UK held Tennessee to 16-of-57 (28.1 percent) shooting from the field in a 69-44 victory. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For a group of players who have been on the same team for only a matter of months, these Kentucky Wildcats certainly know each other pretty well.
Since John Calipari's latest group of talented freshmen arrived on campus this summer, the 14 players on his 2011-12 roster have spent nearly every waking second with one another. All along, the Cats have liked each other, but developing a genuine team chemistry has been a work in progress.
Following the Cats' third consecutive double-digit victory in conference play, it's safe to say the Cats are making strides.
"We're playing together more," freshman forward Anthony Davis said. "Nobody is jealous about each other's scoring. We know some guys are going to have it going some games, some games won't. We don't care. We just want to win a national championship. That's our main goal."
In front of 24,359 fans in Rupp Arena, No. 1 UK (22-1, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) sprinted past Tennessee (10-12, 2-5 SEC) 69-44, hitting its first 11 shots from the field and leading by double digits from the 13:53 mark forward.
Just as the Volunteers did in a hard-fought 65-62 loss to the Cats in early January, Tennessee looked to impose its will with physical play. The first time around, UK was able to survive thanks to Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's play, but it took a team effort to turn Tuesday night's game into a rout.
"We just played a lot tougher," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "I think we learned from the first game that we played them and we've just been learning from game to game since and just playing stronger and through bumps."
Even though it's only been two-and-a-half weeks, UK hardly looked like the same team as the one that played in Knoxville, Tenn. Over the last 17 days, the messages sent during intensive practices over Christmas break's "Camp Cal" have begun to sink in, precipitated in large part by the four SEC road games the team has played.
"I love going on the road because it's just us," Calipari said. "You know, you've got 11 players and our staff and that's it, and we're together for two, three days. So that kind of stuff helps this team because we are four freshmen, two sophomores and a senior playing most of the minutes."
The team's cohesion into a band of brothers was never more apparent than during a scuffle that broke out early in the first half. After Davis was fouled by Tennessee's Trae Golden, a few players bumped shoulders and things escalated into a few pushes and shoves. By the end of it, all five Cats were chest-to-chest with their opponents in support of each other.
"We protect one another," Jones said. "Anything that happens, we feel it's happening to all of us. Any situation when something happens, we always run to each other to pick a teammate up or to defend another teammate."
Of course, Calipari would have liked to avoid the double technicals whistled on Davis and Golden, but the mentality that created them is something he is excited to see.
"Coach Cal wants us to always have each other's back," Davis said. "So we're not going to have just one guy getting pushed around."
UK has run across 22 different opponents now this season, and the Wildcats believe the bond they share with one another is unique. They also know how important that will be to reaching their ultimate goals.
"For us to build chemistry and to become a real good team, you have to," Jones said. "The brotherhood we've got with us living together and being around each other so much brings a different love we have for each other that other teams don't have I think."
Calipari said following the win over Tennessee that his team is approaching the "scary" potential he has referred to multiple times this season, and that has a lot to do with the way the team has jelled. With that said, none of UK's improvement would even be possible if not for the development of Marquis Teague.
"The guy that has the ball, if he's playing well, you've got a chance," Calipari said. "If he's not playing well, you have no chance. Now, he can play well and you still lose because everybody else is playing bad, but they can all play well and if he's playing poorly and you can't win."
Following a four-assist, two-turnover outing against Tennessee, Teague has 25 assists against just nine turnovers over his last five games. He has settled into the point guard role as his freshman season has progressed, just like his predecessors did.
"He is really listening," Calipari said. "He's playing the way we need him to play."
Teague spent most of his high school career playing an up-tempo style that fit his athleticism and playmaking ability. His adjustment to a slower pace has been uneven at times, but Teague handled himself well in the final minutes on Tuesday as Calipari elected to grind it out to close out a victory.
Unquestionably, UK will run into opponents that don't allow the Cats to capitalize on their open-floor ability as the season goes on, but Teague is beginning to reach the point where he can handle himself in that kind of situation.
"I'm real comfortable with that," Teague said. "The last few games, we've been executing on offense well at the end on the road, so we can do it at home very easy."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Jan. 29:
Track & field: Terence Boyd
Freshman Terence Boyd had a strong weekend at the Rod McCravy Memorial, recording the seventh best mark in UK history in the long jump Friday, and the eighth best mark in UK history in the triple jump Saturday.
Men's basketball: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis helped lead the Wildcats to a 2-0 mark on the week, both wins coming on the road ... Moved to second on the all-time SEC freshman blocks list with eight blocks on the week ... Has now totaled 101 blocks on the season, 14 shy of the SEC freshman record ... Pulled down double-figure rebounds against Georgia, the 11th time this season ... Davis tallied his 11th double-double of the season in helping lead UK to its 13th straight win of the season over LSU ... Davis is currently one of only four freshmen in the SEC since 1990 to average 10.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game
Men's tennis: Alejandro Gomez
With UK holding a 3-1 lead in a key match against No. 22 Tulsa and play at No. 2 and No. 6 singles also in a third set, sophomore Alejandro Gomez took matters into his own hands, dominating Tristan Jackson for a 6-0 win to clinch the match and send Kentucky to the National Indoor Team Championships. The native of Cali, Colombia, won the first set 6-3, before Tristan Jackson returned the favor in the second set with a 6-3 win. Gomez would break early in the third set to take a 2-0 lead and never looked back, earning the match 6-3, 3-6, 6-0.
Track & field: Terri-Ann Grant
Senior Terri-Ann Grant won the high jump, setting a personal record in the event, eclipsing 1.82m/5-11.50, the second best high jump mark in program history.
Gymnastics: Alexis Gross
Helped Kentucky earn a season-best team scored against Illinois-Chicago with career-high scores on vault, uneven bars, balance beam and in the all-around. Gross started the meet strong with a 9.775 on bars and followed that with a 9.6 on vault. The native of Pasadena, Md., finished the night with a 9.725 on floor and a 9.775 on beam for a career high all-around score of 38.875.
Men's basketball: Darius Miller
Tallied a pair of double-figure scoring games in helping Kentucky to two road wins on the week ... Scored a season-high 19 points in win at Georgia going 4-4 from 3-point range and shooting 87.5 percent from the field ... Miller followed that with another double-digit performance in UK's win over LSU ... His 13 points pushed him to 1,081 for his career moving into Kentucky's top 50 (48th) all-time scorers.
Men's tennis: Eric Quigley
After earning two singles wins Tuesday against No. 29 Indiana and Eastern Kentucky senior Eric Quigley has earned his 145th career singles win to stand alone on top of Kentucky's all-time career singles wins list. Quigley earned win 144 when he defeated Josh MacTaggart of Indiana in three sets and then broke the record with a straight-sets win over Niklas Schroeder of EKU. Quigley's victories Tuesday give him a 145-44 career record, passing former UK All-American Paul Varga for first all-time in career singles wins at Kentucky. Varga, who played from 1982-85, ended his career with a 144-80 record and has held the title as the winningest singles player in school history for over 27 years.
Track & field: Keilah Tyson
Freshman sprinter Keilah Tyson broke the women's indoor 60-meter dash freshman school record Saturday with a time of 7.36 at the Rod McCravy Memorial meet. Tyson's race tied the third fastest time in program history. The Norfolk, Va., native broke the record previously set by Kentucky great Passion Richardson, who went on to help the United States 4x100 relay team win bronze at the 2000 summer Olympic games in Sydney.
On Tuesday, Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky Wildcats moved into the top five of the Coaches Poll for the first time this season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell and his Kentucky Wildcats have joined John Calipari's team in the top five.
On Tuesday, the latest ESPN/USA Coaches Poll for women's college basketball was unveiled, and UK Hoops moved up one spot to No. 5. The Wildcats made the move thanks to Duke's home loss on Monday night to Connecticut. UK also defeated Duke earlier this season in Rupp Arena.
With the new ranking, Kentucky becomes the only school in college basketball with a men's and women's team ranked in the top five of the Coaches Poll. The Wildcat check in at No. 6 according to the Associated Press. That poll was released on Monday before the Blue Devils' loss.
In addition to both being ranked in the top five, UK men's and women's basketball have combined to have the best record of any team in the country. Dating back to the 2009-10 season, the Wildcats have a composite record of 91-2 (.978 winning percentage) at Rupp Arena and Memorial Coliseum. Duke is second in that department with a record of 86-3 (.966).
Men's basketball - Kentucky won its 13th straight game and fourth straight on the road, traveling to Baton Rouge, La., and collecting a 74-50 win over LSU. - Terrence Jones had his strongest game of the season, scoring a season-high 27 points and narrowly missing a double-double with nine rebounds. Jones also blocked a game-high tying three shots. - Anthony Davis posted a double-double, his 11th, tallying 16 points and 10 rebounds to go along with three blocks and two steals. Darius Miller also scored in double-figures, finishing with 13 points. - UK held LSU to 39.6 pct. from the field, the 14th time this season the Cats have held its opponent below 40 pct. Women's basketball - Kentucky improved to 20-2, 9-0 SEC with wins over Auburn and Alabama last week. This is the first time in program history UK has started conference play 9-0 and UK's 20-2 start ties its best start in program history through the first 22 games. Kentucky's best start to a season was in 1982-83 (21-2). The Wildcats have also won a school-record 12 straight SEC games dating back to last season, including seven in a row at home. - UK defeated Auburn on the road last Thursday 66-48, paced by junior A'dia Mathies' team-high 20 points and sophomore Samarie Walker's career-high 15 rebounds. UK forced the Tigers into 30 turnovers, the most in league play in the Matthew Mitchell era. - On Sunday, Kentucky earned its third consecutive 20-win season with an 82-68 win over Alabama. The balanced scoring effort was led by senior Keyla Snowden with 14 points, while Mathies and freshman Bria Goss added 13 and 11 points, respectively. UK forced the Tide into 25 turnovers, resulting in 29 points for the Wildcats. - UK's current 17-game home winning streak is the fourth longest in program history. The Wildcats will play host to Ole Miss on Thursday before hitting the road for three straight away contests.
Gymnastics - The youth-filled Kentucky gymnastics team continued to show its improvement over the weekend when it earned a dual-meet victory against Illinois-Chicago on Saturday with a season-high score of 195.05. The high mark was the best in a regular-season dual meet on the road since the 2011 squad went 195.05 at Ohio State. It is also the highest team score in a dual-meet road victory since March of 2010. - Kentucky posted season-high team scores on bars and beam, earning a 48.825 on bars to crush the previous season high of 48.5. On beam, Kentucky earned a team score of 48.975, which is tied for the 12th-highest beam score in school history and the highest since the 2009 team posted a 49.1 on March 15 in Alaska. UK's gymnasts did well on every event, setting or tying 17 season highs and 14 career highs in the meet. - Three Wildcats took home event title honors. Sophomore Holly Cunningham finishing first on vault with a 9.825, while junior Caitlyn Ciokajlo and senior Storey Morris finished first on uneven bars and balance beam, respectively. Sophomore Audrey Harrison and freshman Alexis Gross competed in the all-around competition and both earned career-high marks. Harrison scored a 39.0, while Gross posted a 38.875.
Men's tennis - Kentucky kicked off its home portion of the 2012 spring schedule with a very successful week, going 4-0 overall with three wins over teams ranked in the top 60 in the nation. - The Wildcats started the week with a 7-0 win over No. 29 Indiana in its home opener before taking down in-state foe Eastern Kentucky 6-0. Over the weekend, UK hosted the ITA Kickoff Weekend, where they defeated No. 57 North Carolina State 4-0 and No. 22 Tulsa 4-1 to earn a spot in the National Indoor Championships for the third consecutive season. - Senior Eric Quigley was the headline of the week early on, as he became the school's all-time winningest singles player with his 145th singles win on Tuesday against EKU. Quigley, who now owns a 147-44 career record, passed former UK great Paul Varga, who played from 1982-85, and ended his career with a 144-80 record. - Sophomore Alejandro Gomez was the star for Kentucky on Saturday as he clinched the decisive fourth point in UK's win over Tulsa. With the Wildcats holding a 3-1 lead and the remaining three singles matches in the third set, Gomez posted a 6-0 third-set win at No. 5 singles to seal the UK victory. The win moved UK to 47-9 at home since the start of the 2009 season and was the Wildcats' 20th victory over a top-25 team since 2009.
Track and field - Freshman sprinter Keilah Tyson broke the women's indoor 60-meter dash freshman school record Saturday with a time of 7.36 at the Rod McCravy Memorial meet. Tyson's race tied the third fastest time in program history. - Senior Terri-Ann Grant won the high jump, setting a personal record in the event, eclipsing 1.82m/5-11.50, the second best high jump mark in program history. - Freshman Terence Boyd had a strong weekend at the Rod McCravy Memorial, recording the seventh best mark in UK history in the long jump Friday, and the eighth best mark in UK history in the triple jump Saturday. - Junior Luis Orta finished second in the men's 3,000m run with a time of 8:10.58, a career-best for the Caracas, Venezuela native, and the eighth best in school history.
Swimming and diving - Behind wins in 25 of 32 events, the University of Kentucky swimming and diving teams defeated the University of Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday at the Lancaster Aquatic Center with the men claiming a 192-101 win, and the women claiming a 169.5-116.5 win. - Tyler Reed led the Wildcats again on the men's side, swimming his best-ever time in a dual meet in the 50-freestyle, pacing the field with a 20.53 in that event. Also, in the 200-freestyle, Reed recorded a 1:38.95. - Greg Ferrucci posted a 418.65 in the one-meter competition, smashing his own school record by over 20 points. Ferrucci finished first in the one meter, and three-meter competitions, pacing the field with a 423.75 in the three-meter. The 423.75 was just six points shy of the UK program record, which Ferrucci owns.
Rifle - UK rifle competed in a pair of matches over the weekend, including a 4635-4566 win over Morehead State on Sunday at UK's Barker Hall. UK also shot in the Withrow Invitational, hosted by Murray State, on Friday. - In both matches, UK shot with a new starting lineup, featuring primarily freshmen and newcomers. In the win on Sunday, freshmen Elijah Ellis and Jonathan Pinkel led the way, with Pinkel setting new career highs in both guns. - Kentucky returns to its grueling spring semester road schedule, traveling to Morgantown, W.Va., for a pair of conference matches to conclude the regular season. UK will face West Virginia on Saturday, Feb. 4, before facing off with North Carolina State on Sunday, Feb. 5.
Thursday, Feb. 2 Women's basketball hosts Ole Miss - 7:00 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 3 Swimming and diving at Louisville - 2:00 p.m. Gymnastics at LSU - 8:00 p.m. Track and field at Notre Dame Meyo Invitational Saturday, Feb. 4 Women's tennis hosts Purdue - Noon Men's basketball at South Carolina - 6:00 p.m. Rifle at West Virginia Track and field at Notre Dame Meyo Invitational Sunday, Feb. 5 Men's tennis hosts Pepperdine - Noon Women's basketball at LSU - 3:00 p.m. Women's tennis hosts Miami (OH) - 4:00 p.m. Men's tennis hosts Abilene Christian - 6:00 p.m. Rifle vs. NC State (Morgantown, W. Va.)
Terrence Jones has scored in double figures seven times in eight games in January. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky was dangerous enough without Terrence Jones playing like the All-American he was billed to be coming into his sophomore season.
The Wildcats navigated a difficult holiday schedule with just one loss on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer even though Jones was a shell of himself due to puzzling struggles and a finger injury.
The team was never ranked worse than third nationally, but evaluations of the team's prospects for Southeastern Conference play were often punctuated by questions wondering what the Cats would look like with Jones performing at capacity.
In a 74-50 win over LSU on Saturday, those questions were answered.
"If Terrence is going to show up and play like that, you can crown them right now," LSU coach Trent Johnson said.
No. 1 UK (21-1, 7-0 SEC) put together what John Calipari called its best performance of the season, leading Johnson to issue his bold proclamation about UK winning the conference title. Jones poured in a season-high 27 points to go with nine rebounds, three blocks and a pair of steals.
"(It felt) real good because it was within the offense and it came naturally because of how hard I was running the floor and rebounding," Jones said.
As Jones suggests, the scoring was nice, but more excitement should be gleaned from the way he did his scoring. That's certainly the reason the team was all smiles on the flight home from Baton Rouge, La.
"We were all happy in that locker room," Calipari said. "The team was ecstatic. It wasn't scoring. He was tough. He came up with balls. He posted physically strong even though the guy battled him. He battled back. The four jumps for a ball, we haven't seen that all year."
Saturday may have been the first time Jones put the numerous pieces of his game together, but his effort didn't come out of nowhere.
Since the calendar flipped to the New Year and Jones was able to put a forgettable December behind him, he has scored in double figures seven times in eight games. During that time, he's averaged 14.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
One of Jones' quietest games during that stretch came against the same Tennessee Volunteers (10-11, 2-4 SEC) that will visit Rupp Arena for a game at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. He managed 10 points and five rebounds in UK's hard-fought 65-62 win in Knoxville, Tenn., fouling out in just 24 minutes against a physical Volunteer front line that featured freshman Jarnell Stokes for the first time.
Jones said he was looking forward to the rematch, saying both Tennessee and Kentucky have improved significantly in the two-and-a-half weeks since the last matchup.
Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin has already watched tape of Jones' big game from this weekend and he knows how difficult life could be for the Volunteers if he duplicates it. However, he knows he can't afford to let his team get swept up in stopping Jones with all the weapons that surround him.
"When he's playing and scoring at that level, it's tough to beat," Martin said. "But as talented as he is, they have so many parts and so many pieces. It's hard to identify just one guy. You just have to do a very good job of playing team defense and keeping them off the glass."
Martin learned that from experience, as freshman forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Anthony Davis (18 points, eight rebounds, four blocks) foiled his team's upset bid the last time around. Kidd-Gilchrist, in particular, caught Martin's eye with his six offensive rebounds.
"From an offensive standpoint, he's a key because he's at that size where he can go inside, he can go outside and it's tough for traditional guards to keep him off the glass because he's so big and physical," Martin said.
Kidd-Gilchrist made an impression on the Tennessee headman even back during his high school days.
"The one thing he did was he played hard," Martin said. "It seems like that's a skill nowadays when a guy plays hard. You don't see it as much but he plays extremely hard. He plays with a passion, an excitement and he's smiling out there. He's a very talented player."
During Jones' lackluster December, Kidd-Gilchrist was pressed into more of a featured offensive role and he responded with big game after big game, culminating in a 24-point, 19-rebound outing vs. Louisville that thrust him into the Player of the Year conversations Jones was supposed to have been a part of.
As Jones was exploding at LSU, Kidd-Gilchrist happily focused on defense (two steals), rebounding (eight boards) and making his teammates better (four assists). He scored just one point on five shots, but Calipari said he still may have been "the best player on the floor."
"Guys like him don't get enough credit because they impact winning without scoring," Johnson said after losing to Kentucky. "Defending, rebounding, on the floor, he's a great player. He guards your one through your four, probably can guard five, never says a word and just competes. He's a great player."
There will be games when Kidd-Gilchrist is called upon to take 15-plus shots and score 20-plus points, but those times when he's asked to operate more in the periphery are even more important as the Cats work to take home some of the trophies Johnson foretold. That goes for every one of his teammates too.
"When people watch us, they say 'Man, they are unselfish,' " Calipari said. " 'All of these All-Americans pass it to one another, and they make the extra pass, they have seven guys.' That's why we are where we are, or we wouldn't be here.
"Everybody has to sacrifice and 'do less' so you are 'doing more' for us."
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shows off UK's new alternate uniform at practice on Monday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Players eager to wear new uniforms
While warming up for practice on Monday, players gave media in attendance for interviews a sneak preview of the new Nike Hyper Elite Platinum uniforms they will wear for tomorrow's game against Tennessee.
Since they were unveiled last week, the new duds have been a hot topic among fans. Senior guard Darius Miller was asked about the negative response by some who prefer sticking to UK's traditional blue and white.
"I don't know what to say to them," Miller said. "We're going to enjoy it. We're going to have fun playing."
Miller, for one, feels privileged to be part of a UK team that gets to take part in the rare occasion.
"I think we're all excited to wear them," Miller said. "They're pretty nice uniforms and to be able to get something special like this, it feels good to be a part of something like that."
The players will wait to pass final judgment on the alternate look until after they try them out though.
Even among a season's worth of thunderous dunks and perfectly thrown alley-oops, Darius Miller's jam against St. John's stands out.
This week, Miller's alley-oop slam on Dec. 1 against the Red Storm is one of six nominees for Dunk of the Year voting. Two winners from this week will be chosen through fan voting on Facebook to advance. Two finalists will be chosen from this week's crop that includes dunks by players from UConn, Indiana and Alabama, among others.
Those two will join six others to take part in a two-week voting competition that will decide the winner, which will be announced during the Dunks of the Year special, which airs March 26 on ESPN2.
Voting ends Monday, Feb. 6, and Miller is already off to a good start. The senior native of Maysville, Ky., is in first place with 62 percent of the votes as of 1:50 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 20. VOTE FOR MILLER
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Wildcats remained No. 1 in both major polls for the second-consecutive week. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
With a pair of double-digit road wins, the Kentucky Wildcats backed up the top ranking they earned earlier in the week. On Monday, the Cats inched a little closer to becoming the nation's unanimous No. 1 team.
In the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Top 25, UK (21-1, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) received all 31 first-place votes, checking in ahead of Syracuse, Ohio State, Missouri and Duke, who were ranked second through fifth. Florida (No. 11) and Mississippi State (No. 19) were the other two SEC teams to appear in the poll, while Vanderbilt finished just outside the rankings.
For the fourth week, this season UK is No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. UK got 63 out of a possible 65 first-place votes, with No. 2 Syracuse receiving the other two. Florida (No. 12), Mississippi State (No. 22) and Vanderbilt (No. 25) joined UK from the SEC.
The AP also released its weekly women's poll and UK Hoops (20-2, 9-0 SEC) remained at No. 6.
UK all-time leading scorer Valerie Still was honored with Susan B. Feamster Trailblazer Award at halftime of UK's 82-68 win over Alabama. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
On Sunday, the sixth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats defeated Alabama 82-68.
Afterwards, all Matthew Mitchell and his players were talking about was putting the game behind them and playing better in the future.
The Wildcats picked up a double-digit win over a Southeastern Conference opponent team, yet they could hardly come up with anything good to say about how they played?
"It was a day where we weren't our sharpest and we weren't really locked in and focused," Mitchell said.
On the strength of a 32-4 run in the first half, UK (20-2, 9-0 SEC) built a 25-point lead against the visiting Crimson Tide (10-12, 0-8 SEC). The Wildcats, though, relented in their intensity, allowing Alabama cut the deficit at halftime to 17 points.
"I thought the first half was sort of like the whole game," Mitchell said. "We had some good moments and got out to a big lead, then we let them go 9-2 to end the half and didn't look real interested. It's almost like we thought if we got a certain number of points ahead, that Alabama was going to go away. That certainly never happened today."
In the second half, Alabama would score 39 points, tying for the second most points any opponent has scored against UK in 18 halves of SEC basketball.
"We just did a poor job on defense," junior guard A'dia Mathies said. "We let them go where they wanted to go and wasn't denying like we're capable of. That's really on us. We've got to do a better job."
Fortunately, the Cats managed to score more points on Sunday than they had since an 88-point outburst three weeks ago against Mississippi State. Three different UK players reached double figures, led by Keyla Snowden and her 14 points.
Throughout UK's unprecedented start to SEC play, the first-place Wildcats have won in nearly every way imaginable. They've prevailed in half-court slugfests, full-court sprints and, now, games where they simply didn't play up to their lofty defensive standards. The way they've persevered and maintained an unblemished record speaks to the progress the program has made, particularly on this day.
"It's a long, long season," Mitchell said. "Sixteen games in this league is long. You're not going to paint a masterpiece every Sunday afternoon and every Thursday night. To be able to earn a victory is significant and we're glad to have it."
Even though she's only a freshman, Bria Goss has learned quickly that winning pretty isn't always an option, though she doesn't want any repeats of Sunday's game.
"It's just a learning experience," Goss said. "As much as we don't want to have these games, you're going to have these kinds of games. Hopefully this will be the last one."
Goss and her teammates helped welcome dozens of former Wildcats as a part of Alumni Day. Headlining the festivities were members of the 1981-82 team, the only one in school history to win an SEC championship.
Veterans like Mathies and Snowden are well aware of the history of the program. The parallels between what Valerie Still and that team 30 years ago accomplished and what this year's team has set out to do are not lost on them.
"It's in our minds," Snowden said. "That's one of our goals. That's what we're going to push toward each game. We're going to take it one game at a time and we hope we can accomplish that."
Mitchell is certainly thinking along the same lines, but he also knows any duplicates of the effort against Alabama will very quickly derail those goals.
"I think if they continue to do that, they'll get beat," Mitchell said. "I think it is real clear that if they don't stick really close to the fundamentals of defense that they definitely possess and they've worked hard to earn, (the team will lose)."
The Big Blueprint is back. A rapid recap of the game, the Big Blueprint looks at the nuts and bolts of the latest UK game. Today, we break down UK's 74-50 win at LSU. The skinny: "That's probably the best we've played all year." That was what John Calipari said about Kentucky's effort in a 74-50 win over LSU in Baton Rouge, La., and it pretty much says up all you need to know about the game. Led by Terrence Jones' season-high 27 points, UK moved to 21-1 (7-0 Southeastern Conference) and strengthened its grip on the No. 1 national ranking. Anthony Davis posted his 11th double-double in just 22 games with 16 points and 10 rebounds. The Wildcats led by as many as 12 points in the first half before LSU rallied to cut the lead to 25-24. UK would boost the lead back up to nine at halftime and extended it 22 within the first six minutes of the second half. The Cats led by at least 19 the rest of the way. The difference: Negating physical play. With a deep and talented front court, LSU was expected to try to knock Jones and Davis around, and that's exactly what they attempted. However, better than they have in any game this season, the Cats responded. Davis, in particular, was a target. In the first half, he was knocked to the ground, hitting his head on the knee of Malcolm White. He briefly exited the game with a right shoulder contusion, then returned, blocking an LSU shot the first chance he had. In the second half, Davis stole the ball at midcourt and streaked to the hoop for dunk, but White grabbed him from behind with both hands, earning a Flagrant-2 foul and an ejection. Davis would momentarily writhe on the ground in pain, but he stayed in the game. Davis and the Cats, instead of engaging in trash talk or dirty play, responded simply by dominating all facets of the game.
Player of the game: Davis was tremendous, but Jones was even better. The sophomore showed why he was a nearly unanimous All-America pick in the preseason, scoring at will and flying up and down the court. He scored his 27 on 10-for-16 shooting and added nine rebounds, three blocks, two steals and an assist. UK has ascended to the top of the polls in spite of Jones not playing up to his own high standards, but looked like an even more dangerous team with him playing up to his potential. Turning point: UK got off to a good start, but when Davis exited with his shoulder injury, the Cats stagnated. LSU attacked the basket and limited the Kentucky offense in a 14-3 run beginning with 8:26 left in the first half. After Storm Warren's dunk made it a 25-24 game, Marquis Teague rose for what appeared to be an ill-advised 3-pointer. The shot quickly went from questionable to crucial when it fell through the net and spurred a 10-2 run to close out the half.
Play of the game: Jones and Davis each had their share of soaring blocks and rim-rocking dunks, but the play they combined to make on UK's first points of the second half takes the cake. Davis, as he so often does, blocked a Johnny O'Bryant jumper to start the whole thing. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist pulled down the rebound while Jones and Davis raced down the floor. Kidd-Gilchrist threw a long pass ahead to Davis, who jumped to catch the ball high above his head. In one motion, Davis directed the ball to Jones in front of the rim for a dunk to put UK ahead by double digits for good.
Key stat: Six turnovers. LSU is among the best defensive teams in the SEC largely due to the 16.2 turnovers per game the Tigers were forcing coming into a game against UK. Led by Teague (four assists, one turnover), the Wildcats handled the LSU defense and committed their second-fewest turnovers of the season. Unsung hero(es): Darius Miller was one of the biggest reasons UK had that nine-point halftime advantage. He had 10 points at the break, hitting a pair of 3-pointers on the heels of his 19-point outing on Tuesday against Georgia. Miller would finish with 13 points, one rebound, one assist and one steal. He said what? "That's as good as we can play. We beat anybody playing this way." - Calipari
"My point to (Jones) was, 'If this is who you are, then you should be this every game.' It's what we've all been waiting on, and he makes us different. He hit four straight jumpers. That's what we've all been waiting on." - Calipari
"When stuff like that happens to one of your brothers, you don't like that. They only way we could redeem that was by continuing to play hard and just show it through the score." - Jones on responding to the hard fouls on Davis
"I'm just trying to be more aggressive with my shot. If I'm open, I'm taking it. My teammates did a great job of finding me, especially in the first half." - Miller
"I asked him, 'Are you faking it or did they really hit you?' He said, 'Nah, they were whacking me, but I was from Chicago; I just kept getting up.' " - Calipari, recounting a sideline interaction with Davis
What this one means: It was well-known that UK has as much potential as any team in the country, but Saturday's game gave a glimpse into what the Cats can look like when they approach that potential. Calipari has pleaded with his team to respond to physical play and put opponents away. Doing it on the road against an athletic SEC team makes this arguably the Cats' most impressive game of the season.
Marquis Teague has 17 assists and just six turnovers over his last three games. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Marquis Teague never showed it much, but the early part of his freshman season was a battle.
For the first time in his basketball career, he was playing the game as he always had and it simply wasn't working. John Calipari was telling him he needed to play in a radically different way and Teague was caught in game of tug of war with himself.
He had always been able to rely on a combination his raw ability and his instincts to become one of the nation's highest-rated prep point guards
"It was causing me to think a lot," Teague said. "I was worrying about things I shouldn't have been worrying about and I should have just been playing."
Teague began to question himself and, in his words, "look over my shoulder." For a player who always had things come easy, that was a struggle.
"It plays with your head a lot more people would think it would do," Teague said. "It's tough. You've got to be strong-minded and continue to work. You've got to work your way out of it."
There were moments when Teague would flash the potential that caused Calipari to tab the Indianapolis, Ind., native as the next in his line of elite point guards, but things weren't quite clicking. He had 45 turnovers in his first 14 games and watched as shots he was used to making go awry.
All the while though, Calipari kept expressing confidence in his point guard because Teague wasn't the first of his players to go through something like that. For Teague to shake it off, Calipari knew his mindset would have to change, but he didn't doubt that would eventually happen.
"What happens to these young people," Calipari said, "if they don't let you define them - let us kind of present you to find out how you're going to play - when they argue the point, they think they can play like they did in high school. And when it doesn't work, it rattles them. Then they don't know if they're good enough. Then you start questioning, 'Can I play?' Well, you can play, just not the way you're playing, and that's the hard thing."
While Teague wrestled with what Calipari was telling him and the way he was used to playing, he continued to work, relying on a strong support system that included his father, Shawn, and his brother, Jeff, a point guard for the Atlanta Hawks, to keep him centered and focused.
"They helped me out a lot," Teague said. "They pretty much just talked to me positive, told me to keep working, keep lifting and stay in the gym and you'll be alright."
At long last, Teague's patience and persistence are paying off.
Kentucky (20-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) has ascended to the top spot in the rankings behind the progressively steadier play of its freshman floor general entering a trip to face the LSU Tigers (12-8, 2-4 SEC) on Saturday at 4 p.m. on the SEC Network.
"I think I'm seeing things a lot better after getting comfortable with the offense and knowing where everybody's going to be," Teague said.
"I'm just reacting to things instead of worrying about too much, thinking about things too much. Now I'm just playing."
Teague is far from a finished product, but the progress he has made is noticeable in SEC play. He has tallied 25 assists against 16 turnovers in six games and would like to further limit those mistakes, but his improvement all comes back to embracing Calipari's message.
Perhaps the best example of his evolution came in his last outing. Teague dished out seven assists and committed no turnovers on Tuesday against Georgia in a 57-44 win. He scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting, but Teague has come to realize he doesn't have to score 20 for his team to be successful.
"My first thing is to get everyone else involved. On a team like this, you don't really have to score as many points as I'm used to scoring. I'm trying to get everybody else involved and create and control the tempo of the game."
In high school, that kind of scoring night would have surely meant defeat for Teague's team, but not with these Wildcats. He is one of six UK players averaging double figures and is still capable of filling it up, but has learned to take what the defense gives him.
"We come out of the floor and whoever has it going, that's who we go to," Teague said. "We keep feeding them. On our team, several people might have it going one game so we're lucky to have that."
Calipari was certainly pleased with his offensive effort against the Bulldogs, but it was Teague's performance on other end of the floor that really excited his coach. Teague set a career high in rebounding while tirelessly chasing Georgia's veteran guards.
"The biggest thing with Marquis Teague that he's doing better is he's defending and rebounding," Calipari said. "You all want to look at his offense, he's defending and rebounding. He's not stopping. He's going in and getting rebounds. He had seven rebounds (last game). If he has seven rebounds, we'll outrebound the other opponent by double digits."
In all likelihood, Teague's next defensive assignment will be Anthony Hickey, a native of Hopkinsville, Ky., and the reigning Mr. Basketball for the state of Kentucky. He is averaging 10.0 points and 4.0 assists in his freshman season and Teague expects Hickey to be eager to prove himself against his home-state school.
The two freshmen played against one another last season in the Kentucky/Indiana All-Star Games and Hickey made an impression on his counterpart.
"He's a good guard, real quick and good with the ball," Teague said. "He can shoot the outside shot and he's a true point guard."
He may have chosen to pursue Teague over Hickey, but that doesn't mean Calipari doesn't believe the LSU point guard to good enough to play for him.
"(Hickey) is an SEC player and a starting point guard," Calipari said. "I just saw him against Mississippi State hit four 3s to end the game - in a row. He's not afraid. He could play here. There's no question. He's not afraid. He's a battler. He's good."
Learning a lesson from his early season troubles, Teague is done with thinking too much. When he steps on the floor opposite Hickey, the only thing that will be on Teague's mind will be running his team.
"I'm just going to come in and compete, play like I've been playing and try to lead my team and get a win," Teague said. "There's no one-on-one battle with me or anything like that. I'm just focused on winning."
Marlon McCree started every game at middle linebacker over his final three seasons at Kentucky before a nine-year NFL career. (UK Athletics)
Today we take a look back at the Kentucky career of former football linebacker Marlon McCree (1997-2000) and his successes after graduating from UK. McCree was recently named assistant secondary coach by the Jacksonville Jaguars after a nine-year NFL playing career.
Even during his college career at Kentucky, Marlon McCree heard the doubters.
When McCree moved from the secondary to middle linebacker before the 1998 season, he knew what outsiders were saying about a 6-foot-1, 198-pounder playing the position in the Southeastern Conference.
"Everybody said, 'you're too little, you're going to break your neck, you're going to hurt your shoulder,' " McCree said in a phone interview on Thursday.
Three seasons later, there wasn't anyone left to prove wrong.
McCree overcame any size disadvantages he may have faced to start all 33 of UK's games over his final three seasons as a Wildcat. He led the team in tackles each year, finishing with 219 for his career. He helped lead Kentucky to back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in 15 seasons and tallied 14.5 sacks and 37 tackles for loss.
"I always had to be an overachiever playing middle linebacker at 190 pounds in the SEC," McCree said. "That's not a very easy task so I always had to do extra to get myself prepared to play Florida, Georgia, Alabama and LSU."
Having proven his point at the college level, McCree looked to the NFL for his next challenge. A seventh-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2001, McCree would return to his natural safety position, but he didn't abandon the mentality that made him a success at linebacker in college.
"Coming from that underdog situation gave me the right mind frame," McCree said. "I always played in the NFL like I had a lot to prove, and that came from me having a lot to prove there at Kentucky."
He wouldn't waste any time making an impact.
By the end of his rookie season, McCree had solidified himself as a starter and was among the league leaders with six interceptions the following season. He had to cope with the same adjustments as any first-year player, but his unique experience at playing linebacker in the nation's toughest conference positioned him to make a splash from the moment he arrived at training camp.
"Coming from the SEC, I was used to seeing quality talent week in and week out so I was ready from a competitive standpoint, even making the transition from linebacker to safety," McCree said. "I was also able to quickly grasp the playbook because of having the responsibility of knowing the playbook and being the captain of the defense at Kentucky."
McCree would go on to successful stints over the coming seasons with the Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. He earned starting roles at each of his stops, but accompanying his underdog mentality was a lingering awareness his playing days would eventually come to an end.
He would pick the brain of almost anyone he came across ranging from coaches to businessmen to ministers looking to gain some insight into how he should occupy himself once his career was over. The idea of using his finance degree from UK (which he earned in just three years) had crossed his mind, but he ultimately couldn't ignore the nearly unanimous advice he received.
"They all said the same thing: 'You've got to do what you love. You've got to do what you're passionate about,' " McCree said. "When I stepped out and made my list of pros and cons, the one thing that kept coming up for me was that my passion was in football. This is where I belong."
After being cut by the Jaguars before the 2009 season, McCree retired. Once that decision was made, there wasn't a moment's hesitation as to what his next step would be: he would become a coach. With the same tenacity that had made him successful in his four years at UK and his nine years in the NFL, McCree pursued his goal.
Where there was coaching help needed, McCree was there. He worked for his former Charger head coach Marty Schottenheimer at the East-West Shrine Game, which is where he first began coaching the secondary. He took unpaid internships with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos in an effort to gain experience and notoriety. Putting away his pads and helmet in favor of a clipboard and whistle wasn't always easy, but he never questioned his decision.
"Transitioning from playing into anything has a set of obstacles," McCree said. "You have to understand there are going to be good days and bad days, but what kept me going was my passion."
Just over two years later, his dedication paid off. This week, McCree was named assistant secondary coach by the team that first drafted him.
"I started my playing career there and I'm about to start my coaching career there," McCree said. "Being a Florida native, it's going back home for me and there's nothing I would want to do more than help bring the city of Jacksonville a Super Bowl.
"I've always wanted to coach and football has always been my passion. Now I finally got my opportunity and it's like a dream come true."
The Orlando, Fla., native played in an NFC Championship game, an AFC Championship game and was a part of a 14-win team with San Diego, but football's ultimate prize eluded him. That's something he intends to change in his life's next path.
"I don't think there's a better feeling in the world than to go out there and help a team win a Super Bowl," McCree said. "I've come close to playing in the Super Bowl, but I fell short a couple times and I'm looking forward to getting my chance as a coach to win one."
In his 13 years around professional football, McCree has noticed a trend. Every year, more of his fellow UK alumni are reaching the summit of the game.
"It brings a smile to my face to see the younger guys that came after me make it to the NFL because they've made a tremendous sacrifice to make it and I know what they've gone through," McCree said. "It makes me very happy and it makes me very proud."
He played with a pair of former Wildcats in Wesley Woodyard and DeWayne Robertson as a Bronco in 2008. McCree also noted the accomplishments of Randall Cobb in his rookie year with Green Bay and Stevie Johnson's emergence in Buffalo, which he believes can only help the UK program under Joker Phillips.
"We've got guys scattered all over the NFL," McCree said. "We've got guys in front offices like Quentus Cumby in the front office for the San Francisco 49ers. Anthony 'Champ' Kelly, he's in the front office for the Denver Broncos. I'm now an NFL coach. You're starting to see some assets that belong to Kentucky that can really help the football program."
"He's a heckuva a player. He's mature, he's cool, he's strong, he can shoot under pressure, he doesn't turn the ball over and he's so mature. This guy is a player. "
That's what former LSU coach Dale Brown had to say about reigning Kentucky Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey of Christian County, a freshman on the LSU basketball team that the Wildcats face tomorrow in Baton Rouge.
Brown, speaking on today's "Leach Report" radio show, said he's been impressed by the job coach Trent Johnson has done in rebuilding the Tigers.
"They're a very good defensive team. And he has good depth. He has about five players (on that bench) and they're extremely good backups," he said. "They don't have the talent Kentucky does."
Brown had some talent-laden teams at LSU, with the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Jackson, Kenny Higgs, Rudy Macklin, etc. And he knows the fallacy of doubters who say any coach can win with big-time talent like Kentucky gets.
"I think a lot of people underestimate John's ability to coach. I think he's really outstanding. And if you can't like John Calipari, you can't like anybody," Brown said. "Kentucky's got a great one there--one they'll never forget."
UK IMG radio network analyst Mike Pratt says LSU is a "big-time threat" in this matchup. Pratt said wins like the one LSU had over nationally-ranked Marquette give the Tigers. "They know they can play with top teams," he said, adding that Kentucky "better bring it mentally and they better bring it defensively."
Who does Anthony Davis remind you of--not just in terms of former Cats but all former SEC stars? We put that question to longtime SEC TV voice Tom Hammond on the radio show.
"Nobody," Hammond replied. " I don't know that I've seen a package (of skills) quite like that. He has exquisite timing. That's what I like about him. He can block the ball at the height of its release and often keep it in play. And he has such a great demeanor. He's always on an even keel. I don't know that we can compare him to anyone.
"Shaq blocked a lot of shots but I don't think he had the timing that Davis has. It's tough for me to go back and think of somebody has those particular skills--and is so young. And he's only going to get better," added Hammond.
Before he went to national stardom with NBC, Hammond covered UK sports for many years for WLEX-TV in Lexington, giving him a basis for comparing coach Calipari's style to all of the UK coaches back through Adolph Rupp.
"To me he handles the media the way coach Rupp used to," said Hammond. "He sort of tells everybody what they should be thinking. He guides the media and fans and that reminds me (of coach Rupp)."
In two of his last three games, freshman point guard Marquis Teague has produced two of his best single-game assist totals. And one of the best-ever UK point guards, Kyle Macy, says that's exactly the right course for Teague to follow this season.
"If your point guard is taking the second-most attempts, he better be a pretty good shooter--ala a Brandon Knight. With this team, (he) doesn't need to really put points on the board, unless it's late in the shot clock. Then, they can't really back off of him and he can use his speed and quickness and get to the rim. The main thing is get everybody else involved and get the offense running right," Macy told "The Leach Report" audience.
"Scoring from the point guard position--with this team--that should be one of the last things the point guard is thinking about. There are just so many options," Macy continued. "It's amazing to me that Anthony Davis, as well as he's playing, is last on the team in field goal attempts. If I'm a point guard, I'm getting him the ball every chance I get. I want my big guys (who do what he does on defense) to be real happy."
Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have combined to average 26.4 points and 17.9 rebounds as freshmen. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics
By Erin Ashley Simon, UK media relations intern and women's soccer team member
Even in an age of college basketball when many freshmen are called upon to star from the moment they set foot on campus, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are rare.
Davis, with his UK single-season block record of 98, and Kidd-Gilchrist, with his nationally known defensive, energetic reputation, have established themselves as one of the top duos in the nation barely halfway through their first college seasons, but that's not what makes the pair so special.
What makes this competitive twosome unique though is the brotherhood the two roommates have forged off the court.
"I think the bond that Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis started was during the time that they both decided to go to UK," said Cortez Hale, Davis' high school coach at Perspectives Charter in Chicago. "They became great friends when they first met. Once they found out they were both going to UK, it helped them figure out what similarities they possessed off the court. Their bond is huge and it shows during play when they look for each other."
That very bond Hale spoke of has been the centerpiece of the duo's accomplishments from the very first exhibition against Transylvania as Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist have lived up to every ounce of the hype that came with their top-five rankings in the 2011 high school class.
"You have to be accustomed with one another and know each other for better or for worse," Hale said. "No matter if it was with the worst player on the team or the best, we must be willing to always support everyone."
Like opposing sides of a coin, an uncanny balance of humility and greatness lift this dynamic duo upward. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's unselfishness elevates the Wildcats' level of play just as much as Anthony Davis's team-oriented spirit.
"Michael is a very humble young man with a huge heart and an infectious smile," said Vincent Richardson, Kidd-Gilchrist's stepfather. "I always taught him that there is no 'I' in team, which helps him be selfless."
This key characteristic has aided Kidd-Gilchrist in his assimilation into his new team, and is a core ingredient of its achievements this season.
"The most unselfish memorable moment I witnessed in Michael was when he asked (UK head coach John Calipari) to start Darius Miller before himself," Richardson said."I was so proud of him and it showed his maturity."
A man who sacrifices for others is one who possesses true humility, but this quality do not disappear when Kidd-Gilchrist removes his jersey.
"Michael is the same individual you see on and off the court," Richardson said. "He does not like to talk about basketball and would much rather talk about life situations. He is in the gym every day and is always working on his game and pushing himself when no one else is around to see. He is a giving, God-fearing, humble and grateful young man."
Kidd-Gilchrist's work ethic mirrors Davis' zeal to be the best on and off the court every single day.
"Anthony strives to be the best and never settles for less," Hale said. "With that attitude, he tries to go above and beyond everything he does. Even when he had to adjust to his growth spurt, the challenge turned him into a better player."
Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis' camaraderie serves to motivate each other toward excellence while keeping them both humble in the process. Fame has not changed who they are at the core.
Davis enjoys speaking with young children after school about the importance of education and Kidd-Gilchrist likes baking cookies with young patients at the Ronald McDonald House. In short, these young men are exceptional on the court and in real life.
"The relationship that Michael and Anthony have is very close because they connect with each other," Richardson said. "Michael is like a brother that Anthony never had. They do everything together and have so much respect for one another. With similar goals and the willingness to do anything to meet them, Michael and Anthony have a bond that most people don't."
Sophomore guard Kastine Evans is scoring 7.4 points per game for UK Hoops in 2011-12. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
With nine freshmen and sophomores on his roster, it can be tough for Matthew Mitchell to predict what he'll see in any given practice or game.
Sometimes, all of his players are locked in and ready to bring the kind of intensity that Kentucky's high-pressure style demands. Others, certain Wildcats have lapses in focus, much to his frustration.
In those moments, Mitchell doesn't always have to yell and scream to capture the team's attention. Often, he doesn't have to anything more than cite the example of Kastine Evans.
" 'Why does Kastine have to come in here every day and do the right thing and you don't?' " Mitchell said. "That's a powerful example and I don't have to say much more."
The sophomore guard is seemingly immune to off days. Assuredly there are times when flying around the practice floor at the Joe Craft Center isn't what she would most like to be doing, but you wouldn't know that from watching her go about her business.
"Kastine's not some kind of superhero or immortal," Mitchell said. "She has difficulties during her day and setbacks and she finds a way to come to the practice court every day focused and with great energy. She's a tremendous example and a tremendous example of the kind of kid that can thrive at Kentucky."
With her unwavering approach, Evans has become one of UK Hoops' most reliable contributors. Surrounded by an unprecedented level of talent at UK, she has started all but two games during the Wildcats' 18-2 (7-0 Southeastern Conference) start, playing fewer minutes than only leading scorers A'dia Mathies and Bria Goss.
Other players on the roster may be perceived to have better pedigrees and more raw talent, but Mitchell thinks she is as indispensable to the team's success as any Wildcat.
"We have to have her on the floor to win," Mitchell said. "She does so many of the little things that it takes when you have a style that requires energy. She's a real high-energy player, a very intelligent player and a very selfless player."
The reason Mitchell has come to rely on Evans as much as he has is simple. He does it because he knows he can. Mitchell is a firm believer that the way a player practices is the best indication of the way she will play in a game. Evans is unfailing in her effort in practice, which shows Mitchell she'll be the same way on game day.
"He takes a lot from what you do in practice," Evans said. "He always focuses on the fact that everything you do in practice is going to carry into the games."
Evans has proven Mitchell right.
She is averaging 7.4 points per game, tied for third on the team, and needed only nine games to match her point total (90) from all 34 games of her freshman campaign. She is also fifth on the team in rebounding (4.2 per game), fourth in assists (1.7) and third in steals (1.8), but it's the intangibles that make her so important.
"You need those kinds of kids on your team when you play this style," Mitchell said. "She can play multiple positions; she's smart enough to do that. She is a huge, huge part of the team and we're always better when she's on the floor."
Throughout most of UK's program-best start to SEC play, she has started as part of a four-guard lineup that often calls for the 5-foot-8 Evans to guard a significantly taller player. Evans, though, relies on her quickness, her teammates and, most of all, her trademark intensity to overcome any size disadvantage she may run into.
"A lot of that just comes with having a competitive attitude with who you're playing against and playing hard all the time," Evans said. "There have been situations where size has mattered, but my teammates help me out in different situations."
UK travels to face Auburn (10-10, 2-5 SEC), who boasts a starting lineup with three players standing taller than six feet, on Thursday at 7 p.m., so Evans will be in line for another such test.
Also helping her guard a bigger post player will be all the work she's logged in the weight room. Evans said she had never taken part in a strength and conditioning program prior to coming to Kentucky in the summer of 2010, but has responded well to the regimen instituted by strength and conditioning coach Stephanie Tracey-Simmons, particularly over the past six months or so.
"You might not be able to tell, but I lost 10 pounds between the summer and now," Evans said. "I don't think it was regular weight; a lot of it had to do with gaining muscle and toning out my body."
Her added strength has also helped her offensive game.
Mitchell said her shooting form has improved dramatically as she has strengthened her core and legs, resulting in a much more natural arc. After connecting on just 9-of-40 (22.5 percent) 3-point attempts a season ago, Evans is nearly 10 percent better this season at 12-of-37 (32.4 percent). Her free-throw shooting has also improved by over 11 percent.
"I think Kastine will probably be a player that's a bit streaky, but her shot is so much better and I think it has a lot to do with strength and her commitment to getting better," Mitchell said.
With dynamic offensive threats all around her, Evans knows she doesn't have to score for her team to be successful, but she has shown herself to be more than capable of stepping up. She scored a career-high 23 points in UK's season opener and has reached double figures four times since.
"We have players on our team like A'dia and Bria we can usually count on to score, but you can't count on that every game because people have different defensive strategies," Evans said. "As a team, we've come to the realization that we can't just depend on those two people and they're going to be waiting for us to back them up if we need us."
As you'd might guess though, Evans ultimately doesn't care much about who puts the ball in the basket, so long as the Cats do it more often than their opponents.
"At the end of the day, it's Kentucky vs. whoever we're playing against," Evans said. "It doesn't matter who scores, who does what, who gets the praise."
Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have each started all 21 of UK's games this season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Last week, Kentucky freshman forwards (and roommates) Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were named to the Midseason Top 25 for the Wooden Award, which recognizes the player of the year in college basketball. In case you needed any more proof that Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are among the nation's top players, CBSSports.com released its weekly take on the race for player of the year and the pair of Wildcats were prominently featured.
Davis checks in at fourth and Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish had this to say about the record-setting native of Chicago, Ill.:
Comment: Davis has only averaged 7.5 points in the past two games -- wins against Alabama and Georgia. However, the long and versatile freshman's impact isn't measured by the points he puts on the board. He grabbed 20 rebounds in the past two games, blocked nine shots and changes the game on the defensive end.
Kidd-Gilchrist is No. 7:
Comment: It's difficult to put up eye-popping numbers on a team loaded with talent like the Wildcats, but MKG is still managing to impress just about every time out. He averaged 13.5 points and 8.5 boards in a pair of wins over Alabama and Georgia and has a motor that rivals just about anyone in the country.
Anthony Davis has set a school record with 98 blocks in the first 21 games of his college career. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
We've all seen the mock drafts projecting Anthony Davis as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. We've heard and read experts drool over his long-term potential and we've seen dozens of scouts turn out to watch him and his Kentucky teammates player.
However, Ethan Strauss of hoopspeak.com made an effort to quantify just how special of a prospect the freshman forward is beyond reciting his record-setting block numbers.
Using a statistical measurement called the "Stock Spread," Strauss says Davis stacks up favorably with any of the NCAA's elite defenders in recent years:
The offensive efficiency is nice but it's not why I care about Anthony Davis. I care because Davis plays a caliber of defense I have never seen before and am not entirely sure if I'll ever see again. I mean what I say, there is no hyperbole in my intent. Any reluctance to tell you this would merely be me, protecting my own ego from looking laughably wrong in the future.
I'm just struggling to find an NCAA player who had so many blocks and steals while fouling so rarely. Check his latest stat line. The 27 points on 12 shots is impressive, as is 14 boards. To me, the most staggering aspect is, "seven blocks, no fouls."
Who does that? What college freshman averages 4.6 blocks, 1.5 steals, while fouling only 2.1 times per game? I looked back at some formerly hyped defensive prospects to see if anyone had similar stats. I am using the quick and dirty measure of blocks + steals ("stocks") - fouls. Our result is the "Stock Spread," which is a bit like the Ted Spread, if the Ted Spread measured controlled defensive awesomeness as opposed to international credit insecurity. The Stock Spread is far from a fine-tuned predictive metric, but I like how it represents destruction rendered vs. destruction punished.
Strauss goes on to show Davis compares in that statistic to players like Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and Tim Duncan. A spoiler: only Olajuwon is Davis' equal. Check out the full story to read more.
On Wednesday morning, Nike announced that Kentucky is one of nine teams selected to wear "the next generation of college basketball design": the Nike Hyper Elite Platinum uniform. The Wildcats will debut the new look for a game against Tennessee on Jan. 31.
UK was chosen to don Nike's "latest and most innovative fit system" because the Wildcats have won a national championship in Nike footwear and apparel. Kentucky joins Arizona, Baylor (women), Duke, Florida, Syracuse, Connecticut (men and women) and North Carolina in wearing the new uniforms for selected games this season.
UK's new look will feature "laser-cut bonded logos, a sharp platinum design as well as prominent accent colors." The uniforms are designed "for superior performance and lower environmental impact" and are five percent lighter than the Nike Hyper Elite uniforms the Wildcats currently wear.
"Nike is committed to producing top-of-the-line performance attire with reduced sacrifice to the environment," said Phil Cook, Nike's Brand Manager for Basketball. "With our Nike Hyper Elite Platinum design, Nike is maintaining its long-standing obligations to our fans to not only produce the best on-court looks but also a design that makes use of the resources we already have."
Darius Miller scored 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting in UK's 57-44 win at Georgia. (Victoria Graff Photography)
In spite of scoring a season-low 57 points, No. 1 Kentucky (20-1, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) became the third team in the NCAA to reach the 20-win plateau with a 57-44 win over Georgia (10-10, 1-5 SEC). Senior Darius Miller scored 19 points, matching UK's scoring output for the entire second half.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14 points, 11 rebounds) chipped in with the fourth double-double of his freshman campaign, but it was the Wildcats' defense that made this game a 13-point win. The home-standing Bulldogs hit just 19-of-55 (34.5 percent) attempts from the field and were outrebounded 41-26 as UK exceeded its SEC road win total from a year ago with its third victory in as many tries.
The 44 points were the fewest allowed by UK since Nov. 23 against Radford as the two teams slugged it out in the Wildcats' slowest-paced game of the season (56 possessions).
I was not in attendance for the Cats' win, but a handful of Kentucky-affiliated media were, so here are a few stories to help you get your fill from Tuesday night:
Eric Quigley tied the all-time singles win record at UK with his 144th win on Tuesday afternoon. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Eric Quigley is looking to cap one of the most decorated careers in Kentucky men's tennis history with a banner senior year. On Tuesday afternoon, Quigley got his senior spring season off to a record-setting start.
In seventh-ranked UK's first dual match of 2012 against No. 29 Indiana, Quigley defeated Josh MacTaggart 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 for the 144th win of his collegiate career. The victory sent him into a tie for first place with Paul Varga on UK's all-time singles win list. His victory helped propel his team to a victory over IU at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex.
He won't have to wait long for a chance to take sole possession of the singles win crown, as Quigley and the Wildcats will host Eastern Kentucky in the second-half of a double header beginning at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Boone Tennis Complex.
UPDATE: Quigley defeated Niklas Schroeder of EKU 6-1, 6-4 for his 145th career win. Congratulations to Eric Quigley, UK's all-time winningest men's tennis player!
That was the first post on the Facebook fan page for my radio show about how fans felt about Kentucky moving into the number one spot in the polls. Believe it or not, "love it" was not the answer that got the most votes in our unscientific poll--it was "like it but uneasy."
That uneasiness is understandable, given how difficult it is to stay in the number one slot for a long stretch of time, but with the size of the target on the backs of Kentucky players game in and game out, can it really be that much bigger when you're at the top?
"I think the younger players don't feel the pressure as much," observed veteran sportscaster Tom Hammond on "The Leach Report" radio show on Monday. Hammond was working in Lexington television in 1978 when Kentucky was ranked number one for most of the season on the way to winning the program's first national title in 20 years.
"There were so many expectations on Kentucky to win it. When you're a freshman, you don't know what you don't know and I think that helps relieve the pressure somewhat. You don't feel the pressure of expectations the way that '78 team did," Hammond said.
One major positive factor going in Kentucky's favor is the talent on this roster.
"This is a seriously talented team and the beauty of it is that they don't rely on just one player," noted Hammond. "When you have such balance, it's tough to stop. The only thing I would think is if the minutes start to tell--freshmen sometimes hit a wall--but I really don't think it will. The most talented teams don't always win but they're fun to watch and that's some serious talent out there."
Kentucky has a chance to finish with six players averaging in double figures for the first time. The Courier-Journal's UK beat writer, Kyle Tucker, posted some interesting numbers this week on his blog about how the Cats' scoring averages would look if these players were attempting the number of shots the nation's top scorers are taking--about 15 per game. He notes that Lamb is attempting a team-high of only nine shots per game on average and that is significantly fewer than the 13.5 shots per game averaged by last year's leading scorer, Brandon Knight.
Lamb is coming off the bench for now, a role embraced earlier by senior Darius Miller. ESPN's Jay Bilas says accepting roles to make the team better than its individual parts is what gets remembered most.
"Everybody has to accept a roll even the star. You can accept a roll as a star and may think everyone wants that but not everybody does. Not everybody wants to be the guy that has to be consistent and do things every single night," Bilas said in an interview earlier this season. "Sometimes as a sixth man you could be more famous as being the sixth man than being the fifth starter.
"The key for every player is to understand that you are judged by winning and actually for a lot of years--you don't hear this any more because its getting more remote in time and now these kids are so young-- but there was a time where coaches would take the stat sheet, the end of the year cumulative stat sheet to the 1996 Kentucky national championship sheet and use it with their teams and say okay, 'Kentucky was the best at that time and maybe be the best team since then' and people would ask 'how many minutes did Ron Mercer average or how many points (did someone else average)' and the truth is no one could tell you," Bilas said.
"I, for one, can't tell you how many points Antoine Walker scored or how many points Tony Delk scored or things like that. You just knew they were an integral part of a championship team that could steam roll you. It was used to make a point that no one is going to remember all the little things that players moan and complain about. When you are in there play your tail off and do what you are supposed to do, we will all be remembered as winners and hopefully that is the attitude that a lot of teams are taking in because ultimately I am not going to remember that much longer how many points a guy scored," he continued, "but I am going to remember that those guys all played their tails off, played as a team and won. I will remember names. I won't remember what they did but I will remember that they were a part of that."
Here's the best example of that irony. Jodie Meeks had much the same skill set as a player like Lamb--some might even argue a better one--and he was a mid-second round pick after Kentucky's subpar 2009 season. But it's not to imagine Lamb playing himself into the first round if the Cats win a national title. For guys like Lamb and Terrence Jones, the message to grasp is that this is a team with so much talent that individual glory is going to be hard to come by but team glory can lift the NBA draft stock of anybody playing a key role in that success.
John Calipari has taken his teams to at least the Sweet 16 six seasons in a row. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Over the last few years at Memphis and Kentucky, John Calipari has had a run of success most coaches can only dream of.
In his last six seasons, Calipari's teams have won 33 games or more five times. The only time he fell short of 30, the 2011-12 Wildcats advanced to the Final Four. Under Calipari, UK and Memphis' seasons have ended in the Sweet 16 once, the Elite Eight three times, the national semifinals once and once in the national championship game.
Clearly Calipari has coached some special teams, but his most recent one is poised to be on a different level, at least statistically speaking. In a number of different key areas, the 2011-12 Wildcats are putting up unprecedented numbers compared with Coach Cal's last six teams:
Effective field goal percentage (offense) - Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) is a composite of 2-point and 3-point shooting that takes into account the additional value of making a 3-pointer. Cal's teams have shot better from inside and outside the arc, but never this good from both. UK is hitting 52.8 percent from 2-point range and 36.6 from 3-point range, resulting in an eFG% of 53.3. The 2009-10 UK team had the previous high at 53.1 percent.
Block percentage (defense) - Every Calipari team since 2005-06 has been among the top 12 in the nation in block percentage, but this year's team blocks a higher percentage of its opponents' shots than any of them. In fact, it's not even close. UK is tops in the nation with a block percentage of 22.2, 4.4 percent better than the 2009-10 Wildcat team that led the nation. Primarily responsible for that is Anthony Davis, whose personal block percentage of 14.6 is 5.5 percent better than Calipari's next best individual shot blocker (Joey Dorsey in 2006-07).
Effective field goal percentage (defense) - Calipari-coached teams have made their living on defense, ranking in the top 10 nationally in eFG% each season and ranking first twice. The Wildcats are second this season behind Wisconsin, but their eFG% of 40.9 is the best of any of Cal's recent teams. The shot blocking of Davis and company has had UK especially deadly from inside the arc, where opponents are hitting just 38.5 percent. None of Calipari's last six teams have held opponents below 40 percent from 2-point range for an entire season.
Free throw rate (offense and defense) - On the year, UK has attempted an astounding 175 more free throws than its opponents have and has made more free throws (361) than opponents have even attempted (330). The Wildcats have also committed fewer fouls per game than all but 20 teams in the nation. All that has resulted in both the highest offensive free throw rate (43.8) and lowest defensive free throw rate (27.9) among Calipari-coached teams since 2005-06. The defensive free throw rate is especially impressive since none of those teams have ever posted a number better than 29.7 and a pair have actually been over 40. Moreover, for UK to be able to block over one-fifth of opposing teams' shots and foul so infrequently is pretty amazing.
NOTE: Free throw rate is calculated simply as free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts.
Free-throw shooting - Not only is UK getting to the line more frequently than Calipari's past teams, they're also hitting them more often too. After a rough start to the season, UK has settled in at the free-throw line. The Wildcats have hit 71.5 percent of their attempts, which is half a percent better than Cal's next best free-throw shooting team (UK in 2010-11).
Based on these numbers, this year's UK team is unique. As conference play wears on and tournament play begins, the Cats will try to prove just how special they can be.
UK softball is coming off a school-record 40-win season in 2011. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
After a season full of firsts in 2011, Kentucky softball didn't wait long to continue the trend in 2012.
The Wildcats checked in at No. 13/18 in the two major polls to open 2012, the first preseason rankings in the history of the program. The preseason recognition comes on the heels of a 2011 season that saw UK finish its season by hosting a Super Regional and finishing in the top 15 of the national rankings. The Wildcats also set a school record with 40 wins.
UK is ranked No. 13 by the National Fastpitch Coaches Associates and 18th in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll.
Rachel Lawson, in just her fifth season as head coach, has transformed UK into a major softball threat on both the conference and national level. In 2012, she will be coaching 15 letterwinners from last year's team that advanced to a third consecutive NCAA Tournament.
The Southeastern Conference is perennially among the nation's most difficult leagues and this year looks to be no different. Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and LSU each join UK among the nation's top-20 teams in the preseason.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Jan. 22:
Men's basketball: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis helped lead the Wildcats to a 2-0 mark on the week ... Davis tallied seven blocks in the win over Arkansas breaking the Kentucky single-season blocks record, he now has 93 on the season besting the previous record of 83 ... Tallied his 10th double-double of the season against Arkansas ... Hit four big free throws, going 4-4 from the free throw line inside the final 3:30 to help seal win against Alabama ... Leads the nation in blocks and the SEC in field goal percentage ... He did break the UK freshman record for blocks this week ... Davis now has more blocks than eight other teams in the league and entered the weekend's game with more than 302 other schools
Women's basketball: Bria Goss
Scored a career-high 22 points, including a career-high tying three 3-pointers, on the road at No. 15/14 Georgia.
Scored 17 of her team- and career-high 22 points at Georgia in the second half, rallying the Wildcats from a 10-point second half deficit.
While her shot wasn't falling vs. Florida, Goss relied on her defense to help push UK to victory, taking three charges and grabbing a team- and career-high nine rebounds.
Hit both of her free throws with 22.8 seconds left to help preserve UK's victory over Florida.
Has started in every game this season.
Leading freshman scorer in the SEC.
Men's basketball: Terrence Jones
Scored in double-figures in both games helping to lead Kentucky to a 2-0 mark on the week ... Has scored in double-figures in six-straight games ... Blocked a career-best five shots in win over Arkansas ... Scored a team-high 15 points in win over Alabama to help push Kentucky's home-winning streak to a national best 47-straight
Women's basketball: Samarie Walker
Scored a career-high 18 points and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds in just 20 minutes of play at No. 15/14 Georgia.
Was one rebound shy of recording her first double-double of the season on the road against No. 15/14 Georgia (18 points, nine rebounds).
Blocked a career-high tying three shots vs. Florida and also had a career-high tying three steals vs. the Gators.
Scored nine points and grabbed seven boards vs. Florida.
Averaged 13.5 points, the second most on the team, and a team-high 8.0 rebounds in a pair of UK wins over the week.
Shot 73.3 percent (11-15) from the field, the highest shooting percentage on the team.
Kyle Wiltjer and the Kentucky Wildcats travel to face Georgia at 9 p.m. on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari's reaction to the news his team would almost certainly take over the top spot in both major polls wasn't exactly what you expect.
When top-ranked Syracuse lost on Saturday evening to pave Kentucky's path to No. 1, Calipari didn't break out a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Instead, he found himself resisting the urge to call Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim to express his anger at having to guide his young team through another set of pressures.
"I was trying to get a hold of Jim Boeheim, I was so mad at him," Calipari joked.
Maybe if he were coaching at a place where a top ranking is treated more as a birthright than a special occasion, he would feel differently, but Calipari met the development with little more than a shrug and a sense of humor. His main concern is preparing his team for the next game on the schedule.
"Because we are here, it wasn't a big deal," Calipari said. "When they lost I didn't feel anything, it's a different deal here. We'll address it for a second or two but we just have to play."
Kentucky's newly-minted top ranking will be tested immediately as the Wildcats (19-1, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) travel to face the Georgia Bulldogs (10-9, 1-4 SEC) in Stegeman Coliseum, a place where UK lost less than a year ago.
"It's going to be a tough game with the crowd into because of the new rankings and us just being Kentucky," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "We've got to execute whatever we learn (on Monday) in practice about what offense they run and just listen to Coach."
This is the third time in three seasons that Calipari has taken his team to a No. 1 ranking and the Cats sport a 3-2 record in such situations. Both losses have come on the road, first at South Carolina in 2009-10 and again earlier this season against Indiana. If UK can defeat Georgia on Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ESPN, it will be the Cats' first road win as the nation's top-ranked team in Calipari's tenure.
This Kentucky team that features four freshmen playing extended minutes has experience playing atop the polls. More than anything else though, the Cats learned they can't alter their approach just because Kentucky has a lower number next to its name on the ticker.
"We're still going to approach every game like we did before," freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer said. "Every opponent we're going to prepare for equally regardless of what they're ranked because we're going to get every team's best shot. We just want to go out there every night and perform."
Georgia has already announced this week's game against UK as a sellout, its first of the season. As per usual, the Bulldog faithful figure to be raring to go for a late-night affair trying to inspire their team to their best victory of the season.
Mark Fox's team has played a very difficult schedule in conference, opening with losses to Alabama, Florida and Vanderbilt. Georgia then defeated Tennessee in overtime and lost a close one at home to Ole Miss.
The Bulldogs have relied on a relatively young roster in replacing their top two players from a year ago, as Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie each were selected in the NBA Draft. Leading the way has been freshman guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is averaging 14.7 points and 5.1 rebounds. Caldwell-Pope was a one-time Calipari recruit, which should tell you all you need to know about his talent level.
"He's a terrific player," Calipari said. "He can create his own shots. He's a game changer for their program. Mark has done well in getting young people like that into Georgia. You're talking about one of the best young players in the country."
Georgia's roster isn't entirely devoid of experience though, as seniors Dustin Ware and Gerald Robinson each return from last year's NCAA Tournament team. Ware has been a part of a pair of wins over Kentucky, including UK's last home loss. Ware scored 18 points when the Bulldogs knocked of the Wildcats on March 4, 2009, so he won't shy away from big moments.
Calipari's players don't figure to be afraid either, as UK is 4-1 in games decided by single digits and has won four games already this season after facing second-half deficits.
A big reason why the Cats have handled themselves so well in those situations in spite of having just one upperclassman among their seven top contributors is Calipari's tireless vetting in the recruiting process. Rather than masking it, Calipari molds his sales pitch around the pressure cooker that is Kentucky basketball, creating a sort of self-selection process for players he pursues.
"In most cases, kids don't want to put themselves in positions of being exposed and they won't come here," Calipari said. "This place is not for everybody, it's the toughest place to play basketball."
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and Marquis Teague have had more opportunities to prove their ability to play through the fire, but Calipari likes what he's seen out of Wiltjer just as much.
"Kyle Wiltjer (is) not afraid at all," Calipari said. "We pegged it right, he is not afraid at all. If he is open he is shooting it, defensively he is out there playing hard and he's not playing timid in any way."
Wiltjer has had somewhat of an uneven start to his first college campaign in terms of production, but he has built confidence through practicing against his talented teammates. As a result, he has become more willing to assert himself when the opportunity presents itself.
"Every day I'm practicing against the best players on my team so it's good to have the experience of going against that kind of talent," Wiltjer said.
Five games into conference play, Calipari has become more and more comfortable with the Portland, Ore., native on the floor and has even begun calling his number on offense. In two wins last week, Wiltjer and Teague teamed up to run two-man action designed to set Wiltjer up for a mid-range jumper or a 3-pointer.
"We've been working on a couple sets because it's a hard play to defend if I can pick and pop," Wiltjer said. "Little plays like that that end in a pick and roll are hard to defend."
The next time Wiltjer or his teammates set up to shoot, they'll have over 10,000 fans screaming at them to try to make them miss, but don't expect them to be fazed by the noise or the No. 1 ranking.
UK returns to No.1 in both polls after defeating Alabama on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky is back atop the mountain of college basketball.
On the strength of a 19-1 record and a perfect 5-0 start to conference play, John Calipari and the Wildcats ascended to a No. 1 ranking in both the Associated Press Top 25 and ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll, and it's close to unanimous.
UK moved into the top spot from No. 2 in the AP poll after previous No. 1 Syracuse lost on the road to Notre Dame on Saturday evening. The Wildcats received 61 out of a possible 65 votes for first place. Future Southeastern Conference member Missouri is at No. 2 with a pair votes and third-ranked Syracuse received the remaining two first-place votes.
All 31 coaches voting in the ESPN/USA Today poll tabbed UK as the new No. 1. Fellow SEC schools Florida (No. 13) and Mississippi State (No. 16) join the Cats in the latest coaches' poll.
This week marks the third this season that the Wildcats have occupied the top spot in both polls. UK was No. 1 for two weeks beginning on Nov. 28 before losing on Jan. 10 at Indiana. Calipari also led Kentucky to the top ranking for one week in 2009-2010.
The Wildcats will be looking for their first road win as the nation's No. 1 in Calipari's tenure as they travel to face Georgia on Tuesday and Louisiana State on Saturday. UK lost to the Hoosiers as No. 1 earlier this season and to South Carolina two seasons ago.
Once again, Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com lists Kentucky as a No. 1 seed in his weekly Bracketology. UK remains the No. 2 overall seed behind Syracuse. There is one slight change for Kentucky in the projection, as the Wildcats are placed in the South Region in Atlanta rather than the Midwest (St. Louis) as they had been in previous weeks.
The new Associated Press women's poll was also unveiled on Monday, with Matthew Mitchell and UK Hoops holding firm at No. 6 following wins on the road over Georgia and at home against Florida.
Men's basketball - The Wildcats pushed their winning streak to 11 games, posting a hard-fought 77-71 win over Alabama on Saturday. - Kentucky had six players score in double-figures for the first time since the 2004-05 season, led by Terrence Jones' team-high 15 points. Doron Lamb (14), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (13), Anthony Davis (11), Darius Miller (11) and Marquis Teague (10) also scored in double-figures in the victory. - The Wildcats hit a number of crucial free throws down the stretch against Alabama, going 8-for-8 from the line inside the final minute of play. - UK's 11-game winning streak is the second longest by the Wildcats in the John Calipari era. Women's basketball - With wins over Georgia and Florida last week, Kentucky improved to 18-2 overall, 7-0 in the SEC which ties its best start in program history through the first 20 games. UK's best start to a season was in 1982-83 (21-2). - Trailing by 10 (46-36) vs. UGA with 15:42 left in the game, UK went on a 24-7 run paced by 13 points from freshman guard Bria Goss, to capture its first win in Athens, Ga., since 2008. The rookie guard ended the game with a career-high 22 points, netting 17 of those in the decisive second half. - Sophomore forward Samarie Walker gave the Cats a boost off the bench as she recorded a career-best 18 points and nine rebounds in just 20 minutes of play vs. UGA. Overall, UK's bench outscored Georgia's 34-0. - On Sunday, it was another balanced effort as the Cats won their 16th consecutive home game with a 57-52 victory over the Gators. Ten players scored at least two points, paced by senior guard Keyla Snowden who led with 11. - Sophomore guard Kastine Evans scored all 10 of her points in the second stanza, including eight of them in a key 17-2 second-half run. Goss pulled down a career-high nine rebounds, while Walker came off the bench for another solid performance, adding nine points, seven rebounds, a career-high tying three blocks and three steals.
Rifle - The defending NCAA Champion Kentucky rifle team suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday at No. 1 TCU, 4703-4694, with TCU using a school-record team score to win its nation-leading 26th consecutive regular season match. - UK lost its first match of the year, with the Wildcats only losing two regular-season matches in the last two years, both vs. TCU. - UK fell behind in smallbore at TCU, before bouncing back to narrow the gap in air rifle behind starring performances from Ethan Settlemires (595), Henri Junghanel (594) and Emily Holsopple (592). Settlemires led UK in smallbore with a 583.
Gymnastics - Behind a season-high team score on floor exercise where two Wildcats set or tied their career-high marks, the gymnastics team showed improvement from its first SEC meet of the year to its second meet of the year in a 196.275-194.075 loss to No. 8 Florida at Memorial Coliseum. - Of UK's 24 routines in the meet, a total of 20 were performed by freshmen or sophomores. Overall, the youthful Wildcats showed improvement from last week, setting 10 season-high marks and setting or tying nine career-high scores on the night. Sophomore Audrey Harrison and freshman Alexis Gross were the lone two all-around competitors in the meet for Kentucky. - UK saved its best event of the night for last, earning a season-high mark of 48.625 on floor. Harrison finished fourth overall on the event and led UK with a season-high and career-tying mark of 9.8, while Gross followed close behind with a 9.725. Freshman Kenzie Hedges set a career high with a 9.725, while sophomore Kayla Sienkowski went 9.7. Freshman Shelby Hilton made her second-consecutive floor lineup and went 9.675, while sophomore Kayla Hartley completed the UK rotation with a 9.375. Men's tennis - The No. 7 men's tennis team started its 2012 season off on the right note by earning a 6-1 win over No. 53 Michigan State and a 7-0 win over IUPUI to sweep a doubleheader at the Indianapolis Tennis Center in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon. The doubleheader was hosted by IUPUI. Kentucky played well in both matches, winning five of its six doubles matches and 11 of its 12 singles matches. It marked the first-ever meeting between the Wildcats and either IUPUI or Michigan State. - Senior co-captain Eric Quigley earned two singles wins in the opening day, moving him into sole possession of second place on UK's career singles wins list with 143 victories. The native of Pewee Valley, Ky., is now only one win shy of tying Paul Varga's school-record 144 career singles wins. Quigley is 143-44 all-time at Kentucky. - Quigley, along with sophomores Grant Roberts and No. 111 Alejandro Gomez, went 2-0 in singles action, while junior No. 36 Anthony Rossi and sophomores No. 95 Tom Jomby, Ryuji Hirooka and Maks Gold went 1-0 in singles action. True freshman Brett Johnson, who was playing in his first collegiate match, won his lone singles match.
Women's tennis - The women's tennis team is now 3-0 on the season after its opening weekend of regular season play. - Jessica Stiles and Khristina Blajkevitch, the 34th-ranked doubles team, defeated Marshall's 35th-ranked doubles team of Dominika Zaprazna and Maria Voscekova, 9-8 (8) in the season opener. - Freshmen Stephanie Fox and Edmee Morin- Kougoucheff put on strong performances in both singles and doubles play, ending the weekend undefeated.
It will be another couple hours before the two major polls come out, but we already have a pretty good idea who will be rising to No. 1 in men's college basketball on the heels of Syracuse's first loss this weekend at Notre Dame.
In a fitting metaphor for Presidential primary season, think of CBSSports.com's Top 25 (and one) rankings as the exit poll before official ballots are counted. In that vein, John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats are projected to rise to No. 1 for the first time this season after Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman released their weekly rankings.
The Cats are the new top-ranked team in the land, and Parrish and Goodman had this to say about them:
The Wildcats' win over Alabama was their 47th straight victory at Rupp Arena. It was enough to launch them into the lead spot of the Top 25 (and one) once Syracuse lost.
Sitting behind UK at No. 2 is future Southeastern Conference mate Missouri, meaning basketball in the SEC is about to get that much better in 2012-13. Current SEC squads also currently in the poll are Mississippi State (No. 18) and Florida (No. 23).
Stay tuned for the rest of the day as we'll be loaded with basketball-related content. I'll be posting something as soon as the new rankings come out and there's a good chance UK will have another winner or two in this week's SEC awards. Also, Calipari and select players will be available this afternoon as UK road trips to Georgia for a game on Tuesday, so keep an eye out for video and a story.
Keyla Snowden led UK with 11 points in a 57-52 win over Florida. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
By this point in the season, Matthew Mitchell normally has a conference loss from which he can teach.
In fact, every coach in the 38-year history of Kentucky women's basketball has had at least one Southeastern Conference loss to teach from seven games into conference.
Off to the first 7-0 SEC start in school history, Mitchell doesn't have a defeat to look back on to motivate his team and help correct mistakes.
"For us being in this situation for the first time, I'm learning as we go and I'm trying to figure it out," Mitchell said. "We've never been this deep in an SEC season without a loss to go back and point to. I'm searching for the right way to handle everything."
He's more than happy to have to make that adjustment.
In past years, UK would have come out on the losing end against a physical Florida team that "outplayed" the Wildcats in Mitchell's words. Instead, No. 6 Kentucky (18-2, 7-0 SEC) was able to overcome a lackluster performance and hold on for a 57-52 victory in front of 7,888 fans, the eighth-largest crowd in Memorial Coliseum history.
"To win that game today is an outstanding thing for our team," Mitchell said. "Anytime you can win and still have plenty to work on in practice (is good). I think the players understand we were fortunate to win and Florida really outplayed us today."
UK shot just 18-of-60 (30.0 percent) from the field on Sunday and was led in scoring by a player (Keyla Snowden) who made just one of her nine field goal attempts. Snowden scored nine of her 11 points on free throws as UK scored its final nine points at the line, including Snowden and Bria Goss hitting 7-of-8 in the final 30 seconds to overcome a valiant Gator comeback.
The Cats lead by as many as 15 points with 13:27 remaining after outscoring the visitors 17-2 to open the second half. Going back to the final 5:42 of the first half, UK went on a 25-4 run to turn a six-point deficit into that 15-point lead. Outside of that extended spurt though, Florida outscored UK 48-32
"For a couple of minutes, we resembled what our team can look like," Mitchell said. "That was the only time today that happened."
In general, Mitchell wasn't pleased with most of his players' effort, but that wasn't extended to his team as a whole.
"I thought that Brittany Henderson hustled today," Mitchell said. "I thought that Kastine Evans hustled today. I thought Samarie Walker really fought defensively today. We had enough people that stepped up and really, really played hard."
Henderson had eight points, three rebounds and three steals in 18 minutes while Evans was one of only two Wildcats in double figures with 10 points. Walker had nine points and seven rebounds, but it was her effort on the defensive end that really gave her coach reason for excitement.
"You're starting to see her become a Kentucky-level defender when you see her deny passes, get in the passing lane and deflect passes," Mitchell said. "That is what was missing. I'm totally encouraged with her progression on the defensive end."
Walker had career highs with three steals and three blocks and credited work in practice for her defensive development.
"My teammates stay on me, coaches stay on me and I've just been working really hard on my defense focusing on that more than anything," Walker said.
UK needed every ounce of her production on the offensive and defensive end today as junior guard A'dia Mathies was held to single-digit scoring output for the third consecutive game.
"I think A'dia went back to a place we've seen her go back to many times," Mitchell said. "Florida made it real difficult on her and I don't know if she felt she didn't get some calls around the bucket. She just didn't give a great effort today offensively and we'll have to address that."
After scoring a career-high 34 points in a win over Tennessee on Jan. 12, Mathies has scored just 17 points over her last three outings. However, UK has won all three of those games over quality opponents, including a pair of road wins over ranked SEC teams. The fact that UK can win games with limited production from "the best player in the SEC" according to Florida head coach Amanda Butler is proof of just how talented this team is.
"We have a very balanced team," Mathies said. "I don't need to put up big numbers every night for us to win. We can win in a variety of ways."
Mathies knows she has to return to her scoring form for UK to reach its potential, but she's much happier about her team continuing its unbeaten league start than she is disappointed in her own performance.
"Every game is important," Mathies said. "Every game is one you need to win. It's a tough league and so any win you can get, no matter if it's by one point or 20 points or 40 points, a win is a win. We're just glad to keep it rolling."
Darius Miller hit 4-of-4 free throws in the final minute to preserve a 77-71 victory over Alabama. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With missed free throws stacking on top of missed free throws, the groans among the 24,246 fans in attendance in Rupp Arena were becoming louder and louder.
In spite of hitting just 12-of-22 shots from the line late in the second half, Kentucky maintained a tenuous three-point lead over visiting Alabama. To hold onto that lead, it was plainly clear the Wildcats would need to convert from the stripe to defeat a physical Crimson Tide team.
In spite of those early misses, the Cats didn't think twice in the clutch.
"We know we're a great foul shooting team," sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. "Today we missed some in the first half and things like that happen. We just know we've got to make them at the end. We did that today."
To preserve a 77-71 victory over Alabama (13-6, 2-3 Southeastern Conference), the No. 2 Wildcats (19-1, 5-0 SEC) scored their last 15 points from the charity stripe over the final 5:32, missing just three times. Five different players stepped to the line and converted at least once in the clutch as UK finished shooting 27-for-40 (67.5 percent) for the game.
"I trust everybody," freshman forward Anthony Davis said. "Whoever gets to the line, we always say, 'Knock these two down, we'll get a stop and knock the next two in.' We can put anybody on the line and we have confidence in everyone."
Ten games into the season, UK was shooting just 67.5 percent from the line, but since then has hit 74.7 percent. The Cats are on pace to be the best free throw shooting team in John Calipari's tenures at Memphis and Kentucky.
JaMychal Green posted 22 points and 12 rebounds, while Trevor Releford added 17 points, all in the second half, as Alabama bested UK in field goal shooting (48.0 percent-43.1 percent) and rebounding (35-31). Alabama gave UK its best shot, never trailing by more than six in the second half in overcoming a raucous Rupp crowd, but the Wildcats converted 8-of-8 attempts at the stripe over the final minute.
UK split the load evenly in scoring its final 15 points at the line, with Darius Miller hitting 5-of-6, Davis 4-of-4, Terrence Jones 3-of-4, Marquis Teague 2-of-2 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 1-of-2, but it was the senior that the Cats turned to down in the final minutes.
"Darius was making plays in the last two minutes of the game," Lamb said. "He made four foul shots we really needed and he made a couple plays we really needed. Darius is real clutch and if he keeps playing like that, we're going to go far."
Lamb and Jones have been through the wars at the college level in their season-and-a-half at UK, but Miller is even more experienced.
"Darius knows how to win games," Lamb said. "He's been there before and he's a senior. We only put the ball in his hands sometimes and he makes clutch foul shots."
More than the fact that he hit the shots, Calipari was happy Miller sought out the ball after returning to the floor when Kidd-Gilchrist fouled out. Calipari can yell and scream at his team to put the ball in Miller's hands, but if he doesn't want to be the one at the line, he won't be.
"He did it too though, and I like that," Calipari said. "I like the fact that he held that ball to get fouled."
Calipari, though, didn't want Miller or UK to be in the position of having to make those clutch free throws. The Wildcats missed a number of opportunities around the basket in the first half as well as seven free throws to prevent them from ever extending their lead to more than eight points.
"We're lucky we were in the game," Calipari said.
"We've got to play better in this, because instead of it being a two or four point game, we're going to be down eight or ten, and we're going to get caught in that situation," Calipari said.
The fact remains, though, that UK once again came up big against a quality opponent in a close game, something the Cats weren't able to do in 2010-11 until March.
"You know, teams like this that are physical, have some maturity, are playing for their lives," Calipari said. "They made every play and free throw down the stretch they needed to to keep it a game. Give them credit. Here we are with eight turnovers."
The Cats "will to win" was brought up by Calipari and each of his players who spoke after the win. UK has developed confidence in close-and-late situations, going 4-1 in games decided by single digits, which bodes well for tournament play.
"Winners, when it gets close, want the ball to go to the free throw line," Jones said. "I think that's why Coach says anybody who gets it can get fouled because we're all winners and we want to do it for our team and make it."
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 email@example.com will receive a prize.
Today's question is about some of the most prolific freshmen in UK history. Three of the five top freshmen double-double leaders at UK have played for John Calipari in his three years (DeMarcus Cousins, Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis). Name the other two.
Again, please submit your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will announce the correct answers at halftime of today's game, assuming we have a winner by that time.
Don't forget to tune in and watch the Cats take on Alabama at noon on CBS.
Darius Miller and Kentucky face Alabama at noon on Saturday on CBS. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
This time last year, the questions were already swirling.
Could the 2010-11 Kentucky Wildcats win a close game? Could they answer the bell in a raucous road environment? Did they have the necessary toughness to make a run in March?
UK's second-half comeback bid from 20 points down had just been foiled by home-standing Alabama in a 68-66 defeat, sending UK to its second of six losses away from Rupp Arena in Southeastern Conference play.
"They wanted it more than we did," point guard Brandon Knight said after the loss to the Crimson Tide.
By the time the season was over, UK authoritatively answered those questions with a road win over Tennessee to close the regular season and a subsequent run the Final Four.
This year, John Calipari's team doesn't seem to have any intention of waiting that long.
"It seems like we always come out with close wins and that's a big key," senior guard Darius Miller said. "We really struggled with that last year and I think we're doing a way better job this year at this point in the season. Hopefully we can continue to develop."
Heading into a game against that same Alabama team (13-5, 2-2 SEC) at noon on Saturday in Rupp Arena, the No. 2 Wildcats (18-1, 4-0 SEC) have already matched last season's SEC road win total with a pair of hard-fought wins at Auburn and Tennessee. UK also boasts a 3-1 record in games decided by single digits after losing eight such games in 2010-11.
Additionally, the Wildcats have fought back from second-half deficits to put together game-ending runs five times already this season. The only time UK has fallen short this season was at Indiana, and even then the Cats demonstrated a grit last year's team didn't take on until the winter began to thaw into spring.
Down 63-53 in front of an Indiana crowd on the verge of exploding, UK outscored the Hoosiers 19-10 over the final 9:04 even though Christian Watford hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send the Cats to their only loss of the season. Afterward, Calipari couldn't help but be happy with his team's effort.
"I'm proud of my team," Calipari said after the loss. "I'm proud of how they gutted it out in the second half, how they played to win."
The Indiana game, though, is far from the only time UK has buckled down in the waning minutes.
On the road facing Tennessee and an eight-point deficit, UK closed on a 29-18 run over the final 13:46 to win 65-62.
At Auburn and trailing by two, the Wildcats bested the Tigers with suffocating defense and a 23-6 spurt over the final 10:52 in a 68-53 win.
In Freedom Hall, Arkansas-Little Rock was thinking upset with a 34-31 lead with 16:28 to go before UK outscored the Trojans 42-17.
Against North Carolina, the Cats scored 17 of the game's final 29 points to close out a 73-72 win.
That's five games, five second-half deficits, and four wins for the Cats. Adding up those game-ending runs, UK has outscored those five opponents 130-63 over 58:55, essentially three halves of basketball.
"I think we play with a lot more confidence at the end of the game," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "Last year, we played more scared to lose than really trying to play to win."
Miller called that end-of-game confidence "something that the team last year didn't have at this point", while Jones pointed to the fact that UK has so many talented players willing and able to step up this season as a key factor in clutch performances.
Jones, Miller and sophomore guard Doron Lamb all came up with crucial plays in UK's tournament run in 2011. They are joined by four precocious freshmen who have shown no fear. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis, in particular, have already developed big-game reputations, while Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer have had moments as well.
"Last year we didn't have the confidence in ourselves to make plays that guys have in themselves this year," Jones said. "A lot of guys are stepping up and knocking down free throws in crunch time and hitting shots that, last year, I think guys just wouldn't shoot."
Inevitably, UK will play close games in SEC play and beyond, but the next challenge for the Cats is to bottle their play late in games and bring that same kind of intensity from the opening tip. They came closer than they have all season to doing just that in an 86-63 win over Arkansas on Tuesday, leading Calipari to shake off his customary post-game press conference melancholy in favor of a sunnier disposition.
"I think he was kind of happy to see that we were making strides," Miller said. "We've been playing better as a team. He can see that we're growing as a team and I think that's all he wants to see."
Calipari expects Alabama's potent inside duo of Tony Mitchell (13.7 points, 7.4 rebounds) and JaMychal Green (13.7 points, 6.7 rebounds) to provide a stiff test. The Crimson Tide may have just dropped a 69-59 home decision to Vanderbilt, the only team besides UK with an unbeaten mark in SEC play, on Thursday night, but Anthony Grant's team is going to bring the same brand of physical defense that carried them to last season's win over UK.
"They're going to be mean and nasty," Calipari said.
Coming off a career-high 22-point outing, Bria Goss and UK Hoops will take on Florida at 2 p.m. on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It wasn't a decision Matthew Mitchell wanted to make.
With his team down 36-32 at halftime to No. 15/14 Georgia, Mitchell called off Kentucky's trademark full-court press that has befuddled opponents throughout his five years as head coach.
"I didn't want to do it because I think it's the easy way out for them," Mitchell said. "I think it is turning your back on what your responsibility is and I don't want to do that, but we had to take the press off."
UK's "40 Minutes of Dread" defense had forced turnovers to the tune of 30.4 per game to that point, but the Lady Bulldogs had committed just four miscues in 20 minutes of Thursday's game in Athens, Ga.
"It was a really poor performance, not to take anything away from Georgia," Mitchell said. "We should have been able to bring more heat. It happens sometimes over the course of a long season when you're a pressing team is that night where maybe one person is not ready to go."
Mitchell's willingness to change would pay dividends, as No. 6 UK (17-2, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) rallied to a 69-64 win, the Wildcats third straight over a ranked SEC opponents and second straight on the road. With the victory, UK maintained sole possession of first place in the conference entering Sunday's matchup with Florida (13-6, 3-3 SEC) at 2 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum.
So much of the success UK has had this season in winning five games against ranked opponents has come due to that potent press, but Mitchell had the ability to overcome his own stubbornness and put his team in position to win.
"We didn't have the rhythm and we couldn't make anything happen so we went to half-court defense and really trying to crash the offensive boards," Mitchell said. "It was a different way to win the game, but I think that's what good teams do. If the game plan's not going, can you adjust?"
In previous years, UK would have fallen short with the press out of sync and leading scorer A'dia Mathies limited to just seven points, but a more talented roster with a will to win allowed the Cats to overcome on Thursday night.
"We've shown a great ability to score and that's been our issue in years past," Mitchell said. "We've been tough defensively, but if A'dia was off we didn't have a Bria Goss who could step up and go get 22 (points) like she did last night. I just continue to take away from these games my belief in the players."
The last game in which Mitchell scrapped the press was against the same Florida team that will visit Lexington, Ky., this weekend. That trip to Gainesville, Fla., on New Year's Day came on the heels of a loss to Middle Tennessee State that made Mitchell unwilling to unleash his troops.
"We had looked very bad in the press at Middle Tennessee State and we hadn't really had the time to get it corrected to the level where I felt comfortable, so we really didn't press Florida last time full court," Mitchell said. "I didn't know whether we could sort of grind it out and do it, but we did exactly that."
In that first matchup of 2011-12, UK came away with a hard-fought 59-56 victory that still stands out for Mitchell even in a season with big win after big win.
"That showed us we can win at a different style and of course it was our first SEC game so you really didn't know what you had anyway as it related to being prepared for the conference," Mitchell said. "I was really, really proud of that win because we were sort of down going into Gainesville, and for them to fight as hard as they did, that was a particularly good win for us."
The Cats may have won this week against Georgia and earlier against Florida in the half-court, but don't expect Mitchell to shelve the press again on Sunday. For the second consecutive game, tickets in Memorial are sold out in advance of game day and UK figures to be energized in the press by a boisterous crowd.
"Anytime you come back here is an exciting thing for our players," Mitchell said. "We have great fans and I'm just real appreciative of the people who buy the tickets and come out here and watch our games, because our kids really draw from the energy of the crowd. They're looking forward to it, they love playing in Memorial (Coliseum)."
Who is Kentucky's leading candidate for national player of the year--Anthony Davis or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy put MKG on his first-team All-America squad at midseason, saying Kidd-Gilchrist has made the biggest impact on winning for the Wildcats. DeCourcy said Davis' lack of big-time offensive production was a knock for now but the 27-point showing against Arkansas may signal that is changing.
CBS Sports this week came out with its weekly rankings for the nation's top player and Davis was third, behind Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Creighton's Doug McDermott, with Kidd-Gilchrist rated sixth.
Stats guru Ken Pomeroy is working on a numerical ranking of the player-of-the-year candidates at his kenpom.com site and he has Davis ranked fourth.
"Anthony Davis ranks fourth (behind Robinson, Jared Sullinger and Draymon Green), well ahead of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This (formula) factors in both sides of the ball, which when factoring (talk about) player-of-the-year, people don't do," Pomeroy said on "The Leach Report" radio show this week. "First, his shot-blocking. Everybody knows about. But the interesting thing about (him) is that he's also a very good defensive rebounder. And you just don't see that combination very often. When guys are blocking shots, they are out of position in terms of getting rebounds. He does that and it puts his defensive metrics off the chart."
As for Kentucky as a team, we asked Pomeroy how this UK team stacks up v. last year's Final Four squad.
"This year, they are a pretty good offensive rebounding team. They're a good outside shooting team but the thing that gets under-reported in the media is they don't take many three-pointers. They're 301st in the country in the number of three-pointers that they take," said Pomeroy. "Defensively, it's a pretty typical Calipari team. Where they excel is their two-point percentage defense--right now, they're third in the country. They give up 38 percent on their two-point (attempts), which is outstanding but one note of caution with that is in SEC play, that's risen to about 48 percent. That explains why the last two games have been tighter than Cat fans may have expected going in. It was particuarly stunning with Auburn because I have their offense rated worst in the conference. But maybe that's a flukish thing going on there."
Anthony Davis is making an all-out assault on the blocked shot pages of the Wildcat record book. And if Kentucky reaches a Final Four, Davis is on pace to finish with enough blocks to rank fifth on the CAREER list at UK. How's that for a staggering statistic?
Looking down the road, what tournament records could Davis re-write? Well, for Kentucky, the record for blocked shots in an NCAA Tournament game is six, shared by Nazr Mohammed and Jamaal Magloire (they each got six vs. UCLA in a '98 regional semifinal win). The SEC Tourney standard is nine, by Andre Riddick vs. LSU in 1993. By the way, Riddick had 15 points and 10 rebounds in that game, meaning he's come the closest in UK history to recording the school's second-ever triple double.
Nationally, Shaquille O'Neal holds the NCAA Tourney record for blocked shots in a game, getting 11 vs. BYU in '92. For a tournament, Florida's Joakim Noah is number one, with 29 blocks over six games in the Gators' 2006 title run. At Kentucky, Magloire's 18 blocks in 1998 is the record for NCAA Tournament blocks in one season.
Marquis Teague had arguably his best game in the win over Arkansas, with a season-best nine assists. And the pass-first mindset he displayed was in tune with what legendary UK point guard Kyle Macy said recently was needed at that spot.
"If your point guard is taking the second-most attempts, he better be a pretty good shooter--ala a Brandon Knight. With this team, (he) doesn't need to really put points on the board, unless it's late in the shot clock. Then, they can't really back off of him and he can use his speed and quickness and get to the rim. The main thing is get everybody else involved and get the offense running right," Macy observed. "Scoring from the point guard position--with this team--that should be one of the last things the point guard is thinking about. There are just so many options.
"It's amazing to me that Anthony Davis, as well as he's playing, is last on the team in field goal attempts," Macy continued. "If I'm a point guard, I'm getting him the ball every chance I get. I want my big guys (who do what he does on defense) to be real happy."
Henri Junghanel and No. 2 UK rifle travel to face No. 1 TCU on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For the majority of his adult life, Harry Mullins had spent the offseason as head coach of Kentucky's rifle team trying to figure how to get the team over the hump.
The Wildcats were clearly one of the elite programs in the nation, stacking successful season on top of successful season, but they had always fallen short of winning a national title. It was a particularly helpless feeling for Mullins because of his belief that he and his team had done everything in their power to accomplish their ultimate goal.
In 2011, Mullins was finally able to fill that empty spot on his top shelf with a national championship trophy. The celebration that came on the heels of the title was long and gratifying, but when he finally sat down to prepare for his 27th season as UK's head coach, the question he was faced with was oddly similar to the one he asked himself the 26 years prior.
"In years past when we didn't win, we've had great seasons so we didn't make a lot of changes but there was always that little bit where we fell short," Mullins said. "It kind of gave you that feeling of, 'What do we change?' After winning, you say, 'Do you change anything?' "
The answer, in short, was "no."
Through all the disappointing near misses, Mullins stayed true to his belief that the ultimate prize would come with patience and persistence. Once he was finally proven right, there was certainly no reason to change.
At the core of his philosophy is a singular focus on self-improvement.
"What we try to do is get better every day," Mullins said. "That's been our motto last year and even more so this year. Some days, your scores are going to increase. Other days, your score may stay the same or even decrease a little bit, but we expect you to be better as far as knowledge goes or physical condition. Something's got to be better today than it was yesterday."
That goal, in and of itself, is difficult enough for a team that returns most of the pieces from last year's team that won a national championship and set an NCAA record with a score of 4700 in the finals. Logan Fox and Sarah Broeker graduated, but top shooters like Henri Junghanel, Katie Fretts, Emily Holsopple, Stacy Wheatley, Ethan Settlemires and Heather Greathouse are back and have anchored the No. 2 Wildcats in an 8-0 start to the 2011-12 season.
"The type of team we have, they constantly strive to get better," Mullins said "It's tough to come off of winning it and having the same group. Sometimes, when you bring in a new group, you teach the same things in the same way. This year, we're re-teaching the same things in a different way and getting them to consistently stay focused on the task at-hand of executing their shot plans."
The only things his athletes have complete control over are their preparations and emotions. On any given day, an opponent could turn in a record score or conditions in the shooting range could make scoring well much more difficult, but Mullins constantly demands his athletes rise above those external factors.
The message must be sinking in, because Mullins actually found himself taking a lesson from his team during a recent road trip. The Wildcats were delayed in an airport for seven hours waiting for a flight when their destination was just a three-hour drive away. Taking a cue from their coach, the Cats took it in stride, while Mullins stewed in frustration.
"I was hot and livid the whole day and they were just laid back and relaxed," Mullins said. "I commended them for that. So far, they've been able to control the environment they've worked in as far as their emotions go. Sometimes it's a struggle because they're so good that they're striving for perfection. When they do make that mistake and you know perfection isn't going to come that day, you really have to stay within yourself."
As Mullins often points out, there is no defense in rifle, so the factor furthest removed from UK's control is the way the opponent shoots. In any given match, UK could put together its best performance of the season and have it fall short because an opponent executes just a bit better.
Traveling to face No. 1 TCU on Saturday, that's certainly in the realm of possibility. Along with UK, TCU is one of three unbeaten teams left in the NCAA. The Horned Frogs won the national championship in 2009-10 and have defeated UK two years in a row in regular season play.
Earning a win over the top-ranked team in the country and reclaiming the No. 1 ranking themselves is certainly UK's goal, but Mullins also views the match as an opportunity to prepare for Great American Rifle Conference play as well as the NCAA Championships in early March.
"We're all about winning and losing, that's why we compete," Mullins said. "But it's also about learning. That's going to be our main focus when we go to TCU is to learn about what we can do under duress. If we happen not to find that top gear, how do we find it?"
Mullins said as many as eight teams have a realistic shot at winning the national title this season, with UK obviously in the mix. Just like a year ago, Mullins is trying to help his team peak toward the end of the season and shoot best when it matters most. With the makeup of this year's Wildcats, he doesn't anticipate having any trouble.
"In years past, we've always had those couple super athletes, but they always tried so hard to make up what other shooters lost and put so much pressure on themselves," Mullins said. "This group here, when it comes pressure time, they do a good job performing at their elite level."
Mathies was recently challenged by head coach Matthew Mitchell to step up her assertiveness on offense and her leadership, and the Louisville, Ky., native has responded as UK Hoops is off to its best start in school history. The story includes quotes from Mathies, her father and her coach and gives an interesting look into the mindset and intelligence of one of the early favorites for SEC Player of the Year.
Here is an excerpt:
Since SEC play began five games ago, Mathies is averaging a league-best 19.4 points, she's second in the conference in three-pointers and she's hitting nearly half of the ones she's attempting (48 percent).
She's also fifth in the league in blocked shots (1.6 per game) and sixth in assists (3.2 apg).
Asked how he was finally able to flip the Mathies switch, Mitchell smiled.
"She doesn't like to run wind sprints, that's all I can tell you ... she knows that if she's not the leading field goal attempt leader, she has some work to do the next day," Mitchell said.
"It's changed her mind-set. She hasn't had to run and she's a different player."
Mathies admitted last week that the running threat has been a factor.
"At practice he says I have to be the leader or there's going to be a consequence," she said. "And you never want a consequence."
But as it usually is with Mathies, it's more cerebral than that.
"If he's stressing it that much, there must be something to it," she said. "The last couple of games, just seeing how much better we look as a team when I am aggressive, makes me want to do it more."
A'dia Mathies is the reigning SEC Player of the Week entering a matchup with No. 15/14 Georgia. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
There isn't much about coaching in the Southeastern Conference Matthew Mitchell doesn't like.
He relishes the challenge of leading a team through what he believes is the toughest conference in America and testing his wits against some of the legends of his profession. He loves playing games that mean something night in and night out and he even enjoys the way the league schedule is set up.
So many grow to detest the daily and weekly routines in their lives, but not Mitchell. When it comes to the SEC's traditional two-game-a-week Thursday-Saturday schedule, Mitchell is a fan.
"I enjoy this time of year from a coaching perspective," Mitchell said. "The nonconference maybe you can experiment with some things and I'm always trying to figure out the best way to coach the team, but conference time helps me a little bit to get really focused on what's important."
What's important to Mitchell is to capitalizing on every moment with his team to help the Wildcats improve, because there simply aren't many practices left before the regular season wraps up. UK may face tough game after tough game in the rugged SEC, but the routine allows the Wildcats to hone in on the task at hand.
"I just know from a coaching perspective, if you've been in this league or around this league for awhile it's sort of comforting - teams are talented, that's not comforting - but at least you know what you need to do to be successful in this conference," Mitchell said. "I feel like it gives us a better focus."
Now more than two weeks into conference play, the No. 6 Wildcats (16-2, 5-0 SEC) know what's in store on a weekly basis. Following games on Sunday, the Cats have an off day on Monday before two demanding practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. A demanding conference game follows on Thursday before a practice each on Friday and Saturday before yet another game on Sunday.
This Thursday, UK will make a trip to Athens, Ga., for their only matchup this season against the No. 15/14 Georgia Lady Bulldogs (15-3, 4-1 SEC). The Cats will be looking to extend the longest unbeaten start in conference play and maintain sole possession of first place in the SEC in a third-consecutive outing against a top-25 opponent.
The last Thursday-Sunday combination UK faced was about the most difficult the SEC has to offer, as UK won a pair of games against Tennessee and South Carolina, which is proof of how well the Wildcats have embraced that routine.
"The players have responded," Mitchell said. "They have responded big time. We try to focus on different things on Tuesday than maybe we do on Wednesday, but it's all in an effort to get ready for that Thursday game, and the same is true with Friday and Saturday. I think the players have really taken to practice and what we can get out of it."
Thursday's game at 7 p.m. will also be the second-straight road affair for the Wildcats, and fourth overall. The first two at Notre Dame and Middle Tennessee State didn't go so well, as UK suffered its only two losses of the season, but UK has since won two in a row away from Memorial Coliseum in conference play. It began with a win at Florida on New Year's Day, a game Mitchell called crucial to the development of his team.
"I was real proud of the team after Florida because we bounced back from what was a substandard energy level by Kentucky standards at Middle Tennessee, and then very quickly the next game we were able to get energized and beat a really tough Florida team," Mitchell said. "I thought that was a huge turning point for our season, just to be able to get that back."
The Cats will need to bring a similar energy level as they travel to face the Lady Bulldogs, who are led in by the inside-outside combination of forward Jasmine Hassell (13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds) and guard Khaalidah Miller (13.3 points, 4.4 rebounds).
Georgia coach Andy Landers is 33-11 against Kentucky in his tenure and UK has just three wins in Athens in school history against 16 losses.
"We have a big road challenge ahead of us," Mitchell said. "Georgia is an outstanding basketball team with really good players and is always well coached. We always have a real, real tough game any time we go to Athens. This year will be no different."
A road test like this one would be even more concerning if not for UK's depth. Depending on who has brought the necessary intensity to the floor, Mitchell has been able to curtail his 12-player rotation in road games and keep the Cats who are playing well on the floor. Even more importantly, Mitchell's players embrace their depth and cheer each other on rather than resent one another over playing time, or lack thereof.
"We have a team full of kids who really seem to be pulling for each other and rooting for each other and focused on Kentucky winning," Mitchell said. "You need that when you have a deep bench because there aren't as many minutes to go around. We talked about that early in preseason, how if we really wanted to be successful that was a formula we would all have to contribute and sometimes you'd have to sacrifice and it's come together nicely."
The Wildcats are shooting 71.8 percent at the foul line as a team, best of any John Calipari-led team at UK or Memphis. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Through 10 games of the 2011-12 season, Kentucky was shooting just 154-for-228 (67.5 percent) from the free throw line. It appeared John Calipari's reputation as a coach with supremely talented teams who can't consistently convert at the foul line would be reinforced, right or wrong.
Then, over the holiday break, Calipari instituted stiff penalties for missed free throws. For every attempt at the line that the Wildcats miss in a game, a 33-second sprint would await them in practice the following day.
Convinced his team was fully capable of being a very good free throw shooting team, Calipari thought the deterrent would bring an additional level of focus to his Kentucky team both in games and in practice.
Safe to say, the strategy is working.
Beginning with a win against Samford on Dec. 20, the Wildcats have shown tremendous improvement. Over than nine-game span, UK is 180-for-237 (75.9 percent) at the line, raising its season average to 71.8 percent, best in the Southeastern Conference and 84th nationally.
Primarily driving UK's improvement have been point guard Marquis Teague and forward Anthony Davis.
To begin the season, fans and pundits alike wondered whether Teague's poor foul shooting would keep him off the floor in clutch situations, but Calipari expressed confidence in the freshman even as he hit just 15-for-27 over his first 11 games.
Since then, Teague has morphed into one UK's most reliable shooters at the stripe. He has hit 25 of his last 30 free throws (83.3 percent), bumping his season average to 70.2 percent.
Similarly, Davis' improvement at the line has paralleled his team's. Nine games into his college career, UK's new shot blocking king was just 20-for-38 (52.6 percent) at the charity stripe, but his stroke looked reliable nonetheless. With work in the practice gym and Calipari's prodding, Davis has hit 38-of-45 (84.4 percent) free throws since in increasing his percentage on the season to 69.9.
Teague's and Davis' growth at the line is particularly positive, as Teague will likely step to the line in crucial situations as UK's point guard and Davis will shoot more and more free throws as he's asked to do more offensively (he's already second on the team with 83 attempts at the line).
If the two freshmen and their UK teammates can keep it up, this team could be Calipari's best free throw shooting team in recent memory. A season ago, the Wildcats shot 71.0 percent at the line, a full 2.0 percent better than any Calipari-coached team at Kentucky or Memphis. This year's team is ahead of that pace and steadily improving.
In the midst of yet another All-Star caliber season, Rajon Rondo is headlining a group of 15 former Wildcats in the NBA and is joined by a trio of rookies impressing in their rookie seasons.
Rondo's Boston Celtics are off to just a 4-8 start three weeks into the season, but the sixth-year point guard is averaging a career-best 14.5 points per game as the so-called "Big Three" continues to pass the mantle to the Louisville, Ky., native. Rondo is also dishing out a league-best 10.0 assists to go with 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals. He has had a handful of dominant performances season, including a 31-point, 15-assist effort in the season opener and a triple-double on New Year's Day.
Rondo is one of a growing group of former UK and John Calipari-coached point guards in the professional ranks, the latest of which is Brandon Knight. The Detroit Piston is ranked sixth on the latest edition of the NBA Rookie Ladder, averaging 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists. With injuries in the backcourt, Knight has stepped in as a starter and has scored in double figures seven of his last eight games, including his first double-double on Jan. 13 in a win against the Charlotte Bobcats.
Knight's Final Four teammate from a year, Josh Harrellson, hasn't gotten playing time as consistently, but has proven the New York Knicks' draft night trade for him to be wise. Harrellson has scored in double figures four times, including a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds on New Year's Eve. "Jorts" has also shown an outside shot in his first 13 games, hitting 14 3-pointers and hitting multiple treys five times.
Harrellson's opportunity a season ago at UK came largely because highly touted big man Enes Kanter was ruled ineligible, but Kanter has finally gotten to take the floor with the Utah Jazz after being selected with the third pick. Kanter is playing in a deep frontcourt and improving each time out with averages of 4.8 points and 5.2 rebounds. On Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Kanter posted career highs in minutes (22) and points (10).
That group of rookies is going through the same ups and downs that UK's 2009-10 crop did a year ago, including 2010 No. 1 overall pick John Wall. Wall's second season with the Washington Wizards hasn't always been easy as they are 1-12, but he is coming off one of his best games of his young career. In a loss to the Houston Rockets, Wall scored 38 points to go with eight assists, six rebounds, four steals and just two turnovers.
Wall faced off against his former teammate, Patrick Patterson, in his career-best scoring game. Patterson missed a couple games to start the season due to injury, but has worked his way back into the Rockets' rotation. On Tuesday, he scored a season-high 12 points against Knight's Pistons.
The third of UK's lottery picks in 2010, DeMarcus Cousins, is playing some of the best basketball of his young career over the last two weeks. He has scored in double figures seven times and posted five double-doubles. On the season, Cousins has improved his averages from his rookie year in rebounding (9.8), blocks (1.7), steals (1.1) and free throw percentage (77.9).
Also playing well is Jodie Meeks, who is a full-time starter for the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers are off to one of the best starts in the NBA and Meeks' outside shooting has been a key factor. Meeks has a pair of 20-point performances this month, and is shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range in January.
On to more veteran former Wildcats, Tayshaun Prince has been unsurprisingly steady for the Pistons this season. He's averaging 10.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists, including back-to-back 20-point outings in his last two games. Nazr Mohammed (Oklahoma City Thunder) and Jamaal Magloire (Toronto Raptors) are each veteran big men playing roles effectively for their team as well.
Out due to injury are Eric Bledsoe (Clippers) and Chuck Hayes (Kings), while DeAndre Liggins and Daniel Orton have yet to suit up for the Orlando Magic.
Marquis Teague had a career-high nine assists in UK's 86-63 over Arkansas. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In the lead-up to a game against Arkansas, Marquis Teague and his Kentucky teammates expressed excitement at the prospect of playing a fast-paced game.
John Calipari offered words of caution, saying the Razorbacks would present challenges the likes of which UK's guards have not seen with their brand of pressure. Teague would need to remain disciplined even though he was playing a style he preferred.
He responded with an "unbelievable floor game," according to his coach, managing to actually slow himself down in spite of fast-moving game.
"I just slowed down a lot more today than I have," Teague said. "I found people earlier, didn't take extra dribbles and found them when they were open."
Teague set a career high with nine assists in UK's 86-63 win, giving the No. 2 Wildcats (18-1, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) their 10th consecutive win. He scored just seven points on 2-of-4 shooting and was overshadowed by Anthony Davis, who set a single-season school record for blocks in a 27-point, 14-rebound and seven-block performance.
Teague, though, drew the praise of Calipari for his efforts. He committed just three turnovers in a high-possession game and effectively picked his spots when to attack and when to set up the offense.
"He's really focused and zoned in on how he's got to start playing," Calipari said. "He's playing as a point guard versus trying to score baskets. He's still scoring and making free throws. The biggest thing is our team is a totally different team when he's playing."
Teague has gone through an adjustment period in his first college season. He is just now beginning to realize how dangerous his team can be when he looks first to get his teammates involved.
"In high school I had to score more because I wasn't playing with guys that are as good as these guys," Teague said. "On a team like this, you can find people and you know they're going to finish and make plays too."
Many of the plays Teague made on Tuesday were in the open floor finding Davis, Terrence Jones (13 points) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (10 points) for alley-oops, but those plays won't always be there as Kentucky proceeds through its SEC schedule. Most future opponents figure to force UK into much more of a half-court game and, even though he would rather play up-tempo, Calipari is confident Teague can handle himself well.
"I would love to play fast the whole game, but you've got to be able to play in the half court, defend in the half court, play offense in the half court, grind out clock and make people make plays late in the clock," Calipari said. "He's got to run us and be able to do that, and he did that today."
Teague did not score a field goal for the first 29:02 against Arkansas, opting instead to involve his teammates. However, twice in the final 10:58 the ball ended up in his hands with time running short on the shot clock. Both times, he created for himself off the dribble and beat the shot-clock buzzer.
"I just take whatever the defense gives me," Teague said. "I don't really look to do anything in particular. If I have a bucket, I'll take that. If I have a pass, I'll make the pass."
The Indianapolis, Ind., native looks forward to the chance to play another team like Arkansas whose style thrusts them into an up-tempo game with the Cats, but he doesn't see that happening too often.
"All five of our players that are on floor are fast and can get up and down the floor," Teague said. "We all can handle the ball and finish at the rim.
"Some teams (will try to run with us) anyway: that's their style. I don't know. I don't see why people would want to run with us. It's what we're real good at doing."
After the game, Calipari reported, "We got better," and much of that had to do with Teague's performance. With his best game as a Wildcat under his belt, what does the future hold?
"I don't know," Teague said with a smile. "I guess we'll just have to see. I just want to come and play the way I'm playing and run the team. That's my main focus."
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 email@example.com will receive a mystery prize.
Today's question is apropos today as the Wildcats look to extend a long winning streak. With a win Tuesday against Arkansas, UK will extend its winning streak to 10 games. In John Calipari's 20 seasons as a Division I head coach, how many winning streaks of 10 games or more does he have?
Again, please submit your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will announce the correct answer 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 Arkansas at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
Anthony Davis is one shy of tying the school record of 83 blocks in a season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Anthony Davis is on the cusp of breaking the single-season Kentucky record for blocks in a season. With a game on Tuesday at 9 p.m. against Arkansas looming and Davis sitting just one block shy of the school record of 83, the record will, in all likelihood, fall in a matter of hours.
Davis' pursuit of the record is impressive and all, but I'm much more interested in quantifying what his defensive presence actually means to this second-ranked Kentucky team. We've heard opposing coaches rave about Davis being the key to everything UK does defensively, and that certainly seems to be the case from watching the Wildcats on a game-by-game basis, but I was interested in taking a more in-depth look.
So, I broke down play-by-play data for each of Davis' NCAA-leading 82 blocks in an effort to identify any relevant trends. Here is what I discovered: Davis' blocks equal UK possessions
In a box score, every block is created equally. In reality, that couldn't be further from the truth.
A volleyball-style spike three rows deep into the crowd might make it on SportsCenter and strike fear into opponents' hearts, but it's actually among the least valuable blocks a player can make. Of course, it's always a plus to prevent a shot from going in, but the ultimate goal on defense is to gain possession, whether through a rebound or turnover. A block that goes directly out of bounds allows the offensive team another opportunity to score. The ideal block is one that results in a defensive rebound and therefore a possession.
With that in mind, here's a breakdown on Davis' 82 blocks:
34 (41.5%) stayed in play and resulted in a defensive rebound by another UK player
18 (22.0%) landed out of bounds with possession staying with the opponent
17 (20.7%) stayed in play but resulted in an offensive rebound
12 (14.6%) were rebounded by Davis himself
1 (1.2%) landed out of bounds with possession going to UK
Based on those numbers, UK immediately gained possession on 47 of Davis 82 blocks (57.3 percent) while the opponent kept possession 35 times (42.7 percent). Even more impressively, 63 of Davis' 82 blocks (76.83 percent) stayed in bounds.
Comparing Davis' statistics to NBA shot blockers according to this study, he is well above average in terms of keeping the ball in bounds, but only slightly above average in possessions gained for his team. In other words, Davis and his teammates could actually be doing a better job of chasing down his blocks.
Blocks save, lead to points
Of Davis' 82 blocks, 75 have come on 2-pointers and seven on 3-pointers. Removing missed shots due to Davis' blocks, UK's opponents are shooting 382-for-999 (38.2 percent) on the season inside the arc and 98-for-318 (30.8 percent).
Using those percentages, Davis has personally saved 57.4 points the opposing team would have scored on 2-pointers and 6.5 on 3's for a total of 63.9 points or 3.6 per game. That doesn't even account for shots Davis alters but doesn't block and for his psychological effect, which I'll address later.
Additionally, the impact of Davis' swats isn't limited to the defensive end. John Calipari talked on Monday's Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference about how he prefers blocked shots to taking charges because of the way those blocks can directly lead to points.
"We lead the nation in blocked shots so instead of taking charges, we're blocking," Calipari said. "I'd rather have that too because those lead to fast breaks."
So, do Davis' blocks really lead to easy opportunities for UK in the open floor? The data I uncovered is very interesting in that department.
From the previous section, we know UK has had 47 offensive possessions from Davis' blocks. However, we'll take away the game-ending block against North Carolina since UK intentionally dribbled out the clock.
On the remaining 46 possessions, the Wildcats have scored 36 points or 2.0 per game. Together with the 3.6 per game he saves with his blocks, Davis' shot blocking is responsible for 5.6 points on top of the 13.1 per game he scores offensively.
Strangely, UK has actually been less efficient on offensive possessions following Davis' blocks than on normal possessions. The Wildcats have scored 1.15 points per possession on average this season, but only 0.78 on possessions following Davis' blocks. Admittedly, these numbers are skewed slightly because I excluded second-chance points.
Even so, UK is significantly less efficient on possessions after his blocked shots. Why is that?
Well, much of it stems from the fact that the Wildcats have committed 11 turnovers on those 46 possessions for a turnover rate of 23.9 percent, which is well above UK's average of 19.1 on the season.
UK has scored points on 19 of the 46 possessions following Davis' blocks (41.3 percent) with the average possession lasting about 8.5 seconds. In other words, when UK scores after he blocks a shot, they do it quickly.
Based on statistics alone, it seems UK likes to run off of Davis' blocks as Calipari suggests, but it also seems they are at times too aggressive in doing so, which helps explain the deficit in offensive efficiency.
Nonetheless, Davis has created 47 possessions and 36 points for the Wildcats that they would not have had, which is particularly meaningful when you consider UK has played two games decided by one point and another by three.
Swats set the tone
Opponents can watch all the tape they want on Davis, but it's impossible to appreciate his length and athleticism until actually taking the floor with him. It takes time to adjust to facing Davis, which makes for lots of early blocked shots.
Looking at the play-by-play data, this is unquestionably true.
Davis has blocked the opponent's very first field goal attempt of the game four times in 18 games. He has a rejection on one of the opponent's first three field goal attempts in 11 of 18 outings this season. He also has blocked at least one in the first eight minutes 16 times.
Once opposing players see just how difficult it is to shoot over Davis, they inevitably begin to alter their shots or refrain from shooting near him altogether. It's difficult to use statistics to prove this, but it's worth pointing out that the Wildcats have already forced 12 shot-clock violations this season after forcing just 10 in all of the 2010-11 season.
If I were playing against Davis, I think I might prefer a shot-clock violation to having the ball swatted back in my face, too.
UK cheerleading won the UCA National Championship for a record 19th time on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
A year ago, the Kentucky cheerleaders experienced something they simply weren't used to: second place.
The Wildcats really wanted to win a fourth consecutive title in 2011. You can call them greedy, but when UK was dethroned by Alabama last season at the College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships, the Cats had no intention of experiencing second place again anytime soon.
"We won three in a row and just weren't able to get that fourth one," head coach Jomo Thompson said after the 2011 competition. "We just have to use it and focus hard on next year."
For the following 362 days, the Wildcats prepared for the 2012 Universal Cheerleading Association National Championship fueled by the disappointment of falling short. On Sunday, the UK cheerleaders returned the title to Lexington, Ky., yet again.
"I thought the kids did really well," Thompson said. "We had a good performance. We still had a couple mistakes, not major ones, so it wasn't quite the perfection that we wanted but it was good enough to beat our competition."
That pursuit of perfection is part of what has made UK cheerleading the dynasty that it is. Kentucky has won 19 of 28 UCA national championships dating back to 1985 and 15 in the last 18 years. UK won eight in a row from 1995-2002 and three straight twice in 2004-06 and 2008-10.
Thompson has now won seven championships as UK's head coach to go with the six he won as a team member and assistant. Each of the three times the team has fallen short of the title in his 10-year tenure, the Wildcats have rebounded to win the following year, which says all you need to know about the character of everyone involved with the program.
"I know most people would be happy with second place, but at Kentucky, we're used to getting first place and that's our goal," Thompson said. "When we don't get it, it's not that we're not appreciative of being up that high, but our goal is always to win the competition. That's the level of expectation that we have for this program. To always be able to come back and answer says a lot."
To answer in 2012 meant UK had to up the ante in its already difficult routine. The judges in 2011 awarded the title to Alabama largely because they perceived the stunts the Crimson Tide performed as more difficult than UK's. This time around, the Cats weren't going to let that happen.
"That's one of the critiques that the judges had: that Alabama did more than us last year," Thompson said. "We wanted to make sure we had the most stunts and the most difficulty out of anyone. We did that."
Even with all UK's historical success, but the talented group of coaches and team members is constantly challenging themselves to innovate.
"It's a creative process," Thompson said. "It's getting all the kids together, thinking about things, brainstorming and coming up with new and exciting ideas. I've been doing this for going on 13 years now and think sometimes we'll run out of ideas, but every year we're able to come up with things that have not been done."
Kentucky's difficult routine was not without a couple mistakes, but the fact that the Cats were able to perform in a high-pressure situation makes them deserving champions. While most athletic teams have dozens of chances to compete and hone their craft, the cheerleading title is decided in one weekend and just a few routines.
UK prepares for the pressure by performing in front of big crowds at high school events. The Wildcats also had a sort of final dress rehearsal at the last men's basketball home game in Rupp Arena on Jan. 7, which helped alleviate some of the anxiety once they were in competition.
"There's nothing like the actual experience of doing it, but if you can kind of trick yourself into thinking, 'Alright, this is it, I've got to get this done,' it makes it a little bit easier to cope when you actually get down there and it's time to do the real thing," Thompson said.
With the title now won, the cheerleaders will have a much-needed week off to rest of focus on schoolwork. Once they do return to practice, the Cats will assume their traditional role at UK events. In traveling with UK's second-ranked men's basketball team throughout a potential tournament run, the cheerleaders fully expect to be performing in late March and early April.
"We'll try to do some new things for the basketball games because we firmly believe our basketball team is going to bring home a national championship this year," Thompson said. "We want to make sure that when we go out and we're in tournament play and in the (Southeastern Conference), that we're the best cheerleaders along with the best basketball team."
Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
If it's uncommon for two teammates to be candidates for National Player of the Year, how rare is it for two roommates to do it?
Kentucky freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were named to the Midseason Top 25 for the John R. Wooden Award. Finalists for the award were announced on ESPNU's show "The Experts" on Tuesday afternoon.
The two star forwards came to Kentucky as consensus top-five players in the class of 2012 and have lived up to every ounce of that billing in helping lead UK to a 17-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking.
Davis, the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, is averaging 13.1 points, a team-leading 10.2 rebounds, 4.6 blocks and 1.6 steals. He has posted nine double-doubles in his 18 collegiate games while also etching his name in UK record books with his prolific shot blocking. With 82 blocks on the season, Davis ranks first in the nation and is just two shy of setting a school record for single season blocks. One of the Chicago, Ill., native's blocks is among the most memorable plays of the 2011-12. In a classic showdown between Kentucky and No. 5 North Carolina, Davis preserved a 73-72 victory with a block of fellow Wooden Award finalist John Henson.
In his short UK career, Kidd-Gilchrist has established a reputation as a fierce competitor, one he has earned through clutch performances in his team's biggest games. Kidd-Gilchrist had his first career double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds in the victory over North Carolina and his second in a 24-point, 19-rebound effort in a win over fourth-ranked Louisville in UK's annual rivalry game. On the season, the native of Somerdale, N.J., is averaging 13.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks.
UK is one of just three schools with multiple finalist for the Wooden Award, which recognizes "The Outstanding College Basketball Player in the United States." Henson is joined by North Carolina teammates Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes while Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and William Buford each earned nods.
Jimmer Fredette of BYU won the award in 2011, joining past distinguished winners like Larry Bird (1979), Michael Jordan (1984), Tim Duncan (1997) and Blake Griffin (2009).
Here is the complete list of finalists in alphabetical order: Name Ht. Yr. Pos. University Conference Harrison Barnes 6-8 So. F North Carolina ACC Will Barton 6-6 So. G Memphis Conference USA William Buford 6-6 Sr. G Ohio State Big Ten Anthony Davis 6-10 Fr. F Kentucky SEC Marcus Denmon 6-3 Sr. G Missouri Big 12 Draymond Green 6-7 Sr. F Michigan State Big Ten John Henson 6-11 Jr. F North Carolina ACC John Jenkins 6-4 Jr. G Vanderbilt SEC Orlando Johnson 6-5 Sr. G UC Santa Barbara Big West Darius Johnson-Odom 6-2 Sr. G Marquette Big East Kevin Jones 6-8 Sr. F West Virginia Big East Perry Jones III 6-11 So. F Baylor Big 12 Kris Joseph 6-7 Sr. F Syracuse Big East Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 6-7 Fr. F Kentucky SEC Jeremy Lamb 6-5 So. G/F Connecticut Big East Damian Lillard 6-3 Jr. G Weber State Big Sky Scott Machado 6-1 Sr. G Iona MAAC Doug McDermott 6-7 So. F Creighton Missouri Valley Mike Moser 6-8 So. F UNLV Mountain West Arnett Moultrie 6-11 Jr. F Mississippi State SEC Thomas Robinson 6-10 Jr. F Kansas Big 12 Mike Scott 6-8 Sr. F Virginia ACC Jared Sullinger 6-9 So. F Ohio State Big Ten Cody Zeller 6-11 Fr. F Indiana Big Ten
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Jan. 15:
Men's basketball: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis helped lead the Wildcats to a 2-0 mark on the road this week, the only team in the league to win a pair of games on the road this week ... Davis tallied eight blocks on the week moving him to within one block of the UK single-season record after only 18 games ... Leads the league in blocks and field goal percentage ... He did break the UK freshman record for blocks this week ... Davis helped lead the Cats in a come-from-behind wins at Auburn and at Tennessee, scoring game-high 14 points at Auburn and a game-high 18 points at Tennessee ... Scored in double-figures in seven-straight games and eight of the last nine.
Swimming & diving: Greg Ferrucci
Greg Ferrucci led the Wildcats on the diving platforms this weekend, winning three of the four events he competed in. The reigning Southeastern Conference Freshman Diver of the Year scored a 327.98 on the one-meter, leading Kentucky. Ferrucci finished second in the three-meter competition, recording a 334.43, only falling short of fellow teammate John Fox who won the event with a 351.08.
Ferrucci won both the three-meter and the one-meter competitions in Atlanta, Ga., against Emory University, recording a 429.90 on the 3m, and a 405.30 on the 1m.
Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies
Scored a career-high 34 points vs. No. 6/7 Tennessee, and grabbed nine boards, one shy of tying a career high. Also dished out two assists, blocked two shots and had two steals.
Hit the game-winning shot vs. Tennessee with 4.2 seconds left to snap Tennessee's 36-game conference winning streak, give UK its first 4-0 start in conference play in program history, and give UK its third win over a top-10 ranked opponent this season, the first time the program has done that since 1982-83.
Her 34 points vs. Tennessee are the most points scored by a UK player since Dec. 20, 1987, when Bebe Croley scored 40 points vs. Morehead State.
First player to score 30 points in a game since Dec. 7, 2010 (Victoria Dunlap, 30, vs. Tennessee Tech).
Tied a career high with three blocks at No. 24/RV South Carolina, while also getting three steals.
Led UK in minutes played this week.
Has started in every game she has played this season.
Has reached double figures in scoring in 14 of 17 games she has played in.
No. 16 in scoring all-time at UK (1,208), and is just seven points shy of tying Stacy McIntyre at No. 15.
No. 9 in steals all-time at UK (220), and is just four steals shy of tying Sandy Harding at No. 8.
Track and field: Keffri Neal
Finished with the second-fastest collegiate time in the men's 800m run at the Kentucky Invitational.
Has the third fastest freshman time in the SEC in the 800m run.
Ran the third leg of the 4x800-meter relay, helping lead the team to a second-place finish.
Track and field: Luis Orta
Ran a career-best time in the one-mile run of 4:09.59.
Finished in second in the one-mile run.
Has the fastest time in the mile in the SEC.
Has the 32nd fastest time in the country in the mile.
Men's tennis: Anthony Rossi
Kentucky men's tennis junior Anthony Rossi claimed the SEC Coaches' Indoor Championships singles title on Monday with an impressive win against No. 10 Sadio Doumbia of Georgia. The win helped Rossi become the first Kentucky player to win the singles title in the annual event since Adam Malik did it back in 1989. The UK star is only the second player in school history to win the event.
When it comes to the success of the Kentucky men's basketball team, what is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's most important attribute?
Defense. Rebounding. Leadership. Scoring. It's hard to know what the right answer is, which means the right answer is most likely that there is no answer--because it's not any ONE thing that makes MKG such an important cog in John Calipari's Big Blue machine. The sum is greater than any individual piece, in the case of Kidd-Gilchrist.
And it makes for an interesting discussion when it comes to things like All-America teams, Player of the Year awards and the like. Do you vote first for Kidd-Gilchrist or do you vote for fellow UK freshman Anthony Davis?
"I think (he) has had the biggest effect on winning," replied veteran college basketball scribe Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News, when ask why he opted for Kidd-Gilchrist on his midseason All-American first team. "He's been a very impressive player in every respect. I think Anthony is a terrific player and don't forget, we had Anthony on our preseason first team. And I think it's quite possible Anthony could wind up on the first team by the end of the year."
Kidd-Gilchrist has played some of his basketball in the Cats' biggest games. 12 points, nine rebounds against Kansas. His first career double-double (17 points, 11 boards) in the one-point win over North Carolina. Against Indiana, he went for 18 and nine while also guarding the Hooisers' best perimeter player. And in the win over Louisville, Kidd-Gilchrist had 24 points and 19 rebounds (the highest total at UK in six years).
CBS' Clark Kellogg was courtside for Kidd-Gilchrist's tour de force against UofL.
"I think you start with his attitude and his tenacity. He plays with tremendous heart and focus and purpose. When you do that, you have a chance to impact winning," Kellogg said.
There's that phrase again--"impact winning." And MKG does it in a variety of ways.
"He enjoys playing defense, he's a tremendous rebounder. He plays with an enthusiasm that is contagious. 24 (points) and 19 (rebounds) for a guy who is not an interior player is just off the charts," Kellogg said on "The Leach Report" radio show. "This kid is more than just a producitve player. He wants to lead other players to their best level of play.
"That was as strong a performance as I've seen in a long time, especially for a freshman," Kellogg added.
So what does Kidd-Gilchrist think about all of this praise?
"It doesn't drive me at all," he said. "It's good to know. My family and friends drive me the most. I just feed off them."
Freshman point guard Marquis Teague will take on Arkansas' full-court press on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Old Dominion, Auburn and Tennessee have written the book on Kentucky.
To hang with the supremely talented Wildcats, UK should expect most of its opponents to use the physical, half-court style those three teams employed.
When the Razorbacks (13-4, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) face off against No. 2 Kentucky (17-1, 3-0) at 9 p.m. on Tuesday in Rupp Arena, first-year head coach Mike Anderson is going to throw that book out the window and play the fast-paced, pressing brand of basketball his teams at UAB, Missouri and now Arkansas have always been known for.
"We won't go away from what we do," Anderson said.
Anderson coached under Nolan Richardson in the 1990's when Arkansas used "40 Minutes of Hell" to reach back-to-back national championship games and the Razorbacks have made a return to some of those principals.
For a UK team that has played an average of just 63.5 possession a game over its last four outings largely due to its opponents taking the air out of the ball, the chance to play a team that's averaging over 73.2 possessions on the year is an energizing one.
"This is going to be exciting," freshman guard Marquis Teague said. "We look forward to these types of games, playing up and down, being able to use our speed and athleticism."
Clearly, the Wildcats are excited to welcome a team to Lexington, Ky., that won't shy away from running with them. The fans that will bear witness in Rupp Arena or on ESPN will probably feel much the same way.
"We're going to attack them," Anderson said. "That's how we play. We play up-tempo, attack basketball. They play the same way in terms of getting up and down the floor. I think for the fans in attendance and hopefully the fans that are watching, it should be a great game with two teams that are going to go after each other."
Arkansas' M.O. is to use a balanced nine-man rotation and full-court traps to force turnovers and make their opponents uncomfortable from start to finish, not unlike the UK women's team under Matthew Mitchell. The Razorbacks are forcing 18.4 turnovers per game and have committed nearly five fewer miscues per game than their opponents have.
"When they speed you up, they're getting into you," UK head coach John Calipari said. "They don't press like normal teams where if you complete a pass, they run down. They come running at you."
In other words, the Wildcats might be excited to be playing the type of game they enjoy, but they also better be ready for the unique challenges the Razorbacks will throw at them.
"It's another thing for our point guard to feel and our guards to feel and work their way through," Calipari said. "They're a good team."
Arkansas is without their top post presence in Marshawn Powell, who underwent a season-ending knee injury in November, but their backcourt has stepped up in his absence. Freshman guard B.J. Young will likely come off the bench on Tuesday, but he's averaging a team-best 15.0 points per game. He has hit 28-of-64 (43.8 percent) from 3-point range on the season and he isn't even his team's top long-range threat. Sophomore Mardracus Ware is 36-of-73 (49.3 percent) on the season and is his team's second-leading scorer.
The Razorbacks are talented and deep, but Anderson still says they will have to play "one of our best games of the year" just to have a chance. Ultimately, a close game is what he's hoping for.
"I think one of the things is you've just got to give yourselves a chance to make it happen," Anderson said. "The way you do that is you've just got to be within striking distance. You've got to hang around. They pose a lot of problems for a lot of people. It's not coincidental that they're one of the best teams in the country."
A season ago, a close game would have been worrisome for UK, but the Wildcats are already proving themselves capable of coming up big in the clutch in 2011-12. Kentucky has won three of its four games decided by single digits, including this weekend's comeback victory over Tennessee.
"Last year we didn't have the confidence in ourselves to make plays that guys have in themselves this year," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "A lot of guys are stepping up and knocking down free throws in crunch time and hitting shots that, last year, I think guys just wouldn't shoot."
UK has shown an ability to turn up the intensity late in games, which is what it did against Tennessee, Auburn and even in failed comeback bid in its only loss this year at Indiana, but Calipari wants to see more of a killer instinct from the opening tip.
The Wildcats, after showing the ability to dominate on the glass in non-conference play, have been outrebounded in their three SEC games 99-94. If UK can return to the form that carried the Cats to a 107-54 rebounding advantage in their final two out of conference games by pursuing 50-50 balls as Calipari is demanding, it could be the difference against an undersized Arkansas team.
The Razorbacks have been outrebounded on the season and are among the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country, ranking 300th out of 345 teams according to kenpom.com.
"They've got three guys that are among the leading rebounders in the SEC so that poses a big challenge for our basketball team because that's one of the areas we're not as strong because we don't have that size," Anderson said. "I'm sure that plays into the advantage of Kentucky."
Even so, Arkansas is going to play its game. If shots are falling and Teague and his young teammates are uncertain in handling the pressure, the Razorbacks will take advantage.
"They're better than everybody gives them credit for," Calipari said. "Their style of play unleashes guys."
- The Wildcats return home for a pair
of league games this week beginning with Arkansas on Tuesday night. UK just
completed a two-game road stretch where they posted a 2-0 record, including a
65-62 win over Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday.
- Kentucky had to come from behind,
trailing the Volunteers by as many as eight in the second half, but the
Wildcats were up to the challenge, including freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist,
who led UK with his third double-double this season. He finished with 17 points
and a game-high 12 rebounds.
- Fellow freshman Anthony Davis was
named the SEC Freshman of the Week after he finished with a game-high 18 points
and added eight rebounds and four blocks, while Terrence Jones was the only
other Wildcat in double-figures with 10 points.
- Kentucky remains the only undefeated
team in the SEC at 5-0 after two hard-fought wins over No. 6/7 Tennessee and
No. 24/RV South Carolina last week. The Wildcats captured a one-point 61-60
victory over the Lady Vols on Thursday in Memorial Coliseum, snapping the Lady
Vols' 36-game SEC winning streak.
- Junior guard A'dia Mathies turned in
one of the most impressive individual performances in UK Hoops history in the
win by netting a career-best 34 points to go along with nine rebounds, two
assists, two blocks and two steals. She hit the game winner with 4.2 seconds remaining
to give UK its third win over top-10 team this season and first win over
Tennessee in five tries. For her efforts she was tabbed the SEC Player of the
- The Cats then defeated South
Carolina on the road, 66-58, marking their first win in Columbia, S.C. since 2009.
The balanced scoring effort was led by Keyla Snowden who came off the bench for
15 points and three steals. Ten of the 11 players who saw action scored at
least two points.
- Kentucky got strong outings from
Emily Holsopple and Ethan Settlemires to lead the defending national champion Kentucky
rifle team improved to 8-0 win a win at Army, 4693-4646, on Saturday at the
Tronsure Rifle Range.
- Kentucky opened its spring portion
of the schedule with the win at West Point, totaling a 2325 total smallbore
score and a 2368 total air rifle team tally.
- Holsopple and Settlemires led UK in
both guns, with the duo each charting a 585 in smallbore. Settlemires led UK in
air rifle with a 594, with Holsopple adding a 593. Also in air rifle, Henri
Junghänel finished with a 592, with Heather Greathouse recording a 592 and Stacy
Wheatley posting a 589. Katie Fretts finished with a 585 in air rifle.
Holsopple and Settlemires led UK with 585's, with Junghänel charting a 576, Greathouse
a 579, Wheatley a 572 and Fretts a 569.
- The No. 23 University of Kentucky
gymnastics team concluded its first Southeastern Conference meet of the season
by falling 196.650-191.975 to No. 11 Arkansas at Barnhill Arena in
- In all, Kentucky had 19 of 24
routines performed by freshmen and sophomores in the meet, while five Wildcats
made their collegiate debuts on an event in the meet.
- Kentucky's youth shined on vault
with freshman Kenzie Hedges leading the way with a 9.775, while sophomore Holly
Cunningham was second on the team and tied a career high with a 9.75. Freshman Sara
Shipley went second in the lineup and scored a 9.725, while sophomore Audrey
Harrison went 9.7. Senior Storey Morris posted a 9.65 followed by freshman Shelby
Hilton, who was making her collegiate debut, earning a 9.475. Kentucky scored a
48.6 as a team on the event.
- The Kentucky men's tennis team
completed a successful four-day run in the Southeastern Conference Coaches'
Indoor Championships with junior Anthony Rossi claiming the singles title at
the event. Rossi used a very workmanlike performance Monday to win the final
over the No. 10 Sadio Doumbia.
- Rossi becomes the first Kentucky
player to win the singles title in the annual event since Adam Malik did it back
in 1989. The UK star is only the second player in school history to win the
- Kentucky had a good showing at the
event overall with three singles players making the quarterfinals in Rossi, Eric
Quigley and Tom Jomby. UK also had two doubles tandems in the quarterfinals,
while sophomore Panav Jha and Quigley advanced to the doubles semifinals.
Track and field
- The Kentucky men's and women's track
and field programs began their seasons Friday and Saturday by hosting the
Kentucky Invitational at Nutter Field House.
- The Wildcats got strong performances
from its men's one-milers, as junior Luis Orta ran a personal-best and SEC-leading
time of 4:09.59 to finish in second. Sophomore Adam Kahleifeh finished fourth
with a time of 4:12.20.
- Freshman Bradley Szypka finished
second in the men's shot put with a throw of 16.28m/53-05.00, while junior Darryl
Bradshaw finished third in the 60-meter hurdles finals with a time of 8.18.
- The Wildcats placed in the top three
in six different events Saturday.
Swimming and diving
- The UK swimming and diving teams
combined to go 2-2 over the weekend, with both teams dropping an SEC dual meet
to Alabama on Saturday, but quickly rebounding to sweep Emory University on
- On Sunday in the women's
100-butterfly, UK had a dominating performance taking first through fifth.
Julia Gerotto led the way, recording a
time of 57.49, while Anna Mattox followed up with a 58.47 for second place.
Lindsay Lash, Abby Myers, and Diana Norkus rounded out the top-five for
- Overall on the weekend, Kentucky won
seven of the contested eight diving events. Sophomore Greg Ferrucci claimed
first place in three of the four events he was entered in.
- Women's tennis traveled to Honolulu,
Hawaii, for the Rainbow Wahine Spring Invitational.
- The team swept Kansas in doubles
play. The 34th-ranked duo of Khristina Blajkevitch and Jessica
Stiles took on the Kansas' 42nd-ranked doubles team of Monica Pezzotti and
Paulina Los, defeating them 8-4.
- Freshman Stephanie Fox faced
Washington State's 123rd-ranked Elizaveta Luzina and beat her in straight sets
with a score of 6-1, 6-3.
Tuesday, Jan. 17
Men's basketball hosts Arkansas - 9:00
Thursday, Jan. 19
Women's basketball at Georgia - 7:00
Friday, Jan. 20
Women's tennis hosts Marshall - Noon
Gymnastics hosts Florida - 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 21
Men's basketball hosts Alabama - Noon
Rifle at TCU
Sunday, Jan. 22
Women's tennis hosts Belmont - 11:00
Men's tennis vs. Michigan State - 2:00
Seventh-ranked Kentucky men's tennis hosted the Southeastern Conference Coaches' Indoor Championships at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex this weekend and it was a Wildcat who claimed the singles title.
Junior Anthony Rossi, ranked No. 36 nationally, advanced to the finals with four consecutive wins. He drew third-seeded and No. 10 ranked Sadio Doumbia of Georgia, winning in straight sets by scores of 6-4, 6-3. See the video above for highlights of Rossi's win.
Rossi wasn't the only UK player to excel in the tournament, as Eric Quigley and Tom Jomby each advanced to the quarterfinals of the main singles draw. Quigley also made the semifinals of the main doubles draw with Panav Jha.
For the third consecutive week, the John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats checked in at No. 2 behind unbeaten Syracuse according to both major polls. UK received four of 65 first-place votes in the Associated Press Top 25, while Syracuse is a unanimous No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll for the first time. The Wildcats also moved up one spot to No. 9 in the latest RPI rankings and held on to a No. 1 seed in ESPN's Bracketology.
Anthony Davis was a key cog in UK's two wins from last week that moved the Wildcats to 17-1 on the season with a perfect 3-0 mark to start Southeastern Conference play. He averaged 16 points, seven rebounds, four blocks, 2.5 steals and two assists in a pair of road wins against Auburn and Tennessee, earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors for the third time for his efforts.
Joining Davis in earning a weekly award this week was UK Hoops' A'dia Mathies (Player of the Week). The junior guard averaged 21.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and 2.5 steals in a pair of wins over ranked opponents this week. Included in those averages was a career-best 34-point performance in a home upset of No. 6/7 Tennessee. Mathies bested her previous career high of 32 points on the game-winning basket with less than five seconds left.
UK Hoops currently sits atop the SEC standings with its first-ever 5-0 start in conference play and deservedly moved up in this week's AP poll to No. 6
Unfortunately, I did not travel with the team as Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky Wildcats followed an upset of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers with a gritty 66-58 win over No. 24 South Carolina on Sunday. The comeback victory moved UK Hoops into sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference heading into yet another tough game looming at No. 19 Georgia on Thursday.
Kentucky, which moved to 5-0 in the SEC for the first time in program history, had to overcome a nine-point deficit midway through the second half. It was the Cats' largest deficit in a conference game this season.
They had to overcome star player A'dia Mathies being hounded by double teams and benched by foul trouble.
They had to overcome their second-leading scorer going without a basket the entire game.
But they got over the hurdles to earn their fifth straight win and their second on the road in the SEC, with a game at No. 19 Georgia looming Thursday.
"We're taking these one precious moment at a time," Mitchell said. "Every win we can generate is tough to get, and it's precious."
While Kentucky's win over Tennessee drew bigger headlines for obvious reasons, the victory over the Gamecocks was quite significant, too. Kentucky had lost on its last two visits to South Carolina.
It was a big contrast in styles Sunday afternoon: Kentucky, which came in averaging 81.1 points per game versus coach Dawn Staley's South Carolina squad, which was at 61.8. Mitchell, in his fifth year running the show in Lexington, was concerned heading into the contest.
"Every time that we've gone to Columbia, it's been a difficult game for us," he said. "Because Dawn always has the team prepared, they play with great energy, and their defense is always tough."
John Calipari spoke on Monday's SEC Coaches' Teleconference. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
John Calipari and the other 11 coaches from around the Southeastern Conference participated in the SEC Coaches' Teleconference on Monday. Kentucky has home matchups this week against Arkansas (9 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN) and Alabama (noon Saturday on CBS) as the No. 2 Wildcats look to extend the nation's longest home winning streak. Calipari talked about the two upcoming games and his team as a whole and here are some notes from his comments:
Calipari first pointed out the contrast in style of play between the two teams the Cats will face this week. Under first-year head coach Mike Anderson, the Razorbacks play a brand of up-tempo, high-pressure basketball and they won't slow down for UK. Alabama, on the other hand, relies on a slower place and a punishing half-court defense. "One team, when we play Arkansas, is going to play a hectic, frenetic (style) with traps and push it up and down and run a motion," Calipari said. "The other team is, in the half court, absolutely going to physically defend, defend the 3, more of an old school way of playing. It's just two totally different ways and this is all good stuff for my young team."
Calipari said he has watched just two tapes on Arkansas so far, but will watch more today as he returns from a recruiting trip. It's a completely different way of playing than the Tennessee team UK just beat, but Calipari compared what Anderson is doing at Arkansas to what Cuonzo Martin is doing at Tennessee. "Mike's teams are going to play different and they take on his personality. Both of the guys have done it in short order, which is hard," Calipari said. He went on to praise the way Arkansas' style "unleashes" players. "(They have) three guards where they put it on the floor," Calipari said. "If you can't stay in front of people, they're getting to the rim. They're doing a good job and I like their team."
If you were thinking Arkansas would change the way they play because they're facing UK's athletes, thing again. The Razorbacks are going to do what they do. "We're going to attack them," Anderson said. "That's how we play. We play up-tempo, attack basketball. They play the same way in terms of getting up and down the floor. I think for the fans in attendance and hopefully the fans that are watching it should be a great game with two teams that are going to go after each other."
One subtle adjustment you could see the Razorbacks make is to slide in and try to draw more charges. UK has been frequently whistled for charges all season and even more so over its last two games. Point guard Marquis Teague has been a prime offender, as he's committed four charges over his last two outings. Calipari, though, isn't overly concerned. The calls aren't going UK's way at the moment and he wants to make sure his guys continue to attack. "If those are the turnovers we're getting, aggressively and we're attacking the rim and it's a charge, we can deal with that," Calipari said. "The worst thing would be if we're out there just jacking up 3-point shots." Calipari, though, does want his guys to make some adjustments to the way opponents are defending them. "Either way, you've got to be aware, whether you're Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) or whether you're Marquis Teague, that that's how they're playing," Calipari said. "You've got to stop short or you've truly got to move to a side so it's so obvious that they're moving that they've got to call it."
On the defensive end, UK is drawing very few charges, but again, Calipari isn't worried. UK has blocked 164 shots on the season and he'd prefer one of those to drawing a charge. "We lead the nation in blocked shots so instead of taking charges, we're blocking," Calipari said. "I'd rather have that too because those lead to fast breaks. We've got a couple guys that are told, 'You guys take charges, the rest of you block shots.' "
Finally, Calipari was asked about the health of his team following a physical win on Saturday. He has not yet had a practice with his team since this weekend, but he didn't report any injuries beyond bumps and bruises. He did, however, offer a familiar prescription for his team to cope with the physical play UK should expect to see the rest of the season. "It's all the M.O. that everybody's looking at saying this is how you play these guys and we've got to learn to negate it," Calipari said. "I just keep saying it over and over. If you don't negate it, that's what they do." There will be games when officials are calling the game tight and UK will shoot a bunch of free throws, but there will be others when players are allowed to bang much more, but the Wildcats can't be affected either way if they want to live up to their lofty ranking. "It's not acceptable to get beat like that if you want to be a special team," Calipari said.
Some coaches have reported they didn't know Kidd-Gilchrist was as good of a player as he is until after having faced him, but Anderson isn't going to be fooled that way. The Arkansas head man had great things to say about the freshman they call MKG. "I think he just plays the game with a lot of passion," Anderson said. "His versatility I think is very important for their basketball team. Not only is he a tremendous competitor, but he makes big plays and it seems like he plays better in the big games. Whether it be rebounding, scoring or assisting, even blocking shots, he's just very active for their basketball team."
On Sunday, Kentucky cheerleading returned the Universal Cheerleader Association Championship to where it has spent most of the last 28 years.
For a record 19th time, the Wildcats won the UCA national title at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. UK finished ahead of second-place Alabama, who ended a streak of three consecutive Kentucky titles in 2011.
The championship is UK's fourth in five years and seventh in nine. UK has failed to win the national championship just three times since 1995 and has reclaimed the title in the following year each time.
The Kentucky dance team also participated in the final round of national competition this weekend. Coach Dawn Duncan Walters and the Wildcats brought home a sixth-place finish in the Pom category and eighth place in Hip Hop.
Congratulations to both the cheerleading and dance teams!
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 17 points and 12 rebounds in UK's comeback win at Tennessee. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had that look in his eye.
It's the same look he had against North Carolina and Louisville, games in which he posted his first career double-doubles and helped lead Kentucky to victory.
Once he flashed that look against Tennessee - the one that says "We're not losing this game" - you just had a feeling the Volunteers' eight-point lead wasn't going to stand.
"That's just how he plays," Anthony Davis said. "He's got a will to win and he brings a lot of energy, rebounding, offense, free throws. He's a great kid and I'm glad we have him on our team."
Davis first caught a glimpse of the look at halftime of a game that saw No. 2 UK (17-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) rally past Tennessee (8-9, 1-2 SEC) 65-62. The Wildcats were trailing 34-28 having been "out-physicaled," to borrow a phrase from John Calipari. It wasn't a speech from his head coach that stuck with Davis at the break; it was the intensity of his roommate.
"(Kidd-Gilchrist) was a man who came into the locker room mad and feisty because we weren't playing the way we're supposed to," Davis said.
The sold-out crowd of 21,678 in Thompson-Boling Arena didn't see the fire in Kidd-Gilchrist's eyes until the Volunteers had extended their halftime advantage to 47-39 with 13:05 to play. Then, it was unmistakable.
Over the next 11:54, Kidd-Gilchrist was the driving force behind a stretch in which the Cats scored 23 of 30 points, holding Tennessee to just three baskets and a free throw in the process.
Name any kind of play, and Kidd-Gilchrist likely made it. His impact isn't even fully captured by his stat line (eight points, four rebounds, a block and a steal) from the run, but it's impressive nonetheless.
"What they're saying about him is he's a winning player and every coach wants to coach a winning player," Calipari said. "Guys are on our team may shoot it better, there may other guys that dribble it better, they may be other guys that bounce it better, but winning basketball games happens because of guys like this."
By the time he was finished doing a little bit of everything, Kidd-Gilchrist had 17 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and a block, giving him his third double-double in four UK games decided by single digits this season. The only thing that seemed like it might stop him on this Saturday was a gruesome-looking fall late in the second half.
He slipped, fell driving to the basket on a fast break and was called for a travel, but the numerous (and vocal) blue-clad fans in attendance were much more concerned about the health of the star freshman. He lay on the ground momentarily, but eventually walked to the sideline on his own power for what turned out to be a very brief 30-second breather. Thankfully, Kidd-Gilchrist and Calipari were able to joke about it after the game.
"I was just getting my rest," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I'm sorry. I was going to get back up."
There are a pair of plays that stand out even above the rest the youngest player on UK's team made. The "and-one" dunk he threw down may have drawn the biggest reaction from his bench, but an outside shot and an offensive rebound best exemplify what Kidd-Gilchrist is all about.
With 4:55 left, Kidd-Gilchrist's production had almost exclusively come from penetration or at the foul line. The Wildcats' lead was a tenuous one point and they needed some breathing room, so Kidd-Gilchrist confidently rose and fired from deep, hitting a crucial 3-pointer.
"I've been in that gym putting in that work," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "(Calipari) trusts me, so that's one thing. I just have a lot of heart, too. That's another reason I shot the ball."
It wasn't a called play and Kidd-Gilchrist is shooting just 10 for 31 (34.4 percent) from 3 on the season, but Calipari said he "would have been mad if he didn't shoot it."
"Some guys that want the ball, you don't want to want the ball," Calipari said. "There are some guys that don't want the ball and you want them to have the ball. And then there are guys you want it and they want it. Those are the guys that go make plays. It's pretty simple. This kid was the whole game, 'Get me the ball.' "
Kidd-Gilchrist used that same attitude to make the second of his game-breaking plays.
He rebounded a missed dunk by Kenny Hall to give UK the ball with a six-point lead with under two minutes to go. Recognizing the importance of the possession, Calipari called for a timeout with seven seconds on the shot clock as UK had nothing going.
Out of the 30-second break, Doron Lamb drove to the hoop and missed a bank shot, but Kidd-Gilchrist flew in from the wing to grab the rebound and extend the possession.
"His mindset is, I'm going to get the ball," Calipari said. "You could have this mindset: Well if I go in there I may get hit so let me run back. Or you could have the mindset, that ball hits the rim, I'm going to go get it. It's hard to teach that. Either a guy has it (or he doesn't)."
His play set up a 10-foot hook shot by Davis in the post that gave UK a seemingly secure eight-point lead with under a minute remaining. Tennessee would hit a pair of quick 3s and benefit from a missed front end of a one-and-one to cut the lead to two, but UK would buckle down on defense and hit three free throws to salt away the victory, one of which was made by Kidd-Gilchrist.
Afterwards, Calipari praised his team's "will to win," particularly on the part of Kidd-Gilchrist and fellow freshmen Davis (18 points and eight rebounds) and Marquis Teague (seven points and a steal). Behind those three newcomers, UK has now matched its road win total in SEC play from a season ago with a 2-0 start, but Calipari wants the entire team to take on Kidd-Gilchrist's killer instinct, and not only in crunch time.
"When it gets rough and the other team plays that way, we're not negating it right now," Calipari said. " ... Before this ends, if we want to be special, we've got to be able when a team comes out and does it, you all will watch and say that has no effect on that team anymore."
The Wildcats are thankful to have a pair of wins on the road under their belts, but they also know Calipari is right about needing to play more complete games.
"We come out great and always have a lead of like 10 and then they come back," Davis said. "We just start breaking off (plays). That's something we have to get better at. We have to keeping fighting, not parts of the game, not stretches. We have to keep fighting for the whole 40 minutes."
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis have helped lead UK to a 16-1 start to 2011-12. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Look out Anthony Davis, you might have some company.
Davis has been widely projected as the top pick in the 2012 NBA Draft ever since he set on Kentucky's campus. He hasn't done anything to change that, but he's not the only contender for the spot according to Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com. In fact, Davis doesn't even need to look beyond the four walls of his own dorm room to discover his latest competition.
This says a lot about the high-energy Kentucky forward, about exceeding expectations and putting himself on a path to be picked, at worst, high in the lottery. It says that projections at the start of the season may turn meaningless for the second year in a row. It says that there's a logjam for the top spot with 5 ½ months still ahead.
Already lining up as one of the most anticipated Drafts in years, loaded with star power and depth, the 2012 proceeding has three established contenders for No. 1 and a fourth forcing his way into the conversation. Anthony Davis of Kentucky, Andre Drummond of Connecticut, Harrison Barnes of North Carolina, Kidd-Gilchrist as a long shot ... and constant, shifting fortunes for all involved.
UK has had two players picked in the top eight of the draft each of the last two seasons, with John Wall picked at No. 1 and DeMarcus Cousins at No. 5 in 2010 and Enes Kanter (No. 3) and Brandon Knight (No. 8) last year. If Howard-Cooper is right, the two freshman roommates could well make it a third.
Tennessee lost at home to Austin Peay earlier this season but the Volunteer team we've seen in SEC play in the past week is clearly a different squad. UT upset Florida and then played Mississippi Stat to a four-point game on the road last night.
"I think the biggest change has been they're playing more complete games," UT radio voice Bob Kessling said on today's "Leach Report" radio show. "Used to be, they'd play one half well. I think the change in the starting lineup (inserted Josh Richardson and Renaldo Woolridge) has helped. Both are more concerned with defense and it's helped Tennessee set a good tone."
In those two league games, opponents are hitting just 40 percent of their field attempts against the Vols and only 32 percent of their three's.
"I think the last two or three games, the players have really bought into it. If they don't play defense," Kessling said, "they don't' play."
One player who has blossomed under first-year coach Cuonzo Martin is power forward Jeronne Maymon. The transfer from Marquette played only sparingly last season in Bruce Pearl's system but Maymon is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds per game this season. And he's become a strong defensive presence as well.
"He's like a defensive end in there. Strongest guy on the team, benches 300 pounds. He's not flashy. Gets around the basket, goes and gets rebounds. As long as he stays out of foul trouble, he's got a chance to be pretty productive," noted Kessling.
"He's more like a quarterback for us defensively," Martin said on a recent SEC coaches teleconference.
"This is not for everybody, coming to Kentucky."
That statement from John Calipari is not new but he's had a chance to re-emphasize in the wake of Terrence Jones' post-Indiana struggles, which are hopefully behind now.
"Whether you're the coach or the player, there is so much passion around this program that your good stuff is overdone and so is your bad stuff," Calipari said on a recent pregame interview on the UK IMG radio network. "I'll give you an example. Terrence Jones. He has a bad couple of weeks. Doesn't mean he's a bad player, he just had a bad couple of weeks--and had his finger pop out of its socket," said Calipari. "Marquis Teague. He's playing 30 minutes a game for the second-ranked team in the country. He's averaging four-and-a-half assists to three turnovers. He needs to pass it a little more but he's 16 games into a college career, playing on this stage. He's used to shooting it more. We're trying to say 'a few more passes means a few more assists which means six assists to three turnovers'. Two-to-one is good in anybody's book. I'm just telling the guys to just worry about getting better. This isn't football where one loss knocks you out of the national championship.
"By the end of the year, what we did in New Jersey was like winning the national title. Those were three of the best five teams in the country and winning that shows what you can do when you come together," he added.
It may have been hard for Kentucky fans--or any of Florida's other SEC foes--to root for Tim Tebow when he was a Gator. Now, it's a different story and I'm guessing a lot of you are like me and really enjoying watching Tebow lead the Denver Broncos into the second round of the NFL playoffs.
Tebow was anything but an underdog at Florida but he's in that role now, with so many doubters out there. I'm not sure he's the long term answer to Denver's QB situation but it's clear that Tebow is a good leader and a winner.
Former UK and NFL star Jeff Van Note is a fan, too.
"His ability to lead his team and makes plays and inspire is fun to watch," Van Note said on "The Leach Report" radio show earlier this week. "He has the intangibles that people who have played football recognize."
Anthony Davis is six blocks shy of setting a school record for blocked shots in a season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There are two pages in the Kentucky men's basketball factbook that are desperately out of date.
They are really no different from any of the 286 others though. They were meticulously checked and double-checked for statistical accuracy coming into the 2011-12 season, but Anthony Davis has spent his entire freshman campaign casting every name, date and number into doubt.
If you haven't guessed by now, those two pages list all-time blocked shot records in UK history. Just 17 games into his first season as a Wildcat, Davis has etched his name into UK lore with 78 blocked shots, giving him more than 286 Division I teams.
"I never thought that I would be breaking records," Davis said. "I just try to go in and play every game."
Davis may be playing innocent in saying he had no intention of harming UK's record books, but his assault has been systematic.
He needs just six blocks to set a new single-season record, previously held by Andre Riddick and Melvin Turpin at 83 swats. Considering he is averaging 4.6 per game, that should be no problem. In fact, it's not unthinkable that it could come on Saturday when the No. 2 Wildcats (16-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) head to Knoxville, Tenn., to face the Tennessee Volunteers (8-8, 1-1 SEC) at noon on ESPN.
At his current pace, Davis would shatter the record for blocks per game in both a season (2.9 by Sam Bowie in 1980-81) and a career (2.2 by Bowie).
Five times in 17 outings, Davis has had a performance that ranks among the 10 best in a game in UK history. Only Riddick appears more on the list, and he needed 126 games to have six such games. Breaking Riddick's single-game record of nine blocks is certainly within the realm of possibility, but he'll likely fall short of Jamaal Magloire's career record of 268, but only because he'll likely be the top pick in this year's NBA Draft.
In all seriousness, statistics are the furthest thing from Davis' mind at this point. Setting records is cool and all, but his achievements are merely a byproduct of his approach, an approach he's not going to alter.
"You lose focus when you get into all the statistics so I try to keep my focus on the court," Davis said.
Even so, Davis' defensive prowess begs the question: what's his secret?
Of course, his 6-foot-10 frame, even longer wingspan and ridiculous jumping ability help, but there have been plenty of players in the storied past of Kentucky basketball with physical gifts at least in the realm of Davis'. Unfortunately for youngsters aspiring to learn from Davis, he doesn't have any earth-shattering advice.
"I just try to time the shot well," Davis said. "When the ball gets out of their hand, I try to go up and block it. There's nothing more to it. It's all about timing."
Davis said his timing is largely innate, and his coach agrees.
"The best shot blockers I have seen are the ones that let people release the ball and then go get it and that's what he does," John Calipari said. "Marcus Camby, when I had him, that's exactly what he did, he never blocked it in the guy's hand, he just stayed down and waited for him to release it."
Patience and shot-blocking ability aren't the only things Davis and the former UMass big man and 15-year NBA veteran have in common. Both had significant growth spurts during high school that transformed them from undistinguished guards into extraordinary post players.
"He went from 6'3 to 6'10," Calipari said. "A lot of times the bigger guys that have always been bigger don't have that. Those guys that grew from 6'3 to 6'10 have guard instincts and guard reactions to things."
Whatever is driving Davis' production, Calipari doesn't want it stop. His teams have historically made their living on the defensive end, but the addition of a "spider-man", as Calipari likes to call Davis, has made this year's team that much more dangerous.
With Davis waiting in the middle to erase mistakes, athletic perimeter defenders like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Darius Miller can play much more aggressively. Calipari constantly drills in his players' minds to close on shooters, forcing them to drive to the teeth of UK's Davis-anchored interior defense. Accordingly, Calipari boasts his best 3-point shooting defense (29.9 percent) dating back to the 2002-03 season at Memphis.
"I think he's a game changer," South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said following a game in which Davis blocked seven Gamecock shots. "I think he changes everything for their defense and he changes everything for your offense. In my mind, he's the most important part of what they're doing defensively because he allows them to use their length and athleticism."
Even so, it's not the accolades, the records or what he does for UK's defense that most impresses Calipari. Davis is the king of dirty work for the Wildcats, leading the team in blocked shots (obviously), steals (26 on the season) and rebounding (10.3 per game), but he doesn't balk at the fact that all five of UK's other double-figure scorers have attempted more shots on the season than he has.
"The biggest thing he does for us is he just plays," Calipari said. "He's not worried about, 'I've got to get the ball all the time.' He's getting what he needs to do to help his team win and he's telling them, 'I'll do whatever the team needs me to do to win.' "
He may not lead the team in touches, but he's still scoring 12.8 points per game due to his ability as an offensive rebounder and a whole lot of alley-oops. Davis is sitting back, focusing on what he does best and improving in other areas, recognizing all the while that attitude is best for both the team and his long-term future.
"He's coming along faster than I expected, he listens," Calipari said. "He has let us present him instead of trying to show himself. Instead of trying to do everything, he just looks at me and asks how we want him to play."
Between volleyball's trip to the Sweet 16, the return of women's soccer to the NCAA Tournament and both basketball programs earning top-10 rankings nationally, it was a banner fall for University of Kentucky athletics.
However, the field of play wasn't the only place where UK excelled in the first semester of the 2011-12 academic year.
The Wildcats were truly student-athletes this fall, as Kentucky's 20 Division I teams combined for a mean team grade point average of 3.086 among student-athletes on scholarship. The average scholarship student-athlete GPA for the fall was 2.979, just short of UK's goal of a 3.0 GPA across the department.
"We had more than 50 kids with a perfect 4.0 grade point average and we almost got to the 3.0 as a department so I'm pleased with our effort," Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said. "We came dangerously close again and we want to get past that. I thought everybody gave great effort. I thought the kids showed improvement and have clearly taken interest in their academics."
Of those 20 teams, 15 posted a GPA of 3.0 or better. Leading UK were 36 scholarship athletes and 56 total student-athletes with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Moreover, 185 scholarship athletes and 243 total student-athletes earned a 3.0 or better. ***See below for complete grade information for each sport***
Conventional knowledge about college sports says that success in athletic competition comes at the cost of academic performance, but that's something Barnhart and the UK administration are unwilling to accept.
"We want to put to bed the myth that you can't do both, that you can't be in athletics and do well academically because you can't focus on both," Barnhart said.
In talking to UK student-athletes and coaches about the state of the program, the word "community" is nearly inevitable. The Wildcats do not exist on an island separated from other athletic teams or the university as a whole, and a commitment in the classroom is a key component in that sense of community.
"We talk about the pillars of our program and clearly education is a big piece of that," Barnhart said. "Our job is to prepare them to compete well and have an opportunity to walk out and be a viable member of society. They cannot do that without their degrees."
To succeed in the classroom, UK student-athletes rely on the guidance of the Center for Academic and Tutorial Services (CATS). From the moment each student-athlete arrives on campus, CATS advisers are a key component of the academic experience.
CATS takes an active role in the academic success of UK student-athletes, but without coaches delivering the message of the importance of excelling in the classroom, this fall's high GPA would not have happened.
"The wonderful thing about what we have is that our coaches are committed personally to education," Barnhart said. "Having coaches that buy into it and believe in it and make the commitment to make sure student-athletes are performing off the field makes it possible."
While fall 2011 gives reason to pause and celebrate what the Wildcats have done both on the field and in the classroom, it's not an endpoint. Barnhart has his sights set on the elusive goal of a 3.0 GPA across the department as a whole for the entire school year, but his aspirations don't end there.
"Having an entire department, all our athletes above 3.0 at the University of Kentucky would be a great thing," Barnhart said. "That doesn't mean that's the ceiling."
Eric Quigley is six wins away from becoming the winningest singles player in UK men's tennis history. (UK Athletics)
Eric Quigley has a nickname around the practice courts at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex given to him by associate head coach Cedric Kauffmann.
It may not be the catchiest or cleverest of monikers, but it's certainly a fitting one.
"Coach Kauffmann says, 'Eric's just a winning machine,' " head coach Dennis Emery said. "I think that's a really good way to describe him."
Quigley has spent much of his junior year and the early portion of his senior season on an unending charge up Kentucky's all-time singles wins list, and it's nearly complete. He currently sits in third place in UK men's tennis history with 139 career victories, two shy of Jesse Witten for second place and six away from breaking Paul Varga's mark, which has stood since 1985.
Since this weekend's Southeastern Conference Coaches Indoor Championships is just the second match of the spring tennis season, it is seemingly just a matter of time before Quigley cements himself as the preeminent winner in the storied history of the program.
Since it has become clear that the record was within reach, Quigley set his sights on breaking it. However, he sees it as merely a step along the way in what he hopes will be a fitting end to a decorated career.
"I don't know want to expect," Quigley said. "I know I'm close but I'm just trying to get better. It's a goal of mine, but there are many other goals. I'm just trying to stay focused and I'm sure I'll look back when I'm done here at Kentucky."
For so long, his chase has been a footnote in any press clippings about his team, even during the Wildcats' run to the quarterfinals of last year's NCAA Tournament. Quigley is ready to put the record in his back pocket and get back to just being the No. 1 singles player on a great team.
"It would be nice to get it out of the way so I can focus on the team and my other goals," Quigley said.
In fact, the majority of Quigley's goals are centered on his team.
UK set a school record a season ago with 29 wins before losing to USC in the Elite Eight. Four of six players in the rotation that led the Wildcats to a final national ranking of No. 8 return, earning the No. 7 spot in the preseason Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll.
Additionally, Kentucky is the only school in the nation with all six of its projected rotation players ranked. Quigley checks in at No. 5, Alex Musialek at No. 13, Anthony Rossi at No. 36, Panav Jha at No. 85, Tom Jomby at No. 95 and Alejandro Gomez at No. 111.
"We've had tons of great teams, but this team, there are no holes one through six," Quigley said. "If we can get our doubles together, I think we'll be in real good shape going into the season."
The Wildcats are coming off a successful fall indoor season that did nothing but add to the hopes coming into the spring that UK could advance to the Final Four for the first time, yet the team is unfazed.
"I think there are quite a few expectations, but we're all pretty hungry and not satisfied with how we did last year," Quigley said. "We were close to winning the SEC Tournament and I feel like we had a chance against USC in the quarters, so we all want to improve on that. We're all hungry to do better."
Expectations are being heaped upon UK coming into the season, but the Cats are demanding more of themselves than anyone else.
"Our players have really high expectations for the year," Emery said. "I think it's been something that's helped us in terms of our practices because they know, if we're going to achieve those goals, we have to work hard. They have to really keep it together emotionally. I think it's been a real good thing for us."
In hosting the SEC indoors this weekend at the Boone Tennis Center and Lexington Tennis Club, the Wildcats will get an immediate feel for where they stack up in the pecking order of the nation's toughest conference. Seven teams from the conference are ranked in the ITA top 25, including No. 4 Georgia and No. 8 Florida, who join UK in the top 10.
"The idea behind this weekend has always been to get the best players in the conference together and nobody really loses," Emery said. "You're playing a bunch of good people and no one takes any bad losses. It's a good way to get started before the dual match season. It's a showcase for the best players and the best conference in the country."
Unlike the rest of the matches UK will play this spring, the SEC indoors is an individual event. However, the Wildcats aren't going to approach it much differently than the rest of the spring season when they'll be competing as a team.
"It's a really good tournament at the start of the season, great competition," Quigley said. "It's all SEC, which we're going to be facing most of the season. It's not a dual match so it doesn't count team-wise, but it's good. We all get to watch each other play so it will be fun."
The one time the dynamic will be a bit different is if two Wildcats happen to advance and face one another in the later rounds. If that should happen, it won't be a first in 2011-12. At the Ohio Valley Regional Indoor Championships, five Cats advanced to the quarterfinals. Two of those quarterfinals were all-Kentucky affairs, creating some awkward viewing for their coaches.
"You just back off and let them play," Emery said. "There's really nothing you can do. You like them both and you want them both to win. In that situation, you remain completely unbiased and move on."
Ultimately, Quigley and Musialek went toe-to-toe in the final, where Musialek upset his higher-ranked teammate 6-3, 6-3.
"It's definitely a good sign and it's awesome," Quigley said. "It shows us that everyone is working hard and doing well. If you've got to lose to someone, you want it to be one of your teammates."
Tennis is an individual sport played as a team at the college level, which naturally leads to competitiveness among teammates, particularly when they happen on each other in a tournament draw. Emery considers himself lucky to have a group that can see the positive in losing to a teammate.
"Our guys are very much into our team," Emery said. "We have a very close team and they really pull for each other. It's a big difference between our team and I think some other ones."
After all the time spent in the gym working on every conceivable scenario, Matthew Mitchell turned to an offensive set that had merited scarcely a mention to that point in the most pressure-packed possession of the 2011-12.
The decision wasn't about believing in his coaching acumen or confidence that the play would work. It was all about his belief in one player: A'dia Mathies.
"A'dia had just taken us so far and brought us to that point so I just thought we'd put the ball in her hands and see what happens," Mitchell said.
Trailing Tennessee 60-59 with 28 seconds left, the Wildcats had the ball with a chance for the go-ahead basket. Initially, Mitchell called for Mathies to handle the ball and navigate a pair of on-ball screens from Samarie Walker and Azia Bishop. The Lady Volunteers were prepared, trapping Mathies near mid-court and forcing UK to use its final timeout with 12.6 seconds remaining.
Mitchell looked at his junior guard, who had tallied over half her team's points with 32 by that point, in the ensuing huddle and knew he had no choice but to put the ball in her hands. Using any screening action would surely result in another double team, so he called out "1-4 flat."
Mathies would receive the ball at the timeline and her four teammates would retreat to within a few feet of the baseline, giving her a chance to do what she does as well as anyone: beat her defender off the dribble.
That's precisely what she did.
She drove into the lane and came upon 6-foot-3 Glory Johnson and 6-foot-4 Vicki Baugh, but managed to get up a shot from seven feet out. Her floater glanced perfectly off the glass and settled into the bottom of the net with 4.2 seconds left.
Kamiko Williams used the remaining time to drive the length of the floor, but when her 16-footer missed, Mathies' shot became the game winner in a 61-60 thriller, propelling No. 9/8 UK (15-2, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) to its first win over No. 6/7 Tennessee (12-4, 3-1 SEC) since 2008-09. Kentucky's perfect start through four games in conference play is the first in school history.
"I took a one on one and I got past her," Mathies said. "I saw a couple trees and just shot it and it went in."
If Mathies appeared confident on the final play, that's because she was. She may never have run "1-4 flat" in practice, but she saw the same thing that led Mitchell to call the set.
"Actually, I was going to try to request it because I knew on another ball screen they were going to trap and I was probably going to have to give the ball up," Mathies said. "I wanted the ball in my hands."
Quiet and deferential by nature, Mathies isn't normally the type to demand the ball, but when the game is on the line, she becomes a killer. The game winner on Thursday night in front 7,961 fans in Memorial Coliseum was the second of her career, following last season's Senior Day shot against Arkansas.
Mathies playmaking ability is proof of Mitchell's refrain that the continuing rise of UK Hoops is more about bringing talented players into the program and putting them into position to make game-changing plays more than anything else.
"That was a great player making a big-time play," Mitchell said. "That's the formula. That's how Tennessee has won so many games over the years - great players making great plays. We did a good day's work when we signed A'dia Mathies."
Mathies' game winner gave her 33rd and 34th point, breaking her previous career high of 32, but for a while, it appeared her heroics wouldn't even be necessary, mostly because she had been so spectacular from the opening tip. She scored 15 of UK's first 21 points in a defensively oriented first half that ended with the Cats leading 25-21.
In the second half, Mathies helped keep UK in the lead throughout before the Wildcats exploded in an 11-2 run to extend the lead to 48-37 with 9:23 left. The spurt was capped by Mathies' most jaw-dropping play of the night: a desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock running down that turned into a four-point play because of a foul by Baugh.
Momentarily, it appeared the final minutes would be a prolonged celebration.
"For about two or three minutes (he thought the stars had aligned) and then I thought they had gotten out of whack again when Tennessee started throwing in shots," Mitchell said.
The Volunteers made their run, turning what was once a 12-point deficit with less than eight minutes to play into a 60-57 lead with 1:28 to play.
"We just got so tentative on offense," Mitchell said, "maybe playing not to lose instead of playing to win and then Tennessee, back against the wall like a great team does, just came out with haymaker after haymaker."
It should come as no surprise that it was Mathies that shook UK from its passive offensive ways. She drove and missed a shot on Kentucky's penultimate possession, but tracked down her own miss and put it back in. Freshman Bria Goss then stepped in and drew a charge on Shekinna Stricklen to give UK the ball with a chance to win.
Since Tennessee had not lost a conference game in its previous 36 outings, beating the Lady Volunteers inevitably leads to proclamations about the win's significance, particularly for a Kentucky program already making waves. Even so, Mitchell isn't about let himself get swept up in the euphoria.
"You have to make certain that you understand what it is," Mitchell said. "It's a win on a Thursday night in the Southeastern Conference. Emotionally, you have to understand it could've gone either way. It was not as good it looked tonight and wouldn't have been as bad had we lost by one."
Any win over Pat Summitt's Lady Volunteers is a momentous achievement, but the dominance that Tennessee has continually exerted both in the SEC and in the series against Kentucky is not magically reversed. There is work ahead, and it begins on Sunday against No. 24 South Carolina.
"We are getting closer but look at the series record," Mitchell said. "It is one-sided. We have a lot of work to do to even up that series. We are getting closer and that's what we need to do. We need to work really hard and focus on making Kentucky basketball as outstanding as this place deserves."
The winning student section will be determined by two rounds of fan voting, combined with the scoring of the finalists by the Naismith Awards Board of Selectors. Scoring will be based upon the student section's name and attendance, as well as photos, videos and a write-up submitted by the school.
Darius Miller celebrates a 3-pointer he hit at the first half buzzer in UK's 68-53 win over Auburn. (Victoria Graff Photography)
I was at the UK tennis complex this morning for some interviews for a story I hope to post this afternoon, so I haven't been able to post links from last night's defeat of the Auburn Tigers by John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. UK used a 23-6 run to close the game and pull away with a 68-53 win, moving the Wildcats' to 16-1 and a perfect 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play.
The Tigers, in spite some early-season struggles, gave the Wildcats all they could handle in front of a sellout crowd of 9,121 in Auburn Arena. Ultimately, UK's balanced scoring proved too much as Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague and Terrence Jones all scored in double figures.
I'll leave further analysis to those who made the trip, so here are your links:
Kentucky women's soccer had a banner 2011, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. The season was full of big wins and exciting moments and now head coach Jon Lipsitz is asking fans to help select the best goal from 2011.
A'dia Mathies is averaging 20.5 points over her last two games entering Thursday matchup with No. 6/7 Tennessee. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
A'dia Mathies is already one of the most accomplished players in Kentucky women's basketball history.
The junior guard needed just 74 games to reach 1,000 points and she, along with Brittany Henderson, is the only UK player to reach the NCAA Tournaments in both freshman and sophomore season. She has advanced to a pair of Southeastern Conference Tournament finals and even an Elite Eight. Her list of career achievements goes on and on, but she doesn't know what it's like to beat Tennessee.
Mathies has helped build Kentucky into a bona fide threat in the SEC, but the conference's foremost power has handed her Wildcats four losses in as many tries. As she looks for the elusive win over Pat Summitt's team, things feel different to Mathies in her third college season.
"We've always had great teams," Mathies said. "But I think this team has more depth and we're playing better together so I think we have the potential to come out with the win this year."
Mathies and the Cats will have their first of two regular season shots at doing just that this week. No. 9/8 Kentucky (14-2, 3-0 SEC) plays host to the No. 6/7 Lady Volunteers at 7 p.m. on Thursday in Memorial Coliseum, where the Wildcats last beat Tennessee three years ago.
Senior guard Keyla Snowden was sitting on the bench as a redshirt following her transfer from Akron for that win on Feb. 9, 2009, so she's just as eager as Mathies to earn a victory.
"It's going to be a huge game," Snowden said. "It's definitely a game that we've circled on our schedule. For us beating Tennessee is going to take us a step forward. I know since I've played here, I've never beaten Tennessee so I'm really looking forward to (Thursday's) game."
The Wildcats set out an ambitious set of goals entering the season, among which are a trip to the Final Four and an SEC regular season championship. The Final Four is down the road, but the game against Tennessee has clear and immediate implications in UK's quest for a conference title.
Kentucky is off to a perfect 3-0 record in conference, the first such start since 1992-93. A three-game winning streak in a league as historically difficult as the SEC is impressive, but the Lady Volunteers have it beat...by a factor of 12. Tennessee has won an astounding 36 consecutive games in conference play dating back to January 2010. Ending that streak and continuing their own would give the Wildcats an early boost in the conference race.
"Every win is precious in the SEC and Tennessee's obviously a top team," Mathies said. "A win against them would definitely be beneficial to what we're trying to accomplish."
Mathies' tune is tempered by an awareness that, win or lose on Thursday, it's still just the fourth game of 16 to be played in conference. That's the message that head coach Matthew Mitchell has been hammering home with his team all week.
"It's a huge game, but it counts no more than Sunday's game with South Carolina," Mitchell said. "I'm just telling you, it is a huge game and it is an unbelievably talented Tennessee team coming in that's extremely well coached - so it's a big game."
Accordingly, Mitchell is treating the Tennessee game just like he does any other, even though the crowd in Memorial will surely bring a different level on intensity. What that means, first and foremost, is that Mitchell is directing the Wildcats' focus inward. Rather than concerning themselves too much with the Lady Vols' +22.0 rebounding margin over the last five games or the play of 6-foot-3 forward Glory Johnson (14.3 points, 9.8 rebounds) and 6-foot-2 guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen (15.5 points, 6.7 rebounds), the Cats are thinking about the Cats.
In defeating then-No. 6/5 Duke, Kentucky established that it had both the talent and the style of play to beat the nation's elite, provided the players played with the necessary energy. However, the Wildcats also showed how bad they can look without that kind of effort in a loss to Middle Tennessee State.
"I think the lesson there is it's really about what we can do, what kind of energy we can bring to the floor every night and it takes tremendous energy to play the way we try to play," Mitchell said. "I think our focus, whether it's tomorrow night against Tennessee or whether it's the next Thursday night, we really have to be so focused on what we do and how we can execute that."
As much as Mitchell is thinking about his own team entering the top-10 showdown, it's impossible for him to keep his thoughts from periodically drifting to the legend who will be pacing the Tennessee sideline. Summitt, the all-time NCAA record holder with 1,083 wins, was diagnosed this offseason with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type but is persevering and continuing her storied career.
"I've been so impressed - but not surprised - that she's wanted to keep the focus on the players," Mitchell said.
Mitchell's players are just as impressed by Summitt's courage in continuing her career while also raising awareness for Alzheimer's disease through her foundation. UK will support Summitt next week as a part of "We Back Pat", an initiative started by the SEC, but the Wildcats understand the Lady Vol coach is still a ferocious competitor.
"She's very strong-willed," Mathies said. "I'm very sensitive to her medical condition, but I know she's still competitive and is going to have Tennessee ready. Our focus is coming out and being ready too and trying to get the win."
Assuredly, Summitt wouldn't have it any other way.
I will not be traveling with the men's basketball team to Auburn, Ala., so we won't have our normal coverage of tonight's Kentucky-Auburn game at 8 p.m. ET. We'll have updates as always from @UKAthleticsNews on Twitter, but no live blog, post-game video or feature story. Plenty of our local media will be making the trip, so check back here Thursday morning and I'll point you to stories from around the web about the game from those who were there.
The game is on the SEC Network, which is available throughout much of the Bluegrass and southern United States. Here are the stations in Kentucky that will be showing game along with their network affiliation:
Freshman forwards (and roommates) Michael Kidd-Gilchirst and Anthony Davis are each All-Americans according to Sporting News, with Kidd-Gilchrist a first teamer and Davis on the third team.
Here is what DeCourcy had to say about each:
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Kentucky, freshman. Is it possible the most complete college player has 16 games of experience? It's not definite, but it's possible. Kidd-Gilchrist already is the Wildcats' top perimeter defender, a player coach John Calipari will assign to defend any of four positions. He is the team's second-leading scorer although UK rarely runs a play for him. He is devastating in transition and scramble situations. His ability to make impactful, winning plays is uncommon for such a young player.
Anthony Davis, C, Kentucky, freshman. The presumptive No. 1-overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Davis has blocked shots, rebounded and finished above the rim. He has done everything coach John Calipari has asked of him. UK just hasn't asked as much of him as of Kidd-Gilchrist.
It was relatively quiet at Tuesday afternoon's men's basketball media availability, as John Calipari and select players spoke before Kentucky (15-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) heads south for the Wildcats' first SEC road game against Auburn (10-5, 0-1 SEC). Above is a video of Calipari's comments and you can also go to this link to see interviews with Marquis Teague and Twany Beckham.
Since it was fairly uneventful, I'm going to run down a few notes and quotes rather than do a full-blown feature or preview. Without further ado:
As he did yesterday in the SEC coaches teleconference, Calipari talked about the challenges UK will face in hitting the road. He isn't sure how his team will respond playing outside the state of Kentucky for the first time since early December, but the players knew what they were in for when they made the decision to come to UK. "That's what it means to play here, this isn't for everybody," Calipari said. "If you're hoping to walk in to a half-empty arena and slide by and go get a meal after the game then this is not your place to play basketball. Every game is someone's Super Bowl, you have a target on your back; every road game is sold out."
The Tigers are playing their second season in the recently opened Auburn Arena, so no player on the UK roster has yet played there. However, returners like Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Eloy Vargas know what it's like to play SEC road games and figure to help their four freshman teammates. Another player with experience on the road in-conference is Beckham, who played two full seasons at Mississippi State before transferring to UK. Calipari has suggested he has played Teague too many minutes on occasion this season (he's averaging 30.9 per game) and wants to change that. Accordingly, Calipari broke the news to Beckham that he should prepare to play more minutes than he has since becoming eligible at the conclusion of the fall semester. "He told me that yesterday in a meeting," Beckham said. "It got me kind of excited. I've been working hard on the defensive end all season so hopefully I can get out there and show my teammates that I can help them." With his experience, Beckham could provide a steadying presence. "It's going to be tough," Beckham said. "Every team is going to come to play and make every shot it seems like so we just have to be ready to put up a fight and play hard and we'll have a chance of winning."
Calipari has been preaching to his team that the season is going by quickly and they need to capitalize on every practice, workout and game, but he was sure to remind everyone that things aren't do-or-die just yet. "I told them let's just worry about getting better every game and the wins will take care of themselves," Calipari said. "If we lose a couple, we lose a couple. It's not football." The goal for the conference slate, according to Calipari, should be for the team to get to the point where it's running on "six cylinders" compared with "two or three" as has been the case most of the year.
Calipari and Auburn head coach Tony Barbee have a shared history and a close relationship, as Barbee played for Calipari at Massachusetts and coached under him at Memphis before moving on to become head coach at UTEP. "He helped me build two programs, UMass as a player and as an assistant at Memphis," Calipari said. "I'm standing here in front of you all as the coach at Kentucky and a lot of it is because of Tony Barbee." Calipari and Barbee, now in his second year at Auburn, have matched wits with one another many times, but it's still not an enjoyable experience for the UK head man. "I don't like playing these kinds of games, but we'll play the game and get out of there," Calipari said.
The strength of the SEC has been a debated topic each of Calipari's three years at Kentucky and on Tuesday Calipari offered his opinion of the state of the league. "I think the league is really good," Calipari said. He went on to predict the conference would have four teams in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 and was especially effusive in his praise of Vanderbilt, whom he called a "top-five team" with center Festus Ezeli healthy. The Commodores handed a 65-35 defeat to Auburn this weekend and Calipari expressed relief that UK doesn't have to face off against them until Feb. 11.
Calipari closed by talking about Darius Miller. The senior guard's production has varied greatly throughout his final season at UK and Calipari says he has been "fine" this season. However, he wants more. "I don't like fine or good, that's our enemy," Calipari said. "You don't want to be good, try to be great. Do the things you are capable of doing every day in practice and every game. You have to come with the mentality that you are going to work on everything and get better." Whether or not Miller produces, Calipari said UK can be a good team. However, if he plays at the level that made him the Most Valuable Player at the 2012 SEC Tournament, the Cats become "really good."
You grow up dreaming of playing in the National Football League but once you get there, is the reality as good as the dream?
"Definitely," says Randall Cobb, "a lot of fun. The guys in that locker room are some of the most athletic and talented guys--it's just a blessing to be out there with them doing something I love."
Cobb missed the Green Bay Packers' final regular season game with a pulled groin muscle but during an appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show last Friday, Cobb assured the Big Blue Nation that he'll be on the field when the Packers begin their postseason run this weekend.
Cobb is arguably the most popular Kentucky football player ever and it didn't take him long to be embraced by the Packer faithful, especially after he returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown in the season opener--a play that made it onto ESPN's list of the top 10 NFL plays of the year.
Cobb was asked how the passion of Packer fans compares to what he saw in Kentucky.
"We have a lot of fans everywhere. It kind of puts you in the mind of Kentucky basketball, how many fans they have everywhere they go. Our fans are very loyal. Whenever we're on the road, it feels like a home game," Cobb said.
Cobb made his mark as a rookie with his ability to return kickoffs and punts, a weapon the Packers have lacked since former Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard left more than a decade ago. But Cobb also caught 25 passes for 375 yards and a touchdown (which also came in that opening game). And even though he played in the country's toughest league, there has still been an adjustment period.
"You hear a lot of people talk about the speed but also, it's the detail work, just how precise you have to be. Especially as a receiver in your route-running and understanding coverages," Cobb told the audience. "Everybody out here is a pro. In college, you might two or three guys on the field that have the potential to play in the NFL. Just having to go non-stop on every play. You have to push yourself."
Cobb says the Packers are "staying focused and making sure we take it a week a time" when it comes to the playoffs and defending the Super Bowl championship. He says the hype surrounding the chance for an undefeated regular season was not a distraction because the players were able to keep their attention focused only on the next opponent.
Because the Packers played on Thanksgiving day, Cobb was at home in Alcoa, Tenn. with his family watching on TV when Kentucky finally ended the 26-game losing streak to Tennessee.
"That was big for us. It was exciting to see them get that win. And hats off to Matt (Roark). There's been some great quarterbacks that haven't been able to do what he did. That says a lot for him as a player," Cobb said, noting that he talked with Roark shortly after that memorable performance. "I congratulated him and told him I was proud of him. He was one of my roommates in college. Me and Matt have been close since we came in together so I was happy for him."
And what does Cobb miss most about his time at Kentucky.
"Just my friends and being able to hang out," replied Cobb. "It's a business now. I miss all my friends back in Lexington."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Jan. 8:
Men's basketball: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis averaged a double-double for the third straight week, helping the Wildcats to a 2-0 record on the week including a win in the SEC opener over South Carolina ... Davis has tallied five-straight double-doubles and six in his last seven games ... He now has nine double-doubles on the season, tying him for fourth most by a UK freshman in school history ... He blocked 10 shots on the week and is on pace to destroy the UK single season blocks record by nearly 70 blocks ... Davis tallied a 20-10 game against Arkansas-Little Rock, his second 20-10 performance of the season ... He then just missed a triple-double in his first-career SEC outing, with a 12 point, 10 rebound, seven block effort against South Carolina
Swimming & diving: Greg Ferrucci
The Kentucky diving team competed in the Georgia Diving Invitational this week in Athens, Ga. UK was paced by sophomore Greg Ferrucci who posted a score of 412.20 in the three-meter competition. The score was good enough to land the defending Southeastern Conference Freshman Diver of the Year the overall champion in the event, taking home first place. John Fox placed eighth in the same competition, posting a score of 334.10.
The score of 412.20 on the three-meter dive set a new school record for Ferrucci, passing Ben Starchuk, who held the record since 2005 with a score of 406.43 on Feb. 5, 2005.
Gymnastics: Head coach Tim Garrison
In his first meet as the head coach of the UK gymnastics team, Tim Garrison led the Wildcats to a second-place finish at the Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic event at Memorial Coliseum. A total of 3,686 fans helped open the Tim Garrison Era at Memorial Coliseum with an energetic atmosphere.
Women's basketball: Bria Goss
Scored 11 points against Arkansas on a perfect 4-4 shooting from the field, including a career-high tying three 3-pointers, to go along with five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Scored 13 points, including a career-high tying three 3-pointers for the second consecutive game, and had four rebounds and three steals vs Florida.
Shooting 6-7 from beyond the arc over the last two games.
Is 8-11 from the field over the last two games.
Third in scoring (12.0 ppg), tied for second in rebounding (4.5 rpg) and first in steals (2.5 spg) for the week.
Has reached double figures in scoring in 14 of 16 games for the Wildcats, including each of the last eight.
Has started in every game this season.
Has at least two steals in seven of UK's last eight games.
Leading freshman scorer in the SEC.
Men's basketball: Terrence Jones
Recovering from a dislocated pinkie Jones scored in double figures in back-to-back games helping Kentucky to a 2-0 mark on the week ... Shot better than 73 pct. from the field on the week, averaging15.0 ppg ... Shot over 88 pct. from the field in SEC-opening victory over South Carolina hitting eight of nine shots ... 20 points against South Carolina was most since tallying 26 against St. John's on Dec. 1
Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies
Scored a team-high 21 points vs. Arkansas, including a career-high five 3-pointers, a season-high six assists, three rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
Scored 20 points and grabbed five rebounds in 20 minutes vs. Mississippi State.
Scored 20 or more points in both games this week.
Hit three of Kentucky's program-record 14 3-pointers vs. Mississippi State.
Was 8-16 from beyond the arc in wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State.
Led UK in minutes played this week.
Has started in every game she has played this season.
Has reached double figures in scoring in 13 of 15 games she has played in.
No. 22 in scoring all-time at UK (1,166), and is just four points shy of tying Jocelyn Mills at No. 20.
No. 9 in steals all-time at UK (215), and is just nine steals shy of tying Sandy Harding at No. 8.
Gymnastics: Storey Morris
Gymnastics senior Storey Morris performed very well in her final season opener as a UK gymnasts, scoring a 9.7 or above on vault, uneven bars and balance beam. Morris started the night by sticking her landing on vault en route to a score of 9.8, while she secured a 9.7 posting on bars and led the Wildcats on beam with a score of 9.75.
Men's tennis: Eric Quigley
Kentucky men's tennis senior Eric Quigley went 2-0 in singles play at the Rainbow Warrior Challenge over the weekend, taking his career singles record to 139-43, sitting only two wins shy of tying Jesse Witten (2002-05) for second all-time in career singles wins.
John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats stayed put at No. 2 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Top 25, both of which were released on Monday. Only Syracuse is ranked higher, as UK received five out of a possible 65 first-place votes from the media and one out of 31 from coaches. The number of first-place votes is unchanged, but the Wildcats did gain a little ground in both polls, grabbing four more points in the Coaches poll and three more in the AP compared with last week.
With a pair of home conference wins last week, Matthew Mitchell and UK Hoops moved up two spots to No. 9 in the AP Top 25 with a showdown against No. 6 Tennessee looming on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats' return to the top 10 means UK is just one of three schools with men's and women's teams each ranking in the AP top 10, joining Baylor and Duke.
The Coaches poll will be released tomorrow.
Just as importantly, the NCAA also released a new set of official RPI rankings for both men's and women's basketball. The RPI is one of the key evaluation points for the Selection Committee in both the men's and women's game. For the second consecutive week, the men check in at No. 8 in the RPI. The Wildcats only figure to improve in that department as eight of UK's 11 SEC opponents rank in the top 100.
Having played three conference games already, UK Hoops is already feeling the positive impact of the conference schedule on its RPI. Wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State moved UK all the way up to No. 29 after being ranked outside of the top 50 coming into this week.
John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats play their first SEC road game on Wednesday at 8 p.m. against Auburn. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
John Calipari and the other 11 coaches from around the Southeastern Conference joined the league weekly teleconference on Monday. Here are some notes from Calipari's comments as well as those from a few other SEC coaches:
Wildcats hit the road for the first time in conference play
The big topic heading into this week is the fact that the Wildcats are hitting the road in conference play for the first time with trips to Auburn (8 p.m. Wednesday) and Tennessee (noon Saturday). Anyone who follows Kentucky basketball will remember the struggles UK had on the road a season ago, losing six of eight games in conference away from Rupp Arena.
"Last year on the road when we were still trying to figure out who we were, we weren't very good," Calipari said. "By the end of the year, we got better and we became one of those teams but it took us a while."
It's impossible to know at this point whether this year's team will repeat those problems of a season ago on the road, but, on the positive side, the Wildcats have faced about as challenging a road environment as you can imagine against Indiana last month.
"The good news is playing at Indiana gives them an idea of what the games will all be like, every one of them, including the Auburn game and Tennessee," Calipari said. "Every one of them will be like that Indiana game."
Road environments in SEC play will certainly be tough, but it's difficult to believe they'll approach what it was like in Bloomington, Ind. Nevertheless, Calipari's point stands.
Another reason to think UK could be better positioned to succeed more quickly on the road this season is that the Wildcats are much further along in discovering their identity than a year ago this time. Calipari took much of the blame for those road losses, saying "we weren't playing the right way." Once he figured out how to run his offense through Brandon Knight, incorporating significantly more dribble hand-offs, the Wildcats soared.
"Hopefully this year's team is a little farther advanced because I had a better idea of how this team would have to play," Calipari said. "It took me three months before I could figure out what (was) the best way for that team to play. When the team came together and figured it out, we were one of the better teams in the country last year."
If the Wildcats are further along this year as Calipari suggests, more success could follow on the road. Even so, winning there is no small feat. Other leagues like the Big East and Big Ten receive more attention for high-quality basketball played there, but Calipari says the SEC should not be sold short.
"Last year were 2-6 on the road and were a basket or two away from winning the national title," Calipari said. "We were in the Final Four. We were 2-6 last year in this league. People don't give these teams and these coaches enough credit." Opposing coaches laud UK's talent, defense
South Carolina scored 46 second-half points this weekend against Kentucky, but Gamecock head coach Darrin Horn came away impressed by the Wildcats on the defensive end.
"I think they're another really talented Kentucky team," Horn said. "They're extremely good defensively because of their ability to guard the ball with their length and athleticism and with (Anthony) Davis back there blocking five shots a game, it makes a huge difference for them."
Auburn head coach Tony Barbee has the unenviable task of trying to prepare his team for a matchup against Davis and company. Having played for Calipari at Massachusetts and coached under him at Memphis, Barbee knows the kind of defense to expect out of a Calipari-coached team and this year is no exception. However, Davis' presence in the middle makes UK that much more dangerous on the defensive end for his ability to erase mistakes.
"All of his teams are great defensively and it gets that much better when you have a guy like Davis in the paint who blocks shots like he does," Barbee said. "Now you can be more aggressive and that's what he's doing. Now it really puts pressure on the other team's guards and forwards to make plays."
To Barbee, the only things more impressive than the way Calipari's players get after it on the defense end are their effort and unselfishness.
"Coach has had a bunch of great teams and this is another one with a ton of talent and a bunch of length," Barbee said. "He does what he always does and gets them to play extremely hard and extremely unselfish.
"He gets his really talented guys to play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back of the jersey." Calipari: Four freshmen 'have really done well'
Midway through the season, Calipari is very pleased with the way his four highly touted freshmen have adjusted to the college game. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis have clearly been impressive and have received deserved accolades, but Calipari says that's partially a function of the positions they play and what's asked of them.
"Obviously Anthony and Michael have probably done a little bit better but it's a little bit easier the positions they have because all you're asking them to do is go out there and play hard," Calipari said.
That's not meant to denigrate the accomplishments of the two young stars, because both have played with exceptional effort throughout the season and accepted their roles willingly. Instead, Calipari means to say that Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer have been faced with a different set of challenges than their freshman counterparts.
Calipari has had to work extensively with Wiltjer to figure out how to play him most effectively and capitalize on his notable gifts as a scorer.
"Kyle Wiltjer has shown signs that he's as good a scorer as there is," Calipari said. "We're trying to fit him in defensively to our schemes and how we're going to have to play. He's got to be a little rougher, but he's 18 years old. It's hard to be out there, be rough and throwing people around when you're a young kid."
Teague, on the other hand, has been asked to play the most demanding position on the floor in leading a team picked by many to advance to the Final Four. All the while, he's had to cope with inevitable comparisons to Calipari's last four point guards, all of whom were lottery picks, two No. 1 overall picks, two NBA Rookies of the Year, and one the reigning Most Valuable Player.
"Here he is," Calipari said, "the starting point guard playing 30 minutes a game on the No. 2 team in the country averaging four-and-a-half assists, three turn(overs), has had points of the game where he's just dominated and he's still learning the position and we're getting everybody's best shot and they're scrambling up defenses and presses."
Calipari is hard on his point guard because he knows he has to be for him to develop as he needs to, but the criticism some have heaped on Teague has been unwarranted. Ultimately, point guards are measured by their team's record (UK is 15-1) and the way those surrounding him are playing and Teague has succeeded in those areas by any measure.
Of course, he's had his share of "bad spells" as Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight did, but all told, Calipari said Teague should be praised for his play, not criticized.
"The kid has done fine, Calipari said. "I'm probably playing him too many minutes out of necessity but I need him on the floor to learn, yet not where he's exhausted. That's happened a few times. I think he's done fine."
CoShik Williams led UK in rushing yards and touchdowns as a junior. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
Coming into this football season, CoShik Williams was somewhat of an afterthought. With Raymond Sanders penciled in as Kentucky's starter and gifted newcomers like Josh Clemons and Marcus Caffey coming in, the 5-foot-9 junior walkon was not expected to make a major impact.
However, due to injuries and, more importantly, his own hard work and persistence, Williams found himself as UK's featured back throughout much of the latter portion of the season. He finished the season as the team leader in rushing yards (486) and touchdowns (three), while putting together big-time performances in UK's two best wins of the year.
He rolled up 111 yards and two touchdowns in a defeat of Ole Miss and in the season finale against Tennessee scored the game-winning touchdown that ended a 26-year losing streak at the hands of the Volunteers.
Williams was written about this week in one of his home state newspapers in Georgia. Here's an excerpt, but make sure you take a look at the complete piece:
CoShik's success comes despite a less than imposing frame, something that he has battled to overcome since his record-setting days at Hiram.
At 5-foot-8 and less than 170 pounds coming out of high school, college recruiters considered him too small to play at the next level. Months after other less accomplished high school players signed their letters of intent, Williams opted to walk on at Kentucky in the fall of 2008.
"It was tough to know you're on the bottom of the totem pole," said Williams who was turned on to Kentucky by former Hiram and Kentucky star Trevard Lindley. "I knew I had to come in and work hard, harder that anybody else just to get noticed and that's what I did."
Men's basketball - The Wildcats opened conference play on Saturday, tallying a 79-64 win over South Carolina, pushing the nation's longest home winning-streak to 45 games (44 in Rupp Arena; one in Memorial). - Anthony Davis recorded his ninth double-double (12p, 10r) on the season, fourth most by a freshmen in UK history. It was the fifth-straight double-double for Davis, who also added seven blocks pushing his season total to 75, fifth on the UK single-season blocks' list. - Terrence Jones led all scorers with 20 points, the most since scoring 26 points against St. John's. - Marquis Teague (17) and Doron Lamb (10) also scored in double-figures for the Wildcats in the win. UK shot 59.2 percent from the field, its highest since shooting 61.3 percent in the season-opener. Women's basketball - Kentucky is coming off back-to-back home victories over Arkansas and Mississippi State to improve to 14-2 overall, 3-0 in conference action. The Wildcats are 3-0 in SEC play for the first time since the 1992-93 season and just the fourth time in 30 years of SEC basketball. - Matthew Mitchell charted his 100th win at UK, becoming just the third coach in school history to do so. He is the second fastest coach to accomplish the feat, reaching the milestone in 151 games. - Junior guard A'dia Mathies continues to dominate in almost every statistical category for Kentucky as she averaged a team-high 20.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals last week. She scored a team-high 21 points, while netting a career-high five 3-pointers vs. Arkansas and followed that performance with 20 points and five rebounds in UK's record-setting win over Mississippi State. - The Cats' 48-point margin of victory was the largest in an SEC game in program history. The Wildcats also hit a school-record 14 3-pointers vs. the Lady Bulldogs en route to the 88-40 win. - Freshman Bria Goss continues to impress as she has hit 8-of-11 from the field over the last two games, including 6-of-7 from beyond the arc. Goss has reached double figures in scoring in 14 of 16 games, including each of the last eight.
Gymnastics - The Kentucky gymnastics team kicked off the Tim Garrison Era in fine fashion Saturday night, finishing second at the Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic event with a team score of 194.325 in front of 3,686 fans at Memorial Coliseum. - UK was led in the meet by sophomore Audrey Harrison, who earned her first collegiate all-around title with a mark of 38.375. Freshman Sara Shipley finished tied for fourth on vault with a team-high score of 9.85, while senior Storey Morris was fourth on beam with a 9.750. - Vault was the Wildcats' best event of the night as Kentucky earned a team score of 49.025. Shipley led the way for UK on the event with her high score of 9.85, while fellow freshman Kenzie Hedges made the most of her first collegiate meet with a 9.825. Morris and Harrison each posted 9.8s, while sophomore Holly Cunningham wrapped up the scoring with a 9.75.
Men's tennis - The Kentucky men's tennis team completed its first weekend of competition in 2012 with a dominating performance in bot singles and doubles at the Rainbow Warrior Challenge in Honolulu. - The Wildcats, which enter the spring season ranked seventh in the nation, were led at the event by No. 5 Eric Quigley, No. 13 Alex Musialek and No. 36 Anthony Rossi. All three UK stars went 2-0 in singles play at the event. - Joining the three stars with a perfect 2-0 record in singles play were three sophomores in No. 85 Panav Jha, Ryuji Hirooka and Maks Gold. - Earlier in the week, Kentucky made a splash in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association singles rankings, earning six ranked singles players, more than any other team in the nation. Swimming and diving - The Kentucky diving team competed in the Georgia Diving Invitational this week in Athens, Ga. UK was paced by sophomore Greg Ferrucci who posted a score of 412.20 in the three-meter competition. The score was good enough to land the defending Southeastern Conference Freshman Diver of the Year the overall championship in the event. John Fox placed eighth in the same competition, posting a score of 334.10. - The score of 412.20 on the three-meter dive set a new school record for Ferrucci, passing Ben Starchuk, who had held the record since 2005 with a score of 406.43 on Feb. 5, 2005. - The UK swimming teams defeated Indian River State College on Thursday afternoon in Ft. Pierce, Fla., as the men's team downed IRSC 165-76 while the women defeated the Pioneers 194-48. Kentucky won 10 races en route to the victory including wins by Megan Eppler, Tyler Reed, and Julia Gerotto. - The Wildcats will return to Southeastern Conference action on Sat., Jan. 14 as the Wildcats will travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take on the University of Alabama Crimson Tide in a dual meet scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. ET at the Don Gambril Olympic Pool. Upcoming schedule
Wednesday, Jan. 11 Men's basketball at Auburn - 8:00 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 12 Women's basketball hosts Tennessee - 7:00 p.m. Women's tennis at Hawaii Invitational
Friday, Jan. 13 Gymnastics at Arkansas - 8:00 p.m. Women's tennis at Hawaii Invitational Men's tennis hosts SEC Indoors Track and field hosts Kentucky Invitational Saturday, Jan. 14 Men's basketball at Tennessee - Noon Swimming and diving at Alabama - 1:00 p.m. Women's tennis at Hawaii Invitational Men's tennis hosts SEC Indoors Track and field hosts Kentucky Invitational Rifle at Army
Sunday, Jan. 15 Women's basketball at South Carolina - 3:00 p.m. Men's tennis hosts SEC Indoors Swimming and diving at Emory
Kentucky had won its first two Southeastern Conference games, but Matthew Mitchell couldn't help but feel his team hadn't played its best basketball in nearly a month.
In early December, UK Hoops picked up a pair of impressive victories over top-ten teams in Louisville and Duke, but the Wildcats followed up with their first two losses mixed in with a handful of wins that left Mitchell wanting more.
On Sunday, his team gave it to him.
The Wildcats (14-2, 3-0 SEC) posted a dominant 88-40 win over the visiting Mississippi State Bulldogs in front of 5,306 fans in Memorial Coliseum. The 48-point margin was the largest in school history in SEC play and UK moved to 3-0 in league play for the first time since 1992-93.
"That was an outstanding performance by our team today," Mitchell said. "I really commend them for a great day of hustle and had some good execution. I was really proud of that effort."
Mitchell pointed to turnovers as the primary reason he believed the Wildcats had made a return to "Kentucky basketball." For the first time since a win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Dec. 11, UK had a double-digit turnover margin, forcing 29 Bulldog miscues while committing just 12.
"Today's the kind of day we envision having," Mitchell said. "The depth was quality today and people were in tune. It was a good performance and I'm real proud of our players."
In past games, Mitchell has found himself cutting down on his rotation with some of his players unable to bring the intensity and focus necessary to make UK's high-risk, high-reward style of play work. On Sunday, all 12 Wildcats in uniform played at least 12 minutes. No player was on the floor for more than 24 minutes and each one contributed.
"I think everybody came out and played aggressive," junior guard A'dia Mathies said. "We knew we had some things we wanted to accomplish today and I think we did a good job of doing that. Everybody came in and played their role and did their part equally. It was an all-around good game from start to finish."
The way UK executed on the defensive end meant the Wildcats would not need a great offensive night to come out with a victory, but their outside shooting is what turned the game into a blowout. Kentucky broke a school record with 14 made 3-pointers in 30 attempts. Each of UK's most consistent shooters was knocking down shots, but the reason there were openings in the first place was the effort the team displayed in running the floor.
"Our four people that I think can really make them at a high level did that: A'dia, Bria (Goss), Bernisha (Pinkett) and Keyla (Snowden)," Mitchell said. "The thing I was happiest about was they were all in the flow of team basketball and off of good execution because we hustled in transition offense."
All four of those Wildcats hit at least two treys while combining to make 12-of-21 attempts between them. Snowden was 4-for-6 on her own as she led UK with a season-high 22 points. Meanwhile, UK outscored Mississippi State 40-5 in points off turnovers largely due to shooting out of that transition offense.
Until the players stepped to the podium for post-game interviews, there were unaware that they had broken the 3-point record.
"Finding out now is pretty great and it's a really good accomplishment," Snowden said. "We've all been working really hard getting up extra shots so it's good to see that pay off."
UK is picking the right time to begin firing on all cylinders as a matchup with No. 6/7 Tennessee is looming on Thursday in Memorial. The Wildcats lost twice last season to the Lady Volunteers, the team picked to win the SEC in 2011-12.
"I'm very happy that we played well today and now we'll set our sights on Tennessee who is clearly the best team that we will have faced so far in the conference," Mitchell said. "It should be a great game and we'll have to prepare really hard and play really hard and hopefully it will be a great game."
Terrence Jones had 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting in a 79-64 win over South Carolina. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With the way Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had played of late, it was easy to point to the pair of freshman as Kentucky's two best players.
Davis was coming off four consecutive double-doubles entering a game against South Carolina that opened the Wildcats' Southeastern Conference schedule, while Kidd-Gilchrist was just a week removed from 24-point, 19-rebound effort against Louisville that left many buzzing about his National Player of the Year candidacy.
Incredibly, neither Davis nor Kidd-Gilchrist was the UK player tabbed by nearly every major outlet as a preseason All-American. The Wildcat touted as one of the nation's best players was sophomore Terrence Jones, but he found himself mired in a slump while the two freshmen burst on the scene. Following a 20-point outing that saw him hit 8-of-9 field goals in 79-64 win, any talk of a slump came to an abrupt halt.
"He played great," point guard Marquis Teague said. "That's the Terrence we know and that's how we want him to play the rest of the year."
Jones' performance comes on the heels of the worst stretch of his young career. He averaged just 5.0 points over his previous five outings, which began with UK's lone loss of the season against Indiana and was prolonged largely due to a dislocated pinky he suffered on Dec. 17 against Chattanooga.
"With my finger getting hurt, I feel my confidence got shot just because I didn't want to be aggressive because of the pain," Jones said. "I wasn't playing like they've seen me play in practice and it happened at the wrong time with me not having a good game the game before it happened."
Jones said before Saturday's game that he was planning to focus on rebounding and allow his teammates to do the scoring, but he capitalized on the room the Gamecocks allowed him. South Carolina threw a mix of matchup zone and full-court press at the Wildcats and Jones didn't let any of the holes he found go to waste.
"The position I was in during our breaks and our zone offense was what they were giving me and we took advantage of that," Jones said. "Coach prepared us well for the press and the zone and we went out there and executed because Marquis really led us knowing when to score and when not to."
Jones' reemergence wasn't quite so simple in his coach's mind. John Calipari has been drilling in Jones' mind that the only way for him to overcome his injury and his struggles was to focus on his hustle before his offense, which is exactly what he did on Saturday.
"He flew up and down the court," Calipari said. "When you run that fast, and you try to play that hard, you'll be aggressive offensively. When you are passive on defense and passive going for balls and you don't want to mix it up, there is no possible way you can be aggressive offensively."
Over the past week, Jones' intensity in practice has been lauded by his teammates. Through that effort on the practice floor, he began to reestablish the self-belief that made him a preseason All-American and overcome the tentativeness that had accompanied his injury.
"I think the extra workouts and extra treatments and preparing myself better (allowed me) to play with more confidence and be less afraid of getting my hand hit," Jones said.
Jones wasn't the only Wildcat to play with a renewed sense of confidence. Teague, UK's point guard, played one of his best games as a Wildcat in Jones' estimation.
"When it comes to making decisions, I feel it was one of his best games," Jones said. "With so many great players around him at point guard, when to make the pass and when to score is real tough. Today he did the best job."
Teague committed just two turnovers and scored 17 points. He also had four assists and three rebounds and hit 4-of-5 free throws. He struggled early in the season from the line, hitting just 15-of-27 but has upped his season average 69.4 percent in hitting 19 of his last 22.
"I've been working on my free throws a lot before and after practice so I'm confident at the line," Teague said. "I just go in and I know if I go to the hoop and get fouled, I'm going to make my free throws."
Just as importantly, Teague handled South Carolina's press like a seasoned veteran.
"Marquis Teague played well," Calipari said. "They tested our press attack, our spacing was better. Instead of him trying to beat it, he was letting us try to beat it, and that's the difference."
With a freshman point guard, most coaches would want to avoid the press, but not Calipari. Most of the time South Carolina used that press on Saturday, UK dished out punishment in the form of alley-oops and "and-ones."
"We feel like we're going to score if we get past the press because we have Anthony back there for dunks and Terrence," Teague said. "Once we get the ball through the press, it's a basket so Coach Cal kind of likes when they press us."
Anthony Davis is averaging 12.7 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.5 blocks as UK enters SEC play against South Carolina. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari makes no effort to hide his distaste for losing.
It's probably close to impossible for a coach to rise to the pinnacle of the college ranks as Calipari has without that kind of hatred of falling short on the scoreboard, but the third-year Kentucky head coach is finding himself battling his instincts.
As the Wildcats enter play in the Southeastern Conference, Calipari is working hard to keep things in perspective and focus on the progression of his team. It's obviously difficult to measure something as intangible as improvement, but if UK comes out ahead in that department each time out, it will make up for a couple ticks on the wrong side of the win-loss column.
"We don't have to win every game," Calipari said. "We just have to get better. Let's just worry about getting better. If the wins come along with that or if some losses come along with that, let's just worry about getting better because you and I know if this team gets better, we'll be where we want to be when this all ends up. If we don't get better, we can win all the games we want and it won't matter."
In many ways, Calipari is an enviable position as Kentucky (14-1) opens conference play with a matchup against South Carolina (8-6) at 4 p.m. on Saturday in Rupp Arena. He knows the talent of his team will allow for a relatively successful conference season whether or not the Cats shake off some the inconsistency that has plagued them in the non-conference. The victories will almost assuredly come throughout UK's 16-game conference slate, but it's the postseason he's worried about.
"My issue with all the guys: let's just get better," Calipari said. "What do you have to do to improve? As long as you're getting better, I'm good. We've got to stay focused on improvement, not on wins."
Calipari needs not defend his approach because of the success he's had with it in two years at UK. The wins came more frequently in his first year, as UK went 14-2 in conference and won the SEC Tournament. Last season, the Wildcats lost six times on the road and finished third in the regular season standings, but Calipari never backed down from his familiar refrain.
"Last year it took a while and I kept telling you, 'I like my team and there's no team out there I like any better than my team,' " Calipari said. " 'There's no team out there that's dominating and we're OK.' "
By the end of the year, Calipari wasn't the only one who liked his team. UK upset the tournament's No. 1 overall seed Ohio State en route to the school's first Final Four in over a decade. The Wildcats stayed focused on getting better even as the losses piled up in the SEC and it paid dividends.
"Last year, we got on the road and we just didn't come out with the fire and when it was close I don't think we believed," Calipari said. "By the end of the year, we believed we could beat anybody."
Calipari views this team as a more confident bunch largely based on its No. 2 ranking, but that bravado will be tested in the always-rugged SEC. Between the familiarity amongst the teams and the level of athleticism throughout the conference, nights off for the Wildcats will be few and far between.
"It's going to be really competitive teams and it's going to be a lot tougher than preseason games just because every team knows how we run our offense and their coach has coached against us before," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "We're just going to have to play hard every game."
At least on Saturday, that level of familiarity might not be as high. UK's eight-man rotation features four freshmen, while the Gamecocks are playing a vastly different style compared with head coach Darrin Horn's first three seasons. After ranking among the nation's fastest-paced teams from 2008-2011, the Gamecocks are playing a much more deliberate style to better position themselves to compete in the SEC. The result is that South Carolina is playing five fewer possessions per game than in 2010-11 and nearly 10 fewer than 2008-09.
On defense, Horn relies on a combination of a matchup zone defense and full-court pressure to limit and slow down opponents. When watching tape, Calipari was reminded of one of UK's recent opponents.
"They play a very aggressive zone, they press," Calipari said. "As a matter of fact, they play a little bit like Louisville plays. They scramble in the zone, they scramble in the press, they come at you in different ways."
The similarities with the Cardinals are no accident. In implementing the new style, Horn studied tape of Rick Pitino's team. He came to learn that playing with intensity doesn't necessarily mean playing at a fast pace. South Carolina has always relied on turnovers as a key component of its defense and the Gamecocks have improved in that department.
"Our mentality still hasn't changed," Horn said. "We're still about deflections and active hands. It's just the way we're getting them is different."
It took some time for the Gamecocks to get their feet under them in the new system as they stumbled to a 3-5 record. However, South Carolina has won six of seven games with the only loss coming against then-No. 1 Ohio State by a score of 74-66.
The stretch has also corresponded with the return of sophomore guard Bruce Ellington to the lineup, which is no coincidence. Ellington led the team in scoring in his first season but opted to play football in the fall semester. With an 11-win season under his belt there, he's back with the basketball team full time and has scored a combined 26 points in his last two games in spite of limited time on a basketball practice floor.
"There's not many guys that I know that could go out there and do what he does and in between days play a game," Calipari said. "It says a lot about their team to say, 'We know we need him so we're fine with it. You don't even need to practice.' "
There isn't a player on the roster Calipari would say doesn't need to practice. Some of his Wildcats are playing at a high level and some are slumping slightly, yet UK still is hovering near the top of the polls. If Kentucky can repeat what it did a season ago and improve throughout conference play, watch out.
"This team here, wow," Calipari said. "If we could be our best, if we could be playing our best as a team and individually, it's scary. We're just not there yet. We still have two months of league play to figure it out."
Kidd-Gilchrist 'fine' for Saturday
After sitting out the final minutes of Tuesday's victory over Arkansas-Little Rock with a chest injury, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist practiced on Thursday. Calipari called him 'fine' and he is expected to play Saturday.
Big Blue Nation, it's time to mobilize once again.
I told you earlier this week that Anthony Davis' game-saving block against North Carolina had been nominated for Play of the Year as part of the GEICO Best of College Basketball 2012 television special to be aired on CBS the week of the Elite Eight. Each week over the next two months, four of the best plays from around the game will be chosen with fan voting determining a winner each time around. Davis' big block of John Henson is one of four plays up for voting in the contest's first week and the Big Blue Nation has responded.
However, the block currently sits in second place in voting on the GEICO Best of College Basketball home page with 47 percent of votes cast. If that's not enough motivation, the first-place play is Christian Watford's 3-pointer that carried Indiana to victory over Kentucky.
Boasting a No. 23 ranking, the program's highest since 2007, Kentucky gymnastics opens its season on Saturday. The Wildcats will host Oklahoma, Bowling Green State and Wisconsin-Oshkosh at 6 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum for Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic.
UK will be led by head coach Tim Garrison, who is in his first season as head coach following a successful tenure as an assistant at Nebraska. Garrison will rely on a pair of senior co-captains in Storey Morris and Whitney Rose to anchor his first Kentucky team. The two have combined to win 21 individual event titles in their careers as Wildcats.
Garrison and the Wildcats won't have to wait long to be sternly tested this season, as the visiting Oklahoma Sooners are ranked in the top five in the preseason GymInfo Preseason Coaches' Poll.
Tickets to the event are available by calling the UK Ticket Office at (859) 257-1818 or toll free at 1-800-928-2287. Fans in attendance will have numerous chances to win prizes, including a family four pack of tickets to see Shrek the Musical on Feb. 19. Junior Wildcat Club members who show their badge will receive free admission to the event and a special gift. After the meet, the entire team will sign autographs.
With some impressive wins and a lofty ranking, Kentucky has already achieved some noteworthy accomplishments. But coach John Calipari wants his team to play like have not achieved anything. And that's just the kind of mindset they'll encounter from the first SEC foe tomorrow.
"They're not going to be pretty. They've going to have to scrap their way through games," South Carolina beat writer Darryl Slater said today on the "Leach Report" radio show. "They've shown signs that can win a few games in this league."
After a start that included losses to the likes of Elon and Tennessee State, the Gamecocks have regrouped. They played Ohio State tough and they bring a four-game winning streak into this matchup at Kentucky, although those wins came against much lesser foes.
Slater, who covers USC for the Post & Courier in Charleston, S.C., says two reasons for the recent uptick are improved rebounding and a tenacious press. And the Gamecocks are also meshing Bruce Ellington back into the mix.
Last year's starting point guard is coming off the bench after doing double duty for Steve Spurrier's football team and he recently had a 17-point night against Wofford.
"He's really starting to find his legs and that's a big development for this team, which can be offensively-challenged," said Slater, who noted that Ellington has taken coach Darrin Horn's advice to heart. "(He said) 'focus on defense and the offense will come' and after the Wofford game, he said he was able to do that. Horn has said they'll have to be patient with Bruce and it seems like he's finding his touch now."
It's easy to be an Anthony Davis fan these days but CBS' Clark Kellogg left with an even stronger impression after watching the freshman big man in two games last month.
"I like his demeanor, his poise," Kellogg said. "He takes advantage of his opportunities. I don't know if they ever really call plays for him. He's going to have get stronger but I love his skills. His hands are fantastic. He keeps the ball high, he runs extremely well, he's a good passer and I like his shot."
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's 19 rebounds against Louisville was the best single-game effort on the glass since Rajon Rondo's 19 against Iowa in 2005. And he just missed the rarified air of the 20-20 club.
It's been almost 36 years since a Kentucky player had 20 or more points AND rebounds in a game. Mike Phillips did in 1976 against LSU, with 35 points and 20 boards.
By the way, Terrence Jones' 11 rebounds marked his first double-figure game in that category this season. He had 13 double-figure rebounding games last season.
Twany Beckham is the only Louisville native on the Kentucky roster and he says he was pleasantly surprised by the reaction he got in his hometown after the Cats' win over the Cardinals.
"I went home after the game and I was surpised that a lot of people were happy for me and showed me a lot of love. I figured a lot of people would be mad at me or have some bad things to say," said Beckham, "but they were happy for me."
Azia Bishop had 11 points and eight rebounds in just 10 minutes against Arkansas. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Azia Bishop certainly got her money's worth on Thursday night.
Due to foul trouble and her team's depth in the post, the freshman played limited minutes in Kentucky's 84-73 win over Arkansas in Memorial Coliseum. In fact, she was on the floor for just two minutes in the first half. However, she wasn't about to let that her affect her approach.
When head coach Matthew Mitchell called her number in the second, she responded in a big way.
"Coach just said everyone who gets in the game (needs to) work hard," Bishop said. "That's what I did, no matter if I didn't get in the first half. Every time I go in, I just give my all."
By the time all was said and done, Bishop had tallied 11 points and eight rebounds in just 10 minutes of playing time with nearly all of her production coming after the break. It wasn't the first time Bishop sparked her team with a stellar second half. When discussing her performance, Bishop's mind immediately drifted to the Wildcats' upset win over Duke last month.
"That's kind of how the Duke game was too," Bishop said. "I didn't really play that much in the first half and in the second half it was kind of the same so I don't know. Maybe it's a second half thing."
Bishop tallied a second-half double-double against the No. 5 Blue Devils, demonstrating the substantial impact the 6-foot-3 center can exert on most any game she plays.
Her impact was once again felt as the Wildcats moved to 2-0 in conference play for the first time in four seasons. More than anything else, it was her aggressiveness that allowed her to do what she did.
"I thought Azia, along with A'dia (Mathies), really sparked us with some offensive rebounds," Mitchell said. "That is a measure of aggressiveness: offensive rebounding. It's very tough to do."
Five of the six rebounds Bishop grabbed in the second half came on the offensive end on the heels of a first half that saw the Wildcats grab just four offensive boards as a team. UK was outrebounded 24-15 in the first half, but Bishop helped completely turn that around in the second. The Wildcats' second-half rebounding margin was 24-12.
Mitchell has worked tirelessly with Bishop in her first collegiate season to coax her to play with the intensity and toughness she showed on Thursday. Bishop has known all along that her assertiveness would have to improve and she credits Mitchell for much of the progress she's already made.
"In high school it was alright, but coming into college it has to get better," Bishop said. "It has to do a lot with Coach because he gets on me a lot about getting stronger and going up strong and being aggressive."
The Razorbacks may have been aware of Bishop's ability to affect a game in the interior, but head coach Tom Collen certainly did not anticipate what happened at the 8:02 mark in the second half.
UK raced out early and held a lead as large as 15 points in the opening stanza. The Razorbacks fought back though and actually led by as many as four early in the second half. UK, though, answered quickly, largely on the shoulders of Bishop and Mathies (21 points). The Wildcats were ahead 64-58 following a layup by Arkansas' Ashley Daniels and it appeared the game would come down to the wire. That's when Bishop lined up a 3-pointer from the right wing that extended UK's lead to nine points.
"I don't know how many 3s she's made this year, but we didn't have in the scouting report that she was a 3-point shooter," Collen said of Bishop's second career made 3. "She drained that and I think that sucked the life out of us just a little bit."
Collen and his Razorbacks may have been taken by surprise by her ability from the outside, but Bishop's teammates weren't.
"She has a great shot," Mathies said. "She practices and if she's out there we'll let her shoot all day if they leave her open."
It was certainly impressive that Bishop was able to fit in a made 3-pointer, 11 points, eight rebounds and a block into her 10 minutes on the floor, but perhaps most amazingly, she managed to foul out. Mitchell said Bishop still has plenty of room to grow in terms of positioning and adjusting to a faster pace of play and he knows the only true way for her to learn is through experience.
As an example, Mitchell found himself balancing between praising and instructing when she picked up her fifth foul with 2:12 remaining. He certainly wanted to commend her for a job well done for her game as a whole, but at the same time, he made sure to take advantage of an opportunity to help her learn.
"Her fifth foul, we talked about when she came off the floor," Mitchell said. "I was so proud of how she played and she gave us so much energy and we probably would not have won the game without it, but that was a teaching moment. We were supposed to switch the screen and she was kind of out of a stance. When she just continues to practice and work hard, she'll figure that out."
National champion - Goodman, Parrish and Norlander all predicted UK would cut down the nets in New Orleans this season. Final Four - All four writers picked the Wildcats to advance to the Final Four. All-Americans - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was named first team All America by Parrish, Goodman and Borzello. Freshman of the Year - Goodman picked Davis as his Freshman of the Year while Parrish and Borzello picked Kidd-Gilchrist.
Dick Vitale chose his top six candidates for Player of the Year, "Diaper Dandy" and Coach of the Year. Here is where the Cats fit in:
Player of the Year - Davis is tabbed the No. 5 candidate. "Diaper Dandy" - Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are first and second, respectively
Finally, CBSSports.com released its latest list for the top 10 candidates for Player of the Year on Thursday. Following his 24-point, 19-rebound effort in a 69-62 win over Louisville, Kidd-Gilchrist vaulted from outside the top 10 all the way to No. 4. Davis held steady at No. 5.
Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky Wildcats play their first SEC home game on Thursday at 6 p.m. against Arkansas. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Kentucky's Southeastern Conference opener was not for the faint of heart.
Baskets were at a premium as the Wildcats prevailed 59-56 in a physical and low-scoring affair against Florida. Each and every loose ball was contested as the two teams grabbed a nearly equal share of the 86 rebounds that careened off the rims in Gainesville, Fla.
Given that UK had lost two of three coming into the game and Matthew Mitchell attributed both losses to subpar levels of intensity, seeing his team respond with abundant energy in spite of a relative lack of offensive efficiency, was a welcome development.
"We were incredibly energetic; we just didn't play well offensively," Mitchell said. "We played a very good defensive game. ... For us to play well on defense we have to have energy."
Having been through the rigors of the SEC schedule, Mitchell knows there will be games when the offense simply isn't able to execute as the Wildcats want it to. With the size, athleticism and defensive ability of so many teams throughout the conference, UK is in for a good number of battles over the coming months.
Gone are the days when the Wildcats are able to experiment with different personnel and sets while they overwhelm opponents with their talent and style of play. Instead, Mitchell's players better show up ready to play from the tip if they want to stay on the floor.
"We're out of the segment of the season where you're on-the-job training," Mitchell said. "You're either ready to roll when the ball goes in the air or there aren't going to be a lot of auditions in SEC play."
That's certainly going to be the case when UK Hoops (12-2, 1-0 SEC) plays host to Arkansas (11-2, 0-1 SEC) at 6 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum, in a game that will be televised on Fox Sports South.
"They just have some very talented players, they're well-coached and this is always one of the toughest games to prepare for all season," Mitchell said. "It'll be a big challenge for our team."
First and foremost, defense is where head coach Tom Collen's Razorbacks excel. Opponents are scoring just 50.3 points per game against Arkansas and no team has scored more than 68 points against them all season.
UK's offense has scored just 58.5 points in its last two outings and will be sternly tested in its SEC home opener. Those offensive struggles have coincided with somewhat of a slump from top scorer A'dia Mathies. The junior guard has reached double figures just once in UK's last three games largely due to a more passive approach. Mathies has attempted double-digit field goals just twice over her last seven games after trying 10 or more in each of her first six outings of 2011-12.
"I just think that for whatever reason, she loses sight of how important she is or how important it is that she is aggressive on offense," Mitchell said. "I think it was the Notre Dame game, and she just wasn't aggressive, and she had 17 points. We really need her to have the mentality that maybe a bad shot from A'dia is a better shot than a good shot from somebody else."
A quiet presence, Mathies is deferential to her teammates and, at times, unselfish to a fault, but Mitchell hesitated in speaking philosophically about her nature as a player. He sees her current bout with passiveness as nothing more than a fleeting phase. His approach to correcting it hasn't been to try to fundamentally change the way Mathies thinks. Instead, he gives her specific direction that she needs to shoot at least "15 or 16" times per game for UK to have the best chance to succeed.
"I tell her she has to shoot the ball this number of times, and if she doesn't we are going to have some problems," Mitchell said. "She has a lot of responsibility on offense and she needs to take that seriously every day in practice. We have been talking about it, but we are not going to be nearly as good offensively if she is not very aggressive."
Particularly against a defensively sound Arkansas team, UK will need assertiveness out of a player as dynamic as Mathies to succeed. Mitchell called facing off against the Razorbacks a "chore", but he's happy it's one his team will be undertaking in the comforts of Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats have yet to lose at home this season and boast the nation's 12th-longest home winning streak of 12 games. UK hasn't played a game at home since a win over Samford on Dec. 21, and will be relying on a loud Memorial crowd as the Cats seek their first 2-0 start in SEC play since 2007-08.
"We've been working hard and I feel like we're making some progress and it'll be a great, great opportunity for us to get back home in front of our crowd (Thursday) night - and I hope we have a big one," Mitchell said. "It's an extremely important game. We'll be looking forward to taking the court and playing Arkansas."
With Arkansas-Little Rock now in the rearview mirror, the Southeastern Conference season is finally upon us. Kentucky opens conference play with a game against the South Carolina Gamecocks (8-6) on Saturday at 4 p.m. in Rupp Arena. John Calipari joined the SEC's weekly coaches' teleconference Monday to discuss the challenges of the SEC, the Wildcats' game against South Carolina and a few other topics. Here are some notes and quotes.
Calipari opened his comments by saying that every SEC team will deal with a step up in level of competition. UK has faced top teams, tough road environments and close games, but the familiarity and talent in the SEC makes conference play difficult, as always. "It's going to change for all of us," Calipari said. "The toughness of play, the intensity of play, the buildings will be full, the talent level, the coaching, it's all going to elevate for all of us. I'm anxious to see how my team responds."
It all starts with South Carolina, a team Calipari said is "tough" and will take the floor in Rupp "with a little bit of swagger." The swagger is based on strong performances of late, as the Gamecocks have won six of seven games with the only loss coming to then-No. 1 Ohio State. South Carolina lost that game by a score of just 74-66 and led by with under 16 minutes remaining. Calipari expects the conference opener to be a good measuring stick for how the Wildcats have bounced back from recent subpar performances. "Our last game and really a couple games, we haven't been up to where we need to be to get in our league and play well so I'm anxious to see," Calipari said.
Calipari was asked about his philosophy in working officials from the sideline during games. The question comes at an interesting time, as he has picked up a pair of technical fouls this season after rarely doing so in recent seasons. He said his goal isn't to try to coax the officials to call the game in his team's favor. Instead, he wants balance. "I don't think you're trying to get calls," Calipari said. "You're just trying to make sure the game is called evenly." Calipari went on to praise officiating in the SEC, praising the way the league supervises officials and is training more and more young referees to keep up with the pace of play.
Freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist visited doctors this morning about an injury Calipari speculated last night was a muscle strain in his chest. However, Calipari does not yet have an update on his status. "The doctors looked at him this morning and I haven't talked to them yet," Calipari said.
Calipari was also asked about the SEC's addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. He didn't say anything you probably haven't already heard, but he did make sure to point out how much stronger the moves make the conference, and not just in men's basketball. "With what we've added, obviously football, baseball, women's basketball, men's basketball, you just added two top-20 teams," Calipari said. "... We've just gotten stronger." Calipari guessed the league schedule will eventually increase from 16 to 18 games, though he is not in favor of that. He wants to protect as many nonconference games as possible because of how valuable home games are to basketball and the athletic department as a whole, although he said it would be "fine" even if the schedule does go to 18 games. "We (have to) make decisions about our schedule and how we're going to do this without overloading our players or putting the program in jeopardy," Calipari said.
As for another scheduling decision to be made, Calipari talked about the future of UK's annual game in Louisville. It hasn't happened yet, but Calipari said he and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart will eventually sit down and talk it over. "Mitch will probably discuss that with me at some point looking at right what's right for this program," Calipari said.
South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn was also on the teleconference and he had high praise for the Wildcats, saying Calipari may have the most talented team of his three years at UK. He had particularly good things to say about the Kentucky defense and the role freshman forward Anthony Davis plays in it. "Davis is a complete game-changer," Horn said. "A big challenge for anybody who plays them is handling their defensive presence."
Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist combined for 26 rebounds in UK's 73-51 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE -- It was just a week ago that John Calipari lamented the fact that his team was too reliant on Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to rebound.
The two highly touted freshmen were fresh off a game in which they combined to grab 19 of Kentucky's 36 rebounds. Calipari issued a call to the rest of the Wildcats to step up.
"Unless Michael gets the ball or Anthony gets the ball, we are not getting the ball," Calipari said after an 86-64 win over Lamar last Wednesday. "We have other guys that are flinching going after balls, or ducking, or hoping Anthony or Mike will get it."
For the first 13:09 of the first half of a game against Arkansas-Little Rock in Freedom Hall, Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis weren't immune to the flinching or ducking. The smaller Trojans held a 21-16 lead at that point, their largest of the game, largely on the strength of a 15-12 rebounding edge over the towering Wildcats. UK (14-1) had given up eight offensive rebounds after allowing just 10 in 40 minutes in a 69-62 win over Louisville this weekend.
"They beat us to every ball and I think they had 10 offensive rebounds at the half," Calipari said. "They played really tough and aggressive and it's the same issue (we have had all season)."
In fact, UK allowed nine first-half offensive rebounds, eight of which came in that opening stretch that carried the Trojans to a surprising early lead. The Wildcats would eventually rally past Arkansas-Little Rock for a 73-51 victory in their annual game in Louisville, Ky., citing better effort in the second half as the catalyst, but their adjustments began with 6:51 left in the first half.
For the balance of the opening stanza, UK would allow the Trojans to grab just a single rebound. It would come on the offensive end, but the Wildcats had 14 boards to close the half and their dominance on the glass wouldn't end there. Kentucky did not allow a single rebound for the first 9:21 of the second half, grabbing 10 of their own in the process. All told, UK grabbed 24 of 25 misses during a baffling 16:12 period in which they exerted their dominance, turning a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead in the process.
"Everybody went out there and went after rebounds, 50-50 balls, dove on the floor for balls and everything," Davis said. "We became more aggressive and that's how we got the lead in the second half."
Davis, along with Kidd-Gilchrist, once again ended up being the driving force behind UK's 50-23 edge on the glass for the game. Davis ripped down 16 misses, while Kidd-Gilchrist had 10 in spite of sitting out nearly the final five minutes on Tuesday night due to a strained muscle in his chest that Calipari did not deem serious.
It marked the third straight game Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist had combined for at least 50 percent of the Wildcats' rebounds and the second consecutive outing in which UK out-rebounded its opponent by at least 26. In the games against Louisville and Arkansas-Little Rock, Kentucky committed a total of 40 turnovers and was lackluster in many other areas. However, the ability to close out defensive possessions and prolong offensive ones with rebounds has been a salve.
"I think when we get one shot and we rebound the ball, it's one less possession they could have had," Davis said. "A second chance can lead to a 3 and can change the whole complexion of the game. When they go one-and-done, we come down and score, then they come back down and miss and we get the rebound and score again, it kind of crushes them."
Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis form a particularly deadly rebounding duo because of how compatible their styles are. On defense, Davis stays close to the basket and grabs every ball in his area. Of his 26 rebounds over his last two games, 20 have come on the defensive end. Kidd-Gilchrist, on the other hand, is a terror on the offensive glass due to his tireless effort and athleticism. He has 11 offensive rebounds over his last two games.
With Terrence Jones slowly regaining his form and Calipari exhorting senior swingman Darius Miller to use his athletic 6-foot-7 frame to attack the glass, UK could become an even scarier rebounding team. Miller and Jones each had six rebounds against Arkansas-Little Rock, but it's Davis' attitude that there isn't a loose ball he shouldn't get to.
"We just try to come and get every rebound, especially me," Davis said. "Every time a ball goes up, the rebound is mine and I go get it."