Jon Lipsitz just finished his third season as head coach of UK women's soccer. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
James Pennington of CatsPause.com has been working for weeks on a profile of Kentucky women's soccer coach Jon Lipsitz. On Wednesday, the article was published.
It's an outstanding look at the man who took the Wildcats to an NCAA berth in just three seasons that I really encourage you to read, whether you're a soccer fan or not. Lipsitz is one of the most enjoyable coaches to cover I can imagine and Pennington's piece does an excellent job of capturing his essence.
Here is an excerpt, but again, I strongLY urge you to give the entire thing a read:
Lipsitz was hired in December 2008 to take UK, which stagnated in the last few years of Warren Lipka's tenure as coach, to NCAA tournaments, and it had just qualified for its first in Lipsitz's third season. Lexington would even host the first-round game against Washington State.
Lipsitz freely admits that chance, or something resembling it--luck would imply a degree of undeserving--has put him where he is today. Finding his career path, meeting his wife somehow at a New Year's Eve party, ending up with two sons and a fence and a mortgage and two little dogs ... it all just kind of happened, he said.
Part of life's beauty is in its unpredictability, and he seems to have embraced that. He trusts that maxim because he's worked hard enough to deserve whatever seemingly random byproducts result.
Marquis Teague is coming off the best game of a young UK career, scoring 14 points to go with eight assists and no turnovers against Portland (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With a spotless record and a shiny new No. 1 ranking, all is right in the world of Kentucky basketball.
The Wildcats are back atop the throne of college basketball for the first time in two years having dispatched six consecutive opponents by an average of 30 points per game. The Big Blue Nation is buzzing at the development, dreaming of a second straight Final Four trip.
So, how has John Calipari awarded his team in practice this week?
"What I did the last two days was beat them up pretty good," Calipari said. "We went longer than we usually go this time of the year and we went hard, long and we ran for two days."
Calipari isn't buying into the coronation. Of course, he's happy to see his team in the top spot (though he's quick to point out the Cats are far from a unanimous No. 1), but he knows the Wildcats have a long road ahead. And with a stretch of three tough games beginning on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Rupp Arena, that's all he's worried about.
"I've been hard on them, not in a mean way, but just raising the bar to get them to forget all that stuff," Calipari said. "We're worried about getting better. That's all we're worried about. Forget ranking. All that becomes is a bigger target on your back. It's a nice badge of honor, but that badge is a target for someone else."
The first team to take aim at that target will be St. John's (4-3). The Red Storm features a seven-man rotation, six of which are members of Steve Lavin's 2011 class that was rated No. 3 in the nation by most major recruiting outlets. Freshman guard Nurideen Lindsey leads a balanced scoring attack with 14.4 points per game and, though St. John's has lost a few early games Calipari called the game "scary."
"They're young but they're athletic and they're active," Calipari said. "You're going to see a team that's trying to steal every ball, dives on the floor, takes charges. These guys ball. They play and it's going to be a good challenge for us."
UK will be the third ranked opponent for the Johnnies already this season, who will be without their head coach. Lavin is recovering from successful surgery on a cancerous prostate and has opted to stay home in New York after coaching his team's last four games. Assistant coach Mike Dunlap will take his place against Kentucky.
With a high-profile opponent visiting Rupp as a part of the SEC/Big East Challenge, Calipari hopes to learn things from this matchup he wasn't able to learn from wins against mid-major foes.
"These are learning opportunities," Calipari said. "You can't learn against Popcorn State. You just can't. You can play those games and you have to fill out your schedule, but you need these kind of games."
Calipari has coached freshmen long enough to understand that it's impossible to find out what they don't yet know until the lights of national television come on for a game against a quality opponent. St. John's will afford him his first opportunity in a while to uncover some of those things.
"You'd think they know, but they don't," Calipari said. "There are just things they don't know and you can't cover it all until you see it in a game."
It won't be the last either. Just two days after the game against the Red Storm, the fifth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels come calling. A week later, UK travels to Bloomington, Ind., for an annual rivalry game against the Indiana Hoosiers, who are knocking on the door of the top 25 on the strength of a 6-0 start to the season.
"We're playing some of the best teams in the country, so we have to come out and be ready and show people what we're made of," Teague said. "It's going to be a big test for us to come out and prove we're one of the best teams."
With those two games on the horizon, a young team like the Wildcats would figure to be in danger of overlooking St. John's, but neither Calipari nor his Cats expect that to be a problem.
"We're not looking past it all," Teague said. "We know St. John's is a really good team and we're just worried about them. We'll worry about North Carolina Saturday."
St. John's will have plenty of motivation come Thursday. The Red Storm will be playing for their recovering coach in one of the nation's most famous venues against the top-ranked team in the land. They'll be fighting, scratching and clawing for every rebound and loose ball and it's up to the Cats to accept the challenge and respond to it.
"We have to say, 'are you going to let them beat you to every 50-50 ball, are you going to let them beat you on the floor when there's a ball, are you going to let them outrun you down the floor?' " Calipari said. "It's something we have to see and something we're going to be challenged by."
All three games will be played in front of a national television audience.
"We come ready to play every game," Teague said. "No matter who we play, we're going to come out and give our. That makes it a bigger thing I guess, having Dick Vitale and all them at the game. For us it's still like a normal game."
ESPN play-by-play announcer Dan Shulman is in town to call Thursday's matchup between the Kentucky Wildcats and St. John's with Dick Vitale and Shannon Spake. The game is at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPN3.
Shulman arrived on Wednesday after covering No. 2 Ohio State's 85-63 win over No. 3 Duke and spent a few minutes talking to Cat Scratches. In the video below, Shulman talks about Rupp Arena, the game against St. John's, his impressions of John Calipari's Wildcats and where UK fits in among the nation's elite.
Check back later this afternoon for video interviews with Calipari and selected players as well as a preview of the matchup with the Red Storm.
John Wall left Kentucky after his freshman season and was the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. (UK Athletics)
The agreement between NBA players and owners on a new collective bargaining agreement late last week immediately generated speculation among college basketball fans wondering how draft eligibility requirement would be affected. In simple terms, many have reported the league is seeking to eliminate the "one and done" rule in favor of one that requires college players to stay in college at least two seasons.
With the way John Calipari has recruited at Kentucky in his first three seasons, it's likely he will continue to bring in players capable of playing professionally sooner rather than later. Calipari has declared himself in favor of increasing the amount of time players are required to stay in school.
However, Ric Bucher of ESPN.com is reporting that, due to the tight timeframe in which a deal needs to be finalized, the current draft rules are likely to remain in place for at least the next two seasons. Beyond that, a few different options are being explored:
While it has been widely held that the NBA would like to push the age limit to 20, sources familiar with the dialogue between the two sides now say it is expected to remain at 19 for at least the first two years of the new deal and possibly beyond that.
Several alternatives have been discussed, sources said. One option would be to allow players to enter the draft directly out of high school but have the option to withdraw and go to college, similar to the draft rule used by Major League Baseball. Under this concept, a player would next be required to attend at least two years of college before entering the draft again.
Another option would be to revise the rookie salary scale by adding incentives to stay in college longer, a source familiar with the labor talks said. Potential incentives would include increasing the salary range for each year a player stays in school or allow him to qualify for free agency sooner.
There are several ancillary reasons why keeping the age limit at 19 for the time being is desirable. The first is the limited time the owners and players have to complete a collective bargaining agreement by Dec. 9 -- the date commissioner David Stern has targeted for the start of training camp and free agency. All significant rules pertaining to league operations have to be in place by then.
With so many high level issues still to be hashed out, "B-list" issues like draft eligibility appear slated to be pushed aside in the short term.
For all of the tradition between Kentucky and North Carolina, are you surprised to know that Saturday's game at Rupp Arena will mark the first time since 1995 that the two programs will square off when both are ranked in the top five in the nation?
That matchup came in 1995, in the South Regional final in Birmingham. Another came in the 1977 East Regional final and the only number one-versus-number two showdown occurred in December, 1981 at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. Only one of the four top five showdowns came on a home court and that happened at Memorial Coliseum on December 7, 1968. The common denominator is that the Tar Heels won all four games, by margins ranging from seven to 13 points.
If Kentucky ends that trend on Saturday, it might well be one of the top five moments in this series for Big Blue fans. For now, here's my take on how that list would look:
#5/ Kentucky 93, #6 UNC 76 in December, 2000
North Carolina had won six straight in the series and the sixth-ranked Tar Heels were a solid favorite to make it seven against the unranked Cats.
But led by Marquis Estill's first career double-double, Kentucky went into the Dean Dome and demolished UNC 93-76. It was Carolina's second-worst defeat on its latest home court and it re-established UK's credentials nationally after a slow start to the season.
By year's end, Kentucky was one of the hottest teams in the country and played its way into a number two seed before getting upset in the Sweet 16 by Southern Cal.
#4/ Kentucky 100, UNC 80 in December, 1963
This marked Hall of Fame coach Adolph Rupp's only win over Dean Smith, the year after Smith's Tar Heels had beaten the Wildcats in the first-ever meeting between the coaching legend and the rising star who would become an icon, too.
Cotton Nash scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds as UK routed UNC 100-80 at Memorial Coliseum. Future NBA star Billy Cunningham led all scorers with 32 points in defeat--a mark that still stands as the most points scored by a Tar Heel against Kentucky.
#3/ Kentucky 68, UNC 66 in December, 2009
This was the game that made the first definitive statement about John Calipari's revival of the UK program.
A crowd of 24, 968 (11 short of the record that was set a few weeks later v. Louisville) watched the Wildcats race out to a 43-28 halftime lead. The surge was fueled by freshman point guard John Wall, the North Carolina native who took control of the game early with his speed.
Wall cramped up in the second half but junior leader Patrick Patterson provided the settling influence to help the young Cats hold off a UNC rally for a 68-66 win. Patterson led Kentucky with 19 points and seven rebounds while Wall contributed 16 points and seven assists, enabling UK to end a five-game winning streak in the series by the Tar Heels.
#2/ Kentucky 90, North Carolina 78 in December, 1974
This one gets the number spot on my list because to me, this game solidified Joe B. Hall's seat as head coach on the Kentucky bench.
Two days after the Cats were blown out by 24 at Indiana, they fell behind early at Freedom Hall to the Tar Heels. Hall benched the starters--a move that would use four years later in an NCAA first-round game, to key UK's title run. When he put them back in the game, senior Jimmy Dan Conner caught fire.
Conner finished the night with his best game as a Wildcat, 15 of 21 from the field en route to 35 points as the Cats won going away. Buoyed by that performance, Kentucky would eventually make it to the national championship game, falling to UCLA in John Wooden's final game.
#1/ Kentucky 76, North Carolina 69 in March, 2011
The young Wildcats threw the NCAA Tournament brackets into disarray with their upset of top-seed Ohio State but they needed to beat North Carolina to reach the program's first Final Four in 13 years.
Kentucky gained the upper hand midway through the second half but rookie star Harrison Barnes led a Carolina resurrgence. With the game on the line in the final minute, Deandre Liggins swished a three-pointer from the corner in front of the Kentucky bench to deliver the knockout blow.
Brandon Knight led the scoring for UK with 22 as Kentucky won its first Elite Eight matchup with the Tar Heels in three tries and it was on to Houston.
Craig Skinner and the Kentucky Wildcats begin
play in the NCAA Tournament against Dayton on Thursday. (Britney,
McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Following a loss to Tennessee in the regular season finale last Wednesday, an emotional letdown seemed all but inevitable for Kentucky volleyball. The narrow four-set defeat left the Wildcats a win shy of their goal of winning the SEC regular season title.
There's no question the Cats were disappointed, but they didn't have the luxury of dwelling on that feeling. UK opens play in the NCAA Tournament this week and, if anything, Craig Skinner's bunch has ratcheted up the intensity.
"You can see a little fire in their eyes," Skinner said. "It's because now you play for tomorrow. This team is a close group, they want to be around each other, whether we're travelling or at home they want to play hard for each other. They're fired up to compete."
The Wildcats' tournament run begins at 5:30 ET Thursday against Atlantic 10 champion Dayton (25-6) in College Station, Texas. The Flyers are set to play in their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament and have won first round matches each of the past two seasons.
"Dayton has had a lot of success this year, winning their conference championship," Skinner said. "They're an annual tournament team, so they've been through the battles before and it will be a tough match."
Dayton's attack is spearheaded by 6-foot-4 junior outside hitter Rachel Krabacher, who is averaging a team-high 4.53 kills per set. Sophomore middle blocker Megan Campbell is second on the team with 2.93 kills per set and is hitting at an astounding clip of .416. As a team, Dayton is outhitting its opponents .287-.139 on the season and has successfully avoided mistakes all season.
"We play some teams in our league that are similar," Skinner said. "It's about transitioning and one of our themes all year long has been being able to transition for points. (Dayton) is a team you definitely need to beat, they're not going to beat themselves a whole lot."
In evaluating the Flyers, Skinner sees a team similar to his own, but also one he believes the Cats have the tools to beat.
"Some of the strengths we have, I feel, can neutralize Dayton," Skinner said. "They do a lot of things similar to us, in the way they block and defend."
The coaches set to roam the sideline for the two teams also have a great deal in common. Both Skinner and Dayton head coach Kelly Sheffield are natives of Muncie, Ind., and graduates of Ball State University. Thursday also won't be the first time the two have competed against one another, as Skinner and Sheffield faced off on middle school baseball fields in the early 1980's. Skinner remembers Sheffield from those days as a preeminent trash talker and expects some friendly back-and-forth before the match.
"He's good friend of mine and a great coach," Skinner said. "I haven't talked to him much the last couple days so he must be buried in stats and video."
Skinner is certainly going through the same rigorous preparation as his counterpart, but he wants his players to be balanced as Thursday approaches.
"We don't want to spend every waking moment thinking about the match," Skinner said. "They still have school to be thinking about as finals are coming up and they have families and things like that. So, when the time is appropriate to spend energy on Dayton that's what we'll be doing and we'll be intense in what we're doing."
Throughout the 2011 season, Skinner has marveled at his team's ability to stay loose while also bringing the "fire" needed to compete at a high level. He has come to recognize that the Cats come closest to reaching their potential with that attitude and the last thing he wants is for them to change now.
"I want them to be who they are, that's what they do best," Skinner said. "They're a great group, they're a lot of fun. You have to be loose and relaxed and compete at the same time."
Doron Lamb leads a balanced Kentucky scoring attack with 14.2 points per game. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
John Calipari has taken lately to talking about the selflessness of his team. He praises Darius Miller for his willingness to come off the bench, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for offering to do the same and Terrence Jones for accepting a decreased scoring load even though he has improved his game from a season ago.
The Kentucky Wildcats may have a long way to go before they reach their full potential, but the numbers are already proving that Calipari is right about his players caring more about the team than themselves.
So far this season, no UK player is averaging more than 14.2 points per game (Doron Lamb currently leads the team). All seven Wildcats who are playing double-digit minutes are scoring at least 7.8 points per outing. Even more amazingly, all seven of those players have taken between 40 and 59 shots over the Cats' first six games. Moreover, five of them have tallied at least 10 assists on the young season.
Coach Cal's first two teams showed a similar kind of unselfishness, but his third is taking it to a new level. All seven of his top players are capable of being the top scoring option on a pretty good basketball team, but they are instead accepting even workloads in the hopes of becoming a great basketball team.
To further prove this, let's take a look at where the Wildcats rank in some of the key individual statistical categories tracked by the NCAA through Sunday's games:
Scoring - No UK players in top 50
Assists - No UK players in top 50
Rebounds - No UK players in top 50
Blocks - Anthony Davis (No. 4 with 4.3 per game)
Field goal percentage -Anthony Davis (No. 5 at 71.4 percent)
Steals - No UK players in top 50
Double-doubles - No UK players in top 50
3-point field goals - No UK players in top 50
On the face of things, it may seem surprising to see so few Wildcats among the nation's leaders, but not so much when you consider how balanced UK has been. On the flip side, Kentucky ranks in the top 50 nationally in the following team statistical categories:
Scoring offense - 84.2 points per game (No. 14)
Scoring defense - 54.2 points per game (No. 12)
Scoring margin - 30.0 points per game (No. 3)
Field goal percentage - 51.4 percent (No. 10)
Field goal percentage defense - 31.3 percent (No. 3)
Rebounding margin - 8.8 per game (No. 21)
Assists - 16.3 per game (t-No. 36)
Blocks - 10.3 per game (No. 1)
3-point field goal percentage - 41.1 percent (No. 34)
Not bad, huh?
UK has managed to maintain an unselfish attitude through the early portion of the non-conference schedule and, on the strength of it, has risen to the No. 1 ranking in both major polls. However, the schedule is about to get tougher. The Wildcats' next three games against St. John's, North Carolina and Indiana will all be played in front of capacity crowds and national television audiences. How they fare could well depend whether they can stick with the all-for-one approach that has worked so well this season.
"The question is when the lights go on in these big games do we continue to feel that way, and that's something we're going to have to see," Calipari said.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 27:
Women's basketball: Bria Goss
Averaged a team-high 12.0 points per game in UK's three wins while shooting a team-high field goal percentage (.519). Also had the most made field goals on the team (14).
Reached double figures in scoring every game this week, including a career-high 13 points in two games this week (Nebraska Omaha and Mississippi Valley State).
Finished the week second on the team in rebounds (6.0 rpg), third in assists (2.0 apg) and third in steals (2.0 spg).
Continues to shoot well from the free-throw line, going 6-7 from the charity stripe this week to push her total to a team-best 15-17 (.882).
Led the team in scoring against Nebraska Omaha with a game-high 13 points.
Had a team-high tying 13 points against Mississippi Valley State to go along with a team-high tying three steals.
Men's basketball: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis just missed averaging a double-double on the week by two rebounds while leading Kentucky to a 2-0 mark on the week and a 6-0 start to the season ... Davis did record his second double-double of the season inn UK's win over Portland with 13 points and 12 rebounds ... He posted a pair of four-block games on the week and is averaging a league best 4.3 blocks per game ... Davis has multiple blocks in all six games this season.
Football: Matt Roark
wide receiver Matt Roark made his first start at quarterback for Kentucky in
its historic win over Tennessee. Roark was 4-for-6 passing for 15 yards and
rushed 24 times for 124 yards. All totals are career highs. Roark's longest
completion was a 15-yard toss to tight end Nick Melillo.
Roark rushed for over 100 yards in the
game, marking the first time a UK player has rushed for over 100 yards since
Coshik Williams gained 111 against Ole Miss earlier this season.
Men's basketball: Terrence Jones
Posted season bests in back-to-back games this week helping lead UK to a 2-0 record and a 6-0 mark on the season ... Shot 50 pct. from the field on the week including 75 pct. from 3-point range ... Posted back-to-back multiple block games and has three-straight and four on the season ... Tallied a season-high two steals in win over Portland
Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies
Averaged 11.3 points and a team-high 5.6 steals to go along with 5.3 rebounds per game in UK's three wins.
Swiped a career-high nine steals against Nebraska Omaha.
Her nine steals against Nebraska Omaha are tied for the second most steals in a single game in UK history.
Moved into the top 10 all-time in steals at UK (195).
Reached double figures in scoring in every game this week and moved up to No. 25 on the UK all-time scoring list (1,034).
Helped lead UK to an undefeated week, beating its opponents by an average of 31 points.
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 - Football beats Tennessee, ends streak
An obvious winner here. Kentucky entered its annual matchup with Tennessee as the underdog, with the Wildcats' streak of consecutive losses at the hands of the Volunteers expected to be extended to 27. Instead, the Cats' defense turned in an unbelievable performance and the offense did just enough to deliver a 10-7 victory to the fans in Commonwealth Stadium.
UK won the turnover battle, forcing a pair and committing none, while holding the UT offense to a paltry 276 yards. The Wildcats were anchored by a group of seniors who made big play after big play in their final games wearing Kentucky blue, including Winston Guy (14 tackles), Danny Trevathan (eight tackles, 1.5 for loss) and Taiedo Smith (game-clinching interception). None, however, came up bigger than...
Player of the week - Matt Roark, hero in unlikeliest of fashions
Two months ago, Matt Roark was a wide receiver sent to the bench due to an acute case of the drops. However, he never let himself get down and continued to stand out on UK's special teams. He worked his way back into the mix at receiver and even had back-to-back games of 100 yards receiving.
That would have been a good enough story for his senior season, but another twist was in store.
With quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton unable to play at 100 percent, head coach Joker Phillips, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and passing game coordinator Tee Martin came up with a top-secret plan. Roark would return to quarterback, the position he played in high school, to run a simplified, running Wildcat attack. Incredibly, the secret was kept until Roark took the first snap of the game against Tennessee.
He didn't throw the ball all over the field, completing just 4-of-6 passes for 15 yards, but he made sounds decisions and diced the Volunteer defense for 124 rushing yards in the 10-7 win. A fitting cap to his memorable day, Roark served as the honorary 'Y' at the men's basketball game on Saturday night. Play of the week - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist throws down
Yet another clear winner. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's and-one dunk from Saturday's 87-63 win over Portland pretty much speaks for itself. Photo of the week - Trevathan's sendoff
Danny Trevathan is recognized during Senior Day festivities before a 10-7 win over Tennessee. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Alumnus/alumna of the week - Stevie Johnson turns in solid day
On Sunday, Stevie Johnson of the Buffalo Bills faced the unenviable task of lining up opposite Darrelle Revis, the New York Jets' shutdown cornerback. All the former UK wide receiver did was catch eight balls for 75 yards, including a five-yard touchdown pass that gave the Bills a 14-7 lead late in the second quarter. The Jets and John Conner, Johnson's former UK teammate, would go on to win the game 28-24.
Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has helped lead UK to a 6-0 start and a No. 1 ranking in both the AP and Coaches polls. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It's official: the Kentucky Wildcats are No. 1 yet again.
Following North Carolina's loss to UNLV this weekend, John Calipari and the Cats returned to the top spot in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
In the AP poll, UK received 46 of 65 potential first place votes, placing them ahead of second-ranked Ohio State. This marks the second time in Calipari's tenure that UK has owned the top spot and the 19th different season in school history the Wildcats have been No. 1 at some point.
At fifth place in both polls is UNC, the Wildcats' opponent in a long-awaited game to be played on Saturday in Rupp Arena. Although the Tar Heels' loss spoiled a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, the game will feature the two most highly-rated opponents to face off in the regular season since UK-Indiana in 1979.
Men's basketball - Kentucky improved to 6-0 on the season after posting a pair of wins over Radford and Portland last week. The Wildcats extended their home-winning streak to 37 games and John Calipari pushed his winning streak at Rupp at UK to 36-straight. - Against Portland Kentucky posted only four turnovers, the fewest by a UK team since the 1993 squad turned the ball over twice against Utah in the NCAA Tournament. - In the win over the Pilots, Anthony Davis posted his second double-double of the season, pulling down a career-high 12 rebounds. - Marquis Teague handed out a personal-high eight assists and recorded a career-best four steals.
Football - Behind a stingy defensive effort and the impressive play of senior Matt Roark at quarterback, the Kentucky football team snapped Tennessee's 26-game winning streak over the Wildcats with a 10-7 win over the Volunteers on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. - Roark, who started at quarterback for the first time in his career, was the key offensive weapon for the Wildcats, completing 4-of-6 passes for 15 yards and rushing 24 times for 124 yards. All totals are career highs. Roark's longest completion was a 15-yard toss to tight end Nick Melillo. Roark's 100-yard rushing game marked the first time a UK player has rushed for over 100 yards since CoShik Williams gained 111 against Ole Miss earlier this season. - The UK defense was stout in the win, limiting Tennessee to seven points, marking the fourth time this season UT has scored under 10 points. UT was also limited to seven points or less against Alabama, Arkansas and LSU. Winston Guy led UK with 14 tackles, while Danny Trevathan earned eight stops, 1.5 tackles for loss and two pass breakups. Taiedo Smith earned his first start of the season at safety, recording an interception, while senior Ronnie Sneed grabbed his second pick of the season. - Senior punter Ryan Tydlacka performed well in the game, flipping field position with nine punts, for an average of 43.6 yards and one punt inside the 20-yard line. For his efforts, Tydlacka was named the Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week. Women's basketball - Kentucky improved to 7-0 overall with wins over Nebraska Omaha, Sam Houston State and Mississippi Valley State last week. This is UK's best start to a season since the 2009-10 season team began at 11-0. - The Wildcats' defensive pressure has once again been their bread and butter as they have forced a league-high 250 turnovers, averaging 35.7 forced turnovers per game. - Leading the charge is junior guard A'dia Mathies. Mathies, who already ranks in the top 10 on UK's all-time steals list, averages a team-high 4.4 steals per game to go along with her team-best 15.4 points per game. She has netted double-figure points in all seven games this season. - Freshman Bria Goss has also been a key contributor as she averages 10.9 points and 5.7 rebounds a game. - UK puts its 27-game winning streak vs. nonconference teams at home on the line when it plays host to intrastate rival and 11th-ranked Louisville on Sunday. Volleyball - Kentucky dropped a heartbreaker to 15th-ranked Tennessee in hopes of a share of an SEC title on Wednesday. - Despite the loss, the Wildcats were selected for their school-record seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament it was announced on Sunday night. - UK is one of just 16 schools in the country to appear in all seven of the last NCAA tournaments. Kentucky will travel to College Station, Texas, for its first round matchup with Atlantic 10 winner Dayton. - Junior Stephanie Klefot had 21 digs in the loss to the Lady Vols and has now posted 10 or more digs in 30 matches this season. Her 542 scoops for the season ranks as the third-highest total in single-season school history. - Junior Ashley Frazier paced the offensive effort with 15 kills and has topped the double-digit plateau 22 times this season. - Sophomore Whitney Billings turned in her sixth double-double effort of the season with 12 kills and 13 digs.
With North Carolina's loss on Saturday night to UNLV, John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats are expected to rise to the top of all major polls this week. The Associated Press and Coaches polls are expected to be released later today, but CBSSports.com has released its rankings and UK fans will like what they see.
UK moves to the top of the rankings with UNC, the Wildcats' opponent in a much-anticipated games this Saturday, falling to No. 5. Here is what Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman had to say about Kentucky:
The Wildcats move into the top spot by virtue of North Carolina's loss to UNLV in Vegas. It won't be No. 1 vs. No. 2 -- as expected, but Saturday's game in Lexington against the Tar Heels could still be a preview of the national title contest.
Kentucky volleyball will travel to College Station, Texas for a first round match with Dayton in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
All season long, Craig Skinner and Kentucky volleyball had worked to position themselves for Selection Sunday. The Wildcats won 26 of 31 games en route to a second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference. The Cats finished the season ranked No. 13 in the RPI, boasting six wins over teams that would earn NCAA Tournament berths.
Based on that resume, UK made a strong case to be one of 16 national seeds that would host first and second round games. Instead, Skinner's bunch will be making a mid-week trip to College Station, Texas.
There may have been a flash of disappointment when he learned his team wouldn't get the chance to play in the comforts of Memorial Coliseum, but he ultimately is thankful just to be able to lead his team to a seventh-consecutive NCAA Tournament.
"You get chills watching the Selection Show when it first pops up and you see your name there," Skinner said. "Regardless of who we're playing or where, I'm excited for our players because they put a lot of time and energy in. There are only 64 teams still playing and I'm really excited we're one of them."
The Wildcats will face off against the Atlantic 10 champion Dayton Flyers (25-6) in the first round. The match will take place on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m. ET with the winner advancing to meet the winner between No. 16 national seed Texas A&M (22-7) and Lipscomb (20-10) on Friday.
"We're really excited to be in the tournament," Skinner said. "I think it's a wide open tournament this year and there are a lot of really good teams. I thought we'd be in and I'm happy about the year to this point. It's a new season and I'm looking forward to getting started down at A&M."
If UK and Texas A&M each advance, it will be a preview of future SEC matches as the Aggies make the move to a new conference this offseason. Texas A&M, as well as fellow NCAA Tournament team Missouri, will be joining a league with three teams to reach the 2011 tournament, while bubble teams like Arkansas and LSU were left out.
"I'm disappointed for the SEC," Skinner said. "I thought both Tennessee (No. 14 national seed) and us had a good enough season, played enough quality opponents and had enough good wins to be seeded if not seeded higher, but that's part of the tournament."
Having played a 20-match schedule in the conference, the Cats believe the three teams to earn berths will prove the strength of the SEC.
"I'm really surprised," junior libero Stephanie Klefot said. "They kind of overlooked the SEC a lot and I think we should have done better and what we got wasn't fair, but what happens happens. We all have to go out and play for ourselves and show the SEC is better than what everyone thinks."
UK may have been rebuffed in its bid to host first and second round games, but the Cats are looking at the positive side of going on the road to open the tournament.
"We would like to be at home but it might give us a little more motivation and attitude going into it," Klefot said. "We might not be as relaxed so it may be a good thing."
UK owns a 7-4 record on the road this season and Skinner believes those 11 matches will be crucial to preparing for Thursday and Friday.
"When you go on the road in the tournament, it's us against everybody," Skinner said. "You have to do a good job preparing on the road during the season to help get ready for something like this in the tournament."
Also helping the Cats is the fact that they've essentially been playing in tournament mode for more than a month. Following a loss to Mississippi State on Oct. 14, UK knew it would likely have to win out to keep pace with first-place Tennessee in the race for the SEC title. The Wildcats responded by winning nine consecutive matches, including four that lasted a full five sets.
"A lot of teams could just coast through and they knew they were going to win," Klefot said. "For us, we had to compete every day. I think that helps a lot because if we get into a situation where we're down 2-0, we're not going to look at the third game and think we're in trouble. We know that we can come back from that."
They would lose a hotly-contested regular season finale against Tennessee on Wednesday, narrowly missing out on a share of the SEC championship. Even though only a few days have passed since the disappointment of the defeat, Skinner has already seen that his team is raring to hit the road for the NCAA's.
"If (Sunday's) practice is any indication, I think we're going to be ready," Skinner said. "I think we came with a lot of spirit, energy and competitiveness. We've talked about it being a three-season year with preseason, in-conference and now the post-season and it's time to get it going. I think our team, both the upperclassmen and the freshmen, are chomping at the bit to get going."
Six Wildcats earn All-SEC honors
For the second season in a row, Klefot was named SEC Libero of the Year and she is joined by five of her teammates on the list of all-conference honorees. Joining her as First Team All-SEC members are sophomore right side hitter Whitney Billings and junior setter Christine Hartmann. Junior outside hitter Ashley Frazier was named to the Second Team, while outside hitter Lauren O'Conner earned All-Freshman honors. Last but most certainly not least, senior outside middle blocker Ann Armes was named Co-Scholar Athlete of the Year.
UK (26-5) will face Dayton (25-6) in the first round on Thursday, Dec. 1 in College Station, Texas with a potential matchup with future Southeastern Conference rival and No. 16 national seed Texas A&M (22-7) looming in the second round. With a top-15 RPI, UK submitted a bid to be one of 16 schools to host first and second round games, but will instead make the trek to the Lone Star State.
Should UK advance, they will return home to Lexington, Ky., as Kentucky's Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games would be held in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats were one of three teams from the SEC to reach the tournament, along with conference champion Tennessee and Florida.
Bria Goss had 13 points and eight rebounds in UK's 90-51 win on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
A season ago, Matthew Mitchell had to scramble to fill the point guard position. With Amber Smith out for the season due to reconstructive knee surgery and no other natural floor generals on the roster, Kentucky turned to A'dia Mathies, Maegan Conwright and others to do the job.
Mitchell doesn't have the same problem this year.
Smith has returned and highly touted freshman Bria Goss has arrived on campus. Although Smith is still short of full strength following the injury and Goss is learning on the job, UK's future at point guard is bright, for both this season and beyond.
Smith got the Wildcats off to a flying start in a 90-51 victory over Mississippi Valley State on Sunday, proving why so many were excited about her return to Kentucky for a fifth season. During the 10-0 run to open the game, the point guard drew a charge, dished out a pair of assists and confidently knocked down a jumper from the top of the key. Smith hasn't completely regained her form from the Wildcats' run to the Elite Eight in 2009-10, but she sure looked close to it during that stretch.
"I think Amber's experience and her talent help us a lot," Mitchell said. "I think she is slowly but surely getting back closer to full speed."
Smith knows there's plenty of work ahead, but she is just thankful to be on the floor again after having to go through the year-long torture of sitting out the 2010-11 season.
"I think I'm taking steps forward each game," Smith said. "I'm just blessed to be out there playing with this team."
Along with the impact Smith had during that opening stretch, her numbers for the game show how solid of an all-around game she is capable of playing on a consistent basis. She finished with 11 points and five assists and Mitchell knows how much she means to his team.
"She had some really good moments today," Mitchell said. "Five assists, two turnovers: that's a good ratio. When she's shooting the ball well like she has the past couple games, that helps us a lot."
Smith, though, created a nervous moment for her coach in the second half, diving over a press table along the baseline in an effort to save a loose ball. Given her injury-riddled past, Mitchell was thankful to see her pick herself up, showing no ill effects of the fall other than some sweet tea stains on her uniform.
"That's just sort of the way we play," Mitchell said. "I would not like for her to go over tables and I would not like for her to run into a chair or anything like that, but I have accepted that's sort of what we have instilled in them in practice."
Even knowing her own history, Smith didn't have a thought in her head about her own safety when she was making the play.
"The only thing that was going through my mind was I was saving the ball on their end of the court," Smith said. "I went for it and we got the ball so I was happy."
Goss also took a hard fall in the second half, jumping high looking to intercept a pass before being undercut and hitting the deck. She briefly exited the game, but returned later and played a few more minutes at the point, where she had a chance to get valuable in-game experience.
Just as Smith is a work in progress, so is Goss, but for different reasons. Mitchell has praised Goss for being one of the best-conditioned players on the team even though she's only in her first season, but she is still developing in a new system. She began her UK career as one of the top-rated incoming point guards in the nation, but played primarily off the ball during preseason practices. However, she has returned to her natural position for parts of UK's last two games.
Last time out against Sam Houston State, she played the position for the last few minutes of a blowout win, but split time evenly with Smith at point guard in the Cats' win over Mississippi Valley State. She responded with 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.
"I think she's really good," Smith said. "She plays hard and I think she's going to be OK at the point guard position whenever she has to play it."
The luxury UK now has because of Goss's experience playing the off-guard position is that Mitchell can play her alongside Smith.
"We have a lot of guards that can make plays in the open floor," Mitchell said. "They can create for other people."
The senior knows how good her freshman counterpart can be down the road at point guard, but for now, Smith wants to keep her primarily off the ball.
"Hopefully I can stay in as long as I can and she can steal some minutes," Smith said. "I want her at the two. She's good at the two."
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 11 points and seven rebounds in a 87-63 win over Portland. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Four minutes in to the second half, the Kentucky Wildcats played as if they had come straight from cheering on their classmates' big win over Tennessee in Commonwealth Stadium as football. The basketball Cats held a scant six-point advantage over the visiting Portland Pilots.
UK appeared it would have to grind out a tight victory against an opponent shooting the lights out in Rupp Arena, but the Wildcats awoke. Spurred by a suffocating full-court press and highlight reel finishes at the rim, UK stirred to action and awed the 24,179 Big Blue faithful in attendance the rest of the way.
"We press a lot of teams," freshman Anthony Davis said. "Our length is so crazy we can lock down teams defensively and we try to press and get teams distracted and thrown off. They had a couple turnovers and we had a lot of big plays and it made our energy go up."
In fewer than six minutes after Portland cut the deficit to six, UK went on a 20-5 run while employing that press. The Cats had steals, dunks, and-ones and jumpers, but the highlight came from freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He made a steal at mid-court and streaked down the middle of the floor, seeing an opportunity. He took off from inside the free throw line, skying over and through Derrick Rodgers for a rim-rocking and-one dunk sure to make multiple appearances on ESPN.
"I stole the ball, dribbled and just dunked it," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "That's my game, that's what I do best."
Kidd-Gilchrist's matter-of-fact description almost seems to suggest the play was easy for him, but it still caught the attention of his teammates. Dunks like the one Kidd-Gilchrist had may only count for two points, but they can have a psychological effect on the opponent.
"Definitely, especially the one Mike had today," Miller said. "That was crazy. I know that had to do something to them."
Kidd-Gilchrist's dunk came with 12 seconds of another dunk from Davis on alley-oop thrown by Marquis Teague. That ability to create easy multiple baskets off the press reminds Miller of a pretty good team he played on earlier in his career. However, UK's length with players like Davis and Terrence Jones adds another dimension.
"Two years ago (in 2009-10) we were pretty good at that too, in my opinion," Miller said. "It's kind of different because of the length that we have and how versatile we are, but it's similar in some ways."
Miller, who finished with a season-high 19 points, is well versed in the cumulative effect a press like UK's can have.
"I think it makes it real tough on them," Miller said. "It fatigues them I think, especially their point guard, when he has to go against all of us. A lot of times, coaches depend on their point guard bringing it up and I think if we make it difficult on them, it kind of slows down their team."
UK forced 17 turnovers on the game, including four from Portland point guard Tim Douglas. The sophomore had just one at halftime, but he began to succumb to the pressure as his legs gave way.
"We are just really long and it makes it difficult for teams to get (the ball) over when you have guys like Mike guarding you and me coming to trap," Jones said.
Don't get too excited though Big Blue Nation: John Calipari isn't going to be turning to the press on a full-time anytime soon because sound defense, he believes, begins in the half-court. UK employed the press extensively on Saturday in an effort to speed up a Portland team intent on playing slow.
With games against high-profile opponents like St. John's and North Carolina upcoming, UK may or may not be employing the press more this week.
"You're not going to press great teams that are well coached into submission," Calipari said. "You're not. I don't care what anybody says. You're not winning a championship if that's the thing that you're relying on."
However, that's not to say there won't be a time and a place for it as the season goes on as it most certainly was against Portland.
"I also think a press can change the complexion of a game and can give you a gap," Calipari said. "You have to be able to guard in the half court, you have to be able to shut people down."
Senior guard Darius Miller and the Kentucky men's basketball team has shown great promise with big games on the horizon. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky men's basketball team cruised to an 87-63 victory over Portland on Saturday night in front of an energetic crowd of 24,179 at Rupp Arena.
With the win, Kentucky moves to 6-0 on the season with future dates against St. John's and No. 1 North Carolina on the near horizon.
For now, the Wildcats can rest easy. An undefeated record with an average margin of victory of 30 points per game will allow one to do that. That's not to say the early season has been a total breeze and Kentucky is hitting on all cylinders. They're not.
"We've got to be better than we were tonight offensively, and I know
I looked at the numbers - the numbers looked pretty good," UK head coach John Calipari said. "I mean, the numbers looked like, wow, they were there. But we have to be better than we're playing right now."
Kentucky has shown glimpses of greatness, and plays that are truly jaw dropping. The problem has been that too often Calipari has also seen "flubs" that make him scratch his head.
Freshman guard Marquis Teague, who has drawn the ire of some for a few of his decisions in the UK offense, missed two layups in the first half. But he also had a slew of defensive plays that got the crowd on its feet and ignited the Cats on multiple runs. By the end of the game, the freshman from Indianapolis finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, four steals and zero turnovers.
"I thought Marquis Teague played a terrific floor game," Calipari said. "The best play he made, and I told him after the game, breakaway lay up, he slowed down and gave it to Terrence Jones, best play he's made all year. It just shows that he's playing for his team."
For some teams, games like Saturday night's against Portland can be tough. A non-marquee opponent from the other side of the country just two days after Thanksgiving can be a healthy recipe for a lethargic evening.
At times in the first half, it appeared the Wildcats were still trying to shake off some of the leftover tryptophan from the holiday turkey. At other times, it appeared no defense could stop Kentucky, as sports radio host and TV personality Dan Patrick would say, they could only hope to contain them.
Coming out of the timeout following senior wide receiver/quarterback/football hero Matt Roark's introduction to the Rupp Arena faithful, the Wildcats went on a 6-0 run spanning just 26 seconds. The run was capped off by a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist dunk that will surely reach the Sportscenter Top 10.
It's moments like that that make this Kentucky team so dangerous.
Seemingly with a single blink of the eye, the Cats can take a once close game and flip it into cruise control. While Portland played well, hitting 11 3-pointers and out-rebounding the Cats, Kentucky got a 24-point victory thanks to 12 steals and just four turnovers.
The job for UK head coach John Calipari is finding that switch that gets the Wildcats to put their foot on the gas from the opening tip.
With one of the more rigorous portions of the UK schedule beginning in just a few days, including arguably the most highly anticipated regular season matchup in recent memory when the Tar Heels come to town Dec. 3, it's safe to assume the Wildcats will have their collective minds plenty focused.
"We know it's going to be two really big games," said senior guard Darius Miller in reference to Kentucky's next two games. "St. John's and North Carolina are two of the elite teams in the nation. I think both of them are really good. A lot of things that they do, in my opinion, are really similar, especially getting out and running. We're going to have a lot to work on. I know we're going to have tough days in practice ahead of us to get us ready, but Coach Cal is going to do a great job of getting us prepared."
For now, Calipari will continue to watch tape on his team, try to find the right combinations, and push the right buttons. The Wildcats are 6-0. They hope to be 8-0 at this time next week.
After 26 years, some Kentucky fans had to wonder whether they would see another win over Tennessee in their lifetimes.
UK had managed to lose the annual matchup against the Volunteers every year for over a quarter-century in spite of fielding some of the best teams in school history. The Wildcats had lost games in nearly every conceivable way from blowouts to quadruple overtime affairs, from defensive battles to shootouts.
Kentucky had exhausted nearly every conceivable strategy in trying to end the streak, so it's perfectly and appropriately nonsensical the Cats would finally put an end to it in the most bizarre way imaginable.
"What an amazing game," head coach Joker Phillips said. "(In) the last 26 years, how many quarterbacks have we had, probably 15? Who would pick out Matt Roark as the guy who broke the streak."
With his top two quarterback options in Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton battling injury, Phillips turned to wide receiver Matt Roark under center, who last played the position as a senior in high school. The Wildcats installed an unconventional and highly limited playbook and used a stalwart defensive effort to defeat Tennessee 10-7 in front of 59,855 delirious fans in Commonwealth Stadium.
UK managed just 217 yards of total offense, but the Cats avoided turnovers and stymied a normally potent Volunteer attack. Kentucky had two sacks, two interceptions and held Tennessee to just 4-of-16 on third down conversions, adopting a "refuse to lose" mentality that ultimately made all the difference in a Senior Day win.
"We started a tradition last year where I give all the seniors a chance to stand up and talk to their peers about what Kentucky football has meant to them," Phillips said, "and every one of them talked about everybody in that room as being their brothers. So at the end I asked their brothers are they willing to fight, scratch and claw to give their big brothers the memory of a lifetime?"
The plan to start Roark was hatched on Sunday and Monday and he was finally told he would be the fulltime quarterback on Tuesday. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said there were just 47 plays installed as a part of this week's game plan, very few of which were passes. Roark attempted just six passes throughout the game, completing four for fifteen yards, but the Wildcats were confident all week in spite of knowing how one-dimensionally they would have to play.
"I just had faith in my team," senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed said. "I could see it in everybody's eyes. The seniors wanted to go out with a win and the younger guys wanted to help us leave with a win. We knew we needed to do it. We stepped up and played a great game."
The only achievement that came close to matching the resilience UK demonstrated in pulling off this victory was actually keeping their plan a secret until game time. In a world of tweets, blog posts and Facebook statuses, no one outside of the program knew for certain Roark would play until he trotted onto the field for UK's first drive.
"My teammates knew, and that's who I'm with all the time," Roark said. "We were really excited. I really wanted to tell my family. I know they have a big mouth, and my friends tweet all the time so I didn't want to tell all of them."
During the week, Smith worked hard in the training room in an effort to play, but it became clear that neither he nor Newton would be able to protect themselves on the field enough to allow them to start. Besides, nearly all UK's practice time was spent working with Roark in the run-heavy attack, so the decision was made to go with it. Roark responded with 124 rushing yards on 16 carries and has permanently etched his name into UK lore.
"It feels good," Roark said. "I can't really express it right now. It feels crazy. Once I get out of here I don't know what's going to happen."
Roark is excited about what the win means for his legacy, but is happier for his senior class as a whole. He also wasn't the only Wildcat playing his final game at UK to come up with crucial plays. Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy are the headliners in the class and played predictably well.
Trevathan added to his SEC-leading tackle total with eight more on Saturday, including 1.5 for loss with another two pass breakups to boot. Guy, in spite of playing with an injured shoulder, was all over the field with 14 tackles, two stops for loss and half a sack. Meanwhile, Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley took turns in deflecting passes on Tennessee's last-ditch drive and Taiedo Smith sealed the win with an interception of Tyler Bray.
"I felt like this was the year for us to beat Tennessee," Guy said. "I was making plays, Danny was making plays, Sneed was making plays, (Burden) and Mosley were making plays. All the seniors were making plays. You could see the intensity and the fire and how much we wanted to win."
Phillips was a part of the last senior class to go out with a win over Tennessee. The win means a great deal to him, but he still remembers his win as a player over the Volunteers in 1984 and couldn't be happier Trevathan, Guy, Roark and company now will carry the same kind of memory the rest of their lives.
"I was asked earlier about how much it meant to me to break the streak as the head coach," Phillips said. "It doesn't mean much to me to bread the streak. What means more to me is the joy that those seniors, the memories that those guys will have."
Senior wide receiver Matt Roark, playing quarterback Saturday, led the Wildcats to a victory over Tennessee, their first since 1984. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
This was not supposed to be the year.
After an unprecedented five-year run where UK advanced to a bowl game in each season and sent numerous talents to the NFL, defeating multiple top-10 teams along the way, one thing remained the same; Kentucky could not beat Tennessee.
That streak was not supposed to - or expected to - end this year, with Kentucky holding just four wins heading into the game, and with its first- and second-string quarterbacks standing on the sidelines nursing significant injuries.
The streak was not supposed to end with senior wide receiver Matt Roark, who was benched earlier this season after dropping a touchdown pass against Central Michigan, guiding the Wildcats at quarterback.
"How many - if we lined up the last 26 years, how many quarterbacks have we had, probably 15?" UK head coach Joker Phillips said. "Who would pick out Matt Roark as the guy who broke the streak?"
For the last five years, Kentucky has come close to ending the much-talked about and much-maligned 26-year losing streak.
In 2007, fans everywhere said 'this was the year.' The Cats had beaten two top-10 teams, including No. 1 and eventual national champion LSU. The Wildcats and Volunteers ended up going into a quadruple-overtime thriller, before the Vols eventually pulled out a 52-50 win.
In 2009, Kentucky faced a Tennessee squad that seemed to be ripe for the picking. Again, fans clamored that 'this was the year.' The end result was the Wildcats' 25th straight loss to the Vols, 30-24 in overtime.
In 2010, Kentucky raced out to a fast start and everyone believed junior Mr. Everything, Randall Cobb, would lead the Cats to a victory in his home state. Alas, the Vols held on and pushed the streak to 26 with a 24-14 victory.
This was not supposed to be the year.
After completing his first pass of the game, a 15-yard completion to senior tight end Nick Melillo, Roark and the Kentucky offense went the remainder of the game going 3-5 for 0 yards. It didn't matter. The Wildcats rushed 56 times for 202 yards, often keeping the Volunteer defense on its heels with creative play calling.
Senior linebacker Danny Trevathan and senior safety Winston Guy, the top two tacklers in the Southeastern Conference, didn't care what the critics thought. Senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed, who said prior to the game that Kentucky would, in fact, beat Tennessee Saturday, couldn't have cared less. None of the Wildcat seniors, cared what anyone said or thought about their chances at ending the streak.
"I just had faith in my team," Sneed said. "I could see it in everybody's eyes. The seniors wanted to go out with a win and the younger guys wanted to help us leave with a win. It was something everybody wanted to do. We knew we needed to do it."
For Trevathan, an unheralded linebacker out of Leesburg, Fla., who garnered just two stars by the recruiting analysts of Rivals.com, Saturday's win was the culmination of four years of hard work and faith. The first linebacker in Kentucky history to earn first-team All-America honors, Trevathan has played his entire career for his teammates.
"I just want to say that this is a blessing," Trevathan said. "I love this team. I feel like we took care of business today. It's been 26 years. That's too long for anything. I think we played our hearts out today. I feel like we played one of our best games."
On Thanksgiving Day, when most people are spending time with family and friends, giving thanks for all of life's blessings, UK head coach Joker Phillips was answering questions from reporters about his job status. Little did they, or anyone, know Phillips would masterfully call the best game of his young coaching career with an injury-depleted roster against the Wildcats' chief SEC rival only two days later.
"Coach Phillips has never wavered with his plan, how we practice, what he does as a head coach - never wavered," UK wide receivers coach Tee Martin. "... It takes a special type of leader to do all that."
The Kentucky football team's season is now over, finishing at 5-7. It is the first time the Wildcats will not play a game in the month of December or January since the 2005 season when now UK student assistant coach Andre Woodson was just a sophomore quarterback waiting for his opportunity to shine.
But when the time comes to look back upon this season, what will we all say? No, it was not a successful season by Phillips' standards, and no, this victory does not right a season with seven wrongs.
But when people look back upon the 2011 season, one thing will surely - and quickly - come to mind: 2011 wasn't supposed to be the year, but it was. Kentucky beat Tennessee.
Today's victory reinforces the belief of Dr. Capilouto and I that Head Coach Joker Phillips continues to be the right fit to lead our football program. Although this season certainly fell short of our expectations, today we celebrate a victory that has eluded this program for 26 seasons. Congratulations to Coach Phillips and our football team.
As I do after each season, I will follow up on our regular, in-season conversations with a more formal and thorough review of all aspects of our football program and address any needs after that meeting with Coach Phillips.
Bowl games and a climb up the rigorous SEC ladder continue to be my expectation and markers of our program's progress. I remain confident in Coach Phillips, his continued ability to find and develop young talent and his plan to return Kentucky football to post-season play.
The Big Blue Nation has been very supportive of our football program as we strive to reach our goal of championship football in Lexington. Coach Phillips helped turn our offense around to what our expectation level is today and I'm confident he will do it again. Only with your continued support can we reach our dreams of celebrating our accomplishments together.
It's time for the latest Robic's Riddle, a trivia contest we'll be holding before every men's basketball game.
Assistant coach John Robic will be supplying us with a trivia question from the annals of Kentucky basketball history before each game. The first fan to submit a correct answer via email to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a prize. Today's question is about former Wildcat great Dan Issel, so the winner will receive a program from tonight's Kentucky-Portland game signed by Robic and John Calipari.
How many Division I conferences does Kentucky have a perfect record against and which conferences are they?
Again, please submit your answers to email@example.com. We will announce the correct answers at halftime of this evening's game, assuming we have a winner by that time.
Keyla Snowden scored 19 points in UK Hoops' 73-52 win over Sam Houston State. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Entering Friday's game against Sam Houston State, A'dia Mathiez led her team in scoring and appeared unstoppable at times.
Not even she has the range every night.
The junior guard needed a bucket late in the second half just to reach double figures as she turned in her worst shooting performance this season. Fortunately, Mathies is surrounded by enough offensive firepower that the Kentucky Wildcats were able to defeat Sam Houston State 73-52 and move to 6-0 anyway.
"That is something that is going to beneficial for us I think," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We have some offensive weapons."
Mathies was joined in double figures by three of her teammates, led by Keyla Snowden who scored a season-high 19 points. The senior nailed seven of her 13 shots, including 4-of-9 from deep. Snowden's range was vital against the Bearkats' zone defense and was a welcome development after she was 1-for-7 in UK's last outing.
"Keyla bounced back and I was really happy with that," Mitchell said. "That was a person that kind of stepped in and filled that gap tonight."
Snowden did an admirable job in filling the scoring void, but Mathies didn't allow her off night from the field to deter her in other areas. She also contributed five rebounds and three assists and was her typical self on the defensive end. Her six steals on the night moved her into 10th place in school history with 193, further proving Mathies needs not score to exert a major impact on any game she plays.
"I was so happy with A'dia's play: six steals and she's making things happen on the floor," Mitchell said. "Her presence is good. I think we were a little flat tonight and A'dia didn't play her best, but she's having a good season."
Also chipping in on the offensive end for the Cats were Bria Goss (10 points) and Samantha Drake, who posted her second career double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds. However, Snowden was the only UK player to make at least half her shots as the Cats hit just 29-of-83 (34.9 percent) shots from the field.
"We're not shooting the ball well right now and I believe we're a better shooting team than what we're showing," Mitchell said. "I thought we created some good open looks tonight and just didn't make a lot of them."
Mitchell also bemoaned his team's ability to finish around the basket, saying UK repeatedly struggled to finish through contact against a Bearkat team that started three players six feet or taller. Persevering through physical play inside has been a priority for the Cats from day one, but it's still a work in progress.
"I think we're just not being strong," Drake said. "We work on the post game where we're going through pads and coaches are pounding on us to be strong. In the game, I don't think we really focus on that much. We need to keep working on it so it becomes natural and a habit."
Even so, the fact remains that UK is a dangerous offensive team. UK got by tonight on the strength of extra possessions generated by turnovers (26 forced) and offensive rebounding (UK held a 25-6 edge in that department). If UK can continue to take 30 more shots than its opponents, the Cats could become downright scary if they can convert some of the easy opportunities they missed on Friday and Mathies returns to her usual form.
Mathies doesn't figure to have too many more games like she had tonight, but it's still nice for UK to know it can survive when her shot isn't going in.
"I think it's comforting," Snowden said. "Some teams rely on one person and if they have a bad game then the whole team has a bad night. With our team anybody can step up on any night so I think it makes us more flexible."
Marquis Teague has averaged 11.2 points and 3.2 assists in leading UK to a 5-0 record. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There's something about the fast break that captures the imagination of Kentucky fans. They appreciate good basketball no matter the style, but the roar in Rupp Arena sounds just a little bit different for an open-floor slam dunk than a well-executed half-court score.
With John Calipari's team this year, the Big Blue Nation may have met its match.
With dynamic athletes at every position, UK has gotten transition buckets off steals, blocks and rebounds in racing to a perfect 5-0 to start the 2011 season. Try as their opponents might to force them into slow-paced games, the Wildcats have no intention of cutting down on the pace with freshman point guard Marquis Teague leading the way.
"I'm comfortable in both, but I prefer up-tempo," Teague said. "I'm pretty fast and I like to get up and down the floor. My teammates are long and athletic and can finish in the open court and I think that's the way we'd rather play."
The numbers bear out Teague's sentiment so far this season. The Cats have played an average of 71.8 total possessions per game in five games this season, over five possessions up from the 66.6 the half-court oriented 2010-11 did and a possession more per game than the John Wall-led UK team in 2009-10.
In its last outing, UK used a quick strike attack to overcome an at times disjointed offensive performance against Radford, scoring 88 points in spite of appearing out of sync most of the game. Eighteen of those points came directly off fast breaks.
"We're getting more comfortable with everything so it's a lot easier for us to push the ball up and down the floor," Teague said. "Everything is a lot smoother for us than it was for our first game. We still have a lot to work on but we're getting better every day."
The next team set to try to cope with Teague and his running mates is Portland (2-3) as the Pilots visit Rupp for a matchup at 7 p.m. Saturday. UK faced Portland a year ago in Portland, winning 79-48 in a game played primarily in the half-court.
Like most of UK's past opponents, Portland will almost certainly look to slow things down again, but it's not going to be an easy proposition this time around. What makes the Cats so dangerous is the fact that nearly everyone of Calipari's regulars can run, jump and score, so much so that Teague can't even pick a favorite teammate to run alongside him on the break.
"Any of them," Teague said. "I know any one of them can do a great finish at the rim so it really doesn't matter when you're on a team like this."
The main challenge for Teague in orchestrating UK's attack is understanding when it's time to attack and when he's better served backing off in pursuit of a better shot. He has progressed significantly already, evidenced by a five-assist, zero-turnover performance in the 48-point win over Radford, but his game and the way he runs the team are still works in progress.
"It's a learning experience for him," freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer said. "There are a lot of responsibilities at point guard and Coach Cal is doing a great job of coaching him through it. Every day in practice is a learning opportunity for us and especially at the point guard position."
Wiltjer isn't the first player that comes to mind on Kentucky's roster as a player who would seem poised to thrive in the full court, but he has already shown himself more than capable of doing just that. He can both finish at the rim and has also served as a trailer on the break with his dead-eye shooting ability. He credits his pre-UK background and the willingness of his teammates to create for each other as the reason why he fits in.
"My AAU team played very similar, got up and down so I really like it," Wiltjer said. "We have such unselfish players, that's the reason why I'm able to thrive in it. When you have a bunch of good players who are willing to pass the ball, the sky's the limit."
All the athleticism is great for an up-tempo style, but it doesn't mean much unless the Cats can't get the ball in positions to start the break. What will really make UK a dangerous open-floor team is the defense.
Behind freshman forward Anthony Davis (22 blocks) and sophomore forward Terrence Jones (11 blocks), UK leads the nation in blocks per game by two full swats. Those blocks turn into instant offense if they land in the hands of the right Wildcat and the same goes for the 7.6 steals UK has tallied per game. Perhaps most importantly, UK leads the nation in defensive rebounds per game with 32.6 and the Cats have been very dangerous off those boards.
"Our defense should be key for us just because it gets us a lot of easy opportunities on offense," Wiltjer said.
The seniors have accomplished things few Wildcats have. They've won bowl games, they've won games against top-10 opponents and they've prevailed on some of the Southeastern Conference's toughest environments. Individually, they've had the SEC's leader in tackles, they've earned All-America honors and have been named to All-SEC teams.
However, like so many senior classes that preceded them, the 21 players who will hear their names called on Senior Day have had one thing elude them. Fortunately, they have one more chance to get it done.
"Tennessee is always a bitter rival of ours and winning that game would be a great finish to the season," cornerback Anthony Mosley said. "Unfortunately we don't have the opportunity to go to a bowl game this year but we have a big opportunity to beat Tennessee."
At just 4-7 for 2011, the season has not gone as planned for the seniors, their teammates or their coaches. UK's remarkable streak of reaching five consecutive bowl games has come to an end, but ending their careers with one final win and ending the Wildcats' 26-game losing streak at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers (5-6, 1-6 SEC) would top all those past accomplishments as the most memorable moment of the seniors' time at UK.
"It would definitely be the new highlight," linebacker Ronnie Sneed said. "It would be ending one streak and starting a new one. It's definitely something that will put this program in the right direction."
The Wildcats set out at the beginning of the season with a goal to win their final game of the season. Obviously, the intention was for that final game to be a bowl, but all that's changed. Joker Phillips knows the momentum that can be injected into a program by ending the season with a win and is more concerned about that than any ending or beginning any streaks.
"With that being out of reach, I know we're playing for still a goal out there, and our goal is to win our last game," Phillips said. "We haven't won our last game since 2009 in the Liberty Bowl and winning your last game does a lot for you in the off season."
Knowing no game in late December or early January awaits them, the departing seniors have taken the lead in approaching the Tennessee game as if it were a bowl.
"We're definitely in a bowl mindset," Sneed said. "This is the last game. I know the seniors are amped up and ready to go and the young guys want to send the seniors out with a win. This is the last time we're going to play together as one big group and everybody wants this win."
The seniors aren't happy the end of the bowl streak happened on their watch, but ending their careers with a win on Saturday would do wonders for the program they've come to love so much.
"It's our last game," offensive guard Stuart Hines said. "This is our bowl game and all we have left to play for. We have to come out and give it all we've got."
Linebacker Danny Trevathan and his fellow veterans have watched dozens of their former teammates go through Senior Day festivities, but they still don't know quite how they'll react when they're the ones singing "My Old Kentucky" home on the field with their parents. What Trevathan does know is he'll be playing with the same kind of intensity that has helped him make 135 tackles on the season and 58 in his last four outings.
"It's definitely going to be emotional, but I'm going to be into the game," linebacker Danny Trevathan said. "I can't tell you what I'm going to do or what's going to happen, but I'm going to be me and play 110 percent."
Those playing their final games in Kentucky uniforms aren't the only ones who will take the field with a sense of responsibility. UK's coaches and underclassmen want desperately to give their seniors the parting gift of a win, even in the face of the disappointment of a season falling short of expectations.
"Coaches are competitors and our guys are trying to stay positive," Phillips said. "What I want to do is stay positive for this bunch and see if we can finish out the last goal that we have been talking about. The seniors have put a lot into this program and I just want to send them out the right way."
The Cats, though, won't be the only motivated team come Saturday. The Volunteers sit one win shy of bowl eligibility and don't want to preside over the end of the long-standing steak.
"They don't want to end the streak and they're fighting to go to a bowl game this year," Hines said. "They've obviously got a lot to play for too. We're going to have to come out and play our absolute best game."
Tennessee may be below .500 on the season, but all six of their losses have come to SEC opponents ranked in the top 20 at the time of the matchup. The Vols also have the added luxury of sending their star quarterback Tyler Bray to the field. He returned from five weeks missed due to injury and led UT to a win over Vanderbilt last week.
"He looks really sharp to me," Phillips said of the sophomore signal caller. "He made some big time throws. He's got a big time weapon out there too with (Da'Rick) Rogers. If he gets it anywhere near that guy, he'll make a play for him."
At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Rogers reminds Phillips of Terrell Owens. That's high praise, but not all that far-fetched when you consider he leads a league full of dynamic wide receivers in catches (65) and is tied for the lead in receiving yards (1,002). Remarkably, 52 of the sophomore's 65 catches this year have resulted in first downs or touchdowns.
"He's really young," Phillips said. "A guy that's as young as he is doing what he's doing in this league (is impressive) and he's done it with three different quarterbacks."
Bray and Rogers may jump off the page in the passing game, but if Phillips has learned anything from past games against Tennessee, it's that the outcome is determined in the running game. UK has lost four of its last seven matchups against the Volunteers by six points or less, two of which have come in overtime, so Phillips believes controlling the line of scrimmage and taking care of the football will be the factors that will determine the outcome Saturday.
"The thing it comes down to is who can run the ball, who can protect the ball," Phillips said. "Last year we didn't protect the football (in a 24-14 loss). We had our opportunities. We let the ball get away from us a couple times. The thing we have to do is take care of the football. We've got to stop the run, and we've got to be able to run the ball and make plays in the passing game."
That was the response from ESPN.com SEC blogger Chris Low, when asked about the chances of UK linebacker Danny Trevathan making first-team All-SEC this season.
"It's really hard. Look at the linebakcers in this league. Jarvis Jones, Donte Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, John Bostic, Chris Mavre. But I could not, in good conscience, leave Danny off," Low told "The Leach Report" show on Wednesday. "I would hope he would get All-America mantion but it's rarre for kids to make those lists when they're on losing football teams.
"He's one of those guys, if you're playing on the sandlot or in the Super Bowl, he's always going to play the same way and that's what I admire about Danny. He's been so consistent and he makes big plays and he raises the level of all the people around him," Low continued. "I know the record is not what Kentucky fans wanted but they've got something special in Danny Trevathan."
With all of the attention directed toward Trevathan, his fellow senior inside linebacker, Ronnie Sneed, tends to get overlooked. And that's just fine with him.
"I'm not in in for the recognition. What helps me feel good and helps me sleep at night is when our defense plays good. I was able to get the guys the calls and it worked out really good and we played them tough," Sneed said.
Another impressive freshman class for John Calipari--so what else is new.
Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer wasted no time in demonstrating that they are as good as advertised. And you can bet that does not surprise ESPN.com's longtime hoops recruiting analyst, Dave Telep.
"Anthony Davis made one of the greatest first impressions that I have ever seen anyone make. I think Anthony Davis has an unbelievable high ceiling and a desire to get there. Its almost more important. Excellent blocker, good ball skills and this is an impact player by all accounts. Anthony Davis has been on the rise for a year now and he is fantastic," Telep told "The Leach Report" radio show earlier this fall.
"Michael (Kidd) Gilchrist--warrior, loves to play, hates to lose, gets after it. Teague, fast. He is like the road runner. I have a three-year old son that watches the road runner and he is a lot like the road runner. Very, very quick and ahead of where his brother was and his brother was a mid-first round pick by the Atlanta Hawks," Telep continued. "I think Wiltjer is a rainbow shooting power forward who can be a 50-50 guy in the perimeter and someone who challenged himself by going to Kentucky without ever taking a visit there. He wants to be good and will have a good career."
Limiting big plays will be a key to Kentucky's chances of beating Tennessee this Saturday.
In only six games, UT quarterback Tyler Bray has completed 42 passes for a gain of 15 or more yards. In 11 games, both Kentucky QB's have only 31 such plays.
When Kentucky last beat Tennessee--way back in 1984--it scored on its opening drive and never trailed again, on the way to a 17-12 victory.
But this UK team has yet to score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter since last year's game at Tennessee. Reversing that trend might also go a long way toward reversing the trend in the UK-UT series.
Terrence Jones led a UK defense that blocked 10 shots and held Radford to 40 points. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Offensively, Kentucky isn't quite sure of its identity yet, particularly in the half-court.
Will the Wildcats rely on Terrence Jones in the post? Could John Calipari turn to the pick-and-roll extensively for the first time in his coaching career? Will the dribble-drive be UK's signature mode of attack? At this point, not even Calipari (or perhaps least of all Calipari), knows exactly what UK is or will be as an offensive team, but it just hasn't mattered so far this season.
Fortunately, Calipari has a few erasers in his back pocket that are more than making up for any errors the Cats commit. Behind a staunch defense, a dynamic fast break attack and good old-fashioned athleticism, UK is off to a perfect start to the 2011-12 season.
The Wildcats moved to 5-0 with an 88-40 win over Radford in Rupp Arena in spite of a disjointed start. The first 9:33 of the game wasn't pretty, as UK committed four turnovers and missed many of the open looks they did get. Instead of being mired in a close game or even trailing, UK found itself ahead by a score of 14-0.
"It's OK if we have slow offensive nights if we are playing well defensively," freshman forward Anthony Davis said. "Everybody's playing hard, but sometimes it won't fall for you. We did a good job sprinting the floor and creating offense from our defense."
Things didn't always go seamlessly, but the visiting Highlanders managed just 17-of-65 shooting from the field, committing 18 turnovers in the process. Off those turnovers, UK scored 19 points to go with 18 scored on fast breaks.
The high-flying dunks and alley-oops in the open floor will be shown on the highlights tomorrow, but the Cats know where it all starts.
"I think it really comes down to our defense," Jones said. "That's what leads over to that."
Jones has been through the rigors of a college season and witnessed firsthand how important defense is to a deep March run, but even UK's newcomers understand how working hard on that end of the floor can make up for deficits in other areas.
"Defense is real important for us," freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. "We have so many long, athletic players on this that we have to be aggressive on defense. We have to press because it's so easy for us to get into passing lanes, make steals and get deflections."
Defensively, UK has established an identity as a team that contests shots (11 blocks on Wednesday) and pressures passing lanes (11 steals). Offensively, UK is somewhat of a blank slate.
"We are what we are right now," Calipari said. "We're trying to figure out what we are."
Jones has seen this movie before. He was a part of last year's Kentucky team that struggled early in the season, but eventually established a style of play of its own and advanced to the Final Four. UK doesn't figure to drop eight regular season games like a season ago with all it does well, but Jones knows he still needs to be patient.
"There's no telling how we'll play 10 games from now," Jones said. "This time last year we were playing a completely different offense than what we ended up playing at the end of the year. Right now we're letting coach evaluate us and see what we can and can't do."
Even so, the Wildcats showed progress on Wednesday. Teague committed just two turnovers against five assists and UK shot, leading UK to 13-for-22 second-half shooting as Radford played primarily zone.
"We've got a ways to go," Calipari said, "but it was a good sign that our point guard was doing what he was supposed to, our zone offense was better, we attacked, we didn't throw it around the perimeter, we got it into the lane. But we've got a lot of work to do. I've got a lot of work to do with this team."
Welcome to the third Robic's Riddle, a trivia contest we'll be holding before every men's basketball game.
Assistant coach John Robic will be supplying us with a trivia question from the annals of Kentucky basketball history before each game. The first fan to submit a correct answer via email to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a copy of the 2011-12 Official Kentucky Basketball Yearbook signed by head coach John Calipari and Robic. Today's riddle is not an easy one, so let's get right to it. Of the 14 players on UK's 2011-12 roster, name the ones who were named Gatorade or state player of the year in high school.The first fan to correctly name all of the players will win the signed yearbook.
Again, please submit your answers to email@example.com. We will announce the correct answer at halftime of Wednesday's game at 7 p.m. against Radford, provided we have a winner by that time.
As a reminder, the Radford game will be televised live on Fox Sports South with a delayed broadcast on the UK IMG Sports Network. UPDATE: Thank you to everyone for participating. We have a winner who answered correctly with the six current UK players named player of the year in high school: Darius Miller, Jon Hood, Terrence Jones, Ryan Harrow, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyle Wiltjer.
Darius Miller and the Kentucky Wildcats take on Radford at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Rupp Arena. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
If the last week or so is any indication, Kentucky can win games this year no matter how they play.
The Wildcats can likely win most nights by turning the ball over 19 times as they did in a double-digit win over Kansas. They can probably blow out their share of less talented squads even if they allow 18 offensive rebounds like they did in a drubbing of Penn State. UK can probably even overcome performances similar to the one against Old Dominion, when most of John Calipari's talented roster failed to respond to the physical play of the Monarchs.
Calipari, though, knows his team won't even approach its nearly limitless potential if the Cats don't embrace the challenge of improving. He has watched as his team opted for quick jumpers instead of driving through contact. He has seen players shy away from mixing it up on the boards instead of making the choice to go get the ball and getting it done no matter what.
"Do you catch and just get it off, or do you catch it drive and it get bumped and grabbed and held?" Calipari said. "What's the easiest thing you can do? Shoot that bad boy before anybody comes near you. The other thing is you rebound and start running versus rebound, bring it in and be strong with it."
He also knows Radford, the team that will come in to Rupp Arena at 7 p.m. on Wednesday looking to pull an upset, has been watching too.
"If they watched the tape they're going to try to be physical, they'll play zone and they'll hold the ball," Calipari said. "I just watched tape on them and they are a good enough team to come in here and beat us if we don't play our game."
Calipari said after the narrow win on Sunday that Old Dominion had shown all UK's future opponents the blueprint of how to hang with the Cats. He expects every team they face from here on out to play the same way the Monarchs did, at least until they figure out how to combat the style.
Potentially providing the blueprint for UK to do just that was Darius Miller. The senior posted his best game of the young season in his team's most challenging one, scoring 13 points to go with his five assists and four rebounds.
"The (Old Dominion) game got physical, Terrence (Jones) didn't play through bumps, Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) didn't play through the bumps," Calipari said. "The only guy that played through the bumps was Darius and he got the ball wherever he wanted on the court."
Miller found his way into the sixth man role after Kidd-Gilchrist demonstrated an unmatched level of intensity. However, the veteran may have changed things around again, because Calipari simply won't allow his team to opt for the easier path.
"He may be starting; the way he played last game I may put him in the starting lineup," Calipari said. "Some guys went back to playing passive and they aren't going to be on the floor."
Miller's experience from playing in many physical games throughout his first three seasons at Kentucky showed itself and it's clear how much it could mean to this team going forward. As for the rest of the Cats, Calipari is not concerned.
"He's been there; he's done it on the national stage while these other guys are still learning," Calipari said. "We've got a good group; I like the team, I like their attitudes. I think we had a little bit of a wake-up call."
Provided his team sees this weekend as the wake-up call it was and does not turn to the long road trip or playing games on back-to-back days as excuses, the future is bright.
"If they take responsibility," Calipari said. "If they look and say 'I have got to get better.' As long as they understand that, we're fine."
Facing off against archrival Tennessee with a chance to earn a share of the Southeastern Conference title and the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, Wednesday's match between the No. 16 Wildcats and No. 13 Lady Volunteers is being treated by both schools as a championship game. UK will be looking for its first SEC title since 1989 while UT will seek to avenge an October loss at the hands of the Wildcats.
So, the 7 p.m. match in Knoxville, Tenn., figures to be the most pressure-packed of the season, right? According to head coach Craig Skinner, not so much.
"It's almost like the pressure is over and now it's about performing for us and Tennessee," Skinner said. "They are in first place and we're trying to get to the point where they are. They've been playing awfully well. It will be a great match, a tough match but I think it's about executing and rising up to the challenge."
Ever since UK lost a match at Mississippi State on Oct. 14, the Wildcats have been looking up at the Lady Volunteers in the standings, knowing they would likely have to string together nine straight wins just to stay in the hunt. In attempting to do that, Skinner concedes UK felt the heat.
"We've been through almost every pressure from Mississippi State until now," Skinner said. "We really had to win every match as long as Tennessee kept winning and we've been in several different situations in almost a do-or-die match each time out."
However, now that they've accomplished their goal and turned this week's match into the biggest of the conference season, all that washes away. In its place is a sense of pure anticipation.
"We've talked about it at the beginning of the year and we started talking about it a few weeks ago," Skinner said. "It's here and I think our team can't wait to get going."
Making it a bit easier to take that approach is the fact that both teams know they will be playing beyond Wednesday's regular season finale. Instead of having to worry about resume wins or being on the bubble, they can simply focus on the positives of what a win would mean.
"This match doesn't really mean a whole lot in terms of NCAA Tournament," Skinner said. "We're both going to be in it. We both have a chance to be seeded and I don't think that will affect it either way a whole lot in terms of our RPI. It's more about trying to win a championship."
Just because the pressure is off doesn't mean beating the Lady Vols will be easy. Skinner said Tennessee is playing as well offensively as any team in the country, even better than they were when the Wildcats defeated them in five sets on Oct. 12. Back then, the two teams had an idea how big the rematch could be.
"They know what it takes, we have to play well and they have to play well," Skinner said. "It's going to be a tall order for both teams and they're promoting it as a championship. I think the good thing is we've been preparing for it and they've been preparing for it so it's not a surprise."
The surprise would be if this match doesn't turn out to be extremely competitive. The Cats and Lady Vols played to a near draw in October and appear to be even in nearly every statistical category. A five-set match seems a likelihood, which the Cats would welcome. UK sports a perfect 6-0 record in matches that go the distance, with three of those wins coming in the Cats' last six outings.
Skinner has every reason to be confident in his team in such a scenario, but that doesn't mean it's not stressful. The abbreviated nature of fifth sets reduces margin for error and makes every point that much more important.
"You get to the fifth game and it's 15 points and it's over in 10 minutes," Skinner said. "You prepare all season long and you prepare all week long to get to matches and then it (comes down) to 10 minutes of execution."
He can't pinpoint just a single reason for his team's success in five setters, but he does know the Cats resilience and focus play a big role.
"I think the one thing this team does understand is they know they can only get one point at a time and they know you have to be patient you can't just jump out to a lead and hold onto it," Skinner said. "I think they have a blue-collar, grind-it-out mentality and you need that in game five because the excitement, the pressures all add up."
A comfort level with his team's mentality as well as its preparation in practice has allowed Skinner to take a step back and hand the reins over to his players in some small measure.
"I've been calmer this year than I have in the past mostly because we've prepared really well in practice and it's more about letting them play and letting them do their thing," Skinner said. "You can't over coach too much in game five because it's so much reaction, so much instinct."
The Wildcats also seem to possess a certain laid-back quality that allows them to slough off the anxiety normally associated with fifth sets. There have been times during the season when Skinner has watched his team laughing and joking during practice or a match and worried about their focus, but he's long since realized they'll always be ready to go when it's time.
"They always seem to know when it's time to go, when it's time to step in between the lines and make things happen," Skinner said. "I've never thought going into a match that this team wouldn't be ready to play. They could be joking around and I don't think they're focused at all in practice or they could be serious and it probably won't impact how I think they're going to be ready at 7 o'clock tomorrow night."
Joker Phillips took questions from the media after practice on Tuesday and spent a lot of time running down his team's injury report. A number of Wildcats are banged up, including quarterback Maxwell Smith, who is coping with a shoulder injury suffered against Georgia. Smith did participate in Tuesday's practice, but improved enough that the training staff is saying he could begin throwing by Wednesday or Thursday.
Smith's improvement has a lot to do with how badly he wants to hit the field against Tennessee on Saturday.
"When I was here until 10, he was still here last night getting treatment and strength training and all those things," Phillips said. "The guy really wants to play and that's half the battle. When a guy really wants to play, he's going to work to play."
If Smith is unable to go, junior Morgan Newton figures to be better suited to play than he has since sustaining the injury that thrust Smith into the starting role. His ankle and shoulder showed improvement this week and he was able to come closer to full participation in practice than he has in weeks.
Missing practice on Tuesday were safety Martavius Neloms and linebacker/defensive end Ridge Wilson. Phillips termed both doubtful for Saturday. Christian Coleman also missed practice but still could play. Fellow defensive lineman Mister Cobble was still limited in practice, but got more reps than he did last week.
After the Kentucky Wildcats toured the ESPN campus on Friday, John Calipari spent a few minutes talking to David Scott of ESPN Front Row about the visit and what the network has meant to him and his players over the years. Take a look at the video above to see what he had to say.
Between 1976 and 1984, Kentucky defeated Tennessee on the gridiron four times. Those were the good ol' days.
Saturday, the Wildcats will try for the 27th time since '84 to beat the Vols and put a positive note on a disappointing season, which has seen that streak of consecutive bowl trips end at five.
"It hit me pretty hard after the game," senior Stuart Hines said of that realization setting in. "After a couple of days, you start looking forward to what you have left. Playing Tennessee, Senior Day and having a chance to end this streak."
Tennessee is still alive for postseason play but it must beat UK to qualify. But Knoxville News-Sentinel beat writer Mike Griffith says there's another reason the stakes are high for the Vols in this matchup.
"In my first interview with coach Dooley, I told him 'your biggest game of the year is against Kentucky'. That's a game Tennessee always wins and if you beat Kentucky, then people will believe that Tennessee football hasn't fallen on that bad a times,"Griffith told "The Leach Report" radio show this summer. "As tough as things have been, it's still football at Tennessee. There's quite a comparison to Kentucky basketball when you talk about fan interest and passion."
Tennessee players don't want to get the label of being the team that lets the Kentucky streak come to an end, so the Vols carry extra motivation into this game, just like the UK players have a strong desire to be the squad that ends it.
"It is a big deal," said Vols' radio voice Bob Kessling this week. "And it's a big deal to coach Dooley because he wants to be bowl-eligible. He thinks this is a big game because you want to have some momentum going into next year."
Tennessee caught a break last week when quarterback Tyler Bray was able to return ahead of schedule from a broken thumb. Bray gave UT a spark late season and his big-play ability was perhaps the key difference in the Vols' win over the Cats in Knoxville.
Bray threw two interceptions last week against Vandy, including one at the goalline that was returned for a touchdown, but he also made enough clutch throws to get the Vols the victory.
"I thought he really looked rusty. He made a couple of throws that were just very un-Tyler Bray-like," Kessling observed.
UT is relying more than ever on it passing game as the Vols rank dead last in the SEC in rushing offense--a stat very unlike Tennessee football historically.
Vol fans might not agree but getting back to another bowl game would be a nice achievement for a UT team that had the league's toughest schedule, drawing LSU and Arkansas in the rotation with the West. Along with permanent opponent Alabama, that meant Tennessee had to play the top three teams in the current BCS rankings while a team like Georgia, by the luck of the draw, avoided all three.
"This team, because of inexperience and the lack of depth, that was just a killer. They had a five-game stretch where they didn't score a touchdown in the second half," said Kessling, noting the defense was hit especially hard by personnel losses. "They lost Janzen Jackson, who was the eraser guy back there. They've struggled defensively. They play two true freshmen linebackers and they play two (more) in the secondary. They're bound to mistakes and they have. It's just a depth issue. The second half, they've just worn down."
Kentucky, meanwhile, is left to lament losses in games like Louisville and Mississippi State, when a few plays here or there could have swung the outcome the other way and had the Cats playing for a bowl bid this week, too.
"It's hard to say," replied Hines, when asked what went wrong this season. "I felt like this team had a lot of potential. The talent is there--what we're lacking is execution. We're right on the egdge a lot of times. We've got 10 guys doing the right time and one guy messing up. But that's the definition of bad football. You got to have everybody doing their job."
The final score was 3,219-2,969 in favor of the Wildcat faithful as the blood supply was boosted for the holiday season. With the win, Kentucky cuts Tennessee's lead in the 24-year series to 12-11 with one tie.
The presentation of the Big Blue Crush trophy will be at the Kentucky-Tennessee football game on Saturday, Nov. 26. About KBC Kentucky Blood Center (KBC), the largest FDA regulated blood bank in Kentucky, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring a safe, adequate blood supply for patients at nearly 70 Kentucky hospitals and clinics in more than 60 counties. KBC relies on volunteers to collect 400 pints of blood per day to meet area patients' needs. Over the last year KBC distributed nearly 130,000 blood components.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 20:
Volleyball: Ashley Frazier
Junior Ashley Frazier posted consecutive matches with 10 or more kills to pace the Wildcats to an undefeated season at home in SEC action in 2011. Frazier has now charted 10 or more kills in 14 of the team's last 16 matches. She had an all-around performance and her efficiency was a game-changed. Frazier averaged 3.12 kills per frame and had a .309 hitting percentage including a .500 match against LSU. She also averaged 1.12 digs per set and contributed 0.62 blocks per set including a career-high three solo rejections in the comeback win over Arkansas.
Women's basketball: Bria Goss
Goss, a 5-foot-10 guard, averaged 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last week. She scored in double-figures in all three of UK's wins and has improved her scoring output in each of UK's four games this season, culminating with a career-high 12 points against Southern Mississippi. She also grabbed a career-high and team-high eight rebounds vs. the Lady Eagles. A tenacious defender, Goss tied her career high with three steals against Northeastern and dished out a team-high tying four assists in the last two games.
Men's basketball: Doron Lamb
Poured in 17 points in Kentucky's win over No. 12 Kansas in Madison Square Garden in the State Farm Champions Classic ... Scored nine straight points on three 3-pointers against Kansas in a key run to put the game out of reach against the Jayhawks ... Finished with a season-high 26 points against Penn State in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in helping lead UK to the tournament championship ... Tied his career high with seven free throws made against Penn State ... Averaged 17.0 points in the tournament ... Hit 50% of his 3-pointers in three games on the week
Football: Danny Trevathan
Forced two fumbles in the game and led UK with a career-high tying 17 tackles, recording three tackles for a loss and one sack.
He now has double-digit tackles in 17 of the last 20 games and now owns 21 career games with at least 10 tackles.
With 366 tackles in his career, Trevathan moves into 10th place in UK career history, passing Richard Jaffe (76-69) and Brian Williams (82-85), who each had 350 career tackles.
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 basketball goes 3-0 on East Coast trip, wins tournament
Another young John Calipari team completed a number of firsts this past week. For the first time, UK would play together away from Rupp Arena. For the first time, the Cats would face off against a ranked foe with talent at least in the same ballpark as their own. For the first time, they would take on an opponent employing a grind-it-out style the Cats should expect to see all season.
It was always pretty and it was far from flawless, but No. 2 UK defeated No. 12 Kansas in Madison Square Garden and Penn State and Old Dominion in Uncasville, Conn., to take home first place in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. The Wildcats won all three games by at least 10 points and were led by Doron Lamb with 43 combined points in the first two games. In the ODU game, UK led by a score of just 50-49 with under eight minutes left before closing on a 12-3 run. Darius Miller provided a steady veteran presence, leading the team in assists (five) and tying for the team lead in points (13).
Player of the week - Danny Trevathan nearly wills football to victory
Knowing his team needed to win its final two games to clinch a berth in a sixth straight bowl game, senior Danny Trevathan did everything he could to inspire and carry his team to victory on the road against No. 13 Georgia. The Bulldogs were the top-ranked offense UK had faced all season and repeatedly had short fields against the Kentucky defense, yet Trevathan and the Cats would not yield.
UK forced four turnovers and allowed the Bulldogs to convert just 7-of-17 third downs. UGA scored a single touchdown, four field goals and managed no scoring drive longer than 23 yards. Trevathan tied his career high with 17 tackles and added three stops for loss, two forced fumbles and a sack, earning SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors in the Wildcats' 19-10 defeat.
"He's just amazing to watch," Phillips said. "He alone willed the defense to play the way they played Saturday. We continue to tell them to come up to his level, and everyone on defense tried to play better than they were capable of. I think a lot of that had to do with the way Danny Trevathan played."
His game against Georgia also earned him a nomination for Defensive Performance of the Year as a part of the All-Star Football Challenge. Click here to vote for Trevathan. http://www.facebook.com/AllStarFootball
Game of the week - Volleyball rallies past Arkansas, keeps SEC title hopes alive
For a solid month, the Kentucky volleyball team has known it needed to continue winning in order to keep pace with first-place Tennessee as the Wildcats vie for an SEC title. Sitting a game behind the Lady Volunteers all along, UK had won eight consecutive matches and needed to prevail in just one more on Senior Day against Arkansas to set up a showdown with Tennessee and a chance for the Wildcats to win a share of the conference title.
For a long while on Sunday, it appeared the Cats would fall short. Arkansas raced ahead to a two-set lead and held a 19-16 lead in the third, just six points away from ending UK's title hopes.
UK, though, had been through too much to let its goal slip away so easily. Craig Skinner's team outscored Arkansas 9-4 to close the third set, won the fourth set 25-21 and then the final three points of the decisive fifth to win the set 15-13 and the match 3-2. In a season full of dramatic comebacks and nail-biting finishes, this one topped them all.
Now, volleyball shifts its focus to Tennessee. UK travels to Knoxville, Tenn., this week for a match at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. If the Cats win, a share of the SEC will be theirs. If they lose, Tennessee will win the conference outright.
Although the match is extremely important, the Wildcats' season will continue beyond it. With a 26-4 record and a RPI in the top 15 nationally, UK is well positioned not only for a berth in the NCAA Tournament, but to host first and second round matches. Selections for the NCAA's will be announced on Sunday.
Play of the week - Any of UK Hoops' 48 forced turnovers
Alright, I know I'm forcing a square peg into a round hole here, but I couldn't NOT recognize UK Hoops' record-setting performance last week against Jacksonville State. Under Matthew Mitchell, the Wildcats have been known for their defensive prowess and ability to turn over their opponents, but they outdid themselves last Tuesday.
If you haven't heard about this already, prepare for a shock: UK forced a school-record 48 turnovers. In a 100-25 victory, UK scored 50 points off those turnovers and held the visitors to just 9-of-41 (22.0 percent) shooting from the field. The 25 points tied a record for fewest allowed in a single game.
I couldn't pick out a single play from the game, so just take a look at the highlights above.
Photo of the week - Volleyball seniors celebrate
Seniors Ann Armes, Becky Pavan and Gretchen Giesler celebrate a 3-2 comeback victory in their final home match. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Alumnus/alumna of the week - Wesley Woodyard keeps producing
He went undrafted in 2008, but for those who watched his career at Kentucky, was there ever a doubt Wesley Woodyard would have a long career in the NFL? During his rookie season, he was named special teams captain for the Denver Broncos and has served in the capacity ever since. On defense, he has primarily been a backup, but has been productive each time he's gotten playing time. This week, in the Broncos' 17-13 victory over the New York Jets, Woodyard tallied eight tackles.
Joker Phillips held his final weekly press conference of the season on Monday as the Kentucky Wildcats begin preparations for a Senior Day matchup against the Tennessee Volunteers. Phillips talked about the matchup, the team's injury situation, and a number of other subjects, but here are a few of the biggest storylines from my point of view:
Trevathan playing his best football as career nears end
Danny Trevathan bore the weight of high expectations entering his senior season. Following a junior year that saw him lead the Southeastern Conference in tackles with 144, he knew he would be called upon to anchor the Wildcat defense in 2011.
Suffice it to say, he's lived up to the billing.
Once again, Trevathan leads the conference in tackles. With one game to play, he has tallied 135 stops, seven tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, four interceptions and three sacks. Moreover, his production has been otherworldly in his last four games, as he's made 17 tackles three times. He earned Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors in the SEC for his performance against Georgia, when he nearly rallied his team to an upset win with 17 tackles, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a sack.
"He's just amazing to watch," Phillips said. "He alone willed the defense to play the way they played Saturday. We continue to tell them to come up to his level, and everyone on defense tried to play better than they were capable of. I think a lot of that had to do with the way Danny Trevathan played."
Middle linebacker Ronnie Sneed has had the luxury of playing next to Trevathan all season and he says the Georgia game isn't the only time Trevathan has inspired his teammates to perform at a higher level.
"It's been great," Sneed said. "Danny has become a really great friend of mine, not just on the football field, but off the football field. He's a great person. Playing beside him really helped elevate my game and I think it helped elevate a lot of people on the defense."
In spite of all he has accomplished, Trevathan was passed over when the Butkus Award, which recognizes the nation's top linebacker, selected 12 semi-finalists.
"It would be hard for me to find 12 better linebackers than Danny as far as production," Phillips said. "He's playing in a pretty good league, and the production that he has had the last two years, if he matches his last couple of weeks, we're talking a guy that could have over 150 tackles in this league in one season."
Trevathan spent his first two seasons primarily as an understudy to talented predecessors like Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell, but has burst onto the scene as a junior and senior. His 279 tackles over the past two seasons have carried him into the top 10 in school history.
"Danny means a lot to this program, and most of his production has come in the last two years," Phillips said. "Watching the way he went about his business has been special."
Volunteers better than their record
With just a 5-6 record and one win in SEC play, Tennessee looks a team having a serious down year compared to what the Volunteers are accustomed to. Phillips, though, sees things differently.
"It's a really good Tennessee football team," Phillips said. "If you look at Tennessee's losses, they've lost to number 1, number 2, number 3, number 13, number 14, and then-number 16 Florida. So still a good football team."
Phillips also pointed out that the UT passing attack ranks second in the conference and is also benefiting from the return for Tyler Bray, who missed five weeks with a broken thumb before leading the Vols to a 27-21 victory in overtime over Vanderbilt. Bray has plenty of weapons with running back Tauren Poole, wide receiver/running back Raijon Neal and wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, who leads the SEC in receiving.
On defense, Tennessee has faced the top seven scoring offenses in the conference, which skews their numbers a bit. Phillips called the Vols' front "really stout."
UK's goal to make a bowl game is now out of reach, but Phillips knows how much closing out 2011 with a win could mean.
"We haven't won our last game since 2009 in the Liberty Bowl," Phillips said. "And winning your last game does a lot for you in the off season. Also, we haven't beat Tennessee in a while. So I think that would fulfill another goal also."
Wildcats fighting through injuries
Bumps and bruises late in the season are inevitable, especially playing in a league as physical as the SEC, and UK is not immune. Here is an update on UK's injury situation.
Safety Martavius Neloms will be getting the boot off his injured foot this week, but Phillips called him "doubtful."
Defensive lineman Christian Coleman has an elbow injury but is expected to practice on Tuesday.
Ridge Wilson missed the Georgia game with a shoulder injury and has been tending to a family illness the past two days. He will be evaluated Tuesday.
Quarterback Max Smith and safety/linebacker Winston Guy are both "banged up" and will be limited in practice, but Phillips expects both to be available.
Trevathan chipped a tooth against Georgia for the second time this season. His availability against Tennessee is not expected to be affected.
Danny Trevathan was named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week following a 17-tackle performance in a 19-10 loss at Georgia. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In three of his last four games, senior linebacker Danny Trevathan has tallied 17 tackles. Coming down the stretch of his final collegiate season, Trevathan has taken his already stellar play to another level, but he hasn't received the kind of recognition at the national of conference level you would expect.
Even though it came in a loss, Trevathan could not be denied following yet another dominant effort against Georgia, winning SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Trevathan tallied 17 total tackles, three of which came behind the line of scrimmage. He had a sack and two forced fumbles, making plays all over the field and his presence felt to the unfortunate Bulldogs on the receiving end of his hits.
His big Saturday moved him into third nationally in total tackles with 135 and he remained atop the SEC in the category. He also has five forced fumbles, four interceptions and three sacks in one of the best defensive seasons in school history.
Following John Calipari's teams as close as we do on a day-to-day basis, it's easy to forget about the coaching legacy he is continuing to build. Every year he takes a young team to close to 30 wins and deep in the NCAA Tournament, his resume becomes more and more impressive.
In an article from this weekend, Ron Chimelis of The Republican and masslive.com evaluated Calipari's credentials for the Hall of Fame. Calipari got his first head coach at UMass back in 1988, so he will first be eligible to be elected in 2013. Chimelis does a good job of breaking down the cases for and against Calipari, but he wraps his piece up with his answer to the Hall of Fame question:
My answer is this: if my son were good enough to play, I would trust him in John Calipari's hands, absolutely and without hesitation.
Maybe he enter would the NBA Draft after his freshman year, if he were that good. If he wanted to chase down that degree later on, I know that no one would help him more than Coach Cal.
I would vote for John Calipari. Yes.
The legacy will wait. For now, he has his team, and on Saturday, it looked great.
"I hope the NBA goes out (on its lockout) for three years,'' Calipari said.
"That way, I'll have these guys for three years, and they'll win a lot of titles. But all I really want is for our players to reach their dreams.''
Calipari and his Cats returned to Lexington, Ky., after a nearly week-long trip to the East Coast for three games in six days. For their play in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, which UK won, Doron Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were each chosen to the All-Tournament team.
Ann Armes, Becky Pavan and Gretchen Giesler were honored before a Senior Day match against Arkansas. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Memorial Coliseum was an emotional place on Sunday afternoon, and rightfully so. The Kentucky volleyball program and its fans were honoring the contributions of Becky Pavan, Gretchen Giesler and Ann Armes on Senior Day. The trio is the winningest class in school history, having taken part in three straight NCAA Tournaments and helping UK to one of its most successful regular seasons ever in 2011.
The three were recognized with a ceremony before UK's final home game of the season and showered with presents, cheers and hugs. It was a special and at times tearful tribute, but there was one problem: the Wildcats still had a match to play, and it happened to be a pretty big one.
Once the first ball was served, the visiting Arkansas Razorbacks came out on fire, racing to a two-set lead and a 19-16 edge in the third, just six points away from earning a crucial win as they seek to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. UK, though, wasn't about to go down that easily
"We were probably a little emotional from the Senior Night festivities," Pavan said. "I think that once we realized just because it's Senior Night doesn't mean we don't have to play and we really made a change in our attitude."
The result of that shift in attitude was an improbable comeback victory that figures to make an already memorable day that much more unforgettable. The No. 16 Wildcats (26-4, 17-2 Southeastern Conference) prevailed in a five-set thriller with the seniors serving as a steadying presence. Giesler didn't play a point of the first two sets, but she tallied six kills in the final three at a .417 hitting clip and was on serve when UK won the final point. Pavan notched 11 kills and was a key cog in UK's defensive effort that paved the way for the comeback with seven blocks.
"For us to be able to come out on top today was a great accomplishment for our seniors and also defensively putting ourselves into that fifth game to give ourselves a shot to win it," head coach Craig Skinner said.
All season long, UK has battled its way back from difficult circumstances. The Wildcats have proven their resilience time and time again, but Skinner believes this win over Arkansas was the truest testament to their never-say-die approach.
"I don't think we've been down 2-0 and come back and won," Skinner said. "It's exciting. I'm really excited for these players because they literally play with no fear. We didn't play great today but we did when it mattered."
Perhaps the most important factor in the Cats' ability to bounce back is their steadfast refusal to accept defeat even in the most dire of situations. At no point on Sunday did UK ever stop believing they could win.
"We've been in this situation before and I think we deal with it really well," Pavan said. "I felt as though we were going to win this game. They came out with all their setters, all their hitters and all their serves on point. I think we dealt with it well in the end and I never doubted our team could do it."
The win over Arkansas now puts the Wildcats into the situation they've hoped for all season: in position to win the SEC title. UK trails Tennessee by a game in the conference standings and head to Knoxville, Tenn., on Wednesday with a chance to earn a share of the SEC title with a win. Two seasons ago, these seniors were in the same situation, but could not come out on top. The Wildcats remember that well and have been hoping for another similar chance.
"I think it's going to be a really special game," Pavan said. "Some of us, the senior class especially, has been in this situation before and not necessarily come out on top. I think this has been coming for a while."
UK has had to win nine straight matches just to set up Wednesday's showdown, four of which were five-set affairs. Pavan believes the gauntlet her team has had to run through to reach this point will make a difference this week.
"We've been dealing with that every single game since (a loss to) Mississippi State (on Oct. 14) because we've been in this position," Pavan said. "I think that will benefit us because they've been on the top of the conference for so long, I'm not sure they've had the same pressures we have."
There is no conference tournament in SEC volleyball, so this next match amounts to a conference championship. However, UK has been looking at all its matches that way for the past month.
"We try to tackle everything day by day," Giesler said. "Every single match matters in the SEC. We don't have an SEC Tournament. Every single match counts and we have to approach it like it is the SEC Championship."
In the past, Skinner has refrained from discussing conference races or really anything beyond his team's next match, but during the month of November, he's addressed exactly what the Wildcats are playing for.
"Sometimes you don't talk about it, but we've been talking about it," Skinner said. "We've been talking about it for the last few weeks and if you don't, it's the elephant in the room."
The approach has worked, because the Cats have taken care of business and are now right where they want to be.
"We are excited," Skinner said. "Tennessee is a great team, and they have been all year long. It's going to be a tough match, but you want to be in position to win it, and we are."
From left to right: UK legends Mike Casey, Dan Issel, Adolph Rupp and Mike Pratt. (UK Athletics)
Welcome to the second installment of Robic's Riddle, a trivia contest we'll be holding before every men's basketball game.
Assistant coach John Robic will be supplying us with a trivia question from the annals of Kentucky basketball history before each game. The first fan to submit a correct answer via email to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a prize. Today's question is about former Wildcat great Dan Issel, so the winner will receive a Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament program signed by Issel.
Issel, who is attendance this weekend as UK plays in the tournament, is the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in UK history and went on to an All-Star career in both the ABA and NBA after starring at Kentucky. At the time of his retirement from the professional ranks, only three ABA/NBA players had scored more points than him. Can you name those three ABA/NBA stars?
Again, please submit your answers to email@example.com. We will announce the end of the contest when we have a correct answer.
Don't forget to tune in and watch the Cats at noon Sunday on ESPNU as they look to bring home an early season tournament title against Old Dominion. UPDATE: We have a winner who submitted the correct answers of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving. Thank you for your participation and congratulations to the many people who answered correctly.
Scratches will also be hosting a special live blog beginning at 11:40 a.m.
Saturday to help describe the action as men's basketball, football and women's basketball are all in action within a five-hour span. The live blog will be
hosted by Guy Ramsey from back in Lexington, Ky., where he will be following
the men's basketball and football teams and attending UK Hoops' game against
Southern Mississippi. Eric Lindsey of CoachCal.com will also be joining from
Uncasville, Conn., for the men's basketball game against Penn State.
I am excited to announce a new contest we will be holding before each and every men's basketball game. It's called "Robic's Riddle."
Assistant coach John Robic will be supplying us with a trivia question from the annals of Kentucky basketball history before each game. The first fan to submit a correct answer via email to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a prize. The lucky winner for today's contest will receive two tickets to the men's basketball game against Radford on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Without further ado, here's the question:
When UK tips off against Penn State in Uncasville, Conn., it will be the first time in the history of the program that the Wildcats have played a game in Connecticut, meaning there are only 12 states left in the U.S. in which UK has not played a game. Can you name each of the 12 states?
Again, submit your answers to email@example.com and please only respond if you are able attend the Radford game on Wednesday. We will announce the end of the contest whenever we have a correct answer.
In light of the tragic deaths of Oklahoma State head women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna and two other victims in a plane crash on Thursday night, Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell voiced his condolences to the Oklahoma State family.
"It's a very sad day for everybody," Mitchell said. "I just want those folks out there at Oklahoma State, Kurt's family, Miranda's family and all the players there to know we will be praying for them and thinking about them."
At some point in the near future, Mitchell and the UK Hoops program will be attempting to get in touch with those at Oklahoma State to express that sentiment directly.
"We're certainly going to try to reach out to them, and I'm sure every program in the country will do that, just to let them know we're thinking about them and praying for them," Mitchell said. "I do believe that can help a situation. Sending as much positive energy that way, I'm a big believer in that."
Matthew Mitchell and his entire staff will wear orange and black ribbons as a sign of solidarity with the Oklahoma State program when UK Hoops takes the floor on Saturday against Southern Miss at 3 p.m.
"We're going to try to have our bench staff have some orange and black ribbons tomorrow to show our support and in some small way show we are very, very sad and very, very sympathetic," Mitchell said.
Mitchell also is taking the tragedy as a reminder he and his team should never forget just how lucky they are on a daily basis.
"I think it's also a great opportunity for everybody at Kentucky women's basketball to think about how fortunate we are to be here," Mitchell said. "It's a time to reflect on that and understand we don't need to take any day for granted and any moment that we have here, we should really cherish that."
John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats are touring ESPN today and I suggest you follow @CoachCalDotCom for updates and photos from the trip. While the team is in Bristol, Conn., Calipari is making a number of live appearances, including this stop to talk with John Buccigross on SportsCenter.
Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb get ready for practice on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
John Calipari is accustomed to managing big-time players with big-time egos. With some of his teams, he's had to resort to sports psychologists and the like to try to get his players to play as a cohesive unit or even to try to get them to simply like each other.
With a roster full of players with McDonald's All-American pedigrees and NBA futures, you might figure Calipari would have a lot to work on in that department, but he's not concerned about it with this edition of the Kentucky Wildcats. Calipari believes the time the Cats spend together as part of their regular routines, including this week's long East Coast road trip, is more than enough.
"Being together is a big part of that: the meetings the free time and all that," Calipari said. "There are teams that I've had to (work) with. I've brought in sports psychologists and done all sorts of exercises. This team is in good shape. These guys like each other."
With the puzzle of off-court chemistry already putting itself together, Calipari has turned his focus to deciding how those pieces fit together on the floor. UK has players capable of doing almost anything on the basketball court on their own, but Calipari is asking them to hone in on the things they do best.
"What's your job for our team?" Calipari said. "What do you do well? Do that. You don't have to try to do everything. Don't try to do what he's doing. Complete each other, don't compete with each other."
For instance, Kyle Wiltjer cannot throw down alley-oops and block shots like Anthony Davis. However, Davis doesn't have Wiltjer's dead-eye stroke from the outside or his arsenal of post moves. In the same way, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb should not try to play like each other. If Calipari can find a way to get each of his five players on the floor at the same time focusing only on what they do best, UK very quickly goes from a dangerous team to flat-out terrifying to opponents.
Even though UK was far from a finished product against Kansas on Tuesday, the Wildcats dispatched the Jayhawks 75-65 behind a 27-9 run to start the second half. Having coached some pretty talented teams himself, Kansas coach Bill Self recognizes what this team could become.
"If they keep getting better, they have a chance to be the best team in the country," Self said on his weekly Hawk Talk show. "From a raw-talent standpoint, even the Carolina team we faced in the Final Four with (Ty) Lawson, (Wayne) Ellington, (Tyler) Hansbrough and Danny Green ... this Kentucky team may even be superior to that. That's some hard-rocking dudes. They have a real shot (at 2012 national title)."
UK struggled to a 28-28 tie in the first half against Kansas, turning the ball over repeatedly and taking poor shots. Most emblematic of those first-half struggles was Teague, who turned the ball over six times and failed to make a field goal. Calipari said the big city stage got to his young point guard and he's seen it happen before.
"He has done everything a guard I have brought into the (Madison Square) Garden has done," Calipari said. "You know it is like all of a sudden you forget about what you have to do for the team and you start to do your own thing."
Teague will need to play a lot more like he did in the second half against Kansas (11 points, one turnover) if the Cats to have success in a pair of games this weekend at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Uncasville, Conn. UK first plays Penn State (3-0) on Saturday at noon on ESPN3.
"They do a good job at running their offense, as a matter of fact they run some stuff similar to what we are doing," Calipari said. "They do a nice little job of throwing stuff at you, and they bring some press at you. We need to really perform to be able to do this."
The Wildcats have very quickly proven this season that if you allow them to get in the open floor via turnovers and defensive rebounds, they will punish you. As a result, expect Penn State to try to make this a half-court game. The Nittany Lions are a much different team from a year ago under first-year head coach Pat Chambers, but they have already established themselves as a slow-paced team yet again.
Calipari has work to do to make his team in 2011-12 as good in the half-court as last year's team, but he still has proven he doesn't mind facing a team that slows it down as Penn State likely will.
"They want to make us play half-court traditionally," Calipari said. "And people who watch my team historically, if we are winning a nine or 10 point game, we will be grinding it out. That's the reason we play the way we play so that we will be fine if we play that way."
More than pace of play, Calipari is concerned about the way his team has started each of its first two games. The Cats turned in lackluster first halves against both Marist and Kansas before rolling in the second. Calipari knows Penn State will bring its 'A' game with an opportunity to face the No. 2 team in the nation, so the Cats must do the same.
"We need to understand that every opponent is a worthy opponent, especially because they are playing us and playing out of their minds," Calipari said.
With the Georgia just one win away from clinching the Southeastern Conference Eastern division title, the Bulldogs (8-2, 6-1 SEC) will no doubt be motivated for a matchup on Saturday in Athens, Ga., with Kentucky.
Joker Phillips knows the Georgia faithful will sense the opportunity in front of their team, making for an environment in Sanford Stadium that will be even more raucous than usual. However, Phillips and the Wildcats (4-6, 1-5 SEC) won't concede their opponents are the only ones with a lot to play for.
"I'm sure (the crowd) will (be loud)," Phillips said. "Those guys have a lot riding on this game. We got a lot riding on it also."
With two games left in the 2011 season against Georgia and Tennessee, UK needs to win out in order to extend its streak of consecutive bowl games to six. From the coaching staff to the veterans to the newcomers, there exists an awareness of how difficult the climb to reach those bowl games has been that is driving everyone involved with the program.
"It's important to all of us with how hard it was to get to this level," Phillips said. "It was really a struggle, no doubt about that. It had never been done before so it was really a struggle to get to that level. The hard part is keeping it at that level."
The Wildcats know that a loss in either of their final two games means they'll be going home for the holidays. The players love their families, but they'd prefer to spend Christmastime in Lexington, Ky., preparing for a 13th game.
"We have to win out," sophomore linebacker Avery Williamson said. "It's an important thing for us, trying to get back to a bowl game. I don't want to go home early."
Georgia, though, won't make it easy. Since losing their first two games of the season, the Bulldogs have reeled off eight consecutive wins, including a dominant 45-7 victory over then-No. 24 Auburn their last time out. They are probably the most balanced team the Cats have faced all season, averaging well over 400 yards on offense while holding their opponents to just 273.3 yards per game.
"They're very good up front, they're very good with their blitzes and they've got a great secondary," senior tight end Nick Melillo said.
To Phillips, it's Georgia's size that jumps off the page.
"What impressed me with the way Georgia plays, first of all you look at them physically," Phillips said. "It's one of the biggest teams that we've played up front especially."
The Bulldogs' five starters along the offensive line have an average weight of 329.4 pounds and three of them stand at 6-foot-5. On defense, the starters along Georgia's three-man front all weigh at least 306 pounds.
With Aaron Murray at quarterback, Georgia has the ability to move the ball up and down the field through the air, but their bruising offensive line allows running back Isaiah Crowell, one of the nation's top freshman, to do just as much damage on the ground. Crowell has rushed 170 times for 821 yards in his first collegiate season.
"They ran the ball 11 straight times in a drive and scored on it (against Auburn)," Phillips said. "Eleven straight times. When you can do that, it's controlling the clock, controlling the line of scrimmage, it's keeping your defense fresh."
For the Wildcats to avoid a fresh Georgia defense, they will need to find a way to move the ball consistently on offense. After he and the entire offense struggled in a loss at Vanderbilt last weekend, freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith will be looking to turn things around in his third career start. His teammates certainly have faith in him.
"I think the biggest thing about Max is he has so much confidence in himself from the way he plays, the way he distributes the ball and the way he runs the offense," Melillo said. "He's young, we know that, but that gives us confidence in him when we see how confident he is."
Smith wasn't around the last time Kentucky traveled to Georgia to play the Bulldogs, but plenty of his teammates were there when UK won 34-27, the Cats' first win at Georgia since 1977. The success UK had that season led to even more success recruiting players from Georgia.
"Probably the last time we were down there it was big, big getting on their turf and playing the way we played," Phillips said.
UK now boasts 21 players on its roster from the Peach State who are excited to be playing in front of their families.
"I'm looking forward to seeing those guys in front of their parents and last time we were down there a lot of guys from Georgia made plays for us," Phillips said. "I expect that same type of effort and desire to win down there."
The Cats are hoping a similar result will follow too.
Nov. 19 is going to be quite a day for UK Athletics. The men's basketball,
football and women's basketball teams are all going to be in action within a
five-hour time period beginning at noon. I've decided to be ambitious and
attempt to cover (and live blog) all three events from back in Lexington, Ky.,
even though only one of the three events is at home.
2 - Watching men's basketball vs. Penn State on ESPN3
I'm going to
be starting my day in the comforts of my living room. The special live blog
will kick off 20 minutes before tip-off of the men's basketball game against
Penn State and I will be joined by Eric Lindsey of CoachCal.com, who will be
live in Uncasville, Conn. The live blog will open with a preview of the entire
game gets started, I'm going to use a second laptop to watch UK-Penn State on
while I live blog from the other. For the first 20 minutes or so of the game,
we'll be offering our normal play-by-play and analysis of the game.
12:21 p.m. - 2 p.m. - Football kicks off,
things get crazy
Tuned to football at Georgia on the SEC Network
computer still logged on to ESPN3, I'll tune my television to the SEC Network
for the 12:21 p.m. kickoff of UK-Georgia.While both games are going on, we'll be offering regular updates and
analysis of both games, but not a full play-by-play.
2 p.m. - 4 p.m. - Move to Memorial Coliseum
1 - Live blogging
2 - Watching football at Georgia on ESPN3
where things get a little tricky. Fortunately, I live less than five minutes
away from Memorial Coliseum, so when the men's basketball game is over, I'll
take a quick break from the live blog to drive over for the women's basketball
game against Southern Miss.
When I get
there, I'll take my seat courtside where I'll (hopefully) have an open spot
next to me to set up my second laptop to keep tabs on the football game against
Georgia. Until 3 p.m., I'll be focusing solely on the football game, at which
point UK Hoops' matchup with Southern Mississippi will begin.
4 p.m. - 5 p.m. - UK Hoops takes center
1 - Live blogging
football game at Georgia ends between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., the live blog will
shift complete focus to the women's basketball game against Southern
Mississippi until its conclusion. Following the end of the live blog, we'll
have postgame coverage of all three games on both Cat Scratches and UKathletics.com
With the Kentucky men's basketball, football and women's basketball teams all playing within a five-hour time span beginning at noon on Saturday, Nov. 19, UK Athletics has put together this guide to help fans determine how to follow their favorite teams on television, radio and online:
Men's basketball vs. Penn State - noon (Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic, Uncasville, Conn.)
Cat Scratches will be hosting a special live blog beginning at 11:40 a.m. Saturday to help describe the action in all three games. The live blog will be hosted by Guy Ramsey from back in Lexington, Ky., where he will be following the men's basketball and football teams and attending UK Hoops' game against Southern Mississippi. Eric Lindsey of CoachCal.com will also be joining from Uncasville, Conn., for the men's basketball game against Penn State.
The national media got an upclose look at John Calipari's talent-laden Kentucky team Tuesday night in the 75-65 win over Kansas in Madison Square Garden. They're gushing about UK's talent but the coach is tempering that enthusiasm for now.
"Talent doesn't win. Great 'teams' win," Calipari said on his postgame radio show on the UK-IMG sports network. "If you want to win them all, be a talented team that becomes a great 'team'. Last year's team (did that). Low turnovers, created shots for each other, absolutely ground it out defensively and offensively. Not as talented as this team, but we're not a 'team' yet. We're seven parts trying to get their own. We've got to convince them that they've got to do this together and everybody has to do their job."
Both Calipari and Kansas coach Bill Self come out of the Larry Brown coaching tree, with Calipari having first worked for Brown at KU in the mid 80's.
What are the common traits among the Larry Brown disciples?
"I hope one of the things he taught you is to really care about your team," said Calipari. "You have to have a feeling for your players. If you care about them, they'll always fight like crazy for you. They don't care about what you know until they know you care and I think that's probably the biggest message that we got (from coach Brown)."
Kentucky's games in Connecticut this weekend are part of the annual Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic and last week, the organizers got all of the coaches together for a media teleconference. And the moderator noted to Calipari that the coaches were voicing a shared respect for each other through their comments.
"We all know how hard a job we have. How expectations, in a lot of cases, are beyond the resources or opportunities those coaches have. And we may have young kids we're trying to get together or the players' aspirations are bigger than the team's aspirations. And we're all battling a media, a lot of them are agenda-driven. And you have the social networks now and anybody can say anything," Calipari explained. "If a coach doesn't have respect for another coach, it's beyond me."
Calipari has said the key element early for his team is simply playing hard. If they'll do that, they can have success while they're trying to grasp the various concepts he's teaching them on offense and defense.
And from listening to freshman Anthony Davis, that won't be a problem.
"We love playing," he said of this four-man freshman class. "We come out everday and tell each other 'we're finally here. We wanted to be here so let's go here and play aggressive'. We're always screaming and hugging each other and giving each other high five's. We're excited to be here."
Georgia's run defense ranks fourth nationally, allowing only 87 yards per game, but finding a way to have success on the ground is surely the key to any chance of a Kentucky upset tomorrow.
First, it would shorten the game and keep the Dogs' high-powered offense off the field. Secondly, in the Mark Richt era, Georgia has a losing record (14-16) when the opponent has a 100-yard rusher. And you know Hiram, GA native Coshik Williams will be motivated to be at his best in his home state.
A Georgia high school product, Moe Williams, holds the record for the most rushing yards for a Kentucky runner against the Dogs (159 yards in 1993). Williams is one of only three UK runners to go over 100 yards against Georgia.
Winning the turnover battle is always a key for Kentucky but that's easier said that done against this team. Georgia is plus-9 for the season but UGA has committed 12 turnovers in the last four games. And their defense has not surrendered a single point after a turnover in the last five games.
With 14 points in an 81-47 victory over Northeastern, Keyla Snowden eclipsed 1,000 points for her collegiate career. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Out of high school, Keyla Snowden did not have the opportunity to play at her hometown school. Instead, she enrolled at Akron in 2007 and averaged 14.2 points as a freshman. She caught the eye of second-year Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell in her first collegiate season and eventually accepted an offer to become a Wildcat.
A few years later, Snowden has a pair of trips to the NCAA Tournament under her belt and played a key role on UK's Elite Eight team in 2009-10. Now, you can add another bullet point to Snowden's resume: 1,000-point scorer.
"I think it's an incredible accomplishment," Mitchell said. "Keyla Snowden has had some terrific, terrific moments at Kentucky. For a kid that was not recruited at this level out of high school and now to get a chance to come back here and play at a high level (is great)."
Scoring 14 points as her team moved to a 3-0 with a 81-47 victory over Northeastern, Snowden is up to 1,002 points. Being able to reach the milestone while playing in her hometown of Lexington, Ky., makes it that much more special.
"I'm really happy," Snowden said. "I feel a sense of accomplishment and I feel proud of myself for being able to do that. I just want to say how thankful I am for getting the opportunity to come back and play her in front of my hometown and my family."
It was Mitchell who gave the opportunity to Snowden, so hearing how happy he is in light of her achievement is nice too.
"It means a lot coming from our coach," Snowden said. "He was the one that gave me the opportunity here so I'm really thankful he was able to do that for me. I hope I'm able to continue to play hard for my team and be a positive person out on the court."
Mitchell is already counting on Snowden to do just that. The senior is coming off the bench as a part of UK's second unit and helped lead the Cats to yet another blistering first half, forcing 27 turnovers and grabbing a 48-14 halftime lead. However, the visiting Huskies played the Cats to a standstill in the second half, which derived from a lapse in focus on the part of the Cats.
"We clearly didn't have as good an effort in the second half and that's going to be the challenge for this team, to try to figure out how to keep the intensity going and it's not easy," Mitchell said. "It's difficult to do."
Mitchell pointed primarily to Snowden's second group when evaluating the disappointing play.
"I think that our second group, for whatever reason, didn't come with a lot of intensity tonight in the second half," Mitchell said.
With a lead as big as 41 points, sustaining effort and energy is a very difficult proposition, but Snowden knows they must do better. She's been through the rigors of a Southeastern Conference schedule and realizes the Cats are setting the tone for the rest of the season in the way they play these early games.
"The second group, we come and we're supposed to continue the energy that the first group had," Snowden said. "A lot of times we lose focus and let the score get to us mentally and that's not supposed to happen. We're going to work harder in practice and not let the score affect us."
Make no mistake though, there's plenty to be excited about with this Kentucky team. Mitchell is happy his team is winning games and even happier there are so many things to work on even in a 34-point blowout win.
"As a coach, you know there are going to be nights when you're not up 30 so you're trying to coach each possession," Mitchell said. "I'm not down on the team at all. I just think this is part of the process."
There are countless college athletes whose careers end rather quietly with a senior day ceremony before one final home game with little on the line, their teams out of contention for conference titles and tournament appearances.
Kentucky volleyball players Ann Armes, Becky Pavan and Gretchen Giesler won't be going out that way.
Instead, Armes, Pavan and Giesler head into their final two home matches in the thick of the Southeastern Conference title race and playing for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm happy for good people that they get this opportunity to be in a competitive conference and towards the top of it," head coach Craig Skinner said. "That's a big tribute to them. They're very talented individuals and players but they're also all about the group and all about the team concept."
Just a game back of first place Tennessee with three regular season matches left, UK will play host to Louisiana State and Arkansas this weekend. If the Wildcats win on Friday against LSU and on Senior Day on Sunday against Arkansas, it will turn Wednesday's match against the Lady Volunteers into a winner take all battle for the SEC championship, assuming Tennessee wins its two weekend matches.
Capping of their careers with a conference title would be fitting for the winningest group in school history. Armes, Pavan and Giesler have won 96 of 125 matches during their careers, giving them the highest winning percentage (.768) in school history.
"Three seniors that are approaching 100 wins in their career and, if not mistaken, that's the highest winning percentage of any senior group at UK," Skinner said. "That's a tribute to people that are very talented but also very unselfish and really care about the program as a whole."
Above all else, it's the unselfishness of the three that defines them. Armes, Pavan or Giesler could easily be the featured player in another program, but have instead chosen to work to be a part of something greater than themselves.
"The one thing I think these three individuals is they've all been in the top 10 of some statistical category in the SEC at some point or another," Skinner said. "They've all sacrificed playing time; they've all been in several different roles."
Their willingness to sacrifice is also what makes coaching such a joy for Skinner.
"To me, that's what makes it easy to get up every day and come to practice," Skinner said. "I can't wait to show up at the gym and that's a compliment to their leadership and the culture they've created over the last few years."
These three seniors have helped build the foundation of the Kentucky program by concerning themselves with the team first.
"When you have players around them that come in as freshmen and see them go through that, it's a very powerful thing," Skinner said. "We're going to miss them immensely."
Fortunately, the Cats won't have to cope with life without them for a little while longer. The experience Armes, Pavan and Giesler have gained in reaching three consecutive NCAA Tournaments will come in handy, because the atmosphere in Memorial Coliseum is going to feel like anything but another two regular season matches.
"It's almost like an NCAA Tournament weekend where you have two great teams playing against each other and a lot on the line," Skinner said. "We're not going to approach it any differently than we have all year. I think our team is very good at focusing on our next opponent. They all understand the situation, Arkansas understands the situation, LSU understands the situation and it's about going out and performing and trusting each other and trusting yourself."
Arkansas and LSU currently sit atop the standings in the SEC Western Division and both are looking to pick up a resume win in their quests to reach the NCAA Tournament. A victory over the Wildcats, who are ranked No. 16 in the nation and No. 13 in the RPI, would certainly qualify.
"I think it's an exciting weekend to celebrate them and I'm looking forward to hopefully playing well on their last weekend," Skinner said. Skinner puts pride on the line with unique wager
Kentucky volleyball's Facebook page currently has 1,357 fans. If the page reaches 3,000 by the end of the season, Skinner has (begrudgingly) agreed to show off his dance moves. If he does end up losing the bet, he knows just where he'll go for advice.
"Someone says I said if we get 3,000 followers on Facebook I would dance," Skinner said, "but if we do I'm definitely going to talk to Coach (Matthew) Mitchell about some personal consultation on my dance moves."
"At the end of it, it was right around Halloween, they did the Thriller dance and we got a lot of feedback," Skinner said. "One of the biggest feedbacks was, 'Where's Coach Skinner in that dance?'"
At this point, Skinner has no idea what dance he would do if it comes to that, which probably makes the team want to reach 3,000 that much more.
"Is there any dance where you just stand and go around in a circle?" Skinner said. "I don't know. I'll have to come up with something creative. Maybe I'll get my son Eli to show me some moves. He's a better dancer than I am."
In the end, Skinner knows sacrificing a lit bit of his pride would be nothing compared to what his three seniors and the rest of his team has given throughout the season.
"We're excited to be in the studio and meet all the personalities," Calipari told ESPN. "Our players grew up on ESPN and it's a big deal to them and our staff."
ESPN often hosts coaches and athletes for similar visits and the network is excited to have the second-ranked Wildcats.
"With Kentucky playing in the area this week/weekend, it worked out for them to make a stop in Bristol on Friday," said Nick Dawson, ESPN's director of programming and acquisitions. "We look forward to having them on-campus. Hopefully, they enjoy a behind the scenes look at ESPN."
As a part of UK's visit, Calipari is scheduled to appear live on SportsCenter during the 1 p.m. hour and line on the Scott Van Pelt Show during the 2 p.m. hour.
John Calipari is hammering home the point that his team has a long way to go at every juncture. Even so the Kentucky Wildcats were very impressive on Tuesday in a 75-65 win over the No. 12/11 Kansas Jayhawks.
KU coach Bill Self was very complimentary of the Cats in his postgame comments, saying UK could be a "very, very special team." On his weekly radio show having had the chance to go back and watch the tap of his team's defeat, he was even more effusive in his praise of Kentucky's potential.
Kansas University coach Bill Self believes the Kentucky basketball team that pasted KU, 75-65, on Tuesday in New York ranks as one of the finest squads his Jayhawks have faced in the past nine years.
"We've played two teams that would rival them from a talent standpoint -- one would be Memphis, and one would be Florida," Self said Wednesday on his Hawk Talk radio show.
The Jayhawks downed eventual national champion Florida, 82-80, in overtime on Nov. 25, 2006, in Las Vegas, and toppled Memphis, 75-68, in overtime in the 2008 NCAA title game.
"You are looking at maybe four lottery picks," Self added of UK's Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and/or Doron Lamb.
"If they keep getting better, they have a chance to be the best team in the country," Self added. "From a raw-talent standpoint, even the Carolina team we faced in the Final Four with (Ty) Lawson, (Wayne) Ellington, (Tyler) Hansbrough and Danny Green ... this Kentucky team may even be superior to that. That's some hard-rocking dudes. They have a real shot (at 2012 national title)."
Having reeled in three top-ranked recruiting classes in each of his first three years at Kentucky, John Calipari has created some high expectations for himself in terms of bringing talent to the Bluegrass.
With the three prospects he inked during the fall signing period, Calipari is well on his way to living up to his lofty standards.
On Thursday, UK officially announced the signings of Willie Cauley (Olathe, Kan.), Archie Goodwin (Little Rock, Ark.) and Alex Poythress (Clarksville, Tenn.), moving the Wildcats up to the No. 2 2012 recruiting class according to most outlets, within reach of the top spot yet again if Calipari can add another highly touted player or two in the spring.
"I'm excited about all three," Calipari said. "I think all three have the potential to do special things here."
All three of the newest Cats, who will play for UK during the 2012-13 season, are rated among the top-40 players in the nation according to Scout.com, Rivals.com and ESPN. The class are also balanced from a positional perspective, featuring a combo guard, a combo forward and a center. Archie Goodwin - Guard - 6-foot-4, 181 pounds
Goodwin is the highest-rated of UK's three fall signees. He is a consensus five-star selection and is rated the nation's second-best shooting guard prospect by Rivals.com. If Goodwin is as good as the player Calipari compares him to, UK fans are in for a treat.
"Archie is a combo guard who can really score the ball," Calipari said. "I love his athleticism and length. He plays kind of like Tyreke Evans, but can shoot it more consistent at this stage in his career than Tyreke could."
Goodwin stars on the court for Sylvan Hills High School, leading his team to a 25-4 record and a trip to the Class 5A state final in 2010-11. He average 28.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists en route to being named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Arkansas during his junior season. Goodwin has also twice been selected as an All-State performer.
Alex Poythress - Forward - 6-foot-7, 215 pounds
Poythress is an athletic, versatile player who has played all five positions on the floor over the course of his three-year career at Northeast High School. He projects as a combo forward at the next level and Calipari is excited to coach him.
"When Alex is at his best, because of his size and athleticism, he's as good as anybody in the country," Calipari said. "He is really athletic, and when he's got his motor running, he can score at will."
Poythress was a finalist for Mr. Basketball in Tennessee as a junior, averaging 22.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 1.4 steals and 1.2 assists. Poythress also stars in the classroom, where he has earned 3.9 GPA entering his senior season.
Willie Cauley - Center - 7-foot, 225 pounds
Cauley is a two-sport star for Northwest High School, where he averaged 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds during his junior basketball season and posted 1,140 yards and 14 touchdowns as a wide receiver on the football team. Calipari expects him to blossom in college when he turns his athletic focus completely to basketball.
"At 7-feet tall, Willie has great feet and great hands," Calipari said. "He's a wide receiver on the football team. When he starts zeroing in on this sport, I think people are going to be surprised at how good he really is. He's got his best basketball ahead of him."
Cauley is rated as a top-10 center prospect according to all major outlets. He is rated the No. 39 overall player according to Rivals.com, No. 28 by Scout and No. 32 by ESPN.
On Wednesday, it was announced that Kentucky will once against travel to play in New York City in 2012. This time though, the Wildcats will be taking the floor in an arena just beginning to establish its legacy rather than one with an already world-famous reputation in Madison Square Garden.
As a part of the Barclays Center Classic on Nov. 9, 2012, UK will face off against Maryland in half of a doubleheader that will mark the first college basketball games played in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The future home of the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets, the Barclays Center is scheduled to be completed in September of next year.
CoachCal.com has complete coverage of the announcement and the press conference that accompanied it, but here is an excerpt from Eric Lindsey's article:
The opportunity to have the Kentucky name attached to the opening of a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of Brooklyn was too good for (Nets CEO Brett) Yormark and Calipari to pass up.
"We will bring 10- to 12,000 fans, maybe more," Calipari said. "They'll overrun the building."
The game will mark the 13th meeting between UK and Maryland. Kentucky leads the series 7-5, but the Terrapins have won the last two times. The latest Maryland victory took place in 2002 in the NCAA Tournament.
The Terrapins are led by first-year head coach Mark Turgeon, who took over for coach Gary Williams after a long and successful run.
"I coached Mark Turgeon," Calipari said. "That's how old I'm getting. I coached him at Kansas. He was a heck of a player, a competitor. He's just going to do a fabulous job (at Maryland). I'm not anxious to coach against him but it will be good for both programs."
Freshman forward Azia Bishop tied for the team lead with five steals in UK's 100-25 victory over Jacksonville State. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell is in the unique position of having to try to build his team and form an identity while also playing a schedule that features six games in a 13-day span. He's keeping a constant eye on the conference season and beyond, but at the same time, he wants to continue to pick up wins. Besides, UK needs to take care of business on its home floor to best position itself for March.
Weighing and reconciling priorities is just part of the job at this level, and Mitchell knows it.
"It's a balancing act," Mitchell said. "You definitely want to give your players enough preparation and enough information so they can be successful in the game while you're also trying to build what your team is going to be."
The Wildcats, who moved to 2-0 with a win on Tuesday against Jacksonville State, will have only one day of preparation before the Northeastern Huskies come in to Memorial Coliseum for a game at 7 p.m. Thursday. Mitchell knows he owes it to his players to teach them enough about their opponents to feel comfortable, but practice won't be all about Northeastern either.
"There are certain things that have to happen in practice (on Wednesday) that don't have anything to do with Northeastern specifically, but could still help us have success with them," Mitchell said. "Clearly we need to make sure we give the players enough information about Northeastern where they feel prepared and can go out and play. It's a little bit different at this time of year than as the season progresses."
More than anything else, Mitchell will be keeping a watchful eye on his team's intensity, which will be thoroughly tested by this stretch of games. On the positive side, tournament play will be the only time the Cats face similar circumstances with multiple games coming on the heels of one another.
"I think the big thing for us is the ability to sustain intensity over the course of a long season," Mitchell said. "We're going to play a lot of games this year and the plan is for this team is to get into postseason and try to compete for championships in the SEC and the NCAA. For us to do that, we're going to have to be a team that can sustain an effort and sustain intensity over the course of the year."
The intensity was certainly there in a 100-25 victory to open the home stand, when the Wildcats forced a school-record 48 turnovers. There are lessons to be learned from the big win, but at the same time, the Cats must move forward.
"Yesterday was clearly a great day for us," Mitchell said. "Records were broken yesterday and the players' mindset could be feeling really good and that's fine if we can stay focused on the realities of what we need to do to be good. We can't really worry about yesterday. We have to turn the page on get on to the next thing in front of us."
The only area where UK left a bit to be desired against Jacksonville State was in half-court offense. In spite of scoring 50 points off turnovers and 26 on fast breaks, UK managed just 38-for-90 (42.2 percent) from the field.
UK scored 68 points in the paint, but most of those were either on drives, run outs our put backs rather than post-ups. At this early point in the season, UK's perimeter and inside players aren't quite on the same page.
"Our timing is not great yet," Mitchell said. "When a pass is in the air, a post player needs to be getting position at that point in time and we're just standing around too much."
However, that shouldn't come as a major surprise. Only over the past week or so have the Wildcats really begun to work on their half-court sets simply because defense has been the overriding emphasis.
"We try to build our defense first and offense sort of lags behind a little bit," Mitchell said. "It's so important to get our minds set that our identity as a basketball team and program will always start at the defensive end of the floor. I think that's the formula for us to be successful."
If that approach means the Cats are going to be as good defensively as they were on Tuesday, their offense can probably afford to take some time to develop.
The Kentucky Wildcats moved indoors for their Wednesday practice ahead of this weekend's matchup with Georgia. The practice was punctuated by a heated drill that featured some intense back-and-forth between a few UK players. Phillips actually was happy to see the exchange and cited it as proof of just how much passion his Wildcats are still bringing every day.
"When guys are flying around playing with emotions, those things happen," head coach Joker Phillips said. "It's an emotional game. You've got to play that way."
Phillips said Wednesday's session was an improvement from last week's Wednesday practice, which is positive as the Cats look to rebound from a disappointing loss to Vanderbilt.
"It was embarrassing last week, there's no question about that, the way we performed," Phillips said. "We're trying to get that corrected."
UK will likely be without linebacker/defensive end Ridge Wilson and safety Martavius Neloms this weekend, as Phillips termed both "doubtful." Safety/linebacker Winston Guy showed improvement with his injured shoulder, but still did not practice, but will tomorrow.
I was not in New York City with the team last night for Kentucky's 75-65 victory over Kansas, so we weren't able to bring you our normal assortment of postgame videos, highlights and stories. Instead, here are links to a few of the best stories from those who were in attendance for the late-night showdown:
Marquis Teague rebounded from a subpar first half to 12 points and three assists in a 75-65 victory over Kansas. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The Big Blueprint is a rapid-reaction, nuts-and-bolts recap of the latest Kentucky men's basketball game. Designed to relive the key moments from each game, the Big Blueprint will be used on the blog for road games that Cat Scratches does not attend.
The skinny: No. 2 Kentucky defeated the No. 12/11 Kansas Jayhawks 75-65 in the inaugural Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden. In front of an electric crowd of 19,979, the Wildcats overcame a sluggish start behind five double figure scorers, led by Doron Lamb with 17 points. In moving to 2-0, UK picked up an early season resume win largely on the strength of a 26-9 run in the second stanza. Senior guard Tyshawn Taylor led the way for Kansas, scoring a game-high 22 points on 15-for-17 shooting from the free throw line.
The difference: Second half composure. UK's abundant talent was bubbling below the surface in the first half, but it didn't truly show itself because the Cats repeatedly turned the ball over (11 times, to be exact) and, when they didn't, they forced long jumpers. Marquis Teague was at the forefront of UK's troubles, committing six turnovers and seeming a bit overwhelmed by the big-city stage. When Teague and the Cats settled down, an onslaught quickly followed as UK's second-half lead ballooned to as many as 17 points. Player of the game: There are plenty of candidates here, but I'll give the nod to Terrence Jones for his consistency throughout. He was the one Wildcat to maintain his composure in the first half and he kept it throughout. He scored in the post, showed his improved jumper and made an impact on the defensive end in helping to hold star Kansas forward Thomas Robinson to just 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Jones posted 15 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two assists, forming a potent inside duo with Anthony Davis. In his first game against high level competition, Davis more than held his own, fighting through physical play to get a number of physical rebounds. He also had more than his fair share of high-flying blocks and dunks en route to 14 points, seven blocks, six rebounds and a pair of steals.
Turning point: With the game knotted up at 28 following a sloppy first half. Kentucky scored 13 of the first 15 points after halftime, including a pair of Anthony Davis alley-oops and a 3-pointer from Marquis Teague. However, it was Lamb that sent the UK faithful into a frenzy. In less than a minutes, Lamb poured in a pair of 3-pointers to cap excellent offensive possessions. Jones got a lot of attention for his decision to return to UK, and deservedly so, but Lamb proved just how important his ability to stretch the floor will be to this team. Key stats: 33.9-percent, 13 blocks and five steals. UK was certainly good on offense in scoring 47 points in the final 20 minutes, but it was the Wildcats' defense that kept them in the game in the first half and drove their run in the second. UK held the Jayhawks to 20-of-59 shooting from the field and used a combined 18 steals and blocks to create opportunities in transition. "Their best offense for a long period of time was our offense," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
He said what? "We played like I thought we would play. We were selfish, we had four assists, we broke off everything we were trying to run." - John Calipari on his team's play in the first half
"I got mad at the end. We're playing like it's an AAU game." - Calipari on a sloppy finish
"I've got three freshmen, four freshmen out there, but they're pretty good." - Calipari
"Anthony Davis did some great things. Terrence did some great things. We made shots we needed to make. I'm just happy we won now but I'll watch the tape and I'll be mad." - Calipari
"They have a chance to have a special, special team, without question." - Self
Unsung hero: No, Darius Miller didn't put up the biggest numbers on this night (he had five points, four rebounds and four assists), but the senior was every bit the steadying presence you would expect out of an experienced veteran. In the first half, UK fell behind 10-3, but Calipari inserted Miller, who quickly stemmed the tide. He hustled to grab an offensive rebound on one possession, then found Davis for the first of his many alley-oops. Then, in the second half after Kansas made a run to close to within 12 points, Miller received the ball in the post, scoring an and one immediately before the under eight media timeout. Kansas never seriously threatened from that point forward.
What this one means: This is going to be a bit strange to say about a win over a top-15 opponent, but I'm not sure this game tells us much we didn't already know about these Wildcats. UK overran Kansas with the talent, athleticism, length and open floor ability we already knew they had. We also knew there would be bumps along the road for a team that relies on freshmen as much as UK does and you need not look any further than the first half to see that. Perhaps the most revealing aspect of Tuesday night's game was the fire and determination the Cats with which the Cats played. "They had a will to win," Calipari said. "That's what I wanted to see."
A'dia Mathies had 18 points and 10 rebounds, as well as three of UK's 25 steals in a 100-25 win over Jacksonville State (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Leading by 36 points at halftime and progressively more as the second half wore on against Jacksonville State, Matthew Mitchell's players had plenty of reasons. The Wildcats could have easily backed off of their signature high pressure defense that was forcing Gamecock turnovers left and right and coasted to an easy victory.
On this Tuesday morning and afternoon, the Cats would do no such thing.
Maintaining its intensity throughout, UK Hoops sprinted out to an early lead and never let up en route to a 100-25 assault on the school record book.
"With eight minutes left, they could have taken down their intensity and stopped hustling and we still would have won the game," Mitchell said. "They didn't do that and I'm proud of them for sustaining the effort. That's probably the thing I'm happiest about today."
In front of a crowd of 6,842, many of which were sixth graders who enjoyed every moment of the blowout victory, No. 17/15 UK (2-0) forced an astounding 48 turnovers, shattering a previous record of 43. The Cats had as many steals as the visiting Gamecocks (0-2) had points, and the 25-point defensive performance tied another school record set in 1974. UK's 75-point margin of victory was the second widest in the history of the program.
From day one, Mitchell has been excited about the prospects of his team. Much of his optimism has stemmed from how good the Wildcats were capable of being on the defensive end. That potential was on full display against on Tuesday in Memorial Coliseum.
"They just have so much ability athletically," Mitchell said. "With their quickness and their strength, they have all the tools to be a great team defensively. They have the tools to be the best we've ever had."
Now that the Cats have gotten a clear view of how high their ceiling is, Mitchell said it's up to them to determine the heights they'll reach.
"What remains to be seen is whether they'll embrace the fundamentals day in and day out to do that throughout the course of the season," Mitchell said. "They certainly have a chance to be the best defensive team and we try to tell them that and emphasize it to them and I hope they'll really work hard to become that because they could be."
For now though, it's difficult to do anything but marvel the swarming defense that led to all those steals and 9-of-41 (22 percent) shooting from the Cats' opponent.
"We're just trying to hustle for 40 minutes and we could have been satisfied with creating 30 turnovers, which is a staggering amount," Mitchell said. "What I was trying do was get them to play 40 minutes hustling and aggressive. That's an awful lot of turnovers for a team to have and a defense to create and I was happy that we tried to play our best today."
Calling 30 turnovers "staggering", Mitchell couldn't come up with a word to describe 48. Junior guard A'dia Mathies, who tallied her third career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, gave it a try though.
"Insane," Mathies said. "That's a lot of turnovers. We did a good job of trapping and rotating and having pressure on defense all night and it showed."
After the way UK sputtered out of the gate against Morehead State, trailing 32-31 at halftime, the Cats were particularly mindful of bringing intensity from the tip-off, especially with the strange 11 a.m. start time.
"Coach really stressed it in practice and before the game he showed us film of the first half against Morehead State and (we saw) what we weren't doing," Mathies said. "We took that and just worked with it and came out with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm and it really showed today."
Twenty-seven forced first-half turnovers later, it was clear UK would have a chance at eclipsing the record mark, but it wasn't their run at the record book that kept the Cats going as the margin ballooned.
"That's the only way we practice, so that's the only way we know how to play really," Mathies said. "He keeps new bodies coming in so we stay fresh so you can never be tired. He'll bring you out. We've got a lot of energy and that's what we base our program on."
Although UK will face more and more talented opponents as the season progresses, Mitchell sees Tuesday's effort as a blueprint for the rest of the year.
"I'd really like get off to a fast start and just never let the pressure up," Mitchell said. "As we get into SEC play, obviously that becomes more difficult, but that is the goal. That's why we played so hard to the final buzzer, because we're trying to develop that mentality."
Riley sits out with stress reaction
Senior point guard Crystal Riley sat out her second straight game and was in a walking boot on the UK sideline for the victory over Jacksonville State. Mitchell said the injury is a stress reaction and she is being kept out to prevent a more serious injury from happening.
"We haven't seen a fracture yet, so that's good news," Mitchell said, "but she has had some issues before so we're trying to be ultra-cautious and have her in a boot."
At this point, her return is uncertain.
"We're trying to get that injury to calm down," Mitchell said. "We have not determined a return for her so she's just day-to-day and we'll see when can get her back."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 13:
Volleyball: Whitney Billings
Sophomore Whitney Billings had another electrifying weekend for the Wildcats as she guided UK to a pair of tough road victories this week. Billings totaled back-to-back double-double efforts for just the second time this season. She led the squad with 28 kills on the week and an astounding .377 hitting percentage. Her 17 kills in the victory over Ole Miss marked a season-high. With two matches with an above .300 hitting clip, Billings has now notched eight matches this season against league foes with an above .300 percentage. Her all-around performance continues to be UK's "X-factor" as it peaks towards the end of the season. The sophomore averaged 3.25 digs per set and had nearly a block per frame as well. Her 4.12 points per stanza paced the squad, well above her 2.97 season average.
Men's basketball: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis tallied a double-double in his first career outing He tallied 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field, of which eight of those field goals were dunks ... Davis because the second UK freshman (Terrence Jones) in as many years to post a double-double in his first career outing ... He also added five blocks and three assists to his stat line.
Women's basketball: Kastine Evans
Sophomore Kastine Evans came off the bench to crush her previous career high (11 points) with a game-best 23 points in 25 minutes during UK's season-opening win at Morehead State
Hit 8-of-12 from the field, including a career-high tying two 3-point field goals
Found a way to get to the free-throw line a team-high six times, make five free throws
Also charted two steals, three rebounds and an assist in the balanced effort
Rifle: Henri Junghänel
Henri Junghänel led UK to wins over Ohio State and Murray State in a dual-match on Saturday, leading the team in both guns.
Junghänel posted a 593 in air rifle and a 585 in smallbore to pace the Wildcats. A redshirt junior, he entered the match leading the team in smallbore average and ranking third in air rifle average.
Volleyball: Stephanie Klefot
Junior Stephanie Klefot provides the Wildcat defensive unit with a consistency that is unmatched in the league. Klefot registered 17 digs in a three-set victory over Alabama and also provided the UK offensive effort with a career-high seven assists. She then turned around and matched a season-high with 28 assists in the victory at Ole Miss. She also added her first kill of the season and recorded a pair of aces to open up the scoring in the decisive fifth frame. With 45 digs this weekend, Klefot has now accumulated 494 for the season which is the eighth most in a single-season in UK history. Her 28-dig performance against the Rebels marked the 20th time in her career she had topped 20 or more scoops in a match. She has recorded 10 or more digs in all but one match this season, including a span of 18 consecutive which she is currently holding.
Football: Nick Melillo
Had a career game against Vanderbilt, earning his first career touchdown reception and posting a career high in receptions and receiving yards.
Finished the game with four catches for 59 yards, including two reception of 20-yards or more. Melillo's touchdown catch was a 22-yarder, while his longest of the game was a 25-yard reception.
If they give a comeback player-of-the-year award for the Kentucky football team this season, senior wideout Matt Roark has to be one of the favorites to win it.
Saturday, he returns to his home state of Georgia, to play at the University of Georgia's famed Sanford Stadium, as the second-leading receiver for the Kentucky Wildcats. But back in September, the odds on ever seeing the phrase "second-leading receiver" seemed like a longshot.
"Strong kid, mentally strong," said Roark's position coach, Tee Martin. "He had some tough times early on, being a quarterback moved to another position. Then, first couple of years not playing a lot. Then, your senior year, we need to depend on you and you get off to a bad start. We sat him for a game, to see how much he wanted it. We always said we're going to need him and now he's playing the way he hoped he would play this year."
After repeated drops in the passing game, Roark may have lost some confidence but he didn't let it affect the rest of this game. Head coach Joker Phillips took notice of how hard Roark still played in various special teams roles. Then, when freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith had his breakout games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss, utilizing some of the crossing routes that UK had not been calling previously, Roark started to get open and make plays, catching 13 balls in those two games.
"I haven't changed anything physically, it's just focusing more. I did everything I could do. I don't even think about assignments or things like that anymore. I just play," Roark said.
"It just feels good to be a player on the team that is stepping up and playing good for the team. Everyone is congratulating me and all that stuff, but it feels good to be one of the main guys now," he added.
Did he ever lose his sense of self-confidence?
"It was tough. I have always been real hard on myself but it feels like I have done the necessary things to overcome the hard times that I have had. I did get down a little bit but I didn't get too down to think that I would not overcome it," answered Roark, adding the fact that his coaches kept the faith bouyed his spirits.
"They just kept throwing me in. I would mess up and they kept throwing me in the game and then, they would take me out for that game but then the next week starts a new week and they would start me from scratch and let me do it all over again and try to prove them right," he said.
Martin had a history with Roark, having coached him in high school ball in Acworth, GA, just outside of Atlanta. And Martin thinks that connection helped him get Roark through those tough times earlier this fall.
"I think so, because he knew it was a tough love deal. I'm going to kick and scream and do whatever I have to do to get to him. In high school, he was my quarterback and I had to handle him a little differently. He knows that I care about him and at the end of the day, I'm trying to get him to do his best for the team. I'm like that with all my guys," said Martin. "I care about my guys and I'm going to stand behind them. As their coach, I have to help them and not criticize them. I have to be the one giving them confidence when they don't have confidence. When they're going through tough times, you feel it, too."
"It helped me that I knew him so well," noted Roark. "I knew what kind of guy he was and what kind of guy he would be when I got here, so I prepared myself for that and it worked out well because he came in here exactly how I expected he would and he was tough on us but at the same time he was real cool with us. He will joke around with us but then, don't mess around with him because he will get real tough."
Long before he emerged as a playmaker in the passing game, Roark was making good things happen on special teams, whether it be making tackles or blocking kicks.
"I really enjoy special teams. It was the most fulfilling part for me here until recently. I take a lot of pride because it takes a lot of character because a lot of people don't think it's important or hard to buy in on special teams scheme, but that shows a lot of toughness and a lot of other things," Roark said.
And he has tied the school record for blocking kicks.
"It's a technique. Other than my length and ability to jump, I just count to 'two Mississippi' and jump because I know where the ball needs to be," he continued. "Another technique is to have a D-lineman in front of me, I get real close and I expect him to drive the O-lineman back so I scoot up gradually as they are pushing so I can get closer to that ball."
And now he returns home to play against the school that did not offer a scholarship.
"I know a lot of people who go to Georgia, and they will probably be at the game, so I hope I have a big game so they can see it, but I was never bitter towards Georgia for not offering me," Roark said. "I was never a big fan or anything because I never really got into it."
Even before the game started, Monday night was a special one for former Kentucky wide receiver/quarterback/punt returner/kick returner Randall Cobb. Along with two of his teammates, Cobb was named a captain for the Green Bay Packers' Monday Night Football matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.
Well, Cobb didn't wait long to make it even more memorable.
After the Packers forced a Viking three-and-out on the game's first possession, Cobb received a punt at the Green Bay 20-yard line and I think you know what happened next.
Cobb's first career punt return touchdown begins at the 48-second mark of the video below, with a breakdown of his score immediately afterward:
Last weekend, ESPN college hoops analyst Jay Bilas spent some time around John Calipari and his 2011-12 Wildcats. He and a film crew watched a UK practice and spoke to Coach Cal afterward about what he had seen for a feature.
Doron Lamb will play in his hometown arena for the first time since the 2010 Jordan Brand Classic, when he announced his commitment to UK. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The atmosphere at Madison Square Garden when Kentucky and Kansas face off in the nightcap of the inaugural Champions Classic figures to be electric. All signs point to a massive turnout by the Big Blue Nation, while the Jayhawks should have plenty of fans in tow as well for a matchup between two of the nation's most tradition-rich programs.
The hype surrounding the game is more befitting of a game played in March, but the bottom line is that the calendar still reads November. As he coaches and evaluates his team, John Calipari is not going to forget that.
Of course, Calipari wants to win, but his preparations for Tuesday night are more targeted for winning games in early spring than late fall.
"You have to work on your own stuff," Calipari said. "Let's just be the best we can be for November 14th. If that's not good enough, we'll come back and regroup and keep going."
Getting his team to think the same way is another matter, especially when the lights and cameras come on.
The game features a pair of highly ranked teams, UK is No. 2 and Kansas is No. 11, with storied histories. A national television audience starving for high-level basketball with no end in sight for the NBA lockout will be tuning in and the game will be played in arguably the most famous basketball arena in the world.
"It means a lot to all of us on the team," freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said. "We just want to show everyone that we are the number two team in the country, or even number one. That's what we have to prove. That's what we want to do."
Sophomore Doron Lamb echoed his teammate's sentiment.
"I think it should be a statement game," Lamb said. "They are one of the top teams in the country and we have one of the best teams in the country. So we have to go out there and play harder against Kansas and just try to beat them."
Kidd-Gilchrist and Lamb want to prove the Wildcats deserve the lofty preseason ranking and awards showered on them, but Calipari knows Kansas will be just as motivated.
"It may be a statement game, but I'm hoping it's the one they think it'll be," Calipari said. "It could be another statement."
Losing Marcus and Markieff Morris, among others, off last year's top-seeded team that made a trip to the Elite Eight, the Jayhawks are somewhat of an unknown quantity at this point in the season. They rolled in their season opener, beating Towson 100-54 and dishing out 30 assists as a team in the process, but many pundits are wondering whether they'll continue to win at the same ridiculous rate as Bill Self's last two teams that combined for a record of 68-6.
When he looks at this Kansas team, Calipari sees a familiar sight.
"Kansas is kind of like our team a year ago where everybody thought, 'You know what, they're not that good,' and I kept telling you all, 'I like my team and there's no one out there that's that good that scares me,' " Calipari said.
Leading the way for Kansas are junior forward Thomas Robinson (18 points, 11 rebounds in the opener) and senior guard Tyshawn Taylor (12 points, four assists). The duo forms as good of an inside-outside combination as any in the nation. Depth has been mentioned as an issue for the Jayhawks but, again, Calipari invokes his 2010-11 team that made a trip to the Final Four.
"I played six guys last year," Calipari said. "We played six guys. I would tell you, he's got a veteran team of good players and they're trying to make a statement too."
Robinson (6-foot-10, 237 pounds) is joined along the Jayhawks' front line by junior center Jeff Withey (7-foot, 235 pounds). With that kind of size and a dedication to throwing the ball into the post, UK's young and relatively skinny front line will be in for a stiff test.
"They're physical, they're well coached, they do their stuff, they know how they're playing, they're going to jam it in," Calipari said. "They're going to throw you some pick and rolls to jam it in and then they're going to jam it in and they're going to jam it in. You've got to be ready for the physicalness of their play."
More than any of his teammates, freshman Anthony Davis will be facing a challenge he has not yet encountered at this level. He dominated UK's 108-58 win over Marist to the tune of 23 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, but that doesn't mean Calipari was happy with the way he played.
"He's got to play more physical," Calipari said. "He's got to bend over. He can't stand straight up and down. He's got to stay in a stance. He's got to stump more. He can't stand around. You know, you dunk a ball and then run down the court. You've got to play the entire possession. When you showed him on tape, 'You stopped, right there. Look at you standing up and down.' It's OK in that game, but it's not OK the next game."
No matter what happens, Calipari is sure to say, 'I like my team afterward.' All Calipari wants to do is make sure his team is progressing and learning.
"This is a great test," Calipari said. "I told our guys, 'The pressure on us was yesterday and Saturday and today a little bit. That's all we can do. It's the 14th of November.' "
On Monday afternoon, John Calipari posted a brief story on his website announcing that sophomore guard Stacey Poole has made the decision to transfer away from the University of Kentucky. He also wished Poole well in the statement, which you can read below:
When you talk about a players-first program, the most disappointing thing is when a young man doesn't feel that he can accomplish his dreams where he is. I'm disappointed today.
We do everything we can to make sure no one is lost in the shuffle because this program is about every player from top to bottom.
We are asking our players to chase their dreams, be aggressive, go after it, but we also ask them to be patient because, at times, circumstances dictate opportunity.
Some players may be behind physically and with others the competition may be further ahead in their skill set or basketball knowledge. In any case the competitor must continue to work hard to prepare for any opportunity to shine. It's easy for me to say, but it's hard for players to deal with that.
In Stacey Poole's case, I feel if he would have stayed, eventually he would have had a breakthrough and had his opportunity. I told his family, "Look, if he needs a week or two weeks to decide what he wants to do and he decides he wants to come back and play the year out, he can do that. I'll do whatever he wants to do."
Having said that, Stacey and his family felt it is in his best interest to play somewhere else and I fully respect the family and their decision. I want to wish Stacey nothing but the best in whatever and wherever he chooses to go. He will always be a part of our family and the Big Blue Nation.
The Kentucky women's basketball team will take the floor in Memorial Coliseum for its home opener on Tuesday against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. The Wildcats are coming off a 96-60 win on the road over Morehead State, using a 65-point second-half outburst to overcome a lackluster start.
"We're excited to get back on the court and play," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "Friday night's game gave us a lot of areas where we can improve."
More than execution, decision-making or anything else, Mitchell was not pleased with the intensity his team brought to the table in the opener.
"We just didn't give a good Kentucky effort," Mitchell said. "We're all about energy and hustle and trying to outwork the other team, and we were outworked in the first half."
However, UK was able to respond after trailing 32-31 at halftime, led by a career-high 23 points from sophomore guard Kastine Evans. Evans starred during Friday's opener mainly because of hard work, which shouldn't come as too much of a surprise based on her approach during the offseason.
"She has a great passion for being an excellent basketball player and I'm telling you she worked unbelievably hard in the offseason and it shows," Mitchell said. "It's just a really exciting thing as a coach to see someone work that hard after you've tried to preach that to your team and then see her go out and have success and just flat out play harder than anybody on the team and have the best game."
Averaging just 2.6 points per game a season ago, Evans was not talked about a great deal during the offseason with a talented class of newcomers and returners surrounding her, but Evans' practice and conditioning habits are paying dividends.
"We really try to make it about competition and about honesty, hard work and discipline," Mitchell said. "Kastine's embraced those things. For me, it is thrilling to see her be able to break through and playing so well."
Evans and the Cats will face a unique series of tests beginning with a rare morning game. UK has six games over the next 12 days, comprised by two different stretches of three games in five days. The Wildcats have the depth to be able to cope well with the grueling schedule, provided the players respond mentally to the challenge.
"If we come mentally prepared over these next few days and all these games we have back-to-back, we should be in great shape because physically we have some very talented players," Mitchell said. "I think it's more of a mental and emotional exercise. Can we stay focused on what's in front of us, one game at a time, one day at a time?"
Men's basketball - Following a season-opening 108-58 win over Marist on Friday, the Wildcats set their sights on the bright lights of the Big Apple where they are taking on the 13th ranked Kansas Jayhawks in historic Madison Square Garden as a part of the inaugural State Farm Champions Classic. - In the Wildcats' season-opener, UK had five players score in double-figures led by freshman Anthony Davis' 23 points. Davis added 10 rebounds for his first career double-double and blocked five shots for good measure. He became just the third player in UK history to earn a double-double in his collegiate debut. - The Wildcats held the Red Foxes to 17.1 pct. from the field in the second half and 31.7 pct. overall. UK outrebounded Marist 51-29 and dished out 24 assists while committing only nine turnovers.
Football - The Kentucky football team began a two-game road swing in Southeastern Conference action with a 38-8 loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday. - Nick Melillo hauled in the first touchdown catch of his career in the third quarter to get UK on the board, a 22-yard strike. Melillo grabbed four catches for 59 yards and the touchdown, setting a new career high in receptions and yards. - Freshman linebacker Alvin Dupree and freshman defensive lineman Christian Coleman made their first career starts. Dupree finished with a career-high five tackles and his second career sack, while Coleman tied a career high with three stops. - Melillo was named honorable mention tight end of the week and place kicker Joe Mansour was named honorable mention kickoff specialist of the week by the College Football Performance Awards. Women's basketball - Fueled by a program-record 65 points in the second half, the Kentucky women's basketball team defeated Morehead State 96-60 on the road in each team's season opener. - Sophomore guard Kastine Evans scored a career-high 23 points on 8-12 shooting. Evans scored 17 of her 23 points in the second half. - UK is now 26-1 under head coach Matthew Mitchell when scoring 80 or more points. - Kentucky outrebounded Morehead State 30-12 in the second half.
Volleyball - UK concluded its final two-match road swing with victories over Alabama and Ole Miss to improve to 15-2 in league action and keep its title hopes alive. - The Wildcats endured an inspired performance from Ole Miss that forced the match into a five-set affair. UK escaped with a 3-2 victory and a 17-15 score in the fifth set to improve to 5-0 in five-set matches this season. - Sophomore Whitney Billings potsed consecutive double- double efforts for the second time this season during the two match stretch. She drilled a season-high 17 kills and added 14 digs in the victory over the Rebels. - Junior Stephanie Klefot posted a season-high 28 digs in the win at Ole Miss and now has amassed 494 scoops on the season. That total ranks as the eighth most in a single-season in UK history. Women's soccer - Kentucky closed out its season playing Washington State to a 1-1 draw, but losing the penalty kick shootout 4-2 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night. - It was Kentucky's first visit to the NCAA Tournament since the 2006 season, first at-large bid since 2002 and first time hosting since 1999. - Senior captain Kelsey Hunyadi ended one of the most remarkable single-season individual performances in school history. She broke the school record for shots with 90 and finished second in points (38), goals (14) and assists (10). - Kentucky returns 18 letterwinners off this year's NCAA Tournament squad in the 2012 season. Cross country - The UK men's and women's cross country teams each concluded their respective seasons Saturday at the NCAA Southeast Region Championships. The men's team finished 16th, while the women's team finished 12th. - Luis Orta paced the men's team with a 21st-place performance. By finishing in the top 25, Orta earned All-Region honors. - Orta finished the season with All-Region and first team All-SEC honors. He was also a three-time SEC Runner of the Week recipient and finished in the top 10 in five of UK's six races. - Junior Chelsea Oswald led the women's team with a 33rd-place showing. Oswald ran a career-best time in the 6K on Saturday.
Rifle - Behind a balanced team effort in air rifle and solid outings in smallbore from Emily Holsopple and Henri Junghänel, the No. 1 Kentucky rifle team posted a 4664 overall score for wins over host No. 13 Ohio State (4603) and vs. No. 15 Murray State (4597), on Saturday. - Kentucky was led in air rifle by Junghänel with a 593. Stacy Wheatley charted a 589 in air rifle, with Ethan Settlemires and Holsopple each shooting a 588. - The Wildcats entered the dual match coming off a record-setting performance in a win over Memphis. UK set a new NCAA record with a 4711 team score in the win, eclipsing its own record set in the 2010-11 NCAA Championships. - Kentucky will close out the fall season with two matches on the road in Fairbanks, Alaska, facing Air Force on Saturday, Nov. 19 and Alaska-Fairbanks on Sunday, Nov. 20.
Tuesday, Nov. 15 Women's basketball hosts Jacksonville State - 11:00 a.m. Men's basketball vs. Kansas - 9:00 p.m. (New York)
Wednesday, Nov. 16 Swimming and diving at Tennessee Invitational (Knoxville,Tenn.) Thursday, Nov. 17 Women's basketball hosts Northeastern - 7:00 p.m. Swimming and diving at Tennessee Invitational (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Friday, Nov. 18 Volleyball hosts LSU - 7:00 p.m. Swimming and diving at Tennessee Invitational (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Saturday, Nov. 19 Men's basketball vs. Penn St. - Noon (Uncasville, Conn. ) Football at Georgia - 12:21 p.m. Women's basketball hosts Southern Miss - 3:00 p.m. Rifle vs. Air Force (Fairbanks, Alaska)
Each year, in advance of the football matchup between Kentucky and Tennessee, the Kentucky Blood Center invites UK fans to participate in the Big Blue Crush, a blood battle between Wildcat and Volunteer fans. In 2010, Kentucky won the competition for the first time since 2002 and is looking to keep the title on the right side of the border for the second straight year. Last year, Kentuckians donated a record 3,503 pints of blood during the weeklong battle.
The 24th annual Big Blue Crush began today and continues all this week. It's a friendly competition between UK and UT fans that also helps ensure a strong blood supply throughout the holiday season.
As if beating Tennessee and contributing to a worthy cause weren't enough motivation to participate, the Kentucky Blood Center is also giving away plenty of great prizes. All donors will receive a Big Blue Crush t-shirt and coupon for a free McCafe Beverage from McDonald's. Each day, one winner of a $200 gas card will be chosen, while Monday and Tuesday donors will be entered to win a pair of tickets to this year's UK-Tennessee game at Commonwealth Stadium. The grand prize is an NCAA game package to be chosen from among all donors.
Another November weekend is in the books, and with it another eight Kentucky athletic events. This past weekend featured season openers for both men's and women's basketball, a pair of Southeastern Conference matches for volleyball, NCAA play for women's soccer and cross country, and a rifle trip to Columbus, Ohio.
Believe it or not, the next week is going to top it.
There are no UK events on Monday, but Tuesday begins a six-day stretch during which at least one Wildcat team will be in action each day with 12 total events going on. Included in that timeframe is this Saturday, when men's basketball, football and women's basketball will all play games within a five-hour span. I'll be trying to offer some help in preparing for that as the week goes on, but in the mean time, let's run down some of the biggest storylines for this Monday morning:
-The toughest loss of the weekend came in women's soccer's penalty kick heartbreaker in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Washington State. The Wildcats surged to a first-half lead on a Kelsey Hunyadi goal, but yielded the equalizer in the early in the second half. In spite of opportunities for both sides, neither team managed a goal in the final 34 minutes of regulation nor 20 minutes of overtime, so the outcome was left to be decided by penalty kicks. The Wildcats missed their first two tries and fell 4-2. It was as disappointing a loss as a team can have, but UK still had a tremendous season and has a bright future ahead. Jon Lipsitz has the program on the right track and though top scorer Hunyadi has exhausted her eligibility, UK loses just two seniors of this year's team.
-I don't know about you, but I was pretty excited to see the college hoops season tip off at long last. The men's team overcame a sluggish start against Marist, coasting to a 108-58 victory behind Anthony Davis' double-double. UK is now looking toward a matchup with Kansas 9 p.m. Tuesday in the Champions Classic played at Madison Square Garden. The Jayhawks are ranked in the top 15 of both polls at this point and figure to test another young John Calipari team. The Cats fly to New York City later today, but before then Calipari and a few of his players will be available to talk to the media. I'll have video and a story later this afternoon.
-Matthew Mitchell and UK Hoops got off to a similarly sluggish start in their opener, trailing 32-31 at halftime on the road against Morehead State. The Cats, though, shot a blazing 20-of-29 from the field in a 65-point second half explosion en route to a 96-60 win. Kastine Evans led the way for No. 18 UK with a career-high 23 points, who play their home opener Tuesday at 11 a.m. We'll have video of Mitchell later today and a live blog of the action tomorrow.
-Volleyball took care of business in two key road matches this weekend, dispatching Alabama in straight sets and withstanding Ole Miss in a five-set thriller to move to 15-2 in conference play. With three games remaining in SEC play, UK trails Tennessee by a game in the standings. The Wildcats have two home matches this weekend against LSU and Arkansas and if they win both and the Lady Volunteers win their next two matches, it will set up a showdown in Knoxville, Tenn., next Wednesday with the SEC title on the line. UK defeated UT once already in Lexington, Ky., so the Wildcats would own the tiebreaker if they beat Tennessee a second time. The Wildcats set a goal of winning the conference title from the beginning of the season and are exactly where they want to be: in control of their own destiny.
Kelsey Hunyadi, who scored Saturday night on a penalty kick, will graduate, but the program's future shines bright (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
They say winning is everything. That is true in some instances, but not all.
Saturday night at a chilly and blustery UK Soccer Complex, the Kentucky women's soccer team fell to Washington State 4-2 in a penalty shootout after battling for 110 minutes to a 1-1 tie. It was the Wildcats' eighth appearance in the NCAA Tournament first round and it was the eighth time they exited after just one game.
But this time is different.
With three years in the books for UK head coach Jon Lipsitz, the future is bright. Scratch that, the future is very bright. The Wildcats' record has improved steadily in each of Lipsitz' three seasons at the helm, culminating in this year's 13-7 season that saw Kentucky host an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 12 years.
"It hurts," Lipsitz said. "The only people that can feel how much this hurts are the people that put this much into something and have been in these moments in athletics. They know what it feels like. It's very, very difficult. But, we're proud of where we are and I'm very proud of this team."
Exhausted with the remnants of dried tears on their faces following the emotional loss, seniors Kelsey Hunyadi and Kiondra McGee sat at the podium in the postgame media room starring into space. They will not play again for Kentucky, but 18 of the 21 players on Kentucky's roster will.
"One of the things I said to Kiondra and Kelsey is that, 'I'm so glad you guys got to play in the NCAA's, because otherwise it would have been you guys coming back in future years and me saying to you, look what you did. Look at this. This is you. You did this,' " Lipsitz said. "It sure is a lot more fun to say, 'You did this and you got to play in the NCAA's.' "
Lipsitz and Kentucky stood toe to toe with a talented Washington State squad and fell just short of making program history by advancing to the second round. But if you had said at the beginning of the year that Kentucky would go to the NCAA Tournament at all, much less host a game in the first round, many people would have called you crazy.
"I can't put into words how proud I am of this group," Lipsitz said. "This is a team that was put at next to last in the preseason SEC poll. It's a team that nobody outside of our team felt that we'd have a chance to play in the NCAA. To get to host for the first time since 1999 was incredibly exciting and we deserved it. There were really wonderful moments. I'm sure there will be times in the future where we look back and remember what a wonderful stepping-stone this was for the program."
And that's ultimately how Lipsitz and the rest of the Kentucky women's soccer program will look at the game; as a stepping stone. They are proud of hosting an NCAA Tournament game and defying all preseason expectations, but Lipsitz isn't just excited about the future being so bright, he's excited about what they did this year.
"One of the reasons we're so excited for the future is because of how far we got this year," Lipsitz said. "We came further than we were supposed to. We're excited because of now, not because of the future."
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: With a chance to close within one win of bowl eligibility, the Kentucky Wildcats fell 38-8 at the hands of the host Vanderbilt Commodores in front of 33,718 fans at Vanderbilt Stadium. Behind 135 yards rushing and three touchdowns from running back Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt sprinted out to an early lead and the Wildcats weren't able to recover.
The disappointment in the voice of head coach Joker Phillips was perfectly clear in his postgame comments. In trying to evaluate how it happened, Phillips couldn't find a single player or coach on the roster who could be completely absolved.
"We all created what you just saw out there: coaches, players, everyone of us," Phillips said.
Stacy, who entered this game having averaged 6.9 yards per attempt on just 12.2 carries per game, transformed into a workhorse against the Wildcats. Oftentimes running the same play repeatedly with Stacy, Vanderbilt was able to move the ball on ground and push the pile forward. Not helping the cause were the absences of Donte Rumph and Ridge Wilson along UK's defensive front.
"They ran power, which is an attitude play, that we could not stop and get ourselves off the field," Phillips said.
Meanwhile, UK managed just 22 carries for 32 yards as a team. Removing the 31 yards lost on sacks of Maxwell Smith, the Wildcats were not quite as bad as the statistics show, but there's no hiding the fact that Kentucky lost the battle up front.
"It's a physical battle, that's obvious," Phillips said. "When a team runs the ball for that many yards and you're only able to run the ball for 35 yards, that's winning the physical battle."
Stacy's effectiveness on the ground made for opportunities on the outside for quarterback Jordan Rodgers. The junior completed 12-of-22 passes for 207 yards, heavily favoring his top target: wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Matthews caught six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Turning point: The Kentucky defense made a nice stand on the game's opening drive after Vanderbilt drove to the UK 26-yard line. With the benefit of a personal foul and Eric Dixon's first career sack, UK forced a punt and the Wildcats took over at their own eight-yard line. UK picked up a first down to get out of the shadow of its own goal post, but had to punt from the 24-yard line with the hope Ryan Tydlacka would be able to flip the field as he has done so many times this season.
Instead, the long snap to Tydlacka came in a little low and careened away from the senior punter. He was able to pick the ball up, but was tackled at his own three-yard line. Vanderbilt took advantage of the ideal field position, handing the ball to Stacy for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead they would never relinquish. Play of the game: UK made another stop in its own territory on Vanderbilt' subsequent drive with an interception at the goal line from Randall Burden and looked poised to force the Commodores into a field goal on their first drive on the second quarter. A penalty put Vandy into a third-and-13 situation from the UK 14, but wide receiver Chris Boyd was able to beat Burden inside. Rodgers found him at the goal line for a touchdown, beginning a string of Commodore conversions on long third downs.
"When you get a team in third-and-long, you have to get off the field," Minter said. "You have to analyze what happens on those because everything that happens after third-and-long is like an unearned run in baseball. You ought to be off the field, but you're not. You're still playing."
In many ways, third down conversions were the story more than anything else on this day. Vanderbilt managed to convert on 10-of-18 opportunities while UK was 0-for-12. Unsung heroes: Identifying bright spots in a blowout loss is never easy, but the performance of tight end Nick Melillo should not be completely overlooked. UK has searched for a tight end to step up as a major pass-catching threat all season and Melillo has shown the most potential of any player on the roster to do that in recent games. That culminated against Vanderbilt with a four-catch, 59-yard performance that included UK's only touchdown, the first of Melillo's career.
Injury report: On Vanderbilt's final drive, both Winston Guy (left shoulder AC sprain) and Martavius Neloms (right ankle) went down with injuries. Both will be evaluated when they return to Lexington. Right tackle Chandler Burden has an injury to his right thumb that is being called a sprain. He will get x-rays to confirm the diagnosis on Sunday.
Hidden stat: On the occasions when UK executed, the Wildcats often did themselves in with mental errors. Coming in to Saturday's game, Kentucky was third in the nation in fewest penalty yards (32.44 per game), but UK was flagged 10 times for 105 yards in the loss.
"We were one of the top teams in the country in penalties and we had penalty after penalty after penalty in crucial situations," Phillips said.
Four of the Wildcats' penalties directly resulted in Commodore first downs.
"It's always disappointing when you self-inflict," Minter said. "It's one thing to get beat, it's another when you help them. It's not good. It's not a good sign that we do those things. Kids are kids and you give the opponent credit, but there's no excuse for us doing things that are foolish or silly."
What this one means: The battle for bowl eligibility the Wildcats are waging just became that much more uphill. With a road game against Georgia and a home outing against Tennessee left on the schedule, UK will need to upend two tough conference opponents to extend its streak of bowl appearances to six.
"It just got tougher for us, we understand that," Phillips said. "There are still some things out there for us to play for."
The bus ride home will be a long one, but the Wildcats have no choice but to get back to work this week with a trip to Athens, Ga., upcoming.
"This is athletics, you've got to," Phillips said. "You've got to get yourselves up emotionally because this is an emotional game."
Anthony Davis became the third UK freshman to post at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in his regular season debut. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Throughout the preseason, John Calipari has preached the importance of making the "easy play" to his team. Kentucky has a roster full of players capable of doing it all and dominating on their own, but Calipari knows the Wildcats will maximize their potential only by sharing the load and picking their spots.
Perhaps no Cat has more of an adjustment to make in that regard than freshman forward Anthony Davis. He was by far the best player on his high school team and was often the primary ball handler in spite of his 6-foot-10 frame.
Even at the college level, Davis would likely score fairly consistently by bringing the ball down the floor himself, beating his man off the dribble and scoring at the rim. But with all the talent around him, that's not the most effective way for the Cats to do business.
"It's been kind of hard, because in high school I did so much," Davis said. "Now, since I have people who can dribble the ball, people who can shoot and rebound, it makes my job a lot easier."
Davis reported forgetting he was no longer his team's point guard on a few occasions in early-summer pick-up games, but those days are long gone. Instead, Davis has found a home around the basket. Taking advantage of his length and athleticism, Davis has transformed into a shot-blocking and lob-finishing terror, paving the way for a 23-point, 10-rebound, five-block effort in UK's season-opening 108-58 victory over Marist.
Senior Darius Miller has heard the "easy play" refrain from Calipari plenty of times in his three years playing for him, but isn't sure he's seen a newcomer take the command to heart quite like Davis has.
"He does what Coach Cal asks him to do," Miller said. "He doesn't try to do much than that and it's really helped his game out. He's really successful in what Coach Cal's tells him to do and it's helping the team."
Miller took full advantage of Davis' precocious understanding in Friday's blowout win, as four of his five assists came on alley-oops to the big man.
"It makes it a lot easier for us," Miller said. "It opens up a lot. Every time his man helps out we just throw it to the rim and he dunks it."
Oftentimes, Davis' finishes came on possessions when the Wildcats were otherwise stymied, which demoralized a Marist team that thought it had played sound defense.
"Think about it," Calipari said, "you play great defense and the guy is falling out of bounds and throws it at the rim and the guy dunks it and smashes it and the whole crowd goes nuts. You play zone, he's hanging around the rim, so you're doing a great job in zone, and all of a sudden your point guard throws it at the rim and he dunks it. It takes the wind out of your sails."
Davis, with his relatively slight frame, doesn't have a post-up game to speak of at this point in his career, but his ability to finish at the rim makes up for that. Besides, UK has plenty of players able to score in the post.
"Well, he doesn't have that game," Calipari said. "That's not his game. But Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) does, Terrence (Jones) does, Kyle Wiltjer does. We have enough post guys."
On the defensive end, blocking shots is most certainly his game. Marist, though, managed to successfully avoid his long reach in the first half as he did not tally a single swat. At halftime though, Davis was determined to change that around.
"After a while, I told my team to make them alter their shot and I'll come over and block it," Davis said.
Five second-half blocks later, the Red Foxes were likely ready to rid themselves of the man Calipari has dubbed "spider-man".
Calipari will now be looking for the way Davis has embraced the "easy play" to rub off on his teammates as UK heads into a three-game East Coast trip during which the Cats will face Kansas, Penn State and either South Florida or Old Dominion.
"Will you play the way you've played, or will you revert?" Calipari said. "Will guys play for numbers or play for us? I really think we'll be fine."
Calipari was talking most about point guard Marquis Teague, who struggled a bit out of the gate after running the team very well in UK's two exhibitions. Teague coped well with the bright lights of Rupp Arena when the games didn't count, but things changed with the start of the regular season.
"It's real and it's television and it's first time in this environment, my first game out of the gate, and he lost his mind a little bit," Calipari said.
Calipari, though, has been in this position with a freshman point guard and knew what message to deliver to his latest young signal caller.
" 'I've coached point guards before, and the ones that listen to me do fine,' " Calipari said. " 'So just listen to what I'm saying and stop arguing with me and just do what I'm asking you to do.'
"He's a good kid. We've got players that are good kids, now we've just got to make sure they understand the fire and the intensity they've got to play with."
Friday, November 11, 2011 7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. UK Men's Basketball vs. Marist Game Watch Party Jack Demsey's 36 West 33rd Street www.jackdemseys.com
Saturday, November 12, 2011 Noon UK Men's Football vs. Vanderbilt Game Watch Party Jack Demsey's Drink specials and giveaways during the game
Sunday, November 13, 2011 12:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Wildcat Alumni Brunch with a Kentucky-themed menu Jack Demsey's
3:30 p.m. Empire State Building Tours leaving from Jack Demsey's VIP private tours at highly discounted prices. If you have a group larger than 10, please contact John Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org and put 'Empire State Building Tours' in the headline.
3:30 p.m. Kentucky Pub Crawl with drink specials at each location. Pub destinations to be announced and will leave from Jack Demsey's.
Monday, November 14, 2011
8:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. Wildcat State of Mind Charity Event Jack Demsey's $5 cover to benefit the NYC UK Alumni Club Scholarship Fund Mistaken Identity Classic Rock Cover Band plays from 9:00 p.m. -11:00 p.m. Drink specials and giveaways during the event
Tuesday, November 15, 2011 Noon - 2:00 a.m. Wildcat State of Mind and Official Game Watch Party Jack Demsey's and Blocked off Street Sections on 33rd Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway
5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. UK Pep Rally Legends 6 West 33rd Street http://www.legends33.com/ The UK cheerleaders will make an appearance
Saturday's game between Kentucky and Vanderbilt will mark the first time two African-American head coaches will be on opposite SEC sidelines. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The SEC Digital Network points out today that the coaching matchup between Kentucky's Joker Phillips and Vanderbilt's James Franklin marks the first time two African-American head coaches will face off on opposing sidelines in the history of the Southeastern Conference.
For the first time in Southeastern Conference history, two African-American head coaches will be on opposite sidelines for a conference game when Kentucky visits Vanderbilt Saturday in Nashville.
Kentucky is led by second-year head coach Joker Phillips while James Franklin is in his rookie season at the helm for the Commodores.
The only other African-American head football coach in SEC history was Sylvester Croom, who led Mississippi State in 2004-08.
Phillips, a 1986 graduate of Kentucky, was an assistant coach for the Wildcats between 2003-09 before being promoted to the head coaching position. In 2009, he was the head coach of the offense and wide receivers coach.
Franklin came to Vanderbilt prior to this season from the University of Maryland, where he had been assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach since 2008.
The game is significant for bowl eligibility as well. Both teams, at 4-5 overall, need a victory Saturday in an effort to achieve the six-win benchmark needed to get into a bowl game.
The two schools have a history of firsts in opening doors to African-Americans in intercollegiate athletics.
Kentucky's Nat Northington and Greg Page became the first African-American athletes to receive an athletic scholarship at an SEC institution. They signed with the Wildcats in 1965 and Northington was the first African-American to play in a football game, during the 1967 season.
Vanderbilt basketball coach Roy Skinner signed the first black basketball players, Perry Wallace and Godfrey Dillard. Wallace plays in his first college basketball game in 1967, breaking the color barrier in basketball in the SEC.
There are currently 17 African-American head football coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Phillips and Franklin also have a shared history in that both were designated as coaches-in-waiting, Phillips at UK, where he is now obviously the head coach, and Franklin at Maryland.
"We go back a ways," Phillips said. "We had similar situations. (His) Situation at Maryland was the same as mine here. We've communicated in the past. It didn't work out there, but he got a chance to go to Vanderbilt, come in our league."
Franklin figures to make picking up wins over Vanderbilt this year and in the future significantly tougher, but Phillips has a lot of respect for the work he's done already.
"I'm proud of the way Coach Franklin has handled the team," Phillips said. "They've done a good job down there. All he does is elevate our league."
There have been years in recent memory when Southeastern Conference teams have seen Vanderbilt on the schedule and all but penciled in a win. The Commodores have had their moments, but the rigors of the toughest conference in America have kept Vandy at the bottom of the SEC more often than not.
As Kentucky (4-5, 1-4 SEC) enters its annual matchup with Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-5 SEC), the Wildcats see nothing that would even remotely suggest they can play anything less than their best to pull off a victory.
"Not the old Vanderbilt at all," linebacker Ronnie Sneed said. "The old Vanderbilt didn't put up as much of a fight compared with some other teams. This year they play everybody close."
Vandy may have just one win in six tries in SEC play so far this season, but the Commodores have competed at a high level against even the conference's top powers. Their last three conference games have come against Georgia, Arkansas and Florida and the Commodores have lost none of those games by more than five points. In fact, Vanderbilt had final drives into the opponent's red zone with an opportunity to take the lead in two of the three.
"They're playing and winning the way we draw it up to win, which is rush the ball, stop the run, and takeaway," UK head coach Joker Phillips said. "Doing a really good job. Again, a huge challenge for us but a heck of an opportunity to try to win an SEC game on the road."
As for all the talk about this being a completely different Vanderbilt team, Phillips isn't buying in, but not because he doesn't believe the Commodores are a very good team this season. Phillips has been on the sideline as the two teams have nearly played to a draw on multiple occasions. UK may have won six of eight in the series, but three of those wins have been by a touchdown or less and none by more than 18 points.
"They've always played well," Phillips said. "Just been a hair from winning games, similar to what they're doing this year. They're playing with a lot of excitement, a lot of emotion."
Even so, Vanderbilt is an improved team this season by almost any measure under first-year head coach James Franklin. Getting off to a 3-0 start that included a win over defending Big East champion Connecticut, defense was their calling card.
"Defensively is where you heard about them first early in the season," Phillips said. "They were playing really good, strong defense, taking away the ball."
Even though Vanderbilt features an undersized front line, they create havoc in the backfield and make applying pressure on their quarterback the top priority.
"They're a high pressure team defense," offensive line coach Summers said. "They bring pressure on just about every snap. Their philosophy is to hit your quarterback and against every team they've played, they have done that. It's a huge challenge for us, first of all, to find out where they are, because they're coming from every angle, and then to stay in front of them, because they play with great effort and technique."
The Commodores' pass rush has created 18 sacks on the season and contributed to the 15 interceptions Vandy has nabbed already this season. For a quarterback making just his second career start, Vanderbilt will pose a stern test.
"Vanderbilt is a really good defense," Maxwell Smith said. "They cause a lot of turnovers this year and a lot of havoc in the passing game for a lot of different teams. They're very sound defensively."
For the first time, Smith will be making a start on the road. He has played in hostile environments before at Louisiana State and South Carolina, but being the guy from the opening kickoff makes Saturday unique for him.
"It does a little bit, but those were a lot different circumstances," Smith said. "I'm ready for it and I know it's going to be loud."
Since Smith has taken over at quarterback, the UK defense has benefited significantly from extra rest as the Wildcat offense has moved the ball effectively and consistently. The Cats will need all the rest they can get against a Commodore offense that has come into its own the last four games.
Interestingly, Vanderbilt's quarterback situation is similar to UK's in that original starter Larry Smith, like Morgan Newton, went down with an injury against Alabama a month ago. The job then fell to his inexperienced backup, Jordan Rodgers, who stepped in and grabbed hold of the job. In Rodgers' four starts, Vandy has averaged over 200 yards both rushing and passing and 429.5 yards overall.
"We've had to face this kind of guy the last four weeks really, a guy that could run the zone read, run some option and get on the perimeter," Phillips said. "He probably throws the football better than the other dual guys we've seen. (He) Threw almost 300 yards against the Florida defense."
If the Wildcat defense need an additional reason to pay attention to Rodgers, his pedigree should do the trick. Rodgers' older brother, Aaron, is the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, the reigning Super Bowl MVP and the leader in the clubhouse for this year's regular season NFL MVP.
They may not have quite the name recognition of Rodgers, but running back Zac Stacy and wide receiver Jordan Matthews will demand equal attention. Stacy has rushed for 756 yards with an astounding yards per carry average of 6.9. Matthews has big play potential outside with 438 yards receiving a per catch average of 19.0.
With both teams sitting two wins shy of bowl eligibility, neither squad should be lacking motivation either.
"Both teams are going to be fighting and scratching to get everything they can and win this game," Sneed said. "I think that's what's going to make this a very good matchup."
Jon Lipsitz and the Kentucky Wildcats open NCAA Tournament play 7 p.m. Saturday at the UK Soccer Complex. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics)
There's an old adage about reaching goals while keeping an eye on the past. To reach unprecedented heights, you cannot forget where you came from and what got you there.
For the University of Kentucky women's soccer program, these words ring especially true.
"We are just starting where we want to go," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "We are not where we want to be in the long run, but we are where we want to be today."
For Lipsitz and the Wildcats, Saturday night's NCAA Tournament first round match against Washington State will be the culmination of three years of hard work. A relatively young program, Saturday's game marks just the eighth time in the program's history that it has even qualified for the NCAA Tournament, and it will be the first time Kentucky has hosted a game since 1999.
In Lipsitz's first season at the helm of the program, the Wildcats went 5-10-4. One year later, Kentucky improved to 10-7-3. Then this year, the Wildcats improved again, going 13-7 and ranking inside the top 25 in the RPI for much of the season.
With first-time accomplishments already in hand and the program's future becoming brighter with every dribble of the ball, it would be easy for the team to become complacent.
"You can look at them. They are not satisfied," Lipsitz said. "In fact, my concern has nothing to do with them being satisfied, it has to do with them handling the moment because of how excited they are."
Being excited isn't necessarily a bad thing. While many coaches will shun the idea of players being aware of their place in history, Lipsitz embraces it.
"It's a great thing," Lipsitz said. "I'm proud of them that they understand historically that while this isn't the final step, this is an important first step."
And that is the key point; this is a first step in their eyes. The ultimate goal is to win conference championships and have NCAA Tournament berths become an expected accomplishment. But just as Rome was not built in a single day, so too do Lipsitz and the Cats know lifting their program to where they believe it belongs will take time.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, the head man couldn't help but reminisce and talk about how far he and the program had come. He talked about sitting in the same chair as three years prior when he was hired. He also talked about feeling as though he and the program were finally "doing (their) part" when it comes to contributing to the overall athletic department's place in the Presidential Cup standings.
"I have felt many times in the last few years that we are not doing our part," Lipsitz said. "We are not getting points from the NCAA because we are not making the postseason. It's nice to know we are pulling our weight, and it's nice to know we are meeting our expectations, because the expectations here are high, as they should be. That feels great, it really does."
A victory over Washington State would feel even better. For a season that has featured so many firsts and has seen so many walls torn down, it would only be fitting for the 2011 Wildcats to enhance their legacy even more - become the first team in program history to win an NCAA Tournament game.
"It's very clear they understand their place in history," Lipsitz said. "We talk about legacy so much. We talk about doing this for the alumni. We talk about doing this for the kids who come after (them). I guess I didn't realize until that moment how much they have taken that to heart. They know. They know this is special. They also know that UK women's soccer has never won an NCAA game. We haven't talked about that. They know. They understand that this is a moment where they can make history that nobody can take away from them."
Kentucky has not committed a turnover in the past two games--something that had not been done since a three-game stretch to start last season. And the last time it happened in back-to-back SEC games was the contests against South Carolina and Auburn in 2009.
And Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers has not thrown an interception in his last two games.
Which rookie quarterback will blink tomorrow--if either will?
"One thing Max does not lack is confidence, which is a good thing. I don't think he's cocky but he is confident."
That's UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders' assessment of freshman Max Smith's personality as a quarterback. Smith is the kind of QB who doesn't let a mistake affect the next play but Sanders also knows that Smith has some mistakes from which he needs to learn. One example is to make the opponent pay when you have the right play called against their defensive scheme.
"You gotta keep throwing it and taking your shots. If we had really been on our game, we'd have had 35 points in the first half," Sanders said after the game. "You can't miss those plays. (I told him) 'if you're going to be the type of quarterback you want to be and I want you to be, we can't let those oportunities get away from us'. You only get so many opportunities in a game and you got to take advantage of them."
Kentucky is a huge favorite to win its season opener tonight against Marist but game two next Tuesday night in New York will have the Cats facing a challenge expected to be considerably tougher in Kansas.
But ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes says Bill Self's team should be a notch or two below the level at which KU has played the past couple of seasons.
"They are a different team. Kansas will step back a little bit from where they have been," Dykes said on "The Leach Report" radio show recently. "They don't have the talent, or pros they have had in the past. With that said, they will still be terrific. They will be well-coached.
"It may look different than other Kansas teams. They will have to rely on their defense and fight for loose balls. It's built around Taylor and Robinson. If those two guys have great years, Kansas will be good," he added. "If those two guys have good years, Kansas will have a good year."
Dykes got a chance to see Kentucky in person last month when he covered Big Blue Madness for ESPNU. And he thinks the Wildcats' defense could be a key component to getting their offense clicking.
"When you are built to defend like they are, obviously you want to get turnovers, block shots and go. They need to score in transition and get the ball on the defeinsive end on the floor and turn turnovers into points. That is one way to score," Dykes observed. "I think this is a team that Anthony Davis can shoot, Kyle Wiltjer can shoot, Terrence Jones can shoot and they need to allow those guys to get around the perimeter and have a threat to shoot. Those are two components Kentucky will use all year long. How to dribble drive, set screens - Calipari will figure that out. He has a lot of things to work with."
And Dykes left with a very strong impression of the Cats' four-man freshman class.
"Teague is the next point guard in line going back to Calipari's days in Memphis. He doesn't come in with the accolades the others had coming in but he is going to do pretty good. He is really good defensively, and might be as good as Calipari has had as a freshman point guard," said Dykes. "Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a warrior. He is a classic 6'7 guy who wants to be great. He knows that he is best at attacking the basket and can rebound, play hard, a loose ball-getter, he can defend multiple positions. Kyle Wiltjer, . that kid is skilled. He can shoot and pass and has a feel for the game. Anthony Davis is a combination of being 6'10 and explosive and quick. That guy is special"
At approximately 2:30 a.m., Stacey Poole and Terrence Jones were involved in a car accident at the corner of Euclid Avenue and High Street. They were struck by a vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road. The driver of the oncoming vehicle has been charged by police with driving under the influence.
The occupants of the victims' vehicle were not charged with any wrongdoing. No evidence of drugs or alcohol was found.
Poole and the driver of the victims' vehicle were questioned at the scene and taken to the emergency room by ambulance. In fear of an altercation with the driver of the oncoming vehicle, Jones left the scene but was later questioned by police. He arrived at the hospital following questioning and was treated with minor injuries. Both players have since been released from the hospital.
I'm happy to report that nobody in the car was injured. First and foremost, their safety was my biggest concern.
Our players did not break any rules by being out last night. As of yesterday, this team did not have a curfew and our normal procedure is to begin the season without one. I usually let the actions of my team determine a curfew. However, because of the actions of a select few, this team has showed me an inability to make proper judgment and decisions that they've been given the freedom to make.
Therefore, going forward, this team will now have a curfew for the rest of the season. I will inform the team of a time later today.
We hold our players to a higher standard at Kentucky. They must learn that they've been placed in a leadership role and that every action defines this team, this state and its fans. As always, any additional punishment will be handled within the team.
Marquis Teague dished out 16 assists against just four turnovers in UK's two exhibition victories. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
A common trait among many top point guards is the ability to exert an impact on a game without even needing to score. Developing both the skill and selflessness necessary to pull that off is something that often takes time for even the best of players though.
Before his freshman season even gets underway, Marquis Teague has shown he might already be there. In Kentucky's final tune-up before the regular season, Teague turned in a virtuoso performance, leading his team to a 51-6 lead with 6:36 remaining in the first half against Morehouse College without even taking a shot.
"What I said to him last game was he was really unselfish," head coach John Calipari said. "He didn't take a shot for the longest time in the game. Then the shots he took were either wide open jumpers or he just attacked the rim."
Now, just because Teague is able to direct the game without scoring doesn't mean he will. By the time the Morehouse game was over with, Teague had scored 12 points in just 17 minutes on the floor, but the visitors began by taking away his penetration, so Teague adjusted.
"He starts the first seven, eight minutes of the game and doesn't even look at the rim because they were trying to stop him from getting to the basket," Calipari said. "He's done what the team needs him to do."
Over UK's two exhibition outings, Teague has averaged 13.0 points and 8.0 assists against just 2.0 turnovers. Sure, the Wildcats will face a higher level of opponent as the season progresses, but Calipari likes what he's seen out of his latest first-year floor general.
"You just need that guy to be unselfish for our team to be unselfish," Calipari said. "He's been unselfish."
With yet another constellation of stars taking the Rupp Arena floor in 2011-12, beginning with a matchup against Marist at 7 p.m. Friday, Calipari is calling on Teague to set the tone. For UK to be a team that gets the most out of its talented parts, the Cats need to function as a team and it all begins with Teague. The Indianapolis, Ind., native recognizes all that is being asked of him, but he's unfazed.
"Everything starts with the point guard," Teague said. "I'm the leader of the team but I don't really look at it as pressure. I just want to go out and perform."
Even as the Wildcats went through a relative struggle in their first exhibition against Transylvania, Calipari singled out Teague for praise after the game for the way he ran the team. With that first game under his belt, he settled in even more his second time out.
"I was more comfortable running things," Teague said. "I didn't have to look to Coach Cal for plays and I was running things on my own sometimes."
Perhaps the signature play of UK's 125-40 win over Morehouse was a fast break Teague was involved in. Teague was ahead of the pack and sophomore forward Terrence Jones passed the ball ahead to him. Teague caught the ball in stride on the right side of the basket and had an opportunity to attempt a tough, running layup. Instead, Teague softly threw the ball off the backboard to Jones for a crowd-pleasing dunk.
"I could have laid it in," Teague said, "but I'm a point guard, I want to get my teammates involved first and make sure everybody's happy."
Calipari constantly preaches for his young team to make the "easy play" and while an off-the-backboard pass may not seem like the surest way to score, it actually may have been the highest percentage play in that situation.
"Coach Cal doesn't mind when we do things like that," Teague said. "He just wants to make sure we finish the play and score the ball."
Highlight reel fast breaks didn't constitute the extent of Teague's impact in the two exhibitions either. Along with fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Calipari looked to Teague as the anchor of UK's high-pressure, full-court defense that forced 26 Morehouse turnovers.
"On top of (his offense), he defends on the ball," Calipari said.
Teague had three steals in the exhibitions, demonstrating a physicality and intensity on defense that his predecessors John Wall and Brandon Knight may not have ever shown.
Comparing Teague to Wall or Knight at this stage in his career is natural, but it's also probably unfair. He hasn't gotten the chance to show what he's made of in the regular season yet, let alone on the big stage of the NCAA Tournament, where both Wall and Knight proved themselves when they were freshmen under Calipari.
"Until we're in a big-time game and the game's on the line and he gets the ball and we see how he reacts, it's too early to tell," Calipari said.
Teague is confident he'll respond when the time comes, but in the mean time he'll be working.
"I need to keep making sure I am knocking down open shots," Teague said. "I need to keep pushing the ball in transition, and sometimes I need to slow it down. I need to pick and choose when to speed up and slow down."
Men's basketball equipment manager Will Martin spent some time on Thursday answering questions about "No-Shave for November." The managers are working to raise awareness for prostate and all types of cancer and raise funds for the Markey Cancer Foundation by not shaving their beards for the entire month.
"Cancer unfortunately is just so prevalent," Martin said, "Everyone is affected by it, whether it's somebody who has experienced it themselves or someone in their family."
Donations can be made by sending checks made out to: Markey Cancer Foundation, 800 Rose Street, CC160, Lexington, KY 40536-0093 or by visiting the Markey Cancer Foundation website: www.markeycancerfoundation.org.
With Kentucky's NCAA Tournament opener against Washington State just two days away, women's soccer head coach Jon Lipsitz spoke in the media room at Memorial Coliseum. It was the first time he had spoken there since his introductory press conference three years ago.
"It's nice to remember that," Lipsitz said. "It's been a climb ever since then and it's been a lot of hard work by some wonderful people, the players and the staff, and a lot of support by everybody that works with us in the administration that got us to where I'm sitting back in this chair."
Hosting a tournament game for the first time since 1999, the Wildcats are working hard for Saturday's game.
"We're just starting again," Lipsitz said. "We're not where we want to be in the long run but we're where we want to be today. We've been working very hard this week training very hard for a very good Washington State team."
We will have a story later this afternoon or tomorrow morning previewing this weekend's game, but in the mean time enjoy this video of Lipsitz talking about a match many are calling "the most evenly matched first round game" according to Lipsitz.
Guards Stuart Hines and Larry Warford anchor an offensive line that has played its best football in UK's last three games. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
A month ago, optimism wasn't running high on a Kentucky team and a Wildcat offense that had dropped four games in a row.
His team outscored 161-37 over the span, head coach Joker Phillips declared the next six games a "second season," but getting the Cats to turn the page on a 2-4 start and focus on the rest of 2011 wouldn't be easy, even with a bye week to prepare.
Buying in to Phillips' approach without a second thought was a veteran offensive line that had struggled as much as any other unit on the team. Maybe they aren't the type of rah-rah, get-in-your-face kind of guys that are generally thought of as leaders in football, but their steadiness came to inspire the rest of the team.
"Their ability to come and practice hard every day has been the leadership the offense needed," offensive line coach Mike Summers said. "Their ability to put their hands in the dirt, come off the ball and practice when things looked bleak gave motivation to everyone out here. Those guys aren't generally vocal in terms of leadership, but they lead by example."
Following the example set by the offensive line, the Wildcats have rallied to two wins in their last three games to move to 4-5 on the season. Heading into a road matchup with Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-5 Southeastern Conference), UK has strung together its best offensive performances of the year, principally driven by an offensive line finally playing the way so many expected it to entering the season.
Even though the unit of Chandler Burden, Stuart Hines, Matt Smith, Larry Warford and Billy Joe Murphy had plenty of experience playing together, inconsistency and injuries throughout the preseason and early part of the schedule prevented the line from developing any sort of continuity. UK allowed 21 sacks and 48 tackles for loss in the season's first six games.
Even in the face of those struggles, the linemen never allowed those injuries to be an excuse for their play. Instead, they responded by maintaining their work ethic on the practice field and in the film room. Having rolled up 1,150 yards and 84 points the last three games, their approach has paid of.
"I think we have a lot of pride," Hines said. "We come out here and put a lot of hard work. We put a lot of work in the film room and study hard. It's nice to see it paying off now."
Summers watched as his linemen coped with injury and he saw the toll those early struggles took on a group that cares so much about the team's success, which makes seeing the way they've turned things around that much more rewarding.
"They have a tremendous amount of pride," Summers said. "They're great people with great character to start with. They care about the University of Kentucky and being successful. It's important to them to execute well so everyone else can have success. They take it personally when our offense doesn't do well. Their production has improved every game and I've been extremely proud of who they are and how they've played."
Throwing a wrench into things a couple weeks ago was the injury to quarterback Morgan Newton against Mississippi State. All of a sudden, the Wildcats went from having an experienced junior under center to a true freshman, Maxwell Smith, who had never made a start and only played a few series in a pair of blowouts against South Carolina and Louisiana State. Fortunately, their experience allowed for a seamless transition.
"They understand that some things might not be as smooth in the huddle or as smooth at the line of scrimmage as they might be with a more experienced quarterback," Summers said. "Because we have guys with experience up there, they don't get frustrated by that. They understand that's the way it is and it forces them to do a better job communicating and understanding what's expected from them."
If anything, Smith's insertion has only raised the line's level of play. In a 30-13 win over Ole Miss last Saturday, Smith was sacked only once and CoShik Williams once again exceeded 100 yards rushing.
"It puts a premium on our protections because we have to give him time," Hines said. "It might give him a split second longer to read the coverages or whatever so we have to give him that time. We just said we need to keep him clean and keep him off the ground."
Smith used the extra time given to him to throw the ball downfield unlike UK has all season. His first half attempts were a bit overthrown, but a pair of long completions to La'Rod King all but sealed the Wildcats' victory.
"They're motivated by the production Max has been able to generate," Summers said.
Smith and the offensive line will be tested by an attacking Vanderbilt defense. The Commodores have already matched their total from a year ago with 18 sacks while their pressure on opposing quarterbacks has also helped generate 15 interceptions.
"They're a high pressure team defense," Summers said. "They bring pressure on just about every snap. Their philosophy is to hit your quarterback and against every team they've played, they have done that. It's a huge challenge for us, first of all, to find out where they are, because they're coming from every angle, and then to stay in front of them, because they play with great effort and technique."
If the last three weeks are any indication, the Wildcats will meet this challenge head on.
Jon Lipsitz addresses his team after the Wildcats learned they would host a first round game in the NCAA Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
If you ask anyone outside of Lexington, Ky., the Kentucky women's soccer program wasn't supposed to be here - not this quickly.
When Mitch Barnhart tabbed Jon Lipsitz as head coach three years ago, he believed Lipsitz would lead the Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament, but it would require patience. The Cats showed progress in Lipsitz's first two seasons, culminating with an above .500 finish and a trip to the Southeastern Conference Tournament in 2010.
Even so, 2011 wasn't supposed to be the year the Wildcats asserted themselves on the national scene according to those outside the program. However, there was a different sense around the UK Soccer Complex from day one.
"I don't think there were a lot of people outside this group that believed we were going to be sitting here talking to you today about an NCAA bid," Lipsitz said. "Supposedly we weren't there yet and we weren't ready, but we felt something else this entire season."
With a young, shallow roster and a demanding schedule, the Cats had plenty of reasons to doubt themselves, but they never did.
"There has been a strength in this team," Lipsitz said. "We have been low on numbers from the beginning and took that as a positive and took that as an opportunity to be, as they say every day, '21 Strong'. You've been able to see something, you've been able to feel something."
The motto is a reference to the 21 players on this year's roster and has come to define this team. Nearly all team huddles break with a chorus of "21 Strong", while nary a tweet of any player or coaches end without being punctuated by the hash tag version (#21strong).
The 21 Wildcats, with a 13-7-0 (6-5-0 SEC) regular season in one of the nation's toughest conferences, have punched their tickets for the NCAA Tournament. Reaching the College Cup for the first time since 2006, UK will host Washington State (12-6-3, 6-3-2 Pac-12) at 7 p.m. Saturday at the UK Soccer Complex. It will mark the first time UK has hosted a tournament game since 1999, and fulfills a goal the Cats have had in mind all season.
"One of our huge goals as we started realizing this is an NCAA season, was we wanted to host," Lipsitz said. "And I think, from the top to the bottom, our administrators, our fans, our players and our families deserve that."
There's no question that reaching the tournament and earning the right to host a game are accomplishments in and of themselves, but the Cats wouldn't do justice to the mentality they've embraced all season if they were content.
"This is a starting point, not an end point," Lipsitz said. "This is a starting point not only for this program in the future, but more importantly for a new season."
Lipsitz, though, has made sure to stop and give his team time to enjoy the moment. He's worked tirelessly to help give UK a chance at this "new season", but gives ultimate credit to his players.
"It's, first of all and most importantly, thanks to this family (of players)," Lipsitz said. "These players have worked their tails off and have made a decision to come here and do this together. It was a leap of faith to say we're going to do this."
It's no accident that Lipsitz refers to his team as a "family" and the "21 Strong" mantra is an embodiment of the atmosphere Lipsitz has created around the program. And for the man that hired him, it stands out above any win the Cats pick up on the field.
"I think the thing that he's done most is that he's created a family environment," Barnhart said. "He's created a situation where these women do a good job of taking care of each other. They want to be better for those that are ahead of them as juniors and seniors and the seniors do a great job of leading the younger kids."
In hiring Lipsitz, Barnhart also couldn't ignore his proven background as a winner. In 10 seasons as a head coach, Lipsitz sports a record 129-57-15, including back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament with Charlotte, his last stop before coming to UK.
Coaching a team that lacks experience in the NCAA's, the lesson he'll try to impart above all others leading up to Saturday is "Have fun."
"I have gotten to be there before and it is the culmination of everything you work for," Lipsitz said. "When you're not in the NCAA's, you think about the future and that's how we felt at the end of last year. When you get there, it feels totally different."
Although it may feel different, Lipsitz won't ask his team to be anything other than the family of 21 they've been all season when they take the field against Washington State.
"Sometimes when you get into a big game, individually and as a team, you try to be something more than you are," Lipsitz said. "All we have to do is be ourselves and be the best we can be and we'll do great."
The latest issue of Sports Illustrated hit newsstands today and gracing the cover is Terrence Jones. The sophomore forward is a part of a Kentucky team picked No. 2 by Sports Illustrated, behind only North Carolina.
SI.com is talking about the Cats today too, with Jones on the front page of their college basketball page as well. Andy Glocker posted a Southeastern Conference preview in which he named Jones the conference's player of the year and UK the preseason favorite.
On paper, the Wildcats have much more talent than last season's Final Four team, importing four elite recruits to join forces with Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller. Marquis Teague should star at the point and long-limbed big man Anthony Davis could be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft next season, but neither may have as good a college season as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who even if he's not starting, should pour in plenty of points from the wing. If you really want to nitpick, the Wildcats don't really have a true physical 5 to mimic the role Josh Harrellson capably filled last season, but there's too much talent (and now some experience) to expect anything less than an SEC title and a Final Four appearance.
Player of the Year
Terrence Jones, Kentucky
In some circles, Jones is being overlooked because he's not new and because his numbers tapered off down the stretch last season. In this circle, give me the guy with a year of experience at this level who now is surrounded by significantly more talent than last season's team. This version of the Wildcats still doesn't really have a traditional big man (Eloy Vargas, anyone?), so Jones' rebounding -- especially on the defensive end, where he was statistically elite last season -- will still be crucial. With better players around him, Jones' offensive efficiency should improve, as well, so he's in a good position to put up strong numbers on a great team, the formula for postseason honors.
Joker Phillips and the Kentucky coaching staff made the decision to move practice indoors on Wednesday as the Cats prepare for this weekend's game against Vanderbilt. After practice, Phillips spoke to the media about the session.
"It was a little windy today and we thought about going out and practicing in the wind," Phillips said, "but I thought it was more important that we got the ball thrown and caught."
With Maxwell Smith making just his second career start and first on the road, working inside gave the freshman quarterback and his receivers a chance to continue to build confidence. Practicing in the comforts of the recently renovated Nutter Indoor Training Facility also made the simulated crowd noise used on Wednesday that much louder.
Assuredly, Smith has been congratulated walking around campus after his breakout performance and first career win against Ole Miss, but Phillips isn't the least bit concerned about Smith's head getting too big for his own good.
"You get humbled when you come back in here," Phillips said. "Coach Sanders has done a good job of keeping him level-headed."
Returning to practice after missing Tuesday with injury were defensive tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble, as well as wide receiver Matt Roark. Phillips was especially happy to have the two big linemen back because of the way they've transformed the defense this season.
"Those guys, getting inserted in there, have really changed the way people try to attack us," Phillips said. "You can't attack us because those guys are big blocks that hold the point of attack."
Anthony Davis had 21 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in Monday's exhibition victory over Morehouse College. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Just three days away from Kentucky's first regular season game, ESPN.com unveiled its All-American teams. No surprise here, but a pair of John Calipari's Wildcats were honored. Sophomore forward Terrence Jones was picked as a first teamer, while freshman forward Anthony Davis was selected to the second team.
Selections were based on voting by 15 ESPN analysts. Jones was named on all ballots and was a first teamer on 12. Davis received two first team votes and three second team votes. Freshman point guard Marquis Teague also received a second team vote.
Here are the complete teams:
First team Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin) Tu Holloway (Xavier) Harrison Barnes (North Carolina) Terrence Jones (Kentucky) Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) Second team Jeremy Lamb (Connecticut) Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh) John Jenkins (Vanderbilt) Perry Jones III (Baylor) Anthony Davis (Kentucky)
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 - Women's soccer reaches NCAA's for first time since 2006
Jon Lipsitz and the UK women's soccer team may have lost their only game this week, a 2-1 heartbreaker against Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but their achievements for the season as a whole earned them this spot. On the strength of a 13-7-0 regular season, Kentucky learned on Monday they had officially earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. To take things a step further, the Wildcats will have the honor of hosting their first round game against Washington State (12-6-3).
UK has been led all year by the play of senior Kelsey Hunyadi, who is having one of the top seasons in school history. Hunyadi has started all 20 of Kentucky's games, leading the team in both goals (13) and assists (10) and earning second team All-SEC honors. She arrived on campus a transfer the same year Lipsitz took over head coaching duties and has played a central role in bringing the program to this point.
As much as the Cats have achieved, their season is only just beginning. Their NCAA Tournament run will get started 7 p.m. Saturday at the UK Soccer Complex. Tickets are available now and you can check out this link for complete information. Player of the week - Greg Ferrucci continues to rewrite diving record book
Swimming and diving hosted a meet for the first time this season, with the men claiming victories over both Missouri and Southern Illinois and the women defeating Southern Illinois and falling to Missouri. Leading the way for the men was sophomore Greg Ferrucci, who claimed first place in both the one-meter and three-meter diving events.
Game of the week - Football picks up first SEC with dominant fourth quarter
Trailing 13-10 entering the fourth quarter, UK outscored the visiting Ole Miss Rebels in the final period 20-0, carrying the Cats to their first SEC victory of the season. In his first career start, true freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith threw for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the fourth, leading the Cats to three touchdowns on four drives.
Even with a freshman under center, head coach Joker Phillips and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders dialed up aggressive play calls to take the lead and eventually pull away from Ole Miss. Wide receiver La'Rod King was the primary beneficiary of the aggressiveness, catching a go-ahead 38-yard touchdown and another 55-yard bomb to set the Cats up in the red zone for a touchdown that would all but seal the victory.
Play of the week - Men's basketball puts together highlight reel performance in final exhibition
Picking just one highlight from UK's dominating 125-40 win over Morehouse College is no small task. UK's suffocating defense led to numerous opportunities in the open floor and the athletic Cats took advantage at every juncture as they raced out to a 74-13 halftime lead.
Every play in the video above is worth a second look, but my personal favorite begins at the 18-second mark. Terrence Jones tosses ahead to Marquis Teague in the open floor, who makes an acrobatic catch on the right side of the hoop. Recognizing the speed at which he was traveling, Teague decided trying a layup on his own was too tough a proposition, so he instead opted to toss the ball off the backboard back to Jones for an uncontested dunk. Photo of the week - Bria Goss finishes at the hoop
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
Playing their lone exhibition before the 2011-12 season, Matthew Mitchell and the women's basketball team took down Coker College by a score of 86-44. Leading the way for the Cats in her first game in a UK uniform was freshman Bria Goss. She scored 17 points, including this layup late in the second half
Video of the week - Volleyball staff shows off "Thriller" moves
The No. 18 Kentucky volleyball team had just one match this week, avenging an earlier loss to Mississippi State with a sweep of the Bulldogs in Memorial Coliseum. The Cats will hit the road for a pair of matches against Alabama and Ole Miss as they continue their run at the SEC title.
They took a break from their regular preparations though to film a "Tip of the Week" video for Sportwide/AVCA. Assistant coach Keith Schunzel and players Becky Pavan, Christine Hartmann and Gretchen Giesler demonstrated a crossover and swing block drill the Wildcats use in practice.
The demonstration was informative, but not nearly as entertaining as what happened at the end of the video. Schunzel, along with fellow staffers Lindsey Gray, Sara Sjuts and Anders Nelson one-upped UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell with a nearly perfect rendition of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" dance for Halloween. The dancing commences at the 2:39 mark. Alumnus/alumna of the week - John Conner scores first touchdown of the season
Former UK fullback John Conner, also known as "The Terminator" has established himself as the starting fullback for the New York Jets this season. He's known more for his crunching blocks, but he scored his first touchdown of 2011 on a one-yard dive as the Jets defeated the Buffalo Bills in a crucial AFC East battle. The touchdown was the second of his two-year NFL career.
Joker Phillips spoke to the media after Kentucky's practice on Tuesday for a game this weekend against Vanderbilt. He was happy with the Wildcats' effort and will be looking for them to build on it as the week goes on. UK has managed to maintain intensity in practice even before going 2-1 the last three games, but winning has added some extra juice.
"We've been consistent with the way we've practiced but winning definitely helps you practice a little harder," Phillips said.
On the injury front, Ridge Wilson, Mister Cobble, Donte Rumph and Matt Roark were all held out with bumps and bruises with Phillips hopes to have all four available on Saturday. Roark, dealing with a sprained foot, was out of his walking boot and feeling much better. Returning to practice was sophomore running back Raymond Sanders. Sanders is expected to play this week, though junior CoShik Williams will remain the starter.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 6:
Football: Winston Guy
Earned his seventh double-figure tackle game of the season against Ole Miss when he had 10 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry. One of his biggest plays came in the first quarter when he tracked down a speedy Ole Miss ball carrier en route to the end zone, saving a touchdown.
Cross country: Luis Orta
Junior Luis Orta finished fifth at the SEC Cross Country Championships on Monday.
Orta is the first UK cross country runner to earn first team All-SEC honors since current assistant coach Thomas Morgan won the SEC Championships in 2003.
Orta ran a 24:28.36 on the 8,000-meter course in Maryville, Tenn.
Led Kentucky to a fourth-place team finish, its best team result at the conference meet since 1992, when the Wildcats finished in third.
Men's tennis: Eric Quigley
Advanced to the semifinals of the USTA/ITA Nation Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, taking down two top-24 ranked players along the way.
Went 3-1 at the event, increasing his career record to 137-43, sitting only seven wins shy of tying the school record for singles wins in a career.
Quigley was honored with the 2011 USTA/ITA Sportsmanship Award as selected by a panel of coaches, officials and tournament committee members.
Football: Maxwell Smith
Earned his first career start and performed well, completing 19 of 36 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Ole Miss. His 283 passing yards is the most ever in one game for a Kentucky true freshman (non-redshirt) quarterback. The old record was 208 yards by Larry McCrimmon vs. Florida in 1978.
Football: Danny Trevathan
Continued his brilliance this season with his second consecutive 17-tackle performance against Ole Miss. Also earned his fourth career interception, including one in each of the last three games. He becomes the first player to notch picks in three consecutive games since Tremayne Martin had an interception in the first three games of the 1997 season.
Football: CoShilk Williams
Second career 100-yard rushing game against Ole Miss when he rushed a career high 25 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Has played well in UK's last three games, rushing 62 times for 323 yards and two touchdowns.
If you haven't yet gotten enough from Kentucky's 125-40 exhibition victory over Morehouse on Monday night, here is a video that should help satisfy your appetite. Below is a highlight video from the action and how UK Sports Video was able to compress all the plays from last night into less than three minutes is beyond me.