its pass defense this season, relying on more man-to-man coverage, according to one of its cornerbacks. USC is on pace to give up almost half as many pass plays of 25-or-more yards than it did last season.
And with a new QB, many experts believe the Gamecocks figure to lean heavily on Marcus Lattimore tomorrow. USC averaged 242 yards per game in the first three contests but only 130 per game in the last two.
Saturday marks the 61st anniversary of the first night game in the month of October at UK, meaning it was the first "Bluegrass Doubleheader" of Keeneland racing in the afternoon and Wildcat football under the lights.
Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb will look to lead UK back to the Final Four as sophomores. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Last season, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb had no choice but to be more mature than the average freshmen. With Kentucky's short bench, John Calipari turned to Jones and Lamb early and often. Sure, the pair had its share of ups and downs but, in the end, Jones and Lamb overcame bumps in the road to help lead UK back to the Final Four for the first time since 1998.
Along the way, the maturity Jones and Lamb showed manifested itself in their willingness to accept whatever role was assigned to them. There were times when Jones was called up to shoulder the scoring and other times when it was Lamb. On other occasions still, the two had to focus on aspects of the game like defense or rebounding while their teammates saw the lion's share of the shooting opportunities.
Stepping back and allowing others to shine is an ability many players don't develop until late in their careers. Jones and Lamb didn't even need a full season at the college level to learn how to do that.
"We realized what we had to do for the team to win ball games, so we did it," Lamb said. "Every game, somebody different was on and it didn't really matter who as long as we won the game."
So now Jones and Lamb have spurned the NBA Draft and are back for their sophomore seasons, it's their time to take over and determine the fate of the 2011-12 Cats on their own, right?
"It doesn't happen here that way," Calipari said.
Instead, Calipari will be asking Jones and Lamb to be a part of a team that will mix their talents with those of fellow returner Darius Miller and yet another top incoming recruiting class. The Cats are projected to be a deeper team than last year with a number of offensive and defensive weapons. Logically, that means the two sophomores could be in line for a slight drop in playing time, but they see that more as a positive than a negative.
"I think it's going to be a lot more fun because guys are going to be able to get more breaks and compete at the same level from the beginning of the game to the end," Jones said.
Jones makes the point that all the minutes he was called on to play last year contributed to a drop in his level of play as the year wore on. Having more teammates who will be able to give him breaks should combat that fatigue in 2011-12, but Jones wanted to do something about it himself.
"I just felt last year the biggest thing for our team was being in shape, conditioned and strong," Jones said. "I wanted to really improve on that for this upcoming season."
The commitment has paid off, as Jones has put on weight while improving his stamina. Calipari has seen a change in Jones' body and a progression in maturity beyond even what he showed during UK's NCAA Tournament run.
"He's on that path right now," Calipari said. "I'm loving it because I'm seeing him physically grow. I'm seeing him mature as a person. I'm really proud of what he's doing."
The devotion Jones has shown this offseason will make him one of the nation's top players if he can translate it to the court, Calipari says.
"I'm in my office, the lights come on, there's music, I look down, there's Terrence Jones in that gym," Calipari said. "That means he becomes one of the top three players if not the best player in the country."
Early last season, Jones flashed that form, dominating out of the gate at the Maui Invitational. However, teams began to adjust to him and UK adjusted its style of play to create more opportunities for Jones' teammates. As a result, Jones went from a projected top-five pick to a borderline lottery selection. Jones was not happy with his NBA stock and he made a decision to return and improve upon it. Lamb made a similar decision and opted to return to UK rather than hope to be picked late in the first round. Jones and Lamb credit Calipari for helping them obtain the information they needed to make a decision.
"Coach doing that for us was an amazing thing," Jones said. "That's what type of coach he is. He loves and cares for his players and is going to give them every piece of information he can give them to help make decisions."
It was still up to Jones and Lamb to apply that information and both were mature enough to make the best decision possible.
"We had a meeting after the UConn game when we first came back on campus," Lamb said. "He told me where I was at in the draft and what would happen if I came back. I decided to come back and work hard."
Coming off a freshman season that saw him average 12.3 points and shoot nearly 50-percent from 3-point range, Lamb knew he needed to work because opponents will be ready for him.
"I think they'll face guard me more and close on me when I get the ball at the 3-point line, so I have to work on my mid-range game, go to the rack and make foul shots," Lamb said.
After getting a taste of the Final Four a year ago, Jones and Lamb are hungry to get back. They know how important the work they have done in the gym will be to their goal of winning a national title, but they also know the way they help guide this new crop of freshmen will be just as central to the Cats' success.
"I know what we have to do win games, so I'm already teaching the freshmen what we need to do to try to win it all," Lamb said. "They've heard what I said."
Mark Boxley of KyForward.com published a very good article today about the new video boards, ribbon boards and sound system that were installed at Commonwealth Stadium this past offseason. The feature includes interviews with Shane Fannin and Matthew Rasor of UK Sports Video as they talk about all the hard work that goes into operating the technology on game day.
This year, with two new high-definition video screens and ribbon video boards that circle the entirety of the stadium, the Sports Video department has taken the fan experience to a completely new level. The 37-by-80 foot screens, coupled with 1,800 feet of ribbon boards, have created nearly 6,000 square feet of viewable video space.
"We (now) have the third largest real estate in video boards in the county," Fannin said. "This board will allow us to do true HD."
The video system, along with a new sound setup, were installed over the summer by South Dakota-based Daktronics with a budget of nearly $6 million. As with any new technology installation, there have been a few hiccups, but Fannin and Sports Video graphic coordinator Matthew Rasor said the system has created, and will continue to create, a much deeper experience for fans.
"Overall, I think it gives Commonwealth Stadium a much better atmosphere," Rasor said. "We can get more fans invested in the game quicker than we ever could with just one display."
Joker Phillips said after a good practice on Wednesday he was looking for his team to be "perfect" the next day. The Wildcats didn't quite live up to that high standard, but it was a solid Thursday nonetheless.
"I thought we got better today," Phillips said. "I think our kids understand the plan and we just have to go down there and play."
The focus of the Cats' mental preparation this week has been bouncing back from mistakes as they look to pull an upset of the South Carolina Gamecocks for the second consecutive season.
"We just have to take it one play at a time," Phillips said. "If you play a 60-minute game, something bad is going to happen."
Collin Cowgill had a single and two RBI's in his first career post-season plate appearance. (UK Athletics)
Former University of Kentucky outfielder Collin Cowgill was called up to the majors in July following a stellar season in Triple-A. He didn't get off to the hottest start, but a solid September earned him a spot on the Arizona Diamondbacks' playoff roster.
The D'backs are now facing off against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Divisional Series and Cowgill had yet to see any action, but Cowgill got his chance in a crucial spot. With his team trying to stave off elimination in the fourth game of the NLDS, Cowgill was called upon to pinch hit for pitcher Joe Saunders with runners on second and third and two outs. Cowgill promptly delivered a two-RBI single to left field to extend his team's lead to 7-3. Click here to see video of Cowgill's clutch hit
Arizona would go on to claim a 10-6 victory, knotting the series with the Brewers at two games apiece. The teams will now return to Milwaukee, Wisc., for a decisive fifth game at 5 p.m. ET on Friday. Tune it to TBS at that time to see if Cowgill gets another opportunity in an even bigger spot.
Junior guard Jon Hood is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered in July. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In our continued series of features on the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats, junior Jon Hood is up next. The guard suffered a torn ACL during a July pick-up game and is currently recovering from reconstructive surgery. Cat Scratches sat down with Hood to talk about the injury, his recovery, his relationship with Coach Cal and his pursuit of a record owned by a UK legend.
Cat Scratches: Take me through how the injury happened. Jon Hood: I was playing a pick-up game with the guys. We were playing over in Memorial (Coliseum) and everybody was playing well. I came down in transition and attacked. I took the ball behind my back as I came down the lane, crow hopped in between two guys and when I came down my knee went in and my ankle went out. I felt a pop.
CS: How long did it take you to find out that the injury was as serious as you feared? JH: By the feel of it, the doctors had a pretty good idea probably 30 minutes after it happened, but they didn't know for sure until the next day when I had an MRI.
CS: When did you have reconstructive surgery? Were there any complications? JH: August 12th. Surgery went well and everything was fine.
CS: A number of fellow athletes who have had similar injuries like UK Hoops point guard Amber Smith and Purdue guard Robbie Hummel have reached out to you. What has it been like to receive that kind of outpouring of support? JH: It's great. Robbie is a class-act and all of the people who have talked to me have been top-of-the-line from Robbie to (former Florida forward) Chandler Parsons to everybody else.
CS: What has been the most valuable piece of advice you've received? JH: Robbie and Amber said the same thing: 'Don't get your head down and don't rush back and hurt yourself.'
CS: Your rehab has already started. What does it consist of right now and how are you approaching it. JH: I do leg lifts and knee bends. I can't run yet but I can walk. Most of it is quad strengthening stuff. I've got to keep an open mind, keep my head up and push through it. There's really nothing you can do besides that.
CS: Reports from pick-up games this summer were that your game had really taken a step forward. What had you done to improve before your injury? JH: I had upped it from where I was the year before. I was better. My shot was going down consistently, I had put on a bunch of weight and gotten a lot stronger. I was up to 218 (pounds) July 18 then it happened and I weighed the day of my surgery and had dropped to 205. I started lifting though and I'm going get that weight back soon.
CS: You're obviously limited in the actual basketball work you can do, but what can you do to better yourself as a player during the recovery process? JH: You can watch tape and do whatever else. I've watched tape on Chandler. I watched some Robbie Hummel tape. It's not so much about modeling your game after them, but if you get a bunch of solid guys and take bits of pieces of each of their games and put it all together, you'll become a better player.
CS: Last season, Enes Kanter was in a similar position to you in that he could not play games. You won't be able to practice with the team like he could, but can you learn from his example last season? JH: Enes helped out tremendously with his attitude and on-the-court stuff. I won't be able to help out on the floor for a while. I'll try to do the same thing as Enes and come in with a positive attitude and help everybody out. Hopefully that helps.
CS: This will be the third freshman class you've seen arrive on campus to play for John Calipari, including your own. What is the most important thing this group can learn from those in the past? JH: It's the same thing with every freshman class: they need to listen. The sooner you give up the steering wheel and stop driving your car and get in the bus with Coach Cal, your stock jumps. You can ask anybody. Everybody is grateful to Coach Cal. He's a great coach. He knows how to make you better as a player and a person.
CS: Coach Cal has proven over the past few years how much he values his relationships with his players even after they leave. How much does it mean to you knowing he'll always be an advocate for you? JH: He's an advisor that's free. He can tell you what you need to work on, what people are saying about you and he can do all that for free. It's great. Coach is unbelievable in that aspect and a lot more. CS: Coach Cal has talked about the possibility of redshirting you due to how long it will take to recover from your injury. What do you think about redshirting? JH: I would get another year if that happens. I can break Jeff Sheppard's (unofficial record) for most wins (159) in a five-year career.
CS: Being from Madisonville, Ky., you obviously have an appreciation for the UK program. Did you discover that record on your own? JH: I really just found about through my own curiosity. Somebody mentioned it to me and said they didn't know who had it. When I talked to them, I was thinking 'Let's see, who was here for five years?' Shep was the only guy I could think of that was on a really good team. He's got two national titles and a Final Four appearance from '96-'98. That's solid. I kept thinking about it and I had 35 wins one year, 29 wins the next and then I calculated what I need to do to break Shep's record. If we win 32 games a year the next three years, I would have it.
CS: Sheppard is a player with whom you seem to share some similarities. He was on some exceptional teams early in his career and didn't play much but emerged late to win Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament UK won in 1998. Do you have aspirations of following in those footsteps? JH: I would hope everybody would aspire to be the MOP of the tournament. That's something everybody wants to do. You don't ever want to be the guy that doesn't help. You want to be the guy that helps.
It's been a little quiet around the office over the past week with so many UK teams on the road, but that's all about to change. Men's soccer kicks off a busy weekend with a home game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against Conference USA rival Marshall. It's a wonderful evening, so head on over to the UK Soccer Complex to see a very entertaining team take the field. On Friday at 7 p.m., volleyball and women's soccer each will be in action, with Craig Skinner's Cats taking the floor in Memorial Coliseum for a game against Ole Miss and Jon Lipsitz's bunch facing off against Arkansas.
More games are to follow, with men's soccer continuing its home stand on Saturday vs. UAB. Women's soccer plays again Sunday at 1 p.m. against LSU while volleyball faces Alabama at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Check your calendar and come out to support the Cats.
In the mean time, here are a few notes for a late Wednesday afternoon:
The aforementioned women's soccer team attained a milestone today as the Cats were ranked in the top 10 of the RPI rankings for the first time in program history. The Wildcats (9-3-0, 2-2-0 SEC) have already played nine games this season against opponents rated among the RPI's top 100, winning six. UK has faced a brutal schedule this season, including five in a row on the road before returning home this week. The Cats have a long road ahead, but a strong start to the season has the team in position to advance to the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
Finally, UK's Mitch Barnhart and athletic directors from around the SEC met Wednesday at the league office in Birmingham, Ala., to plan for the integration of new conference member Texas A&M into the league. Here is the statement issued by the league office.
"Today's meeting of the SEC athletic directors was planned immediately following the announcement of Texas A&M joining the league. The purpose of the meeting was to integrate Texas A&M into the Southeastern Conference and plan for a 13-team schedule for all sports in 2012-13. The transition team from the SEC office made its initial report in this meeting to the athletics directors with the focus on scheduling and championship formats. The SEC is excited to have Texas A&M in the league and looks forward to having the Aggies compete in the SEC next year."
Matt Lodge and the UK men's soccer team host Marshall 7 p.m. Wednesday at the UK Soccer Complex. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Both UK's men's and women's soccer teams have gotten off to strong starts this season. Unfortunately, soccer fans in Lexington just haven't gotten to see much of either squad lately. With Ian Collins' and Jon Lipsitz's teams playing extended stretches on the road, the UK Soccer Complex has hosted just one game since Sept. 11, a 3-2 win by the men over Evansville on Sept. 23.
That's about to change beginning tonight, as the men take on Marshall at 7 p.m. in the Wildcats' Conference USA home opener. Since opening the season with five consecutive home games, UK went 3-5 over an eight-game stretch that featured seven road games and four against ranked opponents.
The Cats traveled nearly 10,000 miles during the four-week period and, though they lost a few games, optimism over the strength of the team has not dampened. UK is paced by a high-powered offense that is second nationally in goals scored and will be looking to put on a show as the Cats play three games in a row over the next week. The home games will be crucial as the Wildcats look to strengthen their resume for the conference and NCAA tournaments.
The road stretch for the women's team hasn't been quite as extreme, but UK has played five games in a row on the road, including the first four of SEC play. UK is off to a 2-2 start in conference, including a win in Columbia, S.C. that marked the program's first over South Carolina since 2006. UK will begin a four-game home stand on Friday with a matchup against Arkansas at 7 p.m.
With beautiful weather forecast for the next week, the upcoming men's and women's soccer games could be among the last opportunities to see any UK teams play in warm temperatures and under sunny skies.