Anthony Davis had 18 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a 69-62 victory over Louisville. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
For the majority of the first half, Anthony Davis was just like the 24,387 fans in Rupp Arena: a spectator.
He watched as Kentucky grabbed a 15-point lead with just over five minutes left in the first half, only to see archrival Louisville storm back to close the deficit to 36-33 at halftime. He watched as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist dominated to the tune of 16 points and eight rebounds.
By the time the second half started, Davis was done with that whole bystander thing.
"Being in foul trouble and sitting on the bench, it's really hard for you to get going," Davis said. "(UK head coach John Calipari) just told me to go out there and play aggressive and play like he knows I can play. That's what I tried to do in the second half."
Without question, Davis did just that.
After sitting out the final 11:32 of the opening half due to a pair of fouls, Davis played every minute of the second half, just like Kidd-Gilchrist. The swingman will deservedly get the lion's share of the attention for his 24-point, 19-rebound effort that earned Most Valuable Player honors in UK's 69-62 victory, but Davis completely changed the complexion of the game when he checked back in.
He scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds after the break en route to his third consecutive double-double, but it was on the defensive end where he exerted his most substantial impact, proving Calipari's halftime speech prophetic in the process.
"I told them at halftime ... 'Look, they're getting layups right now because he's not in the game,' " Calipari said. " 'When I put him back in at the start of the second half, you'll see what he does for you guys.' I think he got three or four blocks right away."
Davis had five blocks and two steals in the second half, which made his absence in the first half even more conspicuous. When UK was up 31-16 with 5:09 left in the first, Louisville went on a 17-3 run, largely on the strength of Russ Smith's drives, as he scored seven points during the spurt. Once Davis returned, those opportunities quickly turned into harsh rejections at the rim.
"What you have to do to get to the basket against that guy is almost impossible," Smith said. "The amount of room he covers around the basket is incredible. Davis is a very solid player."
"Solid" may be somewhat of an understatement. His five blocks bring his season total to 64 as he continues his seemingly unstoppable march toward the single-season record at UK. To provide some more perspective on Davis's defense, 295 Division teams entered Saturday with fewer than 64.
With Davis anchoring the defense, UK held Louisville to just eight points over a crucial 10-plus minute stretch during the middle portion of the second half. The two teams were tied to begin the period, but by the time it was over, UK led 58-48 and U of L wouldn't come closer than seven the rest of the way.
The message Calipari sent to his big man at halftime was to maintain his aggressiveness on both ends without fouling. Rather than leaving his feet early, Davis avoided fouls in the second by staying on the floor. His length and athleticism allows him to effectively contest shots by even the tallest of players without trying to anticipate their releases, like Louisville's Gorgui Dieng.
With 3:25 left in the second half, the Cardinals fed Dieng in the post with Davis guarding him one-on-one. Dieng backed Davis down and used multiple pump fakes, but Davis didn't bite. When Dieng finally went up, Davis rose and got a piece of the ball.
By playing more disciplined defense, Davis picked up just one foul in the second half, which is somewhat amazing since 52 total fouls were called in an extremely physical game. UK's Marquis Teague and U of L's Chane Behanan fouled out while six more players had at least four fouls, so by the time Davis stepped on the floor for the second half with just two, fouls were hardly an issue, relatively speaking.
Calipari would have liked to get Davis back on the floor in the first, but with how important the freshman is to the team, he was unwilling to risk it.
"He was too valuable to the team to go back to him," Calipari said.
Davis may not have enjoyed riding the bench for such an extended period, but he understood why he had to. Calipari wanted him to be able to play without being limited by fouls in the second, which is just what he did. Davis attacked the glass with reckless abandon as he grabbed 10 rebounds for the game in helping the Cats to an astounding 57-31 edge on the boards.
"Knowing that you're not in that much of foul trouble going into the second half and that you have three fouls to give, it makes the game a lot easier," Davis said. "You can be more aggressive, go for every rebound, dive on the floor and contest shots."
For the most part, the way Davis played in the second half came as no surprise to anyone who has watched the presumed No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, but there was a positive development in one notable area. Of course, he had his requisite alley oops and a basket off an offensive rebound, but Davis scored two-thirds of his points at the free-throw line. He had shot just 27-of-46 (58.7 percent) from the stripe coming into Saturday's game, but drained 12-of-13 attempts, much to the surprise of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino.
"We didn't mind fouling Davis," Pitino said, "it looked like he was a shaky free throw shooter and suddenly looked like Jerry West out there."
Davis explained simply that his improvement at the line was due to additional time spent in practice and if it keeps up, it could change the way he plays on offense. His stroke has always been sound, but the shots haven't been falling. Now that he knows he can knock the free ones down, he could make a living at the charity stripe.
"If you were him, wouldn't you ball fake, step through, ball fake, just get fouled?" Calipari said. "Why even shoot the ball? Get fouled."
It's time once again for our regular trivia contest before men's basketball games: Robic's Riddle.
Assistant coach John Robic has supplied us with yet another question from the annals of Kentucky basketball history. The first fan to submit a correct answer via email to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a mystery prize.
Today's question has to do with UK's balanced scoring attack this season.
UK currently has six players averaging double figures in points. How many times in UK's 109-year history have six players ended a season averaging double figures?
Again, please submit your answers to email@example.com. We will announce the correct answers at halftime of this afternoon's game, assuming we have a winner by that time.
Don't forget to tune in and watch the Cats take on Louisville at noon CBS.
Terrence Jones had 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 78-63 victory over Louisville in 2010. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Dec. 3 was the last time Rupp Arena played host to a matchup of top-five teams. Kentucky-North Carolina was billed nationally as a potential preview of the national championship game and was as well attended by NBA personnel as by the Big Blue Nation.
Four weeks later, the Wildcats will once again welcome a highly ranked team to Lexington, but the hype feels different this time around.
While UK-UNC had a massive scope and national interest from fans thinking about the big picture and how many future professionals would be on the floor, Saturday's game at noon between Kentucky and Louisville has a much closer, more personal feel. Sure, viewers from around the United States will tune in, but this one is all about the Bluegrass, all about this rivalry.
With the long-awaited game now less than 24 hours away and Rupp long since sold out, UK head coach John Calipari can think of one group more excited for the game than any other.
"Who are the happiest people in our town right now?" Calipari said. "You could say the media but there are people happier -- ticket scalpers. They're ecstatic."
While the obviously intense feelings on both sides of the intra-state rivalry will lead many blue and red-clad fans to pay exorbitant amounts of money to get in the building, Calipari and his team aren't getting swept up in the hysteria. The game is one of 31 on UK's regular season schedule and they don't want to look at it any other way, regardless how their supporters may feel.
"We have not prepared for this game any different than any other game," Calipari said. "Obviously for our fans and their fans this is an enormous game. For our team it's the next game and hopefully we play well."
Until the Wildcats defeated Lamar on Wednesday in their final game before UofL comes to town, there was scarcely a mention of the Cardinals in practice. Moreover, Anthony Davis and Doron Lamb reported not even having seen Louisville on television yet this season, though that will change on Friday night.
"I've never seen them play," Lamb said. "I didn't even watch Louisville play this year at all. We're watching them tonight. We never had a chance to watch them play. We've always had a game or practice or whatever the case may be. We just never had the time to sit down and watch them play."
Though the Wildcats are steadfastly refusing to get caught up in everything that makes UK-UofL as intense a rivalry as it is, that doesn't mean they don't have an idea of the craziness swirling around them. The players are connected to fans around them on campus and through outlets like Twitter, so they know what the atmosphere is going to be like Saturday afternoon.
"It's a big game for our fans, but it's a regular game for us really, and we're going to go out there and try to win," Lamb said. "They just want us to win so bad. They're always talking about it. They've been talking about this game since the beginning of the season."
A season ago, Lamb saw firsthand how much beating the Cardinals meant to UK fans. He scored nine points in UK's 78-63 victory, but Lamb knows how important it will be for the Cats to keep their wits about them.
"We don't want to get too hyped before the game," Lamb said. "We are calm. Because when (you) are calm, the game will come to you. I know it will be a tough game. It will be really loud in Rupp. And it will be a rivalry game, so it will be a really hyped game. So we will go out there, let the game come to (us) and just play hard."
UK overcame Louisville's signature brand of high-pressure defense in the New Year's Eve 2010 victory, committing just 13 turnovers against the Cardinals' physical play. The Wildcats will need to be stronger with the ball than in their last outing against Lamar when they committed 17 turnovers and they know it.
"We know they are a very physical team," senior guard Darius Miller said. "They play with a lot of intensity and we've got to match that. We've got to make them try to match our intensity and how tough we play. So hopefully we come out and do that."
Like North Carolina, Indiana and Kansas, Calipari knows Louisville is the kind of opponent capable of beating the Cats even if they play well. The Cardinals have a defense that will keep them in most any game they play and though they have struggled shooting the 3-pointer much of this season, Rick Pitino has shooters like Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric who are more than capable of getting hot. A loss may mean UK fans will be subject to insistent trash talk from their UofL brethren for the next 365 days, but Calipari won't have any trouble turning the page.
"We're worried about us," Calipari said. "Let's just play the best we can play and if that's not good enough, say they come in and make 15 3s and the game becomes physical and we aren't able to play that way then great, let's move on. We have 16 league games and another non-conference game to get going."
The only reason Louisville may be a bigger game than others is because of the unique challenges presented by the Cardinals and the learning opportunities that go along with them. UofL figures to try to turn the Cats over with frequent full-court pressure before dropping into a matchup zone the likes of which UK has not seen this season.
"They are going to play a lot of zone, they will probably start in zone and it's good for us," Calipari said. "We will see where we are against the zone. I imagine that at some point in the game they will start pressing and we will see how we do."
UK will game plan accordingly, but having played in three different games against Pitino's Cardinals in his Kentucky career, Miller knows nothing is set in stone.
"To be honest, I don't know what they are going to do," Miller said. "I know they're going to have something that they are going to do, and they are going to do it well just like they did last year. So we got to have something to match that."
Miller, a native of Maysville, Ky., has been a part of the rivalry for his entire life. He'll be playing in his final UK-UofL game, and there's no question he's going to miss it.
"It's just fun playing these types of games against good competition," Miller said. "We know they're going to be ready to go and we have to too. (With) how good they are, the type of game this is going to be with the atmosphere and the intensity should be a lot of fun."
Darius Miller scored seven points in UK's 78-63 win over Louisville last year in the KFC Yum! Center. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Pick a school at random from the 13 that have won multiple national championships and there's a pretty good chance you're going to find one of Kentucky's non-conference opponents from this season.
Following matchups with Kansas (three titles), North Carolina (five) and Indiana (five), the Wildcats will play host to the Louisville Cardinals (two national championships) in their second-to-last game before Southeastern Conference play begins at noon on Saturday in Rupp Arena.
UK has two wins in three tries against those schools with national championship pedigrees, but the intrigue surrounding Saturday's game has little to do with any of that.
No matter the records of the two teams, the rankings or even the sport, UK-UofL always means something, but with both the Cardinals and Cats having just one loss as the calendar gets ready to flip to 2012 and both ranked in the top four nationally, this should be a fun one.
As we often do with a big UK game on the horizon, we turn to the statistics. I'll be relying heavily on Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free stats, so brace yourself for a bunch of numbers.
Before I get into the offensive and defensive matchups, let's talk pace. When many fans think about John Calipari and Rick Pitino, the first things that come to mind are intense defense and an up-and down style. There's no question the Cats and Cards will get after it defensively, but hold on for a moment before you get too excited about a potential track meet on Saturday.
In terms of pace of play, Kentucky has averaged 70.7 possessions per game, 49th-most in the nation. Louisville, on the other hand, averages just 68.3 possessions per game, 141st-most nationally. Of course, the two teams will take advantage of open floor opportunities when they are there, but they also are unafraid of grinding it out in close games.
The Cardinals have played three games decided by five points or less. In those games, UofL has averaged just 63 possessions per game. To prove Kentucky's willingness to slow it down, look no further than the last top-five matchup in Rupp Arena. In spite of facing one of the nation's fastest-paced teams in North Carolina, the game featured just 65 possessions for the two teams.
With that out of the way, let's take a look at how the Cats and Cards stack up on each side of the floor:
Kentucky offense vs. Louisville defense
The defensive end is where Louisville makes its hay and the numbers bear that out. The Cardinals rank as the nation's seventh-best team in terms of adjusted defense according to kenpom.com. So, what's been their recipe for allowing just 0.84 points per possession this season?
As has been the case dating back to his day's at Providence and Kentucky, it all begins with ball pressure for Pitino's team. The Cardinals, using pressure in the full and half court with some zone sprinkled in, force turnovers on well over one-quarter of their opponents' possessions, ranking 11th in the nation in that category. Considering that turnovers have been somewhat of a bugaboo for the Wildcats, this is unquestionably a concerning area.
UK is just 171st in the NCAA in turnover percentage at 21.1 and has given the ball away even more frequently against quality opponents. In the Cats' four games decided by 10 points or less, they have averaged 16.5 turnovers, nearly three over their season average of 13.7. Pitino will be turning up the heat on Marquis Teague and UK's other ball handlers and how they respond could go a long way in determining the outcome of this one.
The Cardinals' other area of strength on defense is contesting shots, as they rank 21st in the country in effective field goal percentage at 42.2. UofL is particularly adept at defending inside the 3-point line, as teams are shooting just 37.9 percent from 2-point range. However, Louisville is just 225th in the country in 3-point defense, meaning UK's long-range bombers could have a big day.
The three Wildcats who have attempted the most 3's this season (Doron Lamb, Darius Miller and Kyle Wiltjer) have combined to hit 17-of-38 (44.7 percent) shots from deep over the last three games, so they could be getting hot at the right time. However, other players like Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis could be tempted into taking some of those long-range shots and will need to remain disciplined.
UK could also have an advantage on the offensive glass. The Wildcats, led by Davis, have been good in pursuing their misses this season and the Cardinals haven't consistently closed out possessions well with rebounds, ranking 129th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. UK will have an advantage in size at most positions, as well as athleticism, so second-chance baskets could be a boost for the Cats.
The Wildcats could also do some damage at the free throw line. UK has shot 70 combined free throws in its last two outings, shooting 78.6 percent. The Cardinals have fouled on a frequent basis this season and are ranked just 181st in the country in defensive free throw rate.
More than anything else, UK's offense will have to avoid creating easy opportunities for Louisville by committing turnovers, because the Cardinals offense could have trouble scoring in the half court, as I'm about to explain.
Kentucky defense vs. Louisville offense
Through much of the early portion of their schedule, the Cardinals have relied on their elite defense to carry an inconsistent offense. Louisville has tallied just 1.05 points per possession so far this season, ranking 69th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.
With the way Louisville gets after it on defense, there will likely be periods on Saturday when Kentucky will struggle to score the ball. However, there's a reasonable chance that the Wildcats' defense could cause even more problems for the UofL offense.
UK's defense is fifth-best in the nation according to kenpom.com, allowing 0.84 points per possession (coincidentally, identical to UofL's defense). The Wildcats are the nation's second-best team at defending opponents from the field, allowing an effective field goal percentage of just 40.0. Louisville, on the other hand, has struggled shooting the ball at times, hitting just 43.9 percent of its shots.
Louisville has been particularly ineffective from 3-point range, shooting just 32.1 percent from beyond the arc. The Cardinals don't have a single player hitting 40 percent from deep, but that doesn't mean they're not capable of getting hot. Senior Kyle Kuric can be especially deadly from the corner, so UK will need to be aware of him. Manhattan transfer Chris Smith has been Pitino's best long-range shooter, hitting 19-of-48 (39.6 percent) attempts.
The one thing UofL does do exceptionally well on offense is rebound. The Cardinals grab nearly 40 percent of their own misses, ranking 21st in the country in that category. UK has been above average in terms of defensive rebounding, but has allowed double-digit offensive rebounds in all but one game this season. According to Calipari, the Wildcats have too often relied on Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to grab defensive rebounds and failed to fulfill box-out assignments. More than anyone else, UK will need to get a body on sophomore center Gorgui Dieng, who is the nation's 11th-best offensive rebounder, claiming 17.6 percent of his team's misses when he's on the floor.
Though he hasn't shot well this season, UofL's most important offensive player is junior guard Peyton Siva. The 5-foot-11 Siva uses his quickness and surprising physicality to penetrate almost at will and create shots for himself and his teammates. He is averaging 6.4 assists per game and has had three nine-assist performances already this season. Calipari opted to use DeAndre Liggins, his best perimeter defender, to slow Siva down a season ago, so don't be surprised if he does the same this year with Kidd-Gilchrist.
If UK is able to contain Siva, rebound well and keep Louisville cold from the outside, the Wildcats could win this game even if the offense is limited by a strong Cardinal defense.
Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky Wildcats will play their SEC opener on Sunday against Florida. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell freely admits that he's prone to a bad mood, even going so far as to say he actually gets a bizarre sense of satisfaction from being miserable on occasion.
If ever there were a time for one of those foul moods, you would have thought it would be in the wake of his team's disappointing defeat this week on the road against Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders upset the sixth-ranked Wildcats in a decisive 70-58 win in which UK failed to bring the necessary intensity and effort to make its high-pressure style of play successful.
Just two days after the loss, Mitchell showed no sign of any such mood. Instead, his spirits were boosted by the way the Wildcats had responded since Wednesday night.
"It was a very good response by our team (Thursday)," Mitchell said. "We were so disappointed by what happened Wednesday night and it happens, it's a long season. What we're trying to do in the growth of our program is to cut down on those."
The Wildcats didn't return home from Murfreesboro, Tenn., until the wee hours of Thursday morning, but multiple members of the team were up early shooting in the gym just hours later nonetheless. After that, UK had a pair of spirited practices, punctuated by a Friday morning session so physical that it sent sophomore guard Maegan Conwright to the dentist with a chipped tooth. Mitchell was pleased with the effort, making him all the more excited to get back on the floor later in the day.
"It was a physical practice this morning," Mitchell said. "(There was a) big emphasis on hustling. That's our entire starting point is with hustle and then everything has to flow after that.
"I thought they had a tremendous workout this morning and I look forward to getting back on the floor with them this afternoon."
Mitchell recognizes how demanding he is of his players and that an off night like the one UK had against MTSU is a near inevitability.
"What we're trying to do in the growth of our program is to cut down on those," Mitchell said. "A couple years back we had a few. Last year we had four. Hopefully this year we only have one. We're over it. It's just a tough, long season. We ask a lot out of them in practice, it's a tough style of play. I've told you all this many times, when you're a step slow on a night you look silly, and we looked a little silly on Wednesday night. Those things happen. We must move past it."
UK's first test to see whether they have managed to move on will come on Sunday in its Southeastern Conference opener. The Wildcats will be on the road for the third time in four games for a matchup with the Florida Gators (10-3) in Gainesville, Fla., at 1 p.m. on New Year's Day. The game will be televised live on CSS.
Gator head coach Amanda Butler relies on a balanced scoring attack that features five players scoring at least eight points per game. Forward Jennifer George leads the way with 13.8 points to go with her 9.9 rebounding average. George is shooting an astounding 59.2 percent from the field.
"Florida is a very good team, a very well-coached team, a very athletic team," Mitchell said. "To start the conference season on the road is a real challenge but we're excited about the game and excited about the chance to go down to Florida to compete."
If Mitchell had his way, the Cats would not be going back on the road so quickly, but he still embraces and appreciates the challenge that faces them all.
"I like the challenge that the team has in front of them," Mitchell said. "I don't like going on the road ever. I wish we played them all in Memorial. We have had a lot of success in there. I love the challenge and I just love SEC time. I love it."
Mitchell has had fun during non-conference play, but for him, there's nothing that compares to taking the floor for an SEC game.
"Well we are entering my favorite time of the basketball season and that's Southeastern Conference play," Mitchell said. "I just think it is a real honor to compete in this conference. It is clearly, historically, the strongest women's basketball conference in the country. I think it's going to be a very challenging year and I am excited about the team that we have to compete in the conference."
Clearly, Mitchell's optimism about his team has not been dampened by this week's setback. The quality of UK's opponents will only improve as conference play wears on, but he expects his team do the same.
"It will be a tremendous challenge and I just still think we are a little bit away from playing our best basketball," Mitchell said. "We have a lot of young players out there making some mistakes that in two weeks or four weeks are going to be better. Hopefully we can get off to a good start in the conference. I really think this team has a chance to be good by the end of the year."
Freshman big man Anthony Davis is averaging more than 10 rebounds per game. DeMarcus Cousins got close to that level in his one season at Kentucky, averaging 9.8 carooms per game, but if Davis can stay above the level of 10, he'll be the first Wildcat to do that since Kenny Walker in 1985.
Before "Sky," you have to go back to 1972, when Jim Andrews averaged 11 rebounds per game.
John Calipari has said his first thought was "another Marcus Camby" when he first saw Davis play. In our pregame interview before the Lamar game, I asked the coach how Davis reminded him of the former UMass star beyond just body type.
"He's blocking shots like Marcus Camby. He's ahead of Marcus conditioning-wise and his shooting ability," Calipari said on the UK radio network segment. "Marcus was like him in that he was a 6-2 guard who went to 6-10. Marcus is a little longer, he's almost seven-foot tall, but it's a comparison in blocking shots and changing the defense because he's out there."
When Doron Lamb made only three of nine shots against Lamar, it knocked his career field goal percentage down to 49.4 percent. One or two hot-shooting games could put him back at 50 or above and if he finishes his career there, he would be in some lofty company.
Lamb is on pace to make more than 600 shots and the other Kentucky "guard" I could find who made that many baskets and shot above 50 percent for his career was legendary sharpshooter Louie Dampier. If you move the line down to 500 made shots, you can add Kyle Macy to the club. And if you want to expand the club to "perimeter" players rather than just guards, you pick up only Jack "Goose" Givens and Kevin Grevey.
Any way you cut it, that would be elite company at the University of Kentucky.
"When his motor is running, he scores with anybody in the country, especially as a two-point shooter," said coach John Calipari.
"We need somebody that can make those shots. Normally, we don't want any mid-level shots but the way people play this team (we do). There's points in the game where you just need baskets and we've added some stuff where he gets a screen," Calipari added.
Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has likened himself to Tim Tebow in that he's all about winning. And that kind of mindset equals leadership, a quality it's certainly not surprising to see from MKG.
"I just tell him to keep doing what you're doing. He's slowly but surely taking over that spot on this team because of how hard he works and how hard he plays. But you want more than one leader anyway," Calipari noted. "What I'm trying to do is build leaders. Leading means to serve your team. You also lead by example. I'm trying to teach 12 guys (to do that)."
Calipari says which players take over leadership roles can change during the course of the season and when that starts to happen, it's a good sign.
While occupying his post in charge of Cat Scratches, Eric Lindsey debuted the Scratchies, a set of awards given for the best performances in UK Athletics for the preceding semester. I wasn't sure at first whether I would continue the tradition, but once I found just how quiet it gets around here during the holidays, I decided it was time to give out some hardware (or maybe I should say "software", since there are no physical awards to be given).
I'll spare you any more preambles, here are the winners for fall 2011:
MVW (Most Valuable Wildcat) Danny Trevathan (Football) - No, the UK football team did not have the kind of season they envisioned, going 5-7, but Trevathan could not have done any more than he did to help his team succeed. For the second year in a row, the linebacker led the SEC in tackles. The senior linebacker concludes his career ranked 10th all-time in tackles in program history and has reeled in multiple postseason honors for his stellar final season. The 2011 campaign saw Trevathan log 143 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, four interceptions and three sacks.
The Dream Team (team of the semester) Volleyball - Craig Skinner has this program on the rise. The Wildcats finished the season with a 26-4 record and a second Sweet 16 berth in three seasons. The regional semifinal was hosted in Memorial Coliseum and over 4,000 rowdy fans showed up to support the Cats as they nearly pulled an upset of Texas, the nation's No. 1 overall seed, before falling 3-1. The atmosphere, though not the outcome, was a fitting sendoff for the most decorated group of seniors in school history. The trio of Ann Armes, Becky Pavan and Gretchen Giesler depart with a record of 100-31 and the best winning percentage (.731) in school history).
In spite of losing those three, UK figures to build on a great season in 2012. Two-time defending Southeastern Conference Libero of the Year and second-team All-American Stephanie Klefot returns for her senior season and will be joined by setter Christine Hartmann and outside hitter Whitney Billings, both of whom were first-team All-SEC performers. Senior-to-be Ashley Frazier (All-SEC second team) and rising sophomore Lauren O'Conner (All-SEC freshman team) will also be very much in the mix.
Honorable mention: Women's soccer, men's basketball, women's basketball The Adolph Rupp Award (coach of the semester) Jon Lipsitz (Women's soccer) - Since taking over at Kentucky prior to the 2009 season, Lipsitz has built the women's soccer program in small strides. UK was just 5-10-4 in his first year, but it was clear that the culture was changing. His second season brought a trip to the SEC Tournament, but expectations were still not particularly high entering 2011, at least not outside of Lexington. Instead, the Cats got off to a great start, piling up early-season wins and moving into the top 20 of the RPI.
Under Lipsitz's guidance, Senior Kelsey Hunyadi was at the center of everything, as she had one of the best offensive seasons in UK history in helping lead the team to a 13-7-1 record, a winning mark in SEC play and a berth in UK's first NCAA Tournament since 2006. Kentucky also earned the right to host a tournament game for the first time since 1998 and the fan base responded to the excitement Lipsitz has injected into the program, as 1,065 fans attended the game, third-most of the 32 first round sites nationally.
Honorable mention: Craig Skinner (volleyball), Matthew Mitchell (women's basketball), John Calipari (men's basketball)
The Josh Harrellson Award (most improved player) Samantha Drake (women's basketball) - The Bardstown, Ky., native had her moments as a freshman, but was not expected to be more than a role player for UK Hoops in 2011-12. Through the first five games of the season, that's exactly what she was, as she averaged 5.4 points. Over Drake's next seven games as UK rose to a No. 6 national ranking, the 6-foot-3 center established herself as one of Matthew Mitchell's most reliable contributors.
She has scored in double figures six times during the stretch, including a career-high 21 points in a trip to face No. 3 Notre Dame and 18 last week against Samford.
"It was not one moment, but it started happening one day then started snowballing," Mitchell said of her improvement. "There was a play here, then the next day she would make two or three. It was pretty dramatic.
"She had a terrific summer and I just tried to put it to her, 'There's nothing that you can't get through.' Finally she proved to herself she can really perform at a high level."
As UK enters SEC play, Mitchell will look to Drake to sustain that improvement. The Butler-VCU Award (surprise team) Women's soccer - For all the reasons Lipsitz is the coach of the semester, women's soccer is the surprise team. The Cats clearly had talent with Hunyadi, star incoming freshman Arin Gilliland and others, but this year's team was supposed to be one that battled to make the bottom half of the SEC Tournament bracket. Instead, UK raced out to a 7-0-0 start to the year and never looked back in earning a No. 6 seed in Orange Beach, Ala., and a home match in the NCAA Tournament, where the Wildcats lost in heartbreaking fashion on penalty kicks against Washington State. One Shining Moment (best moment)
Fans carried Matt Roark off the field after he rushed for 124 yards in a 10-7 win over Tennessee. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
Football ends the streak - This one's a no-brainer. It had been over a quarter-century since Kentucky had defeated Tennessee in football and when wide receiver Matt Roark stepped onto the field as quarterback with Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton sidelined due to injury, it certainly looked as if the streak would continue. Instead, Roark led a gritty offense that did just enough to win thanks to a staunch defensive effort by a group of seniors who desperately wanted to defeat the Volunteers. The 10-7 win set off a raucous celebration, capped off when Roark served as the honorary 'Y' at Rupp Arena that same night.
The "Band is Out On the Field" Award (best game/match) Men's basketball beats North Carolina - The hype for UK-UNC started way back in May when Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller decided to return to their respective schools. It was clear the Cats and Tar Heels would be ranked atop the polls when the season started, setting up a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in Rupp Arena in early December. UNC lost to undo that possibility, but that was the only part of the game that didn't live up to the hype.
UK trailed by as many as nine points early, but battled back to take a late lead in front of a delirious sellout crowd. The Cats seemed poised to seal the win, but the Heels forced a turnover by Doron Lamb and got a 3-pointer from Reggie Bullock to cut UT's lead to 73-72. Marquis Teague was then fouled and headed to the foul line for a one-and-one. He missed the front end with 21 seconds left, setting up a chance for UNC to take the last shot for the win. UK would hold on, but only because of our play of the semester... The Doug Flutie Hail Mary Award (best play)
Davis' block seals win over UNC - Point guard Kendall Marshall ran the clock down and used a screen to position himself for a pass to Zeller inside. As they had been doing all game, the Cats sent a double team at him and Zeller lost the ball, but conveniently right into the waiting hands of Henson. He pulled up for a short jumper, but Anthony Davis skied to get a piece of the shot and grabbed the rebound off his own block. UK would then run out the final five seconds. Video
All-Wildcat Team (the Scratchies equivalent of the All-America Team) Kelsey Hunyadi (women's soccer) - Her 38 points were the second most in school history. Luis Orta (cross country) - With a fifth-place finish at the SEC Championships, Orta became UK's first first-team All-SEC performer since 2003. Stephanie Klefot (volleyball) - The junior was a second-team All-American and won SEC Libero of the Year for the second year in a row. Matt Lodge (men's soccer) - Lodge tallied seven goals and 10 assists during his junior season. Doron Lamb (men's basketball) - He is the leading scorer (16.1 points per game) for the nation's third-ranked team. Winston Guy (football) - Moving to a new linebacker position, Guy had 120 tackles and a team-leading 14 tackles for loss. A'dia Mathies (women's basketball) - Now healthy, the junior guard has already eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for her UK career.
All-Calipari Team (all-freshman team) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (men's basketball) - Averaging 13.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks through 12 games. Anthony Davis (men's basketball) - Leads UK with 10.0 rebounds per game and ranks among nation's leaders with 52 blocks. Arin Gilliland (women's soccer) - Blue-chip prospect split time between defense and attack, scoring four goals. Bria Goss (women's basketball) - Has started 11 games, averaging 12.3 points and 5.1 rebounds. Lauren O'Conner (volleyball) - Played in 124 of 126 sets on the season, totaling 284 kills and was named to SEC All-Freshman team.
All-Up-and-Comers (non-freshmen on the rise) Ashley Frazier (volleyball) - Played her first season at UK after transferring, leading the team with 406 kills. Christina Hartmann (volleyball) - Took over setting duties early in the season and was a first-team All-SEC performer. Cody Martin (men's golf) - Led UK with an average round of 72.6 as a sophomore and finished second in the UK Bluegrass Fall Invitational. Alejando Gomez (men's tennis) - Off to a running start to sophomore season with a 15-2 singles mark during the fall season. Greg Ferrucci (swimming and diving) - Sophomore twice won SEC Diver of the Week during the fall, breaking a school record in the one-meter dive in the process. Tyler Riggs (men's soccer) - Followed up good freshman season with an even better sophomore year, totaling 11 goals and five assists. Best Streak Award Men's basketball's home win streak - With eight wins in Rupp Arena to open 2011-12, UK has extended its home winning streak to 42 games, eclipsing Duke (41) for the longest in the nation. Kentucky has yet to lose a home game with John Calipari roaming the sidelines, winning all 41 games in Rupp during his three-year tenure.
He said what? (quote of the semester) Craig Skinner, after volleyball played No. 1 Texas to a near draw in the Sweet 16 in front of over 4,000 fans in Memorial Coliseum - "I think that's about as high a level of volleyball as you can play. If you aren't excited to play in front of a crowd like that and with a group that puts their heart and soul into the game then I'd be stunned. We're on the right path and we have to continue to take steps forward and this team is so motivated that I'm not worried that won't happen."
The Dougie Award (best dance/celebration) Matthew Mitchell at Big Blue Madness - Mitchell's dance in the video below pretty much speaks for itself. The only remaining question is how he's going to top himself in 2012.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 18 points and six rebounds in UK's 86-64 victory over Lamar. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
John Calipari is steadfast in enforcing his rule of sitting a player who picks up two early fouls for the balance of the first half. Superstar or role player, Calipari refuses to put anyone in a position to pick up a third foul before halftime, regardless of the situation.
Isn't there a saying about every rule being made to be broken?
For the third game in a row, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist picked up his second foul early and, for the third game in a row, Calipari reinserted him into the lineup with those two fouls.
"Normally when a guy gets two fouls, I will not play him the rest of the half," Calipari said. "The problem with this team is you need his toughness so bad, that I ended up shoving him back in there."
Kidd-Gilchrist is anything but a normal player, so much so that Calipari simply isn't comfortable enough to allow his team to play without him for an extended stretch to follow his own rule. His energy, effort and intensity set the tone for his teammates and belie the fact that he's the youngest player on the roster.
Things were no different in an 86-64 win over the visiting Lamar Cardinals in front of the second-largest Rupp Arena crowd of the season. Kidd-Gilchrist tallied 18 points, six rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in spite of being limited due to those early fouls.
Calipari's gambit of playing Kidd-Gilchrist with two fouls ended up paying off, as he managed to make it through seven first-half minutes without picking up a third foul. The forward scored eight points in the opening stanza as held a 44-28 advantage at the half and Kidd-Gilchrist is flattered that Calipari views him as so important that he's willing to put him back on the floor.
"I'm just getting better and better on the court, so he needs me out there," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I think that's the reason he puts me back in."
It was the third straight time Calipari trusted Kidd-Gilchrist to play through first-half foul trouble, but that doesn't mean the freshman wants to continue the trend. When he committed his second foul with 15:55 left in the first half, he knew the reaction from his coach that was awaiting him as he strode to the bench.
"I was like, 'Dang man, I'm about to get it,' " Kidd-Gilchrist said. "But I deserved it."
Against an opponent like the one UK will face on Saturday in No. 4 Louisville, Calipari isn't likely to allow Kidd-Gilchrist to play through foul trouble, which is what he harped on when he greeted him on the sideline.
"I got all over Michael," Calipari said. " 'This is like the fifth or sixth game you've gotten two fouls in the first half. In a normal game, I can't play you the rest of the half, and you know what, we have got a problem now.' "
Calipari's message may have been a simple one, but his advice isn't exactly easy to follow. Kidd-Gilchrist makes his living on the floor based on his aggression, so walking the line between that and recklessness is tough. Senior guard Darius Miller has matched up against Kidd-Gilchrist in practice from day one, so he can understand the struggle. The last thing he wants to happen is for Kidd-Gilchrist to allow the fouls to get in his head and affect how he plays.
"I think it's just how he plays," Miller said when asked about his foul problems. "He plays 110-percent all the time and you can't fault him for that. Maybe he got a few questionable calls, I don't know. I don't know what it was, but we need him to continue playing like that and continue to play aggressive. That does a lot for our team and it's a big part of our team."
If Kidd-Gilchrist hadn't brought his trademark intensity, Calipari shudders to think what may have happened on Wednesday night. Lamar battled Kentucky to a 36-36 tie on the glass even though Kidd-Gilchrist had six second-half rebounds and Anthony Davis had 13 for the game.
"What bothered me is they had 14 offensive rebounds," Calipari said. "And what we are doing right now, unless Michael gets the ball or Anthony gets the ball, we are not getting the ball. We have other guys that are flinching going after balls, or ducking, or hoping Anthony or Mike will get it."
Even with the Louisville game looming on Saturday, Calipari wouldn't use the excuse that his team was looking ahead.
"This is who we are," Calipari said. "This is who we are, and this is what happens to us, especially when we break down and stop playing. We did it against Samford, we did it here and we have done it and we are not changing and that's what's frustrating for me."
On Saturday and beyond as UK approaches Southeastern Conference play, the time will come when Kidd-Gilchrist's heroics won't be able to overcome deficiencies in other areas or when fouls will get the best of him, so it's high time that the Cats begin to respond to Calipari's prodding.
"We either cure this or we are going to start taking (losses)," Calipari said. "You start taking on water, and when you do start taking on water and you start getting the deer in the headlights look, and now every game becomes a war. Or you can get better, and you can look at this and take responsibility and say, 'I know how I've got to play and I'm going to do it. I'm going to prepare that way.' "
It's time once again for our regular trivia contest before men's basketball games: Robic's Riddle.
Assistant coach John Robic has supplied us with yet another question from the annals of Kentucky basketball history. The first fan to submit a correct answer via email to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a prize. The prize today is a pair of heavy-duty plastic UK cups that will keep drinks either hot or cold.
Today's question has to do with a rare accomplishment for John Calipari.
Calipari has led three different schools (Kentucky, Memphis and Massachusetts) to a No. 1 ranking. There is just one other coach to do the same. Can you name the coach and the three schools he took to a No. 1 ranking?
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.
Don't forget to tune in and watch the Cats take on Lamar at 8:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
Anthony Davis is averaging 11.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.3 blocks as a freshman. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Thanks to his prodigious talent and some stuffing of the ballot box by the Big Blue Nation, Anthony Davis will be featured in the Jan. 9 NEXT issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Davis was chosen from a few other promising up-and-comers through online voting as "the next big thing" in basketball. Elena Bergeron penned this feature on Davis for the issue, chronicling his ascent from a 6-foot-3 high school guard to a 6-foot-10 big man starring on the third-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.
Here's an excerpt:
UNTIL 24 MONTHS AGO, Anthony Davis was a nondescript set of initials. "Most people call me AD; I've never had nicknames based on my game," says the Kentucky forward. Of course not. Nicknames are a statement, affectionate and brief, describing the most obvious hook of a person.
When he was an oversize infant born in Chicago, his family took to calling him Fat Man -- a name that held most of the way through high school. But when puberty (and the basketball gods) stretched him seven inches over a few months during his junior year, it was time for a new moniker. Now, seeing the 6'10" Davis creeping along the court in practice, sticky limbs shooting out from nowhere, Kentucky coach John Calipari has taken to calling him Spider-Man. "He just goes 'pfft' and his arms go and he's hanging in the air," Calipari says.
Davis is just starting to get comfortable inside his taffy physique -- his version of a superhero suit. Two months into the season, the 220-pound freshman has already saved a win against North Carolina, snuffing John Henson's last-second jumper like spit on a birthday candle. On that play alone, Davis showed why he isn't just Tall Guy or Big Fella.
It also proved that he's figured out how to control those yards of limbs to his advantage. And people are taking notice. Fewer than 10 games into his college career, Davis was already being eyed as the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft. Says a Western Conference scout of the Henson block, "I saw that and I just thought, He's the type of player who justifies the entire NBA draft process."
That is some seriously high praise from an NBA scout.
Following Tuesday night's games, all 30 NBA teams have now opened their seasons. With 15 former Wildcats on opening day rosters, Kentucky has the second-most NBA players of any school in the NCAA, trailing only Duke, which has 16. With players on 12 of the league's teams, there's a pretty good chance you're going to see a former UK player on the floor when you tune in to an NBA game.
Here are the 15 Wildcats playing at the highest level and how they've fared so far this season: Eric Bledsoe (Los Angeles Clippers) - Recovering from knee surgery, expected to return in late January DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings) - Double-doubles in each of his first two games Josh Harrellson (New York Knicks) - Two rebounds in nine minutes of a season-opening win Chuck Hayes (Sacramento Kings) - Averaging 10 rebounds in Kings' 1-1 start Enes Kanter (Utah Jazz) - Grabbed 11 rebounds in just 21 minutes in season opener Brandon Knight (Detroit Pistons) - Hit three 3-pointers in debut DeAndre Liggins (Orlando Magic) - Did not dress in first two games Jamaal Magloire (Toronto Raptors) - Played 15 minutes in season-opening win over Cleveland Jodie Meeks (Philadelphia 76ers) - Started first game at shooting guard Nazr Mohammed (Oklahoma City Thunder) - Seven rebounds in 15 minutes of Christmas win Daniel Orton (Orlando Magic) - Did not dress in first two games Patrick Patterson (Houston Rockets) - Recovering from offseason ankle surgery Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons) - Started and played 34 minutes against Pacers Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics) - Averaging 26.5 points, 12.5 assists, 6.5 rebounds in two games John Wall (Washington Wizards) - 13 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals in first game
Although UK currently trails Duke in players on NBA rosters and is tied with UCLA at 15, that could quickly change. Keith Bogans was recently released by the Chicago Bulls with the signing of Richard Hamilton, but his defensive prowess could help him find his way back on a team quickly.
Additionally, Kelenna Azubuike is still on the free agent market as one of the top unsigned swingmen. He has been mentioned in connection with teams like the Dallas Mavericks, who are looking to fill the final spot on their 15-man rosters.
With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference beginning this offseason, the conference's 2012 schedule had to revamped with the Tigers playing in the East division and Aggies in the West. On Wednesday, the new schedule was released and Kentucky's eight SEC opponents were unveiled.
Included in the schedule is a trip to Missouri to face one of the conference's two new teams. The game against Missouri on Oct. 27 replaces a previously anticipated home game against LSU. Meanwhile, the Wildcats' trip to Mississippi State instead becomes a home game on Oct. 6.
Also of note regarding the 2012 SEC schedule is that it is "not based on any other previous or future scheduling formats." In other words, don't expect to learn much about UK's 2013 schedule from what you see in 2012.
With the conference schedule now complete, UK was able to finalize dates, times and opponents for its four non-conference games. Those games remain unchanged and are included in the complete 2012 schedule below:
Sept. 2 - at Louisville Sept. 8 - Kent State Sept. 15 - Western Kentucky Sept. 22 - at Florida Sept. 29 - South Carolina Oct. 6 - Mississippi State Oct. 13 - at Arkansas Oct. 20 - Georgia Oct. 27 - at Missouri Nov. 3 - Vanderbilt Nov. 17 - Samford Nov. 24 - at Tennessee
The schedule includes seven home games this season along with four conference road trips and a game in Louisville to face the rival Cardinals.
As you can see, UK's bye week this season isn't until the week for Nov. 10, meaning the Wildcats will play 10 games in 10 weeks beginning with the season opener against Louisville. Playing that many Saturday's in a row without a breather will be a challenge, but the bye week could come at a good time, directly before a potentially crucial stretch run against Samford and Tennessee.
Wildcat fans got a glimpse behind the Big Blue curtain Monday night with coach Calipari's Christmas gift of the chance to go online and watch a practice session.
A fan sent me a question via Twitter, asking if this was a true reflection of what a normal practice session is like and the answer is most definitely "yes." Late last season, during a visit with CBS' Kevin Harlan, he told me about his observations from watching his first UK game-eve practice session and how he was taken by how sometimes brutally honest Calipari was in his critiques of players. The Kentucky coach most certainly "keeps it real" with his players but he is also their most ardent defenders against criticism from outside the team and that's why the player-coach bond is so strong under Calipari.
So now that you've seen a practice, do wonder what a gameplanning session for the coaching staff might look like? New York Daily News writer Dick "Hoops" Weiss gave us a glimpse of that setting during an interview on "The Leach Report" radio show after his visit to Lexington earlier this month.
"I love the way they brainstorm about the game planning. John Calipari takes it all in. I truly believe I think he thinks he is never going to lose a game. And if he doesn't turn it personal the way he has done it in the past against maybe a John Calhoun or a Bruce Pearl, he is a hard guy to beat because he has an exceptional vision of how he wants his teams to play and I admire that," Weiss said, noting that Calipari encourages his staff--and not just the assistant coaches--to weigh in.
"There is a lot of give and take and he does a great job at listening to everyone and not cutting anyone off," Weiss observed while sitting in on the session at Calipari's home after the win over St. John's. "He thinks everybody has ideas that can help. Brandon (Weems), I think he is going to be exceptional because he understands the game already and you would think he would be the last guy to chime in but had a lot to offer and John is a really good listener--a really good listener who sits there and takes it all in and that really left an impression on me.
"He could have said I have guys on my staff like Orlando (Antigua), John (Robic) and Kenny (Payne) - but he listens to everybody. He is a very big tape guy and breaking down what people do," Weiss added. "He is a big believer in 'we worry about ourselves first'. I think they put the Carolina tape in a few days before they were supposed to. You usually go one game at a time but I think he wanted them to be ready for that secondary break and he didn't tell them it was Carolina's break but he put it in and nobody said anything after the St. John's game. He did a great job at giving them a head start because it was only one day between St. John's and North Carolina."
Weiss said he will do his best to return to Lexington for this Saturday's UK-UofL clash because he loves the big game atmosphere at Rupp Arena.
"I've been to every venue in the country. Kansas has great (sight) lines and Duke has great passion but I have never been to a place where the entire fan base is so passionately involved in every instant in the game. When the Cats take the floor you can feel the electricity and it doesn't leave until the game is over and they leave the building," Weiss said. "I think Rupp is special and particularly when they have a good team."
Weiss has been watching Calipari coach since his days of raising the UMass program up from the dead.
"I think he has become a better bench coach. He doesn't get as cranky and a lot of people remember the 'three' (Memphis) gave up to Chalmers in the championship game, but they seemed to forget about Georgetown in the 1996 Regional Finals, the way he coached against (Texas)A&M down in San Antonio with Memphis," Weiss said. "They (pundits) are starting to remember how good he was against Ohio State and North Carolina (last season). You are dealing with one of the premier coaches in America and I think that he is better bench coach. He was always a tremendous recruiter. He was always had huge amounts of energy and was able to relate to kids with broken families or deadend backgrounds.
"He came from a lower middle class background outside Pittsburgh and guys can appreciate it because he comes across 'real' with them. You rarely hear players who played for his say anything negative against him. I mean, he wins them over psychologically," Weiss continued. "Look at DeMarcus Cousins. I thought that would be hard but the time he spent at Kentucky, he got close to that kid, brought him close to the family and was close with John's youngest son, Bradley. I just see that a lot of kids come in and understand that the best way to get to the pros, the best way to market themselves is to do what he says. He has a track record. Look at who he has sent to the pros from Kentucky and there will probably be another three or four at the end of this year."
John Calipari, Kyle Wiltjer and the Kentucky Wildcats face Lamar at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday on ESPNU. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With the release of the latest polls on Monday, it became official. For the first time in the history of the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry, the annual matchup will feature two top-five teams, but even if UK and UofL weren't ranked in the top 105, the hype already would have started.
The two schools are separated by just an hour drive and the fan bases share classrooms, workplaces and even households. John Calipari and Rick Pitino themselves share a long history and a legendary reputation in the coaching world.
Come Saturday, Rupp Arena will play host to the No. 3 Wildcats and No. 4 Cardinals, but it's another set of Cardinals altogether UK is concerned about right now.
"We haven't talked about this weekend at all," Calipari said. "(The players) may have been looking at it or seen it but I don't think so. We're still trying to get better. We're going to play a well-coached team that's going to come in, play to beat us and are not going to be intimidated as seniors. If we don't play well, we lose."
That well-coached team of Cardinals Calipari is referring to is Lamar (8-4), who will face off against Kentucky (11-1) on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in Rupp Arena. Lamar is led by head coach Pat Knight, who is in his first year at the school after succeeding his father, Bob Knight, at Texas Tech.
Knight's team does not figure to be fazed by the 22,000-plus fans expected to pack Rupp. The Cardinals have played seven of their first 12 games on the road, including trips to Louisville on Nov. 13 and second-ranked Ohio State for their last game on Dec. 20. Lamar held its own in each game, as the 20-point final margin in each was the largest deficit of the game against both.
The Cardinals will also pose a different set of challenges than most of UK's recent opponents. Teams like Samford and Loyola (Md.) much preferred to stay in the half-court against the athletic Wildcats, but Lamar likely won't shy away from running with the Cats. Lamar has played an average of 71.5 possessions per game (the national average is 67.3) and ranks as the nation's 20th-ranked team in terms of tempo according to kenpom.com.
Also in contrast to some of UK's other opponents, the Cardinals are much more comfortable driving to the hoop and seeking out contact than sitting out at the 3-point line and shooting. Lamar attempts an average of just 13.2 3-pointers per game, but gets to the foul line 27.4 times per game. By contrast, UK attempts 23.3 foul shots per game. Lamar is also one of the better rebounding teams in the nation, grabbing nearly seven more boards per game than its opponents.
All those elements make this game a concerning one for Calipari, but it's the makeup of Lamar's roster that really catches his eye.
"The other challenge is they've got mostly seniors," Calipari said. "They're playing four seniors and a junior off the bench. The games that I've watched, they've been in every game, including Ohio State and Louisville."
Knight's top five players in points and minutes played per game are all seniors. Lamar has a pair of sophomores in its 11-man rotation, but the rest are juniors are seniors, making the Cardinals the nation's most experienced team. Leading the way is guard Anthony Miles, who is averaging 15.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.
Lamar has struggled shooting the ball much of the season, but if the Cardinals get hot as teams so often do in Rupp, UK could find itself in a tough game.
"At Rice they made every shot," Calipari said. "I watched the game and thought, 'We can't win this game.' They are very good. Pat (Knight) does a great job. I've always had great respect for him, not only as a person, but also as a coach. He's got them playing. They are playing hard and they're a good team."
Kyle Wiltjer has played just 12 regular season games as a Wildcat, but he's learned already to expect the best out of any opponent UK faces. A few months in the Bluegrass have also an immersion course in the meaning of the UK-UofL rivalry, so he knows what's in store on Saturday, but he and his teammates are keeping their focus completely trained on the task at hand.
"I've been here a while now," Wiltjer said. "I know there's a big hatred between the fans so it's definitely a big game, but we have a game (Wednesday) we have to focus on first. We don't want to overlook Lamar. They're a good team. We want to focus on that (in practice on Tuesday)."
Jones' availability yet to be determined
Any of the thousands of fans who logged on and watched the live stream UK's first post-Christmas practice on Monday saw that Terrence Jones (dislocated pinky) participated. However, his teammates were instructed to minimize contact with him to protect him from further injury. Kentucky will practice twice more on Tuesday and Jones' status for Lamar will be determined based on those practices
Absent from practice on Monday was Wiltjer, who was suffering from an illness following his return from the West Coast for Christmas break. The freshman forward was expected to return to the floor on Tuesday and should play on Wednesday.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Dec. 25:
Men's basketball: Anthony Davis
The league’s leading shot-blocker averaged a double-double on the week, leading the Wildcats to a 2-0 record with wins over Samford and Loyola (Md.) … Davis tallied his fifth double-double of the season against Loyola, the second most by a Wildcat this year … Davis shot 87.5 pct. from the free throw line on the week … He tallied five blocks and three steals in Kentucky’s win over Samford
Women's basketball: Samantha Drake
Scored a team-high 18 points against Samford, going a perfect 6-6 from the field and an impressive 6-7 from the free-throw line, and grabbed three boards and dished out two assists.
Is 14-17 (.824) from the field and 11-14 from the foul line (.786) over the last two games, averaging 19.5 points per game.
Has reached double figures in scoring in six of the last seven games.
Had zero turnovers against Samford.
Women's basketball: Bria Goss
Scored 11 points and grabbed four boards against Samford.
Has reached double figures in scoring in 10 of 12 games for the Wildcats.
Has started in every game this season.
On the season (among players who have played three or more games), ranks second on the team in scoring (12.5 ppg), third in rebounding (5.1 rpg), fourth in assists (1.8 apg) and third in steals (1.9 spg).
Averaging 15.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals over the Kentucky’s last four contests.
Men's basketball: Darius Miller
Posted a pair of double-figure scoring games in helping UK to a 2-0 record on the week … Also had eight assists on the week to just two turnovers … Has scored in double-figures in three-straight games … Kentucky’s highest active scoring leader is just 40 points shy of UK’s prestigious 1,000-point club
If you haven't noticed already, it's going to be pretty quiet here on Cat Scratches around Christmastime, but I did want to wish you happy holidays from everyone at UK Athletics.
On Christmas Day, John Calipari and the men's basketball team will have a special surprise for the Big Blue Nation that I think you all will enjoy. Stay tuned for that and, in the meantime, have a Merry Christmas!
Terrence Jones' subpar performance and Kentucky's inability to use its fouls to prevent a game-winning three-pointer were the dominant storylines coming out UK's loss at Indiana. But CBS Sports college basketball writer Jeff Goodman says the key storyline long term could be the way freshman point guard Marquis Teague played in the second half.
"I'd be very excited about Marquis Teague's second half at Indiana. That showed a lot to me," Goodman said this week on "The Leach Report" radio show. "They need Teague, more than any other player, to come around, and for him to go into that enviroment and come up with the second half shows his mental toughness more than anything else.
"Let's face it. Brandon Knight didn't set the world on fire early. Tyreke Evans (at Memphis), he struggled and Derrick Rose even struggled," he continued. "Look at freshman point guards around the country. All these guys struggle. We can't make too much out of it."
Goodman also had good things to say about a couple of other Wildcat freshmen, starting with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
"I was blown away by his skill level and how much better it's gotten. He is a wonderful kid. As good a kid as I have ever in doing this job and you root for him," Goodman said, adding that he had been thinking MKG's future at the NBA level might only be as a role player. Now, he's thinking the ceiling could be higher and he knows teams will love Kidd-Gilchrist's work ethic.
"The way he's played and shot the ball--it's not pretty but it's going in right now. If there's one kid I take off that team to win a game, I might take Michael Kidd-Gilchrist over any kid in the country. He plays so hard and it's infectious. He doesn't care about anything but winning," said Goodman.
"(And) Anthony Davis is a lot tougher than anybody gave him credit for, coming out of high school. He doesn't have the body to be a monster yet but what he does is he tries. Another high character kid," noted Goodman. "I think guys like Davis and Gilchrist don't really care about their numbers. It certainly doesn't look like they're playing for the NBA."
Darius Miller hit more than 40 percent of his three-point shots last season but he struggled to rediscover that stroke in the first month of his senior season. But Miller is not worried about it.
"I think I'm kinda rushing it a little bit instead of taking my time. It's going to turn around. I'm not really worried about it," Miller said.
Coach Calipari likes to give his players a few days off at Christmas to be with their families, but Kentucky did once play a game on Christmas eve.
It was 1983, when Kentucky traveled to meet a then unbeaten Illinois team on its home floor. The weather was brutal, with sub-zero conditions outside, and the officiating crew scheduled to work the game could not make it to Champaign, IL. Three local coaches and administrators from the crowd were summoned to work the game, which ended with James Blackmon draining a jumper to give the Cats a win at the buzzer.
UK and the Illini would meet again later that season at Rupp Arena, in a regional final that Kentucky by two to punch its ticket to the Final Four.
Kyle Wiltjer hit all three of UK's 3-point baskets in scoring a career-high 25-point outing against Loyola (Md.). (Chet White, UK Athletics)
A few minutes into the second half in a game against Loyola (Md.), Kentucky held a slim five-point lead. The crowd of 22,774 in Rupp Arena was beginning to get a little anxious as UK played a rare mid-week early afternoon game and the visiting Greyhounds were showing no signs of fading.
The Wildcats were set to head back to their respective hometowns for a three-day Christmas break, so it would have been understandable if their minds were drifting to travel plans and home-cooked meals. It ended up being the man with the longest voyage home who started the run that allowed UK to coast to victory.
Portland, Ore., native Kyle Wiltjer started a 22-4 run with a 3-pointer as UK turned the narrow deficit into a 23-point lead. Wiltjer scored 10 points of his career-high 25 points during the spurt, helping the Cats go home happy for the holidays.
"It was a good feeling especially being able to go home over break with a win," Wiltjer said. "It's a good feeling. Now that I can go home and spend time with my family, that makes this break even better."
Wiltjer was coming off a game against Samford that saw him hit just 2-of-7 shots from the field, but late in the game, Calipari tested his mettle by calling his number on a late play. Wiltjer responded by draining a 3-pointer on a pass from Darius Miller, which told Calipari all he needed to know about the toughness and heart of his freshman big man.
"I was really happy because he didn't shoot the ball particularly well last game," Calipari said. "In the last huddle, I said, 'We're going to see what this kid's made of. He hasn't been close to making a shot. We're going to give him another one and I want to see.' "
His outside shooting from the forward position stretches opposing defenses in a way that no one else on the roster can, but Wiltjer also presents a problem for Calipari. Defensively, he is slightly behind his teammates and opponents have capitalized on a regular basis. However, he is such an offensive threat that Calipari knows he has to find a way to feel comfortable with playing Wiltjer.
"We've got to help him defensively," Calipari said. "We've got to do some schemes with him because there are matchups he's just not ready for. We need that shooting and that scoring on the floor. I've got to come up with some schemes to help him."
Calipari is also going to be asking Wiltjer to recognize his limitations and focus on what can do on the defensive end.
"I've got to get him to take more charges," Calipari said. "(Wiltjer is) not going to block shots, charge, block out more, and then when he's in the post we've got to do some things."
Heading into Christmas, Wiltjer isn't the only of his players Calipari is having to coach heavily, or in his words, "drag." The break will give the players a breather from their coach, and vice versa.
"I'm fighting my point guard (Marquis Teague) to be a point guard," Calipari said. "I'm fighting Darius (Miller) to be tougher. I'm fighting Kyle for defense. I'm fighting Eloy (Vargas) to come up with balls. They've got to want that stuff more than I want it."
The Wildcats will head home to open presents and spend time with family and Calipari wants to make sure the players have a happy holiday.
"He told us to keep up our conditioning," Wiltjer said. "He also told us to enjoy the time with our family. He really emphasized that. We don't get a lot of off time, so it was important to enjoy it and get ready for the next games."
With a third of the season in the books, Calipari is happy with the progress of his team, but at the same time, he knows the Wildcats have yet to live up to their potential.
"If we click and we come together and we're all aggressive and we're all bouncing and talking and we're all making easy plays, this stuff gets scary," Calipari said. "We're not close to that right now, but this thing could get scary."
It's time once again for our regular trivia contest before men's basketball games: Robic's Riddle.
Assistant coach John Robic has supplied us with yet another question from the annals of Kentucky basketball history. The first fan to submit a correct answer via email to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a prize. The prize today is a pair of heavy-duty plastic UK cups that will keep drinks either hot or cold.
Today's question has to do with UK's streak of consecutive games with a 3-point basket.
Kentucky leads the nation in two major team statistical categories. Can you name them?
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.
Don't forget to tune in and watch the Cats take on Loyola (Md.) at 1 p.m. on Fox Sports South.
Johan Cedergren takes over as UK's head coach following five season at Dartmouth. (Dartmouth Athletics)
Four years ago, when Johan Cedergren decided with his wife, Julia, to leave his job with U.S. Bank to become associate head coach of Dartmouth men's soccer, he set forth a plan. He would build experience and his resume and, within three to five years, earn a Division I head coaching position.
Very quickly, he came to realize just how ambitious his plan was. He and his wife adjusted their expectations accordingly, maintaining the same ultimate goal but accepting a lengthened timeframe.
After developing into one of the nation's top assistants in five successful seasons under head coach Jeff Cook, it turns out he was right on with his original plan. Cedergren has been tabbed as the third head coach in the Kentucky men's soccer history.
"Going into it, before knowing what it really takes to get a head job, I had hoped within five years that I would be able to be a head coach," Cedergren said. "Having been in it for five seasons and knowing how many good coaches are out there, I think that this is an unbelievable opportunity to come at this time."
On Thursday, Cedergren was named head coach by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, concluding a national search for Ian Collins' replacement. Cedergren, the 2010 National Soccer Coaches of America Assistant Coach of the Year, helped lead Dartmouth to the NCAA Tournament in all five of his seasons with the Big Green. He played collegiately at the University of Cincinnati, so he is familiar with both the area and Conference USA.
"I spent 10 years in the Midwest and I really enjoy it here," Cedergren said. "I think having played in Conference USA and against Kentucky as a player, it's one of the best programs around. It's a dream job for any aspiring head coach in general."
With the reputation Cedergren, a native of Solvesborg, Sweden, developed in the five seasons he spent as Cook's understudy at Dartmouth, it was a matter of time before he had the opportunity to become a head coach. Recognizing what Cedergren can build at UK, Cook is elated for his pupil.
"I am just delighted for him moving forward in his career, but also because I feel like Kentucky is the type of institution that we would hope our assistants move into when they have jobs," Cook said. "It is a great position to leave Dartmouth for. Of course we are sad to see Johan go, this is the right opportunity for him and his career."
Cedergren isn't going to waste any time in capitalizing on the opportunity.
"I think you have to really get going with the team right away," Cedergren said. "I know what I want to do. I want to make sure they get my message right away so they know what's going to go on. I'm going to work with the strength and conditioning staff to make sure we have a program that makes sense and get some really competitive spring games going so we can build the team to get ready for the fall."
His philosophy begins and ends with encouraging growth in his players, both on and off the field. He recognizes the time he has with each student-athlete is limited, so he will be purposeful about everything he does.
"I believe that, if you have a kid for four years, you have to be able to develop the player," Cedergren said. "I think that you want to do things that are positive. You want to create chances, you want to pass the ball, but at the same time you have to minimize risk."
Creating chances might not be too difficult considering the talent UK will return next season on offense. Forwards Tyler Riggs and Matt Lodge formed one of the better attacking duos in the nation a season ago, as they combined for 18 goals in 15 assists in 2011. Combining Riggs and Lodge with returners on defense, it's clear UK's cupboard is far from bare. Cedergren is already familiar with the names on his roster, but the next step will be establishing relationships with them.
"Of course, you have to get to know your team, and I think we have a tremendous team coming back with the two top scorers returning and the starting center back (Dylan Asher) and goalkeeper (Tyler Beadle)," Cedergren said. "I think there's a great opportunity do really great things right off the bat."
UK is in position to win right away, but Cedergren is also balancing that with building for the future. He sees big things in the future, which begins first and foremost on the recruiting trail.
"To get the team right and make sure everyone buys into the message is extremely important, but of course it's college, so every year you lose players," Cedergren said. "Recruiting is equally important and it's a matter of getting out there and making sure you find all the talent."
Finding talent begins within the immediate radius of Lexington. Cedergren says his focus will be on identifying players capable of contributing at this level within six hours of UK's campus, where the Kentucky brand has particular meaning.
"What we're fortunate with here at Kentucky is we have an unbelievable brand name," Cedergren said. "Within those six hours, if you come knocking and you have the UK logo, they're going to open the door and listen to you."
However, UK won't turn its back on recruiting internationally under Cedergren. The Wildcats' current roster features 10 players from outside the United States, while Dartmouth had six players from outside American borders a season ago with Cedergren as associate head coach. With his connections and eye for talent, he will look to bring in foreign players, but he'll also be strategic in doing so.
"The core of your team has to be U.S.-based players, then you have a sprinkle of special international talent," Cedergren said. "You don't bring an international player over just because he's international. He has to be an immediate impact player and start the majority of the time, if not all four years."
Regardless whether a player is a returner from a season ago, a newcomer from abroad or a freshman from right down the street, Cedergren's goal is to communicate that he has each one's best interests at heart, both on and off the field. Coming from an Ivy League school like Dartmouth, Cedergren knows what it means to develop well-rounded players. To do that, he knows he must be available at all hours.
"It's very important that the players know that what you're doing is best for them and that your door is always open and the phone is on 24/7," Cedergren said. "No matter what, there no question too small or too big of an issue, we're always here for you."
When Cedergren says "we", he's not only referring to he and his coaching staff. He views his family, which includes his wife and two children, Gavin, 6, and Abigail, six months, as a part of the program as well. In fact, the move to Lexington offers a nice bonus because Julia's family hails from a few miles down I-75 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"My wife's family is close and, right now, this is the happiest my father-in-law has been about his daughter marrying someone. I'm expecting a nice Christmas gift from him," Cedergren joked.
Being close to family is nice, but it's the job and the school that have Cedergren so energized.
"To be able to combine that with coming here is great," Cedergren said. "If UK was on the West Coast, we would still do that just because of what UK offers. It's just a dream come true to match the athletic and academic profile of UK with the location."
Samantha Drake scored 18 points in 6-of-6 shooting in a 90-61 win over Samford. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
This time a season ago, every day was a struggle for Samantha Drake.
The forward/center spent much of her freshman year just hoping for the end of each practice. With her 6-foot-3 frame, she showed flashes of potential, but she was too consumed with convincing herself of her own ability to consistently make a meaningful impact.
"Sam battled last year so much with confidence and conditioning and wondering if she could survive the practices," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "She spent so much time concerned with whether she could make sprints and hang on to the end of practice and that was coming from a place of weakness."
All along, Mitchell's belief in the Bardstown, Ky., native never wavered. Much of the time Mitchell spent coaching Drake was simply trying to communicate that belief to her. Eventually, Drake found out she was the only obstacle in her own way.
"She had a terrific summer and I just tried to put it to her, 'There's nothing that you can't get through,' " Mitchell said. "Finally she proved to herself she can really perform at a high level."
Drake's evolution was on full display in UK's final game before a brief break for Christmas. She scored 18 points in a 90-61 win over Samford to follow up on a career-high 21 points on Sunday against Notre Dame. She connected on all six of her field goal attempts with her only miss on the night coming on one of her seven free throws. She dished a pair of assists to boot and committed no turnovers.
"The confidence I have right now is positive confidence," Drake said. "I'm trying to keep that up and I'm getting help from all the coaches and my teammates, knowing they have my back and I have theirs. That's something we're really working on."
Her confidence was never clearer than on her touches with her back to the basket. She instantly read the defense and made a quick decision on what to do with the ball and almost always made the correct choice.
"She was so decisive," Mitchell said. "Her first play, she caught it in the high post, ripped through and went to the bucket. Those are good signs."
Recognizing Drake's improvement, UK has made a conscious effort in both games and practices to prioritize post offense. From the beginning of the season, Mitchell has wanted to get to the point where throwing the ball into the post was the first offensive option. Now, the Cats are finally able to do it.
"I think the plan all season was for us to be improved in that area and the last two days were real productive from a practice standpoint because we really did try to slow things down and have our guards find post players," Mitchell said. "A lot of that is my job as a coach to construct a practice plan where that's the emphasis."
However, Drake isn't the only one of UK's forwards and centers playing at a high level. Azia Bishop (13 points) and Samarie Walker (10 points) joined her as double-figure scorers as UK went almost exclusively to a lineup with two bigs. For Drake, who has spent much of the season as the only player over 6-feet in a four-guard lineup, that's a welcome development.
"It's a big help," Drake said. "I don't have to have all the pressure on me. Having another forward out there gives us a chance to have another big scorer inside and work on our post game."
The chemistry between Drake and Walker was particularly evident, even though the Connecticut transfer was playing just her second game in a Kentucky uniform.
"They did have some nice connections tonight, Samantha and Samarie in particular," Mitchell said. "Those are two big, athletic players who, if we can get that going, it would be nice. It is nice to have some depth in the post."
With Drake's continued improvement and Walker's proficiency in the post, Mitchell could have a pair of players who regularly demand double teams.
"Anytime you can have post players who draw double teams, it opens up a lot and not only from kicking it out and shooting," Mitchell said. "An effective post game helps you tremendously and it's exciting to have some options there."
With his more frequent usage of a lineup with two forwards, Mitchell has not yet figured out how exactly that affects the pressure defense that is so much a part of what UK does as a team. Drake and Walker both have the ability to play in that style, but again, Mitchell sees he needs to build confidence in the two sophomores.
"The thing we have to figure out there is how we're going to press with those two," Mitchell said. "They're very fast and athletic, but they're not as confident in the press as when we go four guards. We'll have to figure that out."
Having to determine how to play defensively because Drake and Walker have become so effective offensively is a problem Mitchell certainly doesn't mind having.
The Kentucky Wildcats will face Loyola-Maryland on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky Wildcats will play their final game before a three-day break for Christmas against Loyola-Maryland (8-2) on Thursday at 1 p.m. in Rupp Arena. The break will be a brief respite from a basketball-heavy three-week period with classes out of session known commonly as "Camp Cal."
The No. 3 Wildcats (10-1) have been practicing multiple times each day and spending nearly every waking second around each other, whether on the floor, in the weight room or at meals. The work figures to benefit a young team that John Calipari is demanding to talk more during games.
As important as all that time is, Calipari also believes in allowing his players to spend the holiday with their families. He has always allowed his teams to take time off for the holiday and always will.
"Basketball is important," Calipari said. "I know it's important at this school and this program, but it shouldn't come before their families. I've always felt that way."
The last thing Calipari wants is for his players to reflect back on Christmas and recall two-a-day practices.
"I hope when they look back, they look at their time at Christmas with their own family and being able to see friends and stop in and see relatives," Calipari said. "Not that they were tortured over Christmas while everybody else was enjoying stuff."
Calipari, though, is asking his players to focus for just a couple days more before heading home, because the Greyhounds are going to come into Rupp ready to play. Loyola-Maryland is coached by Jimmy Patsos, who coached under Gary Williams at Maryland from 1991-2004.
"They play a funky zone, they press, they press on (side in-bounds plays)," Calipari said. "They're going to come after us and press. (Patsos) will not back down."
Aggressiveness is a trademark of the Greyhounds as they've attempted 51 more free throws than their opponents through 10 games and average over 15 offensive rebounds per game. Additionally, Loyola-Maryland forced an average of 16.4 turnovers per game.
Calipari expects the Greyhounds to play their best game, like nearly all of UK's opponents do. It's not easy for the Cats to maintain their focus with flights and drives home on their minds, but that kind of challenge is part of playing in Kentucky blue.
"It's hard for guys to get up for every game, but here you bought into that by coming here," Calipari said. "... You're going to get their best shot. Whatever that is per team, you'll get their best shot so they have to be ready."
Harrow impressed with Teague's development
Ryan Harrow is in a unique position.
He is the heir apparent in Calipari's string of star point guards, but he isn't spending his final year before taking the floor at Kentucky playing in high school gyms. Instead, he's sitting out for a mandatory redshirt year following his transfer from North Carolina State. He participates in practice and is going up against his predecessor, Marquis Teague, learning what things will be like when he eventually takes over.
Having already played one season at the Division I level, Harrow knows how difficult playing the point guard position is and he's been nothing but impressed with the way Teague has matured.
"He's been getting better every game and learning how to be more of a point guard and control the team and control himself," Harrow said. "He's been doing great each game I think, progressing a lot."
Harrow is seeing first-hand the way Calipari will coach him when he does take over, so he won't be too surprised when his new coach tears into him for the first time.
"(Calipari) just wants (Teague) to do well," Harrow said. "He has to be hard on him because he's the point guard but he's helping him a lot. He's just trying to teach him how to run a team and how to be a point guard for this level and the next level."
He appreciates being able to get a preview of Calipari's intensity, but he knows he won't fully experience it until he's the one being coached.
"Definitely seeing it now is helping me out, but I still have to be ready for it next year because Coach Cal doesn't play any games," Harrow said. "It's good that I see it now though."
Before the season, Harrow talked at length about how he needed to build strength and toughness over his year off. In his mind, facing Teague is about the best preparation he could ask for.
"I'm definitely getting stronger, especially playing against Marquis because he's so strong," Harrow said. "Learning from him and playing against him is helping me out a lot this year."
With all the learning he's doing this year, Harrow's learning curve could be significantly reduced when he finally does get to suit up in Rupp Arena. That doesn't make sitting on the bench in street clothes any easier right now though.
"It's real difficult for me," Harrow said. "I've had my ups and downs, wanting to play and just being out here not being able to. It's been hard for me. I call my mom and talk to her and it helps me out a lot, talking to her and the coaches. My time is going to come so I'm trying to cheer them on and learn."
He's managing to stay focused though. Harrow doesn't second-guess the decision he made to come to UK. He has watched his former team on television and wants the Wolfpack to do well, but he knows he can't afford to allow his mind to drift.
"I just wish them the best," Harrow said. "I really can't even be focused on them. I have to be more focused on here because if you miss anything here you'll be in trouble."
Unselfish Malone keeps injury in perspective
After a fourth serious knee injury since the start of high school suffered on Saturday, freshman guard Sam Malone would have every excuse if he started feeling sorry for himself.
In spite of all his injuries, he managed to earn his way onto the Kentucky roster and carve out a niche as a fan favorite, scoring six points in just 13 minutes of action this season, but his torn ACL almost certainly ended his first college season before conference play even got going.
Even so, Malone doesn't feel sorry for himself. He's still thankful for where he is and knows his place on the team will remain mostly unchanged. In fact, he went so far as to say he is glad the injury is to him and not one of his star teammates.
"My role on this team hasn't changed. I came here to be a great teammate and that's what I'm going to continue to do," Malone said. "Thank God it was me and not somebody else who plays a lot."
The ACL Malone tore was actually not even his own. The same knee had been previously operated on with a ligament from a cadaver replacing his own previously torn ACL. Incredibly, Malone already has a sense of humor about the situation.
"I guess it wasn't a good cadaver," Malone deadpanned. "I think I'm going to use my own tendon next time."
Surgery to repair the torn ACL has yet to be scheduled as doctors wait for inflammation to subside.
"I'm doing alright," Malone said. "I've been through it before. I know what to expect. I'm not nervous going into it but my main goal is to get my health back to where it was before because, for the first time, I really felt healthy."
Malone's primary goal at this point is to retain his health, but he'll maintain a positive attitude no matter what.
"If having a bad knee is my biggest problem, I'm doing alright for myself," Malone said.
Jones could sit out again
Sophomore forward Terrence Jones (dislocated pinky) missed UK's last game against Samford and was not expected to practice on Wednesday. Calipari said Jones wants to play on Thursday, but he could be held out for precautionary reasons.
Doron Lamb has scored 50 points over his last two games. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
A few months ago, John Calipari called Doron Lamb Kentucky's "best basketball player."
Since his 2011-12 roster would feature a wealth of talent and future first-round draft picks, his declaration was met with some puzzled reactions from fans and media alike. Following a coldly efficient outing in an 82-50 defeat of Samford in front of 21,984 fans in Rupp Arena, many of those quizzical looks are turning into nods of assent.
However, the praise Calipari heaped on his sophomore shooting guard was contingent on Lamb making a commitment on the practice floor and in the weight room. He has responded and the dividends have been plainly evident.
"The extra time that he's spending on that basketball court before practice, after practice, you're all seeing the benefit of it," Calipari said.
Already UK's leading scorer, Lamb tallied his second consecutive 20-point outing in tying a season high with 26 points. He needed just 12 shots to do his damage, scoring four-and-a-half points for every shot he missed. Lamb hit 3-pointers (four of them), layups and floaters. He got to the line seven times and committed just a single turnover.
He upped his season average to 16.7 against Samford and has been happy with his start to the season, but he also recognizes what it will take to sustain it.
"I think I'm playing good so far," Lamb said. "I've got to keep it up though, keep working out in the gym and keep doing what I'm doing."
Lamb remembered games during his freshman season when tired legs prevented him from making shots in the clutch, so he decided he needed to work on it. He has undertaken a regimen of shooting following intense treadmill workouts.
Calipari often talks about how dedication and hard work will be rewarded with results; Lamb is a shining example.
"You get what you deserve in basketball and in life," Calipari said. "You want to spend that extra time, there's going to be a result. It doesn't happen in a day, but when you start linking days together, weeks together, months together, you start seeing it."
He's always been a self-assured player, but he's taken his confidence to another level now that he knows no one who steps on the floor with him is working any harder than he does away from it.
"Every time I shoot the ball, I always think it's about to go in," Lamb said. "I've got a lot of confidence in my jumper and my floater. (Lamb's confidence) increased a lot. I put a lot of shots up when I'm tired and in the game when I'm tired I'm making shots and I'm still playing defense. I'm never really tired on the court."
Lamb's floater was particularly deadly against Samford. Anytime he had the slightest amount of space inside 10 feet, Lamb used the shot to great effect and it has been a signature move of his for most of his basketball life.
"I always had a floater when I was young, even when I was playing AAU basketball," Lamb said. "It was one of my go-to moves."
Lamb, though, can remember a time when the floater wasn't part of his repertoire, but his mother, Brigitte Grant, suggested he incorporate the shot when he was a youngster.
"She taught me to do that when I was young," Lamb said. "I used to always go to the rack and I would always get blocked and my mom told me to start shooting floaters over big guys."
Lamb will continue to use the floater extensively, but he's also much less timid in attacking the shot blockers he used to avoid. He's shooting an average of 4.2 free throws per game after going to the line just 2.6 times a game as a freshman and it's no accident.
"I'm just going to the rack a lot more because I know if I get fouled, I'm going to knock the foul shots down," Lamb said. "I'm creating more plays for me and my teammates."
Creating many of Lamb's opportunities is freshman point guard Marquis Teague, who continued his evolution with a 14-point, five-assist performance against the Bulldogs. Lamb garnered a reputation as a dead-eye shooter in 2010-11, but Teague knew he was much more before setting foot on campus
"I knew he had a great feel for the game," Teague said. "He can score in many different ways: pull-up jumpers, spot shooting, jumper, 3's, he's got a great floater game, he can get to the rim and he can knock down free throws."
Other than Lamb himself, no one stands to benefit from the work the shooting guard has logged more than Teague. When Teague gives the ball up to his backcourt mate, it's not a matter of whether he'll score. The only question is how he's going to do it.
"That makes my job real easy," Teague said. "I can just give him the ball and let him do what he does and know he's going to put the ball into the hoop."
It's time once again for our regular trivia contest before men's basketball games: Robic's Riddle.
Assistant coach John Robic has supplied us with yet another question from the annals of Kentucky basketball history. The first fan to submit a correct answer via email to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a prize. The prize today is a portable, foldable UK seat back that allows you to sit comfortably almost anywhere.
Today's question has to do with UK's streak of consecutive games with a 3-point basket. Kentucky has made a 3-pointer in 797 consecutive games, ranking third nationally. Name the two programs who have made a 3-pointer in every game since the rule was adopted.
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.
Don't forget to tune in and watch the Cats face off against Samford at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
The feeling has to be all too familiar Scituate, Mass., native, who will now undergo his fourth reconstructive knee operation since the start of high school. He had earned a spot on the Kentucky roster in spite of his injury history and had become a fan favorite for his aggressiveness when he did get opportunities to play.
"Losing Sam Malone to an ACL injury is heartbreaking," Calipari said. "He has been a great teammate and an even better person. You never want to hear someone is injured, but for Sam to go through his fourth knee injury is especially tough because he's worked so hard to get where he is. He has become a valuable member of our team and quickly became a fan favorite. We look forward to Sam making a full recovery."
Malone had scored six points in six appearances and 13 minutes as a Wildcat.
Surgery has not been scheduled, but he will be operated on as soon as inflammation in Malone's knee subsides. No timetable for his return has been announced.
Samantha Drake scored a career-high 21 points against Notre Dame in UK's first loss of the season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Following Kentucky's first loss of the season against third-ranked Notre Dame, you couldn't help but wonder what might have been.
What if A'dia Mathies and Samantha Drake had been able to stay out of foul trouble? What if Samarie Walker had been better able to keep an even keel and stay focused in her first game at UK? What if the Wildcats' supporting cast had made more of impact and allowed Amber Smith, Bria Goss and Kastine Evans to rest a little more?
In spite of all that, UK still was in position to win a tough road game, holding a lead with less than five minutes to go before the Fighting Irish surged to a 92-83 victory. There simply aren't many teams capable of keeping up with Notre Dame in the Joyce Center, and even fewer that could do so without playing their best game, but that's exactly what Kentucky did.
In reflecting on Sunday's loss and watching the tape, Matthew Mitchell isn't interested in any talk of silver linings.
"It's hard to look at it from my perspective like that," Mitchell said. "There are a lot of people that know a lot about basketball that would say that's a positive sign, but it was just so painful for me to watch us not show up and do our best."
Mitchell wouldn't have enjoyed it, but he could have coped much better with the first blemish on his team's record had the Wildcats played the kind of game and exhibited the type of effort he demands of the.
"You're not upset about losing if it's just getting beaten because you are not as good as that team," Mitchell said. "Notre Dame is fantastic but I felt like we could have done a lot better job and possibly impacted the game."
Mitchell has spent most of the last two days scratching his head over why the Cats played the way they did. It could have been the team's first road trip in over a month, the hostile road crowd, an experienced and talented Irish team or any combination thereof that played a role, but he's not interested in making excuses.
With a game coming up on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the Samford Bulldogs (6-4, 0-2 Southern Conference) in Memorial Coliseum, UK is now focused on turning the page while bearing the lessons learned through defeat in mind.
"The important thing is we've looked at it," Mitchell said. "We see so many areas where we can improve and now it's time to go about the business of improving them and putting Notre Dame behind us and getting our sights focused on Samford."
Mitchell is familiar with Mike Morris and the Samford coaching staff from his time at Morehead State, so he didn't even need to look at the tape to recognize the challenge awaiting his team. The Bulldogs deploy the Princeton offense, a sort of kryptonite for high-pressure brand of defense UK relies on.
"If there is an offense that is constructed and devised schematically to beat pressure defense, it's the Princeton offense," Mitchell said. "They run that and they do it well."
The Bulldog's offensive philosophy will put them in positions to exploit holes in the Kentucky defense. Samford ranks among the top 35 teams nationally in both 3-point field goals (7.0 per game) and 3-point field goal percentage (35.7 percent), so any open looks the Bulldogs do get will be taken.
Meanwhile, Samford will be looking to keep UK in more of a slow-paced game than the Cats would normally prefer, predicated on an offense that is ranked 13th in the country in fewest turnovers committed (13.8 per game). With UK forcing 33.7 turnovers per game, something will have to give.
"They really do a good job with backdoor cuts and backdoor passes," Mitchell said. "They're a great 3-point shooting team so we will have to be locked in and ready to go and ready to see if we can earn a victory tomorrow against a good Samford team."
Injury updates on Mathies, O'Neill
A'dia Mathies is not expected to be limited in Wednesday's game. She is still recovering from a bone bruise in her ankle, but was able to play against Notre Dame and score 17 points in 21 foul-limited minutes. Mitchell said her ankle may not feel 100 percent just yet, but she has passed all strength and flexibility tests and should be able to play through any discomfort.
Jennifer O'Neill is also coping with a foot injury and is set to get another round of x-rays this week to determine where she is in the recovery process. The sophomore guard wants to be able to help her team right now, but the coaching staff will not rush the former McDonald's All American back to the floor. Mitchell hasn't set any specific timetables for making such decisions, but redshirting her is not out of the question.
"She wants to help this team win," Mitchell said. "She wants to play this year but if it is a situation where we're in the first week of February and she's not going to be full-speed for two more weeks, I would really talk to her about a redshirt at that point in time."
The only way Mitchell would consider a redshirt is if O'Neill is unable to have a "quality experience" this year and contribute meaningfully.
Darius Miller is shooting 46.1 percent from the field in spite of hitting just 24.2 percent of his 3-point shots. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Darius Miller is not used to seeing his shots from 3-point range miss.
Along with Doron Lamb, Miller was Kentucky's most consistent threat from outside a season ago, hitting shots from deep at a 44.3-percent clip. Sure, he had the occasional mini-slump here or there, but nothing like the 8-for-33 (24.4 percent) struggle he's had through the first 10 games of his senior season.
Miller doesn't mince words when evaluating his 3-point effort so far in 2011-12, but his blunt self-evaluation doesn't mean he's lacking any confidence.
"That's terrible," Miller said. "I definitely need to pick that up but it's going to turn around. I'm not worried about it."
His stroke looks no different and he still defeats Lamb in the five-minute shooting drill John Calipari mandates at the end of many practices, routinely hitting as many as 65 3-pointers in the short time span.
The explanation for his troubles could be as simple as a small sample size and bad luck with a reversion to the mean quickly to follow, but Miller does notice one subtle factor he needs to address.
"I think I'm kind of rushing it a little bit instead of taking my time and shooting it," Miller said. "I think I kind of rush my shot and try to hurry up and shoot it. I just need to take my time getting it off."
Fortunately, other aspects of Miller's offensive game have not suffered along with his outside shot. In evaluating him statistically, Miller is a better offensive player almost across the board. He's shooting a ridiculous 27-for-43 (62.8 percent) from inside the arc and is on pace to set career highs in free throw attempts, assists and offensive rebounds in spite of playing almost seven fewer minutes per game than a season ago. If Miller's outside shot returns to form, he could join Lamb as UK's most efficient offensive threat.
In Miller's mind, it's just a matter of time before that happens.
"It's definitely not mental," Miller said. "I'm still comfortable with my shot and, like I said, I think I'm just rushing it a little bit. I need to take my time and shoot my shot."
The Tim Tebow magic finally wore off last Sunday when New England ended the Broncos' winning streak. But Denver still controls its own destiny for the postseason and Tebow's spark is one of the biggest reasons why--along with an improved defensive unit that features former Wildcat Wesley Woodyard as a key cog.
During a recent appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show, Woodyard talked about he's become such a Tebow fan.
"Playing against him in college, I hated playing against him because I knew somehow his teammates believed in him and now I know that and see why Florida had so much success, because he controlled so much as far as on the offense," Woodyard said. "He had people who believed in himself and he believes in himself. If its fourth-and-20, with Tim, he not only thinks he is going to get the first down but he thinks he is going to score and that rubs off on everybody."
That includes the defense.
"The energy our offense plays with spreads to the defense and vice versa. We see them make a big play or Tim goes out and runs someone over or gets a big gain, it gets everyone excited and keeps the defense fresh on the sidelines," he added.
Some think Tebow's All-America persona is too good to be true but Woodyard says the team knows Tebow is the real deal.
"It's his work ethic. Today, he went out an hour before everybody and was working on his passing most of the time. He is always trying to get better. That is what you need out of a quarterback," Woodyard said. "He is always trying to influence everyone to give it their all and do the extra."
And if anybody knows about leadership, it's Woodyard, who drew praise from UK coaches almost from the first he set foot on the campus when it came to setting the tone for the rest of the team. Woodyard said Tebow's leadership for now has been more by example than vocal.
He hasn't been quite as vocal as he was in his college years but he says what needs to be said outside of the field and on the field but he is a great leader as far as going out there and leaving it all on the field.
And Woodyard really enjoys playing for first-year Denver coach John Fox.
"He is a good coach as far as enthusiasm, passion and love for the game of football," Woodyard noted. "It's great to everybody. He is one of the guys who believes in smashmouth football and he bring that back for us. Tough, physical football."
One thing Woodyard never got to experience at UK was beating Tennessee. He wasn't able to watch his alma mater end that 26-year streak because the Broncos were traveling but he got the word at the airport from a teammate--who had played for the Vols.
And Woodyard was amazed to hear the story about how coverted wideout Matt Roark led the way.
"I tip my hat to him. I was able to speak with him when he came in as a freshman," Woodyard said, "and I told him 'you gotta look forward to doing big things' and who knew that he would have ended the Tennessee streak."
Current UK star Danny Trevathan is like Woodyard in that he's a linebacker with the knock that he is under-sized for the NFL. But Woodyard says that should not keep him from having a long pro career.
"I have seen Danny play and he is a great football player in my eyes. I think he will get a shot," said Woodyard, "and hopefully he gets drafted but if not, hopefully he get a shot undrafted and balls out. Anybody who leads the SEC in tackles in my opinion, they can play in the NFL."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Dec. 18:
Men's basketball: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis tallied his fourth double-double this season and is now averaging a double-double on the season ... Blocked five shots and is leading the league with a 4.4 block/game average ... His 18 rebounds tied for the second most by a freshman in school history and was two off the freshman record ... He's on pace to finish with 145 blocks on the season, more than 60 blocks better than the current school record
Women's basketball: Samantha Drake
Scored a team- and career-high 21 points against No. 3/3 Notre Dame, including a career-high eight made field goals, while also grabbing four rebounds and blocking one shot.
Shot over 50 percent from the field, converting on eight of 11 shot attempts.
Her 21 points is the second most points scored by a Wildcat this season.
Had zero turnovers vs. Notre Dame.
Played 22 minutes against Notre Dame.
Has reached double figures in scoring in five of the last six contests.
Women's basketball: Bria Goss
Scored 14 points, grabbed five boards, passed out two assists and had two steals against No. 3 Notre Dame.
Played a team- and career-high 35 minutes on the road in a sold-out, hostile environment at No. 3 Notre Dame.
Played a career-high 35 minutes against No. 3 Notre Dame, often drawing the assignment of guarding Notre Dame All-America guard Skylar Diggins.
Has reached double figures in scoring in nine of 11 games for the Wildcats.
Has started in every game this season.
On the season (among players who have played two or more games), ranks second on the team in scoring (12.5 ppg), third in rebounding (5.2 rpg), fourth in assists (2.0 apg) and third in steals (2.1 spg).
Averaging 17.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 steals over the Kentucky's last three contests.
Men's basketball: Doron Lamb
Posted a game-high 24 points in Kentucky's win over Chattanooga, two points off his season-best ... Also pulled down a season-high six rebounds while hitting a season-best four 3-pointers ... Leads the team in scoring, 3-point shooting and free throw shooting ... Has hit multiple 3-pointers in four-straight games
Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies
Scored 17 points on 5-8 shooting, including 2-3 from beyond the arc and 5-6 at the charity stripe against No. 3 Notre Dame.
Also had three rebounds, three assists and two steals against the Fighting Irish.
Has reached double figures in scoring in every game this season.
Has scored at least 17 points in each of the last three games she has played in.
Recorded two steals to move into ninth all-time at UK with 203 career steals.
Doron Lamb and the Kentucky Wildcats will host Samford on Tuesday at 7 p.m. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Even though classes have been dismissed and final exams turned in, it's still not break time John Calipari's team.
With school out of session, most of the Wildcats' classmates are home for the holidays, but instead of reuniting with high school friends, watching football or playing video games, the Cats are filling their free time with basketball.
"I told them, between now and January 9, you are playing basketball and you are eating and you're sleeping," Calipari said. "That is it. You are playing basketball or you are eating or you are sleeping."
With fewer priorities to balance, this basketball-heavy time of year is typically when Calipari's teams show the most improvement. Improvement will be exactly what he's looking for as the Cats play their first of two games in three days at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in Rupp Arena against the Samford Bulldogs (3-6).
Senior guard Darius Miller has been through two editions of "Camp Cal" and he expects Kentucky fans to see a "different team" on the floor as the focus shifts entirely to basketball. Miller has been consistently impressed by the work ethic and discipline of the team as a whole, which should make the next couple weeks that much more productive.
"We're getting more time to spend with each other, more time to practice and get everything together," Miller said. "All the kinks that need to be worked out, this is our time to do it."
As if the Wildcats aren't already working hard enough and spending enough time around each other, a group of four or five players has founded a "breakfast club" in which they wake up early, lift weights together and eat breakfast before the first practice of the day. Calipari wouldn't name the players who are taking part, saying 'the guys that you expect to be in it are in it.'
It all started when one player adopted the morning routine on his own, causing Calipari to recall the 1996 Chicago Bulls. On a team that many now call the greatest in NBA history, Michael Jordan created something similar to UK's "breakfast club" as the Bulls set out on a quest to win a world title and set the record for most regular season victories.
"They won 72 (games) that year and won a championship," Calipari said. "But, that was Michael saying, 'We are going to do it.' It wasn't the whole team that did it, but it was like six of them. But, it is guys that have totally sold in and bought in. 'I am in. What do I have to do? Let's go.' "
The players participating in the early morning club believe this Kentucky team has the ability to do something similarly special to what that Bulls team did 15 years ago. Calipari is pleased at the development, particularly recognizing the limited amount of time this young team has to come together before conference play and eventually the NCAA Tournament.
The physical preparation UK is going through in those early morning sessions and multiple daily practices is obviously important to reaching the team's ultimate goals, but this period is just as valuable for the simple fact that the Wildcats are spending nearly every waking hour with one another.
"It is as much about getting them together all the time," Calipari said. "Like, you are not on the phone while we are at dinner. Talk to one another. You are not on the phone, you are with these people. If you chose not to be with us, that is OK, now go somewhere else. But if you are going to be with us, we eat dinner and we are at breakfast then we are with each other."
With so many different multimedia outlets at their fingertips, it's not easy for players to keep their phones in their pockets, but Calipari believes that simply being present can make a profound impact. He isn't making any official rules or instituting penalties, but when players are around their teammates, Calipari is asking them to actually be with each other.
"If I see a guy on the phone, I am like, 'What are you doing? You want to talk on the phone more than you want to talk to your teammate? Is that person more important than your teammate? Well, then go sit with them. See ya, bye. You don't need to be here,' " Calipari said.
Fortunately, the holiday break won't be all practices, film studies and weight room sessions. The Cats have three games over the next nine days, which is unquestionably preferable to the weeklong waits they had before each of their last two outings.
"I think playing games is better," sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. "I'd rather play games than wait and practice. I think this week will be a good week for us."
The week will end with an actual three-day break for Christmas following Thursday's game against Loyola (Maryland). Most players haven't had a chance to go home since the school year started, so the time will be a welcome distraction.
"Now, they are going to go on break," Calipari said. "I always give them Christmas break. I think they need to be with their families and regroup and then they come back and have two tough games and then we start right into league (play)."
Jones uncertain for Tuesday
Calipari said sophomore forward Terrence Jones was held out of practice on Monday with a dislocated finger on his shooting hand suffered on Saturday.
"I don't know yet (if he will play on Tuesday)," Calipari said. "We will see. I don't expect him to start if he doesn't practice (Monday), but I don't know."
Men's basketball - The Wildcats continued the nation's second-longest winning streak, posting an 87-62 win over Chattanooga running its home-winning streak to 40-straight games. - Freshman Anthony Davis had one of his best games of the season with a 14-point, 18-rebound, five-block performance. - Kentucky had four other players score in double-figures led by Doron Lamb's game-high 24 points. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 17, while Darius Miller chipped in 12 and Marquis Teague added 11. - Teague also tied his career-high with eight assists while turning the ball over just once. - UK hit a season-high 12 3-pointers in the victory. Women's basketball - No. 8/7 Kentucky dropped its first game of the season at No. 3 Notre Dame on Sunday, 92-83, snapping the Wildcats' 10-game winning streak. UK led by one point with five minutes to play before the Fighting Irish went on an 11-0 run to put the Cats' upset hopes out of reach. - Sophomore center Samantha Drake led four Wildcats in double figures with a career-high 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting. - Despite fouling out with 7:25 left in the game, junior A'dia Mathies scored 17 points to go along with three rebounds, three assists and two steals. - Freshman guard Bria Goss and senior point guard Amber Smith followed with 14 and 13 points, respectively. In her UK debut, sophomore transfer Samarie Walker recorded seven points and seven rebounds in just 12 minutes of play.
Junior guard A'dia Mathies is expected to return to action against No. 3 Notre Dame on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
It's not too often that a basketball team has a nine-game home stand like the one UK Hoops just concluded. Following a season-opening trip to Morehead State, Matthew Mitchell and his Kentucky team set up shop in Lexington for over a month.
Suffice to say, they've taken full advantage.
The Wildcats ran their record to a perfect 10-0, ascending to top-ten rankings in both major polls. The Cats have enjoyed wins over a pair of highly ranked opponents in Louisville and Duke, declaring themselves contenders both in the Southeastern Conference and on a national level in the process.
The run has been a good one, with thousands of UK fans streaming into Memorial Coliseum (and Rupp Arena) to take in the festivities. However, it's now time for the Wildcats to pack up amd play outside the Commonwealth for the first time this season against third-ranked Notre Dame at 1 p.m. on Sunday on ESPNU.
"It's something that the team will have to learn to deal with," Mitchell said. "The schedule just fell the way that it did this year. There was no real concerted effort to have it fall the way it did, but this clearly is a bigger challenge than we've had."
The long home stretch has not been without its obstacles, but now that UK is hitting the road for the first time in 36 days, the Wildcats will be facing a challenge the likes of which they have not yet seen in the Fighting Irish (9-1). Not only will they go up against the national runners up from a season ago, but they will be doing it in front of an expected sell-out crowd at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Ind.
"Both of the big wins we had against Louisville and Duke were in front of our fans," Mitchell said. "We talk about how important our fans are by showing up and giving us energy, so now the challenge is, we really have to stick together. We've been focusing on that all week long. We're not going to have the home crowd on our side, so now where does the energy come from?"
No longer will UK's high-pressure style of play be fueled by its home fans. Instead, the Wildcats must look inward to get themselves going, which is something they'll have to do more and more often as the season progresses.
"It must come from our players," Mitchell said. "We can't get down on negative plays, we can't start going against each other, we just really have to stick together in what I think will be a challenging environment. It's a great opportunity for our team, because clearly when you get into conference play you have to start dealing with some of that."
Absent the atmosphere, Notre Dame would pose a stiff test on its own. The Irish have outscored their opponents by 29.1 points per game, including a smothering 66-38 win at No. 12/14 Purdue their last time out. Notre Dame forced 24 turnovers and held the Boilermakers to 13-for-54 (24.1 percent) shooting from the field.
"We're going to play what I think is without a doubt the most intense defense that we've seen yet from a pressure standpoint," Mitchell said.
Notre Dame has the depth, athleticism and willingness to go possession for possession with UK in an up-and-down game, which is exactly what happened a season ago when these two teams faced off in Lexington. The Wildcats won 81-76 in a game that saw the two teams attempt a combined 142 shots.
Even though UK forced just 17 turnovers, the Wildcats took care of the ball so well (only 12 turnovers) that they won the turnover battle. Mitchell will be looking for his team to force significantly more turnovers this time around, but the overall goal remains the same. UK and Notre Dame, coming into this week's games, rank first and second nationally in turnover margin at +17.0 and +11.2, respectively.
"They just have a lot of great athleticism and can get up and down the floor, so it could be a real fast-paced game," Mitchell said. "Clearly, for us, turnover margin is going to be so important because we can't cough it up a bunch up there and expect to win, I don't believe."
Fortunately, junior guard A'dia Mathies, who is eighth in the nation in steals per game at 4.1, is expected to be available to play after a sprained ankle kept her out of Sunday's game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
"A'dia bounced back pretty nicely from her ankle injury," Mitchell said. "It took her a little while to get going yesterday. We had a conversation mid-practice where I wanted to know if she was OK or does she not need to be practicing. She really picked it up in the latter portion of practice and looked good. We don't anticipate, unless there's something that happens, we don't anticipate that being a major issue for our team on Sunday."
For the first time, Mathies will also be joined on the floor by sophomore forward Samarie Walker, who sat out the past year following her transfer from Connecticut. With her athleticism and 6-foot-1 frame, she should help cut into the 51-35 rebounding edge Notre Dame held over Kentucky in their matchup a season ago.
Walker will have to cope with the nerves of playing her first game since January, but Mitchell has treated her as a full member of the team all along, which has helped her significantly as she approaches her first game in a Kentucky uniform.
"What we've really tried all season long is to practice her as if she were a starter or would have the chance to start," Mitchell said. "We've talked about them earning time in practice and I haven't seen a huge difference. I thought maybe she might be hyped up in a negative way, and tight, but she's performed great."
No one, other than possibly Mitchell, can be sure of the role she will play, but Walker is going into her first game with the approach that she's willing to do anything that's asked of her.
"I can definitely add some height, be another body out there, rebounding, anything Coach needs I feel like I can give it to him," Walker said.
One of her final games with UConn was on the road against Notre Dame, so she has a good idea what she'll be up against, especially on the glass. More than anything else, that will be the area she'll be looking to impact.
"They're all great rebounders, from their point guards down to the last one on the bench," Walker said. "That's definitely one thing we have to do, is rebound the ball against them."
Anthony Davis had 14 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks in an 87-62 win over Chattanooga. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
John Calipari will admit it: he's not always completely fair when he's evaluating his team in-game. He is a coach after all.
He has a habit of seeing performances out of a few of his players he doesn't like and allowing those to effect the way he evaluates the team as a whole.
Calipari didn't hesitate to tell his team just that following Kentucky's 87-62 defeat of Chattanooga in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
"What happens to me, one of my many, many flaws is that when I get mad at one or two guys, I end up getting mad at the whole team," Calipari said. "And it's not fair, because we had some guys that played well today."
Unquestionably, Calipari was referring in part to Anthony Davis, who didn't even need a full half to register a double-double. The freshman forward finished with 14 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks. His impact was felt in every facet of the game, but he was most dominant on the glass, as he grabbed the second-most boards of any freshman in school history.
"He rebounded every ball," Calipari said. "He could have had 20 rebounds today. I mean, if I had left him in a few more minutes, he would have had 20."
For stretches in the game, Davis wouldn't even let his own teammates near the glass. He set the tone for the Cats by responding well to physical play and rebounding wasn't the only area it showed itself. UK used the pick-and-roll extensively against the Mocs and the visitors simply tried to push their way through screens. Davis wouldn't budge though.
"Anthony held his ground, which is why Marquis Teague got the shots he got, because he held his ground," Calipari said. "He wasn't pushed."
Teague hit just 5-of-13 shots, scoring 11 points, but he was another of the players who played well. He carried over his strong play from the second half against Indiana by running his team effectively. He dished eight of his team's 17 assists and committed just a single turnover.
Calipari spent much of the week following that loss at Indiana with Teague, trying to impart to him exactly what he's looking for out of the freshman signal caller. The way Teague responded says quite a bit about his development.
"What I liked was after a week of really zeroing in on Marquis Teague, I thought he played well," Calipari said. "I thought he had control of the game."
Teague's improvement isn't limited to Saturday night either. After struggling with turnovers out of the gate, he has begun to figure out what's being asked of him. Playing point guard for Calipari is a notoriously difficult task, but the reasons for his improvement are simple.
"Just slowing down. I have more experience with it now, and I feel more comfortable," Teague said.
Perhaps benefiting most from Teague's steadiness was Doron Lamb, who led all players with 24 points. Lamb tightened his grip as the team's leading scorer for the season, hitting 10-of-17 field goals with four 3-pointers.
The sophomore guard has been UK's most consistent and efficient player on offense all season. He has scored in double figures in eight of UK's first 10 games and has lived up to Calipari's preseason proclamation when he called Lamb Kentucky's "best basketball player." With his emergence, the Wildcats are now looking for Lamb to take a step forward in the leadership department as well.
"We need him to speak more," Calipari said. "This team doesn't talk enough, and it starts with him. When you don't talk, you're into your own self. You must talk on offense and you must talk on defense, and that's what we are trying to get him to do."
Calipari does recognize that Davis, Teague, Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (17 points, eight rebounds, six assists) all did play well, but he can't overlook the way much of his team failed to respond to physical play.
"That game got (physical) again, and we had some guys that just ran for the hills," Calipari said. "You can't. You've got to want a rough game. You've got to want to be rough. I want it to be that way."
Davis was one who did play the way Calipari is looking for, but he knows the Cats still have work ahead of them.
"We do have to play rougher," Davis said. "Loose balls, guys on the floor, and taking charges, it's all about toughness. We need to become even tougher."
UK will have plenty opportunities to work on just that in practice over the coming weeks. With the fall semester over, basketball will be the team's sole focus, save for a three-day break for Christmas.
"We'll probably go twice (Sunday)," Calipari said. "We'll go once or twice Monday and we'll play Tuesday. We'll go once or twice on Wednesday, and we'll play Thursday and then they go home for three days and when we come back, we start back at it. There are no classes. So if we need three times in one day, we'll go three. It's where we really buckle down and zero in on what we have to do."
Jones injures finger
Sophomore forward Terrence Jones sustained an injury to his finger in the first half. He reentered the game after undergoing treatment and briefly returned before sitting out most of the second half. He is considered day-to-day and will be evaluated on Sunday.
"Terrence dislocated his finger; so I don't know what that means, how long he'll be out, but he did dislocate it," Calipari said. "He tried to come back and play but just couldn't do it."
After a one-game hiatus, it's time once again for our regular trivia contest before men's basketball games: Robic's Riddle.
Assistant coach John Robic has supplied us with yet another question from the annals of Kentucky basketball history. The first fan to submit a correct answer via email to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a prize. The prize today is a portable, foldable UK seat back that allows you to sit comfortably almost anywhere.
Today's question has to do with UK's lone four-year senior in 2011-12.
Darius Miller hopes to join two former Wildcats as the only players in UK history to total 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 100 blocks and 100 steals in a career. Who are the two former UK players to accomplish the rare feat?
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.
Don't forget to tune in and watch the Cats face off against Chattanooga at 8 p.m. on CSS.
Anthony Davis return to Rupp Arena to face the Chattanooga Mocs at 8 p.m. on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Reliving Christian Watford's buzzer-beating 3-pointer than sent Kentucky to its first loss was probably the last thing any UK fan wanted to do this week.
They didn't want to have to think about the fact that the Wildcats failed to get a hand on any Indiana player in 5.6 seconds when they had two fouls to give. They didn't want to recall the Hoosier faithful streaming onto the floor of Assembly Hall to celebrate.
For anyone who didn't want to hear about that play that's been replayed countless times over the past week, a Kentucky practice was not the place to be. Anytime John Calipari notices one of his players failing to listen, he doesn't hesitate to remind them of what happened when the Cats did just that on the final sequence in Bloomington, Ind.
"Every time they don't listen in a drill or to what I'm saying, I stop practice and I say, 'Five-point-six seconds left and there's a timeout,' " Calipari said. " 'We're going to pick up three-quarter court and when they get near half-court, we're going to foul. Do you hear me?' "
It may not have been pleasant for his players to hear the instructions Calipari barked out in the timeout huddle at IU over and over, but they knew it served a purpose.
"He always talks about that last play when someone doesn't listen," freshman forward Anthony Davis said."He always brings up that last play talking about you have to listen and if you don't, this is what happens. He always brings it up just to remind us that we have to pay attention and focus."
Davis and his teammates were forced to dredge up that painful memory more times than they care to count as they bided their time for a full week before Saturday's return to action against Chattanooga (3-7) at 8 p.m. in Rupp Arena. As badly as the Wildcats wanted to get back on the floor, they know all the practice time has done them well.
"Anytime you lose you want to go out there and play again just to get that win," Davis said. "Unfortunately, we don't play 'til (Saturday) and we had a whole week off. We had lots of practices every day and went hard. I think (Calipari) prepared us very well for this game tomorrow."
Davis may never have experienced a loss at the college level, but that doesn't mean he didn't have an idea of what to expect out of his coach in practice once Kentucky fell for the first time. As soon as the Wildcats lost to Indiana last Saturday, Davis knew intensity in practices would be turned up a notch.
"We knew practice was going to be a lot tougher and more intense with people really going after each other," Davis said. "That's what we expected and that's what he's been doing. It's done nothing but make us better."
Calipari has mentioned before how he is more effectively able to capture the attention of his team in the wake of a loss, but he went a step further on Friday.
"I'll be honest with you," Calipari said. "If we had won, I probably would have stuck my head in the sand and not said, 'We're not in good enough condition and we're not tough enough, let's go.' I would have said, 'Let's keep this ball rolling.' This was a wakeup for me and hopefully I'll do a better job helping these guys."
Taking notice of his team's need for improvement in terms of toughness and conditioning, Calipari has tweaked practice.
"The one thing that I learned after the game last weekend with Indiana is that we need to have a little more roughhouse practices, a little tougher," Calipari said. "And we needed more conditioning so we did that this week."
The other primary focus coming off two games when UK allowed Indiana and North Carolina to make a combined 20-of-33 (60.6 percent) 3-pointers was closing on shooters and forcing the opponent to put the ball on the floor and cope with the nation's best shot-blockers.
" 'Let them drive into the teeth of our defense,' " Calipari said. " 'Do not let them play HORSE. I know they can beat us playing HORSE and shooting free throws. We're not fouling them and we're not letting them play HORSE. Make them play basketball.' "
Chattanooga will be a good test to see if UK has improved in that area. The Mocs have attempted 42.2 percent of their field goals from beyond the arc and scored 40.3 percent of their points from 3-point range, seventh-highest in Division I. Vanderbilt transfer Keegan Bell distributes 7.1 assists per game, many of which go to shooters like Omar Wattad (28 made 3's) and Ricky Taylor (18 made 3's).
For all the talk about intense practices, becoming tougher and boning up on perimeter defense, Calipari isn't losing perspective. His team is 8-1 and ranked third in the nation. They have ways they must improve, but Calipari is pleased for the most part with his young team.
"To win the games that we've won, play the way that we've played for this time of year defensively and be one of the best teams in the country defensively with a lot of room for growth, we're pretty good for this stage," Calipari said.
Beckham set to make debut
Almost a year ago, Twany Beckham arrived in Lexington as a transfer from Mississippi State. Since then, the junior guard has been practicing with his new teammates but unable to play due to NCAA transfer rules. On Saturday, Beckham's waiting will be at an end as he'll be eligible to suit up in a Kentucky uniform for the first time.
"I'm ready to go," Beckham said. "This has been a long time coming. I have been with this team for a whole year and I'm ready to get out there on the floor with my teammates."
Waiting hasn't been easy for Beckham, who has played in Rupp Arena multiple times in college and high school as a Ballard Bruin, but the time has given him a chance to learn a new system and get to know his teammates. Davis expects Beckham to make his impact felt quickly, especially on the defensive end.
"Twany is very aggressive on defense," Davis said. "He's a very talented player (with) a lot of energy. There are key things he can bring to this team."
At 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, Beckham has played point guard for much of his basketball career, but Calipari expects him to play at shooting guard and small forward when he does enter the game. Calipari will be looking for Beckham to "make the easy play" when on the floor with a willingness to use his size and athleticism to get after it on the defensive end.
"He's a good athlete," Calipari said. "He can defend and be tough."
Doron Lamb leads UK in scoring with 14.9 points per game. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Lay-ups off drives to the hoop, pull-up jumpers, floaters, fall-aways and 3-pointers: you name a way to score a basketball and Doron Lamb can probably do it.
The guard has used every weapon in his arsenal in 2011-12 in becoming the most consistent offensive threat for the nation's third-ranked team. He has scored in double figures in a team-high seven of the Wildcats' nine games and is the only player on the roster to score at least eight points in each. He leads a balanced scoring attack with 14.9 points per game and is the team's leading shooter from 3-point range and the free throw line.
As a freshman, Lamb was one of the nation's most efficient offensive players, ranking 59th in the country according to KenPom.com. However, he's taken his game to another level, improving his offensive rating from 121.2 to 129.4.
NOTE: Offensive rating evaluates how many points per 100 possessions a team scores when the ball is in the hands of that player. It takes into account 2- and 3-point field goals made and missed, free throws, assists and turnovers.
So, how has Lamb done it? First, let's take a look at his traditional offensive stats.
As you can see, Lamb has improved noticeably in terms of overall scoring and assists. His 3-point percentage is up slightly, as well as his free-throw percentage. His turnovers are down as well, but he already gave the ball away so infrequently it doesn't mark a substantial difference.
On the other hand, Lamb's field-goal percentage has taken a four-percent dip thanks to a pretty sizable drop in his 2-point shooting. You would think his improvement in other areas wouldn't be enough to overcome his diminished accuracy from the field, but these numbers fail to tell the complete story so we turn to his advanced stats.
Lamb's effective field-goal percentage (eFG%, which measures overall field goal percentage while considering the additional value of the 3-point shot), reflects his dip in accuracy from the field. As you can see, though, he is better in every other area. His usage rates (%Poss) is up slightly, meaning he has the ball in hands more. Additionally, he is playing more minutes than last year. Those two factors make it even more impressive that he is turning the ball over just once per game this year. As a result, his turnover rate is down five percent. Lamb's assist rate is also up, but where Lamb's game has really improved this season is the way he gets to the foul line.
Compared with last year, Lamb gets to the foul line nearly 12 percent more in 2011-12. He is much more aggressive in taking the ball to the basket, which helps explain his lower shooting percentage from inside the arc. Instead of taking only open opportunities, Lamb is being relied on more to create his own shot, which has made his shots from 2-point range more difficult.
His improved willingness and ability to attack the basket has helped make him a much more dangerous and consistent player. As a freshman, Lamb failed to reach double figures in scoring 18 times in 39 games and when his shot wasn't falling, his impact was minimal. Now, Lamb has the ability to overcome those off nights by getting to the line. This season, he's gotten to the line at least seven times in four outings. Last season, he attempted at least seven free throws just three times.
Take the game against Portland on Nov. 26 for example. Lamb made just 1-of-6 shots from the field and missed both of his shots from deep. However, he made all seven of his free throws and still managed a solid nine-point outing. Also, with his improvement as a passer, he added four assists and still managed to affect the game.
With Saturday's game at 8 p.m. between Kentucky and Chattanooga being carried on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast, there has been some questions among UK fans wondering where to find the channel. I reported yesterday evening that Insight, in spite of not normally carrying the channel, would be showing the game on channel 505 throughout the Commonwealth due to demand.
In an effort to help fans with other cable or satellite providers wanting to watch the game, I have done some research and made a few phone calls to determine where the game can be viewed through other major providers.
Insight - Channel 505 throughout Kentucky with digital cable or mini-box Dish Network - HD channel 429, non-HD channel 420 DirecTV - HD channel 631 (YESHD) AT&T U-verse - YES (channel 702 in most Kentucky markets)
Since many providers change channel lineups depending on location, I encourage you to check your local listings before tipoff to confirm the game is being carried and on which channel.
For Time Warner Cable customers, I was not able to confirm the game will be shown through that provider. Again, I encourage you to check your local listings to make sure.
If you are unable to watch the game on television, it can be streamed live online with ESPN3.
Sophomore UK Hoops forward Samarie Walker has had to sit on the bench as her teammates have raced to a 10-0 start and a top 10 ranking. In January, Walker transferred to Kentucky from Connecticut and has been limited to practicing with her new teammates for the past year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Her waiting, though, is almost at an end.
The 6-foot-1 forward is expected to be eligible to play her first game as a Wildcat on Sunday at No. 3 Notre Dame. Tipoff is at 1 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPNU. Needless to say, Walker is excited to hit the floor again.
With four more former Kentucky players drafted this offseason, 2011-12 was all set to be another exciting year for UK fans following the NBA. Unfortunately for fans and even more so for the players, the start of the season was delayed by a lockout while players and owners tried to reach a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
For a period, it appeared the entire season was in jeopardy, but a new CBA was finally agreed upon over Thanksgiving weekend. The season will start nearly two months late on Christmas Day, with each team playing a shortened 66-game schedule.
Last season, UK was third among all colleges with 12 former players in the NBA, but with the debuts of Enes Kanter, Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson this season, Kentucky could move to the top of the list with 16 players. Including this year's draft picks and players who were on rosters last season, UCLA also has 16. These numbers are not yet official as opening day rosters have not been released. Keep in mind that they include rookies, free agents and players who signed with international teams during the lockout.
To get you ready for the NBA season (and since things are very quiet around here due to finals), let's take a quick look at each of the 16 former Wildcats in alphabetical order: Eric Bledsoe - Los Angeles Clippers 2010-11 stats - 6.7 points, 3.6 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals
Bledsoe recently underwent surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. He will miss at least the first month of the Clippers' season, but could return in late January. When he does hit the floor, he is projected to be the primary backup at point guard. Also, with his experience playing alongside John Wall and Kentucky, he is expected to spend some time playing off the ball as well.
Keith Bogans - Chicago Bulls 2010-11 stats - 4.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists
Bogans started all 82 games last season for the Bulls, who had the best record in the NBA. He was a role player on offense, but was a key cog for one of the league's top defensive units. Coach Tom Thibodeau called him "the consummate professional." The Bulls have a team option on Bogans for this season and are determining whether they will pursue another shooting guard in free agency. Even if they decide to allow him to enter free agency, another team figures to have use for his defense.
Cousins reported to Kings' camp in the best shape of his life. "He is leaner. He is lighter. He is quicker," the Sacramento Bee wrote. "Really, his new body has to be seen to be believed." The Kings front office and coaching staff is very pleased with the approach Cousins took during the lockout and it is expected to pay dividends. Cousins will start at center on opening day, looking to build on a promising, if at times uneven rookie season.
Josh Harrellson - New York Knicks
It's by no means a given for a second round pick to sign a contract with the team that drafts him, but that's exactly what Harrellson has already done. The Knicks acquired him in a draft night trade with the New Orleans Hornets, hoping the big man would provide bulk, toughness and rebounding inside. He'll be more than happy to do just that as he works to make the team's opening roster behind Amar'e Stoudemire and the recently signed Tyson Chandler.
Following a career season with the Houston Rockets, the Kings inked Hayes to a four-year deal worth up to $21 million. He spent the first six seasons of his career as a Rocket, but will now move west. He is expected to start at power forward alongside Cousins, filling the Kings' frontcourt with former UK fan favorites. If Hayes' defense and rebounding can rub off on Cousins, it could make him a terror. Enes Kanter - Utah Jazz
How good it must feel for Kanter to practice knowing he is under two weeks from playing an actual game. The Jazz already signed the No. 3 pick to a deal, but won't rush Kanter along in his development. Utah has a talented, crowded frontcourt that includes Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Mehmet Okur and Paul Millsap that Kanter will compete with and learn from. Okur, who also hails from Kanter's native Turkey, has already taken the rookie under his wing and expects big things out of his new pupil. Brandon Knight - Detroit Pistons
Knight's new teammates and coaches already know all about the work ethic he became known for during his season at Kentucky. "This is what we need right here," Pistons guard Will Bynum said. "If he never becomes great, it won't be because he didn't put the work in." Knight will join a backcourt that includes Bynum, Ben Gordon and potentially Rodney Stuckey, who is a restricted free agent.
DeAndre Liggins - Orlando Magic
Like Harrellson, Liggins has already signed a deal with the team that selected him in the second round. He is a part of a movement in Orlando to field a younger team this season and will compete for minutes at shooting guard and small forward with players like Jason Richardson (who resigned with the Magic this week), J.J. Redick, Quentin Richardson and Von Wafer.
Meeks had a breakout season in his third professional year, starting 64 games for a 76er team that reached the playoffs. Even though Meeks has a No. 2 pick competing with him at shooting guard in Evan Turner, he's not giving up his starting position easily. According to reports, Meeks is ahead of Turner and head coach Doug Collins thinks he is a perfect complement to Philly's other four starters. "Jodie is an interesting guy. Jodie fits beautifully with our starting group," Collins said. "He spaces when (Andre Iguodala) and Jrue (Holiday) penetrate. He keeps spacing out there for E.B. (Elton Brand) to get it in the post."
Nazr Mohammed - Oklahoma City Thunder 2010-11 stats - 7.1 points, 4.9 rebounds
Even though he was a midseason acquisition for the Thunder last year, the veteran has already established himself as a team leader, organizing team workouts over the offseason. He was a free agent after the team's trip to the Western Conference Finals, but resigned before the lockout began. He is expected to provide a steady presence off the bench for Oklahoma City.
Patterson didn't have eye-popping numbers in his rookie season, but the power forward impressed in limited minutes. He won't be playing alongside fellow Wildcat Hayes any longer, but Hayes' departure opens up more minutes for the second-year man. He underwent surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle this offseason and the Rockets have played it cautiously by keeping him out of practice so far. Houston, as always, is involved in trade discussions, so Patterson could start if certain of his teammates are shipped away.
Tayshaun Prince - Detroit Pistons 2010-11 stats - 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists
Prince was a free agent this offseason, but the Pistons weren't about to let the veteran small forward walk away, resigning him this week. Detroit is in rebuilding mode and Prince will join Ben Wallace as the only players remaining from the team's title run in 2004.
With the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce aging, Rondo stepped into more of a featured role with the Celtics. He thrived, earning an All-Star berth and placing among league leaders in assists and steals. Rondo is brushing aside trade rumors from the past two weeks and is expected to anchor Boston as they make yet another run at a second championship with their current nucleus in place.
John Wall - Washington Wizards 2010-11 stats - 16.4 points, 8.3 assists, 4.6 rebounds
Wall battled knee injuries all season in playing with a lottery-bound team, but he put together a season that would have earned him Rookie of the Year honors if not for Blake Griffin. The point guard says he has a new level of confidence entering his second season and will look to take steps forward as a leader and decision maker. He is healthier now than a season ago and is joined by No. 6 pick Jan Vesely, a Czech forward expected to give Wall a potent threat in the open floor.
Transfer Samarie Walker is expected to play her first game in a Kentucky uniform on Sunday. (UK Athletics)
With three McDonald's All-Americans stuck on his bench in street clothes, you might have thought Matthew Mitchell would need some time to get his team going in the early season. Forwards Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth were forced to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules, while guard Jennifer O'Neill recuperated from injury.
It would have been understandable if UK Hoops struggled while missing those three players, but the Wildcats have done just the opposite. In ascending to top-ten rankings in both polls, Kentucky has beaten a pair of top teams, Duke and Louisville, in Lexington en route to a 10-0 start to the season.
Stallworth will sit out this entire season and O'Neill is still recovering, but the Cats are about to see one of the talented trio take the floor. Walker, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, is expected to play in her first game in a Kentucky uniform when the Wildcats travel to face No. 3 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Sunday.
She'll likely need some time to get her feet under her, but Walker has already proven to her teammates and coaches just how much of an impact she can make in practice.
Walker doesn't have to come in and make the spectacular play, but don't be surprised if she does.
"We'll be a better team" with Walker on the floor, Mitchell said. "She fits in well with what we do. She is an absolute beast around the basket, very strong rebounder, very strong finisher."
"Strong" seems to be the word everyone uses when asked about Walker, who averaged 6.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 18.8 minutes in 17 games as a freshman at UConn.
"She's probably one of the strongest people I've ever played against," said former Kentucky star Victoria Dunlap, who plays against some top players these days in the WNBA and as a professional overseas. "She's just really, really strong. She's difficult to box out, to get around. She made me better by making me work hard in practice."
Keyla Snowden, a UK senior guard, said she's looking forward to playing in a game with Walker.
"Samarie's going to add just another threat on offense, as well as her presence on defense," Snowden said. "Samarie being out there is going to open it up for the guards because she's such a huge presence inside."
Men's basketball: Following a buzzer-beating 73-72 loss at Indiana, Kentucky fell from its perch atop both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. The Wildcats check in at No. 3 in each. Four other Southeastern Conference teams are also ranked: Florida (No. 13/13), Mississippi State (No. 17/16), Alabama (No. 23/21), and Vanderbilt (No. 25/25). I know it's only December, but UK checks in at No. 8 in the RPI according to RealTimeRPI.com. Women's basketball: Sporting a perfect record through 10 games and a pair of wins against top-15 opponents in the last 10 days, UK Hoops is No. 8 according to the AP and No. 7 according to coaches. The Wildcats will have a chance to pick up a third marquee win in the non-conference as they travel to South Bend, Ind., for their second road game of the season against third-ranked Notre Dame.
Randall Cobb is in the middle of a very successful rookie season for the unbeaten Green Bay Packers. The former star wide receiver/kick returner/punt returner/quarterback at Kentucky has caught 19 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown in arguably the NFL's deepest and most talented receiving corps. Where he has really made an impact is in the return game.
With 1,126 combined kick and punt return yards, Cobb is fourth in the NFL. He is one of only three players in the league with both a kick and punt return, joining Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears and Ted Ginn, Jr., of the San Francisco 49ers.
In the video above, Cobb talks about his journey from Alcoa High School (Tenn.) to the Packers and what it is like to be living his professional dream. He also discusses some of his work off the field, including his participation in Dance Blue while at UK.
An overtime loss in the 2008 national championship game is not the toughest beat John Calipari has had as a coach.
On his weekly radio show last night, Calipari said the one-point defeat at Indiana last Satuday was harder to take. Understand, of course, he's talking about the circumstances and not the stakes involved.
Kentucky was 5.6 seconds away from escaping with a most unlikely win--given the venue and its rowdy atmosphere, getting virtually nothing in the stat line from Terrence Jones, spotty free throw shooting and giving up too many 3-pointers. Despite all of that, the win was in the Wildcats' paws until a lack of execution of the plan to utilize the two fouls UK had to give.
Calipari took the blame on his shoulders, noting that his team has not spent much practice time working on "situations," where coaches simulate late-game circumstances like the one the Cats faced against IU. That's part of the deal with teams so heavily on freshmen. Of course, as we've seen in the first two years of the Calipari era, the tradeoff is more than worthwhile.
And Calipari said you can put the blame on him for the way Kentucky practiced last week. He said he didn't make the practices tougher enough to match the physical play they faced from the Hooisers and that is changing this week. Calipari cited Jones in particular as having suffered from not getting properly prepared for that kind of game.
When the roster turnover is so great each year, it's just natural that it takes the coach a little more time to find out each particularly squad's personality and what the team needs in terms of preparing to realize its full potential.
Who knows, this could turn out to be the proverbial "good loss."
It should, for example, be a real-attention grabber for Jones. While it's great that Kentucky put itself in position to win without much of a contribution from its preseason All-America candidate, it's easy to see how the Cats could get upset on the way to a Final Four if he repeats that kind of performance in a big game in March. A performance like he had on that kind of stage is a serious blow to one's NBA draft stock and that should provide powerful motivation to Jones to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Saturday's game may also prove to be the performance that serves as the turning point for Marquis Teague.
Calipari gives his point guards plenty of freedom but he is also demanding of them. And when the coach benched Teague after a poor first-half performance against the Hooisers, it was actually a show of confidence--a belief that Teague had the mental toughness to respond when his next chance came. And boy, did he respond. Teague was arguably the Cats' best player down the stretch, hitting every shot he took without committing a single turnover.
In an enviroment that "hostile" doesn't begin to describe, Teague thrived. And he and his teammates overcame multiple 10-point deficits against a team that made its first six three-point shots in the second half. That kind of resiliency--especially when shown by a squad this young--has to bode very well for March.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Dec. 11:
Volleyball: Ann Armes
In her final collegiate match, she struck for 11 kills on a sizzling .400 hitting percentage. It marked the 10th time this season she has registered 10 or more kills in a match.
Women's basketball: Azia Bishop
Averaged 11.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.0 steals in a pair of wins against No. 6/5 Duke and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Recorded the first double-double of her career when she scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Duke.
Had a double-double in the second half alone against Duke.
Hit 9-14 shot attempts this week.
Volleyball: Ashley Frazier
Was named to the NCAA All-Region team after tallying a team-high 16 kills on .306 hitting in UK's Sweet 16 loss to No. 1 overall seed Texas. Frazier finished the season having notched 25 matches with 10 or more kills.
Women's basketball: Bria Goss:
Averaged 19.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.0 steals in a pair of wins over No. 6/5 Duke and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Scored a career-high 19 points against No. 6/5 Duke, only to follow it up with a career-high tying 19 points against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Recorded a career-high six steals against Arkansas-Pine Bluff en route to leading the Cats to a program-record 49 forced turnovers.
Hit a career-high three 3-pointers against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Played a career-high 32 minutes against No. 6/5 Duke, often drawing the assignment of guarding Duke starting point guard Chloe Wells.
Has started in every game this season.
On the season, ranks second on the team in scoring (12.3 ppg), third in rebounding (5.2 rpg), third in assists (2.0 apg) and third in steals (2.1 spg).
Men's basketball: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Michael scored in double-figures in the first half in Indiana for the second time this season and the first time since Kentucky's season-opener against Marist ... Narrowly missed his second double-double in three games by one rebound ... Averaging 17.5 points and 10.0 rebounds in last two games.
Volleyball: Stephanie Klefot
Became the first UK player in the history of the program to record 600 or more digs in a season after posting 21 in the loss to Texas. For the season, she has recorded 608 scoops. She also topped 20 or more digs in a match on 11 occasions in 2011.
Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies
Scored a season-high 23 points against No. 6/5 Duke, including a career-high tying four 3-pointers, while also grabbing four rebounds and recording four steals.
Played a team-high tying 33 minutes against Duke.
Shot over 50 percent from the field against Duke, including 80 percent from 3-point range (4-5).
Made a career-high tying nine field goals.
Made a career-high tying four 3-pointers for the second straight game.
Scored 20 or more points for the fourth time this season.
No. 23 in scoring at UK all-time, and just three points shy of tying Janet Timperman at No. 22.
Tied with Valerie Still at No. 9 on the UK all-time steals list, and is just the 10th player in UK history with 200 or more steals in her UK career.
Has started and reached double figures in scoring in every game this season.
Volleyball: Becky Pavan
Playing in her final collegiate match, Pavan made her mark once again. She led the team with a match-high six blocks to run her career total to 402 career block assists. With that number she is one of just four players in school history to achieve 400 or more block assists.
The Kentucky Wildcats held practice on Monday at the Joe Craft Center. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
On Monday afternoon, John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats held their first team practice since Saturday's loss against Indiana. They spent a little over two hours on the floor in the Joe Craft Center going through various drills and plays as the team has no games this week due to final exams.
I have been on hand for a handful of practices so far this season and Calipari has always been intense and very vocal, but I can attest that he took things up another notch following the season's first defeat. He brought up both specific plays and themes from the game throughout. He clearly doesn't want his players forgetting about what losing felt like and intends to use that feeling as motivation and a teaching tool for the foreseeable future.
Here are some notes and observations from the session:
Calipari and the Cats got right down to business when they hit the
floor. There was no initial team huddle to begin practice, but there was
a break about 45 minutes in when Coach Cal spoke in general terms about
the loss. "We played a team that wanted it more than we did," Calipari
said. UK may have had an opportunity to win the game down the stretch,
but Calipari said the Wildcats would not have earned it. "You missed
free throws and the basketball gods got you," Calipari said. "You didn't
deserve to win the game." He referenced the fact that UK may have
talent than many of its opponents this season, but that's not what wins a
game like the one against IU.
"Talent doesn't win," Calipari said. "Fight wins." Calipari clearly
wasn't happy about the loss, but at the same time, he sees a potential
benefit to the Cats faltering. "I wouldn't have had your attention if
you won," Calipari said. "You wouldn't have listened to me."
He capitalized on his team's rapt attention by repeatedly bringing up Christian Watford's buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sent the Cats to defeat. Any time a player failed to follow instructions, he brought up the fact that the players failed to foul in the final 5.6 seconds before the shot was taken as they were told to in order to demonstrate the perils of not listening to their coach.
There was certainly plenty of instruction from Calipari for his team to listen to during the practice, which opened with a drill that requires players to sprint the floor and make a series of layups, progressing from individual to two-man to three-man plays. The Cats first had to complete the entire series within a five-minute span, which they did successfully. Coach Cal then had them try the drill again, but this time in under four minutes with players having to repeat a rotation after mistakes. UK did not make it under four minutes the first time, but narrowly completed it the second time. The drill stressed hustle, communication and clutch shooting.
Calipari then had his first and second teams run a called play with no defense on the floor, then immediately set up in either a press against a team of assistant coaches, staff and walk-ons or drop back into half-court defense. The primary focus of the drill was on instantly getting into defensive position, which was a problem for UK against IU, particularly in the first half. When dropping into half-court defense, the players had just three seconds to get into defensive position.
During the drill, Calipari brought up a couple of interesting points, the first of which was to talk about the sets UK ran to get open layups for Marquis Teague in the first half, opportunities he missed. He was happy with the way the players heeded and executed the game plan, though Teague was unable to finish. "They did exactly what we thought they'd do," Calipari said. "We executed but we just have to finish."
Calipari also had some direct coaching for Kyle Wiltjer during the drill following a mistake he made with the ball in hands. Calipari
is looking for a simple and decisive approach from Wiltjer on offense
where he takes shots when they are there for him. "I will
not judge you on missed or made
shots," Calipari said. Where Coach Cal will judge Wiltjer is defensively
and on the glass, and that's where he wants his freshman forward to
focus when he's on the floor.
It came up first during that aforementioned drill, but Calipari continually asked for his players to be aggressive on defense, particularly when guarding players on the perimeter. With the shot-blocking ability the Cats have inside, Calipari does not mind if his players get beaten off the dribble. He wants them to close hard on outside shooters and rely on their teammates to compensate if their man drives.
Calipari is also asking Teague to turn up the heat on opposing point guards trying to initiate offense, which was prompted by the way Indiana's Jordan Hulls played this weekend. Hulls brought the ball up the floor solely looking to set up his team's sets, not drive. If UK's future opponents are doing the same, Calipari wants Teague to be disruptive. "We're not trying to steal the ball," Calipari said. "All we're trying to do is make him throw the ball away."
The team then split up into post and perimeter players, with Terrence Jones going with the perimeter bunch and Darius Miller with the posts. The big men went one on one on post-ups, while the perimeter players attacked each other off the bounce. Of note from this drill was how regularly Miller was able to score with his back to the basket, even with shot blocker extraordinaire Anthony Davis guarding him. Miller has been used frequently on post-ups the last two seasons, but typically only when he has a mismatch. I'm not so sure he shouldn't get touches inside no matter who is guarding him.
The majority of the rest of practice was spent with a focus on rebounding, first with a one-on-one drill. The equipment staff set up devices on two separate baskets designed to make it difficult for John Robic and Jon Hood to make the free throws they were attempting. The first player to grab three rebounds without the ball hitting the floor forced his opponent to the treadmill for a sprint. Also, any player that attempted to grab a one-handed rebound had to run.
The Cats then went into a five-on-five rebounding drill. Davis began the drill by absolutely dominating, grabbing nearly every defensive rebound available to him before Robic and Calipari challenged the other nine players on the floor. "Anthony Davis can't get every rebound," Robic said. "He can because they're going to let him," answered Calipari. From that point forward, rebounds were split much more evenly. Like the previous drill, any one-handed rebound attempts were punished with a trip the treadmill. "I'm done seeing one-handed rebounds," Calipari said.
Practice closed with a drill that required the Cats make 50 baskets running a three-man break in three minutes and they narrowly succeeded. Calipari then gathered his team for a final huddle, saying it's natural to question yourself following a loss even though his players may be acting like they're not. The only way to respond is by working hard. He called on his players to spend time shooting free throws outside of practice when not studying for finals and arranged for a time on Tuesday to watch the entire first half of the Indiana game with Teague. Calipari wants to make sure Teague understands why he made the decision to bring him off the bench in the second half.
Men's basketball - The Wildcats dropped their first game of the season on a last second 3-pointer at Indiana on Saturday. With the 73-72 loss, coupled with the 73-72 victory over North Carolina a week ago, the Wildcats have experienced consecutive one-point games for the first time since the 1978-79 season. - Doron Lamb opened the game with a 3-pointer for the Wildcats which marked the second time this season UK has opened the game with a 3-pointer. Lamb's game-opening 3-pointer also helped extend UK's streak of 796 games with a 3-pointer which ranks as the third longest streak in the country. - Lamb led UK in scoring with 19 points and was followed by a career-high 18 from freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist scored in double-figures in the first half for the second time this season and the first since a season-opening victory over Marist. In his last two outings, Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging 17.5 points and 10 rebounds per game. - After being held scoreless in the opening 20 minutes, freshman Marquis Teague exploded for 15 second-half points to lead UK back from 10-down. It marked the most points for Teague since scoring 16 in UK's season-opener. Teague has also recorded four or more assists in each of UK's last five outings. Women's basketball - No. 10 Kentucky improved to 10-0 after impressive wins over No. 6/5 Duke and Arkansas-Pine Bluff last week. Coming off a 20-point win over intrastate rival and 10th-ranked Louisville last Sunday, the Wildcats played host to the sixth-ranked Blue Devils in Rupp Arena, their first game in the downtown venue since 2008. In front of a school-record 14,508 fans, the Wildcats upset Duke 72-65, giving UK back-to-back wins over top 10 teams for the first time in school history. - Junior guard A'dia Mathies shined against Duke, netting a season-high 23 points, while nailing a career-high tying four 3-pointers for the second straight game. - Freshmen Bria Goss and Azia Bishop were also crucial to the Cats' signature win as they combined for 31 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and four steals. Goss scored a career-high 19 points and Bishop came off the bench for her first career double-double with 12 points and a career-best 11 rebounds, including 10 points and 10 rebounds in the decisive second half. The rookie center also swatted a career-high four blocks in the win. - Against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, UK did what it does best, force turnovers. The Cats forced a school-record 49 turnovers en route to a 101-43 win. Goss and senior Keyla Snowden led five players in double digits with 19 points apiece.
Volleyball - The Kentucky volleyball team ended its 2011 campaign turning in perhaps its best performance of the season. The Wildcats dropped a tough four-set loss to the tournament's No. 1 overall seed in front of the largest crowd in the Craig Skinner era (4,022), and the fourth largest in school history. - UK went toe-to-toe with the nation's top team, losing the three sets by a combined six points. - Junior Ashley Frazier led four players in double-figure scoring with 16 kills on a .306 hitting percentage. She was named to the All-Region tournament team for her efforts. - Junior Stephanie Klefot notched 21 digs to move her total for the season to 608. With that tally, she became the first player in school history to amass 600 or more digs in a single-season. - Seniors Ann Armes and Becky Pavan enjoyed tremendous performances in their final collegiate matches. Armes topped 10 or more kills for the 10th time this season with 11 hammers on a sizzling .400 hitting clip. Pavan recorded a match-high six blocks to run her career total to 402. She became just the fourth player in school history to post 400 or more block assists. - The Wildcats will return 11 letterwinners in 2012, including first-team All-SEC award winners Klefot, Christine Hartmann and Whitney Billings.
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 - Volleyball takes No. 1 Texas to the wire in Sweet 16
The result wasn't what the Kentucky volleyball team was looking for, but in a 3-1 loss to top-seeded Texas, the Wildcats proved just how much they belong on the nation's big stage. UK played with the Longhorns point for point, leading UT head coach Jerritt Elliott to call the Cats "the best team we faced all year."
UK won just a single set, but lost the other three by only six combined points. Craig Skinner had four players total at least 11 kills as the Cats hit .279 as a team. SEC Libero of the Year Stephanie Klefot led all players with 21 digs and middle blocker Becky Pavan ended her career with a 12-kill, six-block performance. The match was played in front of a boisterous crowd of 4,022 who nearly cheered the hosts to victory in Memorial Coliseum. Player of the week - Bria Goss scores career high...twice
John Calipari is known for coaching star freshmen, but Matthew Mitchell has himself a pretty good one in Bria Goss. She has been among UK Hoops' most consistent players, scoring in double figures in all but two games. Goss is the team's second-leading scorer at 12.3 points per game and has proven to be an adept rebounder from her guard position, averaging 5.2 boards per game, third on the team.
The Indianapolis native has been good all season, but she had her best two performances of her young career this week in wins over No. 5/6 Duke and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. As the Wildcats scored the upset victory over the Blue Devils in Rupp Arena, Goss scored a career-high 19 points, hitting a pair of 3's and getting to the foul line 10 times. She committed no turnovers and added a steal.
Goss followed up her big game against Duke with another 19 points on Sunday against UAPB, tallying career highs with three 3-pointers and six steals as leading scored A'dia Mathies sat out with a sprained ankle. Goss will play in her first career road game next Sunday against No. 3 Notre Dame and will also be returning to her home state to play at 1 p.m. on ESPNU.
Game of the week - Men's basketball loses in buzzer-beating fashion to Indiana
Generally, I like to make our game of the week one UK wins, but Saturday's Kentucky-Indiana showdown in Bloomington, Ind., simply could not be denied. The Wildcats rallied from a 63-53 deficit with under 10 minutes remaining to take a 72-70 lead with just five seconds left, but Christian Watford's 3-pointer as the horn sounded sent UK to its first defeat of the season. Hoosier fans rushed the floor in celebration of the win and IU's return to national prominence.
The loss was a disappointing one, but the mere fact that UK was able to rally in such a hostile environment says a lot about this team. Marquis Teague played the best half of his young career in the second, scoring 15 of UK's final 35 points on perfect 6-for-6 shooting while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 18 points and nine rebounds while playing 38 minutes, the most for a UK player in any game this season.
Play of the week - Snowden goes behind the back
In the second half against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, senior guard Keyla Snowden made a steal at mid-court, went behind her back to avoid a defender and finished at the rim with her left hand. Fast forward to the 1:39 mark of the video above to see the play. The most entertaining part of the highlight: Snowden starts smiling at the behind-the-back move she just made while she's still dribbling to the hoop. She clearly enjoyed herself. Photo of the week - UK Hoops celebrates Duke win
Photo by Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics
Alumnus/alumna of the week - Knight, Liggins, Harrellson sign NBA contracts
The last few months have been tough for former Wildcats Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson. After being selected in the 2011 NBA Draft, they've been in a state of limbo as league players and owners negotiated a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. All three have spent significant time in Lexington as they waited, but they need bide their time no longer as a CBA has been reached.
Even more importantly for the rookies, all three have agreed to terms with their new teams: Knight with the Detroit Pistons, Liggins with the Orlando Magic and Harrellson with the New York Knicks. Congratulations to all three and good luck as the season approaches.
UK Hoops moved to 9-0 on the season with a 101-43 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Freshman guard Bria Goss led the Wildcats with a career-high-tying 19 points and a career-best six steals.
Kentucky set a school record with 49 forced turnovers, breaking a mark set earlier this season against Jacksonville State even though the Cats were without A'dia Mathies. The star junior guard sat out with an sprained ankle sustained in practice on Saturday. The injury is not expected to be serious, but Mathies will be evaluated this week as the Wildcats prepare for their first road game against No. 3 Notre Dame.
UK's comeback bid fell short against Indiana when Christian Watford hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The symmetry is unmistakable.
The atmosphere in Assembly Hall was electric just like last Saturday in Rupp Arena. Once again, Kentucky fell behind only to come back and take a late lead. Both teams had opportunities win as they did a week ago. Amazingly, the final score was even the same, but this time, the result went against the Wildcats.
The top-ranked Wildcats (8-1) came out on the wrong end of a 73-72 decision against home-standing Indiana (9-0), losing in pulse-pounding fashion as Christian Watford hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to propel the Hoosiers to a 73-72 and an on-court celebration with what seemed like the entire IU student body.
"This was a great game," head coach John Calipari said. "First all, you've got to give (IU head coach Tom Crean) credit for how his team played. They played us exactly how they had to to get it where they had to and their kids played well. They played aggressive, they attacked the ball, they were great. My hat's off to them. They deserved it."
Calipari never forgets to mention how much he detests losing and he certainly didn't in the aftermath of UK's first loss of 2011-12, but he couldn't help but look on the bright side of the defeat. His young team found itself down 63-53 with just 9:04 to play, but the Wildcats buckled down in front of the raucous crowd and very nearly rallied to the win.
"I'm proud of my team," Calipari said. "I'm proud of how they gutted it out in the second half, how they played to win."
UK relied on Darius Miller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague to carry the load offensively down the stretch, as the four scored UK's final 37 points. In particular, UK capitalized on advantages Miller and Lamb had against their defenders while Kidd-Gilchrist did much of his damage attacking the offensive glass.
"We feel like we had mismatches and advantages at our positions," Miller said. "Coach felt the same way, I guess. He gave us both looks and we came through. It still ended up in a loss so it really doesn't mean much now."
Miller and Lamb certainly had their moments, but they've already proven they can get it done at this level on a stage like the one UK played on in Bloomington, Ind. Teague, on the other hand, has had an uneven start to his young college career. He's shown flashes of his five-star pedigree, but has struggled with turnovers and shot selection for extended stretches as well.
In the first half, he looked much more the part of the struggling freshman than the dynamic playmaker. At the break, he had no points and three turnovers as his team managed just 29 points and as many total turnovers (13) as made field goals. Playing in his home state and in a hostile road environment for the first time, his subpar first half came as no surprise to Calipari.
"I just said, 'you're not playing the way I want you to play so I'm going to bring you off the bench,' "Calipari said. "It's pretty simple. He was antsy to start and I even told him, 'I expected you to play this way. You're whole family is here, you've got the fans on you, you want to prove yourself.' "
As Calipari expected him to struggle in the first half, he also expected him to respond to coming off the bench in the second. That's exactly what he did. Teague got to the rim at will, scoring 15 points on perfect 6-for-6 shooting and seemed in control of his team, committing no turnovers after the half.
"I thought he played well in the second half," Calipari said. "He didn't play well in the first half and I thought he started running our team. What I told him was, 'If you play to score, you're screwing us up. If you play to win, you'll still score.' "
His teammates' confidence in him never wavered.
"He's a great player like I've been saying," Miller said. "He was just struggling in the first half. All of us - every single one of us - has struggled on game or another. Every single player in the world struggles. He came back strong. He did a great job of running our team in the second half and he came up with huge, huge buckets."
Indiana needed 9-of-15 shooting from 3-point range to knock off the Cats, including 7-for-9 in the second half to overcome Teague's performance. UK also played with exceptional poise to put themselves in position to win save for Watford's game winner, but much of the focus postgame dwelled on why the losing team failed to foul in the final seconds, just as it did after the Cats dispatched the Tar Heels.
Having committed just four team fouls in the second half, UK had two fouls to give after Lamb hit a free throw to extend UK's lead to 72-70 with five seconds remaining. Before Lamb's shot, Crean called timeout to set up a play for his team, during which Calipari instructed his youngsters to use the fouls they had left.
"You've got to understand, the whole timeout was, 'we got two fouls to give, we're fouling once and if they throw it near half-court, just make sure they're not in a shooting motion and we're going to foul again,' " Calipari said. "The officials knew we were going to foul and they said, 'just make sure they're not in the motion of shooting.' "
Teague tried to follow his coach's instructions, making contact with Verdell Jones III, the IU guard who passed to Watford for the buzzer beater, but no call was made. After that, Calipari was left wondering why Teague's four teammates failed to get a hand on either Jones III or Watford before the junior forward released the game's final shot.
"I have no idea what went through their minds," Calipari said. "Maybe they thought, 'I'm not fouling, the time's going to run out.' I don't know, but that's an inexperienced team."
Ultimately, Calipari is happy he gets to go back and watch tape of a head-scratching finish in a December loss rather than one in March or April.
"I'm proud of my team to have a chance to win that game and then put ourselves in a position to win that game," Calipari said. "It's just a great lesson. Five seconds to go, 'what were you hearing in that last timeout?' "
More than 4,000 fans watched in Memorial Coliseum as UK lost 3-1 to No. 1 Texas in the Sweet 16. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
With Texas next on the schedule, a solid season was supposed to end unceremoniously for Kentucky volleyball in the Sweet 16. The top-seeded Longhorns were expected to dispatch the upstart Wildcats rather easily on Friday night, even though the match was to be played on UK's home floor.
With the tradition and storied history of their opponents, Craig Skinner's team was supposed to be happy with a trip to a regional semifinal and the Longhorns would continue their bid for a third national championship.
Well, it turns out Texas will indeed move on, but the Wildcats had no intention of sticking to that script.
Instead, UK fought tooth-and-nail with a powerful opponent in a highly competitive match that left the 4,022 fans in attendance in Memorial Coliseum begging for more volleyball. In the process, the Cats asserted rather forcefully that they are more than worthy of the NCAA Tournament stage and that they have every intention of returning to it in the very near future.
"We just gained a lot of respect from that game," junior libero Stephanie Klefot said. "Not only Kentucky volleyball, but the SEC is hopefully going to be looked at more after this tournament. Especially us, no one expected us to even give Texas a run for their money and we did."
The scoreboard read three sets to one in favor of Texas when all was said and done, but anyone who watched the match understands just how evenly matched the two teams that took the floor were. Each of the three sets the Longhorns won came by just two points and nearly every statistical category was a wash. Texas, the nation's fifth-ranked offense, outhit UK just .308-.279 while the Cats held a 9-8 edge in blocking.
Both the beauty and the tragedy of tournament play is that only one team goes home happy after the last ball is served. Texas certainly has as good a chance as any to be that team, while Kentucky is left heartbroken having poured every ounce of themselves into the season, the match and really every point contested against the Longhorns. Even so, the Wildcats headed to their locker room with their heads held high even though their cheeks were streaked with tears.
"I think we earned a lot of respect from people," junior outside hitter Ashley Frazier said. "I don't think that people expected much of us coming into the game. The fact that we were there with them point-for-point the entire game speaks to how good both teams are. I'm so proud of our team for the way we played and if we had to go out, I guess this is the way I would want it to be. We played our hearts out."
Kentucky was the sixth team ranked in the top 25 of the AVCA Coaches Poll at the end of the season that Texas has faced. In perhaps the clearest proof of just how much respect the Wildcats garnered with their performance tonight, Longhorns head coach Jerritt Elliott didn't hesitate when he compared UK to the other teams on their schedule.
"This was an amazing match," Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott said. "This was the best team that we faced all year. I thought they were the most consistent team. They never let us off the hook and there weren't a lot of runs."
The largest lead either team held in any set was a six-point Texas cushion in the third set. Even in that instance when the Cats trailed 17-11, UK came back. Kentucky saved four set points before eventually succumbing, 27-25.
Most experts likely thought it would take a subpar effort from the Longhorns for UK to keep the match as tight as it was, but on the contrary, Texas played exceptionally well. UT needed a few breaks and points to go their way at the end of each of three sets it won to get by the unrelenting Wildcats.
"I think that both teams played great," Texas freshman outside hitter Haley Eckerman said. "There were so many plays where the ball could have been down, but Kentucky was digging it up and we were fighting after balls. It was just a great, fun game to play in. I think we did a really good job of sticking together in this crazy environment."
In preparing for Texas, Skinner knew just how gifted of a team he was going up against, but he didn't foresee the kind of defense the Longhorns played all night. Klefot (21 digs) and the Kentucky defense (51 team digs) played a fantastic game, but the 58 kills Texas came up with made the Wildcats feel like they had to make two kills just to win a single point.
"The one thing I did not expect tonight was Texas to play the floor defense they did tonight, we hit some rockets and they came up with them and that was probably the difference in the match," Skinner said.
UK, though, was undeterred by Texas' defensive effort.
"That's something we see in practice every day," junior setter Christine Hartmann said. "We weren't expecting it, but it is something that we could hang with. It wasn't going to stop us, it wasn't going to take us down by 10 points in the game, it was never going to get that bad."
The Wildcats' hitters simply kept coming and managed a combined 62 kills. Frazier (16 kills), freshman outside hitter Lauren O'Conner (12), senior middle blocker Becky Pavan (12) and senior middle blocker (11) led the UK attack and all hit at a clip of at least .306.
"You have to give a lot of credit to our hitters because they kept swinging and they didn't stop," Klefot said. "Any team could have folded at that point where they keep digging the ball. The hitters kept after it and we wouldn't have done so well without them in this game."
UK also very easily could have folded after dropping that crushing third set. After all the effort the Cats had expended to save four set points, losing the game 27-25 could have easily broken a weaker team. Kentucky, though, kept battling in an equally hard-fought fourth.
"There's no way this team was going to give up, absolutely no way," Skinner said. "They are so tough and resilient. As an athlete, you need to be in the moment and there is no team that has done that better than this group. They were so focused and intent on winning this particular point that I wasn't worried how we'd respond after the third set. We had to make more plays than Texas and we just fell a little short."
An emotional Skinner had trouble coming to grips with the fact that he wouldn't get to coach a team he enjoyed so much because of their dedication and selflessness, but the memories he'll keep from this season don't figure to fade.
"I want to thank my team and staff, it's a hell of a group," Skinner said. "I think the hardest part is being in the locker room after your last loss, especially when you have a group like this that has huge hearts and huge ability. None of us wanted the season to end."
The 2011 season may be ending, but the future that lays ahead for Kentucky volleyball is bright and it doesn't take someone involved in the program to see that.
"It was a heavyweight fight," Elliott said. "Craig Skinner has done an amazing job here. We've been friends for a long time and he was one of the great assistants at Nebraska when they made their great runs and I knew he would build this program to be a contender and tonight showed how well disciplined they were and their fight."
UK may not have come away with a victory on this night, but the passion the fans showed in supporting their team and the quality of volleyball played in Memorial were two steps in the right direction that could set the stage for plenty of victorious nights in the future.
"I think that's about as high a level of volleyball as you can play," Skinner said. "If you aren't excited to play in front of a crowd like that and with a group that puts their heart and soul into the game then I'd be stunned. We're on the right path and we have to continue to take steps forward and this team is so motivated that I'm not worried that won't happen."
Marquis Teague will play in his first collegiate road game on Saturday against Indiana. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
A week ago, the Kentucky Wildcats played in exactly the kind of environment that makes high level college basketball so special. The eighth-largest crowd in Rupp Arena history was on hand for UK's 73-72 win over North Carolina with its emotions plainly visible (and audible) throughout.
The young Kentucky team had experienced Rupp before, but not with the kind of electricity that pulsed throughout the building from the opening tip to the final buzzer as during the victory over UNC. The Cats won't have to wait long to experience another similar atmosphere, but the one they'll enter on Saturday in Assembly Hall won't be nearly so friendly.
With their Indiana team off to an 8-0 start for the first time since 2002-03 and a bitter rival coming to Bloomington, Ind., the Hoosier faithful will assuredly be just as boisterous as the Big Blue fans were last Saturday.
"It will be like the one we played in when we had North Carolina here," head coach John Calipari said. "It will be the same kind of environment. They've got great fans and they're going to be all over it. They've got a team that's doing well, undefeated. It should be a festive crowd I would say."
When No. 1 Kentucky (8-0) and Indiana tip off at 5:15 p.m. Saturday on ESPN, the fans in attendance will be silent or booing when the young Wildcats are used to hearing cheers. When things don't go UK's way, it will be to the pleasure of the 17,000-plus gathered in Assembly Hall.
Calipari's seven- and occasionally eight-man rotation featuring four freshmen and two sophomores has played on big stages already in Rupp and Madison Square Garden, but Saturday's experience is going to be an entirely new one. Consequently, Calipari doesn't see the game as a measuring stick for what his team will be at the end of the season, rather a way for him to find out where the Cats are right now.
"This is a learning opportunity for us," Calipari said. "Last year we were not good on the road. We just weren't. We beat South Carolina on the road but they had struggled. Everybody else on the road, we couldn't beat anybody. This shows us where we are."
UK had a 3-7 record on the road a season ago, including a 2-6 mark in Southeastern Conference away games. Far from a must-win game in his eyes, Calipari sees the Indiana game as a chance to see what he needs to focus on with his team before January.
"We have some time," Calipari said. "We have a month to get it right before we start playing league games on the road."
Since his four freshmen have never been a part of a collegiate road game and have played 50.7 percent of the team's minutes, it's been up to Calipari and his more veteran players to try to impart to the youngsters what they'll be facing. His approach has been a simple one, but there's no knowing whether his team will be able to put it into practice until the game actually starts.
"All we have to do is try to play a good ballgame," Calipari said. "It's going to be hard. We know it's hard. I'm trying to explain to them how you have to play to win on the road, but me saying it and them doing it are two different things."
Senior guard Darius Miller is the only player on the active roster to have taken the floor in Assembly Hall, so he's made sure to communicate to his teammates just what they'll be in for. He played 17 minutes in UK's 90-73 win over an Indiana team that had a 10-21 record that year, but kept the game against the Wildcats much closer than they had any business doing, largely spurred by the home crowd.
"It's tough because a lot of teams feed off their fans," Miller said. "They play out of their minds, especially at Indiana with their fans cheering the way they do. I saw that two years ago when we had a tough game up there."
UK led by just one point in that game at halftime, but this year's IU team bears little resemblance to that one from a couple season ago. The Hoosiers are still unranked, but their perfect start through eight games under Tom Crean has reenergized a fan base desperate to return to the national limelight.
The most important factor in their emergence this season has been the play of freshman forward Cody Zeller, the brother of UNC's Tyler. At 6-foot-11, 230 pounds, the younger Zeller is averaging 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds and he leads the team in both categories. Star UK freshman Anthony Davis is the nation's second-leading shot blocker, but Calipari expects Crean to call Zeller's number early and often to test the UK interior.
"First of all, they'll go with Cody," Calipari said. "They're going to run any kind of power game they can and they're going to see exactly if we can guard them inside."
Against Tyler, UK opted to send double teams whenever he received the ball in the post, but IU has the ability to punish the Cats for that kind of approach. The Hoosiers surround Cody Zeller with capable outside shooters, led by junior Jordan Hulls, who has hit 15-of-28 (53.6 percent) of his attempts from beyond the arc so far this season.
"The good news for them is if we do anything leaving men, all their perimeter men shoot the ball well so it's going to be a tough challenge on what we do," Calipari said.
IU will also do anything it can to disrupt a Kentucky offense that has been shaky in the half-court at times. Calipari mentioned the possibility of the Hoosiers backing off freshman point guard Marquis Teague, daring him to shoot, while also not ruling out any possible looks Crean, Calipari's close friend, could use.
"Anytime I've coached against Tom, you've got to be ready because he'll throw some junk defenses," Calipari said. "You better be ready for a triangle and two, he may throw a box and one, they'll throw some zone. One year we went up there and they hadn't played any zone until we went in town and they played all zone."
However IU attacks him, Teague is going to be facing possibly the most difficult set of challenges of anyone on the floor. He's an Indianapolis native, who disappointed plenty of hometown fans by opting to wear blue and white instead of cream and crimson and many of them figure to let him know about it Saturday. Teague has shown discipline in committing just five turnovers against 22 assists his last five games, but he's going to be called upon to display even more of that in a tough situation.
"It's going to be hard," Calipari said. "It's going to be a tough challenge. You don't want to get in the back and forth: 'You scored on me and now I'm scoring on you.' You can't do that, not in these kinds of games. It's all going to be new to him. It's his first time in that building, it's his first time in a true road game. It's going to be hard."
Teague knows all about how Indiana fans feel about Kentucky from growing up there, so he at least has an inkling of what he's in for. He also attended Hoosier games as a youngster, but this time all the eyes will be on him.
"I've been there my whole life so I know how much they hate us," Teague said. "It's a big rivalry and I know how this game is going to be. It's going to be very intense."
The combination of IU's momentum, the fans' exuberance and the inexperience of Kentucky has led many experts to pick the Hoosiers to pull the upset and end UK's reign atop the polls. Calipari has been sure to point that fact out to his team as motivation but, at the same time, he understands why people are saying it.
"We haven't been on the road yet," Calipari said. "We're a young team with three freshmen and two sophomores. It's an easy pick."
Even so, those prognostications are nothing more than conjecture. Few could have predicted the Cats could take North Carolina's best shot and live to tell about it, committing just nine turnovers along the way. Just like the UNC game, Calipari is sure to learn about his team either way.
Orlando Antigua is in his third season as an assistant coach at UK. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Orlando Antigua is in his third season as an assistant coach under John Calipari at Kentucky. UK fans are familiar with seeing him on the sideline and they know all about the role he plays in the three consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes the Wildcats have had, but since he and the other assistants don't often speak with the media, not as much is known about him off the court.
The story talks about how Antigua survived being shot as an innocent bystander and how he overcame the experience to play at Pittsburgh and for the Harlem Globetrotters. Eventually, the piece discusses how his coaching career got started.
The run with the high-profile Globetrotters gave Antigua the exposure to make the transition to coaching. He got his break with his alma mater Panthers and later joined the coaching staff of the Memphis Tigers.
That's where he joined Calipari. Nowadays, aside from teaching the X's and O's alongside Calipari, Antigua plays the role of a big brother, motivating youngsters on the team who are usually thousands of miles away from their families, whether they need guidance in the classrooms, on the court or off the court.
He clearly uses his second chance at being alive to push them.
"I especially use it because everyone, when you're living, you're going to have obstacles that you have to overcome. Be it a bullet to the head or an ankle injury or a knee injury, people are going to have things, obstacles to overcome," said Antigua. "The motivation and the focus that you put towards it, it's where you have to ability to overcome that obstacle. I understand that's where the power of the human being is."
Valerie Still is the leader among all Wildcats -- men or women -- in career scoring (2,763) and rebounding (1,525).
This summer, we posted a feature on Valerie Still, the all-time leading scorer in Kentucky basketball history, both men's and women's. The piece was an update on everything Still has done after her stellar career as a Wildcat, but one thing that was not mentioned was the new career she was beginning as an author.
Still's first project is a children's series called Still Alive on the Underground Railroad and it will be released this month. The book tells the story of the Still family's arrival in America nearly 400 years ago and the involvement of Still's ancestors in the Underground Railroad.
Still will be in Lexington next Wednesday on Dec. 14 for a book signing at Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Lexington as 500 copies of a limited collector's edition will be available. Still now lives in Kansas, so this is an opportunity to see and support one of UK's all-time greats.
Kentucky volleyball takes on No. 1 overall seed Texas in the Sweet 16 at 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum. (Patrick Murphy Racey, UK Athletics)
All season long, the Kentucky volleyball team sensed something special in itself.
The Wildcats battled back from a trying 2-2 start to the 2011 campaign to win match after match and establish themselves as contenders for a conference title. There was one obstacle left to overcome though.
The final hurdle wasn't a highly-ranked opponent or a tough road environment. It wasn't an injury to a key player or some team chemistry issue.
Against Arkansas on Nov. 20, the Cats fell behind by two sets before winning the final three. On that day, UK learned one last lesson.
"We talked after the Arkansas game, when we went five and won on senior night," senior outside hitter Ann Armes said. "I told them how proud I was of them and I knew from that point on that we have nothing to fear."
Whether the lesson had really sunk in was immediately tested.
Armes and company could have been afraid when they found out they would have to hit the road for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament just a week later. They could have been afraid when their tournament lives were on the line down two sets to one against Dayton. They could have been afraid when they had to face Texas A&M on its home floor with a berth in the Sweet 16 up for grabs.
They never wavered.
Craig Skinner's team passed every test applied to their new fearless approach in the NCAA Tournament's first two rounds. The reward: a match against No. 1 overall seed Texas at 7 p.m. on Friday in Memorial Coliseum.
But with everything they've been through, the Wildcats aren't about to wilt now.
"If we can come back from that and all the things that we've been able to do in the past, we have nothing to fear," Armes said. "Fear comes from an external source. We shouldn't fear Texas, we shouldn't fear Ole Miss, we shouldn't fear Arkansas."
There's no doubt Kentucky will have to play well to knock off the Longhorns, even with a raucous home crowd behind them. There's also no doubt in the minds of the players and coaches that they're capable of doing just that.
"Outside of our travel group of twenty-four, there are very few people that think Kentucky will beat Texas," Skinner said. "I know (Texas head) coach (Jerritt) Elliott's been around long enough and he respects what we have to do and we respect Texas. Everyone's got to play well."
The Wildcats also happen to have the full attention of the Longhorns, especially their coach.
"I think Kentucky is one the most balanced teams we have played all year long," Elliott said. "They may have the best balance of any team that we have played. They also have exceptional ball control, and are probably the best passing team that we have played all season."
That balance and ball control will be sternly tested by a Texas offense ranked fifth in the nation with a hitting percentage of .286 and a set of blockers averaging 2.81 per set (10th nationally). Sophomore Bailey Webster leads the way with 2.82 kills per set at a .339 clip and earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors.
Like the Cats, Texas struggled out of the gate, losing three of its first five matches before winning 22 of 23, including the last 16 in a row.
"All year long we have been preaching patience and getting better," Elliott said. "I knew that they would be at this point later in the year. I knew that there was some urgency on their faces early, but I wanted them to get back in the gym and learn what we were doing to get confident in our system and be disciplined."
So, what will it take it take to beat the top-seeded team in the bracket? According to Skinner, the Cats will rely on a combination of factors, ranging from the close-knit nature of his team to simply doing the little things to the Memorial crowd.
"We call it small ball, being able to do the little things and keep the ball off the floor," Skinner said. "We play hard and with great effort. We also play pretty physical. We have a lot of people that can play high above the net. I think the combination, the way we go about things, how hard we want to play, and the intangible aspect of the crowd and your home environment. We have to play into that. We have everything to gain by playing in this regional."
The regional has been a long time coming. UK earned the right to host in Jan. 2010 and the Cats saw the bid itself as an investment into what Skinner and the players were building. In turn, the team saw that commitment as further motivation.
"That support and that amount of responsibility didn't go unnoticed," Pavan said. "It meant a lot of us to know that (Athletics Director) Mitch Barnhart and everyone in administration thought that we would be able to get here and play at home in the Sweet Sixteen."
That investment could not have paid off any more than it has. Not only did the Wildcats earn the right to play at home by playing well all season and in the tournament, but the overall quality of teams playing this weekend in Lexington is more befitting of a Final Four than a regional.
"We know it's going to be a very challenging regional, I personally feel it's the toughest regional in all the four brackets," Elliott said. "I think a good team is going to come out of here."
Texas, No. 8 seed Penn State and No. 9 seed UCLA have all been ranked No. 1 in the country at some point during the season. The three teams have combined to win nine national championships between them and the level of volleyball that is expected to be played in Memorial can only help in the development of Lexington and Kentucky as burgeoning volleyball hotspots.
"It's really a stage for the people in this area that haven't been associated with volleyball to understand this is big-time stuff," Skinner said. "I think when you see that type of athleticism, you see that type of competition it inspires younger players that maybe playing different sports to try out volleyball. The ticket sales are going unbelievable and to me that's a great credit to our administration to really put a lot of emphasis and effort to make volleyball a sport that means something here."
As much as the high level of competition could inspire young athletes to get involved in volleyball, it also makes it pretty tough on the four teams looking to win the regional and advance to the Final Four. Skinner, though, believes winning difficult matches is what it's all about at this stage of the season.
Like his team, he's not afraid.
"Every regional is hard," Skinner said. "You can talk about seeding, you can talk about records, I mean when you get to this point everybody is good and you have to bring you're 'A' game. When you get to regionals you have to expect great competition. I know we have a tough match, and UCLA vs. Penn State is a tough match. You look at all the other regionals and they all have their own set of problems, and it's about making the most of it. Everyone has a lot to gain and nothing to lose."
Kentucky and Indiana started playing regularly in the 1970 season and between that game and the one in 1999, there were 19 contests that were decided by five or fewer points.
But since then, only once has the margin been five or fewer (a 59-54 UK win in 2006) and only twice has the margin been under 14 points. In the last four years, the average margin of victory (three wins for the Cats, one for the Hooisers) has been just over 18 points per game.
With both teams going into tomorrow's matchup undefeated, most believe there's a better chance of one of those good ol' UK-IU barnburners.
My broadcast partner, Mike Pratt, was a senior when this series became an annual deal in December, 1969 so he knows well the rich history of this rivalry. But current players only know how the Indiana program has struggled in the wake of the Kelvin Sampson fiasco.
"Youngsters nowadays, it's a three or four-year window and (during that time), Indiana has not been very good. But you have a responsibility as a number one-ranked team to come to play every game. Fear no one, respect everyone--if you take that approach, you'll be fine," said Pratt.
Indiana's best win to this point is a road victory over NC State but the 8-0 start has the Hooiser Nation dreaming of a return to the glory days. Calipari knows that the Hooisers will look at this game as a chance to make a "statement" to the nation and Pratt says the UK players better not to expect to say the same ol' Indiana.
"I've watched them a couple of times and I'm really impressed. His (Tom Crean's )young players have really matured and this kid, (Cody) Zeller, is going to be a terrific player," Pratt observed. "He (Zeller) has tremendous upside. He's more athletic (than his brother, Tyler, at North Carolina). He seems to find himself on the perimeter more than his brother. He'll set that high pick-and-roll, he'll pick-and-pop (back for the jumper). He's very agile. And he runs the floor like his brother."
Pratt anticipates a "tempo game," with Indiana trying to keep the game in the 60's while Kentucky will be looking to score in the 80's. And he says it'll be important for Kentucky's defense to clamp down early, because a flurry of early three's would "ignite that crowd."
Each season, Calipari invites his longtime friend and noted sports psychologist Bob Rotella to visit with the team. That happened last week, prior to the matchup with St. John's.
"One of the things Bob does better than anybody is create a picture of what you want to be and then (you) go chase it. (He) told them you have to do it for each other, be selfless. Just do the mundane things well and you become unbeatable," Calipari explained in his pregame interview on the UK radio network.
"He said 'you're all stars but do you want to be champions?' I think that got their attention," Calipari added. "The only thing you have to worry about is the day-to-day grind of getting better."
That reminds of a great line that former Kentucky football Hal Mumme had about "the monotony of greatness." He asked me to imagine how many times the Eagles had to play Hotel California so that it sounded great the one time I heard it in a concert. Athletes, too, have to work on the same drills and skills day after day in practice so that they can become great.
Doron Lamb is on pace to set a career record for three-point accuracy at Kentucky. He's presenting hitting three's at a 49 percent clip. Cameron Mills, super sub for the 1998 national championship team, set the standard at 47 percent for his four-year career.
Freshman Azia Bishop had 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in a 72-65 win over No. 6/5 Duke in Rupp Arena. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Amber Smith has seen a lot in her five years at Kentucky and has been a part of the program's rise to national prominence. In fact, it's exactly why she came to Lexington in the first place.
As she walked off the floor of Rupp Arena on Thursday night, the senior point guard couldn't help but stop and think about the big picture. She had just been a part of a showcase for UK Hoops. The Wildcats played their signature fast-paced, high-pressure brand of basketball and it carried them to a 72-65 win over No. 6/5 Duke with a record-setting crowd loudly lending their support.
When Smith looked out on the 14,508 that filled Rupp Arena, she took a moment to pause and consider just how special it all was.
"I thought about that today," Smith said. "I came to Kentucky to change this program around. To see it and be a part of it and have it happen in front of my eyes is just awesome."
Smith has been a part of many big wins in her time at Kentucky, but this one feels just a bit different. She listened as assistant coach Kyra Elzy told the team about what beating Duke could mean and now that the Cats have done it, she understands what she was talking about.
"It just says so much about this program," Smith said. "Coach Elzy said this would be a program changer, and I think it is. It just shows you can't come into Kentucky and say, 'Oh that's an easy win.' You have to fight and when we play at home it's real tough to beat us."
Junior guard A'dia Mathies, who scored a season and game-high 23 points, hasn't been a part of program for quite as long as Smith, but it doesn't feel that way to her. The Louisville native was a fan before she stepped on campus and couldn't be more excited to be a part of it.
"It's really amazing," Mathies said. "I was watching the program when they were winning half their games or being below .500. To be considered a top team in the nation and to beat top teams in the nation, it's very humbling. I'm very proud I'm at this school."
Guard Bria Goss is new to the whole thing. The freshman poured in a career-high 19 points and the chance to play in this kind of game was exactly why she opted to follow in the footsteps of Smith and Mathies.
"I grew up watching basketball, watching these good teams and big games like this," Goss said. "I couldn't be happier with the turnout of the crowd. Kentucky, by far, has the best fans for men's and women's basketball and I think we set the tone tonight."
A matchup between two top-ten teams, Kentucky vs. Duke was expected to be a marquee game, but playing it in Rupp was not without its risks for UK. The Wildcats are very comfortable on their home floor in Memorial Coliseum and a change of scenery could have prevented them from playing the best game. Additionally, if the Big Blue Nation didn't come out in droves to support the Cats, venerable but cavernous Rupp Arena could have actually been a home court disadvantage.
Instead, Mitchell decided to place faith in both his players and his fans. He approached the evening as an opportunity to advance the program and neither his team nor his fan base disappointed in the least.
"That was the whole key tonight, was this opportunity," Mitchell said. "You don't want your kids to play tight. We didn't really talk about it, but that was in my mind, boy, just hoped we could play well. If we could find a way to win, you capitalize on a moment like this and you just try to continue to build and create energy."
The result was nearly 15,000 fans who left the downtown arena buzzing and countless more watching on television, elated but disappointed they had not come out to support their team. Luckily, those that were left out will have plenty of opportunities the rest of season in Memorial, which figures to be rocking for more than a few Southeastern Conference games this winter and early spring.
"I just encourage everybody to come back and everybody see us play and this is just one of many and we are just going to keep going from here," Goss said. "This isn't where we are going to stop. We just have to keep having our fans and just keep having that support and I feel like our outcome is just going to be great."
Mathies and Goss were electrifying on the big stage, hitting 3-pointers, making steals and flying around the court. Their play, combined with freshman forward Azia Bishop's 12-point, 11-rebound double-double in just 19 minutes, should give fans plenty of incentive to continue providing that support, and maybe more.
"I hope that it brings out more fans for women's basketball to see that our games are just as exciting as the men's games," Mathies said. "Hopefully we can carry this forward and use this momentum the rest of the season."
Mitchell, who has proved himself to be somewhat of a marketing whiz, expects that support to continue with a performance like the one his team turned in against Duke.
"The win is the best marketing tool we can ever have, is win a game like this," Mitchell said. "I think people will come back."
There could be many more such wins in store as well. With a pair of freshmen in Goss and Bishop still getting their feet underneath them at the college level and two more McDonald's All-Americans ready to hit the floor soon in Samarie Walker (eligible next week after transferring from UConn) and Jennifer O'Neill (recovering from foot surgery), the immediate and distant future looks even brighter.
"There's no ceiling (for this team)," Smith said. "We have a lot of depth and we haven't played our best yet. That's scary."
Senior guard Keyla Snowden led UK with 15 points in a 54-48 defeat against Duke last season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
A simple look at the roster will tell you just about everything you need to know about the Duke frontcourt. With seven of their nine top players measuring six feet or taller, the Blue Devils are long, powerful and capable of dominating the interior in most any game they play.
Kentucky, on the other hand, starts just one player over six feet. Matthew Mitchell has relied primarily on a four-guard lineup this season, opting for a quick unit capable of playing the kind of high-pressure, up-tempo game that has become the Wildcats' signature.
In spite of the disparity in size and strength between the smaller lineup Mitchell has relied on so far this year and Duke's size, he isn't about to change the way he does business. All he's worried about is the five players he sends to the floor giving maximum effort.
"We will go four guards if we have to," Mitchell said. "Our whole thing is we have to have five people playing extremely hard. If we have four guards or five guards or five post players, you better play your tail off because that's really the only chance we have of winning."
No. 10 UK (8-0) and No. 6/5 Duke (6-1) are set to face off at 6 p.m. Thursday evening in Rupp Arena. The Blue Devils would likely prefer a more half-court oriented game in which their size could wear down the Wildcats, but UK has intention of allowing that to pass.
"We cannot allow them to walk the ball up the court, get into an offense and throw the ball into and of their post players, especially Elizabeth Williams," Mitchell said. "We definitely need for the tempo to be fast."
Mitchell called Williams, a freshman center, one of the best post players UK will face all season. She leads the Blue Devils in points (11.9 per game) and rebounding (9.4 per game) and was not even on the floor when the Duke interior imposed its will on the Cats a season ago. UK managed to hang around in last year's game in Durham, N.C., in spite of being outrebounded 52-37 and allowing 27 offensive boards in a 54-48 defeat. The Cats fell behind 31-22 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, fighting back to take a 48-46 lead on an A'dia Mathies layup with under three minutes to play before Duke scored the final six points en route to a six-point victory.
"I was proud of how they battled in the second half," Mitchell said. "We really had a chance to win the game after a tough first half. That was a physical, physical basketball game and it was not a thing of beauty at all."
Evaluating the tape from that game has been a part of UK's preparation for the rematch and the main lesson for the Cats is that they need to bring a full 40 minutes of intensity to knock off the Blue Devils. Come Thursday, Mitchell will demand his team is ferocious in applying ball pressure.
"We take a lot away from it as you go back and review it," Mitchell said. "We just didn't do enough of what we needed to do from a defensive pressure standpoint. They were so big and they just destroyed us on the boards. Especially in the first half, I didn't feel like we competed that great."
If UK is lax again in terms of ball pressure, Duke could make the Wildcats pay. Mitchell believes the best way to counter a team that likes to throw into the post is to make it as difficult as possible to get to the point where those passes can be made. By forcing turnovers and contesting those entry passes, the Cats give themselves the best chance of successfully combating the Blue Devils' massive and skilled frontcourt.
"It was rough and as I went back and looked at it, we just never got enough pressure on the ball," Mitchell said of last year's game. "If we don't get a lot of pressure on the ball and they can just throw it in to their interior players, we'll have a tough time winning the game."
Senior guard Keyla Snowden, who scored 15 points in last year's matchup with Duke, wholeheartedly agrees with her coach. Some teams might rely on double teaming or fronting their opponents in the post, but that won't be UK's main mode of attack.
"Put a lot of pressure on the ball," Snowden said, when asked how UK will defend the Duke forwards and centers. "I think that will help us with our post defense as well. Coach always tells us that on-ball defense is the best defense and I think that's going to help us out a lot for this game."
Pressuring the ball also will help the Wildcats as they try to avoid the kind of slow-paced game Duke would likely prefer. If it does turn into an exclusively half-court affair, UK could be in trouble.
"They have a lot of depth and they have a very imposing front line and it would concern me greatly if we get into a slow, grind-it-out, half-court game because they are very powerful," Mitchell said.
The partisans who will be in attendance at Rupp on Thursday certainly won't mind UK trying to up the tempo. The Big Blue Faithful are accustomed to seeing John Calipari's Cats run up-and-down the floor in the venerable arena, but UK Hoops is taking a turn this week. Tickets to the game can still be purchased in advance for just $1 apiece from the UK Ticket Office by calling 1-800-928-CATS and Mitchell is expecting an energetic crowd.
"I can't impress upon people who support our program how much they can help tomorrow night if they'll buy a ticket and show up," Mitchell said. "If we have a huge crowd that's behind our players, our players really feed off the energy."
The Wildcats love their normal home floor of Memorial Coliseum and wouldn't trade it for any, but they're ready to put on a show downtown.
"Memorial is our home, but given the opportunity play at Rupp, we're really excited," Snowden said. "We're going to come out and show the fans just how excited we are to play there."
Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects in the class of 2011 according to Rivals. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Yahoo! Sports posted an article this morning tracking the progress of the 26 players rated as five-star prospects in the class of 2011. John Calipari signed four of the players ranked in the top 22 by Rivals, so Kentucky was the most talked-about team in the piece.
Here is what Yahoo! had to say about UK's four freshman: 2. Kentucky F Anthony Davis Season averages: 12.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 4.5 blocks, 27.5 minutes Buzz: Davis frequently is mentioned as a potential No. 1 overall pick in next year's NBA draft. He has spent the first part of his freshman season showing why scouts think so much of him. He nearly recorded a triple-double against St. John's: 15 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks. He already has three double-doubles and ranks second nationally in blocks. 3. Kentucky F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Season averages: 12.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.1 blocks, 29.4 minutes Buzz: Kidd-Gilchrist delivered perhaps the best performance of his young career Saturday with 17 points and 11 rebounds in a 73-72 victory over North Carolina. He scored in double figures in six of UK's first eight games. Kidd-Gilchrist also has pulled down at least nine rebounds in four of those games.
5. Kentucky G Marquis Teague Season averages: 10.3 points, 4.1 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 30.1 minutes Buzz: Teague has been a bit up-and-down. He committed six turnovers each against Kansas and Old Dominion. But he has taken better care of the ball lately. Over his past four games, Teague has 22 assists and only five turnovers. Teague's shooting has been inconsistent. He was 9-of-32 from the floor in his past three games. 22. Kentucky F Kyle Wiltjer Season averages: 6.4 points, 3.0 rebounds Buzz: Wiltjer has been one of the odd men out as Calipari has favored a shorter rotation. Wiltjer has been the seventh man off the bench. When he has played extended minutes, Wiltjer has produced. In 28 minutes against Penn State, he scored 19 points.
Volleyball will playing in Sweet 16 beginning Friday, while Matthew Mitchell's basketball team is ranked in the top 10 nationally and facing No. 6/5 Duke in Rupp Arena Thursday evening. The two teams follow the strong seasons of Jon Lipsitz's soccer team (first NCAA Tournament in five years) and Rachel Lawson's softball Cats (advanced to NCAA Super Regionals this spring).
In particular, Clay discusses the relationship between Mitchell and volleyball head coach Craig Skinner's, whose offices are both located in the Joe Craft Center:
Both coaches have rebuilt programs that had fallen on hard times.
After two straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, including an Elite Eight berth in 2010, Mitchell now boasts a top-10 team. Skinner is making his seventh straight NCAA tourney appearance since arriving on campus in 2005.
"Craig and I are good friends and we're in closer proximity with our offices so we have a little bit closer relationship," Mitchell said. "He and I are spending a lot of time together and talk about the different things that go on, so there is a real sense of community here at Kentucky.
"And I credit Mr. (Mitch) Barnhart for that. He cares just as much about what's happening with the soccer team as he does with the softball team," Mitchell said. "It's a lot of fun to be a part of, I can tell you that."
In the video above, ESPN's Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale discuss what they've seen so far this college basketball season. Shulman asks Vitale which team has most impressed him so far and John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats are his pick.
Also, if you missed it earlier this week, Vitale gave out weekly awards to UK as the Team of the Week and Anthony Davis as the Diaper Dandy of the Week.
Senior guard Darius Miller will participate in a live chat hosted by Cat Scratches and CoachCal.com on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
UPDATE: Due to a scheduling conflict, Thursday's live chat with Darius Miller has been postponed until further notice. We will attempt to reschedule a new day and time for Miller to answer questions from fans and we apologize to all those who had planned to join.
On Thursday, Cat Scratches and CoachCal.com will be joined by men's basketball senior guard Darius Miller for a special live chat. Beginning at 1 p.m., fans will be able to submit questions and comments to be answered by Miller.
Fans are encouraged to send questions and comments for Miller by clicking on the live blog application at 1 p.m. Thursday, pending approval by the moderator. We expect a large number of participants, so please be patient if your submission is not immediately approved. We will try to get to as many as possible throughout the session.
Miller has been a key cog as the sixth man for the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats through their perfect 8-0 start to the season. The Maysville, Ky., native is averaging 9.0 points per game this year and is second on the team with 25 assists.
In preparation for the NCAA Volleyball Regionals to be played on Friday and Saturday, a Sport Court was installed in Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday morning. Take a look at this time-lapse video of the installation.
It's been a little quiet early this week with men's and women's basketball having a few days without games, but things are about to pick up with a busy weekend upcoming for both basketball teams as well as volleyball.
No. 10 UK Hoops gets it all started with a marquee matchup against the No. 6/5 Duke Blue Devils on Thursday at 6 p.m. in Rupp Arena. If you haven't heard already, the Wildcats are trying to "Pack the House" for the Rupp game and a great crowd is expected. If you are interested in attending, tickets purchased ahead of time are just $1. Call the UK ticket office at 1-800-928-CATS to buy them. Matthew Mitchell will be speaking to the media this afternoon about the matchup, so keep an eye out for video and a story later today.
Volleyball continues its run in the NCAA Tournament on Friday at 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum, facing off against the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, the Texas Longhorns. Craig Skinner will be talking about the match at a press conference on Thursday afternoon and we'll have full coverage. For complete information about this weekend's regional games, make sure to visit Tourney Central.
Men's basketball will have its No. 1 ranking tested in a big way on Saturday against the Indiana Hoosiers (8-0). The Wildcats will be heading to Bloomington, Ind., for their first true road game of the season and John Calipari's team may not play in a tougher environment all season, as the Hoosier faithful are approaching this game like it's the biggest of the season. Watch for more coverage as the week goes on.
"I'm not trying to live up to them. I'm just trying to do what I can do, to the best of my ability. I just want to win a national championship."
That is the mindset of Marquis Teague, the latest John Calipari-coached point guard, who no doubt will get compared to the likes of Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight. Saturday, Teague returns to his home state when the Wildcats face undefeated Indiana in Bloomington.
"He's not as gifted athletically as Rose or Wall but those two guys are among the best athletes who have ever played the position. What he does to better than those guys and better than most point guards of the past 15 years or so (is pass)," Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy said in a preseason interview on "The Leach Report" radio show. "I'd put Teague in the top five or 10 passers that I've seen entering college basketball. He really has great vision and now he's got great talent around him. It should really empower him."
On his weekly radio show Monday night, Calipari reinterated his confidence that Teague will ultimately make the kind of progress that those other point guards did (and most, if not all of them struggled at times early in the season). Calipari said he's spending more time with Teague, to get him to "think differently" about the position. Among the areas that the coach wants Teague address are shooting too quickly and mastering the pace of the game.
One of the players with whom Teague quickly developed a strong bond is his backcourt runningmate. And Doron Lamb, one of the players who figures to benefit from Teague's ability to blow past his man on the dribble.
"We got great chemistry. When I first got here in the summer, he was teaching me the Dribble Drive (system). It feels like we've been playing together a long time. I know where he's going to be and he knows what I'm going to do. I want to give it to him because I know that's an assist 'cause he's going to know it down," Teague said.
Jarred Quarles coached Teague's AAU in Indianapolis and he says Calipari's system provides a perfect match.
"Marcus Teague is a point guard that is built for the Dribble Drive like a Derrick Rose and a John Wall," Quarles said. "He (Marcus) is a dribble drive point guard. He makes guys around him better.
"He is athletic like a Derrick Rose. He is quick like a John Wall but makes great decisions like a Chris Paul. He is a little like everybody. He has been able to watch so many great players, his brother (Jeff) is a point guard in the league so, he has been soaking all things in and waiting to get his chance," noted Quarles, adding that Calipari's track record with point guards was main reason why Teague chose to play at Kentucky.
"He feels that Coach Calipari can take his game to the next level and make him play hard and teach him everything that he needs to know about college basketball," Quarles said.
According to various recruiting pundits, Teague falls somewhere between Wall's athleticism and Brandon Knight's perimeter shooting on the spectrum of point guard skills. Better than Knight in going to the rim and better than Wall with the outside J.
And he likes playing defense, too.
"I take pride in my defense," Teague said.
Calipari has praised Teague's work ethic in the weight room, noting that he's so strong he'll have to be careful about picking up fouls. But while Teague embraces that part of the UK conditioning program, he's no fan of the running. Nevertheless, he's answering the call there, too.
'The conditioning, that kills me. I didn't know it was that tough. It's a whole different level," Teague said. "I want to be a great player. I'm in the gym as much as I can (be). Just doing anything I can to make sure I'm ready for the season."
Quarles knows that part of the preparation is vital because of the demands Teague will face this winter.
"Adjusting to the wear and tear of a college season will be one of the adjustments. Playing in more games, playing at a high level of competition every night, and just adjusting to the college game will be an adjustment for a kid," the coach said, "but I don't think it will be that hard for him to do."
Ditto for adjusting to life in the spotlight at UK.
"I don't think it is anything different than what has been going on except for that it is at a national level," Quarles said. "He has been known on the national scene for a long time now."
Nearly two years ago when Kentucky learned it would host an NCAA Regional for the first time in school history in 2011, it was a signal of just how far volleyball had come in the Bluegrass with Craig Skinner at the helm of the UK program.
"We are really excited to be hosting one of the four 2011 Regionals," Skinner said in February 2010. "To be selected through the bid process of the NCAA, shows a lot of respect for our program and recent success. Our administration has been very proactive in hosting NCAA events and I want to thank them for their willingness to put on an event of this magnitude."
At the time, Skinner didn't know just how big of an event would be taking place in Memorial Coliseum.
Not only will UK be getting the chance to play the Sweet 16 in its own building on Friday at 7 p.m., but the Wildcats will be joined by three titans of college volleyball that make the three matches to be played this weekend feel more like a Final Four than a regional. Here are the four schools who will take the floor: Kentucky (28-5)
The Wildcats may not have earned a national seed as their three counterparts in the Lexington regional, but they've certainly played like one. UK finished second in the Southeastern Conference and is fresh off arguably its best performance of the season: a 3-0 sweep of No. 16 Texas A&M on the Aggies' home floor. No. 1 Texas (24-4)
The NCAA Tournament's No. 1 overall seed, the Longhorns were dominant in advancing to the Sweet 16 with wins over Texas State and Michigan State. Texas lost three matches in a row to start the season, but has gone 24-1 since and sports a 17-game winning streak entering the matchup with UK on Friday. No. 8 Penn State (25-7)
The Nittany Lions are the four-time defending national champions and not much more needs to be said than that. Led by 33rd-year head coach Russ Rose, Penn State is the only program in the history of college volleyball to win four national titles in a row. PSU swept through its first and second round matches against Liberty and Delaware as the Lions began their drive for five in a row. No. 9 UCLA (26-6)
Under a month ago, the Bruins were the No. 1 team in the nation. Since then, they have lost three matches to Oregon, Arizona and USC but the Bruins remain a contender for the national championship. UCLA lost just one set in wins over Maryland Eastern Shore and San Diego in the tournament's first and second rounds.
Here is this weekend's complete schedule:
Friday, December 9
Match 1, 5:00 p.m. ET: UCLA vs. Penn State Match 2, 7:00 p.m. ET: Kentucky vs. Texas
Saturday, December 10
Match 3, 4:30 p.m. ET Regional Final: Match 1 winner vs. Match 2 winner
You see, Ken Pomeroy released his individual player stats this weekend and it should come as no surprise that I've spent an inordinate amount of time breaking them down. My main conclusion: UK is an even more equal opportunity team than I thought.
Pomeroy uses two statistics to evaluate a player's usage rate: percentage of possessions used (%Poss) and percentage of shots taken (%Shots). The two numbers are fairly self-explanatory, but I'll break them down anyway. First, percentage of possessions used measures how frequently the ball ends up in a players' hands at the end of each possession when he is on the floor, whether by a shot attempted, a turnover committed or an assist. Percentage of shots taken measures how many of his team's shots a player attempts when he is on the floor.
Here is how UK's main rotation players stack up in these two areas, as well as percentage of total minutes played (%Min).
So, UK's seven main contributors are all used roughly one-fifth of the time when they're on the floor. Last time I checked, basketball teams play five players at a time, so that means opportunities are being split almost exactly evenly. It's interesting to note that Kyle Wiltjer actually sees the most opportunities of any player on the team when he does play. Wiltjer, though, plays just over a third of the minutes, while the other six are playing at least 60 percent of the time.
By comparison, Jones and Brandon Knight got the lion's share of the offensive opportunities on last year's team. Both were used on at least 26 percent of the possessions they played and both had a percentage of shots taken of over 26. Two seasons ago, DeMarcus Cousins was used on over 30 percent of UK's possessions, while John Wall was used at a rate of 27.3 percent.
This all goes to prove two things, other than the overall balance of this year's time. First of all, it shows how different of a team this one is. Second, it proves how willing Calipari is to tweak his offensive style to fit his personnel. To further prove that second point, this is the first season Calipari hasn't had at least one player with a usage rate of at least 24.7 percent since Pomeroy began tracking individual statistics in 2005.
Here are a few other observations from Pomeroy's individual statistics:
UK has four guys who are playing at an incredibly high rate of offensive efficiency. Lamb, Davis, Miller and Jones all sport individual offensive ratings of over 117 (with 100 as a rough baseline), which places them all in the top 300 nationally. Lamb leads the way at 133.0, which is in the top 40 among all Division I players playing at least 40 percent of their teams minutes. He was very efficient a season ago at 121.2, but he has cut down on his turnovers, increased his assist rate and is getting to the foul line more often. Miller could potentially raise his efficiency to Lamb's level if he begins to shoot the ball as he's capable of doing. He has improved in nearly every offensive category (two-point percentage, assist rate and turnover rate), but is hitting just 26.1 percent of his 3-pointers after shooting 44.3 percent on 3's a year ago.
Calipari is definitely right about one thing: Terrence Jones is a better player. He may not be playing as many minutes or getting as many touches, but his offensive rating is up from 104.6 to 117.3 and he's shooting better from inside the arc, outside the arc and from the foul line.
The Cats are a much more dangerous defensive team than a year ago. DeAndre Liggins led last year's team with a steal percentage of 2.3, which didn't even rank him among the nation's best 500. This year, five players have a steal rate of at least 2.3 percent, with Teague and Kidd-Gilchrist leading the way at 3.2 percent and 3.1 percent. UK is also an improved shot blocking team with both Davis and Jones ranking in the top 90 nationally in block rate.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Dec. 4:
Volleyball: Whitney Billings
Registered 2.75 kills per set and 3.38 digs per set in a pair of NCAA Tournament wins. She notched a career-high 20 digs in a Wildcat win over Dayton, including posting 11 scoops in the decisive fifth stanza. In the win over Texas A&M she led UK with a season-high 17 kills on a sizzling .400 hitting percentage.
Men's basketball: Anthony Davis
Anthony averaged a double-double on the week helping UK to a 2-0 record with wins over St. John's and No. 5 North Carolina ... Davis started with a 15-point, 15-rebound, eight block effort against St. John's ... His 15 rebounds was the 10th most by a freshmen (tied with several others) ... He swatted a career-high eight blocks, which was tied for second in the Kentucky record books for a single-game; it was a UK freshman single-game record ... Davis pulled down nine rebounds against North Carolina and blocked two shots, giving him multiple blocks in all eight games this season, but none was bigger than his swat on John Henson's game-winning field goal attempt with seven seconds left ... Davis pulled down the rebound to help secure Kentucky's win over the fifth ranked Heels.
Volleyball: Ashley Frazier
Led the Wildcats with 34 kills for a 4.25 kills per set average in two NCAA Tournament victories. Frazier became the first player to post 20 or more kills in a match this season with 20 to help UK escape with a 3-2 victory over Dayton in the opening round. She followed that performance with 14 kills in three frames of action in a victory over Texas A&M. Her .522 hitting percentage against the Aggies matched a career-high.
Women's basketball: Bria Goss
Recorded nine points, five rebounds and two assists in her first collegiate game against a top 10 team.
Tied for third on the team in scoring (9 pts) and second on the team in rebounds (5 rebs) against No. 10 Louisville.
Tied a career high with two made 3-point field goals.
Played a career-high 30 minutes against the Cardinals.
Has started in every game this season and is UK's second-leading scorer as a freshman.
Men's basketball: Terrence Jones
Scored in double figures in back-to-back games and has done so in four straight games helping lead UK to a 2-0 record on the week with wins over St. John's and No. 5 North Carolina ... Tallied a season-high 26 points in win over St. John's ... Tied season highs with nine rebounds and four blocked shots and tied career-high with four steals ... Notched career highs in free-throws made (11) and attempted (16) ... Scored 14 first-half points in win over North Carolina and finished the game with three blocks ... Jones has made a 3-pointer in every game he's attempted one this season ... After scoring a career-low six points vs. Old Dominion, Jones has scored in double figures in each of his last four games
Volleyball: Stephanie Klefot
Totaled 45 digs in the two wins to run her total for the season to 587 which is the new single-season record for the Wildcats. She matched a season-high with 28 digs in a win over Dayton and then posted 17 in the victory over A&M. She also notched the biggest ace of the season. With UK trailing 14-13 in the decisive fifth set against Dayton, Klefot sent a rocket across the net that died just in front of the back-line defense for the match-tying 14th point. UK would go on to score the next two points and win the match behind a 16-14 fifth set.
Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies
Led Kentucky over No. 10/11 Louisville with a season-high tying 20 points, her third 20-point outing of the season
Made a career-high four 3-pointers
Shot over 50 percent from the field against Louisville, including 66.7 percent from 3-point range
Hit 8-of-11 free-throw attempts, for a 72.7 percent clip
Tied a season high with three assists
Played a team-high tying 32 minutes
Volleyball: Lauren O'Conner
Struck for a career-high 18 kills in a Wildcat win over Dayton in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. In UK's win over Texas A&M she posted a career-high five blocks as Kentucky turned back 10.5 combined rejections in the sweep.
Men's basketball - The Wildcats look to carry the momentum of an eight-game winning streak, including a big 73-72 win over fifth ranked North Carolina on Saturday, when they travel to Indiana on Dec. 10 in its lone competition of the week. - Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist picked a terrific time to post his first career double-double, scoring a game-high 17 points, while also pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds in the win over the Tar Heels. - Terrence Jones had a big first-half, scoring all of his 14 points while Doron Lamb (14) and Darius Miller (12) also finished in double figures as UK defeated its second top-15 ranked opponent of the season. - Anthony Davis finished with nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks, including the game-winning block on John Henson's field goal attempt with seven seconds remaining.
Women's basketball - Kentucky remains undefeated after an impressive 74-54 win over No. 10/11 Louisville on Sunday. - The Wildcats shot 47.1 percent from the floor, including a season-high 52.6 percent from the 3-point line en route to their largest margin of victory over a top-10 ranked opponent in program history. - Junior A'dia Mathies paced the winning effort with a season-high tying 20 points. She nailed a career-best four 3-pointers while also adding four rebounds, three assists and two steals. - Sophomore Samantha Drake followed with 10 points and two blocks and eight other players scored at least two points. - The Wildcats, who led the nation in turnover margin, forced Louisville into 26 turnovers and have now forced double-digit miscues in 90 consecutive games. - The Wildcats look to keep their winning streak alive when they play host to another top 10 opponent in No. 7/6 Duke on Thursday in Rupp Arena.
Volleyball - With two victories in the NCAA Tournament, the UK volleyball team has advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons. - Kentucky needed a dramatic 3-2 win over Dayton in the opening round, where the Blue and White saved match-point twice en route to scoring the match's final four points and win the decisive fifth set 16-14. - With that five-set win over Dayton, UK improved to 7-0 on the year in five-set matches. - Against the Flyers, junior Ashley Frazier posted 20 kills for the first 20-kill performance by a Wildcat this season. Freshman Lauren O'Conner chipped in with a career-high 18 kills in the win. - Sophomore Whitney Billings led the Wildcats to a 3-0 sweep of the host Texas A&M Aggies to advance to the Sweet 16. Billings matched a season-high with 17 kills as UK snapped an Aggie 15-match NCAA home winning streak. - Junior Stephanie Klefot registered 45 digs in the two wins to run her season total to 587 which is a new single-season record for UK.
After Cat Scratches released the UK men's basketball schedule the
last three seasons with elaborate detail, breaking down each opponent for
the fans, the baseball schedule was released in similar fashion in 2010-11. Again this year, UK has released its baseball schedule with a
team-by-team breakdown of UK's SEC opponents. Cat Scratches broke down
each opponent, including key returning players and losses, a description
of the last series and series history.
UK's schedule is once again one of the best in the nation with UK facing the rugged 10-weekend Southeastern Conference
schedule, facing daily challenges in the best conference in college
Click on each team name and date in order to bring up the complete team-by-team breakdown.
Head coach: Ray Tanner 2011 record/SEC finish: 55-14, 22-8 SEC/First Final RPI: No. 5 Final ranking: No. 1 (Baseball America) Postseason: Won 2011 College World Series (Beat Florida, 2-0) Key returning position players: 1B Christian Walker (.358/.438/.554), OF Evan Marzilli (.291/.357/.414), OF Jake Williams (.268/.361/.402), OF Adam Matthews (.264/.367/.391) Key returning pitchers: LHP Michael Roth (14-3, 1.06 ERA), RHP Forrest Koumas (6-1, 2.96 ERA), RHP Colby Holmes (7-3, 3.69 ERA), RHP Matt Price (7-3, 1.83 ERA, 20 SV) Key position player losses: 2B Scott Wingo (.338/.467/.554), C Brady Thomas (.316/.375/.437), C/OF Robert Beary (.289/.352/.408), 3B Adrian Morales (.281/.378/.382), SS Peter Mooney (.280/.390/.394), CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (.247/.346/.432) Key pitcher losses: RHP John Taylor (8-1, 1.14 ERA), RHP Jose Mata (3-0, 1.76 ERA, 1 SV), LHP Bryan Harper (1-0, 5.40 ERA, 1 SV) Series record: South Carolina leads 41-29, UK leads 17-14 in Lexington Last meeting: South Carolina swept UK in Columbia in 2011 (1-3, 3-4, 1-4)
Head coach: Dave Serrano 2011 record/SEC finish: 25-29, 7-23/12th Final RPI: No. 115 Final ranking: not ranked Postseason: n/a Key returning position players: SS Zach Osborne (.330/.383/.409), 1B Davis Morgan (.278/.361/.343), C Ethan Bennett (.262/.356/.492), OF Chris Fritts (.227/.313/.326), OF Chris Pierce (.208/.323/.302) Key returning pitchers: LHP T.J. Thornton (1-1, 3.25 ERA, 1 SV), RHP Zack Godley (1-1, 3.38 ERA, 2 SV), RHP Carter Watson (5-3, 5.29 ERA), RHP Nick Blount (1-5, 6.04 ERA, 1 SV) Key position player losses: 2B Khayyan Norfork (.332/.430/.483), 3B Matt Duffy (.312/.429/.497), CF Andrew Toles (.270/.296/.368), OF/IF Josh Liles (.263/.358/.306), 1B/3B Tyler Horne (.277/.299/.366), OF Charley Thurber (.230/.304/.327) Key pitcher losses: LHP Steven Gruver (5-7, 3.95 ERA), RHP Matt Ramsey (0-1, 0.96 ERA, 3 SV), LHP Rob Catapano (2-5, 6.39 ERA) Series record: UT leads 161-138, 86-63 in Knoxville Last meeting: UK 2-1 (Fri 5-3, Sat 12-8, Sun 7-3) The breakdown: UK won 2-of-3 in Lexington in 2011 (5-3, 8-12, 7-3)
Head coach: David Perno 2011 record/SEC finish: 33-32, 16-14/Fourth Final RPI: No. 16 Final ranking: not ranked Postseason: Lost in Corvallis Regional Final at Oregon State Key returning position players: 2B Levi Hyams (.332/.411/.471), SS Kyle Farmer (.308/.364/.466), 3B Curt Powell (.289/.358/.333), C Brett DeLoach (.263/.323/.428), OF Peter Verdin (.258/.325/.331), C Joey Delmonico (.222/.266/.264), 3B Colby May (.222/.333/.352) Key returning pitchers: RHP Michael Palazzone (10-5, 3.14 ERA), LHP Alex Wood (6-7, 4.44 ERA), LHP Blake Dieterich (3-3, 3.67 ERA, 2 SV), RHP Bryan Benzor (2-0, 3.94 ERA) RHP Tyler Maloof (2-2, 7.16 ERA, 18 SV) Key position player losses: OF Zach Cone (.275/.331/.385) Key pitcher losses: RHP Cecil Tanner (0-0, 2.45 ERA) Series record: Georgia leads 125-86-1, 46-39-1 in Lexington Last meeting: UK won 2-of-3 in Lexington in 2011 (7-4, 12-5, 6-7)
Head coach: Mike Bianco 2011 record/SEC finish: 30-25, 13-17/10th Final RPI: No. 41 Final ranking: not ranked Postseason: n/a Key returning position players: 2B Alex Yarbrough (.344/.406/.543), OF Tanner Mathis (.343/.393/.384), SS Blake Newalu (.295/.371/.353), C Taylor Hightower (.275/.375/.377), 1B Matt Snyder (.271/.384/.471), C/IF Will Allen (.243/.264/.386), IF/OF Preston Overbey (.235/.278/.333), IF Austin Anderson (.246/.303/.344) Key returning pitchers: RHP Brett Huber (2-1, 3.42 ERA, 4 SV), RHP Bobby Wahl (0-0, 4.07 ERA, 4 SV) Key position player losses: OF Matt Smith (.305/.429/.496), C Miles Hamblin (.268/.384/.428), IF/OF Jordan King (.160/.263/.180) Key pitcher losses: LHP Matt Crouse (6-4, 3.72 ERA), RHP David Goforth (4-6, 4.79 ERA), LHP Austin Wright (4-4, 4.92 ERA), RHP Jake Morgan (3-0, 0.00 ERA, 5 SV), RHP Trent Rothlin (2-0, 2.31 ERA), RHP Eric Callender (1-0, 3.58 ERA, 1 SV), LHP Matt Tracy (3-3, 5.23 ERA) Series record: Ole Miss leads 41-26, UK leads 18-15 in Lexington Last meeting: Ole Miss swept UK in Oxford in 2011 (2-3, 10-12, 5-6)
Head coach: Dave Van Horn 2011 record/SEC finish: 40-22, 15-15/Fifth overall, First in West Final RPI: No. 13 Final ranking: No. 20 (USA Today/ESPN) Postseason: Lost at Tempe NCAA Regional Final at Arizona State Key returning position players: 1B Dominic Ficcociello (.335/.364/.464), 2B Bo Bigham (.291/.354/.371), IF Matt Reynolds (.243/.359/.351), SS Tim Carver (.232/.305/.271), OF Kyle Atkins (.286/.400/.286) Key returning pitchers: RHP D.J. Baxendale (10-2, 1.58 ERA, 3 SV), LHP Cade Lynch (4-4, 3.11 ERA, 1 SV), RHP Brandon Moore (4-1, 3.45 ERA), LHP Randall Fant (3-5, 3.89 ERA), RHP Ryne Stanek (4-2, 3.94 ERA), RHP Colby Suggs (2-1, 0.90 ERA), RHP Barrett Astin (5-2, 2.72 ERA, 3 SV), LHP Trent Daniel (2-0, 2.91 ERA, 4 SV), RHP Nolan Sanburn (2-4, 3.62 ERA, 8 SV) Key position player losses: C James McCann (.306/.388/.469), OF Jarrod McKinney (.301/.398/.434), OF Kyle Robinson (.286/.358/.507), OF Collin Kuhn (.282/.370/.466) Key pitcher losses: RHP Geoffrey Davenport (3.01, 4.95 ERA) Series record: Arkansas leads 31-20, 27-15 in Fayetteville Last meeting: UK won 2-of-3 in Lexington in 2011 (3-2, 3-1, 1-5)
Head coach: Paul Maineri 2011 record/SEC finish: 36-20, 13-17/10th Final RPI: No. 5 Final ranking: not ranked Postseason: n/a Key returning position players: OF Raph Rhymes (.360/.424/.486), 2B JaCoby Jones (.338/.395/.467), OF/IF Mason Katz (.337/.371/.532), SS Austin Nola (.296/.378/.413), OF Alex Edward (.279/.369/.395), UT Grant Dozar (.250/.341/.403) Key returning pitchers: RHP Kurt McCune (7-3, 3.31 ERA), RHP Kevin Gausman (5-6, 3.51 ERA), RHP Kevin Berry (3-1, 3.14 ERA, 2 SV), LHP Chris Cotton (0-0, 3.38 ERA), RHP Ryan Eades (4-1, 4.81 ERA), RHP Nick Rumbelow (2-0, 4.85 ERA) Key position player losses: CF Mikie Mahtook (.383/.496/.709), 3B Tyler Hanover (.211/.407/.337), OF Trey Watkins (.226/.351/.316) Key pitcher losses: RHP Ben Alsup (6-5, 4.66 ERA, 1 SV), RHP Matty Ott (1-3, 2.60 ERA, 6 SV) Series record: LSU leads 42-23-1, tied 8-8 in Lexington Last meeting: LSU swept UK in Baton Rouge in 2011 (5-9. 4-12, 4-8)
Head coach: Tim Corbin 2011 record/SEC finish: 54-12, 22-8/First Final RPI: No. 4 Final ranking: No. 3 (USA Today/ESPN) Postseason: Lost in College World Series Key returning position players: DH Conrad Gregor (.353/.455/ .473), SS Anthony Gomez (.342/.358/.399), 2B Riley Reynolds (.333/.385/.376), OF Tony Kemp (.331/.435/./419), OF Mike Yastrzemski (.292/.421/.376), CF Connor Harrell (.289/.352/.500) Key returning pitchers: LHP Sam Selman (0-0, 1.42 ERA), RHP T.J. Pecoraro (7-0, 1.59 ERA), LHP Kevin Ziomek (3-0, 1.50 ERA, 1 SV), RHP Will Clinard (2-2, 2.77 ERA) Key position player losses: 1B Aaron Westlake (.343/.464/.629), 3B Jason Esposito (.341/.405/.534), C Curt Casali (.300/.387/.476), OF Joe Loftus (.222/.364/.267), OF Bryan Johns (.214/.362/.375) Key pitcher losses: RHP Sonny Gray (12-3, 2.12 ERA), LHP Grayson Garvin (13-2, 2.48 ERA), RHP Navery Moore (4-2, 1.21 ERA, 11 SV), RHP Mark Lamm (5-0, 2.03 ERA, 1 SV), RHP Jack Armstrong (0-1, 2.65 ERA), RHP Taylor Hill (6-1, 2.73 ERA), LHP Corey Williams (2-0, 4.46 ERA, 2 SV) Series record: UK leads 139-129-5, Vandy leads 71-60-4 in Nashville Last meeting: Vandy won 2-of-3 in Lexington in 2011 (2-0, 3-10, 3-6)
Head coach: Kevin O'Sullivan 2011 record/SEC finish: 53-19, 22-8/First Final RPI: No. 2 Final ranking: No. 2 (Baseball America) Postseason: Lost in College World Series Final vs. South Carolina Key returning position players: C Mike Zunino (.371/.442/.674), 1B/RF Preston Tucker (.308/.381/.545), 1B/DH Brian Johnson (.307/.381/.464), 1B/DH Austin Maddox (.280/.327/.368), 1B/3B Vickash Ramjit (.382/.427/.487), OF Tyler Thompson (.264/.331/.364), 3B Cody Dent (.207/.343/.244), OF Daniel Pigott (.331/.375/.479), SS Nolan Fontana (.289/.414/.434) Key returning pitchers: RHP Hudson Randall (11-3, 2.17 ERA), RHP Karsten Whitson (8-1, 2.40 ERA), LHP Brian Johnson (8-3, 3.62 ERA), LHP Steven Rodriguez (4-2, 1.91 ERA, 2 SV), RHP Austin Maddox (3-0, 0.67 ERA, 5 SV), RHP Greg Larson (1-1, 2.09 ERA) Key position player losses: , 2B Josh Adams (.323/.363/.442), CF Bryson Smith (.328/.433/.443) Key pitcher losses: LHP Nick Maronde (0-1, 2.09 ERA, 3 SV), RHP Alex Panteliodis (6-2, 3.71 ERA), RHP Tommy Toledo (6-3, 3.99 ERA, 1 SV), RHP Anthony DeSclafani (5-3, 4.33 ERA, 3 SV) Series record: Florida leads 129-56-1, 53-28-1 in Lexington Last meeting: Florida won 2-of-3 in Gainesville in 2011 (6-9, 14-1, 3-19)
Head coach: Mitch Gaspard 2011 record/SEC finish: 35-28, 14-16/Sixth Final RPI: No. 32 Final ranking: not ranked Postseason: Lost in Tallahassee Regional Final at Florida State Key returning position players: OF Taylor Dugas (.249/.455/.564), SS Jared Reaves (.340/.406/.498), 1B Austen Smith (.297/.385/.447), C Brett Booth (.257/.335/.327), OF Andrew Miller (.250/.336/.311), UT Josh Rosecrans (.248/.350/.372), OF Brandt Hendricks (.229/.385/.373) Key returning pitchers: RHP Charley Sullivan (2-2, 3.03 ERA), RHP Tucker Hawley (6-2, 3.65 ERA), RHP Nathan Kennedy (1-0, 3.94 ERA, 1 SV), LHP Taylor Wolfe (1-2, 4.15 ERA, 1 SV), RHP Trey Pilkington (2-3, 4.57 ERA), LHP Adam Windsor (3-3, 5.73 ERA) Key position player losses: C Brock Bennett (.338/.392/.369) Key pitcher losses: RHP Jonathan Smart (5-3, 2.50 ERA, 11 SV), RHP Nathan Kilcrease (8-4, 3.12 ERA), LHP Adam Morgan (5-7, 4.64 ERA) Series record: Alabama leads 57-33, 23-15 in Lexington Last meeting: Alabama swept UK in Tuscaloosa in 2011 (0-4, 5-6, 3-8)
Head coach: John Cohen 2011 record/SEC finish: 38-25, 14-16/Sixth Final RPI: No. 18 Final ranking: No. 15 (USA Today/ESPN) Postseason: Lost in Gainesville Super Regional Final at Florida Key returning position players: OF C.T. Bradford (303/.397/.369), Daryl Norris (.277/.407/.351), IF Adam Frazier (274/.293/.274) Key returning pitchers: RHP Taylor Stark (3-0, 2.95 ERA, 2 SV), RHP Daryl Norris (2-0, 3.20 ERA, 1 SV), RHP Kendall Graveman (5-0, 3.65 ERA), LHP Nick Routt (3-3, 3.86 ERA), LHP Luis Pollorena (7-5, 4.45 ERA), RHP Evan Mitchell (6-2, 4.62 ERA), LHP Tim Statz (0-1, 4.64 ERA), RHP Chris Stratton (5-7, 5.21 ERA), LHP Chad Girodo (3-0, 5.76 ERA) Key position player losses: 3B Jarrod Parks (.363/.507/.495), OF Nick Vickerson (.319/.431/.564), OF Jaron Shepherd (.289/.396/.416), C/1B Cody Freeman (.282/.361/.362), OF Brent Brownlee (.279/.366/.371), SS Jonathan Ogden (.259/.346/.444), OF Ryan Collins (.252/.352/.322), C Wes Thigpen (.237/.298/.289), OF Trey Johnson (.232/.303/.319) Key pitcher losses: RHP Caleb Reed (1-2, 1.55 ERA, 12 SV), RHP Devin Jones (2-5, 4.37 ERA) Series record: Mississippi State leads 52-32, 35-14 in Starkville Last meeting: UK won 2-of-3 in Starkville in 2009 (5-4, 3-4, 22-17)
Anthony Davis is averaging 12.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.5 blocks eight games into his freshman season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
ESPN the Magazine's NEXT issue is set to hit newsstands later this month and Kentucky forward Anthony Davis is front and center.
Davis is one of five basketball finalists in the NEXT issue and Fans can vote for him until Dec. 18. Here is what ESPN has to say about the star freshman:
For Anthony Davis, basketball is all about being like Kevin. "Kevin Durant on offense, Kevin Garnett on defense," Davis says when asked to describe the game he's building. The Kentucky frosh, the top-rated prospect in his class, isn't being hyperbolic. An NBA Eastern Conference executive also brought up KG's name in describing the 6'10" forward, and the comparison didn't just end at their skill sets. "He has 'it,'" the exec says. "He has Garnett's demeanor. When you watch him, you know he's going to be special. He has a fluidity and grace that is unusual. He is probably the first pick in the draft." But that same exec also says it wouldn't surprise him if Davis were to spend another year at Kentucky, a la Jared Sullinger at Ohio State. Because as skilled as Davis is -- blocking shots with either hand, attacking the rim, nailing face-up jumpers -- he is obsessed with getting better. The Chicago native landed at Kentucky in part because of John Calipari's willingness to push him, and he's already trying to add a more refined post game to his repertoire. If that happens? The possibilities are downright scary.
At last check, Davis was receiving over 80 percent of fans' votes.
The top-rated player in the 2011 high school class, Davis has made an instant impact in his first eight games at the college level, leading the No. 1 Wildcats with 9.1 rebounds per game. He has also registered 4.5 blocks per game, second in the nation, including a game-saving swat of John Henson in UK's 73-72 win over No. 5 North Carolina.
Terrence Jones is the SEC Player of the Week following big games against St. John's and North Carolina. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Both UK men's and women's basketball picked up huge early season wins this weekend and on Monday, star players from each team earned Southeastern Conference Player of the week awards.
Terrence Jones helped lead Kentucky to a pair of victories last week over St. John's and No. 5 North Carolina. Jones averaged 20.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 blocks and 3.0 steals in the two wins, including a season-high 26-point outing against the Red Storm. The sophomore forward leads UK in scoring this season at 15.0 points per game and is second on the team in rebounding (7.5 per game) and blocks (2.5 per game).
A'dia Mathies paced UK in a 74-54 win over archrival No. 10/11 Louisville and took home Co-SEC Player of the Week honors with Vanderbilt's Christina Foggie. She scored 20 points against the Cardinals to go with four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. The junior guard leads the Wildcats at 16.0 points per game.
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 - Volleyball advances to Sweet 16
There was some serious competition in this category over the past seven days. In a normal week, men's basketball's wins over No. 5 North Carolina and St. John's or UK Hoops' 74-54 defeat of Louisville would take team of the week honors, but volleyball gets the nod for coming up huge in postseason play.
Craig Skinner and the Wildcats got a bit of a surprise when they found out they would be traveling to College Station, Texas for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament because they had a strong case to host themselves. However, the Cats responded in a big, big way.
UK won a first-round thriller over Dayton, falling behind two sets to one before rallying in the final two games for the win. The Cats also overcame a pair of match points in the fifth before winning the last four points and the match. The victory earned them the right to face off against host and No. 16 national seed Texas A&M and UK turned it arguably its best performance of the season. With a 3-0 sweep of the home-standing Aggies, UK advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons.
"We're just really excited, not just because we won the match, but because of how we performed tonight," Skinner said after the win. "It was a heck of a team effort. For whatever reason I had a feeling on the way over here on the bus that we were pretty focused and ready to go, and the team definitely proved that thought right."
Now, the Cats return to Lexington to play in a regional being hosted on their home floor of Memorial Coliseum. UK will take on No. 1 national seed Texas at 7 p.m. on Friday with a match between No. 9 UCLA and No. 8 Penn State immediately before at 5 p.m. Both games will be carried live on ESPN3.com.
Player of the week - A'dia Mathies scores 20 in win against Louisville
UK Hoops had revenge on its mind with archrival Louisville coming to town on Sunday. A season ago, the No. 10/11 Cardinals handed the Cats their most lopsided loss of the season. No. 12/10 UK flipped that around this weekend, leading the visitors by double digits for the final 26 minutes en route to a 74-54 win that's expected to vault Matthew Mitchell's bunch into the top 10 of both polls this week entering a showdown with No. 6 Duke in Rupp Arena on Thursday.
Leading the way for the Cats was Louisville native A'dia Mathies. The junior guard played 32 minutes in the win, scoring 20 points and hitting a career-high four 3-point baskets. She didn't make a field goal from inside the arc all afternoon, but was aggressive in attacking the rim as she earned 11 foul shots, hitting eight. Mathies also four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
Game of the week - Men's basketball bests North Carolina in classic
Coming into the week, Kentucky-North Carolina was billed as the best game of the regular season in college basketball this year. After watching No. 1 UK's 73-72 win over the No. 5 Tar Heels, I can attest that every ounce of hype the game had coming in was lived up to and if there's a better game this season, I look forward to watching it.
For a game taking place less than a month into the season, both teams played at an exceptionally high level. Neither the Cats nor Heels led by more than nine points all game and both teams made big plays and big shots throughout. UK hit 14-of-26 (56.0 percent) shots in the second half against a solid UNC defense while holding the Heels to 10-for-29 (34.5 percent) to overcome a five-point halftime deficit. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played the best game of his young collegiate career, scoring 17 points and pulling down 11 rebounds in a marquee matchup with Harrison Barnes (14 points). UK got contributions from all eight players who saw the floor on Saturday, but we may be talking quite a bit differently about the game if not for our play of the week.
Play of the week - Anthony Davis' block saves the game
With 21.5 seconds remaining and his team clinging to a one-point lead, freshman point guard Marquis Teague stepped to the foul line to shoot a one-and-one. His shot would hit the back of the rim and land in the waiting hands of Barnes, who handed the ball to point guard Kendall Marshall to set up the potential game-winning shot.
After bleeding some clock, Marshall fed big man Tyler Zeller in the post with 10 seconds left. As they had been doing all day, the Cats sent a double team at Zeller, who fumbled the ball directly to forward John Henson where he appeared to have a wide open shot to win the game from 10 feet out with seven seconds to go. Anthony Davis had other ideas, leaping to contest the shot and improbably getting a piece of it. He corralled the rebound and threw forward to Teague, who ran out the clock to give UK a big early season victory. Photo of the week - Darius Miller throws down against St. John's
Darius Miller had this rim-rocking dunk in UK's win over St. John's on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Alumnus/alumna of the week - Masthay's punts help Packers stay unbeaten
Former UK punter Tim Masthay has followed a strong rookie campaign with an even better second season as the Green Bay Packers have an unblemished record through 12 games in 2011. The Packers' stiffest test to date came this weekend on the road against the New York Giants. Green Bay won 38-35 on a field goal on the last snap of the game, but may not have even been in that position if not for Masthay.
Masthay punted five times on the game with an average of 44.2 yards per punt. Four of his five efforts pinned the Giants inside their own 20-yard line, including a 49-yarder late in the third quarter that was downed at the New York one-yard line.
A'dia Mathies scored 20 points in UK's 74-54 win over Louisville. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
With a spotless record and a top-15 ranking, Kentucky looked the part of a contender, but Matthew Mitchell wasn't quite sure. Having dominated seven home games against teams overwhelmed by UK's depth and athleticism, the Wildcats had not yet been sternly tested.
With archrival Louisville coming to town on Sunday, that was all set to change.
In defeating a Cardinal team with talented guards and bruising post players, the Cats showed their coach and anyone else who was watching what they were all about.
"We were clearly superior in all seven games and so you just don't know until you go up against an opponent like this," Mitchell said. "I think it showed us we were able to get prepared and get ready for a tough opponent."
Avenging a 26-point defeat at the hands of the Cardinals from a season ago, No. 12/10 UK (8-0) shot its way past No. 10/11 Louisville (7-2) in a 74-54 victory. The Wildcats' connected on 10-of-19 attempts from 3-point range, led by Louisville native A'dia Mathies' 20 points and career-high four makes from beyond the arc. A raucous sell-out crowd of 7,951 was on hand, the sixth-largest in Memorial Coliseum history.
The win capped a nerve-wracking week for Mitchell, who was happier than anyone to see his players cut their teeth against a high-level opponent.
"I still think we have a ways to go and we need to work to get better, but I'm awfully proud," Mitchell said. "This was a miserable week for me. The unknown, I don't like that. I had no idea how the game was going to go."
Mitchell may not have known how his team would respond to the big-game atmosphere and a talented opponent, but Amber Smith did.
"It wasn't clear to the public, but we knew what we were capable of doing," Smith said. "We knew how hard we work in practice so there was no doubt in our minds what we could do."
The senior point guard was recuperating from knee surgery during last year's 78-52 loss in Louisville and used the number 26 as a mantra in her preparation for Sunday's game. She scored seven points and dished out a game-high six assists.
"It was definitely a payback game and we went out there and earned the victory," Smith said.
Smith was one of 11 Wildcats to play against Louisville, including eight who played 10 minutes or more. There were numerous occasions, especially in the first half, when Mitchell did his best imitation of a hockey coach calling for a line change and three, four or even five new players entered the game. The strategy was a big part of UK's game plan but, again, Mitchell wasn't sure if it would work.
"I really felt like we had to make depth a factor today," Mitchell said. "We hadn't played in a game where we could tell whether we had quality depth or not but today I think it paid off for us."
After having 10 players score against the Cardinals, there's no longer any question about whether the Cats have depth capable of playing at a high level. UK sent waves of players at star sophomore guard Schoni Schimmel, who had 26 points and six assists in last season's matchup between the two teams. She played 37 minutes and scored a team-high 17 points, but hit just 7-of-18 shots and committed five turnovers with multiple different Wildcats taking turns guarding her.
"We already knew we had depth," Smith said. "Coming in to the season, we knew it was going to be competitive with people (fighting) for minutes, but with how hard we play, we know we're going to get a rest so we go out there and give it our all."
Mitchell was excited to learn he'll be able to count on his bench the rest of the season.
"When we subbed five at a time, there wasn't a tremendous drop-off in defensive pressure," Mitchell said. "Louisville's so tough on defense, we looked like we didn't know what we were doing at times on offense but defensively we were able keep the pressure on them pretty good. I think that gives us a chance to be a pretty tough team."
UK may not have always been on the same page offensively in the face of Louisville's pressure defense, but the Cats proved how good shooting can overcome deficits in other areas. In spite of taking fewer shots than its opponent for the first time all season and committing as many turnovers (26) as Louisville, UK coasted to a 20-point victory with hot 3-point shooting and its second-best shooting performance from the field this season. Fifteen offensive rebounds and 24 second-chance points didn't hurt either.
"I think the game was closer today than the margin," Mitchell said. "It was a tough game and (there are) really good players on both sides and it is an exciting time for women's basketball in the Commonwealth."
Any victory over Louisville is a cause for celebration, but the Cats don't have much time to do so. On Thursday, the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils come to Lexington for a game against UK in Rupp Arena.
"We don't have a lot of time to stop and smell the roses on this one," Mitchell said. "We have to get back to work tomorrow and get ready for a tough Duke team."
Amber Smith helped lead UK to a 101-67 win the last time the Wildcats faced Louisville in Memorial Coliseum. (UK Athletics)
Amber Smith had to watch from the sidelines as her teammates were blitzed by Louisville in their worst loss of the 2010-11 season. Recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, she was helpless to steady the Cats as they committed 22 turnovers. Smith couldn't get on the floor to add her trademark intensity to a defensive effort head coach Matthew Mitchell called the worst since implementing the high pressure style that has come to define UK Hoops.
Revenge may not be the right word, but Kentucky isn't about to let what Louisville did to them in last year's 78-52 loss in the KFC Yum! Center happen again.
The loss has been marinating in the Wildcats' consciousness for nearly a full year now, for Smith especially. Immediately after a win over Mississippi Valley State on Sunday, UK's last before the rematch with the rival Cardinals, Smith revealed exactly what's been on her mind all this time.
"The number 26," the senior point guard said. "We lost by 26 and I was on the bench, and couldn't do anything about it. That just hurt. It is the biggest game of the season because it is the next one, but we are all just looking forward to it. I can't wait, I'm ready right now."
Smith's wait is very nearly over, as Kentucky (7-0) and Louisville (7-1) face off on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum. As if she and her teammates needed any more motivation, the matchup between the No. 12/10 Wildcats and No. 10/11 Cardinals marks the first time in the 48 "Battle of the Bluegrass" games that both teams are rated in the top 15 nationally.
"I'm definitely excited for our game on Sunday," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It will be a huge challenge and our toughest challenge by far this season. I think we're find out a lot about our team."
As excited as Mitchell is for the rivalry game and how much it means to the state as a whole, he's balancing that excitement with an awareness of how important the game is to his team's development. UK Hoops has made it through the early portion of its non-conference schedule with a perfect record. The closest game UK has played was a 17-point win over Southern Miss, so facing their "toughest challenge" so far this season will be good for the Wildcats.
"In the bigger picture, I think it's a very useful game because they're so good and have so many weapons we'll have to play well," Mitchell said. "Their guards are so good that they can make you look bad at times and I'm sure they will. We've made a ton of mistakes this year and we're 7-0. Sometimes the other team just couldn't take advantage of it. I think Louisville will be able to take advantage of some mistakes."
Louisville certainly took advantage of UK's mistakes a season ago as the Cardinals shot 27-of-55 against the normally staunch Wildcat defense. Then-freshman guard Schoni Schimmel committed eight turnovers in the game, but more than made up for them with a dazzling 26-point, six-assist outing. The Cardinals exploited late rotation from UK off traps to hit 12-of-21 3-pointers in the game, six of which came from Schimmel.
"I thought Louisville played much harder than we did last year and you saw the result," Mitchell said.
Mitchell will embrace any additional motivation Smith and his other players glean from the 2010 defeat, but he can think of better ways to spend his time in practice than harping on what happened 364 days ago come Sunday.
"I really think for us the biggest thing we need to focus on is not what happened last year but that the players that are on the floor for the University of Louisville are very, very good," Mitchell said. "They're well coached and they are a tough, tough basketball team. I think trying to prepare for things that help you be successful in the game is probably where your energy needs to be focused."
Smith figures to come out in high gear for Louisville, but Mitchell expects all of his players to approach Sunday's game the same way. He does not believe anyone on the roster will be short on motivation, and if they are, the 8,000-plus Wildcat faithful in attendance should quickly do the trick.
"As I've watched them practice, I don't think motivation is going to be the biggest challenge we face," Mitchell said. "The crowd is going to be into it and I think our players understand it's a big game."
UK officially announced the Louisville game as a sellout on Tuesday and Mitchell expects nothing less than a raucous environment to be created by the fans who fill Memorial.
"I think they'll be energetic," Mitchell said. "I think it will be a great, great atmosphere. Every time we take the floor in Memorial Coliseum, we're excited and the more people we have cheering for us, the more exciting it is. I think it's fantastic."
It means a great deal to the fifth-year coach for his fans to understand how important the Louisville game is and respond by coming out in droves. The ball, though, is now in his team's court, both in the literal and figurative sense.
"I really, really appreciate it and it will make for a special afternoon," Mitchell said. "Now we need to go out and play and give them something to cheer for."
Sophomore guard Doron Lamb scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
On Friday, University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari said Saturday's game against North Carolina was a great opportunity to learn about his team. He was right.
After grinding out a 73-72 victory in front of the eighth largest crowd in Rupp Arena history, what we learned about the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats is that they are fighters.
"For a freshman team to do this, have nine turnovers, it's incredible," Calipari said.
With emotions and runs swinging back and forth enough to make one seasick, the Cats continued to sail smoothly and kept their heads level.
Trailing for much of the game, Kentucky's 3-point shots weren't falling, going 4-17, North Carolina's were, hitting 11-18. Still, Kentucky never faded.
It's a football term, but Kentucky's defense often played a bend-don't-break type of style. The Cats found themselves on the ropes, trailing the No. 5 Tar Heels by nine in the first half with the Big Blue Nation holding its collective breath on every bounce of the ball.
They were bending, but they never broke, answering every North Carolina basket with a basket of its own. For Kentucky, it wasn't just one player who stepped up, it was a collective effort.
After scoring just two points in the opening half, sophomore guard Doron Lamb hit a pair of big 3-pointers late in second half to give the Cats a small cushion and keep North Carolina down two possessions.
Freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist recorded a double-double with career highs in points (17) and rebounds (11), but it was his defense that got the attention of his coach.
"Michael was unbelievable," Calipari said. "He is unbelievable. He's the greatest kid. I used him on defense and let him alone on offense. I'm going to tell you this. If we need a free throw late in the game, I'm giving him the ball and letting him shoot it. He will not miss it late in the game. He will make a free throw late because he's got that kind of courage."
And he did make it. With the game hanging in the balance and the Cats leading by just two at the 1:33 mark, Kidd-Gilchrist hit a pair of free throws that ultimately decided the outcome. And that, in part, is what we learned today. This team has a will to win that Calipari demands and expects with his teams.
"(We have a) will to win," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "There's a lot of chemistry there too."
When talking about senior leader Darius Miller, Kidd-Gilchrist makes a point to say just how much he really means. On Saturday, Miller provided a steady confidence amongst his teammates, scoring a dozen points in the process.
"He's a senior on the court, he's our leader, he's everything to this team," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "Everything."
Miller, who has seen the ups and downs of the Kentucky program, playing in the National Invitation Tournament as a freshman and a Final Four as a junior, knows what a win like this could mean for a young group of players, but also knows there is still work to do.
"It's a very big win," Miller said. "We felt like this was a test to see where we are at, playing against one of the best teams in the country, and we come out with a W. I think we are pretty happy and proud about it, but we know we aren't exactly where we want to be. It's still early on in the season, so we're happy."
It is early in the season, but what the Wildcats did Saturday afternoon against North Carolina is show that they will never be completely out of a game this season. Their defense, camaraderie and will to win won't let them.
It was a learning opportunity, and they did just that. They also improved to 8-0 on the season and will likely retain their No. 1 ranking for another week.
"Look, I've got good players," Calipari said. "We're young and we're inexperienced, but I've got really good players. I like my team. But more importantly, they love each other. ... That's a happy locker room in there today."
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 17 points and 11 rebounds in UK's 73-72 win over No. 5 North Carolina. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari must live in a bubble, because he claimed to be unaware of the anticipation for Saturday's game between Kentucky and North Carolina until the night before the teams were set to face off.
Apparently he didn't hear about the fact that dozens of NBA executives and scouts were going to be in attendance. It must have escaped him that CBS was in town to televise its first college basketball game of the season. It seems no one told him many were calling it the toughest ticket in Rupp Arena in years.
"I didn't realize, because I hadn't been watching much TV, that this game was being played up like the end all of end alls," Calipari said. "I turn on ESPN and it's on the ticker. Every announcer was talking about this game."
Calipari was the only one left in the dark.
The Big Blue Nation came out in droves as Rupp Arena housed the eighth-largest crowd in its history (24,398) for a game that improbably lived up to every ounce of the hype that surrounded it. No. 1 UK earned a 73-72 win over the visiting No. 5 Tar Heels as Anthony Davis blocked a John Henson shot with five seconds remaining to preserve a thrilling victory.
Based on the level of basketball played by two titans of the sport, Calipari can now appreciate why the matchup had everyone talking.
"If he didn't block the shot, we lose the game," Calipari said. "And both teams gutted it out, just gutted it out. This is supposed to be in March, not now. I'm exhausted."
With all the attention showered on UK-UNC before tip-off, the game almost seemed destined to disappoint. From the opening tip, though, it was plainly clear that wasn't going to be the case.
The crowd erupted as the Wildcats raced to an early 9-3 lead, but UNC shot its way back in front with 6-for-9 shooting from 3-point range in the first. The Heels led by as many as nine points but the Cats continually battled back with steady play from their veterans and precocious efforts from their dynamic freshmen.
The Cats followed the lead of their coach, who summoned them for a meeting late on Friday night when he did finally find out about how much the game was being talked about. He wanted to make sure the anticipation all the players were feeling was balanced with a little perspective. Some were calling the game a Final Four or even national championship game preview, but Calipari wanted to remind his team how young the season really is.
" 'It's just another game, let's learn from it,' " Calipari told his team. " 'I've been in a ton of these. You freshmen, just be there for your team. You three leaders, this is your game, you've got to run this.' "
One of his leaders, Terrence Jones, took it upon himself to echo Calipari's message.
"I was trying to convince the guys that it wasn't that big of a deal, that it was just the (eighth) game and it wasn't going to be for the national title to ease the pressure off the freshman," Jones said.
Jones and every one of the other seven UK players to see the floor on Saturday contributed to the effort. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist delivered his signature tireless effort en route to 17 points and 11 rebounds. Davis had that aforementioned block and affected countless other shots with his length. Darius Miller and Jones were the go-to scorers in the first half, while Doron Lamb stepped up in the second. Kyle Wiltjer and Eloy Vargas may have played just a combined 11 minutes, but each had their clutch moments.
It's that balance that makes this UK team so difficult to deal with.
"They have the ability to score at every position," North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said.
The game itself wasn't the only thing to live up to the hype surrounding it on Saturday, as the Wildcats proved themselves worth of the No. 1 ranking some said was premature for such a young team. UK persevered as the Heels knocked down 3-pointer after 3-pointer in the first half and the Wildcats saw open looks miss the target.
UK trailed by just five at halftime in spite of managing just 14-for-38 (36.8 percent) shooting from the field, but heated up in the second, hitting 14-of-25 (56.0 percent) attempts. The Wildcats coldly efficient play in the second half came even though the Heels actually played better defense according to their coach.
"You look at the stat sheet and (Kentucky) shot 56 percent in the second half but they were a little more patient with it than we were," Williams said. "That's a reason they were able to come from behind and get the win."
Patience was a question mark coming in to the game for a UK team that likes to run at every opportunity. However, the Cats could ill afford to take bad shots and commit turnovers that would allow Carolina to start fast breaks of its own. Marquis Teague's shot wasn't falling, but the freshman committed just one turnover and UK gave the ball away only nine times as a team.
"For a freshman team to do this, have nine turnovers, it's incredible," Calipari said.
That kind of praise from Calipari is rare at this early point of the season, as was the celebratory atmosphere in Rupp and the UK locker room following the game. Even so, the Wildcats weren't about to lose sight of the message Calipari sent on Friday night.
"It is a very big win," Miller said. "We felt like this was a test to see where we are at, playing against one of the best teams in the country, and we come out with a W. I think we are pretty happy and proud about it, but we know we aren't exactly where we want to be. It's still early on in the season, so we're happy."
It's time for the Kentucky-North Carolina edition of Robic's Riddle, a trivia contest we'll be holding before every men's basketball game.
Assistant coach John Robic has supplied us with yet another question from the annals of Kentucky basketball history. The first fan to submit a correct answer via email to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a prize. The prize today is a portable, foldable UK seat back that allows you to sit comfortably almost anywhere. Our question has to do with two coaches who got their careers off to hot starts. Name the two college basketball coaches who have the most victories in their first 19 seasons of coaching at the Division I level.
Again, please submit your answers to email@example.com. We will announce the correct answers at halftime of this afternoon's game, assuming we have a winner by that time.
Don't forget to tune in and watch the Cats at noon Saturday on CBS.
In NCAA Tournament play, heading home is not typically good news, but don't tell that to the Kentucky volleyball team. Facing No. 16 national seed Texas A&M on its home floor in College Station, Texas, the Wildcats posted a 3-0 sweep (25-18, 25-21, 25-19) of the Aggies to book a trip back to Lexington, where UK will play in the Sweet 16.
It was a dominant performance for Craig Skinner's bunch after eking out a five-set comeback win over Dayton on Thursday evening. Whitney Billings (17 kills) and Ashley Frazier (14 kills) led the way for the UK attack, while Southeastern Conference Libero of the Year Stephanie Klefot's 17 digs gave her the UK single-season record.
Games in the Lexington Regional will take place on Friday and Saturday Dec. 9-10. UK's Sweet 16 game will take place on Friday at either 5 p.m. or 7 p.m.
Tickets are now on sale through the UK Ticket Office. All-Session Tickets are reserved for all ages at $14. General Admission tickets for adults are priced at $12 and students or seniors' general admission is slated for $8.
Single session tickets are priced at $8 for reserved for all ages. General admission for adults is priced at $7, with students and seniors priced at $5. Youth single session tickets are $4.
For tickets or more information feel free to call, 1-800-928-CATS.
Darius Miller averaged 12 points in two games against North Carolina in 2010-11. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Returning all of its major contributors from an Elite Eight team in 2010-11, North Carolina was, for the most part, a known commodity coming in to this season. Because of their gifted frontcourt, the playmaking ability of Kendall Marshall at point guard and the talent Roy Williams added to the mix, the Tar Heels entered 2011-12 as the nation's top-ranked team.
Kentucky, on the other hand, was a little more of a question mark. It was well-known that John Calipari was adding a four-man recruiting class hailed as the best in the country to a nucleus of three returners from last year's Final Four team, but any opinions on how those gifted pieces would fit together were merely conjecture.
Seven games into the season for both UK and UNC, the Wildcats have maintained an unbeaten record and risen to No. 1 after a Tar Heel loss to UNLV. The fact remains, though, that Roy Williams' bunch has an established identity, while the Cats are still figuring themselves out entering a matchup between the two that has been circled on the college basketball calendar for months.
"We are what we are right now and it's December," Calipari said. "Are we good enough to compete with these guys? We're going to see. The ball is going to be thrown up and we're going to find out."
Tipoff for the game between No. 1 UK and No. 5 UNC will be at noon Saturday in Rupp Arena with a CBS crew of Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg on hand to call the network's first NCAA basketball games of the season. Nantz and Kellogg can go through all the preparation in the world, but it's impossible for them or anyone else to know how things will play out.
"We're just going to tell them to play. We have to guard them and they have to guard us," Calipari said. "Do they put (Marshall) on Doron (Lamb)? Do they put him on Marquis (Teague)? Do they back off Marquis and say, 'shoot balls?' We all have the same issues (with) how we're playing. It should be interesting."
Calipari and his Cats aren't hiding from the fact that Saturday's game is a big one, but at the same time, they're not getting lost in the hype. The calendar reads "December", not "April", so by no means will the loser see its season end as North Carolina did when these same two teams met in the Elite Eight last season and UK won 76-69.
A lot of talk over the past week has revolved around the subject of non-conference scheduling and whether or not it's sustainable to play UNC and other high profile opponents on an annual basis. Much of that conversation has suggested Calipari wants to avoid games like this one as much as possible, but that couldn't be further from the truth. He knows just how much he and his team can benefit from stern tests like UNC, win or lose.
"You want games that help you learn about your team and you want your team to learn about themselves so they can be better coached," Calipari said. "That's what you want in these kinds of games."
Senior guard Darius Miller has been through more than his fair share of hype-filled regular season games, including one last year in Chapel Hill, N.C., when the Heels prevailed 75-73. His history allows him to see the need for balance between improving and trying to win.
"I think it's a little bit of both," Miller said. "In order to figure out where we are, we're going to try to win and try to compete with these guys. We know they're a very good team and it's probably our biggest test so far. We're just trying to see where we're at right now."
A test is exactly what UNC will be. Marshall is orchestrating a Tar Heel offense that is scoring 88.0 points per game and the 6-foot-4 sophomore is dishing out 10.3 assists per outing. The majority of his passes are directed to arguably the nation's top front line, which is led by forwards Harrison Barnes (17.7 points and 4.6 rebounds), John Henson (14.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.3 blocks) and Tyler Zeller (13.4 points and 7.1 rebounds).
UK likely boasts the only frontcourt in the country that even belongs in the same ballpark in terms of talent as North Carolina's. However, Calipari starts a pair of freshmen (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and a sophomore (Terrence Jones) in the three spots where Williams sends out a senior, a junior and a sophomore, all of whom started a season ago.
Henson, though, isn't buying in to the notion that experience will be the deciding factor.
"It matters to an extent, but at the end of the day you have to go out there and play," Henson said. "Obviously Kentucky hasn't had too many problems with experience because they haven't lost yet but experience does come into play sometimes, but also you just have to go out there and play."
In the end, speculation about which front line will get the better of the other or how any aspect of the game will shake out is just that: speculation. It's unknown whether Teague will be able to capitalize on Marshall's occasional defensive struggles or whether Barnes will get the better of his matchup with Kidd-Gilchrist and Miller. UNC has an unquestioned edge in experience, but UK could overcome it with 24,000 fans cheering them on.
Besides, there's no saying if the team that does come out on top would do the same in a potential rematch late in the NCAA Tournament. No two schools in the country better demonstrated how much a team can improve from December to March than UK and UNC. Early in the season, both were dismissed as non-contenders with too many flaws to overcome, but by spring, the Cats and Heels were playing for a berth in the Final Four.
The bottom line is that there's only so much preparation Calipari and Williams can put their teams through for a game this early, no matter how many media members or NBA scouts are in attendance.
"We're as ready as we need to be for this kind of game," Calipari said. "I'm not sweating it, we're not changing a whole lot, I doubt if they change a whole lot. We're going to find out where their team is and where our team is. That's what this will be."
For all that's impossible to guess about UK-UNC, there are a few things you can take to the bank. First of all, there won't be a regular season game all season to feature more talent. Second, that talent is going to run up and down the floor, then run some more.
"I really believe they could save power in Rupp Arena and not even have the shot clock this weekend," Williams said. "Kentucky wants to run and we want to run."
Whatever the case, it's going to be worth watching.
Terrence Jones had 11 points and seven rebounds in UK's Elite Eight win over North Carolina last season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The wait is almost over: the highly anticipated matchup between the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (7-0) and No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels (6-1) is less than 24 hours away.
As non-conference regular season games go, it doesn't get much bigger than Saturday's game at noon in Rupp Arena. Even since Kentucky went down in last year's Final Four, fans in the Bluegrass have been talking about Dec. 3, the day the Tar Heels would come to town. For UNC, it started even earlier, as UK ended the Heels' season late last March in the Elite Eight.
Even as UK had marquee games against Kansas in Madison Square Garden and St. John's on Thursday night in Rupp Arena, the game really generating the buzz around campus has been UK-UNC.
"Everyone wants to talk about North Carolina," freshman forward Anthony Davis said. "It's been that way for the last month."
CBS's first college basketball game of the young season won't feature the nation's two top-ranked teams as so many expected, but eight of the top 18 picks in next year's NBA Draft as projected by Chad Ford will be playing. Media from every corner of the United States will be making the pilgrimage to Rupp and the only people more desperate for a seat than members of the Big Blue Nation are NBA scouts.
Those in attendance should expect to be treated to quite a show. UK and UNC have shown themselves to be among the most dangerous teams in transition in country already this season and that's not expected to change on Saturday.
"You know, they pretty much play how they play," UK head coach John Calipari said. "We pretty much play like we play. I doubt if either one of us are going to try to hold the ball. I mean, it should be an up-and-down game I imagine."
According to KenPom.com, the Tar Heels play at the fifth-fastest pace of any team in the country. Taking into account the style of play of their opponents and Roy Williams' history as a coach, UNC has an adjusted tempo of 73.7. UK is just 61st in the country in that same category at 69.7, but that number is skewed slightly by the way UK played a season ago. The Cats have played up-tempo all season, averaging 72.6 possessions per game, including a season-high 79 against a St. John's team that tried to slow the game down in the first half.
UK put together a dominant defensive performance on Thursday against the Red Storm, breaking a school record with 18 blocked shots and holding St. John's to 31.7-percent shooting in an 81-59 victory. However, Calipari doesn't think the kind of effort UK turned in against the Johnnies would fly against UNC.
"I would be a very sad coach after the game I would say (if UK plays as it did against St. John's on Saturday)," Calipari said. "We have to play better than we played."
As of Thursday night, Calipari had not yet determined a game plan for UNC, so it's impossible to know quite how these teams will play against each other. It's true that the Cats and Heels faced off twice a season ago, but these are two very different teams, especially UK.
So, with that in mind, I turn to the statistics, as I so often do. Relying heavily on Ken Pomeroy's numbers, let's take a look at the offensive and defensive matchups between these two teams.
NOTE: All this analysis should be taken with a grain of salt. With just seven games of data, small sample size is an obstacle.
Kentucky offense vs. North Carolina defense
Unquestionably, this is area that most concerns Calipari. UK has gotten by on the offensive end thanks to transition opportunities, second chance points and sheer athleticism, but the Cats have been far from sound in the half-court.
"We're playing such a young team," Calipari said. "We haven't figured out each other yet, and it's going to take time. This team will be way better in March than it is right now."
In spite of that growth pattern, UK is already the fifth-most efficient offensive team in the country according to Pomeroy and it's due to solid numbers across the board. The Cats are 25th in the country in effective field goal percentage (a metric that takes into account the additional value of the 3-pointer), 51st in turnover percentage, 62nd in offensive rebounding percentage and 101st in free throw frequency.
However, UK has not faced a test the likes of the one in store for them on Saturday. Kansas and St. John's had horses, but UNC is the first team that can essentially match UK in size, speed and athleticism at most every position on the floor.
The Heels are also sound defensively, ranking 11th in the nation in overall efficiency. UNC makes its living primarily in two areas, the first of which is making its opponents take difficult shots. The Tar Heels are 72nd nationally in field goal percentage defense. Second, UNC keeps its opponents off the foul line. They're second in the country in defensive free throw frequency. Anchoring UNC's defense is junior forward John Henson, who is blocking an average of 3.3 shots per game.
On the plus side is the fact that UNC has not forced a great deal of turnovers this season, ranking 266th in the country in turnover percentage. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, UK has been fairly good at taking care of the ball, committing turnovers just 17.9 percent of the time, a very solid number.
The area where UK could potentially do some damage against UNC is on the offensive glass. The Wildcats could struggle to find quality first looks when the Heels set their half-court defense, but the length and athleticism of Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could earn them some second chance opportunities against a UNC team that has been average on the defensive glass. The Heels are just 131st in the country in defensive rebounding percentage.
North Carolina offense vs. Kentucky defense
Pomeroy currently rates UK as the best defensive team in the country as the Cats have an allowed an average of just 75.7 points per possession on defense. While UNC has been good at contesting its opponents' shots, UK has been great. Calipari's young bunch has limited its foes to an effective field goal percentage of just 35.6, which is second in the nation. Helping to drive that excellent number is the rate at which UK blocks shots. According Pomeroy, UK's block percentage is 27.1, which is 5.4 percent better than second-place Connecticut and nearly 18 percent better than the national average. Davis leads the way and is tied for the national lead with 4.9 blocks per game. UK has also done well in limiting free throw opportunities (33rd in the country) and in rebounding (85th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage).
On the flip side, UNC is the ninth-best offensive team in the country on the strength of good shooting, taking care of the ball and getting to the foul line regularly. Star sophomore Harrison Barnes leads his team in scoring with 17.7 points per game while his mates along the front line, John Henson and Tyler Zeller, join him as double-figure scorers. Point guard Kendall Marshall may not even score five points a game, but he dishes out assists at an alarming rate. His average of 10.3 assists per game is second in the nation.
The Kentucky defense has excelled all season, but UNC's frontcourt presents an unprecedented set of challenges. Kansas forward Thomas Robinson is likely as good individually as any of the Heels' bigs, but UK was able to limit him because of his limited supporting cast. With North Carolina, UK can't afford to leave Zeller, Henson, Barnes or freshman James Michael McAdoo.
The Tar Heels' ability in the open floor is also something UK has not yet coped with. As young as the Cats are, UK must make good decisions with both passes and shots to minimize the damage UNC does in transition.
"You let them get in too much of an up-and-down game, you'll get killed," Calipari said. "So you've got to make it so that they are not getting just pass ahead layups."
Conclusion: We won't know until we know
Yes, I'm saying that basically all of the 1,300 words you just read could go out the window in an instant come tipoff. The bottom line is that it's impossible to know how Kentucky is going to react to facing a team with as much talent and experience as North Carolina. I can envision a scenario in which the Cats play out of their minds in front of 24,000-plus fans and win by double digits and, just the same, UK might not be ready for a stage of this magnitude.
"I think point guard will be really important so I think the matchup between Marquis Teague and Kendall Marshall is going to be really important."
That's one of the keys on which ESPN's Jay Bilas focused on Wednesday, when talking about the UK-North Carolina showdown on "The Leach Report" radio show. Bilas worked the Tar Heels' upset loss to UNLV last Saturday and he is sure we'll see a much more focused UNC squad.
"A team like Kentucky is going to grab their attention. I don't think they were too worried about UNLV. They clearly weren't as intense as they will be stepping on the floor at Rupp Arena," said Bilas. "Ultimately, these games come down to shooting."
Vegas hurt UNC with 13 three-point baskets and Bilas recalled that Kentucky hit 12 in its Elite Eight win over the Heels last March. Ultimately, though, Bilas was hardly shocked to see Carolina get clipped. And he won't be surprised when it happens to Kentucky--and every other team--at some point.
"A Carolina fan came up to me and said 'do you think Carolina is going to run the table?' I didn't mean to be rude but I just started laughing. I said, 'no, I don't think anybody is going to run the table'," Bilas said. "I think it's ludicrous to expect these teams, in the age of the three-point shot and all the travel that they're doing, that they're going to be sharp (every time out)."
John Calipari suggested Kentucky might have the worst offense in the country in his halftime interview with ESPN's Shannon Spake last night. Ofcourse, it's not, but it's also a long way from where it will need to be in March.
Given that it's December 2, that's not such a big deal--especially since UK can rely on its defense. That's usually not a luxury North Carolina has because its calling card is its fast-paced offense.
"They weren't ever great last year. They became good enough (on defense)," observed Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy earlier this week. "You don't have to be great defensively to win a championship. If you look at Carolina's '09 team, they weren't great (on defense). But you have to be good enough and (against UNLV last week), they were not that.
"They're always going to be an offensive-focused basketball team," he continued. "Most NCAA championships are won with offense first--at least they were until the last couple of years."
DeCourcy believes Kentucky's potential on defense is considerable.
"I think Kentucky is a team that can be great on defense, a really destructive defensive team. If they learn and really get focused on that end (of the court). I don't think this Carolina team do that but they can certainly be good enough to win a championship," said DeCourcy.
For Saturday, DeCourcy thinks point guard Marquis Teague's defense on his Carolina counterpart, Kendall Marshall, could be an edge for UK.
"No question, Marquis Teague is a player, with his build and his athleticism, he can make the league based on that (defense) first. This is going to be the best point guard he'll have faced. Offensively, he's been extraordinary. He (Marshall) really understands how to read the floor," noted DeCourcy. "And a lot of the problem with defending Kendall is you've got to get on him early, when he gets the outlet pass."
Senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed says he just knew his team could beat Tennessee, despite a 26-game losing streak.
"How did I know? I had faith in my team. I could see in the guys' eyes. We wanted to stop them from going to a bowl. If we can't go to a bowl, they can't go to a bowl," said Sneed.
"I've never been on a UK team that has had such a tight bond," Sneed added. "We're always willing to go out and lay it on the line for each other."
The 2011 season for Kentucky volleyball has been a lesson in resilience. Countless times throughout the year the Wildcats have had their backs against the wall with no apparent way out. More often than not, they managed to find a way to win.
The question, though, was whether things would be different in the NCAA Tournament. Would the added pressure of having their season on the line every match affect the Cats?
Perhaps not so surprisingly, UK didn't wait long to uncover the answer. Down two sets to one against the Dayton Flyers in the first round of the tournament, Kentucky rallied to win the final two games in maintaining a perfect 7-0 record in five-set affairs.
"Well, the worst part about that match is someone had to lose," head coach Craig Skinner said. "That's a really good volleyball match. Obviously I'm proud of our players for competing. We had our backs against the wall, and really got out and competed out for a while, and they found a way to grind it out get the win."
With the win, UK (27-5) advances to the second round for a match against home standing and No. 16 overall seed Texas A&M (23-7). The Aggies defeated Lipscomb 3-1 on Thursday to increase their perfect mark in home NCAA matches to 15-0. Dayton (25-7), meanwhile, heads back to Ohio in heartbreaking fashion even though the Flyers mounted a stern challenge.
"I think it was two teams that were fighting for their lives out there," Dayton head coach Kelly Sheffield said. "Just battling, trying to keep balls off the floor. I didn't think either team, when it got right down to it, batted an eye. Both teams were trying to go after something. I think a lot of times in those moments, teams get a little tight. But I don't think either team did."
The Wildcats, though, have one more reason for confidence after the comeback win. They were clutch in the fourth set and won 25-15, but Dayton raced out to a 3-0 lead in the fifth and eventually had two match points when that lead became 14-12. Once again, UK refused to wilt, winning the next four points and the match. More challenges lie ahead for the Cats, but Dayton gave them yet another reason to believe in themselves.
"I feel like it was just another learning experience, we know what we're made of now," freshman outside hitter Lauren O'Conner said. "We will be able to do it every game. We were down, and all the momentum was with Dayton, and we fought back and really fought hard to bring back the game and win it. I think can we go into other games knowing that we believe and we can win every game."
O'Conner was a key cog in the UK attack all evening, posting a career-high 18 kills along with six digs. Fellow outside hitter Ashley Frazier had 20 kills herself, a season high for any Wildcat this season.
"I'm just always in the mindset that I'm going up to kill the ball and see the block and hit around it," Frazier said. "If it comes back, then that's my job to be prepared to do it again."
In front of a pro-Texas A&M crowd, UK will face another stern test against the Aggies. Skinner isn't concerned about the quick turnaround entering Friday's second-round match.
"I'm not worried about that, we're in great physical condition," Skinner said. "Our strength and conditioning coaches do a great job. It was a long match, and a lot of adrenaline comes into play win the NCAA Tournament. We'll be ready, just have to put our feet up, drink lots of water and get ready to play."
Anthony Davis fell one block short of tying the UK record of nine in a 81-59 win over St. John's. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Anthony Davis didn't wait long in declaring an all-out assault on the Kentucky record book against St. John's.
By the end of the first half, the dynamic freshman was on pace for just the second triple-double in school history. With his five blocks in the opening stanza, he was poised to threaten the UK record of nine swats. The final 20 minutes became Davis Watch 2011, with the 24,119 in attendance in Rupp Arena wondering which records would fall.
When all was said and done, he would fall short of both marks, settling for a still jaw-dropping 15 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks in an 81-59 win.
"Without him, we probably lose the game," Calipari said. "He changed everything about it. He blocked shots. He scored baskets, he rebounded tough rebounds. He came up with balls."
Davis paced the Wildcats' defense as UK set a school record with 18 blocks in moving to 7-0 on the season entering a highly anticipated matchup against North Carolina on Saturday. He had UK's first four on the night and his teammates rose to his example.
"It sparks the team, most definitely," Davis said.
His teammates responded with 10 blocks, nearly matching UK's NCAA-leading average on the season excluding the contributions of their defensive anchor. However, the players in home white weren't the only ones to feel the effects of Davis' presence. St. John's managed just 19-for-60 (31.7 percent) from the field and committed five shot clock violations. The Red Storm struggled to cope with the length of Davis, even though they had seen his impact on tape.
"It's like shooting over a tower," St. John's sophomore guard Nurideen Lindsey said. "I watched him play a lot this season, but I didn't know he was as long as he is and athletic as he is until he caught a couple of the dunks and a couple of the lob plays. He was blocking shots all over the place."
St. John's managed just one more made field goal (19) than UK had blocks and Davis' eight increased his average on the season to 4.9. His learning curve on the defensive end has been minimal and he's immediately lived up to his reputation as a game changer.
"I'd like to take all the credit for that, how I teach," Calipari said. "But the reality of it is, that's him. He's a great shot blocker."
Calipari may have liked what he saw on Thursday from the UK defense, but he sees the offense as a work in progress, and that's putting it kindly.
"We're playing such a young team," Calipari said. "We haven't figured out each other yet, and it's going to take time. This team will be way better in March than it is right now."
The Wildcats' offense primarily came in one of three ways: fast breaks, lobs to Davis and Terrence Jones getting to the foul line. The sophomore forward had 26 points, hitting 11-of-16 free throw attempts to go with nine rebounds, four blocks and four steals, but he sees the same need for improvement as Calipari. Given a choice, though, Jones would much prefer to have the defense ahead of the offense at this point in the season.
"I think it's a much easier problem than it being the other way around," Jones said. "I think when do get it going (like UK did in a 108-58 win over Marist), I think we could be really dangerous."
Jones may have had one of his better statistical games in a Kentucky uniform, but Calipari is looking for him to improve in more intangible areas as UK faces two stern tests against North Carolina and Indiana over the next week.
"Terrence is going to have to play better these next two games," Calipari said. "It's not even about numbers. You've got to come up with balls. You've got to be the guy on the court, being where you're supposed to and you have to show leadership."
With the bright lights of CBS's first college basketball of the season on Saturday, Calipari is looking for Jones to step up. He has been through numerous battles even though he's just a sophomore, including two games against the Tar Heels a season ago.
"These next two games are vital because you cannot count on young players, freshmen, to go in there in these kind of games, the next two that we have," Calipari said. "The next two are going to be ridiculously hard for us to win, and so if we don't have that from him, it's going to be really hard for us, because again, if it's not him, you're counting on freshmen."
Freshman forward Anthony Davis had eight blocks against St. John's on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
During the 2009-10 season, Kentucky basketball was at the top of the country. The Wildcats boasted one of the most electrifying freshman, had one of the most high-profile head coaches, and had just received a call from the commander in chief.
Those Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the country for one day before losing to South Carolina on the road.
The knock on those Cats was youth. While they had veteran players such as Patrick Patterson, Ramon Harris and Perry Stevenson, none of those players had much, if any, postseason experience.
Fast forward two years, the Cats again find themselves on top of the college basketball mountain. The difference this time is how Kentucky played in its first game while holding the No. 1 title.
"We came out with a lot of intensity and we played better than we played two years ago," senior guard Darius Miller said. "Two years ago I think we kind of came out thinking we were No. 1, we played like nobody could beat us, and you saw the outcome of that. I think we played pretty hard today - pretty good - but we still have a lot of stuff to work on."
Against South Carolina, the Cats played on the road, yes, but the difference was obvious Thursday night in Rupp Arena - the Cats never bought into the No. 1 title.
"I think we just respect the other teams we play so much that we don't overlook them or say that we're the No. 1 team and playing a lower team," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "We respect the teams we play."
When shots didn't fall in the first 20 minutes, Kentucky relied on its defense, forcing five shot clock violations in the first half and holding its third opponent to 20 points or less in the opening half this season.
Freshman Anthony Davis was spectacular, narrowly missing out on a triple-double with 15 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks. It wasn't a one-man show though. As a team, Kentucky set a school record with 18 blocks and bought into the tight-night, in your face, gritty defense that UK head coach John Calipari demands of his teams.
The end result was an impressive victory for a Wildcats team that had every excuse in the book to play sloppy with a date against No. 5 North Carolina up next on the schedule.
On Wednesday, during the team's media opportunity, the young Cats said all the right things; 'We're taking it one game at a time,' 'We're not worried about North Carolina,' 'We're just focused on St. John's.' The question was would Kentucky practice what it preached? That question was answered emphatically in an 81-59 win by Kentucky with the outcome of the game never really in doubt after the opening 10 minutes.
Lost in Kentucky's 22-point victory is the performance of sophomore forward Terrence Jones who had 26 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and four steals. If Kentucky has any hopes of retaining its No. 1 ranking for another week, it will need more great performances from Davis, Jones and the rest of the Cats.
Up next on the schedule is a date with the Tar Heels in one of the more highly anticipated regular season college basketball games in recent memory.
"I have no idea how we are going to play them yet," Calipari said. "You know, they pretty much play how they play. We pretty much play like we play. I doubt if either one of us is going to try to hold the ball. I mean, it should be an up and down game, I imagine. You let them get in too much of an up and down game, you'll get killed."
"They have a lot of guys that can knock down jumpers, especially when they get going," Miller said. "First of all, we have to come in and play defense on them, especially getting back in transition because we know that's one of their stronger points."
A win on Saturday and the Cats will likely remain No. 1 in the land for another week, and that would be yet another difference from two years ago.