Darius Miller scored 13 points in UK's Final Four victory over Louisville. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NEW ORLEANS -- Darius Miller grew up during the recent golden age of Kentucky basketball. He, like a lot of youngsters in towns like Maysville, Ky., likely came to think that advancing to the Final Four was a Big Blue birthright as the Wildcats played in three straight national championship games from 1996-98.
Based on the now-famous photo of Miller posing with UK great Tony Delk while wearing a Walter McCarty jersey, it's safe to assume the Wildcat senior dreamed of playing on college basketball's biggest stage wearing Kentucky blue.
Three years ago, it didn't look like Miller would ever get that kind of opportunity. His first season ended ignominiously with a loss in the NIT, a three-letter acronym Kentucky fans treat like a four-letter word. Miller was one of the lone bright spots on a roster devoid of the talent necessary to make a deep March Madness run.
The rest, as they say, is history, as John Calipari came aboard and authored an unprecedented turnaround. First came an Elite Eight, then a Final Four, then another in his senior season. While some would rather forget how his career began, Miller appreciates it. The past gives him perspective.
"For me to be able to experience it with these guys I've grown to be brothers with, it means a lot to me," Miller said. "Especially, in my freshman season, I was in the NIT. It was terrible."
His first crack at the Final Four met its end in the national semifinals, but he wasn't about to let the same thing happen the second time around. He knows how precious these kinds of chances are.
"It's very emotional," Miller said. "We've worked extremely hard to get to this point. I feel like we've all (done) a great job throughout the whole year. This is what we've been reaching for. At the end of this game we have a chance to win a national championship."
The game Miller is referring to is UK's 69-61 victory over archrival Louisville to move to within one game of the NCAA crown, the goal that has been on the Wildcats' minds since day one.
For a brief moment, it appeared they might fall short after all. Leading by as many as 13 points early in the second half, the Cats allowed the Cardinals to make a charge. With 9:12 to play, Peyton Siva, a 23.9-percent 3-point shooter on the season, drained a shot from deep to tie the game at 49, and it seemed the stars were aligning for an upset.
In the kind of moment familiar to anyone who has followed the 2011-12 Wildcats, the versatile guard declared it "Miller time" once more. After Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones shook off subpar performances last night to give the Cats a little breathing room, Miller, who scored 13 points on the evening, dug the dagger into the side of the rival Cardinals. He scored five points in a row on a 3-pointer and two free throws, plays that helped the droves of UK fans in the Big Easy rest easy, or at least head to Bourbon Street in a celebratory mood.
"That was great to see that go in," Kyle Wiltjer said of the back-breaking trey. "They were making some runs of their own and we were able to bounce back and make some big shots and that really helped us put them away."
Characteristically, Miller deflected praise when talking about the shot.
"Marquis (Teague) did a great job of finding me," said Miller, who will break Wayne Turner's UK record with 152 games played on Monday. "He pushed it, put pressure on the defense. I was trailing. He gave me a good pass. I just tried to knock it down."
Some of Miller's best plays of his final campaign as a Wildcat have come in the season's biggest moments, but it's the intangibles he brings when the going gets rough that really stick with his young teammates.
"When we get in tough situations, he calms us down and tells us what to do," Anthony Davis said. "He's a great leader, leads the team. That what he does at crunch time, tells you what to do."
"Whenever we get a little hectic on the floor, he huddles us together, tells us to stay poised," Teague said.
Miller, in spite of the warm and fuzzy legacy he will leave behind, has been far from immune to criticism in his time as a Wildcat. His deferential nature led some to wonder whether he ever would reach his potential as a player or a leader, but what was previously seen as a flaw has become invaluable.
"He's the most unselfish player I've ever coached," John Calipari said. "Sometimes it drives me crazy because I don't think he understands how good he really is, but he's done great things for us."
For a senior who started the majority of the previous two seasons, it would have been hard to blame Miller for having a sense of entitlement. Instead, his selflessness helped pave the way for an unimaginably successful season and a national title game appearance against Kansas.
"He's had his best year by far," Calipari said. "His numbers, he's a top-50 player to ever put on a uniform at Kentucky."
There will be a time when thoughts about his place in Kentucky lore will likely cross Miller's mind, but that time is not now. He has a chance to be a part of just the eighth team to win a title at Kentucky, and he's not worried about anything else.
"It's not an opportunity that most people get," Miller said. "Can't really explain it in words. You have to experience it."
Anthony Davis posted 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in UK's win over Louisville in a national semifinal. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NEW ORLEANS - Emerging from the locker room 20 minutes after the game, Kentucky's Anthony Davis, Darius Miller and Marquis Teague were in rhythm - as they have been all season - when they sung a fitting tune on their way to postgame interviews.
"We're going to the 'ship, we're going to 'ship," they sang.
At least for a few minutes, they were going to enjoy making it to their first national title game. For a program that expects to hang national title banners, it's been far too long - 14 years - since it's had that chance.
Faced with unprecedented pregame hype for Kentucky and Louisville's first matchup in the Final Four, UK rallied early and hung on late to defeat the Cardinals 69-61 Saturday and advance to its 11th championship game. With their archrival out of the way, the Wildcats will play Kansas or Ohio State on Monday for its eight national championship.
"To us, it was the next game," said senior guard and Kentucky native Darius Miller, who scored 13 important points, many of them in pivotal situations. "Whether we (were) playing Louisville, Texas, Georgetown, whoever, we (were) going to try to come out and play with the same intensity; prepared the same all week. It's just the next game.
"Our main goal is to win a championship, not to beat a certain team."
It's UK's first trip to the final game of the season since Tubby Smith's Cats won it all in 1998 and John Calipari's second national championship game.
"We played good, but that wasn't our best," Coach Cal said. "Maybe Monday is our best."
The nation's player of the year, Anthony Davis, led Kentucky back to the title game with another dominating performance. The freshman forward recorded 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. His 20th double-double of the season tied DeMarcus Cousins' freshman record, and he is the first player to have at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a Final Four game since Danny Manning in 1988.
As the final buzzer approached and an enormous chunk of the Big Blue Nation stood on its feet at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Davis dribbled out the clock, launched the ball in the air and yelled out "This is my stage!"
There's still more work to be done, but it felt good for the young guns with so much pressure on their shoulders to reach their final stop
"Very emotional," is how Davis described his feelings after the game. "We fought all game. With the goal to (go) to a national championship with the team that we have, starting three freshmen and two sophomores, it's been great. We had a great team.
"We're just one game closer to our dream and our goals."
A year after playing anxiously on the Final Four's big stage, UK seemed to welcome it Saturday. Amid unparalleled buzz, the national spotlight and 70,000-plus fans at the cavernous Superdome (most of them in UK blue or U of L red), the Cats played confidently from tip to finish.
Making eight of its first 11 shots en route to an early 10-point lead, UK quickly erased thoughts of last year's cold shooting night in the 2011 Final Four. The Cats shot 60.0 percent in the first half and 57.1 percent for the game while holding Louisville to 34.8 percent.
Louisville hung around for most of the game and erased Kentucky's 13-point lead in the second half with some dominating board work. With Gorgui Dieng and Change Behanan leading the Cardinals to a plus-seven rebounding margin, U of L tied the game at 49-49 on a Peyton Siva 3-pointer from the top of the key.
"We had to keep fighting," Davis said. "Some plays you had to go after the ball with one hand. They (were) tipping it away and grabbing the ball. We needed to come down with more rebounds."
The tension was setting up for one of Kentucky's patented runs.
Doing what they've done so frequently throughout the season and in the NCAA Tournament, the Cats took control of the game with a devastating 11-2 run after Louisville tied it.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was saddled with foul trouble for most of the game, shook off three missed free throws and ended the 15-3 U of L run. The freshman forward scored four straight, including a 360-degree spin in the paint that he used as a springboard for an emphatic dunk.
"It was nice," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "It felt good. It was my second bucket, so it felt good."
With Louisville reeling, Miller knocked down the game-defining dagger to put UK up seven. Terrence Jones, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist pounded the final nails in the coffin with ferocious dunks in the closing minutes.
At the next timeout, Coach Cal embraced Miller for knocking down the trey.
"I don't know if he hugged me," Calipari said. "I hugged him, though."
"At the timeout, he came out and said, 'That's what I was telling you, just stay on the shot.' It was an emotional game for us."
Freshman guard Marquis Teague found Miller with the pass and finished with eight points and five rebounds. Sophomore guard Doron Lamb was the third and only other Wildcat in double figures with 10 points.
After the game, former UK coach and current Louisville general Rick Pitino shook Coach Cal's hand at midcourt and told him "to bring home that trophy to the state of Kentucky."
"I think that's neat," Calipari said of the gesture. "When I was at UMass, I can remember hugging him and telling him (after the 1996 Final Four game), 'I'm happy for you and I really want you to win the national title.' He did the same for me tonight."
Calipari and Kentucky are one game away from doing exactly that.
UK held an open practice in the Superdome on Friday, the day before the Wildcats take on Louisville in the Final Four. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.
NEW ORLEANS - The Kentucky players have had a recorder or microphone poked in front of their face too many times to count. They've been blinded by cameras, overwhelmed with questions and picked apart by the media types.
To their credit, they say they haven't been consumed by the hype.
Roughly 24 hours until the most anticipated college basketball game in Kentucky since the 1983 Dream Game, arguably one of the most pressure-filled buildups to a matchup in college basketball history, the Wildcats are relieved - check that, ecstatic - the game is just around the corner.
After a week filled with questions about their rivalry with Louisville, the importance of the game and the pressure to win a national championship, the players just want to play ball.
"I feel like I've been here all week," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "I don't even know what day it is. I just think we've been coming here doing interviews and dinners and stuff all week."
Finally, they'll get their chance on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET in the gargantuan Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. At last, the Final Four - Civil War in the state of Kentucky - is upon us.
"We all wish the game was today," freshman forward Anthony Davis said. "To keep practicing all the time, let's just go out here and play. I'm really anxious. I'm just ready for the game to start."
The buildup for Saturday's game has been unprecedented. College basketball's fiercest rivalry (sorry, Duke-North Carolina), will determine who gets to play for the national championship.
It would be Kentucky's first national title game since 1998 and Louisville's first since 1986.
"We're staying above the fray, the drama," Calipari said. "If you want to buy into that dream, then you buy into it. If you want to play basketball, we're playing a terrific basketball team tomorrow at 5 (CT). That's all we're dealing with."
Shielding themselves from the hype hasn't been easy.
When your fans, the most passionate in college basketball, live, eat and breathe basketball, it's nearly impossible to downplay the significance. When that very same fan base faces its archenemy in the Final Four for the first time in the rivalry's storied history, tensions reach a fever pitch.
Coach Cal has done everything in his power to sequester his team from the attention this week, but that's tough to do when there are hour-long interview obligations every day with the national media.
On the eve of the big game, Calipari thinks his team hasn't paid attention to it.
"It's another basketball game for us and our team," Calipari said. "I know the fans on both sides are going crazy, and that's great. That's part of why you do this thing. But we're not buying into it. I don't believe their team is buying into it.
"I say it again: The physiology in your body, if it's hate, anger, meanness, turns to fear within your body. I don't think any of us are doing that. Our team will be ready to play. Their team will be ready to play."
Preparation for the Louisville game began in the early morning hours on Monday. After the Cats defeated Baylor on Sunday in the Elite Eight, the UK coaching staff took care of the logistics of the trip that night so it could focus on the Cardinals the rest of the week.
Across the state of the Kentucky it feels like basketball Armageddon is approaching, but Calipari said that notion never entered the Joe Craft Center. After all, only one player that plays significant minutes for the Cats is from the state of Kentucky, senior Darius Miller.
"We have not prepared any different for this game than any game this season," Coach Cal said. "The only thing we did with this game, we had to leave a day earlier than we wanted to."
Davis said they've stayed above the drama, shielding themselves from Final Four attention that's been amplified by a prideful rivalry, by letting the fans do the talking.
"We did a great job of that," Davis said. "We're letting all the fans take of all that. We're not worried about the UK-Louisville rivalry. We're just out here to have fun and play basketball."
Davis has had to deal with the pressure and obligations of Final Four weekend more than anyone else. Winner of four major national player of the year awards already, he's been whisked around New Orleans all week in a suit to collect his hardware, pose for pictures and talk about his season.
Davis, the nation's top shot blocker and leader of the Final Four favorite, would have been the center of attention no matter what he won this week, but he admitted the responsibilities that come along with making the Final Four can be taxing.
"It's draining but you've got to keep a great mindset," Davis said. "When we have practice and shoot around, just go hard and have fun."
Rest assured, Anthony, you'll have your chance in less than a day.
Finally, after all the talk, all the stories, all the hype, Kentucky and Louisville will go at it for a chance to play for the national title. At 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday, nothing else will matter.
"I just want to play the game of basketball," freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I can't wait."
Kentucky and Louisville will face off on Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NEW ORLEANS -- A week full of hype leading up to Saturday's national semifinal matchup between Kentucky and Louisville has focused largely on the relationship and rivalry between the Commonwealth's two most high-profile universities and fan bases.
On the occasions when talk has drifted away from the first ever Final Four Dream Game, the fourth-seeded Cardinals are cast as the long-shots playing against the prohibitive favorites. The Wildcats are routinely described as being in another class than U of L, or even Ohio State and Kansas, the other two teams still left playing in the NCAA Tournament.
It's a notion that John Calipari summarily dismisses.
"There are good players on every team in this tournament and every other team has good players," Calipari said. "The players are why they are here. We all have good players."
By his own admission, Rick Pitino has played the David and Goliath card to great effect in his long career, but now is not the time. Even with UK having as many as six first-round picks according to NBA Draft projections, Pitino is delivering a message similar to Calipari's in preparing his team.
"We've cut down the nets twice (after winning the Big East Tournament and the Midwest Regional) and I don't want my guys to feel they're inferior," Pitino said. "It's easy to feel inferior to Kentucky because they go on the draft board all the time. You see the one pick in the draft, two pick in the draft. You won't want that feeling going into it because you'll play like inferior players. We don't want that underdog mentality."
Both coaches agree not only that the talent gap between the two teams isn't as wide as some suggest but also that the outcome on Saturday will be decided by the two sets of players taking the floor.
Fans have gotten to see these players go head-to-head once already this season in a hard-fought defensive battle, but foul trouble prevented these two teams from fielding their best players for much of that game on Dec. 31. With nine McDonald's All-Americans between the Cats and Cards, the individual and collective team battles on Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome could prove even more interesting than the buildup to the game, and there's no doubt they will have more to do with the team that moves on to play in the national championship game.
With that in mind, we take a look at some of the matchups that are most likely to determine Saturday's winner.
Point guard play: Marquis Teague (and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) vs. Peyton Siva
Heading into that game on New Year's Eve, Kidd-Gilchrist, UK's shutdown defender on the perimeter, was all set to check Siva, Louisville's lightning quick point guard, just as DeAndre Liggins had done the year before. In a pregame shootaround, Calipari made a change, electing to start Teague on Siva.
Teague more than held his own defensively, holding Siva to eight points on 2-for-13 shooting, four assists and three turnovers. Teague, though, struggled on the offensive end with five points, five assists and four turnovers. Neither point guard is the same player three months later.
UK knows that, perhaps more than any other point guard it has faced this season, Siva sets the tone for his team with the way he can penetrate, pass and finish in the paint. He's averaging 7.0 assists in U of L's tournament run,
"He's been playing very well lately," Teague said. "He's quick, gets in the lane, makes plays and he can finish at the rim. We just want to try to contain him as much as possible."
Teague, whom Coach Cal calls a "pitbull" on defense, proved he is more than capable of handling the defensive assignment on Siva, but stopped short of saying Kidd-Gilchrist won't take a turn on him.
"We probably both will guard him at some point," Teague said.
Even if he does guard Siva from tip to buzzer, Teague's role on the other end of the floor is even more important. Like Siva, the freshman point guard has evolved since he last faced the school he nearly attended, striking a balance between his dynamic open-floor ability and the need to run his team in the half court at times.
"I feel like I got a lot better," Teague said. "I'm just playing with a lot better pace right now, making better decisions and just knowing when to get the ball to my teammates or knowing when to go score."
Kentucky was sternly tested by a U of L defense that used combination of 2-3 zone and full-court pressure to force the Cats into a season-high 21 turnovers. Teague knows he's going to need to handle himself well against a unit that ranks first in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com.
"They're real good on defense," Teague said. "They pressure the ball a lot, try to force you into turnovers. You just got to stay calm and try to pass the ball through press." Shot-blocking showdown: Anthony Davis vs. Gorgui Dieng
Kentucky and Louisville each have storied basketball programs, but big men Davis and Dieng have each rewritten the shot-blocking record books for their respective schools.
The pair has combined for 299 rejections - and a wingspan of 178 inches - on the season, but the two defensive menaces hardly got a chance to go up against one another in Rupp Arena on Dec. 31. In spite of foul trouble, Davis and Dieng each had six blocks.
"I know he's long," Dieng said. "You have to hit him because he's going to go for
every offensive rebound. He's so long and athletic. I think this game on
the backboard is going to be very important."
For all their defensive prowess, both players are generally good at avoiding fouls, though Davis has been better. Dieng averages 3.3 fouls in playing 32.6 minutes per game, while Davis fouls just under two times in 31.7 minutes per game. Davis has also fouled out just once this season while Dieng has fouled out five times.
Interestingly, both teams will benefit from the experience of going up against an elite shot-blocker every day in practice.
"We're used to it," Teague said. "We play against Anthony every day and Terrence (Jones), they block shots great. That's an easy adjustment for us every day because it's something we experience every day."
Shot blocking isn't the only thing the two young players have in common, as both boast burgeoning offensive games. As the season has progressed, Davis has bloomed offensively, flashing range out to the 3-point line and an at times deadly post-up game. Dieng, relatively new to basketball, has done much the same, even hitting the first 3 of his career in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State.
"Gorgui came around a lot," Siva said. "We're just thankful that he's back there helping us out because he bails us guards out plenty of times, blocking shots and him staying out of foul trouble. One thing that a lot of people haven't noticed is Gorgui is really just fine tuning his offensive game."
Davis has received plenty of attention all season, first as the nation's top incoming freshman and most recently as the Associated Press Player of the Year, while Dieng has only recently popped up on the national radar with strong play in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Dieng was gracious and humble in talking about facing Davis, but his teammates shed some light on what kind of opportunity this could be for the Senegal native.
"I think he's the second-best big man in the country," Chris Smith said of Dieng. "If he wants to be the best he has to beat the best."
The clash between the two could go a long way in determining the national semifinal winner.
Senior against senior: Darius Miller vs. Kyle Kuric
In the lead-up to the first installment of the Dream Game, Coach Cal was adamant in saying how vital limiting Kuric was to his team's success. The senior has made 145 3-pointers over the past two seasons, but he was held to just two shots and zero points while being primarily guarded Miller, his fellow upperclassman.
"I hadn't been shadowed like that all year," Kuric said. "No one did that to me to that extent the rest of the season. They were denying the entire corner and the entire wing."
With so many other storylines in play this week, Kuric, one of only two seniors in the Cardinal rotation, has been somewhat of a forgotten man, but not by the Wildcats.
"He can knock down shots," Miller said. "He's a really good player, so if he gets going, it's going to be really tough for us."
The same could be said about Miller, who had seven points and eight turnovers the last time out against Louisville. After back-to-back scoreless games in the SEC Tournament, Miller has averaged 13.0 points off the bench in the NCAA Tournament, including 19 in wins over Iowa State and Indiana. The Maysville, Ky., native figures to have a significant height advantage over whichever Cardinal is defending him, so he could have ample opportunities to get off shots from both midrange and deep.
Style of play: Cal vs. Pitino
With close to a week to a prepare for both teams, perhaps the greatest unknown going into this game is how the two coaches will have their teams attack each other.
"With the five days to prepare, I would imagine they've come up with a few ways to try to - I don't want to use the word 'trick' - but to confuse a team that starts three freshmen and two sophomores," Calipari said. "I have no doubt that (Pitino) has."
Coach Cal has said he expects a fast-paced game "in the 90s," but the way these two teams play defense makes that seem a little farfetched. One thing we do know is that UK will run when opportunities are there, but U of L, based on tournament play, could be more apt to slow it down. The Cardinals are playing just 62.5 possessions per game, nearly five below their season average.
The Cards have also switched up defenses in the postseason. For the most part, Pitino has become a coach that relies exclusively on a pressuring 2-3 zone, but he scrapped it in the second half of an Elite Eight win over Florida. The Gators made 8-of-11 3s in the first half, but were 0 for 9 in the second.
No matter what, the Cats know to expect to see heavy doses of the full-court pressure that gave them fits back in December.
"We know they're going to press the whole game," Teague said. "We think they're going to play a 2-3 zone but we won't really know until the game starts."
Dale Brown coached one of the SEC's legendary big men in Shaquille O'Neal. And at yesterday's Rupp Award ceremony, Brown drew a comparison to "Shaq" and this year's Rupp Award winner--UK's Anthony Davis.
"They have similarities, Shaquille and him. (Shaquille) looks like King Kong but he's really Bambi. He's a real bright kid with no ego. I've been in coaching 40 years and I don't know what he can't do," Brown told reporters after the event. "He's got it all."
Brown is also impressed with the way Davis carries and conducts himself on the court.
"There's only one word to describe it--'class'. My mentor, John Wooden, said 'when you can get a great player that puts the team above himself, you've got a winner' and they've got a winner (in Davis)," said Brown.
Raftery calls Davis 'Russell-like'
CBS' Bill Raftery turns the clock back even further to find a player to whom he compares Davis.
"His impact on the game is (Bill) Russell-like," Raftery told "The Leach Report" radio show earlier this week. "Having seen Russell force Tommy Heinsohn in the 50's to shoot a hook shot from the foul area because he couldn't get a jump shot reminds me of this guy playing anybody. He gets his own guy's blocks, he gets secondary blocks, he gets out on floaters and 3s. Good teammate, good leadership--a really high quality kid.
"To think what he's done, knowing how to play. The structure he must have had, both home and teaching (from his coach) has just been incredible. This kid just understands what it takes to win," Raftery continued. "He uses the glass great (to help him keep the ball inbounds after blocks). Statistically, I guess it's impossible but I would love to know how many 'alters' or 'hurries' (there are). He's very impressive."
Focusing on fun no easy task
"Go have fun."
That's the message that was written on the dry erase board John Calipari prepared for his players before last week's games in Atlanta.
But CBS analyst and former Arizona star Steve Kerr says that's easier said than done.
"I probably wanted it too much. I wanted so desperately to win a national championship that I missed my first few shots. Instead of just relaxing and playing, I tightened up and had a horrible game," Kerr recalled in an interview on "The Leach Report" Wednesday. "There's just enormous pressure, probably more so now than ever before, with the constant media. That's the challenge for the coaches and players. Get in the right mindset, relax and have fun."
Mashburn sees Cats chasing title, not win over U of L
Former UK star Jamal Mashburn thinks the rivalry aspect to this Final Four matchup for UK and Louisville is overblown, because for the players, their objective is winning two games in New Orleans--not just one.
"From a player standpoint, when you're chasing a championship, it's not as much as the rivalry. I don't think it's come into their psyche. I think they're just going to go out there and play," said Mashburn, who admitted to having mixed feelings about this game.
"For me, I have a connection with coach Pitino and with the Wniversity (of Kentucky), so I'm a little bit torn," noted Mashburn, who led the 1993 Kentucky team to the Final Four in New Orleans. The Wildcats lost in overtime to Michigan's Fab Five squad.
Mashburn thinks Kentucky will win the game, and the title. He got to see his alma mater up close while working SEC Tournament games for Westwood One radio earlier this month and "Mash" believes the Cats benefitted from losing to Vanderbilt in the final.
"I think that loss was probably a good loss for them. It renewed a certain energy," he said.
UK will face Louisville on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. in the Final Four. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.
NEW ORLEANS - By now you've likely heard the story, or better yet, the account of a fight too fitting and too appropriate to make up.
As reported first by a Louisville TV station, just a handful of days before the eagerly awaited Final Four matchup between archrivals Kentucky and Louisville, two senior citizens, one a UK fan and the other a U of L supporter, duked it out at a dialysis center while getting treatment.
"That's disappointing," John Calipari said Thursday.
But oh so fitting of the rivalry.
A disdain between the two schools' fan bases has existed for as long as the two programs have been playing basketball. It runs deep within the foundation of Commonwealth, a way of life in the Bluegrass embedded in the DNA of its citizens.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Friday the hate stems from previous "racial lines" in Louisville, a school he categorized as "the minority university." While that's up for debate (and up to other websites and newspapers to talk about), both sides can agree with Pitino that now "it's just pure hatred."
The animosity between the two fan bases has created a tension and a buildup for a Final Four game unlike anything the tournament has maybe ever seen. The other Final Four game, a matchup of two titans, Ohio State and Kansas, is hardly even being talked about.
"Right now I would say this is probably the most amped up Final Four game in college basketball history," Louisville guard Chris Smith said.
Coach Cal has downplayed the rivalry aspect of the game all week, pointing to the ultimate goal at this time of the year.
"If you win or lose, you're going to feel the same whether it's a team you played before or never seen in your life," Calipari said. "A team that's 12 miles from you or a team that's a thousand miles from you, it doesn't matter this time of the year."
Coach Cal's players, most not even from the state of Kentucky, have bought into that notion and aren't feeding into the rivalry. But they also know the fans won't follow their lead
Anthony Davis said he's already heard a fight broke out on Bourbon Street, and that was three days before the game. What's going to happen when two fan bases, arguably the most passionate in college basketball, collide with so much at stake in a town that tempts even the most good-hearted of men to sin?
To avoid confrontation, Louisville guard Peyton Siva had some advice.
"Wear white just so you can fit in with everybody," Siva said.
If nothing else, wearing white will cut down the fights in New Orleans - not that you're likely to see senior citizens at a dialysis center on Bourbon Street.
"Senior citizens fighting," Davis said, "that's amazing." Pressure nothing new for these Cats
The thought of losing to Louisville in the Final Four is so dreadful for Kentucky fans at this point that it's become unthinkable.
For a team that was already favored to win it all one month ago, it's taken sky-high expectations and blown them out of the stratosphere. The heat may seem like it's on for the Wildcats, but they're not buying into the pressure.
"There is no pressure on us," sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. "We are used to this."
As the No. 1 team for the last couple of months at a school that only raises Final Four and championship banners, the pressure to win is just another day, "just another game" for the Wildcats.
"We've had pressure on us throughout the whole season," Lamb said. "Everybody wants us to win. Our fans expect a lot out of us."
Adding to the buildup is a Louisville team that few expected to be in the Final Four as recently as a month ago.
"We definitely feel like we're the team that's not supposed to be here," Siva said. "Nobody would have thought we'd be here."
Even though an archrival stands in the way of a national championship appearance, sophomore forward Terrence Jones said it makes no difference. Echoing his coach's thoughts, Jones said the opportunity to reach the final game of the season is the only thing that matters.
"As much pressure as it would be if it was anyone," Jones said. "It being the Final Four is pressure enough. With being the No. 1 team and having the target on our back that we have had all year, it just adds pressure as it is." Davis' high school part of his fabric
The story of Davis' growth spurt from 6-foot-3 to 6-10 has become part of his legend. It's the heart of an intriguing story from a high school afterthought to the nation's best college player.
As the spotlight has shined brighter on Davis during the NCAA Tournament, the story of his evolution has become more intriguing by the day. Last week reporters found out he likes to draw in his spare time, and this week an Associated Press story reported that he likes magic and pranks.
Thursday provided another nugget for the legend of Davis. Speaking to a national collection of reporters, Davis elaborated on his high school, a place that didn't even have a gym.
"I did find it weird at first," Davis said. "What school doesn't have a gym? That's what I thought, like, 'This school doesn't have a gym.' In the fire escape plan, it says basketball court on it, so that didn't really make sense."
Davis attended Perspectives Charter School in Chicago, a sixth through 12th grade school made up of 350 students, according to Davis. For home games and practice, Davis' team used a local gym at Illinois Institute of Technology.
"We had to work with what we had," Davis said.
Coach Cal, while pointing out he's been blessed with a Davis clone in the past (Marcus Camby), called Davis "unique."
"How many games do you think he won as a junior, his team?" Calipari asked. "Six games. I thought they won 11 his senior year. I think they won six games. What? And the kid - this is crazy.
"The best part of it is he's on a team that we all kind of cover for each other and we all kind of make each other looked good. When he was named player of the year in one of the awards, he thanked his team. He said, 'I want to thank all of you because this never happens if it's not for all of you.' "
Davis doesn't have any regrets of how everything has worked out.
"Perspectives had a great academic program," Davis said. "That's why I went there. I wasn't really going there because of basketball. The academic program was great. Ninety-five percent of the kids graduate and go to college. My dream was always to go to college."
Better than Wizards? No way, Cal says
Coach Cal likes his team. He thinks they're really good.
But the notion that Kentucky could beat an NBA team - absurd, Calipari said Thursday.
"This team could not beat one NBA team, not one," Coach Cal said. "The worst one in the league, we could not beat."
Former Maryland coach Gary Williams made the assertion earlier in the week on a Washington radio station. He said he thought the Wildcats could beat the Washington Wizards in a game at Rupp Arena.
"That's a great compliment," senior guard Darius Miller said. "I necessarily don't think that we can beat any NBA teams, but it is good that people feel that way about us."
Coach Cal is more concerned with beating the teams on his playing field than the Washington Wizards.
"I have a terrific team," Calipari said. "Now let me say this: There are good players on every team in this tournament. I have good players on my team. But every team has good players. The players are why they're here or they would not be here, so we all have good players. Now you may say you have more of them and maybe I'll agree we do have good players, but the other teams do too."
Miller on verge of record
Davis has been the record-shattering player for the Cats this season, but Miller could break a new record this weekend that speaks to the sustained success and commitment of the four-year senior.
Just by entering Saturday's game, Miller will tie Wayne Turner's games played record of 151. A trip to the national championship would break the record.
The number of games is a tribute to the wins Miller has accomplished in his career. After notching 22 victories in his first season at Kentucky, Miller's teams have totaled 35, 29 and now 36 wins, a combined 122 victories. Remarkably, Turner's teams notched 132 victories.
Marquis Teague and his three fellow freshmen have helped carry UK to the Final Four in New Orleans. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NEW ORLEANS -- It has been almost exactly a year since Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer played in the McDonald's All-American Game on March 30, 2011.
The players that would combine to form John Calipari's third straight top-ranked recruiting class all knew one another from the AAU and high school all-star circuits, but the event that annually features the nation's top seniors served as a transformative moment.
Even though the four wouldn't arrive in Lexington for more than two months, the work of building toward a berth in the Final Four in New Orleans began in Chicago. As the geographically diverse group came together as one for the first time, the future Wildcats could already tell something special was in the making.
"That was the first time we got a chance to get around each other," Teague said. "We could tell we were going to be great teammates toward each other then. We were getting along and just had fun being around each other and it just carries on to this day."
All-star showcases like the McDonald's game often devolve into nothing more than dunking exhibitions, but looking back on the way each of the four played proves to be oddly predictive knowing how their first college season turned out.
Ironically, Kidd-Gilchrist, now known as the consummate team player, was split from his three future teammates on the East Team. In leading the East to a 111-96 victory, Kidd-Gilchrist would earn Most Valuable Player honors with 16 points and 12 rebounds, turning in the kind of performance UK fans have come to expect of the swingman in nearly every big game.
Meanwhile, Davis dazzled with 14 points, six rebounds and four blocks, merely teasing the player of the year form he has shown during his freshman campaign. Teague played floor general with nine points and five assists, and Wiltjer was an offensive spark off the bench with 11 points in just 15 minutes.
In interviews both before and after the game, the four - often talking together - made proclamations about what the future would hold at Kentucky, most famously in a "Smackdown" video produced by Draft Express. The calm confidence the young Wildcats have shown all season was on full display from the moment Davis introduced himself to viewers.
"Anthony Davis, going to Kentucky," Davis said, introducing himself. "Wildcats Final Four."
Davis' bold prediction would prove more than bluster.
The rest of the video would feature playful banter between various combinations of the future Cats and Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, both Louisville signees, about which team would win the annual "Dream Game" between UK and U of L. If the week in Chicago was the first chance for Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague and Wiltjer to come together, the interaction with the two future Cardinals was a sort of initiation into the rivalry that consumes the Commonwealth.
"That was the first time talking to those guys about the game and things like that," Teague said. "You could already see what kind of battle it was going to be. Kentucky vs. Louisville is huge in the state of Kentucky."
Little did they know that the regular-season matchup they were trash talking about would be rendered little more than a footnote by the first-ever Final Four showdown between the two schools.
Getting the upper hand in the back and forth with Behanan and Blackshear, whom the four UK freshman call friends, would be nice, but the Wildcats are more concerned with what defeating U of L will put them in position to do. Their first season in college has proven to be beyond even Davis' most daring prognostications from a year ago, but there is one ambition that is still outstanding.
"The season has been great so far," Davis said. "Coach Cal has told us, 'Win or lose, we have had an awesome season.' I love our team, we have accomplished so many goals and we still have one more goal to accomplish: winning a national title."
Senior Eric Quigley, the school's all-time wins leader, has helped lead UK to a 6-0 start in SEC play. (Tyler Bissmeyer, UK Athletics)
When you think of rivals of the University of Kentucky, the first few schools that come to mind are Louisville, Tennessee, and Florida, among others. But in men's tennis, it's perennial powerhouse Georgia that boils the Wildcats' blood.
While the Big Blue Nation is fixated on the intrastate taking place in New Orleans on Saturday, the tennis team has their sights on the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs for top spot in the Southeastern Conference. With both teams sitting undefeated (6-0) in the conference, this weekend pits two top-10 teams against each other with a chance to get a leg up in the race for a conference championship.
For No. 9 Kentucky (18-4, 6-0), this weekend is an opportunity to see just where they stand amongst the nation's elite. Head coach Dennis Emery says Georgia is a measuring stick to determine where their team is.
"There's no question," said Emery. "A lot of people use (Georgia) as that. Georgia, what (Manny Diaz) has done really (well) is maintain a top-six ranking despite whoever he puts on the court. He's been able to maintain that top-six ranking, which is something everyone in the conference has had trouble doing."
It's a healthy rivalry in that Kentucky has been able to beat them over the years, but it has been up and down. While Georgia has remained among the top teams in the country consistently, Kentucky has shown up sporadically.
"The first time we really came up to challenge them was '88," said Emery. "We won in '88 and '89. Won the conference in '92 beating them. So, we've been a little out; they've been consistent. But when we've been good, we've been really good. And we're very good this year."
And they results so far this spring back Emery up.
Kentucky has defeated quite a few of the best teams in the country, but lost to a few as well. UK has played 17 matches this spring against teams currently ranked in the top 70 in the nation, including a 6-3 mark against top-25 teams. So far this spring, UK has wins over No. 7 Pepperdine, No. 11 Florida, No. 15 Auburn, No. 18 Tulsa, No. 23 Indiana, No. 25 Texas A&M, No. 27 LSU, No. 33 North Carolina State, No. 39 Arkansas, No. 40 South Carolina, No. 41 Notre Dame, No. 60 Louisiana-Lafayette and No. 66 Alabama.
That qualifies as "very good."
A daunting schedule like Kentucky has faced this season can ruin a season in an instant, but instead, this "fantastic" bunch, as Emery calls it, led by seniors Eric Quigley and Eric Musialek as well as junior Anthony Rossi have risen to the occasion. Emery feels their schedule has prepared them for Georgia and a deep run into the postseason.
"We schedule the way we schedule so that when we go into these situations we'll be able to compete," said Emery. "We've played Ohio State twice who is number two in the country: one really good match, one not as good. One really tight one, so we know we're capable. We know we can play at that level. Part of it is the schedule allows us to see the best people, the best teams, the best players, and that certainly helps going into Georgia."
The upper-class trio of Quigley (No. 7), Musialek (No. 18) and Rossi (No. 22) have been dominant this season in singles play. They have played their way into individual top-22 rankings and have been the backbone of this team's success. The Achilles heel for this team has been their lack of production in doubles. The doubles point in the matches they have lost this year have been costly and decisive.
"If we want to achieve our goals at the end of the year, we have to pick it up in doubles," said Emery. "Now, we're getting better in our doubles. We're working hard on our doubles."
Emery believes that earlier in the season, the guys discounted the importance of the doubles point, but as the season progresses, they are starting to realize its significance.
"I think earlier in the year there wasn't a sense among the team, no matter what the coaching staff said, that the doubles was really important, and you have to be fundamentally sound, and you have to do these things," said Emery. "I think as the season's gone on, they've bought in a little bit more and understand how important it is. You don't go far, you don't win national championships, you don't go to Final Fours without winning the doubles."
Emery says that he likes where they are at with the doubles after making some adjustments to the team and a greater focus in practice.
The weekend with Georgia and the improvement of the double's point could go a long way in determining just how good this team is and how far it can go. During the interview, Emery dropped subtle hints and mentions of deep tournament runs and a Final Four.
At a university where all eyes are on the basketball team who has an SEC Championship to their name and Final Four run in progress, Emery has similar visions for his team in the near future. But there's still work to be done for this team to achieve those lofty goals.
"Our goal, early on, has been to go to the Final Four and win an SEC Championship," said Emery. "We're in position where we can do those things. It's certainly not going to be easy. There's seven teams ranked in the top 16 in the conference right now. So that makes it very, very difficult to really feel good about it, no matter where you're at in the season."
But Emery feels the talent and the potential is there to do something special, even with teams like Georgia and others standing in their way.
"We do feel like we have an opportunity, particular as you say, we improve our doubles," said Emery. "We do feel like we have an opportunity to go to the Final Four. We've lost to eventual National Champion the last two years, Southern (California), in the round of 16 and the Elite Eight. We feel like we have a better team this year. We feel like we have a more experienced team this year. We feel like we have a more athletic team this year. A lot of that is the matchups, who you play, who has someone get injured, but we feel like we have the potential to accomplish what we set out to at the beginning of the year."
Josh Clemons rushed for 279 yards and two touchdowns in an injury-shortened freshman season. (Tyler Bissmeyer, UK Athletics)
If there was one area that had room for improvement for the Kentucky football team, it would be "playmakers," guys who could make a difference for the offense.
A big reason for the lack of playmakers was the injury bug. That, and the absence of do-it-all athlete Randall Cobb who left after his junior season, the consummate playmaker.
The injury bug bit and didn't let go of the Wildcats at their skill positions, both prior to and during the season. They lost incoming freshman wide receiver Daryl Collins to a dislocated knee cap during preseason practice, an injury that sidelined him for the entire season. Meanwhile, with an injury to Raymond Sanders in the first game of the season, freshman tailback Josh Clemons was called upon to carry the bulk of the load.
Clemons flourished and looked to be "the guy" out of the backfield for the Wildcats. He had a touchdown in UK's 14-3 win over Western Kentucky in the opener. In the next game against Central Michigan, Clemons reeled off the longest play of the season from scrimmage for UK with an electrifying 87-yard touchdown, finishing with 126 yards on the day.
In the sixth game of the year in a loss to South Carolina, Kentucky lost more than a game. They lost Clemons to a season-ending knee injury with a torn meniscus. It's an injury that Clemons is still working to rehab during Spring football practice.
"I'm pretty much just doing handoff drills, not doing any contact stuff," said a bulked-up Clemons.
Clemons looks to have put on a bit of weight and mass in his upper body, which he attributes to his knee and the inability to run. He figures to be back down to his playing weight around 205 by the times the season comes.
While Clemons' was a huge blow to a struggling Kentucky rushing attack, Clemons remained calm and realized that injuries are all a part of the game.
"Things happen sometimes," said Clemons. "I just try to keep my head up, heal, and do what I need to do off the field to get back and help the team."
Collins felt differently. Expectations were high for the freshman even before he hit the field for his first game. Many compared him to Randall Cobb in his game-breaking ability and versatility. His season was over before it began without having an opportunity to contribute.
"It was very disappointing because I thought I was going to come in and play right away," said Collins after practice Wednesday. "But, you know things happen, and that was one of the big things that happened that I dislocated my knee, so I didn't get a chance to play with my team last year."
Collins has been chomping at the bit, looking to impress and show coaches the skills he possesses with his "speed and quickness." Out of all the wide receivers in camp, it's been Collins who has stuck out to head coach Joker Phillips.
"Daryl Collins continues to show up," said Phillips. "When he knows what to do, he looks like a guy that can help us. He looks like a guy who can be a big-time player."
Though Collins was off the field all of last season, he was still paying attention. He continued to attend meetings and watch film to make sure that when it was time to get back on the turf, he would be ready.
"I soaked in a lot of stuff because I was still in the meeting rooms," said Collins. "Still going over the different types of plays and stuff like that. So, it helped out a lot. It was much easier at today's practice, everything's coming back."
For Clemons, his primary goal is to stay healthy and prepare for next season. The coaches, his teammates and Clemons himself know what he's capable of, and he's determined to get back on the field to be a difference maker on the offense.
The 2012 season is all about improving as a player and picking up where he left off.
"Just trying to build as a player in general, not just the stuff I did last year," said Clemons. "I know there's some stuff I need to learn still. I'm still a young guy and didn't get to play that much, but just learning from the other guys."
With Collins studying the offense during his redshirt season and Clemons looking to improve on his success last year, both players have the ability to hit the home run.
That's exactly what they plan to do.
"I just want to go out there and make plays," said Clemons emphatically. "I mean that's what we come out here to do. We try to help our team win the best we can."
"(There should be) high expectations," said Collins. "I'm trying to do as much as I possibly can as a receiver."
The Wildcats arrived in New Orleans for the Final Four on Wednesday evening. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NEW ORLEANS -- The Kentucky Wildcats touched down in New Orleans on Wednesday evening and had the red carpet rolled out for them.
They touched down at Louis Armstrong International Airport and were whisked to their hotel near Bourbon Street with a police escort. At the hotel, a large group of fans was waiting to welcome the team, as well as a jazz band and officials handing out Final Four beads.
After retrieving their luggage and get settled in their rooms, the Cats will meet for a team dinner. A team snack later this evening will follow before bedtime ahead of a busy day on Thursday.
John Calipari and a few players will head to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to fulfill media obligations on Thursday morning. Eric Lindsey and I will be tagging along with the team and providing our usual video and written content later in the afternoon, so keep an eye out for that.
Darius Miller arrives at the team hotel among a swarm of fans. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Doron Lamb shot 3-for-5 from 3-point range in UK's Final Four loss in Reliant Stadium. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari's last two teams could not have been more different offensively.
The 2009-10 edition of Kentucky was a deep, talented juggernaut that could outrun teams in the open floor with John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, as well as bruise opponents inside with DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. The 2010-11 Wildcats relied more on half-court finesse with Brandon Knight leading a squad full of soft shooters.
Even with all the differences, the two squads saw their seasons end in much the same way: with missed shot after missed shot.
In losses to West Virginia and Connecticut, the Cats combined to shoot just 13 for 59 (22.0 percent) from 3-point range and 20 for 41 (48.8 percent) from the free-throw line.
The common element between the two heartbreaking defeats: the venue.
The two games were played more than 1,600 miles apart in the Carrier Dome and Reliant Stadium, but the similarities between the two cavernous football stadiums turned NCAA Tournament sites are unmistakable.
How much those poor shooting performances had to do with where they occurred is up for debate, but Coach Cal's latest team is about to find out what it's like to play a basketball game in a place that feels more like an aircraft hangar than a gym. The next step in UK's heretofore dominant run in the NCAA Tournament will have to be taken in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Louisville Cardinals.
UK is going to employ the same overall travel routine that has worked so well on the road this year, but the Cats are going to make a conscious effort to spend more time learning the lay of the land.
"The arenas with these raised floors change things somewhat and I think you've got to get in there and do as much shooting as you can do," Calipari said. "Last year I didn't realize that."
The altered sightlines of a building like the Superdome create a different experience, and the raised floor built on top of the dome's turf surface only serves to make it more distinct. In the three games last year in Houston, the four teams combined to shoot 119 for 347, a frigid 34.1 percent.
On the positive side, the NCAA has allowed for more practice time for the four teams that have advanced to New Orleans. UK will spend a total of 140 minutes on the Superdome floor on Thursday and Friday in addition to the team's customary shoot around on Saturday before the same itself.
UK also has the added advantage of having played in similar environments. Not only did Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones and Darius Miller play in last year's Final Four (Miller also played in the Carrier Dome the year before), but the Cats played their Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in the Georgia Dome. Though the floor there wasn't raised, the experience could pay off.
"It will be a big advantage," said Lamb, who hit 3-of-5 3-point attempts in last season's national semifinal. "It didn't really affect my jumper really since we played there last year, so I was used to it. But I think we have a little advantage for that though."
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, who did not know the floor was raised on a Final Four teleconference on Monday, sounded concerned with playing in a dome.
"I think it is the depth perception, without question," Pitino said. "I think that's something you have to get used to. Fortunately, we have played in Syracuse and we've seen it before. But the worst thing about it is the wide-open space."
Based on the lengths UK is known to pursue for the sake of its basketball program's success, you would have to have walked on the practice floor in the Joe Craft Center to know Coach Cal was joking about another way he has prepared his team.
"We've got a court in here that is six feet off the ground," Calipari said. "We built one, only Kentucky can do that. I'm not sure if we're allowed to do that, I didn't ask anybody, but we are playing on an elevated court right now in our practice facility."
Calipari knows placing too much of a focus on where the game will be played puts the UK in peril of not thinking enough about who it will play. At the end of the day, the shots the Cats make and miss will have more to do with how they attack the defense Louisville plays.
"It is nothing else other than a basketball game on a raised court," Calipari said." Let's go. Let's play the game. We are going to play against a team that is going to be aggressive, press us, man-to-man, and get up in us."
Anthony Davis had 18 points, six rebounds and five blocks in the second half against Louisville on Dec. 31. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
When it comes to Kentucky vs. Louisville, it's not easy to remove emotion from the equation.
For one week every basketball season, that emotion consumes an entire state. This season, UK-U of L occupies center stage for a second week, this time in the crucible that is the Final Four.
However, for the purposes of this piece, I'm going to try to make like John Calipari and focus on Kentucky-Louisville as a basketball game and a basketball game alone. Like any other game, there will be five players in white uniforms and five players in colored uniforms (though the uniforms the Cardinals will wear are slightly brighter than normal), and those 10 players will accumulate statistics. And if you don't know how much I love statistics, you surely don't visit this website very often.
So, I'm going to take my best shot at previewing UK-U of L by the numbers.
Let me preface everything I say by telling you this could be an utterly fruitless endeavor. Why? Because the first matchup between the Wildcats and Cardinals in Rupp Arena was one of the most bizarre basketball games I've ever seen, and looking at the box score is the first place you should look for a reminder.
First off, UK won the game 69-62 in spite of shooting 29.8 percent from the field and committing a season-high-tying 21 turnovers. Kentucky has shot worse than 40 percent in just one other game this season (35.9 percent in the loss to Vanderbilt). That's utterly dumbfounding. Darius Miller committed eight of those turnovers and he hasn't committed more than four in a game since Coach Cal's first game as UK coach.
The Cats were able to survive that game because of a few factors, not the least of which was that Louisville had comparable offensive struggles, shooting just 32.2 percent from the field and 25.3 percent in the second half. Also, UK was dominant on the boards, holding an astounding 57-31 advantage. That rebounding margin of plus-26 still ranks as UK's widest of the season. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 19 of those rebounds to go along with his 24 points. Last of all, Kentucky outscored Louisville by 14 points at the foul line, hitting 32-of-43 attempts. Fifty-two total fouls were called in that New Year's Eve game, 29 on U of L.
For the sake of all our enjoyment (and the tip time of Kansas-Ohio State), here's hoping the rematch goes a bit differently.
Odds are, it will. Both of these teams are much improved in the nearly three months since that first game, particularly at the point guard position. Marquis Teague and Peyton Siva look like different players than the ones that combined for seven turnovers and just 12 points on 3-of-21 shooting on Jan. 31. With those two floor generals leading the way, expect Saturday's national semifinal to have much more flow.
With that, we can finally turn the page on the season's forgettable first installment of the "Dream Game" and preview how we should expect the second one to go:
Kentucky offense vs. Louisville defense
Simply put, the matchup on this side of the floor features two of the best units in all of college basketball. In terms of efficiency according to kenpom.com, U of L's defense is the best in the country, while Kentucky's offense is ranked No. 2, only trailing long-since eliminated Missouri.
Louisville allows an average of just 0.893 points per possession, while Kentucky scores 1.174 points per possession. The differential of 0.281 between points scored and allowed is the third-largest of any game this season, trailing only two previous Kansas-Missouri matchups.
In other words, something has to give.
Where the Cardinals excel on defense is in field-goal defense and forcing turnovers. Louisville ranks third nationally in effective field-goal percentage defense at 42.9 and 34th in turnover percentage, forcing miscues on 23.1 percent of opponents' possessions. In corresponding offensive categories, UK ranks 13th and 20th nationally.
Where U of L does not excel is in defensive rebounding (236th in defensive rebounding percentage) and defensive free-throw rate (125th), while UK is 18th and 45th in corresponding offensive categories.
Seeing that, maybe that first matchup wasn't such an anomaly. UK shot the ball terribly and was turned over left and right by U of L, but made up for it by attacking the offensive glass (20 offensive rebounds to Louisville's 21 defensive rebounds) and getting to the foul line. The Cats likely won't shoot as poorly as they did back in December, but they also probably won't shoot as well as they are accustomed to doing in tournament play. The same goes for committing turnovers.
The Cardinals have relied most of the season on a pressuring zone to stymie opponents, but Rick Pitino has tailored the defense to each opponent and even gone man-to-man on occasion (see the second half of the Elite Eight win over Florida). Calipari also expects to see a significant amount of full-court press, a defense that UK had trouble with three months ago.
Kentucky defense vs. Louisville offense
While UK and U of L seem an even match on paper when the Cats have the ball, Kentucky looks to have an advantage on the other end of the floor.
Even during their tournament run, the Cardinals have been less than elite offensively. In their eight Big East and NCAA Tournament wins, the Cards are averaging less than a point per possession, coming in at 0.998, a number actually worse than their 1.002 mark for the season as whole. Meanwhile, UK is allowing just 0.914 points per possession on defense this season, 13th best in the nation.
Louisville is just average in terms of taking care of the ball and getting to the free-throw line, ranking 217th and 164th in those two categories. Meanwhile, forcing turnovers is the one major area UK does not excel in, ranking 297th nationally. However, UK does rank eighth in defensive free-throw rate.
Where U of L will look to do damage on offense is rebounding its own misses. With freshman Chane Behanan leading the way (81st nationally in offensive rebounding percentage), Louisville is in the top 60 in offensive rebounding, while Kentucky has been spotty in terms of defensive rebounding and ranking outside the nation's top 100. UK has allowed at least 10 offensive rebounds in five straight games, including 16 against Baylor in the Elite Eight.
Rebounding should be key, because this game will likely feature plenty of Cardinal misses. U of L is 225th nationally in effective field-goal percentage (47.6), while UK is the nation's best in the defensive version of that stat at 42.2 percent.
A hallmark of Pitino's teams has always been the 3-point shot, but the importance of the 3 is not nearly as exaggerated this season. Even though Coach Cal has already talked multiple times about expecting U of L to take "20 to 25" 3s, the statistics don't suggest that to be nearly as much of a lock.
Since 2003 (the first year this statistic is measured by kenpom.com), the Cardinals have attempted around 40 percent of their field goals from beyond the arc, ranking in the top 70 nationally each season. This year, just 32.6 percent of Louisville's shots have been 3s, 175th nationally. That has something to do with U of L's improved interior play with Behanan and Gorgui Dieng, but more to do with the fact that the Cards are shooting just 31.7 percent from 3 this year, 272nd in the NCAA.
Style of play
This is a bit of a wildcard going into Saturday's game. Kentucky and Louisville are close in terms of pace of play on the season, averaging 66.5 and 67.3 possessions per game. The first matchup proved to be a very high-possession game (79, to be exact), but more because of how many fouls were called than anything else.
In my opinion, recent performance is a much better indicator of how this game will be played. For UK, recent performance suggests the Cats will try to run, run and run some more. In four tournament games, Kentucky is averaging nearly 70.3 possessions per game. Conventional knowledge says the game slows down during March Madness, but UK is flipping that on its head.
Louisville, on the other hand, has really slowed things down in the postseason. Ignoring an anomalous 83-possession game against Marquette in the Big East Tournament, U of L is averaging just 62 possessions per game. Even so, the Cardinals have been unafraid of running with teams that try to push the pace, highlighted by one of the quickest games of the season in December against Memphis, an 86-possession affair.
Regardless of pace, this matchup seems the polar opposite of UK's Sweet 16 game against Indiana. The Hoosiers were an excellent offensive team with a mediocre defense, while Louisville has a similarly sound defense with an offense that lags behind. To win this one, the Wildcats will need to stay patient on offense, because things won't come easy, while buckling down on defense as they are capable of doing. UK also must capitalize on any open-floor opportunities afforded by rebounds or turnovers to score easy points before U of L can set up its swarming defense.
The Kentucky football team took the field at the Nutter Training Facility on Wednesday to begin its second week of spring practice. I will have a story later today about Daryl Collins and Josh Clemons, but in the meantime, here's video of Joker Phillips' comments to the assembled media:
"They're using a really unique concept. When they see an open man, they pass it to him."
That was the refreshingly concise analysis from ESPN's Jay Bilas on last Sunday's "College Gameday Scoreboard," after Kentucky defeated Baylor 82-70 to advance to its second straight Final Four.
"The stereotype of the guys leaving early for the draft is that they're thinking about themselves. I don't think there's a selfish player on the Kentucky team," Bilas added on that show.
Speaking of refreshing, did you catch CBS analyst Charles Barkley on last Saturday's studio show, decrying the double standard when it comes to Calipari and the so-called one-and-done players? Barkley accurately pointed out that Duke has a player leaving after one season for the second year in a row and there's no drumbeat of criticism of the program doing something to damage the college game.
Most would agree "one-and-done" is a bad rule for college basketball, John Calipari included. But it's up to the NBA to make the change. Until they do, wouldn't it be refreshing to see a take that says 'this is a flawed system but at least Calipari is the most honest with his kids about operating within that flawed system and consequently, they pay him back by playing as a team on the court and fulfilling their academic obligations off the court. That's making the best of a bad situation.' That is the fact. And if the pro game doesn't work out, those players are welcomed back at the University of Kentucky, with financial aid, to pursue an academic goal, if they so choose. Players know who is "real" with them and who isn't and you can tell by their actions that they trust Calipari is looking out for their best interests.
The 3-point shot changed the game and the coaches who were the best early-adapters flourished. This rule changed the landscape of recruiting and Calipari is one of, if not THE best at understanding this and adapting himself as a coach to succeed in this environment.
ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes says Calipari is outstanding at finding the right players for his program.
"I think he's as good as there is in the college game right now at doing that. He just has a great way of communicating with those kids, just how he gets his point across. Not everyone can do it, take that highly talented player and get them to play hard. I think he does that as well as anyone in the college game right now. That sounds easy to do but it ain't," Dykes told tomleachky.com.
"There's no reason to be scared of them as long as you do your homework. John has never brought anyone into his program that's a one-year player that is going to be a selfish teammate, making sure they understand that 'if you come and play for me for one year, it's going to be how I want you to do it' and he holds them to it," he added.
UK point guard Marquis Teague says "age really doesn't matter." But he also acknowledged at the pre-Elite Eight media session that the Wildcats are aware of the criticism of their coach's approach.
"We're aware of it. We hear it all the time, that young guys can't get it done. But we feel like we can get it done," Teague said, "if we just go out and play our game."
"Times have changed and freshmen and sophomores have become what juniors and seniors used to be," CBS analyst Steve Kerr told "The Leach Report" radio show. "I give John Calipari a ton of credit. You judge coaches on how hard their teams play and do they play together and Kentucky's got both. Even with their youth, they've got the right stuff."
"I think it speaks volumes about the young men and it speaks about the way coach Calipari has been able to manage and lead (them)," said former Wildcat Jamal Mashburn, who covered UK in the SEC Tournament while serving as an analyst for the Westwood One Radio Network. "These guys have done a great job of understanding the tradition of University of Kentucky basketball and what it's about. It's not about glorifying the star as it is about glorying the unit to win a national championship. Coach Calipari has done an outstanding job. He understands the pressures of being the coach and he keeps the pressure off the kids."
"We know we messed up," sophomore Doron Lamb said. "We slept on defense a couple times. But we can't worry about last year. We've been working since the summertime preparing for this moment. We're finally here."
That three of his top six players are making a return trip is comforting to Calipari. He chalked up a lot of last year's letdown to it being several guys' first Final Four, "and now it's the second time; they'll be fine." He hopes the veterans will teach the four freshmen, three of them starters, to "watch the land mines."
Davis is, simply put, a once-in-a-generation talent. No one is more painfully aware of that than Jayson Gee, the Cleveland State assistant coach who nearly had Davis hooked without even truly trying. If only he'd tried. If only he'd known.
"That could've been Cleveland State," Gee said. "You daydream, obviously, and you say, 'What happens if that kid waits a year to grow like that?' We could've had that. Anthony Davis is one of the most unique stories of my career."
You can claim that the supposed rift between yourself and Rick Pitino is overblown. We know better. In these situations, he's always been the top dog, the one coaching the better program with the better players. That's not the case come Saturday. Not on the sport's biggest stage.
As far as Kentucky fans are concerned, there's just one caveat.
Calipari planned to tell his team not to listen to all the hype. The Wildcats have their sights on a national title, and Louisville is merely a roadblock on the way to that goal.
"I'll tell them to get off the message boards, get off Twitter and Facebook,'' he said. "Don't buy into it. We're going to New Orleans to play a basketball game. Forget about this tournament. Let's go be as good as we can be as a team.''
But it's impossible to get away from the extra significance this game has for both programs.
Seven-time national champion Connecticut used stifling second-half defense and a 21-4 run to dart past UK 80-65 in the Elite Eight before about 5,000 fans in the University of Rhode Island's Ryan Center.
"It's a difficult moment for any season to end, but it's particularly tough to see this one end," coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We had a very difficult road to get here, and I thought they showed a lot of character to get here. We wish that we could have gotten farther."
The Cats, ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation (Collegiate Baseball) and No. 10 by Baseball America, extended their home-field winning streak to a school-record 19 games. UK's previous best home streak was 16 games, set in 2007 and again in 2008.
Phillips said that he's running drills quickly in order get more plays in and, thus, get more players evaluated during the limited practice time. He said that during one 15-minute period, about 30 plays were executed. During a 20-minute "team" period, 45 plays were called.
"We're getting a lot of plays," he said. "More plays than we've gotten around here in a long time."
Kentucky (15-16) is coming off its best four-game stretch of the season with an impressive weekend on the road. UK first captured a win over Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, Ky., before taking a series from No. 18/21 Auburn in its first SEC road series of the season.
The series win over the Tigers marked just the fourth in school history and second in the Rachel Lawson era. Furthermore, it was the first time UK has claimed the series on the road as the other previous three series wins have come at home.
Rondo and Bradley, however, have grown to also enjoy their offensive collaboration.
Rondo, the senior of the two, has taken enjoyment in Bradley's development.
"I'm happy to play with him," Rondo said. "He's a great listener. He wants to get better each day and he's working hard. If I get a little winded I try to get Avery to bring it up. I also try to let him call some plays whenever he wants, just to give him a feel to call plays in certain situations.
Woodyard, 25, has been a special teams dynamo for the past four seasons in Denver. While smallish (6-foot, 220) for a linebacker, Woodyard did post career highs in tackles (97) and forced fumbles (two) last year, starting 7-of-16 games. Woodyard is an undersized overachiever. He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Kentucky.
John Calipari will coach in the Final Four for the second straight season this weekend. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
If John Calipari has said it once, he's said it a thousand times. It's a players-first program. It's about helping the players reach their dreams.
So goes the Coach Cal motto and the foundation on which he builds his program at the University of Kentucky.
And yet, just a few days before his fourth Final Four appearance, his players have flipped the script on their coach. They say they want to win the national championship for Calipari. They want to finish the job and help him capture the one thing missing from a hall of fame resume.
"It's nice, but my friends and family probably feel that way more than I do," Calipari said. "It's not for me. When a Gene Keady or a John Chaney have never won a national title, I can name 50 coaches that have not been in this kind of situation, that haven't won it. I'm at Kentucky. One way or another we're going to play the best we can every year."
Calipari has won 545 games in his career, made it to three previous Final Fours and sent 21 former players to the NBA. But if you ask critics of Coach Cal's career, they'll tell you he needs to win a national title to validate his coaching model.
"I'm not looking at it like validation," Calipari said. "I'm just not. My wife will tell you, (I) just don't look at it."
The talk this week is that a loss will show Calipari can't win it with freshmen and place pressure on him to coach and recruit a different way. Coach Cal isn't listening or concerning himself with the talk.
"I'm concerned about our team playing great and those guys getting all those accolades and that stuff happening," Calipari said. "I'm just coaching my game, coaching my team."
Don't mistake Calipari's drive though. He wants to win a national championship and wants to win one badly. But his desire isn't for selfish reasons.
"For the fans, for theses players, for this program," Calipari said. "The Big Blue Nation shows up in Atlanta. I bet you if we played in Sioux City we would pack an arena. I don't know how they'd get there but they would get there, and so you want to do it for these fans."
And if his team doesn't win this year, Calipari said they'll live with the result, regroup and try again next year. He hopes to compete for national championship every year at Kentucky, and this one trip - or the rest - won't define his career.
Brittany Cervantes has taken over UK career home run and RBI records during her senior campaign. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
The 2011 season for the Kentucky softball team was a year of records, achievements, and program firsts. The 2012 season has been a little more trying.
Kentucky (15-16, 2-4) is sitting a game below .500 after posting 40 wins in its run to a Super Regional that was ended by Cal, ranked No. 1 in the nation this season. Needless to say, it hasn't been easy.
It hasn't been a disaster either; in fact, things are starting to look quite bright for the Wildcats. In a year where UK lost several key components of that Super Regional team, the youth and inexperience is starting to season as spring has brought some heat to this year's bunch. Meanwhile, the veterans are doing their best to teach them the UK way.
"I think it starts with us playing our game and doing what we've done the last three years," says senior pitcher Chanda Bell. "Just helping them seeing what the SEC is all about. Whether it's encouraging them or showing them what to do."
Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson believes that her players are starting to come around as more and more players begin to contribute.
"Luckily we have a great pitching staff and solid defense," said Lawson. "Anytime you lose players who have started four straight years, you know, that experience is invaluable. But I knew that Emily Gaines and Lauren Cumbess and Ellen Weaver, they've really stepped up, and you've seen that this past weekend. Krystal Smith has done an awesome job as of late, and they're getting the experience they need at a great time in the season."
If the past weekend is any indication, then things are starting to fall into place and this team is looking to make a little history of its own. Kentucky took a weekend series over No. 18 Auburn on the road, winning the first two games only for Auburn to salvage the finale with walk-off victory. It was just the fourth time in program history that UK had defeated the Tigers in a series.
"I hope it's a turning point," said Lawson about their series win over Auburn. "I saw it coming. We've had great moments all year. It's just every great moment was followed by something less than ideal. So we just really put it together."
While the series was big for the team, what's impressive was that they did it without third baseman Brittany Cervantes getting her fair share of hacks at the plate. Lawson said that Auburn did their best to pitch around Cervantes after she had led the Cats to a comeback win in the series opener with two hits, including a two-run home run, and four RBI.
It was a big game for Cervantes who has found hard luck at the plate this year. She blasted just her second home run of the season in the fifth inning of Friday's game, something that she's done quite frequently throughout her career.
Just over a week earlier, Cervantes hit a game-winning home run, her first of the season to defeat North Carolina State 7-6, breaking the school record with her 36th career dinger. It was an important accomplishment for the senior that put her in special yet familiar company.
"I think it's a pretty big accomplishment," said Cervantes. "I'm pretty sure those records were set by Molly Johnson, who's our assistant coach now, and as you know is on the USA team. She's a phenomenal player. So the fact that I'm even level with her, I think, is an accomplishment in and of itself."
Cervantes also passed Johnson on her way to the school record in RBI with 141, a record that was previously held by Leslie Kwiatkowski.
Where UK has struggled this season has been in their lack of middle of the order bats like Cervantes to give them enough offense to win games. With her team working on special drills at practice focused on driving the ball, Lawson said that she expected a bit of a drop off offensively coming into the season.
"We've been hitting the ball, but we haven't been driving the ball," said Lawson. "And a lot of it just deals with learning the pitchers on the other teams. And then also it deals with just having the confidence in the box to really just sit on the pitch you're looking for and drive it."
With the struggles at the dish, the pressure has mounted on the mound. Bell says that her and the pitchers have felt a need to make the few runs they are spotted stick.
"The pressure's always there," said Bell. "I think it's a little more pressure trying to make it so that if we get one or two runs across, we have to be able as a pitching staff, keep their runs off."
After their performance in Auburn, Bell feels confident that the offense will support the pitching staff going forward, beginning on Wednesday with a showdown against No. 11 Louisville (27-0). First pitch will be at 6 p.m. at the UK Softball Complex.
"I think our bats were great this weekend," said Bell. "Even though we lost the third game, we still had lots of runners and lots of hits, so I think it's definitely a turning point for us."
Where did the offense come from? And why the sudden change in demeanor? Bell attributes it to a team meeting called by captains Cervantes and Rachel Riley a couple of weeks ago. It appears now their words are starting to "kick in."
While Cervantes says "they have a target" on their back, Lawson agrees that the success of 2011 has brought out the best in their opponents. But Lawson also says this team needs to remember who they are to get back to where they want to be.
"If anything else, it just kind of reminded us what kind of a team that we are," said Lawson of their success in Auburn. "That we're a well balanced team that can play defense, we can score runs, and we're tough on the mound. I think we forgot that for a while, and I think it was just a reminder of how good we are, and that we are capable of being a top-25 program."
Matthew Mitchell tied a school record with 28 wins before falling in the Elite Eight to top-seeded UConn. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
KINGSTON, R.I. - The Kentucky women's basketball season did not end how or where the Wildcats wanted it to, but the bigger picture is one of a sleeping giant ready to awaken.
Playing in its second Elite Eight in three seasons, Kentucky gave top-seeded Connecticut fits in the first half, trailing by just two points due to a buzzer-beating layup by the Huskies. In the second stanza, the Wildcats continued to fight, but had their second-worst shooting half of the season, making just eight shots in 31 attempts, and fell to Connecticut 80-65.
"I'm real proud of our players and how hard they worked," Mitchell said. "It's a difficult moment for any season to end, but this was a great group to work with. This is particularly tough to see end. I thought they gave great, great effort in this tournament. I thought they had a very difficult road to get here and showed a lot of character to arrive at this point. I wish we could have gone further."
Kentucky was led by 14 points from sophomore forward Samarie Walker, and a dozen from freshman guard Bria Goss. The Wildcats also hit an impressive 21-of-22 shots from the foul line, but couldn't overcome a 5:39 stretch in the second half where they were held scoreless.
The loss ends Kentucky's season at 28-7, but it shouldn't be viewed as a typical season-ending loss or even a typical season in general. It was a historic season, and potentially a program-turning season.
Just three years ago, the Wildcats were predicted to finish 11th out of 12 teams in the Southeastern Conference. They were a combined 33-32 in the previous two seasons combined. But in 2009-10, Mitchell's third year at the helm, Kentucky advanced to just its second Elite Eight in program history, and a foundation had been set.
In 2010-11, Kentucky advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, but bowed out in the second round to North Carolina.
Then this year, Kentucky validated everything that it had worked so hard for. UK won its first SEC regular-season championship in 30 years, opened conference play a program-best 10-0, defeated a program-record six top-25 teams and won a program-record 13 conference games as well as a program-record tying 28 games overall.
"The program looks a lot different with (the three seniors) walking out of the door than it looked when they walked in the door," said Mitchell when talking about seniors Amber Smith, Keyla Snowden and Crystal Riley. "I don't know, really, if people were really being honest here, if they thought what's happened now was really possible. We just, historically, have one of the worst winning percentages in our conference. We just don't have a lot of tradition. And now, these kids have come in and they poured their heart and soul into the program."
For Kentucky, the future is bright - no, scratch that. For Kentucky, the future is very bright.
Kentucky will return eight of its top nine scorers next season, and welcome in California-transfer DeNesha Stallworth and prized-recruit Janee Thompson. Also returning for UK will be sophomore guard Jennifer O'Neill, who missed the 2011-12 season due to injury. SEC Player of the Year and third-team All-America selection A'dia Mathies will also return, as well as SEC Freshman of the Year Bria Goss. It isn't how or where the Wildcats wanted their season to end, but it could just be another mark that, when looked back upon, further shows where the program is going.
"With DeNesha Stallworth coming back next year, we'll be as good if not better," Goss said. "We're going to take this loss and we're going to get better from it - (we're going to) remember this feeling."
The test this offseason will be whether that roster of talented players can log the same kind hard work that this year's team used to reach new heights.
"I think it's important to figure out, 'Can you come back with more enthusiasm?," Mitchell said " 'Can you come back with more determination? Can you continue to help the program progress to the point where we can get to a Final Four, where we can win a national championship?' "
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 24 points and 19 rebounds in UK's win over Louisville on New Year's Eve. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Doron Lamb has seen it firsthand. Everywhere he goes, whether it's a walk to class, a meal or a simple trip across the street to the Joe Craft Center, the message from fans is the same.
"We're walking on campus and people are talking to you, stopping you to take pictures and sign autographs everywhere you go," Lamb said. "Me and Marquis (Teague) went out to eat last night and we couldn't eat our food really. We had to leave the restaurant. Some lady tapped me in the back while I had piece of chicken in my mouth."
Lamb has been a celebrity on campus since he arrived at Kentucky back in the summer before his freshman season, but things have been kicked up a notch this week. Since UK and U of L won Elite Eight games this weekend, excitement for the first ever Final Four edition of the "Dream Game" has been utterly inescapable.
John Calipari has heard the buzz too - though he didn't claim to have been accosted while consuming poultry - and he understands. He knows how the rivalry that already simmered throughout the Bluegrass State is being cooked to a boil by this unprecedented showdown in New Orleans.
He's not letting his Wildcats see it that way though, and he doesn't imagine the Cardinals will either.
"Whether you win or lose, it does not matter if the school's 10 minutes from you or a thousand miles," Calipari said. "It really doesn't matter now. For our fans, Louisville fans, Kentucky fans, oh my gosh. But the teams, they want to win the game because they want to advance."
Fortunately for Coach Cal, he won't have a hard time convincing his team. Through rivalry games, whiteouts, blackouts and now four games of the NCAA Tournament, the Cats have employed one approach: treat every game the same Given that it's worked 36 times in 38 tries, it makes sense that they don't play on changing now.
"That's our choice," Lamb said. "We took every game this season like that really. We didn't worry about who we played the next day and how big the game's going to be. We just worry about who we're going to play next and try to knock that game out."
If anybody was going to buy into the UK-U of L hype on this Kentucky team, it would be Darius Miller. Not only has he played in three regular-season installments of the series, but he's a native of Maysville, Ky., where he gained an appreciation for what the rivalry means. The senior, though, sees the game as nothing more than a means to an end.
"Our main goal is winning the national championship, not to beat Louisville," Miller said.
Miller's sentiment is echoed by all his teammates, but that won't stop more articles being written about the implications of the game than can possibly be read in the four days before it finally tips off, though fans on both sides of the aisle will likely try. If the comments of Calipari and his players on Tuesday are any indication, none of those articles figure to include any incendiary quotes from the Cats, but the conversations in schools, workplaces and houses divided figure to go differently.
"I'm not (going to feed into the rivalry), our fans maybe. Our fans feed everything," Calipari said affectionately.
On an only semi-related - but fully entertaining - note, Calipari has some words for advice about UK fans for anyone writing about UK-U of L this week.
"They are piranha," Calipari said. "If you have an agenda and you write a story that's agenda-driven, they will take out everything you've written and prove it wrong then look at your background and go over what you've done. So if you're going to attack Kentucky, just be right. If you have an agenda for another coach, to do it for another coach to create something, I'm just telling you, piranha (imitates piranhas vocally and with hand motions), they'll come and eat your yard, your house." Cats still reaping benefits from visit by NBA's Thunder
With the NBA and its Players Association at a standstill in negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement last fall, the Oklahoma City Thunder were left without coaches or a gym to call home. Taking Calipari up on his open invitation, former UK star Nazr Mohammed brought the team to the Joe Craft Center.
While in Lexington, the Thunder impressed Calipari with their work ethic.
"I saw a team of NBA players with no guidance except within their team spending four days on a college campus together every one of them, including the star (Kevin Durant) who wouldn't leave campus and worked out three times a day," Calipari said.
Having coached in the NBA, Calipari already knew the kind of time it takes to excel at basketball's highest level, but it was an eye-opening experience for his team and possibly a building block for this Final Four run.
"What it showed our team was you want to be a professional someday, that's how you work," Calipari said. "I think the guys were taken aback, 'Three times a day?' Yeah, they go work out, in the morning, lift, in the afternoon work out and they play in the evening. 'What?' That's what they do and that's why the Thunder are who they are."
Following a season in which the Wildcats formed a "breakfast club" en route to a perfect sprint through the Southeastern Conference regular season, it's safe to say the Thunder's approach rubbed off.
Not only did the UK players get to watch the Thunder up close, they also got to try their hand at taking them on in various pickup games. At first, the Cats were outclassed as they tried to take Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and the rest of the team with the NBA's second-best record on one-on-one. Eventually, they learned to compete as a team and find a way to hold their own.
"They tried to come out and kill us really," Lamb said. "They weren't taking it easy on us, especially Kevin Durant. Every time he got the ball he tried to shoot it. He was talking junk. I'm friends with Kevin Durant so I know he's a great player. We learned a lot from them really. They taught us a lot. They taught us how to play together." Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist set the tone with unselfishness
Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been billed all season as among the nation's top players. Midway through the year, the two talented freshmen were viewed as equally strong candidates for national player of the year honors, only for Davis to block his way to frontrunner status.
For all their brilliance, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are just fourth and fifth respectively in field-goal attempts on their team. On the face of things, that seems a woefully ineffective way to distribute shots, but UK's 36-2 record and top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament screams otherwise.
Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist have been universally lauded for consistency in both their game and their approach, but Coach Cal sees their selflessness as even more important to the team's success.
"They take the fourth- and fifth-most shots on our team," Calipari said. "That's a bigger deal. Which means they're worried about winning, which means it's hard for anybody else to be selfish when those two are not. If you are, probably someone on this team will say something and I don't have to say it."
The trickle-down effect of Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist's willingness to defer has been evident in everything about these Wildcats, and the statistics prove it.
Six different UK players score in double figures and each one averages between 7.6 and 9.4 shots per game. Moreover, all seven of UK's top contributors, save for one, attempts between 18.7 percent and 22.9 of the team's shots when on the floor. The lone exception? Kyle Wiltjer, who plays just 11.9 minutes per game, yet attempts a team-high 24.8 percent of UK's shots when he is on the floor.
Davis' knee 'fine'
It didn't take long on Tuesday for Calipari to be asked about the status of Davis after a knee injury he suffered on Sunday against Baylor. The 6-foot-10 freshman collided with Perry Jones III on his way to the basket and he went to the ground clutching his left knee.
Davis would return to the game a minute later and block four shots over the game's final 17 minutes. In postgame interviews, he said he simply "bumped knees" with Jones, though replays appeared to show it was a knee-to-hip collision.
Regardless of how the injury happened, Calipari reported on Tuesday that it had been confirmed Davis has only a bruised knee, saying, "He's fine."
Terrence Jones and UK fell to Connecticut in last season's national semifinal. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.
In the immediate aftermath of trouncing Baylor and clinching a second straight berth to the Final Four, the Kentucky Wildcats celebrated. They smiled, hugged, clapped and danced. John Calipari even allowed himself to relax, smile and thank the fans.
The players climbed the ladder and took a snip from the net as fans chanted "Go Big Blue," and Darius Miller said they would take time to relish the moment that night before moving on to Louisville.
But there was something about the celebration that just didn't look the same. It felt subdued, ordinary almost.
Upon returning home Sunday evening to hundreds of fans at the airport and another horde at the Wildcat Lodge, Doron Lamb showed his appreciation for the fans before heading inside. He didn't celebrate after.
"I just went to my friend's house and watched TV," the sophomore guard said.
Watched TV? What gives?
Sure, Lamb has been here before, making an unexpected trip to the Final Four as a No. 4 seed last season. And yeah, just about everyone hoped and expected the Cats to make it back to the national semifinals this year.
But still, it's the Final Four, a place that even a hallowed program like UK has been fortunate enough to make 15 times.
"We're not satisfied yet," freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said.
The Wildcats want more.
Stung by the loss of last year's Final Four, the returning players said they've been driven to get back to the national semifinals and capitalize on the chance that was theirs for the taking last season. Whether it was the sheer satisfaction of just making it that far or the big stage taking them by surprise, Kentucky had a letdown against Connecticut and let a golden opportunity slip by.
"I haven't gotten over it," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "I won't get over it until I reach farther than that. It hurt me. I couldn't leave college because of that. I wanted to know what it felt like to play in that last game."
Suggesting the loss to UConn has been season-long motivation for a 36-2 run, Miller said the heartbreak has been like an itch he hasn't been able to scratch until now.
"It was extremely hard," Miller said. "We felt like we gave it our all the whole year. We worked really hard that year and just not being able to win the championship, it kind of messed with us a little bit. It's been lingering in the back our mind all year. We wanted to get back here, and we have. Now we just want to finish it out."
What exactly happened against Connecticut is still up for debate. The Cats had played so well in the previous two games against Ohio State and North Carolina that they had suddenly gone from tournament underdogs to Final Four favorites.
But when they took the floor in Houston and the ball was thrown up, it took Coach Cal all of five minutes to figure out that something wasn't right.
"Something got us off kilter because we didn't play very well," Calipari said. "What happened that we went out - I don't want to say gun shy - but we just weren't the same team that left New Jersey."
Was it the satisfaction of being there in a season in which the Cats could hardly win a road game in their own conference? Was it the big stage - quite literally one in the center of the gargantuan Reliant Stadium - and the bright lights of the Final Four?
Or was is something else, like the distractions of a championship-craving fan base, the media obligations of making it to such a grand stage, or even the disturbances of family members and friends requesting tickets that are coming along for the ride?
Coach Cal planned to ask his returning players Tuesday what they thought happened, but he's already changed some of the preparation from last season. He had everyone take care of their ticket requests Sunday night, and he will not do any other media interviews for the game other than his NCAA-mandated responsibilities at the Final Four. Also, nobody - no friends, no family members, no one, Coach Cal said - will be allowed on the players' floor at the team hotel this week.
"If they want to meet family or friends, you go down in the lobby," Calipari said. "If you need to go out for something, go with a player, take a security person with you. We're handling it like we should be."
However, Coach Cal was not expressing disappointment of a letdown last year.
"By the end of the season, for them to put themselves in that position, I was ecstatic," Calipari said. "When they dropped the ball in that last game - and we all dropped it; obviously preparation was bad; something wasn't right - I felt bad for them, (but) I wasn't mad. I was so proud of what they were able to do with that season I can't even begin to tell you."
Kentucky has sliced through this season with a mentality that every game is "just another game," but the stakes have clearly been raised now. Coach Cal is using the same approach with his players that he has throughout the postseason, telling them not to worry about the tournament and treat it as another game, but Lamb admitted that everything they've been through this season has been building to this point.
"We've been working hard since the summertime really, just preparing for this moment," Lamb said. "It's finally here. We made it, so we've got to go out there and try to finish out the season strong."
Does that mean the season should be deemed a failure if UK can't cash in at another chance at a title? Coach Cal says no, pointing to the anything can happen model in a one-game series while downplaying the end-all feeling that some fans are experiencing with Louisville standing in the way.
"The other teams in the Final Four, they all have good players," Calipari said.
Clearly, though, the players don't want to feel the pain of another loss.
"We know how it feels to lose, especially when you're so close," Miller said. "We don't want to experience it again."
They want another chance to dance, another opportunity to walk up the ladder and take a snip of the net. They want to know what it really feels like to celebrate.
"We want a championship really bad," Miller said. "Like I've been saying all year, that's been our main goal all year. That's all we want."
It's been a while since John Calipari imitated an animal in one of his press conference, but he was in rare form on Tuesday as Kentucky prepares for the Final Four. Fast forward to the 13:00 mark of the video below to hear and see his imitation of piranhas.
Not too much longer until UK Hoops tries to take the final step toward the program's first-ever Final Four berth. Kentucky will face off against top-seeded Connecticut in a regional final on Tuesday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
Kentucky's leading scorer this season is not the same kind of presence as Moore or Taurasi, or even contemporaries like Nneka Ogwumike. Mathies led or shared the lead in scoring in just 16 of Kentucky's 34 games leading up to Tuesday. But she was responsible for 10 of the 15 instances in which a Kentucky player scored at least 20 points, including 34 points in a season-defining win against Tennessee. If one player is going to live up to the Auriemma doctrine and lift Kentucky to an upset, the betting starts with the player labeled the "silent assassin" by her current coaches during the recruiting process.
Mathies is no stranger to the big stage. In at least one respect, the junior guard might be more familiar with it than just about anyone in the tournament. While this is just her second appearance in a regional final, with a program seeking its first trip to the Final Four, it's also the 10th consecutive season in which she played at either the college or high school varsity level, a run that began when she made the varsity team at Louisville's Iroquois High School in sixth grade.
By the time she was fully immersed in the college recruiting scene, she was a known commodity, a top-100 recruit who went on to win Kentucky's Miss Basketball. She was also inscrutable, earning a reputation for shyness and reticence around those outside her inner circle. It's a label she thinks is inaccurate, even if she doesn't waste a lot of words explaining why.
"Around people I don't know, I don't really think there's much to say," Mathies explained. "If I get to know you and have something to talk about, I can talk. I don't think I'm really shy; I'm just more observant and really don't think there is much to say."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, March 25:
Gymnastics: Holly Cunningham
Sophomore Holly Cunningham posted the highest individual score for Kentucky at the SEC Championships with her career-high tying 9.85 on vault. Has now posted a 9.8 or higher on vault in nine of her last 10 meets.
Softball: Griffin Joiner
Freshman Griffin Joiner was her continued steady-self offering the Wildcats a .300 batting clip and a pair of crucial RBI in helping clinch a series over No. 18/21 Auburn. Joiner gave UK a 1-0 lead in both of the final two games of the series with the Tigers. In Saturday's game the lead would be one UK would not relinquish en route to earning a series win over the Tigers for just the fourth time in school history. Her sacrifice fly in the final game of the series proved to be UK's lone scoring of the game and it was a lead UK held until Auburn mounted a two-run bottom of the seventh rally to salvage a sweep. Joiner's presence at catcher cannot go unnoticed. She logged a perfect 1.000 fielding clip while notching 28 putouts and four assists. Runners attempted to steal on her a mere three times, and she successfully turned the play in all three attempts not allowing any runners to advance a base on her watch. Her success rate discouraged additional attempts as teams opted for sacrifice hits and hit-and-runs.
Men's tennis: Alex Musialek
Became the 14th player in school history to record 100 singles wins with his come-from-behind win over No. 82 Roberto Maytin of Baylor. The native of Dax, France, earned the historic win in a three-set thriller over No. 82 Roberto Maytin at No. 2 singles. After dropping the first set 3-6, Musialek dominated the second set 6-1 and then rolled in the third set 6-4 to grab the win.
Baseball: Alex Phillips
Senior southpaw Alex Phillips had a pair of strong relief outings in helping the Wildcats extend their NCAA-leading 24-1 record with a series win at Tennessee and a midweek win at Cincinnati ... In game two of the series at UT, Phillips entered the game after a rain storm had halted play on Sunday, working the final 4.1 shutout innings to post a win to even that series ... In a midweek win at UC, Phillips entered when the steady UK bullpen was allowing six runs to make the contest tight ... Phillips immediately got UK out of any trouble to lock the save down with two innings and two strikeouts ... On the year, Phillips owns a 3-0 record and a 2.11 ERA in 10 relief outings, tossing 21.1 innings, allowing only 12 hits and five walks, striking out 19, with a .190 opposing batting average.
Baseball: J.T. Riddle
Sophomore second baseman J.T. Riddle had a clutch week in helping No. 2 Kentucky to a midweek win at Cincinnati and a series victory at Tennessee ... Riddle's clutch hitting led UK to the series win over the Vols, UK's first in Knoxville since the 2008 season and helped the Wildcats improve to a nation-leading 24-1, including a 5-1 mark in SEC play ... After the Wildcats suffered their first loss of the year in the series opener on Friday night to snap a 22-game winning streak, Riddle's bat paced UK to the series-evening win in game two, batting 3-for-4 with three RBI, a homer and a triple ... In the series finale, a seven-inning game, the two teams were locked in a scoreless pitching duel in the top of the sixth when Riddle smacked a double off the wall in leftfield to score the go-ahead and game-winning run ... In a midweek win at UC, Riddle scored a pair of runs and added an RBI single ... In addition to his contributions at the plate, Riddle has played stellar defense at second base, with his instincts, range and arm strength helping the UK defensive unit rank second in the SEC in fielding ... On the year, Riddle has hit .318 (28-for-88), with five doubles, one triple, one homer and 18 RBI, with his 23 runs scored ranking eighth in the league.
Softball: Rachel Riley
Senior Rachel Riley was flawless in her two starts and two victories this week in UK's impressive 3-1 weekend including taking a series from No. 18/21 Auburn for just the fourth time school history. Riley earned the decisive-series clinching victory over the Tigers with a complete-game effort. She worked 7.0 innings yielding just one earned run and limiting Auburn to a mere five hits. She struck out four in the win. The win marked the ninth of her career over a top-25 ranked opponent and the first in her senior campaign. She also contributed offensively with a 2-for-4 day at the dish which was her sixth multi-hit outing of the season. In UK's non-conference victory in front of her hometown of Bowling Green, Ky., on the campus of Western Kentucky, Riley again worked a complete-game. She struck out six batters and allowed just five Hilltopper hits. She also logged a 1-for-4 day at the plate in the UK victory. With 10 strikeouts this weekend, Riley moved into fifth place on UK's all-time career strikeout list. With two wins she also becomes just one of three pitchers in school history with 35 or more career wins.
Baseball: Chandler Shepherd
Right-hander Chandler Shepherd made his first career road start at Big East foe Cincinnati on Wednesday, posting his second career win ... Shepherd worked a career-long 5.2 innings, allowing five hits and two runs, striking out two ... Shepherd worked five shutout innings and came out for the sixth inning in an effort to extend his pitch count, with the Bearcats scoring two on a triple ... On the year, Shepherd has appeared in five games with four starts, posting a 2-0 record and a 3.15 ERA, in 20 innings, walking five and striking out 11.
John Calipari of Kentucky, Rick Pitino of Louisville, Bill Self of Kansas and Thad Matta of Ohio State spent time answering questions on this afternoon's Final Four Coaches Teleconference. Throughout the week, we'll have plenty of stories on the Dream Game matchup between UK and U of L, but for now I leave you with the comments of Coach Cal and Pitino in response to questions about their own teams, their opponents and a number of other topics:
On how Louisville has improved since the meeting earlier this season ... "They're in a nice mold right now about playing the way they have to play to win. I think they're defending that way. I think they're playing offense that way. They're a much better team. I think we're better too, but when I look at them, I just say, 'Wow.' They play very, very aggressive. They're doing all the things they need to do to put themselves in a position to win, and they've done it. They've done it in the Big East Tournament and they walk right into this tournament and do the same thing." On Anthony Davis' knee injury ... "I haven't seen him today, but I would imagine he's fine." On what he'll take from his previous Final Fours ... "The arenas with these raised floors change things somewhat and I think you've got to get in there and do as much shooting as you can do. Last year I didn't realize that. And I would say this: work on some free-throw shooting, from 2008. I try to keep it all the same. We're traveling the same. We're doing all the things we do in the regular games, we've done it in this tournament. I'm telling them, 'Don't worry about tournament play. Let's just play basketball games. If we do that, we're fine.' "
On whether this year's team has a different feel than in years previous ... "You go in and all I'm trying to do with all my teams is I want them to be playing their best and if that's not good enough, we'll live with the results. We do it all season that way and last year when we played Connecticut, we weren't at our best and I don't know why. I don't have the answer to that. We played OK, but we had been playing lights out: North Carolina, Ohio State and then we hit that game and we didn't play the same way. I think this team has been steady all year. They've done it, they've had rivalry games, they've had teams that came out of the gate, they've had people that try to play us physical and the bump and grind, 'You got to hit 'em, you got to bump 'em.' They've withstood all that stuff and I feel good going in, but again, you're talking about a team in Louisville that's playing as well as anyone in the country right now. And they got terrific players." On Louisville's defense and what has made it so good recently ... "Their zone defense and how they're playing it and the adjustments they make, I've watched some stuff they've done against us and I've watched some tape of what they've done against other people and they kind of morph it into how you're playing or who they want to play and they do a good job of that. There are times they'll throw some press at people and it's rattled some cages. They pressed us here and it rattled us. We just weren't ready for that kind of having to get open with a couple guys hanging on you, having to be strong with the ball, having to have great spacing. We weren't ready for that at that time of the year. We were lucky to get out alive in that game. They're good. They're a really good team and they're terrific defensively and they play really hard and they play physical and they do the things they have to do to win."
On Doron Lamb ... "He's been fine, but I want him to be special. I'm happy he was (on the All-South Regional Team), but Terrence (Jones) probably deserved it too. My thing is, if he consistently plays, he's as good as any guard in the country. If he'll play through bumps when they grab and push and shove and make a layup. You can't go in there and expect to be fouled. You go in expecting to make that basket and if they foul you it's an 'and-one.' All those kind of things he's capable of. I know what kind of shooter he is. He missed foul shots last game I haven't seen him miss and I'm challenging him because what I'm saying is, when he plays with a high motor, he's as good as any guard in the country. But he's got to play with a high motor because when not, he gets shoved around, he's not playing low enough, he loses balls, he doesn't make the shots he needs to make on drives and things that he's capable of doing. I expect a lot of these guys and what I'm seeing in him is a guy that I want to play as one of the best in the country." On the challenges of facing Louisville ... "They're a team that they'll shoot the 3 and it's a challenge because they're going to shoot 20, 25 of them, and if they're making them, you've got a long night. They're going to shoot them, so it's a long night. They do a great job in pick-and-rolls with (Peyton) Siva, who I think is an outstanding player. I've thought ever since I saw him against Eric Bledsoe. At that point, I'm looking at him saying, 'Wow, this kid is unbelievable.' And then I would tell you the other thing is their post game with (Gorgui) Dieng and (Chane) Behanan has really changed things. They'll go in the post, they'll do some stuff, they're rebounding the ball in that zone. It's going to be a hard game for us. It'll be a hard game."
On how he will get his team in the right mindset for Louisville ... "They know every game we play is someone's Super Bowl. You think about this whole Final Four. We ended Ohio State's season last year. We opened up the season by beating Kansas. You don't think they want a piece of us? We beat Louisville earlier in the year. They're going crazy to beat us. Let me say this, so was Vandy, so was Florida, so was North Carolina. Everybody we play is that way, so it's not as though this is any different than any other game we play. The other team's going to play out of their minds. We know it."
On why this year's team has been so consistent ... "They play hard but they don't get rattled. They kind of keep their wits about them and if a guy's losing it a little bit, we just bring him out, sit him down, calm him down and go back in. They also know that going through a season as being a Kentucky player, they understand that everybody's going to give us their best shots. It doesn't matter. That's what we're going to get and you better be ready to play because if you're not, you get beat. And they know that and we've prepared that way so they've done fine."
On his relationship with Geno Auriemma of Connecticut's women's program ... "Obviously back in the New England days, and I've always been a fan of his. Now I won't be when they play our (women's) team. I'm a bigger fan of Matthew Mitchell, but Geno's a great guy. He could coach basketball, truly, at any level, male or female. I believe that. He's a hall-of-fame coach, and on top of it, a really, really good guy."
On how he shields his team from praise like Charles Barkley saying the only team that could beat UK is the Toronto Raptors ... "Obviously with the Internet and the social media and network and all that stuff, you can't keep anything away from them. They hear everything. They talk to each other. They're probably talking to players on the other team. It's just how it is nowadays. What you hope is they understand, for us, we're worried about us playing as well as we can. That's all we're worried about. Let's play well. If that's not good enough, we'll deal with the results, but that's all I'm trying to do. I'm telling them, 'Don't worry about tournaments, we're playing basketball. And we got a basketball game here this weekend and that's all we're worried about.' They want to make a big deal out of rivalry. Not at this time of the year. It doesn't matter. If you win or lose, you're going to feel the same whether it's a team you played before or never seen in your life. A team that's 12 miles from you, or a team that's a thousand miles from you. It doesn't matter this time of the year. Now, it matters to fans, but we're not worried about that. We're just worried about playing our best and playing a terrific basketball team and it's going to be a hard challenge."
On whether a season like this requires humility from the players ... "It's more or less you get humbled a lot through the year. The moment you start drinking that poison, you die because the other team's jacked up and ready to play. Literally every team we play, it's like the biggest game of the century. 'I'm going to talk to my grandchildren about this game if we can win,' and that's how it is. They understand it and it's nice that Charles is saying nice things, but the reality of it is this stuff will be won or lost on the basketball court and you can throw talent out the window. Everyone's talented now. Yes, we got good players. So does everybody else. What do you think, they just got a system which is why they're winning? Everyone has good players. It's going to be won on that basketball court. Who wants it the most? Who's going to execute? Who's going to be efficient on offense and defense? You're going to have to have a good team playing well this time to win."
On the Final Four featuring basketball "royalty" ... "I would say it should be outstanding. You're going to see a lot of ridiculous basketball and I think that, whether you're talking Kansas or Ohio State or Louisville or ourselves, everyone's had good season. They've played well and they deserve to be here and we've gone through the grind of the NCAA Tournament and I feel bad for Syracuse and North Carolina with (Fab) Melo and (Kendall) Marshall and that kind of changed the field a little bit, but that's part of this tournament. It's not best-of-five, best-of-seven. You got one game. You have a bad game, you're done, go home. Your kids think that this is going to be an easy one and they don't show for the game, you go home. That's what makes this tournament special and unique."
On Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's body control ... "What he's like running at you, it's like a middle linebacker's coming at you. And he is nimble, so here he comes. He's really fast, he can move the ball around, he cups the ball as you grab his arms and waist and hip and they don't call the fall because he goes and busts through it and still scores it and he can do that. He's a terrific free-throw shooter. In the zone, he just gets to gaps and does things. He's a good enough 3-point shooter that you got to guard him. He's proven that the last two games. But more importantly, like he and Anthony (Davis), Anthony takes the fifth-most shots on our team and everybody says he's the best player. Michael Gilchrist takes the fourth-most shots on our team and everybody says he's the second-best player. Well, wait a minute. They just play. Blocking shots, rebounding, defending and then they are unselfish offensively. That's what makes them unique."
On getting talented players to buy in defensively ... "It starts in the recruiting process. There's two points of this that you have to make. One, we don't do anything outlandish. In other words, we're not promising you'll start, how many minutes or how many shots. It's a challenge here. This is not for everybody. The second thing is, if you want to shoot 30 times a game, don't come here. Do you want to win a national title? Yes I do. Can you do it by yourself? No I can't. So now you're telling me you want to be on a team with seven or eight other guys just like, which means you can't shoot 30 times a game. The other thing, they've got to really trust that you have their best interests at heart. This is a players-first program and you've got to let them know as you sacrifice, we all gain as individuals and as a team. They just stay on it. This is a group of young men that know this is a players-first program. They know it's about the players and at the end of the day they buy into (it). To be about them, they got to make it about the team first and each of them make it about the other guy, not themselves. And that's why they play unselfish and that's why they're in a defensive stance and they've all bought in." On what the role of coaching is in the Final Four ... "It's important, but at the end of the day, the players are going to win the game. Let me say this. You're talking about our talent. I don't know if you understand we're the most efficient team in the country. We're the No. 1 efficient team. We start three freshmen and two sophomores. We also lead the nation in field-goal percentage defense. We lead the nation in blocked shots. We're in the top 10 in rebound margin. Our assist-to-turnover ratio, the way we shoot the ball. We're the most efficient team in the country, so it's not just they're talented. They're a good team. They play together. And again, we're all going in and what I'm going to try to do is get my guys to play as well as they can play. Let's just worry about us playing great. If that's not good enough, let's have more fun than any team playing here, let's play our best and we'll take the results from there."
On the changes in UK's play ... "I think the changes in Kentucky are like any young program, when you have young players, they mature, they get better, they understand their defensive assignments better. They have improved as you would expect as the year has gone on. They're not only a lethal offensive team, but they're equally as potent on defense. So they're as good as it gets in all phases of the game."
On what's made the defense so good lately ... "Our defense is really predicated on who were playing more than anything else. We try to choreograph our defense to who we're playing and what our strengths are. It's not really a steady diet of any one thing." On how the team is staying focused for the game, especially traveling from Portland and Phoenix ... "Being away didn't help us, and it didn't hurt us. There was really no factor. These guys are really a humble group. They do everything that they can do mentally and physically to try and win a game. It would be nice, but it didn't help and it didn't hurt us. Certainly they have a job to do, but on the other hand, what I've told all my team's that have been there is, fun is a major aspect of the Final Four. You have to let the guys have some fun, as well as work. That's what this whole experience is all about."
On what to take away from the first game in December between UK and Louisville ... "Well we played that first game, basically we had a little tough luck without Chane Behanan when he got his third foul from that technical, and you know they've improved and we've improved so obviously we'll take a look at the game and see what was so successful and wasn't and what we need to improve on. It's something that you plan on doing for the next three or four days and be ready with your game plan when you play it on Saturday."
On where the Duke game ranks in terms of his toughest losses and whether he would put a guy on Grant Hill if he had to do it over again ... "You know it's funny, I've looked at it both ways in my life, from putting a guy on the ball. Talking with Bob Knight, he never puts a guy on the ball. I've done it both ways. I saw Connecticut win up the sideline, I think it was they beat George Mason with a man on the ball. Now that I know the play defensively was unsuccessful, without question I would have put a guy on the ball. But this is going to sound strange, and I know the Kentucky fans don't like to hear it, but it wasn't a disappointment to me at all. It was a disappointment in terms of we didn't make the Final Four and we lost the game. That was a major disappointment. But in the terms of the way that we played that game, I thought it was a brilliant performance by our players, a tough ending for us, a brilliant display of offensive and defensive talent. And what I was really proud of was, you go in there and you give it your performance and you don't play well, then you're disappointed, but when you play great and your best player's on the bench, and it goes to overtime, you've got to be really proud. But fans don't look at it that way, as coaches do. The purity of the game; it was an unbelievable basketball game."
On what one thing a championship team needs to possess ... "Well, I wish it was one thing to be honest with you. I guess a common denominator more than anything else is that you're ready for the pressure of the game, that you can't let that pressure beat you. When you start thinking about, I've got to do this and I've got to do that, you have to understand that it's we have to do this and we have to do that. I think (if) that's the key, you just lose. The focal point is, it has to be as a team. You're not going to do it by yourself, and sometimes they say, 'Oh, I've got to play better than I did in recent games.' That's not the case. You must focus on everything you do as a team, to help your team win."
On the approach to the Final Four, having been there before ... "I'm really happy. Generally when teams get to this point in time, you're really pleased with what's going on. But really the only learning experience that I can take away from anything is, just make sure you get used to that dome. Before if you had an hour-and-a-half practice, well you know that's not enough, I want to go to the gym and take two-and-a-half hours, so we take our time with our preparation, and it's really more important to go in there an hour and a half to the Dome, then it would be two-and-a-half hours elsewhere." On the similarities between Derek Anderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and their relentlessness on the court ... "He was that way in high school. When I watched him play in high school, I'd never seen too many high school players play every position as if they were down 10. He's one of my favorite players to watch because he plays so hard. He was spectacular in our game, the last time we played him. And that type of thing is really an unbelievable quality to have. I'm sure he's a fun kid to coach. He's a fun young man to watch on tape. He's going to be a terrific player for many years to come."
On the value of practice in the dome ... "Well, I think it is the depth perception, without question. I think that's something you have to get used to. Fortunately, we have played in Syracuse and we've seen it before. But the worst thing about it is the wide-open space. But it's just something that we need to get a little practice in and get used to, and I think we'll feel comfortable in it. I didn't know about the raised floor. I didn't know about that."
On shooting 3s in the dome to prepare for the game ... "You have to get comfortable with the spaces and the environment. We're not a big 3-point shooting team. I've had some terrific 3-point shooting teams, but that's not our forte, so to speak, so it's just getting used to the background and as much playing as you actually could. I wish the NCAA would give us a little bit more time than just an hour and a half Ss you can just take your time with everything. I don't think you need more than two hours, but you can take your time instead of rushing with the clock. I don't know why they didn't leave us more time." On playing with teams that may not have as much talent on paper as their opponent ... "We're a talented ballclub. You can't get to the Final Four without being a talented ballclub. Now we may not have as much talent in some areas as other teams, but we have young talent that really can develop; guys like Gorgui Deng, Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear. They're going to get a lot better with time. It's just that they're not there yet. So you know the great thing about March Madness in college basketball is? The best team is going to win, generally speaking, 90 percent of the time in the pros. The best team in the pros is going to win a seven-game series. But in a one-game series, anybody can win. There are games that I've lost with more talent and games that I've won with less talent because it's one game. If somebody shoots great, breaks go your way at the end, anything can happen. In the Florida game, Florida totally outplayed us in that ball game. For 32 minutes, they were much the superior team. And the last eight minutes we were fortunate enough to turn the game around and we won the game. So in one game anything can happen. So that's why, talent is not always the reason you win or lose on your way to getting to the Final Four." On the coaching job he's had to do with this team ... "The problem that happened with this team more than anything else, it seemed like we were always disrupted. You sort through your defensive sets that you start to feel good about, then you go through another major injury, then another major injury, then Peyton Siva goes down with a concussion for 30 days. Three guys are out with knee injuries. And some guys become available second semester and they don't know about fundamentally anything that you're trying to accomplish. And so in terms of coaching this team, it was pure joy. In terms of the disruptions, it was a nightmare. You try and get a guy in, he just gets eligible December 14. Another person has double shoulder surgery, three knee injuries and multiple concussions. I've got three guys wearing helmets in practice so they don't get another concussion. It was just a distraction in terms of being organized. Most coaches really like to be organized in terms of their practice plans, and we just couldn't get organized this year." On how the zone makes his players better individual defenders ... "I think we struggle in certain areas defensively. Chane Behanan struggles because he's a freshman. He'll be much better as time goes on. He struggled in the game against Florida, but when we needed stops he played great. He's certainly a guy that's played great defense. Our guys have gotten better, it's just that what we try to do defensively is try and protect Gorgui. When Gorgui leaves the game we are not as good of a basketball team. I'm sure Kentucky can say the same thing with Davis or any great shot blocker. Your defense it not as good when they leave."
On what it's like to have someone like Dieng on the team ... "It's been a lot of fun. African kids, they're a pure joy in terms of their humility and the starvation to learn. I just love teaching him because of the humility and to be humble with such an eagerness to learn the game. It's such a healthy environment to be around them. I've had foreign players before. I have another one on my team, Russ Smith, who's also from a different planet. He's not from a different country; he's from a different planet. So I like coaching him as well." On how rewarding this year has been as a coach ... "People sometimes misinterpret this team. One might compare to this team to the Providence team (1987), and they're nothing like each other in terms of their physical abilities. I also can't compare them in terms of the type of human beings they are. Also that was 1987, this is now. When you're a team, that's just trying to survive and make the tournament and get on with the next game in any possible way, you really don't think of the end of the road. You're just trying to think, where are you at trying to park your car at that point in time? So to get to the Final Four, we finally have this fact of ending. It's just such an incredible experience, and that's what happened in '87, as is now, so it's very rewarding, and more than anything else is when you love a team like I've loved this team the last two years; it's just great to see this guys give to the fruits of their labor." If there's any concern with guys relaxing now that they made the Final Four... "My pregame speech going in to the Florida game was, 'I know you're going to win this game guys, I just want one thing from you: When we cut down the nets, I want one favor in return -- that you're not satisfied with getting there.' And that was the last words I sent to them before we went out. It was trying to be a confidence builder, and on the other hand, now that we're here, let's not be satisfied; the championship is at stake, and you only get so many runs at a championship."
On the pedigree of the field ... "I think it's without question four schools that you would put in the top 10 tradition of all-time, without question. A lot of people don't realize -- we know their recent success, but going back - how successful Ohio State was. These four programs have had a tremendous influence in the game of basketball. Certainly Kansas, Louisville, Kentucky, the fever pitch for basketball has always been off the charts. And something to understand is, Ohio State, back when (Jerry) Lucas and those guys played, they were at its best. They have great tradition, and certainly within recent years, Thad Matta has gotten them back to where they're a top-five program every year. So it is basketball royalty. And I know for us, a small state like Kentucky, with three million people, to have two teams in the Final Four is quite special."
On whether he's thought about the similarities between being the underdogs in the Duke game in 1992 and this game against UK ... "Now that you just mentioned it. But unfortunately you have to think about that game all the time. If it's not commercials, it's UPS running it; we see that. Although I said earlier it was a special game, if Christian Laettner's getting royalties from that shot, he'll never have to work another second in his life. As far as the teams, nobody gave us much of a shot, I'm sure that's pretty much the case now. We can win. Every team should believe they can win. But certainly our respect for Kentucky is off the charts. We played them once before. We think they were a great team when we played them in December. We think they're an even better team now. We understand that we're going to have to play the type of game that Villanova played against Georgetown. We can't make a lot of mistakes like a team against Kentucky, and I know that's what we're going to have to do." On the positive of having time to prepare for Kentucky ... "I think to prepare for Kentucky we need three weeks. But with that being said, you know when you play them, it's not a matter of preparing your defense for stopping them, you really have to prepare your offense because they're equally as good defensively. As I've watched throughout the year, I don't know of any young team that can play that well at the defensive end. It's just a great job by their coaching staff."
For Walker, pictured here with assistant coach Matt Insell, Kentucky has been the perfect fit (UK Athletics, Britney McIntosh).
KINGSTON, R.I. - College is often when kids become adults. At least, that's one of the many goals of college. It's a four-year (sometimes more) window where these "kids" come upon many opportunities and challenges, and by the end of it all, are more mature, well-rounded version of their previous selves. For Kentucky women's basketball sophomore forward Samarie Walker, this thought rings especially true.
For Walker, college has afforded an opportunity to learn not only about herself but also the tendencies of others and the importance of being able to make her own decisions.
Coming out of West Carrollton, Ohio, Walker was one of the most highly regarded high school prospects in the country. She wound up choosing to attend one of the top programs in the country, Connecticut. But something wasn't right. She was homesick.
"I have a 6-year-old brother I'm very close with and I'm very close with both of my parents," Walker said. "That was my primary reason for leaving. The reason I'm happy (at Kentucky) is because I love my teammates, I love the coaches and the atmosphere at Kentucky is perfect."
While getting homesick in college is hardly unique to Walker, she quickly learned that in life, what seems ordinary to some can quickly become anything but that for others. The McDonald's All-American decided it was best for her to transfer closer to home midway through her freshman season.
Her destination was Lexington, Ky., just a 90-minute drive from home where she felt she was still far enough away to grow up on her own, but close enough to be able to stop by West Carrollton when she wanted. It also gave her family a chance to drive to all home games.
While Walker was happy with the decision, others were not. She was criticized in the media and her passion for the game was questioned by everyone from common fans to UConn head coach Geno Auriemma.
Looking at this, one might wonder, what's so wrong with wanting to move closer to home? While I'm by no means a psychologist, I will offer my own diagnosis of the issue: If someone is in love with something (in this case, UConn), and someone else isn't (in this case, Walker), the person in love is going to question the person who isn't. That's just how it is.
With the game just one day away, Walker said she isn't nervous about playing her former team and former coach, she's just nervous about playing with a berth to the Final Four on the line.
"If I wasn't nervous it would mean I didn't care," Walker said. "Coach talks about that a lot. If we're not nervous then we don't care."
UK head coach Matthew Mitchell has been familiar with Walker and her game for quite some time now. The Kentucky head man, who is in his fifth year leading the Wildcats, said he recruited Walker when she was a freshman and sophomore in high school. At that time, Mitchell said Walker was far from a finished product, but he saw a lot of athleticism, strength and potential.
"When she got to Kentucky, it was sort of the same things I saw in her as a young player," Mitchell said. "... I think she has a lot of potential that she has not yet realized yet. I think she's far from a finished product. The last two games have been better for her."
Walker tied the Kentucky NCAA Tournament record for rebounds in a game (13) in each of the Wildcats' opening two victories, and was just one rebound off that total Sunday night when she pulled down a dozen boards. In UK's three NCAA Tournament victories, Walker has averaged 13.0 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.0 steals.
Going into Tuesday's game, Mitchell said he wasn't sure that she would be playing with a certain chip on her shoulder, but he wouldn't be surprised if that were the case.
"I don't know exactly what she's thinking, but you would have to believe she's a kid that probably has a little extra pop to get something done," Mitchell said. "That's just human nature. I don't know that to be true, but I would just think that would be a reasonable expectation."
Seeing Walker handle all the questions on her transfer away from UConn leading up to the Elite Eight showdown, Mitchell said he was proud of the way she has handled it. One of Mitchell's 'three winning tools' is honesty. His message to Walker was to simply be honest and answer the questions.
"I'm real proud of the way she's been handling things," Mitchell said. "It's not the toughest situation that she could be in, and probably will be in, in her lifetime, but it's tough at this point in time. I think she'll play well (Tuesday)."
For Walker, despite being just 19 years of age, the decision to transfer offered her something more than an opportunity to be closer to her family. It gave her a chance to make a decision on her own - a decision she's very proud of.
"Sometimes it would make me frustrated and sometimes it was whatever kind of," said Walker about how she felt when she heard people talking about her decision to transfer. "I made my own decision. The decision was for me. Whatever people think, that's their business. Everybody has an opinion. What really mattered was what I felt, and now I'm happy."
Sounds like an answer from a young adult who has learned about life through college.
It can be hard to keep up with everything going on in the University of Kentucky's 22 varsity sports. With that in mind, we will highlight the best from around Kentucky sports each week. We'll recognize the best performances from Wildcat teams and players, we'll show you the coolest videos and photos that you may have missed and we'll mix in some new stuff along the way. Here are your award winners for this week:
Team of the Week: Men's basketball advances to Final Four
With an impressive 82-70 win over Baylor, the Kentucky men's basketball team has advanced to their second consecutive Final Four. Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led the way for UK with 19 points while Anthony Davis notched his 19th double-double of the season with an 18-point, 11-rebound performance. They are averaging a scorching 88 points per game in their first four games of the NCAA Tournament. Davis and Doron Lamb were announced to the NCAA Tournament South Regional All-Tournament Team, while Kidd-Gilchrist was named Most Outstanding Player of the South Regional. Kentucky advances to face in-state rival Louisville next Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET in New Orleans, La.
Honorable mention: Baseball takes two of three at Tennessee
The Kentucky baseball team dropped their its game of the season Friday night in Knoxville, Tenn., but came back Sunday to win both games of a double header, which included the completion of Saturday's weather-delayed game. UK took the first game 6-2 then shut out Tennessee 6-0 in series finale to win the three-game. Kentucky (24-1, 5-1) also defeated Cincinnati in a mid-week tilt on the road before their second conference series of the season. Monday, the Wildcats moved up in the Baseball America poll all the way up to No. 10, which marks just the second time in program history that they've appeared in the top 10 of the poll.
Player of the Week: Samarie Walker steps up on the big stage
The women's basketball team advanced to the Elite Eight Sunday evening, and they can thank Samarie Walker for much of that. With Kentucky shooting lights out from the perimeter in the Sweet 16 matchup with Gonzaga, Walker owned the paint. She scored 16 points and grabbed 12 boards for a double-double to propel UK into an Elite Eight battle with Connecticut, Walker's former team. Walker has been huge for the Wildcats throughout the tournament and is averaging 13 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2 steals through the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Game of the week: Softball completes Friday comeback
Down 4-0 through four innings on the road against No. 18 Auburn, the Wildcats appeared headed toward a fourth straight loss to open SEC play. They had other ideas. UK scored three runs in the fifth inning and one in the sixth to tie the game and send it to extra innings. With Chanda Bell pitching shutout inning after shutout inning, Alice O'Brien plated the first of four runs in the top of the eighth inning to lift the Cats to an 8-4 win. UK would go on to win on Saturday as well for just the fourth series victory over Auburn in school history.
Photo of the Week: UK Hoops celebrates Sweet 16 berth
Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics
Video of the Week: Fans great Final Four-bound Cats at airport
Alumnus/alumnae of the week: Jacob Tamme, Kelenna Azubuike sign pro contracts
It was a big week for a couple of former Wildcats on the professional level. Former Kentucky tight end Jacob Tamme will be reunited with his old quarterback in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning, after signing a three-year deal with the Denver Broncos. Tamme considered returning to Indianapolis, but felt that following Manning was a better opportunity. Tamme, 27, has appeared in 60 games in four seasons, with 14 starts. He has 92 receptions for 855 yards and five touchdowns, all with Indianapolis.
Former Wildcat basketball player Kelenna Azubuike is looking to make a comeback after a knee injury in the 2009-10 season. Azubuike signed a contract with the Dallas Mavericks last week for the remainder of the season, with an option for next year. He was immediately assigned to Dallas's D-League affiliate the Texas Legends to get him back up to speed and knock off some rust. In his career year in 2008-09, the 6-foot-5 swingman averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 rebounds in 74 games.
Men's basketball - Kentucky advanced to its second-straight Final Four on the heels of an 82-70 win over Baylor in the Elite Eight on Sunday. - Anthony Davis notched his 19th double-double on the season and fifth in the postseason. He finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while adding six blocks and two steals. - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led the Cats in scoring with a team-high 19 points. Doron Lamb (14) and Terrence Jones (12) also scored in double-figures with all of Lamb's points coming in the second half. Jones also added nine rebounds and a career-high six assists. - Kentucky is averaging 88.0 ppg in its four NCAA games. Women's basketball - The Wildcats earned their second trip to the Elite Eight in the last three years after hot shooting from beyond the arc vs. Gongaza. UK hit 12 3-pointers, most ever by UK in an NCAA Tournament game, including a season-high tying five treys from senior Keyla Snowden. - Snowden led UK with 17 points off the bench, while reserve forward Samarie Walker posted her second straight double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Junior All-America candidate A'dia Mathies and Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year Bria Goss followed with 15 and 10 points, respectively. - Connecticut native and sophomore guard Kastine Evans also was a huge factor on the boards as she grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds. - Their 28 wins tie the school record set in 2009-10 when the Cats also advanced to the Elite Eight. UK has now won 25-plus games for three consecutive seasons for the first time ever.
Baseball - The second-ranked Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week on the road with three wins, including a series win at Tennessee and a midweek win at Cincinnati. - The Wildcats will return to action on Tuesday with a midweek game vs. Western Kentucky at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium, before traveling to No. 17 Georgia for a three-game set, starting Friday at 7 p.m. ET at Foley Field. - Kentucky (24-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) is off to the best start to a season in program history with its 5-1 start to conference play its best since 1992, when UK opened 7-0. - The Wildcats had their record 22-game winning streak snapped on Friday night at UT, before responding to claim the final two games to win the series for the first time in Knoxville since the 2008 campaign.
Gymnastics - Behind an impressive performance on vault, where the Wildcats posted one of their highest team scores of the season with a 49.0, the UK gymnastics team finished in fifth place out of seven teams, tying the best finish in school history at the Southeastern Conference Championships. - Kentucky posted an overall team score of 194.350 at the event to defeat No. 10 Arkansas and No. 15 Auburn. The fifth-place finish for Kentucky ties the best finish in school history. UK finished tied for fifth out of seven teams in 2002, while its best finish at the event was fourth out of six teams in 1996. - UK ends the season with a Regional Qualifying Score of 195.49, which is the second-highest in school history. Kentucky earned the high RQS after its best three-meet sequence in school history, where it posted a 195.875 or higher in three consecutive meets.
Softball - UK earned a 3-1 week with a non-conference road victory at Western Kentucky before capturing its first SEC series of the season by taking two-of-three from No. 18 Auburn. - Senior pitcher Rachel Riley tossed two complete-game victories including the decisive series-clinching win over Auburn. The win over the Tigers marked the ninth career win over a top-25 ranked team for Riley and she also notched her sixth multi-hit game in the win. - Kentucky had a slew of terrific offensive performances over the weekend with senior Brittany Cervantes, junior Kara Dill, sophomores Ginny Carroll, Lauren Cumbess, Emily Gaines, Emily Jolly and Ellen Weaver all converting crucial at-bats into runs for the Wildcats.
Men's tennis - The seventh-ranked UK men's tennis team continued its unblemished mark in SEC action with two league wins over the weekend. Kentucky defeated No. 19 Auburn 4-0 before its 4-1 road win over No. 61 Alabama on Sunday. - UK has now won sixth consecutive matches to start SEC play, which is the Wildcats' best start in league action since the 1988 team went a school-best 8-0. Overall, UK has defeated 13 teams that are currently ranked in the ITA top 61, including five teams that are ranked in the top 25. In league play, the Wildcats have defeated No. 11 Florida, No. 19 Auburn, No. 26 LSU, No. 32 Arkansas, No. 40 South Carolina and No. 61 Alabama. - UK won doubles in both matches, moving its record to 12-0 when it wins the doubles point. Senior Alex Musialek led UK in singles, becoming the 14th player in school history to win 100 career singles matches.
Swimming and diving - The men's swimming and diving teams concluded their seasons at the 2012 NCAA Championships in Seattle, Wash., finishing in 21st, accumulating 35 points. The finish was the highest since the 2009-10 season. - Tyler Reed recorded fifth-place finish, swimming a school-record 42.60 in the 100-freestyle. Reed also swam a 1:34.96 in the 200-free, posting an 11th-place finish. - Greg Ferrucci finished in the top-15 in all three diving events, racking up an 11th-place finish in both the one and three-meter springboard, while finishing 15th on the tower.
Women's tennis - Women's tennis traveled to No. 64 Auburn and fell, 5-2. Junior Jessica Stiles and freshman Stephanie Fox excelled in singles play, defeating both of their opponents. Marni Venter and CeCe Witten also grabbed a doubles win for the Wildcats. - Kentucky hosted tough opponent No. 14 Alabama at the Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Complex on Sunday. Witten and Venter once again put on a strong performance in doubles, but could not grab the win. Fox provided fierce competition for Alex Clay at the No. 4 singles slot but narrowly fell, 7-6, 4-6, 1-0 (5). Ultimately, the Cats fell 7-0, to the Crimson Tide.
Men's golf - The men's golf team got off to a fantastic start Sunday in the first round of the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate, shooting a team score of 3-under-par 285, tying for the first round lead. - Kentucky was led by freshman David Snyder, junior Joseph Barr and sophomore Cody Martin, who each find themselves in the top 10. Snyder carded a 2-under-par 70 and is tied for second, while Barr and Martin each shot 1-under-par 71s and are tied for 10th.
Monday, March 26 Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C. )
Tuesday, March 27 Baseball hosts Western Kentucky - 6:30 p.m. Women's basketball vs. UConn - 7:00 p.m. (Kingston, R.I. ) Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C.)
Wednesday, March 28 Softball hosts Louisville - 6:00 p.m.
Thursday, March 29 Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)
Friday, March 30 Women's tennis hosts Georgia - 5:00 p.m. Men's tennis at Georgia - 5:00 p.m. Softball at Tennessee - 6:00 p.m. Baseball at Georgia - 7:00 p.m. Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)/Yellow Jacket Invitational (Atlanta)
Saturday, March 31 Softball at Tennessee - 2:00 p.m. Baseball at Georgia - 4:00 p.m. Men's basketball vs. Louisville - 6:09 p.m. (Kingston, R.I.) Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)/Yellow Jacket Invitational (Atlanta) Sunday, April 1 Women's tennis hosts Tennessee - Noon Men's tennis at Tennessee - 1:00 p.m. Softball at Tennessee - 1:30 p.m. Baseball at Georgia - 2:00 p.m. Women's basketball vs. TBD (Denver)
Overall Record: 24-1, 5-1 SEC Record Last Week: 3-1, 2-1 SEC
Recent Results Wednesday, March 21 - won at Cincinnati, 10-7 Friday, March 23 - lost at Tennessee, 1-4 Saturday, March 24 - won at Tennessee, 6-2 Sunday, March 25 - won at Tennessee, 6-0
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Tuesday, March 27 - vs. Western Kentucky * 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 30 - at No. 17 Georgia * 7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 31 - at No. 17 Georgia * 4:00 p.m. Sunday, April 1 - at No. 17 Georgia * 2:00 p.m. PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE J.T. Riddle 6-3 - So. - 2B - Frankfort, Ky. Week Stats: .294 (5-for-17), 2B, 3B, HR, 5 RBI, .647 SLG%, HBP, .333 OB%
Notes: Sophomore second baseman J.T. Riddle had a clutch week in helping No. 2 Kentucky to a midweek win at Cincinnati and a series victory at Tennessee ... Riddle's clutch hitting led UK to the series win over the Vols, UK's first in Knoxville since the 2008 season and helped the Wildcats improve to a nation-leading 24-1, including a 5-1 mark in SEC play ... After the Wildcats suffered their first loss of the year in the series opener on Friday night to snap a 22-game winning streak, Riddle's bat paced UK to the series-evening win in game two, batting 3-for-4 with three RBI, a homer and a triple ... In the series finale, a seven-inning game, the two teams were locked in a scoreless pitching duel in the top of the sixth when Riddle smacked a double off the wall in leftfield to score the go-ahead and game-winning run ... In a midweek win at UC, Riddle scored a pair of runs and added an RBI single ... In addition to his contributions at the plate, Riddle has played stellar defense at second base, with his instincts, range and arm strength helping the UK defensive unit rank second in the SEC in fielding ... On the year, Riddle has hit .318 (28-for-88), with five doubles, one triple, one homer and 18 RBI, with his 23 runs scored ranking eighth in the league. PITCHER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Alex Phillips 6-4 - Sr. - LHP - Tenino, Wash. Week Stats: 1-0, 1.42 ERA, 2 GP, 1 SV, 6.1 IP, 5 H, R, BB, 3 SO, .200 opp. avg.
Notes: Senior southpaw Alex Phillips had a pair of strong relief outings in helping the Wildcats extend their NCAA-leading 24-1 record with a series win at Tennessee and a midweek win at Cincinnati ... In game two of the series at UT, Phillips entered the game after a rain storm had halted play on Sunday, working the final 4.1 shutout innings to post a win to even that series ... In a midweek win at UC, Phillips entered when the steady UK bullpen was allowing six runs to make the contest tight ... Phillips immediately got UK out of any trouble to lock the save down with two innings and two strikeouts ... On the year, Phillips owns a 3-0 record and a 2.11 ERA in 10 relief outings, tossing 21.1 innings, allowing only 12 hits and five walks, striking out 19, with a .190 opposing batting average.
Notes: Right-hander Chandler Shepherd made his first career road start at Big East foe Cincinnati on Wednesday, posting his second career win ... Shepherd worked a career-long 5.2 innings, allowing five hits and two runs, striking out two ... Shepherd worked five shutout innings and came out for the sixth inning in an effort to extend his pitch count, with the Bearcats scoring two on a triple ... On the year, Shepherd has appeared in five games with four starts, posting a 2-0 record and a 3.15 ERA, in 20 innings, walking five and striking out 11.
TEAM NOTES The second-ranked Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week on the road with three wins, including a series win at Tennessee. The Wildcats will return to action on Tuesday with a midweek game at Western Kentucky at 6:30 p.m. ET, before traveling to No. 17 Georgia for a three-game set.
Kentucky (24-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) is off to the best start to a season in program history with its 5-1 start to conference play its best since 1992, when UK opened 7-0. The Wildcats had their record 22-game winning streak snapped on Friday night at UT, before responding to claim the final two games to win the series for the first time in Knoxville since the 2008 campaign.
The Wildcats have been paced by a league-leading .321 team batting average, leading the conference in on-base percentage, hits, runs, and hit batters. UK has fielded .980 as a club, second-best in the SEC, posting a 3.00 ERA on the mound in 222 innings with 220 strikeouts.
Individually, UK has been led offensively by freshman A.J. Reed, who leads the club with a .372 average, adding seven doubles, two homers and 29 RBI. Freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino has hit .356 with 10 doubles, one triple, two homers and 15 RBI, while catcher Luke Maile owns a .348 average with six doubles, six homers and 30 RBI. Outfielder Zac Zellers has a .338 average with six doubles, one triple and three homers, while Cameron Flynn has a .328 mark with four doubles, six homers and 19 RBI.
On the mound, UK's weekend rotation has been solid, including junior Taylor Rogers (4-1, 3.82 ERA), junior Jerad Grundy (3-0, 2.88 ERA) and sophomore Corey Littrell (3-0, 2.04 ERA). In the bullpen, right-hander Tim Peterson (2-0, 2.45 ERA) has appeared in a staff-best 12 games, with Trevor Gott (1-0, 1.86 ERA) leading the team with five saves and 16 strikeouts in 9.2 frames. Southpaw Alex Phillips (3-0, 2.11 ERA) has saved one game in 10 relief outings, allowing only 12 hits in 21.1 innings. Reed (4-0, 2.11 ERA) has also pitched 21.1 innings, with 20 strikeouts and five walks, with freshman southpaw Sam Mahar (0-0, 1.93 ERA) appearing in nine games.
UK defeated Baylor 82-70 on Sunday to advance to the schools second Final Four in as many seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Eric Lindsey contributed to this story
ATLANTA -- If you listened only to the questions asked of John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats after they defeated Baylor to advance to the Final Four, you would hardly have know they had played a game on Sunday afternoon.
"What is the State of Kentucky going to be like with UK and Louisville facing off?"
"How will last season's Final Four loss help you this time around?"
"Coach Cal, what's your relationship with Rick Pitino?"
Media and fans are already looking forward so much to what comes next that Darius Miller got a question about what it's like not to even have a day to savor the win that carried the Cats to a second straight Final Four.
Miller, though, didn't agree with the notion. Once the players and coaches were done with their postgame responsibilities, it was right back to celebration mode, at least for a while.
"We do get a day," Miller said. "We're definitely not worried about that right now. This feels good and we're all taking it in, especially the younger guys. We could care less at this point about who we play. When we start preparation, that's when we'll focus in on what we need to do."
Miller's sentiment was reflected in Calipari's comments to the team after the win.
"What I want you to do is relax and enjoy what you just did," Calipari told the team in the locker room, as captured by UK Sports Video. "Guys, we just put this team together six months ago and you're going to a Final Four. Thirty-six wins is the most wins ever at a program that's 100 years old and won all these national titles."
Before UK or U of L had even advanced past the Elite Eight, the hypothetical rematch between the two rivals was already being billed as the biggest game in the history of the Bluegrass. Calipari was asked about the rivalry (multiple times) in his postgame press conference and had his usual positive things to say about the program located under 70 miles down I-64, but he's not buying into the buildup for the game that's sure to consume the Commonwealth over the next six days.
"We're playing a basketball game," Calipari said. "Believe me, we will not change. The drama of the game will be on the staff, but I don't have many Kentucky players on my team. I'll tell them, 'Get off the message boards, don't worry about the Twitter and the Facebook. Don't buy into it.' "
Undoubtedly, the Cats don't want their season to end with a Final Four celebration, but their approach to pursuing the school's eighth national championship will be the same as their approach to this entire tournament: one game at a time.
"We got more business to take care of, but we're not playing a tournament," Calipari said. "We're going down there and we got to play a game. We're going down to New Orleans to play a basketball game. That's all we're doing."
Anatomy of a run
Following an 8-0 Baylor spurt, UK trailed 10-5 with 16:17 to go before halftime. The Bears seemed every bit the athletic, talented threat to the Wildcats that they had been billed to be. Coach Cal called a 30-second timeout to rally his troops.
UK rallied, and then some.
Sixteen unanswered points later, the Wildcats had their first double-digit advantage, and they would lead by at least eight the rest of the way.
"I believe I subbed one guy (Miller for Doron Lamb, and I just told them, 'We got to step on the gas here, guys,' " Calipari said. "I didn't want them to build much confidence."
It would have been hard for any UK opponent to have confidence after the blitz the Wildcats unleashed. Rather than breaking the run down with the written word and making you pick through a bunch of paragraphs to get a picture of its nuts and bolts, let's jump straight into the pertinent numbers:
Time elapsed: 3:40
16 points scored by five different players led by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's six
Five assists dished out on seven baskets
11 fast-break points and eight points in the paint
Terrence Jones' line: zero points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block
Zero Baylor points on 0-for-5 shooting
Three forced turnovers on three steals
Barnhart: Final Fours are precious
It took Kentucky nine years to get Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart to the Final Four. Now that his basketball team is making its second straight trip to the national semifinals, Barnhart is taking nothing for granted.
"I've been here 10 years and we've been to five Elite Eights," Barnhart said. "It's so hard to get to the Final Four. That's why last year was extremely special. You begin to realize how precious those opportunities are. You can't take them for granted. They put great teams in front of you every week. The difference in players and their talent levels is shrinking."
As the man in charge of Kentucky's athletic department, he'll feel the tension of the Kentucky-Louisville game as much as anyone. Echoing the sentiments of Coach Cal, Barnhart downplayed the significance of the two rivals facing one another in the Final Four.
"You play who they put in front of you, and Louisville's who they put in front of us," Barnhart said. "The purpose is still the same. That doesn't change your purpose. The purpose is still to win a national championship. That was the purpose when we started, and that hasn't changed."
UK best team Drew's seen
Baylor head coach Scott Drew knows what a national championship team looks like. After all, it was his team that lost to eventual national champion Duke in this very same round two years ago.
But Drew, who has two potential NBA lottery picks on his squad and has played the likes of Missouri and Kansas this season, doesn't know if he's ever seen a team as talented as this Kentucky group.
"This team's better than I thought," Drew said. "We haven't played a better team than them all year, and I don't know in the last couple of years. When we lost to Duke, Duke was a very good team, but this Kentucky team is better, in my opinion."
Davis sets SEC blocks record
One game after helping Kentucky set the NCAA single-season blocked shots record, Anthony Davis took another bite - or should we say swat? - out of history against Baylor.
Needing just two blocks to set the new Southeastern Conference single-blocked shots record, Davis swatted six shots on Sunday to break Jarvis Varnado's old record of 170. Davis, who played through most of the second half with a knee contusion, has 175 blocks on the season.
Kentucky's NCAA record is 326 blocks and counting.
Samarie Walker helped lead a balanced UK scoring attack in a 79-62 win over Gonzaga (UK Athletics, Britney McIntosh).
KINGSTON, R.I. - The Kentucky women's basketball team had scares in each of its first two NCAA Tournament games. For the most part Sunday night, the Wildcats had anything but scares, defeating Gonzaga 79-62 and advancing to their second Elite Eight in the last three years, and adding more history to an already historic season.
Kentucky shot the ball well from long distance, passed the ball around with purpose, played 10 players and got scoring from 10 players. Really, it was the complete opposite in many ways of what the Wildcats did in their opening two wins.
"I thought that was a fantastic performance from our team today," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "Our players really gave a lot of effort and we beat a very good Gonzaga team. I thought coming into the game they were one of the most well-coached and hardest playing teams that we have watched this year and have tried to get prepared for. I am just really happy that our players performed at the level today so we are proud to be moving on to the Elite Eight and that is a great credit to their effort today."
After turning the ball over a season-high 34 times against Green Bay and 20 times against McNeese State, UK gave the ball up just 14 times against Gonzaga. It turned the Bulldogs over just 10 times, but that's not what most concerns Mitchell. After outrebounding Gonzaga by 10, hitting 11 more 3-point field goals and attempting 13 more free throws, committing just four more turnovers seems awfully trivial.
What pushed UK to victory against Gonzaga Sunday night were the aforementioned 3-pointers and a balanced effort that displayed UK's team-first mentality. The Wildcats hit a dozen bombs from 3-point land, just two shy of the season- and program-record, and got at least two points from each of the 10 players who played, and at least two rebounds from eight of the 10 players who got minutes.
"We did a good job of knocking down open shots and creating shots off the dribble," UK junior guard A'dia Mathies said. "Just being aggressive - that really helped today. We did a good job of making layups and we were clicking on all cylinders."
Sophomore forward Samarie Walker continued her fantastic play in the NCAA Tournament, registering her second consecutive double-double with 16 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. Senior Keyla Snowden scored a team-high 17 points fueled by a season-high tying five 3-pointers. Mathies was clutch en route to a 15-point and career-high tying seven-assist performance. Sophomore guard Kastine Evans played taller than her 5-foot-8 frame with a career-high 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Bria Goss broke out of a recent shooting slump, draining a pair of 3-pointers - her first two 3s since Feb. 16.
Gonzaga pulled to within eight points with 9:03 remaining in the game following a 14-1 run. Facing a newly reenergized team with growing confidence, UK regrouped and went on a 15-4 run of its own to take a commanding 19-point lead with just over three minutes remaining.
"It wasn't like we had gotten passive or were back on our heels like in the Green Bay game," Mitchell said. "I kept telling them to hang in there and at some point if they just kept defending, a shot would go down. So I just tried to keep perspective and really had a lot of respect for Gonzaga so that probably helped me during that time. It was a tough run to absorb."
The win continues UK's magical season. Already winners of a program-record six games against top-10 ranked foes, Kentucky will look to make it seven Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN) when it faces top-seeded and No. 3 ranked Connecticut. The game will pit Walker against her former school, and give the Wildcats another opportunity for a marquee win in their program's ever-growing history.
"We are excited to be here and we know we can make history," Snowden said. "The game plan is going to be the same. It is all about what we do and bringing our energy and making sure we are focused on what UConn is going to bring to the game. We are ready."
Anthony Davis sustained a knee injury early in the second half, but returned just over a minute later. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ATLANTA - The hush that came over the Georgia Dome crowd said it all.
Anthony Davis, on a drive to the basket in the second half against Baylor, took a hard fall and immediately clutched his left knee in pain. All of a sudden, the electricity in the building with Kentucky seemingly on locked on cruise control toward a second consecutive Final Four was short-circuited.
"No!" Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said, recounting his immediate reaction.
Chris Simmons, UK's head athletic trainer, rushed to tend to Davis while his teammates and the scores of blue-clad fans in attendance looked on with bated breath. The NCAA Tournament's No. 1 overall seed suddenly seemed much less of an obvious favorite to win the national championship with the status of the national player of the year in the air.
Eventually, Davis got to his feet and limped over to the bench to receive medical attention for what was later diagnosed as a left knee contusion. The focus was anywhere but on the UK-Baylor game that resumed when Darius Miller took Davis' spot in the lineup. Thousands tried their hand in medicine when the replay was shown on the big screens throughout the stadium, and fans saw the same thing Davis' teammates did when he first went down.
"We saw him bump knees, so we knew he just knocked knees but we went over there just to make sure he was OK," Marquis Teague said. "He told us he was alright. His knee just stung a little."
Once the pain calmed down a bit, Davis didn't think twice about whether he would check back in.
"I just bumped knees with Perry Jones, and it started hurting real bad," Davis said. "But I knew my team needed me to play. I wasn't going to sit out, especially with a trip to the Final Four (on the line), and all of us want to go to the Final Four. So I knew I needed to come in the game and help my team out, so I decided to come in."
It was a good thing Davis was able to get back on the floor, because Baylor had begun making its run, capitalizing on the energy being seeped out of the Wildcats due to the injury.
"I was very happy for him and for us," Kidd-Gilchrist said.
After Davis went down with 18:38 left, Terrence Jones stepped to the free-throw line, draining a pair of free throws to lift UK's led to 46-24. In the 75 seconds with Davis on the bench, Baylor managed to trim the lead by just four points, but the tenor of the game had changed nonetheless.
With concern for Davis' health persisting as he appeared somewhat uncomfortable upon his return, Baylor made its run. When Brady Heslip hit a 3-pointer with just under nine minutes left, UK's margin was just 13 points. The Cats eventually settled in, reassured by the welcome and familiar sight of Davis swatting shots. Four of his six blocks - which brought his season total to 175, besting Jarvis Varnado's previous SEC record - came after his injury. UK's lead would balloon all the way back up to 19 points before some late missed free throws made the final 82-70.
Although Davis returned and played well - he finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds to earn a spot on the South Regional All-Tournament Team - the immediate question postgame was how his injury would affect him in the rematch with Louisville in the Final Four. Next Saturday's game, which will tip at 6:09 p.m. ET, is already being talked about as the biggest in the history of the Bluegrass, so Davis' comments about his availability for the game are reassuring.
"(I will) just go back and get treatment, make sure I can take care of it, ice it, get in the cold tub and stay with the trainer, because you get a lot of treatment, do a few sprints to get it going," Davis said. "But I'm not going to sit out."
John Calipari had no reason to think otherwise, and he reaffirmed that Davis will be getting around-the-clock attention.
"He popped up pretty good," Calipari said. "It may be dinged up a little bit, but he'll get treatment, believe me. He'll be having treatment on the plane."
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist earned South Regional Most Outstanding Player honors. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ATLANTA - It would have been easy for Kentucky to look past Baylor and ahead to a Final Four matchup with archrival Louisville. It would have been just as easy to fall victim to a Bears squad just as athletic and just as talented as the Wildcats.
But this group has more important things on its mind. Getting back to the Final Four for a second straight year and 15th time in program history means a lot, but the Cats are out for more this season.
"All that amount of work that we put in that whole year and we lost like that," said senior Darius Miller, referencing last year's loss to Connecticut in the Final Four. "(We) didn't end the season on a win. It really hurt us. We know how it feels to lose and we don't want to feel that way again."
Kentucky is set on winning its eighth national championship, and no potential traps like looking ahead to U of L or roadblocks like Baylor were going to get in the way on Sunday.
"I'm not satisfied yet," said Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who had a game-high 19 points.
In what was supposed to be a matchup of arguably the two most athletically gifted teams in the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky was the superior team in the South Regional finals. The Cats steamrolled third-seeded Baylor 72-60 in the Georgia Dome, setting up date with Louisville in the Final Four in New Orleans, a script that Hollywood's best writers couldn't come up with.
"I'm going to enjoy this," said John Calipari, immediately downplaying the matchup with the Cardinals. "I'm not worried about who we're playing. I'm just happy we're still playing."
Coach Cal's pretty happy with how they're playing as well.
After falling behind by five in the opening minutes, Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones orchestrated a staggering 16-0 Kentucky run to take control of Sunday's game. Outscoring Baylor 37-12 after the 10-5 deficit, the Cats took a 42-22 lead at halftime and hardly looked back.
Jones dished out a career-high six assists in the first half alone and finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Kidd-Gilchrist, with a much smaller defender on him, scored 17 points during the dominating first stanza, killing Baylor in transition and at the foul line.
"I saw the mismatch and I just took advantage of the opportunity," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I didn't think I would have that chance, but it was just there."
After a sluggish first two rounds in the tournament, the freshman forward from Somerdale, N.J., turned it on in Atlanta this weekend, scoring 43 points in wins over Baylor and Indiana. Now he's headed to his first career Final Four.
"It is a dream come true and for this whole team," said Kidd-Gilchrist, the South Region's Most Outstanding Player.
Kentucky was in a dreamlike groove in the first half. After missing eight of their first 11 shots, the Cats hit 11 straight field goals over a stretch of more than 10 minutes. When Miller finally missed a jumper with 4:32 left in the half, UK was already in front by 19 points.
Coach Cal was more proud of the defensive effort his team put together during that stretch. Outside of Quincy Acy, UK held the Bears' stars in check in the first half, limiting Baylor to 32.0 percent in the first 20 minutes.
"Really proud of these guys," Calipari said. "The first half was a great defensive performance and I told them after the game, I pulled back the reins a little bit trying to just get out of the gym, and (it was) probably a mistake."
Baylor cut into UK's lead when Anthony Davis, who has already raked in a handful of national player of the year awards, went down with a knee injury early in the second half. Driving to the basket, the freshman forward banged knees with Perry Jones III and laid on the court in pain for roughly a minute before being helped off the court.
As trainers rubbed his knee and Davis grimaced on the bench, the 24,035 blue-clad fans in the Georgia Dome fell silent. He returned to the game not even two minutes later, but he there was a noticeable limp in his run and he often grimaced in pain.
"Knee is doing fine," Davis said. "I just bumped knees with Perry Jones and it started hurting real bad, but I knew my team needed me to play. I wasn't going to sit out, especially with a trip to the Final Four (on the line). All of us want to go to the Final Four."
With his 19th career double of the season (18 points and 11 rebounds) and the Southeastern Conference single-season blocked shots record (he broke Jarvis Varnado's mark on Sunday), that's exactly where he's headed.
"It's a great feeling to be part of something special and go to the Final Four," Davis said. "It's everyone's college dream. For us to make it, it was great."
Baylor got as close as 10 in the final minutes as Davis struggled to gain full mobility, but Doron Lamb scored 14 points after halftime and UK hit 23-of-34 free throws in the second half to hold off any comeback attempt.
"I told them at halftime they're going to make a run," Calipari said. "You know they're going to make a run, and then we'll make a run, they'll make a run, we'll make a run and the game will be over. Just don't panic."
The Wildcats never did.
"This team hasn't been rattled all year," Coach Cal said. "We've had teams come at us and play absolutely out of their minds, but to do it for 40 minutes is a little tougher."
The trip back to New Orleans will mark Calipari's fourth Final Four visit. Sunday was also his 100th victory as UK's coach.
"It's all about our team," Calipari said.
Now, the only thing that stands in their way and the national championship game is their archrival Louisville. With the two teams facing off in the Final Four for the first time, the game will surely be the most hyped in the series' storied history.
Calipari urged fans after the game to not let the matchup become bigger than it is. He said he'll tell his players to get off Facebook and Twitter this week, and the preparation for his staff will not change.
"We're going back to New Orleans to play a basketball game," Calipari said. "Forget about this tournament. Let's just go be as good as we can be as a team. If that's not good enough, then the season ends there. But let's just worry about us, and that's what we're going to do. We won't change."
UK held a press conference on Saturday before Sunday's Elite Eight matchup with Baylor. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
March Madness is not the time for a college basketball team to be playing the blame game, but that was happening on the dais as Kentucky held a press conference ahead of an Elite Eight matchup with Baylor.
The stakes, though, weren't all that high.
The Wildcats weren't pointing fingers at each other for a bad turnover or questionable shot selection that put an end to their NCAA Tournament run. John Calipari had a bone to pick with Darius Miller for his choice of movie as the team headed to theaters Thursday night.
"Darius picks the movies," Calipari said. "It was '21 Jump Street.' "
Calipari wasn't so fond of the flick.
"The movie was awful," Calipari said. "But it did get us out. They may have thought it was funny. I'm thinking I'm a 53-year-old man sitting in this movie theater watching this movie theater right here."
Miller didn't agree with Coach Cal's assessment of the movie or that he had been the one to pick the movie in the first place.
"He said I picked it, but I didn't pick it," Miller said. "I let (Anthony Davis) pick this time. We liked the movie. We thought it was pretty funny. I actually had already seen it before so I thought it was a pretty funny movie. He blamed it on me, but I didn't really pick it."
It's team tradition for UK to catch a movie the evening before a late-night game on the road, which is what the Cats did before their Sweet 16 win over Indiana. However, there was an added benefit to getting out of their hotel (and away from the television).
"The added thing was they could also not watch the games," Calipari said.
Calipari is asking his team to focus solely on their next game. He doesn't want them watching too many other NCAA Tournament games. Based on early returns, it's hard to argue with the approach.
"We just don't really watch it," Miller said. "We do little things together, most of the team, whether it's going out to eat, going to see a movie or stuff like that. We try to focus on our next opponent and focus on the day we have at that point. We're just trying to have fun with it, take everything day by day." 'Team no sleep' indeed
The buzzer didn't sound on UK's win over Indiana until well after midnight on Saturday morning and the team didn't head back to the hotel until after 1 a.m. due to media responsibilities. Less than 12 hours later, players and coaches headed back to the Georgia Dome for more interviews and practice.
Add to it that Sunday's tip time was announced at 2:20 p.m. and the Cats will have barely 36 hours between games.
Upon arriving back at the hotel, Calipari and his staff got right to work on scouting Baylor.
"I got about three hours' sleep," Calipari said. "I broke down last night's game, and I've watched a couple tapes on Baylor."
Calipari admitted the quick turnaround will be a challenge, but it's not one he or his team is afraid of.
"It will be hard," Calipari said. "It's going to be hard on us. But Baylor has four or five hours sleep on us. That's what it is."
Quincy Miller faces team that recruited him
Quincy Miller, a freshman forward for Baylor, wasn't far from being a part of Coach Cal's latest top-ranked recruiting class. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year maintains a close relationship with Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and long thought he would suit up alongside them in college.
"We call each other brothers, and we have really good chemistry," Miller said. "I was planning on going to Kentucky with him and Gilchrist. We always talked about (going to Kentucky), but I ended up choosing Baylor."
Ultimately, Miller felt Baylor was the place for him.
"When I met Coach Scott Drew and the (Baylor) team, I just felt like I clicked with those guys from the start," Miller said. "I visited Kentucky about five times and I was close to committing to them, but I thought Baylor was a better fit."
Miller has started 34 games this season for the Bears, averaging 10.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. The 6-foot-9, 210-pounder has the kind of blend of size, skill and athleticism Calipari looks for in his recruits.
"I liked, again, his athleticism, his length," Calipari said. "What a great young man, too, just a wonderful person."
There aren't any lingering negative feeling on either Miller's or UK's part, but make no mistake, Miller wants to beat his friends.
"We respect each other, but we always talk smack to each other," Miller said. "I know the game is going to be a lot of fun."
Neon uniforms no more for Baylor
There was plenty of high level basketball played in the Georgia Dome on Thursday night, but the seemingly fluorescent "electric" yellow uniforms Baylor was wearing got as much attention as anything else.
"I only saw it on TV because I couldn't understand why everybody was coming in the arena wearing sunglasses on," Calipari said.
Baylor unveiled the uniforms first during the Big 12 Tournament but only got to wear them once. The Bears were forced to wear black uniforms with yellow trim since they were the lower-seeded team in the conference tourney, but they broke them back out of the closet for their first three NCAA Tournament games. With Kentucky being the top-seeded team, Baylor will once again wear black with yellow trim.
Superstition abounds in the NCAA Tournament, so some have wondered whether switching out of the yellow uniforms will hurt Baylor's chances. The Bears think not.
"There's no difference," Quincy Acy said. "It still has Baylor across the front, and we are still the same players. We don't like to believe in that superstition." Louisville claims first Final Four spot
Should Kentucky defeat Baylor on Sunday afternoon, the Bluegrass State figures to be on the brink of a meltdown all next week. A UK victory would set up a Final Four matchup with archrival Louisville, a team the Cats defeated 69-62 on New Year's Eve.
The Cardinals used a dramatic comeback to overcome a double-digit lead against seventh-seeded Florida. Former UK coach and current Louisville head man Rick Pitino will coach in the Final Four for the sixth time.
UK will face off against the long, athletic Baylor Bears on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ATLANTA -- Teams have done everything this season to try to trip up Kentucky's thoroughbreds.
They've thrown a zone at them, slowed down the pace and tried to get physical with them. All have been efforts to combat the considerable talent edge the Cats possessed.
But if there's one thing we've learned throughout Kentucky's 35-2 march, it's that its best competition has come from teams with comparable talent. North Carolina, Indiana and Vanderbilt gave the Cats the most fits because they had the horses to run with the Cats.
Baylor's Bears, talent wise, are just as mighty as those teams.
"This team is very talented, very athletic, very long," freshman forward Anthony Davis said. "It'll be a great matchup for us. It's going to be a battle of who wants it more."
Kentucky's desire to win has never been questioned this season, but there's little disputing that this group of Cats would win quite a few games on talent alone.
UK's frontline features the nation's leading shot blocker in Davis, a preseason All-American in Terrence Jones and a do-everything star in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The trio averages just over 6-foot-8 in height, and all are blessed with an ability to shoot and put the ball on the floor.
Few teams can match up with that, but Baylor can. With a frontcourt that features Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy, Baylor measures 6-11, 6-9 and 6-7, respectively, in the paint.
"Obviously, Acy is what he is," John Calipari said of the punishing forward. "And the other guys are all in that mold that I like, which are long. The longer the better, and that's what they are."
All three Baylor forwards are athletic, multi-dimensional threats like the Cats, and all three were highly regarded coming out of high school.
"We are basically all the same type of players in terms of athleticism," said Miller, a freshman who considered attending Kentucky. "I think that we are just as talented as Kentucky's team. They are a great team and we are a great team. We are not going down without a fight, and I am pretty sure that they aren't either. It is going to be a great game."
It will surely be one that just about every NBA general manager will have his eyes on. According to NBA Draft analyst Chad Ford, five players in Sunday's game are among the top 18 prospects for the 2012 draft.
That's led many to call Sunday's Elite Eight game UK's biggest challenge in terms of athleticism, length and talent since the North Carolina matchup in early December. Coach Cal didn't disagree with that assessment Saturday
"What I've seen on tape, pretty impressed, not only that they're talented but how they play," Calipari said. "They play hard. They play to their strengths. They attack."
It's hard to imagine a game played at a faster tempo than Friday's track meet between Kentucky and Indiana, but that's exactly what Sunday could have in store. Baylor scores just under 75 points per game and ranks 10th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com.
"That's how I like to play," UK freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. "That's when I'm at my best, when I'm in transition. I feel like that's when this team is at its best. Tomorrow we're going to try to push the ball like we would any other game and try to put a lot of points on the board."
Two potential X-factors are the backcourt and Baylor's zone.
While NBA scouts will surely drool over the frontcourt talent in Sunday's showdown, both teams feature backcourt generals who are playing as well as any point guard in the country. Teague is averaging 16.7 points and 6.0 assists in the NCAA Tournament, but he'll have his work cut out for him when he faces the speedy Pierre Jackson, who averages a team-high 13.6 points and 5.9 assists.
"Jackson is a water bug," Calipari said.
And then there's Brady Heslip at the two, a prolific 3-point shooter hitting 45.4 percent of his long-range attempts. His With Heslip, Baylor has five players averaging double figures. UK is the only team in the nation with six double-figure scorers.
"If you him an inch, he gets it all," Coach Cal said. "He had 27 against Colorado and I think he bounced the ball twice. I've never seen anything like it."
At times Baylor will employ a matchup-like zone to capitalize on its length. Coach Cal uses a much different style on defense with his team's length, often preferring to go with straight man-to-man defense, but Calipari said Baylor's "morphed" zone works.
"If you do get to the rim, there's going to be length there," Calipari said. "One of the things we do in our zone offense is we're throwing a lot of lobs, so that length has to be back, but that length is on the wings too now. So now all of a sudden you've got 6-9 and 6-8 on the wings, and that is a huge zone. It's created havoc for a lot of teams."
UK Hoops can advance to the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons with a win over Gonzaga on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
KINGSTON, R.I. - Walking out of the Kentucky women's basketball locker room at the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Ky., the Wildcats are greeted by a sign with the 2012 NCAA Final Four logo. Every time they go to practice or leave practice, it's there. It's also always on their collective mind.
On Sunday, the Wildcats will tip off against No. 11 seed Gonzaga (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) just two wins shy of reaching that goal and heading westward for Denver. The storylines seem to be everywhere for the Wildcats. They're coming off a game where they turned it over a season-high 34 times against Green Bay, a win Sunday could potentially pit sophomore forward Samarie Walker against her former school, Connecticut, and UK Hoops has never reached a Final Four in program history.
The one Kentucky seems to be most concerned about however, is Gonzaga itself.
"We know they are a very good team, obviously with them being here in this position," Walker said. "We have watched film on them a few times, and they are a very good team and somebody we are not going to overlook - just because they are the 11 seed doesn't mean anything."
Nor should it.
After all, this 11 seed is the same team that defeated No. 6 seed Rutgers by 13 points in the first round and No. 3 seed Miami (FL) by 11 points in the second round. Still, the storylines are present, and Kentucky has to address them.
The one perhaps most asked has been Kentucky's most recent win, a 65-62 blowout-turned-nail-bitter against seventh-seeded Green Bay in Ames, Iowa. Kentucky jumped on the Phoenix in the first half and went into the break with a 17-point advantage. With less than two minutes remaining in the game though, Green Bay was leading, thanks in part to that astounding turnover total.
Savvy play by senior guard Keyla Snowden in the final minutes pushed Kentucky on to the next round, but another 34-turnover performance could prove to be fatal.
"(Green Bay was) down 17, (we) completely sold out and it happens sometimes, you make a few bad plays and it goes downhill," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We did not go in and break down tape and dedicate a whole practice to not turning the ball over. It was more of the good play of Green Bay than any place we were really deficient. Sometimes we don't give our opponent enough credit."
And perhaps there's something to that - Green Bay was ranked two spots higher than the Cats, sitting at No. 10 in both The Associated Press and coaches polls.
Whether they turned it over a lot or just once doesn't seem to be of Mitchell's concern. What is, is that Kentucky is still playing and building a reputation as a power in the sport of women's basketball.
Just two short seasons ago Kentucky was in the midst of a run to the Elite Eight after being predicted in the preseason to finish 11th in the Southeastern Conference among the league's 12 teams. Now, the Cats are SEC champions and a two seed looking to advance to its second Elite Eight in the last three seasons.
"It means a lot (to be here)," junior guard A'dia Mathies said. "All of the hard work that we put in has brought us here for another year. Every game is precious and we are just trying to survive and advance. Just to be in the tournament and to be in the Sweet 16 where a lot of teams want to be is special. I am glad to be here, but we want to go even further."
Up first is Gonzaga, one of the top scoring teams in the country, ranking seventh in assist-turnover ratio, eighth in assists per game, ninth in scoring offense, 13th in field-goal percentage and 17th in scoring margin.
Led by star senior guard/forward Kayla Standish (16.1 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game), UK will have its hands full. Fortunately for Kentucky, the Wildcats faced one of the top players in the country last weekend in Julie Wotja, and held Green Bay's national player of the year candidate to 6-of-20 shooting and zero 3-pointers.
In doing that, Kentucky had to use a team effort, helping on defense and communicating throughout the game. Mitchell says if Kentucky is to advance to the regional finals, a similar performance will need to occur Sunday at the Ryan Center.
"That's a key component with us," Mitchell said. "If we have any chance here we are going to do it as a team. One person will not be able to win the game (Sunday). ... It's not about one person, it's about the collective effort. We are going to try and keep it going."
If so, the sign outside the team's locker room will be just one game away.
Anthony Davis had nine points and 12 rebounds to help UK advance to the Elite Eight for a matchup with Baylor. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.
Before any kid ever thinks about signing with his team at Kentucky, John Calipari has a few words of advice: If you can't handle the attention, if you can't deal with the pressures of a 24/7 basketball spotlight as well as the work ethic he demands of you, don't come to UK.
"This isn't for everyone," Calipari has said verbatim throughout his three seasons at Kentucky.
But for one individual on his team this year, that spotlight has taken on a life of its own. At a school where its basketball players are the city's Mount Rushmore, Anthony Davis has stood alone in his popularity.
He's the Brad Pitt of his sport, the Tiger Woods of college basketball. In terms of fame and recognition, the only player that comes close to his aura at Kentucky, at least recently, is John Wall.
Davis, speaking candidly and openly Friday before his team's matchup with Baylor in the Elite Eight, said he hasn't paid attention to the all the attention he's received this season.
"I try to block it out," Davis said. "A lot of coaches tell me don't worry about that stuff, just go out there and play the game. When you get caught up in all the hype and everything, that's when you start to lose focus, so I just try to tune it out."
But there's no been hiding from or shielding a spotlight that has focused so brightly on him since the moment he sprouted from 6-foot-3 to 6-10 in high school and decided to sign with Kentucky.
On a team full of superstars, Davis has become the face of the NCAA Tournament's No. 1 overall seed. His likeness, specifically his unibrow, has become the focus of T-shirt campaigns and fan obsessions.
Dominating the college basketball landscape with a nation-leading 169 blocks - he needs just two more to break Jarvis Varnado's single-season Southeastern Conference record - "Bow to Brow" has become the signature moniker of Davis' supremacy.
As comfortable in his own skin as he is in the paint, Davis said the references to his unibrow, both positively and negatively, haven't bothered him.
"I kind of embrace it," Davis said. "They're just showing support."
Sure, Wall had a drink named after him at a local tavern in Lexington, but Davis' prowess has become so legendary that the Wildcat mascot was altered midseason to feature and support Davis' brow.
A couple of months ago UK developed a poster of him that showcased his freakishly long 7-foot-4 wingspan. The inspiration was the iconic "Wings" poster featuring Michael Jordan, a childhood hero of Davis' and a fellow Chicago native. The poster was so popular that some of the fans who received the free poster at Rupp Arena tried selling it online before UK's compliance department shut down the operation.
"Kentucky fans are crazy," Davis said. "Wherever you go they're there. They really show us a lot of support, especially here. ... In big games, when we really need them, they're always there cheering us on. They never get mad at anything. You can lose a game and they still love you and say great game. They don't turn on you."
Davis, who has already won the Oscar Robertson Trophy and Adolph Rupp Award as the national player of the year, said he never imagined gaining the type of stardom he's achieved in his first season in college. After all, it was just two years ago that Davis was your run-of-the-mill shooting guard in Chicago with but one scholarship offer from Cleveland State.
"I didn't know I was going to have this much success," Davis said. "I thought I'd be alright at college, doing whatever I do to help my team win. But as far as the awards and successes rolling in, I didn't have no plans of being this successful in college. I'm grateful for it. I think about it all the time."
His teammates say the success hasn't changed him. Fellow freshman Marquis Teague called him one of the most humble guys he's ever met, and senior Darius Miller said he's taken it all in stride, just as Wall did two seasons ago when his charm led him to become the face of the next generation of NBA stars.
"He's still a humble person, a great teammate," Miller said. "He doesn't let any of that affect him. He doesn't pay any attention to any of it. I've never been in that position so I don't know how hard it is to deal with it, but he does a great job from what I see."
Sophomore Terrence Jones said the players' genuine admiration and respect for each other hasn't allowed for anyone's head to get too big. Jones said Davis is still just another one of the guys who likes to do "normal stuff" and joke "about everything."
"It makes it easier being on this team with a lot of guys that respect you and like you," Jones said.
Davis' humbleness and gratitude are obvious in his demeanor on and off the court. In the games, he almost never trash talks his opponents. With the media, he's become as savvy and as cooperative as a 10-year NBA veteran. In his spare time, Davis said he's just a "laidback guy" who likes to draw anything and everything in his spare time.
"Whatever pops into my head," Davis said. "I draw a lot of cartoons. Stuff I see on TV. I might pull up a picture on Google sometimes. People always asking me to draw tattoos for them."
Because the team cares too much about winning, Jones said, jealousy isn't an issue with Davis' fame.
"We just like each other too much for any of that," Jones said. "We're proud of each other's success. We're happy for another. That should be every team."
The reality of it, though, is most guys would die to have half the attention and admiration Davis has garnered this season. Davis credited his teammates with keeping him level headed.
"My teammates do a great job of supporting me," Davis said. "They support each other and everyone else. I think that's what kind of makes us unique. No one is jealous of another person. I think it's very rare."
Coach Cal has long called it a difficult job to take the best players in the country and get them to play together, so consider it satisfying to him when he hears his players describe the "brother's keeper" characteristics that he's preached since his first day on the job.
"The season's a long season, and these guys have figured out that if I sacrifice for my teammate, if I care about my team more than myself, it seems like I benefit the most," Calipari said. "I think that's every guy here."
Sure, Davis is the face of the most recognizable program in college basketball, but six players average in double figures on a team that's one game away from its second straight Final Four.
"They like each other," Coach Cal said. "They respect each other. They cheer for each other. And I really I really believe they want individuals to play well. They want our team to play well, but they want each other to play well."
Darius Miller has scored 19 points in back-to-back NCAA Tournament game. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ATLANTA -- Terrence Jones didn't even hesitate; he knew who his go-to guy was from the second he set foot on campus in the summer of 2010.
A stranger in a strange land, Jones was more than 2,000 miles away from his native Portland, Ore., when he arrived at Kentucky. To help ease his transition, he turned to Darius Miller, a junior who had grown up just 65 miles away in nearby Maysville, Ky.
"When I first got here my freshman year, he had a car, he was from Kentucky, that was my first dude I went to," Jones said. " 'What do I do here? Everybody's coming up to me knowing who I am. I don't know where to get food. I don't have a car.' "
Miller wouldn't let him down, and nearly two years later, he still hasn't.
"He took care of me," Jones said. "He showed me where to go and took care of me on the court. He had been through a tournament before and I really went to him for experience. He's my roommate now so we go through everything together and talk about everything. He's my big brother."
On a team featuring two sophomores, four freshmen and Miller, now a senior, in its seven-man rotation, "big brother" has become the most popular way to describe the guard who has a chance to set UK's all-time games played record should the Wildcats advance to the national championship game.
"He's been our leader from day one," freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. "Anytime we need anything, we can go to him. He showed us around when we first got to campus, told us when to be at open gym. He's like everybody's big brother. He's our senior leader."
It's a credit to both Miller and his teammates that he's thrived in that leadership role in spite of coming off the bench in all but 11 games this season. Even though the 6-foot-8 guard had started 71 games over his first three seasons, he didn't bat an eye when it became clear his role in his senior swansong would be as UK's sixth man.
"I didn't really have a problem with it," Miller said. "I knew we had a very talented team. I knew I was still going to have my opportunities to help the team out so I didn't have a problem with it and these other guys deserved to start. They're very talented and work extremely hard just the way that I do. I don't have a problem with coming off the bench at all."
Miller, who has been nearly universally praised by opposing coaches this season, has undertaken the challenge of playing on the second team almost every day in practice. He regularly takes on the Wildcat starters, all of whom are expected to play in the NBA.
"It's a lot of fun," Miller said. "I get to see what all these other teams see, especially trying to score against Anthony (Davis), (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and Terrence and people like that. It's a lot of fun. It's definitely made me better as a player going up against them every day."
That starting frontcourt has been responsible for 266 of UK's NCAA record 317 blocks, so if Miller can put the ball in the basket against them, why shouldn't he be able to do the same against anybody else?
"It makes him more aggressive and it gives him a challenge," Jones said. "He's scoring on us, which is real hard to do, when he's the only other guy on that team that plays a lot. He gets to go at us and try to score for them and he's done a good job."
Although Miller went on to win Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year honors, the season hasn't been without the occasional bump in the road. He's had four separate stretches of at least three games in which he failed to score double figures, most recently in UK's final game of the regular season and first two of the SEC Tournament. In those two games in New Orleans, Miller didn't even score a point. In his previous 69 games, Miller had been held scoreless just once.
Considering how crucial Miller had been to UK's Final Four run in 2010-11, his struggles were troubling.
To shake out of his slump, Miller relied on the help of Kidd-Gilchrist, the freshman he most often goes up against one-on-one in practice. Kidd-Gilchrist volunteered his starting spot for the SEC final vs. Vanderbilt, and Miller responded with 16 points.
"That meant a lot to me, just to see the support that he had for me and the support Coach Cal had for me in making the decision to start me," Miller said.
Since then, Miller has looked a different player, averaging 15 points over four games, including 19 in wins over Iowa State and Indiana to carry UK to a third Elite Eight in as many seasons.
"When you look at him, you say he's as good as anybody we have: performance, what he's doing, the numbers," Calipari said. "And he is, the way he's playing."
Indiana head coach Tom Crean agreed without hesitation. The best way he could think to prove how talented of a team Kentucky is in the wake of the Hoosiers' 102-90 defeat at the hands of the Wildcats was to cite the player who doesn't start.
"They're a really good team," Crean said "They've got a lot of guys. They've got a guy coming off the bench that's going to be a first-round draft pick in Darius Miller."
Miller was vital to the UK effort in advancing to the Elite Eight, but he could be even more important as the Wildcats look to take the next step against No. 3 seed Baylor on Sunday at 2:20 p.m. Coach Cal guessed the Bears would play a significant amount of zone in the South Regional final, which means it could be Miller time once more.
With his outside shooting and ability to find seams, Miller has arguably been the Cats' most effective option in attacking zone defenses.
"He knows how to get open with getting places where he can knock down shots," Teague said. "He shoots it so well from outside that they got to watch him and (that opens) up the middle for Michael to get in the middle and make plays in the lane. If they don't guard him, he's going to hit the shot every single time. He'll put them on his hip and shoot a one-dribble pull-up and knock that in. He just opens the zone up for us."
Miller stopped short of saying he will bring a different mentality to the game knowing UK will see a significant amount of zone. He's going to wait and look for his spots. If he sees them, he'll pounce.
"It's just a heat of the moment thing, just trying to get into gaps and things like that," Miller said. "It really helps when you have shooters like Doron (Lamb), you have Kyle (Wiltjer) and everybody who's knocking down shots because that opens up the zone. It's really just a heat of the moment thing."
Over the past two seasons, the "heat of the moment" in postseason play has called on Miller to step up more often than not. With his last chance at cutting down the nets in the offing, he's ready.
"This is my last go round," Miller said. "I'm trying to do whatever I can to keep the team alive."
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds against Indiana. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ATLANTA -- The circumstances were eerily similar and, in fact, even a little bit worse than the last time.
Less than six minutes into Kentucky's Elite Eight rematch with Indiana, Anthony Davis picked up his second foul, relegating him to the bench for the balance of the half a full six minutes of game time before the same happened in Bloomington, Ind.
Just as in that first matchup, the dynamic and opportunistic Hoosiers took advantage of Davis being tethered to the bench in foul trouble, scoring more first-half points than any UK opponent this season.
"It was kind of hard I think (with Davis on the bench)," Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I think it was kind of hard for us on defense and offense."
Kidd-Gilchrist can sell the situation being difficult on defense. Offensively, not so much.
The Wildcats exploded for 50 first-half points with Davis only playing six minutes, and wouldn't slow down, literally or figuratively, after halftime. For just the second time this season, UK topped the century mark in an electrifying 102-90 victory over Indiana that brought John Calipari's team to within one win of a second straight Final Four. UK will look to secure that berth in a matchup at 2:20 p.m. on Sunday with third-seeded Baylor.
With Davis patrolling the paint, the Wildcats have developed a reputation as a defensive juggernaut. The title is hard earned - UK set a single-season NCAA record for blocks on Saturday - but lost in their shot-swatting prowess has been Kentucky's coldly efficient offense.
Overlooking UK's offensive arsenal is going to be quite a bit more difficult after the way it laid waste to the Hoosiers.
The Wildcats have been in the top five nationally in defensive efficiency all season, but their effort against Indiana was extraordinary even with their lofty standards. UK scored an average of 1.40 points on 73 possessions, a full 0.22 points per possession better than their season average, which ranks second nationally.
It was their third-best effort of the season in that department. Only outings against South Carolina and Marist were better, but those teams are not nearly the caliber of an Indiana squad that went punch for punch with UK for the better part of this Sweet 16 rematch.
There really wasn't an area in which UK didn't excel either.
The Wildcats shot 31 for 64 (48.1 percent) from the field, converting on 5-of-10 (50 percent) 3-point attempts. Continuing an NCAA Tournament trend, Kentucky ran with reckless abandon, scoring 18 points on fast breaks with Marquis Teague (14 points, seven assists and two turnovers) calmly running the show.
When UK did miss, Kidd-Gilchrist was there to indefatigably chase down offensive rebounds. Six of his 10 rebounds came on the offensive glass as he helped the Wildcats score 19 second-chance points on 15 offensive boards.
"That's my bread and butter, I think," Kidd-Gilchrist said.
Kidd-Gilchrist had scored just 11 points in his first two NCAA Tournament games, but he returned to the form that has come to be expected of him in big games.
"I was in a slump for a long time, I think. It was just confidence I think. It was just building it," Kidd-Gilchrist said.
With UK halfway to the six wins it will take to bring home the school's eighth national championship, Kidd-Gilchrist's reemergence couldn't come at a better time.
Nor could the Wildcats' steady hands at the free-throw line.
Astoundingly, UK converted 35-of-37 (94.6 percent) attempts at the charity stripe, delivering the knockout blow missing in the regular-season game with the Hoosiers. Kentucky made its last 17 attempts as Indiana made a last-ditch comeback effort.
If not for that free-throw shooting and overall offensive effectiveness, UK likely would not have prolonged its season.
"If you told me the team we're playing today, Indiana, was going to score 90 points and shoot 52 percent from the floor, I was going to have to tell you, 'Wow, it's been a nice season,' " Calipari said.
No team this season has played offense against UK the way the Hoosiers did on Friday night (and early Saturday morning). The 1.23 points per possession Indiana tallied were the most of any UK opponent this season.
"Now, part of it was Anthony was out," Calipari said. "The other part was we were just getting broken down. We were playing pick-and-roll defense so poorly that they were getting whatever they wanted."
Christian Watford scored 27 points to help combat Cody Zeller's first-half foul trouble, while the IU star big man still managed to total 20 points, 12 of which came after halftime.
Having just won a game that will likely be remembered as among the best played of this tournament, Coach Cal could be accused of nit picking. He certainly enjoyed coaching in and up-and-down affair, but he still is thinking about inspiring his team to greater heights, even as the season ticks down to its inevitable conclusion.
"My job is to get them to chase perfection," Calipari said. "I don't know if we're ever going to reach it, but how well can we play."
In spite of first-half foul trouble, Anthony Davis finished with nine point, 12 rebounds and three blocks. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.
ATLANTA -- After exerting so much energy in a thrilling, up-tempo 102-90 victory over Indiana on Friday night at the Georgia Dome, one might think the Kentucky Wildcats are running a little low on gas.
Calipari squashed those concerns in the immediate aftermath of his team's win.
"When you're playing at this time of the year, you've got more energy than you need," Calipari said. "This team is in great shape. They've been in great shape. We got a bad rotation because Anthony (Davis) got in foul trouble, but if he didn't we'd have had guys playing about 32 minutes a game, which is about what they need to be playing."
Ironically, Calipari's comments were said around 1:30 a.m., about 12 hours before UK has to be back at the arena for media responsibilities for the Baylor game.
A record's a record
Kentucky broke Connecticut's NCAA single-season blocked shots record Friday night surpassing the Huskies' mark of 315 set in 2003-04.
Go figure the Cats did it on a night they tied their season low with four blocked shots.
With Davis saddled with first-half foul trouble, the nation's leading shot blocker was limited to three swats. Nonetheless, he's now just two blocks shy of breaking Jarvis Varnado's single-season Southeastern Conference record of 170 blocks.
Cats hold IU 3-point shooting at bay
Another talented 3-point shooting team for the Wildcats, another cold night from behind the arc for their opponent.
Entering Friday night's affair as the nation's second-best 3-point percentage, the Hoosiers were limited to 5 of 18 from behind the arc despite an otherwise fantastic shooting performance.
Like they did against Florida, Vanderbilt and Iowa State, the Cats forced Indiana's 3-point shooters to drive the ball into the heart of their defense. But, with Davis battling foul trouble, UK didn't experience the same type of defensive success at the rim.
Indiana shot 52.3 percent for the game because of its 60.8 2-point percentage.
"Normally we're holding people to 56, 55, 59," Calipari said. "They scored 90. They had more layups in the first half than we have had scored on us for the year."
Trading 3s for 2s, however, seemed to pay off. Indiana hit nine 3-pointers and won in the first meeting. The Hoosiers hit just five this time and were sent home for the season. Cal happy for his friend
Winning at your friend's expense is never fun, but both Coach Cal and Tom Crean knew someone would have to be at the wrong end of the straw for their teams' matchup in the Sweet 16.
After ending his friend's season in the Georgia Dome, Calipari expressed happiness for the turnaround job Crean has done in Bloomington.
"What he's done there, where it came from - you think about it," Calipari said. "They lost 25 games their first year. He had a lot of people griping, 'Hey, you've got to build the foundation,' and he did it. ... The only thing that's going to happen with Indiana, it's going to get better and better and better." Davis puts foul trouble behind him
Davis hadn't been in serious foul trouble since the last time UK played Indiana. Lo and behold he found himself in foul trouble in the first half Friday against the Hoosiers yet again.
Asked afterwards how he blocks out Friday's foul trouble, he said he's already moved on.
"It's game over," Davis said. "Can't worry about it now. Just go out and get ready for Sunday's game. Just play the way we normally play. Can't worry about the past."
UK advanced to the Elite Eight with a thrilling 102-90 win over Indiana. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.
ATLANTA - How's that for a rematch?
Even if a second chance at Indiana wasn't about revenge, these Kentucky
Wildcats may have never tasted a victory so sweet. Advancing past the
Sweet 16 and into the Elite Eight for the third straight season under
John Calipari, UK settled the score with the Hoosiers on Friday night at
the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Overcoming first-half foul trouble with a breakneck fast-paced game,
Kentucky ran with the Hoosiers early and powered past them late in a
102-90 victory in one of the most thrilling games of the 2012 NCAA
With both teams set on running and taking it to the hoop, UK and Indiana
combined for 36 fast-break points and 96 points in the paint. Kentucky
scored 18 of those transition points and 44 in the paint, just enough to
get past the highest scoring effort an opponent has posted on UK this
"It was a war," Calipari said.
That was reflected at the foul line.
As the Wildcats and Hoosiers focused on attacking the rim, officials blew their whistles early and often. The teams combined for 45 fouls and 54 foul shots,
but the Cats capitalized the most by hitting 35-of-37 free throws.
"That's the game," Indiana head coach Tom Crean said.
The 35 makes was easily a season high and the 94.6 percentage was second
only to an 11-for-11 effort against Florida. According to stat guru Ken
Pomeroy, the 35-for-37 night a the foul line was the most free throws
attempted while missing two or fewer in any Division I college
basketball game this season.
Who said Coach Cal's teams couldn't shoot free throws?
"It's a lot easier when they go up and make free throws, I'll tell you that," Calipari said.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led the free-throw charge, one of four Wildcats
with a perfect night at the line. The freshman forward hit all 10 of his
foul shots as he took the ball to the hoop with reckless abandon and
converted on numerous second-chance opportunities.
"One of the things I was on Michael about is I want him to offensive
rebound," Calipari said. "You have no responsibility back, go get the
ball. And he did that today."
Six of Kidd-Gilchrist's 10 rebounds were on the offensive end as he
finished with his seventh-career double-double. It was an encouraging
sign for Kentucky's most passionate player, the only one of UK's six top
players who struggled in the first two NCAA Tournament games.
"We're winding it down and he's stepping it up," Calipari said.
Crean chose an interesting strategy with Kidd-Gilchrist and didn't guard
him on the perimeter. The freshman forward noticed and said it fired
"When you get opportunities, pick your balls, take your shots," Calipari
told Kidd-Gilchrist. "Michael Gilchrist, you're our energy guy. Go
after every offensive rebound. Fly up the court in transition."
Kidd-Gilchrist led five scorers in double figures as Kentucky scored its
most points since the season opener against Marist. Doron Lamb scored
21, Darius Miller had 19, Marquis Teague totaled 14 (plus seven assist)
and Terrence Jones added 12.
The balanced effort was more than enough to help the Cats overcome
Anthony Davis' foul trouble. The nation's leading shot blocker and Oscar
Robertson Trophy winner (national player of the year) was limited to
six first-half minutes with two fouls.
Hesitant to pick up a third, he was slow to start the second half, but
the 6-foot-10 forward still managed to finish with nine points, 12
rebounds and three blocks.
"By the second the second half my teammates told me, 'You're fine, just
come out and play your game. We need you to steal, block shots, rebound
and score the ball,' " Davis said. "That's what I did in the second
The tempo of Friday night's game was obvious from the start. With 24,731
Kentucky and Indiana fans buzzing from the opening tip, UK stormed to a
16-11 lead by the first media timeout.
Even when Davis picked up his second foul at the 14:05 mark and three of
Indiana's top players (Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls)
picked up two fouls, the two teams hardly missed an offensive beat.
The Hoosiers shot 58.1 percent in the first half while getting 17 points
from Christian Watford. It had nothing to do with lack of defensive
intensity, Miller said.
"That was them," Miller said. "They were knocking down shots. They were
being really aggressive and getting to the rim. We just had trouble
guarding them tonight."
Indiana had the same defensive problems. Despite a magnificent offensive
half from the Hoosiers in the first 20 minutes, Kentucky kept the ship
afloat without Davis and led 50-47 at halftime.
"I love coaching those kinds of games," Calipari said. "I can't stand a
game in the 50s. Can't stand coaching it; can't stand watching it."
Calipari's team was well into the 70s with more than 10 minutes left
when it took its first double-digit lead of the game, a 74-64 advantage.
"We like being playing fast-paced games just because we like being on
the attack and we like when Marquis pushes it," Jones said. "We're
playing our best basketball just because we have so many options, and
he's such a good ball handler and he controls the tempo and he just gets
us in everything we need to get to."
Kentucky would stretch its lead to as many 13 before weathering a couple
of mini flurries by the Hoosiers down the stretch. Ultimately, unlike
the final minute of the game in Bloomington, Ind., the Cats were too
good and too calm at the line to let the Hoosiers knock them off again.
"The game was a very intense game," Miller said. "It was up and down for
the most part. I felt like both teams did a great job of executing what
they were trying to do. ... It was a fun game to be a part of the way
both teams played."
Donte Rumph is hoping for a breakout junior season after starting seven games in 2011. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Donte Rumph pretended to be Warren Sapp during his days in youth football. Sapp, one of the all-time greats at his position, was a 6-foot-2 defensive tackle that starred with the Tampa Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders. He played at around 300 pounds for most of his career and was a durable defensive lineman, lasting 13 seasons in the NFL.
Rumph, a junior at the University of Kentucky going into just his second season as a starter, is a bit taller than Sapp at 6-foot-3, but has been playing at a weight of 315 pounds. That extra weight is something that has kept him off the field more than his coaches would like due to his tremendous skill and upside.
Now, after two seasons at Kentucky, Rumph has made a bit of a transformation and is much closer to the shape of the man he idolized as a kid. He has shed some weight, and is all the way down to 303 pounds. Kentucky head football coach Joker Phillips said Rumph is in "the best shape I've ever seen the big fella in."
Rumph knows it was essential to get into better football shape for the upcoming season.
"It was very important," said Rumph. "You know, I want to be in a comfortable playing weight. The help of (strength and conditioning) Coach Rock (Oliver) making sure every chance I got to do something extra, I took it. So, he's been a great help to get me in the condition I am."
Starting at defensive tackle for seven games in 2011, Rumph made 31 tackles including a career-high of six in a loss against LSU. But at the position, he took several plays off due to the pace of the game and being too winded to play multiple snaps in a row. Defensive line coach David Turner says that though Rumph has had some success in this league, he is still a work in progress.
"Yeah, I think so," said Turner on Rumph being in the best shape since his time at UK. "But it's not as good of shape as we need him to be in."
For Rumph, Turner says it is all about determination and wanting to be the best player he can be.
"Well hopefully it's a matter of playing the best he can play," said Turner. "I kinda of alluded to that when I said your career is half over. You've played two years; you've got two to go. How do you want to be remembered?
"He's an older guy that's played. He's played well at times in this league. He's got to take more ownership in this thing and it's got to be important to him to be in the best possible shape that he can be in to play the best way he can play."
It seems Rumph has received the message. When the team returned from spring break, he impressed his head coach and looked like the type of player they want him to be.
"You worry when he went away for a week and came back after spring break," said Phillips at his press conference on Tuesday. "We've all been on spring break before. But watching the (Rumph) come back, took the plan that Coach Oliver and his staff gave him during the break, came back, and I was really pleased with the way the guy ran. He ran really well all winter, but then watching him come back (Monday) and run up and down the field, not a guy that's leaning over, looks like he's about to take his last breath anymore. Running, standing up, breathing the right way, looking like he could play the next play. Before it hasn't been that way."
Not only have the coaches been pushing him to reach a better level of fitness, but Rumph is now pushing himself. He know that in order to get where everyone wants him to be, he has to want it himself and put in the extra work to get him to that point.
"Mainly preparing mentally," said Rumph of his off-season preparation. "Running is just mental. Doing some extra cardio work with Coach Rock. He's been really great. After every workout, I'll be in the cardio room doing something extra. If not 30, 15 minutes, just to be doing something extra."
That work ethic and sense of ownership is something that may help him grow into an enhanced role. With only five starters returning on the defensive side of the ball, Rumph may be thrust into a leadership role to fill the void left by Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, among others.
Rumph knows that it is his time to help lead and create a cohesive unit.
"Somebody has to step up," said Rumph. "Being a veteran in the game, you know, I try to take over the roles they left for us, and try to help the young guys, try to push them along, so we can all play together as one."
His coaches believe Rumph has an opportunity to do great things at Kentucky and that 2012 could be a huge one. This year, his coaches have already noticed the changes. A more physically fit Rump and a full year in the defense makes things easier for everyone.
"Well aside from the fact that he's moving around better," said Turner, "I think now, being in the defense a second year, he's picked up things a whole lot easier. It's easier on everybody. It's easier on me. I'm not learning everything new. It's easier on the guys. And now instead of everyone trying to learn what to do. We can do it."
"It's a lot easier," said Rumph. "Less stressful. I'm more comfortable and I can feel more things, instead of just thinking. I can react more instead of just thinking about it."
With a new physique, improved fitness and a better overall understanding of the defense, it is reasonable to think big things are on the horizon for the "big fella." And while he may not be Warren Sapp just yet, a determined Rumph has a chance to be one of the all-time greats to play the position while wearing the Blue and White.
Terrence Jones recently joined an exclusive club, becoming only the fifth player to join UK's 1,000-point club in only two seasons. Going into the Indiana game on Friday night, he ranks 55th all-time.
The others are Bill Spivey (38th), Rex Chapman (50th), Bob Burrow (56th) and Ron Mercer (57th).
And Doron Lamb can become the sixth two-year player to notch that achievement. He needs 49 points to do it. Indiana connections
With Kentucky facing the Hoosiers tonight, it's worth noting that the 1,000-point club includes three former Indiana high school stars: Louie Dampier, Kyle Macy and Jim Master.
While Marquis Teague stay at UK long enough to become the fourth?
There is another interesting Hoosier state angle for tonight's matchup.
Kentucky's record against Indiana in NCAA Tournament play is 2-1 and both wins featured an Indiana native in the starting lineup (Mike Flynn in 1975 and Master in 1983).
Strickland compares Davis to NBA MVP
There are many qualities about Anthony Davis that draw praise, but there's one comparison to one of John Calipari's all-time best proteges: Derrick Rose.
"He (Davis) reminds me of Derrick Rose in his temperament," said Rod Strickland, a special assistant to Coach Cal, on the coach's weekly UK-IMG Network radio show last Monday. "I've never seen either one of them get flustered."
Cats need to negate physical play now more than ever
"That doesn't guarantee success, but it gives you your best opportunity."
That's what coach Calipari says about a team "peaking" at tournament time. Calipari says his strategy for having his team at its best involves both physical and mental components.
"Let's have fresh minds and fresh legs. Let's not overwhelm them with tape, let's not overwhelm them with practice. Let's get them together so they're family and get them to rely on each other. Right now, it's March and we're playing pretty well," said Calipari.
He notes that the message in recent weeks has been for his players to focus on playing "harder, faster, sharper." And Calipari says they must understand that every opponent is in a do-or-die mode.
"Teams are going to play desperate. The season's over (if they lose). Yes, we're everybody's Super Bowl (during the season) but they also know they have more games left if they don't win--so sometimes they'll give up on a game with a couple of minutes to go. No one will now," Calipari explained. "They're going to play physically because their life depends on it. You have to negate physical play."
Road success no guarantee in tourney
Success in true road games is one stat some pundits will cite at March Madness time, in an effort to identify teams that will do well. But CBS college basketball writer Gary Parrish says it is overrated.
"Last year's Final Four teams, all of them combined, had a losing record in road games. Yes, winning on the road, says something about a team," Parrish said, "but just because you can't win on the road doesn't mean you can't win in the NCAA Tournament."
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.
Eric Lindsey contributed to this story
ATLANTA - In the first matchup at Assembly Hall, Indiana succeeded in doing something that only a couple of teams have done this season.
Yes, they handed Kentucky its only regular-season loss, but they were also one of the few teams to force Anthony Davis into foul trouble. Perhaps it's no coincidence the two happened in the same game.
With Davis battling the whistle for most of the afternoon, Indiana was able to pull in front of the Wildcats and ultimately defeat them on a Christian Watford buzzer beater. Coupled with Terrence Jones, to use John Calipari's words, giving UK "zero" that day, some have said that Indiana beat a Kentucky team that wasn't at full strength.
Whatever the case may be, IU head coach Tom Crean said his team would prepare for UK just like it had in the first matchup. With or without Davis in the lineup, Crean said his team will prepare for the Cats' best.
"I think we prepared for both of them to be on the floor the last time," Crean said. "I don't think you prepare different. You prepare for the very best. You prepare for a lot of the best we've seen form Kentucky and show it to your team."
Crean believes the limited availability of Davis did little to diminish his team's signature victory.
"I don't think that defensive field-goal percentage is an accident," Crean said of UK's 37.0 defensive field-goal percentage, the top mark in the nation. "I think they're really, really good. Their individual defense is strong because of their talent and athleticism, but (John Calipari's) got them playing team defense in such a strong way."
Davis played just 24 minutes in the game in Bloomington, Ind. He hasn't played fewer than 25 minutes since.
"He left his feet twice and he didn't need to either time," Coach Cal said.
The freshman forward has also made a conscientious effort to stay out of foul trouble since that game, which has worked. The game against the Hoosiers was the last time he committed four or more fouls, a remarkable achievement for the nation's leading shot blocker.
"Coach Cal always tells me if I get in foul trouble it hurts my team and my teammates," Davis said. "When I'm not on the floor the teams try to attack the basket knowing I'm not going to block shots. It makes it a lot harder for my teammates, so I just try to play without fouling."
Davis wins another national player of the year award
Davis joked last week in Louisville that he may need a new trophy case for the number of awards he was expected to receive. After yet another award Thursday, he may need to get serious.
The nation's top shot blocker was selected Thursday as the winner of the 2012 Adolph Rupp Award, given annually by the Commonwealth Athletic Club of Kentucky to the national player of the year. He's the second Wildcat to win the award, following up John Wall's honors in 2010.
Earlier this week Davis was awarded with the Oscar Robertson Trophy, the U.S. Basketball Writers' Association national player of the Year award. In addition to winning the Wayman Tisdale Award (USBWA freshman of the Year) and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, the 6-foot-10 forward is also a Naismith Trophy finalist.
"The recognition is nice, but I want to win the biggest award of them all and that's the national championship," Davis said Tuesday after winning the Oscar Robertson Trophy. "I have to stay humble and keep working."
The Chicago native is averaging a team-high 14.3 points and 10.1 rebounds while leading UK to its third straight Sweet 16. He has started all 36 games this season while shooting 63.6 percent from the field, third in the nation.
Davis leads the country in blocked shots with 166 and has already set the program's new single-season blocks mark as well as the SEC's single-season freshman record. With five more blocks, he'll break Jarvis Varnado's single-season SEC record of 170.
He has recorded 18 double-doubles this year, the second-highest total in a single season by a UK freshman.
Despite hype, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist focused on tourney run
Look at NBA draft projections and you're likely to see roommates Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist among the top picks, if not No. 1 and No. 2 overall.
With his otherworldly blend of size, skill, defensive prowess and potential, Davis has even been talked about as having the firmest grip on the top overall pick since LeBron James in 2003. That's high praise indeed, but Davis isn't thinking about the next level or even making a decision to enter the draft.
"The season's not over," Davis said. "You can't really worry about the future right now. I'm just trying to win a national championship for my team, and then when the time comes, whether it be this year or next year or whatever year, that's when I'm going to have to sit down with my family and my coaches and decide what I'm going to do."
Kidd-Gilchrist is in the same position, though he was the subject of a report by Chad Ford of ESPN.com that the freshman swingman is planning to enter the draft when UK's season ends. Kidd-Gilchrist responded to the story on Twitter on Thursday evening.
"I don't know where this is coming from," Kidd-Gilchrist tweeted. "This is MY decision. Right now all I'm focused on (is) my teammates and winning games."
Quickly thereafter, he talked about how and when he'll make his choice.
"After the season (I'll) make a decision that's best for me and my family!"
Hoosiers to test UK from 3
There's one 3-pointer that sticks out from the first Kentucky-Indiana matchup this season.
"I know they made one really good shot at the end of the game because I've seen it on commercial about every 15 minutes," Calipari said.
Watford's buzzer beater was just one of nine 3s the Hoosiers drained against UK in Bloomington, though, and it only took them 15 attempts to do it. The shooting performance was an extraordinary one, but it was not entirely out of character.
IU ranks second in the nation in 3-point shooting at 43.7 percent, but just 27.6 percent of their field-goal attempts come from beyond the arc, 292nd nationally. At first blush, one might think those statistics suggest IU should attempt more 3s, but Calipari doesn't see it that way.
"They're like us," Calipari said. "They don't play to shoot 3s, but they're a great 3-point shooting team."
Instead, IU opts to run its offense through Cody Zeller, who leads his team in usage rate at 24.1 percent. Zeller is effective scoring in the post, but he creates opportunities for his teammates just as frequently by drawing the attention of opponents.
"It comes from when we throw it inside to (Zeller) and he finds us on the perimeter," said junior point guard Jordan Hulls, who has made 70 3s on 49.3-percent shooting this season. Calipari pushing aside championship pressure
With their team occupying the top spot in the polls the final eight weeks of the season, UK fans are buzzing about the prospect that this bunch of Wildcats could be the one to deliver the school's first national championship in 14 seasons.
After three seasons as UK head coach, Calipari is unsurprised by the thought process.
"It's Kentucky," Calipari said. "Do you expect anything else?"
The excitement on the part of fans is understandable, but Calipari isn't letting the Wildcats take on the same mentality. He knows it's the fastest path to an early exit from the NCAA Tournament.
"We have to play Indiana," Calipari said. "I'm telling our team, 'Forget about this tournament, just play basketball. And the basketball you're going to play is against a team that's already beaten you.' " Smiles lead to championships?
Senior Darius Miller is one of only two players that have been a part of Coach Cal's first three seasons at Kentucky (Jon Hood is the other), so he has a pretty good gauge on how this year's team compares to the previous two.
Miller said there aren't a ton of differences between the three teams, noting the wealth of weapons and cohesiveness on all three, but the number of smiles on this year's team may separate this group.
"I think the main point is we have a lot of fun with everything we do," Miller said. "You see us laughing and smiling on the court, clapping, and you see all the emotion we leave on the court. ... I think it's kind of emphasized this year on how much we do those things."
John Calipari is 2-1 at Kentucky in three career games against Tom Crean. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ATLANTA - This is the game John Calipari's players have been thinking about ever since Indiana handed Kentucky its first loss in buzzer-beating fashion.
At the same time, this is the game Calipari has been hoping to avoid ever since that Christian Watford shot found the bottom of the net.
His sense of dread does not stem from fear of Indiana - though he is effusive in his praise of the Hoosiers - but rather out of friendship. By the time the final horn sounds on Friday night, Calipari will either put an end to the season of one of his best friends - IU's Tom Crean - or have his own team's quest for a national championship cut short.
"If he goes down I'm going to be ecstatic but I'll feel bad for him, and I think the same (with him)," Calipari said.
In the immediate aftermath of Indiana's 73-72 win over UK on Dec. 10, Coach Cal, ever the soothsayer when it comes to his team's NCAA Tournament path, predicted in a conversation with Crean that a rematch would come. Lo and behold, the paths of top-seeded Kentucky (34-2) and No. 4 seed Indiana (27-8) will cross once more in the Sweet 16.
The pair has faced off three times since Crean arrived at Indiana in 2008 and Calipari at Kentucky a year later, but the relationship has stayed strong even though they've occupied the same post at schools that share a long and storied rivalry with one another. Crean has been in this business long enough to know that's rare.
"What I've learned is there's very few relationships that can weather a lot of storms," Crean said. "In this business, it gets so competitive that just sometimes you don't end up as close or you don't have the conversations with people that you used to have."
That's not a problem for Calipari and Crean, who established a relationship based on mutual respect.
Crean, seven years Calipari's junior, was just getting his coaching career started as an assistant at Alma College when he read a story about Calipari, then an assistant at Pittsburgh, in which he spelled out a piece of advice that Crean never let go.
"To make it as a head coach, you've got to be known for something," Crean said, paraphrasing Calipari's words from a magazine article. "And he said, 'Recruiting is what I have really wanted to be known for at that point.' "
Suffice to say, the approach has worked for Calipari, who quickly rose to become head coach at Massachusetts, then of the NBA's New Jersey Nets before returning to college at Memphis, once again a year after Crean arrived at Conference USA rival Marquette.
It was then that they became closer, and it really started with a loss Crean's Golden Eagles dealt to Cal's Tigers.
"We won a game, and I remember talking about how good of a coach I think he was and the things that we learned from him," Crean said. "And he thanked me later for giving him credit, he says, because he's not used to that in his career with other people that they have faced."
The two began to correspond regularly when Crean became an assistant at Pittsburgh, but the way he looked past Calipari's self-established reputation as a recruiter to recognize Coach Cal's ability as a teacher and motivator is what brought them together, largely because Calipari had so long felt a similar admiration for Crean.
"He's a basketball Benny," Calipari said. "He's into basketball. He's not into a whole lot of other stuff. He just loves it. He's into his kids. And I've always had great respect for him because of that."
With both now a part of college basketball royalty, they've only grown to relate to each other more in dealing with the pressures of coaching at a place like Kentucky or Indiana.
Calipari and Crean each took over their current jobs with their respective programs at relative low points. Coach Cal was able to quickly resurrect UK with three consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes, but helping IU rise from the ashes of probation has been a tougher task for Crean. Once a year - twice this season - Kentucky and Indiana may be rivals on the floor, but Calipari has been more concerned with being a part of his friend's support system.
"There's no question in the last couple years, as we've gone through this," Crean said, "that the phone has rang and I've answered it and it's been him more than really anybody else outside my family in this business. And I will always appreciate that because it wasn't just, 'Hey, hang in there.' Anybody can tell you that. It was tangible things. 'Have you thought about this? Are you looking at that?' Things that really make you think."
Calipari, much like what he has done with the concept of revenge going into this rematch with Indiana, downplayed what he has done to help.
"It's not what I've done for Tommy, it's what he's done for those kids in that program," Calipari said.
Crean has certainly done a great deal for his players, guiding Indiana to its first NCAA Tournament since 2008 and first Sweet 16 since the Hoosiers lost the 2002 national championship game. If the first game in Bloomington signaled Indiana's return to the national stage, a win in the Sweet 16 could mean something even more special, but this game is equally important for UK, which is something that couldn't be said four months ago.
The atmosphere on Friday night in the Georgia Dome figures to be electric. UK fans have long taken pride in overrunning Atlanta when the Big Blue plays SEC or NCAA Tournament games here, while Crean has taken to Twitter on more than one occasion this week to exhort Hoosier faithful to "not let this turn into CATLANTA."
For two hours or so, Crean and Calipari will set aside their friendship in pursuit of a berth in the Elite Eight. They'll be standing, yelling, clapping and jumping just feet away from each other on the sideline.
"It's not going to change anything tomorrow night at (9:45), I promise you that," Crean said. "The first edge he tries to get, I'm going to try to get it back. That's the way that it is."
Terrence Jones is averaging 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds over his last six games. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.
ATLANTA -- Perspective can be everything.
For Indiana fans, the lasting image from Dec. 10 will forever be Christian Watford's buzzer-beating game winner, an official mark that the program had returned to relevance. For Kentucky fans, the picture of thousands of fans flooding the floor at Assembly Hall is burned into their brains.
For Terrence Jones, he remembers a much different story. His perspective was a rare one, a courtside seat next to his coaches as five of his teammates tried to pull off a second-half comeback and stay undefeated.
Jones sat the bench for most of the final seven minutes in what was arguably the worst performance of his career in a Kentucky uniform. The sophomore forward was a mysterious nonfactor that afternoon in Bloomington, Ind., turning the ball over six times while scoring only four points on just three shots.
"He absolutely gave us zero today," John Calipari said at the time.
Afterwards, Jones became the scapegoat for fans and critics that looked for a reason for Kentucky's lone regular-season loss. Some called him a no-show, others pointed to his inconsistent ways.
In the games and weeks that immediately followed the mysterious performance, Jones could do nothing to quiet the detractors as he battled a dislocated pinky finger. He missed the Samford and Loyola (Md.) games with the injured finger, and he averaged just 3.3 points and 4.8 rebounds from Dec. 10 until the Arkansas-Little Rock game on Jan. 3.
Sitting in his locker room stall Thursday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, site of Friday's Kentucky-Indiana Sweet 16 rematch, Jones admitted the performance stuck with him.
"It took me a while (to get over it) just because I got hurt the next game," Jones said. "I couldn't really redeem myself or help my team out for a while after that. I just had to wait."
On the eve of the rematch with the Hoosiers, Jones said a couple of factors played a part in his struggles. One was the frequent double teams by the Hoosiers.
"I just played bad," Jones said. "They doubled me and they got me thinking, and then I just started thinking too much and wasn't into it."
Jones has since seen plenty of double teams, experiencing few problems adjusting and excelling when the pressure buckles down on the block. So what gives?
Ah, yes, the second factor - Jones' mind. When Indiana and its fans infiltrated his psyche, Jones' problems snowballed into a mental block that completely short circuited his game. The sophomore had never struggled as much as he did that day in December, and he hasn't struggled quite like it since.
"I never put as much pressure on myself as I did that game," Jones said. "I wanted to win so bad. It being away and not being able to score because they were doubling, it was tough for me."
That game at Indiana, now more than three months old, feels like eons ago for Jones. He reiterated Thursday that he was not looking ahead to a potential rematch with the Hoosiers when the bracket was first released.
"We've just been having fun so we're not about to stress about something that happened (three) months ago," Jones said.
Instead of focusing on redemption, Jones is concerned with returning to the Final Four. Calling the matchup "more than a revenge game for both teams," Jones broke down the season into three different parts: the preseason, the regular season and the postseason.
Avenging a loss is far less important at this time of the year than advancing past the Sweet 16, the 6-foot-8, 244-pound forward explained.
"However we play now is what defines us," Jones said. "That loss can define us if we let it, but how we play now is really the only thing that matters."
If that's the case, Jones is defining a solid sophomore season with a spectacular finish.
Since the postseason began at the Southeastern Conference Tournament in New Orleans, Jones has been brilliant. Playing like Kentucky's best player over the last month, Jones is averaging 15.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over his last six games.
"The past couple of games he's done a great job of leading us, being very aggressive, getting nice shots for us, key rebounds and stops, so he's done a great job of sort of taking over this tournament," senior guard Darius Miller said.
Said Coach Cal: "Just keep doing what he's been doing. I told him whatever you're eating tell the rest of the guys."
With the encouragement from Calipari to rebound and let the rest of his game take care of itself, he's recorded three double-doubles over his last five games, just narrowly missing out on double-doubles in the other two. Prior to that stretch, he had managed just one all season.
"It just makes the game much easier on me and just makes points come easier because I'm not thinking or trying to do too much," Jones said of his newfound focus to grab boards. "I'm just trying to let the game come to me. I think it's what we've all been doing the last couple of games. I just think it's been helping us as a team improve, playing as unselfish as we do."
Even with this late-season outburst, Jones' season averages are down from last season to 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds. But if he can lead Kentucky past Indiana and guide the Cats back to the Final Four, the first Indiana game will be nothing more than a footnote in a sensational first two seasons at Kentucky, a program that defines its success but what you do in the postseason.
"Terrence just had a bad game, which every player does," Miller said. "Every player has those games where nothing's really going for them. Now, he's pretty much dominating every game."
ATLANTA - It's amazing how these days between games during March Madness seem to stretch on interminably while the games themselves fly by.
The latest wait is nearly over, as the Sweet 16 tips off on Thursday evening and Kentucky continues its NCAA Tournament run on Friday at 9:45 p.m. with a rematch against the Indiana Hoosiers.
The team arrived in Atlanta on Wednesday evening and the players had a night off after practicing before the flight at the Joe Craft Center, attending a team meal and meeting before lights out.
On Thursday afternoon, the team will head to the Georgia Dome for the first time. John Calipari and the Wildcats will hold an NCAA-mandated open practice from 3:10 p.m.-4 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend this event, and they surely will.
Before practice, John Calipari and players will be available to the media, so Eric Lindsey and I will be bringing you our customary content in the form of video interviews and written features.
Additionally, Atlanta is expecting very heavy congestion around the downtown area on Friday night. With the NCAA Tournament, an Atlanta Hawks game and a dental convention going on simultaneously, Georgia Dome officials are encouraging fans to do the following:
If at all possible take MARTA to and from the Georgia Dome. Many MARTA stations offer free parking lots and there are two stations that serve the Georgia Dome. More info can be found at gadome.com
If you do choose to drive, pre-purchase your parking spots on gadome.com
Plan ahead for the traffic and delays that will be in and around the downtown area on Friday afternoon, doors to the Dome will open at 5:30 on Friday.
Thomas McCarthy had a career-high four hits in UK's win over Cincinnati. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
CINCINNATI, Ohio - Kentucky third baseman Thomas McCarthy had been scuffling at the plate. He was hitting just .240 coming into a game against Cincinnati. Kentucky head coach Gary Henderson says McCarthy was just having bad luck.
"It's just the way the game goes sometimes," said Henderson. "Guys hit the ball and it gets caught, and he crushed the ball to centerfield today and it wasn't caught. Then he came through with three hard-hit ground balls that got through and they were hit well. And I attribute that to relaxing and swinging at strikes."
McCarthy hit .371 (.411 in conference) last season, earning first-team SEC honors at third base, the first Wildcat to win that honor since 1972. Last season, he started off a bit slow in the non-conference schedule before going on a tear against SEC opponents.
Wednesday, things felt different.
"Today felt good," said McCarthy. "I felt like I could finally relax in the box, and saw some pitches, and kind of worked the middle. I mean, that's where three of my hits came from, I think. And I just felt a lot more comfortable in the box today.
If Wednesday's game against UC is any indication, it would seem that McCarthy is finding his stroke again, just in time for play in the nation's toughest conference.
McCarthy recorded a career-high four hits, including a double and 2 RBI as he led Kentucky (22-0, 3-0) to a 10-7 victory to extend the team's winning streak to 22 to begin the season.
The commander of the hot corner got things going early with a scorching line drive to right-center field. It looked like the center fielder may cut McCarthy's luck short yet again. But the ball glanced off the glove of Jake Proctor and McCarthy cruised into second with an RBI double to give Kentucky an early 3-0 lead.
"Yeah, I know I put a good swing on it," said McCarthy. "And I was just running. Once I saw it down, I felt like I finally caught a break this season."
Across the diamond from McCarthy was Luke Maile. Manning first base for the evening instead of his natural position behind the dish, Maile got the scoring started for UK. He singled to left, fighting off a tough pitch into shallow left fielld, scoring Austin Cousino to put UK up 1-0.
Playing in front of family in friends from just across the river in Northern Kentucky where Maile played high school ball at Covington Catholic, it was evident that he was comfortable coming back home. In fact, in his second at bat, just as he did in his last visit to Marge Schott Field, Maile sent a towering blast over the 365 sign in left-center field to give UK a 3-0 lead. It was Maile's second of three hits on the day, as he reached base in all six plate appearances with 2 RBI.
"Yeah, it must be something about the five-one-three (area code)," said Maile of playing at UC. "I've been seeing the ball well lately. I've been able to put some good swings on pitches, and I was fortunate they left a couple of pitches out over the zone for me tonight, and I put a couple good swings on 'em."
It was not all offense for the Wildcats. They got a strong pitching performance out of their starter in right-handed freshman Chandler Shepherd. He found some bad luck in the first inning as two Bearcats reached on infield base hits. Despite the bad luck, he settled down and retired the side without surrendering a run.
Then he sat down 15 consecutive Beartcats batters stretching from the end of the first inning to the sixth.
Going into the sixth inning, Shepherd had allowed just two hits and had not walked a batter. Shepherd lasted just 5.2 innings however, good for the longest start of his career, as he gave up three hits in the sixth and two runs. He was lifted in favor of Walt Wijas, but it was Shepherd's best start of the season.
"I liked a lot of things out of him," said Henderson. "Really pleased with his outing. I thought he controlled his body out on the mound. I thought he made really good adjustments... A really good outing for Chandler Shepherd, especially being on the road."
After a huge weekend out of the bullpen against South Carolina, where the bullpen did not allow a run in 10.2 innings of work, Wijas and Tim Peterson struggled. And though Kentucky had mounted a 7-0 lead, the margin shrunk quickly as the normally dependable duo faltered in the seventh and eighth innings. Wijas and Peterson each threw just two-thirds of an inning allowing two-runs a piece. Cincinnati cut the lead to 7-6.
Enter Alex Phillips.
The senior southpaw came in with a 2-0 count in the eighth inning and no outs. He promptly struck out the first two batters and earned a ground out to thwart the Bearcat momentum and preserve the victory for Shepherd. He also came to the aid of his fellow bullpen arms in a clutch situation.
"Well he's huge," Henderson said of his reliever. "The whole game changed when he came in. You bring a guy in 2-0 and he gets a punch out. And we went from, you know that, that awkward certain feeling that you have in baseball, to bringing in a guy who punches out the first two guys, and all of a sudden the momentum is right back in our dugout."
In the ninth, Kentucky added two insurance runs. The hot hitting Cameron Flynn drove in an RBI with a single, and then McCarthy capped off his four-hit day with an RBI single of his own to give Kentucky their tenth run of the day.
Phillips went the rest of the way, earning his first save of the season and giving Kentucky a 10-7 win over Cincinnati. The win was good for their 22nd straight to start the season, just one shy of the all-time SEC record of 23. They will continue their pursuit of perfection in Knoxville this weekend as the Cats travel to face the Tennessee Volunteers (11-8, 4-2).
While the win streak may not mean much to these Wildcats, winning itself is still the goal. With McCarthy and Maile in the middle of the lineup and plenty of other contributions along the way, there is no doubt this team is enjoying it.
"It's a fun thing, man," said McCarthy. "I mean we're all just having a lot of fun together, it's fun to come to the yard every day. And hopefully we can just keep this momentum and keep going into Friday."
Doesn't it seem like Kentucky's streak-busting win over Tennessee was just a few weeks ago?
Well, that's clearly not the case, as the UK football team held its first day of spring practice on Wednesday morning. It was the first of 14 practices leading up to the Blue/White Spring Game on April 21 at 6 p.m. in Commonwealth Stadium.
"It was fun to be back out here for sure, not only for the coaches, but the players too," head coach Joker Phillips said. "We've had a lot of things going on this offseason with the weight program and school and all that stuff. We had this great weather and we've been inside, so I think this has been a great time to get out here."
The Cats enjoyed clear skies and warm temperatures with a focus on improving. To do so, Phillips and his coaching staff are first installing the basic schemes and tenets on both offense and defense. To get to the point where the players are able to play as fast as the coaches want, these first two days before the team suits up in full pads on Saturday are all about teaching.
"We're in shorts, so that's the time you want to do as much teaching as you possibly can to lead up to Saturday when we put on the pads," Phillips said. "We've got another day Friday that we'll go in shorts again."
With so many young players in position to contribute early, Phillips said that less material was thrown at them than in previous first days of spring practice. He was pleased with the way all the information was absorbed and retained.
Even though most of UK's newcomers are not yet on campus, the first day of spring was not without new faces. Mike Cassity and Pat Washington went through their first practice as Kentucky assistant coaches. They have been quickly and successfully integrated.
"The thing that we've done is we've hired good assistants," Phillips said. "I think the players understand that we've hired good guys that are great teachers."
There are also a few players working out at new positions, headlined by former running back Marcus Caffey at cornerback and Bookie Cobbins moving from quarterback to wide receiver. Cobbins figures to infuse some much-needed play-making ability into the receiving corps, while Caffey, with his size and athleticism, "really looks like a guy that could help us," according to Phillips.
We'll have some spring football features in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, here are videos of Phillips and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders talking about the spring: Phillips
By Tuesday, though, Kentucky coach John Calipari was trying to tone down the talk of payback and focus his players on tightening up any remaining weaknesses, of which there appear to be very few.
"He's the youngest freshman in the country," Calipari said of Kidd-Gilchrist, who recently turned 18. "They say stupid things. I don't ever teach anger, because the physiology of that is really close to fear. So if you try to make your team angry ... and it doesn't go right, it turns into fear within their own bodies. So I don't do that.
Most everyone remembers Christian Watford's shot -- ESPN has made it impossible to forget -- and Terrence Jones' no-show and the raucous, red-clad Indiana faithful storming the home floor at the end of the Hoosiers' upset of No. 1 Kentucky earlier this college basketball season.
"That was four months ago," UK Coach John Calipari said Tuesday.
Predictably, the question came to John Calipari the other day about his interest in the suddenly vacant New York Knicks job. And, just as predictably, Calipari repeated the line he's been using for the past few weeks: "I've got the best coaching job at any level of basketball. Why would I want another one?"
Behind the clutch play of Keyla Snowden, the second-seeded University of Kentucky avoided a stunning collapse in a 65-62 win against Green Bay in the second round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament .
The win puts Kentucky into the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years. Kentucky will face No. 11 seed Gonzaga (28-5) on Sunday in Kingston, R.I.
"As a coach, there wasn't much you could do," Mitchell explained. "There's no play you can run against that defense. You just have to trust your players that they can make enough plays to win a game like this."
"Trust" was the exact word he wrote in big, bold letters on the dry erase board before the game.
But the players already had that, they said, thus the show of unity as they walked into Hilton Coliseum on Monday night.
The Kentucky baseball team's undefeated start to the season, including a three-game sweep of two-time defending champion South Carolina this past weekend, landed them the No. 2 spot in the Collegiate Baseball poll and the 16th spot in Baseball America's rankings, both of which were released on Monday.
The Wildcats (21-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) trail only Florida in the Collegiate Baseball poll and advanced from 16th last week. They weren't ranked in the previous Baseball America poll.
This choice is almost as big of a no-brainer as could be found in college baseball. The Wildcats played a series of cream puffs prior to welcoming in two-time defending national champion South Carolina and then summarily vanquished the Gamecocks in three straight games: 4-3, 4-3 and 6-3. Yep, nobody saw this coming, especially after the Wildcats' rich recent history of incredible starts followed by horrible finishes.
"... The way we played at Georgia, which came up short (a 19-10 loss), and also the way we played against Tennessee (a 10-7 win), the thing that makes you really excited is seeing those young guys out there flying around. When you look out there, there was a ton of young, true freshmen that were making plays for us on both sides of the football. The majority of them were on defense, but just getting back to see some of the young guys."
While most in the commonwealth are consumed with the University of Kentucky basketball team's march through March Madness, today also marks the beginning of an important period for the football team: spring practice.
UK is coming off a 5-7 season. Thanks to graduation and offseason dismissals, Kentucky will spend this spring - and preseason camp in August - trying to find replacements for six starters on defense, five on offense and one of the nation's top punters.
The latest honor for Nadzam, a 2007 graduate of Monaca, was his recent nomination as one of five finalists for the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup. The award, named after UCLA legend John Wooden, recognizes a student-athlete's leadership, character and contribution to sport and society.
"He has never fallen short of the standard of excellence he has established for himself," UK track coach Don Weber said. "He excels in every facet of the ideal student-athlete. He is driven to perfection in everything he does. He has absolutely no chinks in his armor. I marvel at him, I really do."
"The most important thing about this bottle is that the proceeds from it will go to help my fellow Kentuckians fight and win the battle of heart disease - especially in eastern Kentucky," Couch said. "Winning this is very near and dear to my heart and more important than any football game. My father passed away from heart disease, and everyone has a family member that this terrible disease has affected."
While Garnett is often limited in his praise of younger players, especially ones that tend to spar with him on the floor (say, Chicago's Joakim Noah), Garnett was highly complimentary of both Cousins and the Kings as a whole after Friday's loss.
"Man, you know, he's crafty," Garnett said of Cousins. "He's better. His antics and all that stuff, that come with him, it's just part of the game. He was aggressive, he got looks with being aggressive. The times when he had a chance to score, he took advantage of them.
Collin Cowgill is riding such a hot streak, it appears it has lifted him onto the Opening Day roster.
"Without tipping my hand, I don't know how he's not on the team at this point," manager Bob Melvin said after Cowgill extended his streak of reaching base safely to 11 plate appearances before lining out in his final at-bat Friday.
UK will face Indiana in the Sweet 16, a rematch of one of the Wildcats only two losses this season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.
When you get punched in the mouth, what's your natural reaction? Punch back. When you get embarrassed by someone, what do you want to do? Embarrass them back. And when someone defeats you, what do you hope to do in return? Beat them right back - and do them badly.
So goes the cycle of human emotions.
Revenge, no matter how solid our hearts are, how true our spirit is or how balanced our head sits on our shoulders, is a part of our basic instincts. No matter how much we try to deny it, we've all felt it at one point or another.
In the postgame locker room Saturday, just 30 minutes after defeating Iowa State to set up a rematch with Indiana in the Sweet 16, one could understand if the feeling of revenge had already crept into the minds of the Wildcat players.
The Hoosiers handed Kentucky its first and only loss of the regular season in early December in buzzer-beating fashion, prompting IU students to the rush the court and ESPN to base a commercial for a mobile app around it. To this day, the players still talk about using the constant ESPN replays of Christian Watford's shot as motivation.
"They can show the commercial every break from now until the game for me and the whole team," Terrence Jones said in his locker room stall in Louisville. "Hopefully the keep showing the commercial and give us motivation."
Three days prior to the rematch with Indiana at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, that's exactly the type of mentality John Calipari does not want his players to have.
"I don't ever teach anger because the physiology of that is really close to fear," Coach Cal said. "If you try to make your team angry and angry and it doesn't go right, it turns to fear within their own bodies, so I don't do that."
Not to get all nerdy, but what was that quote from Yoda in the Star Wars series? Ah, yes, here it is: "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."
Channeling his inner Yoda, was he? That's hardly the point. The bigger picture from both men (or is one a creature?) is that anger - in UK's case, revenge - is a dangerous game to play, especially when the stakes are so high.
"We're worried about us being our best," Calipari said. "If that's not good enough, then someone played an outstanding ballgame and deserved to win."
Yes, Coach Cal is doing what you think he's doing. He's going there. He's preaching to his team to treat it just like they would any other game. He wants them to remove the December game in Bloomington, Ind., from their heads and focus solely on getting to the Elite Eight.
Nothing more, nothing less.
"Let's not worry about what happened four months ago," Calipari said. "It doesn't matter now. We haven't talked about it in any of the meetings. It's not like, 'OK, we've got another shot at these (guys).' It's none of that. It's we've got a ballgame, a team in front of us. They can beat us because we know that. They've already beaten us, so we're going to have to play a terrific ballgame."
With a couple of exceptions, his players were already taking the cue as early as the aftermath of the Iowa State game.
"We can't go in thinking about revenge," Anthony Davis said Saturday. "We've got to go in thinking it's another game and have a great mindset."
Freshman guard Marquis Teague: "We're not really saying anything about revenge or anything like that. We're just going to come out and play like we would any other game."
Kentucky fans will almost surely have a different idea. Chances are just about all of them looked ahead to a possible Sweet 16 date with Indiana when the bracket was released on Selection Sunday, and some of them were praying long before for a rematch on a neutral court.
Coach Cal is fine with that but cautioned fans against providing Indiana with too much bulletin board material for the rematch. Remember, Calipari said, ""The score wasn't indicative. They beat us in every way."
"Come on now, this is going to be a war," Calipari said. "If there's 16 teams left, every one of them can play and every one of them are inspired and every one of them is playing out of desperation - every team. So if you're still playing now, you're fortunate, and if you get a chance to play in a game and if you expect that it's going to be easy, you'll get beat. These games are going to be tough. Every one of them."
Calipari said the Indiana game was "like a season ago," but he was quickly reminded of IU's talents when he watched tape this week. The Hoosiers are No. 2 in the country in 3-point field-goal percentage, and Cody Zeller continues to be not only one of the best freshmen in the country but one of the best front-court players in America.
"The one thing about it, we're better, but so are they," Calipari said. "Both teams are way better than they were then. They execute better. They have a better plan for what their strengths are, how they're playing to cause mismatches and trying to get Zeller the ball. Their guys that are driving are driving and doing a great job and then defensively they're way better than they were. They're more physical."
The Hoosiers won't have point guard Verdell Jones this time around after the senior injured his knee in the Big Ten Tournament, but Coach Cal downplayed his loss because of the ball handling of Jordan Hulls.
"They shortened their rotation," Calipari said. "This time of the year you can get by playing five guys, literally, if they stay out of foul trouble."
In an attempt to limit UK's front-court size and athleticism, Calipari expects Indiana to back off Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and dare them to shoot it, but both have shown the ability to score the ball from anywhere on the floor.
Regardless of what style both teams try to employ or what type of revenge is on the line, Calipari said the best team will come out on top.
"Let's not get too fancy, let's not get too crazy," Coach Cal said. "This isn't like the trick 'em time. When you end up trying to trick at this time of the season, you know who you trick? Yourself. You trick yourself. We're established who we are; they're established who they are. They have a good idea of how they'll play us. He knows how we're going to play them.
Luke Maile led UK to a sweep of No. 2 South Carolina, headlined by a walk-off home run on Friday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Somewhat improbably, Gary Henderson has been through something like this before.
Few baseball teams even approach the 21-game winning streak that the Kentucky baseball team has reeled off to start the 2012 season. In fact, only two teams - LSU in 2009 and South Carolina in 2000 - in the illustrious history of the Southeastern Conference have exceeded it.
It didn't happen in the SEC, but Henderson's San Diego State team won 24 games in a row when he was a pitcher for the Aztecs.
"I'm really fortunate; I played on really good teams in college," Henderson said. "I was not a particularly talented player but I got to play and I loved to play. My junior year, we went from 28-8 to 52-8."
Times have changed though since Henderson's playing days at San Diego State from 1982-84. In those days, any mention of Twitter would have been met with quizzical looks and a facebook was just a directory of names and faces.
While distractions are more prevalent and praise - as well as criticism - now flows in at warp speed, some of the underlying lessons Henderson learned from his own long winning streak as a player can still be applied.
"I learned a lot at that period of time in terms of how you handle those things and what's important and what's not important," Henderson said. "I tell our kids all the time that there are more distractions, more challenges now for them in their lives with the people around them than there's ever been in collegiate athletics."
Following this past weekend's sweep of two-time defending National Champion and second-ranked South Carolina, Kentucky is the story of college baseball. From all directions, the Wildcats are hearing about how good they have been as they have risen to as high as No. 2 in national polls. Comparisons have already been made to the 2006 UK team that won the SEC title, but Henderson knows the Cats haven't won anything yet.
"They don't hand out regional bid based on what your record is in the middle of March," Henderson said. "They don't give you an opportunity to host yet, so we've got to handle all those things and move forward in a respectful manner of the game is what I think."
Henderson doesn't see respecting the game as an issue for this bunch.
In their time at Kentucky, not a single player on this year's roster has played in the postseason. They've been through seasons in which they've dealt with prolonged slumps and falling short of expectations. Failure was painful at the time, but there's no question it's serving this team well now.
"One of the benefits you have, in my opinion, of having kids that have been through a rough patch in their careers or on teams in that they don't take anything for granted," Henderson said. "To this point, I think that's a very accurate reflection of our group."
The Wildcats have learned by experience not to get too high or too low through good times or bad, which has translated into composed play in trying circumstances. The best evidence of that composure has been the way this team has played in close games. Seven of UK's 21 wins this season have come by one run, including three of its last four.
"To this point, we've had a tremendous sense of calm in the close games," Henderson said.
In three games this weekend, UK held the Gamecocks scoreless from the seventh inning on. The fickle nature of baseball tells Henderson not to get too excited about a small sample size, but he can't ignore the way his relievers have gotten the job done.
"I think when you look at one particular weekend series, sometimes you can get on a roll and things just go your way," Henderson said. "Line drives for the bad guys are caught and bloopers for the good guys fall in and sometimes those things happen. I thought our kids pitched with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence out of the 'pen. Anytime you go 10 and a third (innings) over three games and they don't score, that's more than just luck."
Anchored by Trevor Gott and his five saves, 16 strikeouts over 8.2 innings and 2.08 ERA, the UK bullpen is deep and dynamic. Tim Peterson, Sam Mahar and Alex Phillips all have ERAs under three while striking out a combined 40 batters over 34.2 innings. UK's depth has pushed Walt Wijas into a middle-inning role after serving as one of the team's most consistent bullpen arms a season ago.
"Anytime you can start pushing Walt Wijas to the fifth and sixth inning of a game because of what you have beyond that, it changes the complexion of your club," Henderson said.
The confidence of UK's relievers is only buoyed by the faith they have in the offense to score runs late. That belief is justified after the Wildcats scored nine of their 14 runs against stingy South Carolina pitching in the sixth inning or later. Junior catcher Luke Maile led the way, delivering two home runs and six RBI, including a walk-off two-run shot on Friday night that set the tone for the series.
This weekend hasn't been the only time Maile has set the tone though.
"He brings a real confidence in the box that has really helped," Henderson said. "I don't know that it's permeated our club yet, but it's certainly has influenced other guys. There's no question about that."
With his five home runs and 27 RBI, Maile has been the rock in the middle of a UK lineup that has produced 7.6 runs per game. Newcomers Zac Zellers, Cameron Flynn, Austin Cousino and A.J. Reed have been revelations while All-SEC third baseman Thomas McCarthy has fought through inconsistency and bad luck and the plate that don't figure to last for a player that hit .371 in 2011.
The next test for both the UK offense and pitching staff will come in the form of seven road games in the next two weeks. Since opening the season with three games in Spartanburg, S.C., the Wildcats have thrived in the comforts of Cliff Hagan Stadium, so playing away from home for the first time in a month against Cincinnati on Wednesday then at Tennessee and Georgia the following two weekends will be a learning experience.
"I don't know yet (how the team will handle playing on the road," Henderson said. "We're certainly going to find out. What you hope is that the guys handle it maturely."
There are no guarantees, but Henderson is about as secure as a coach could be in taking that challenge on.
"Our guys are not giddy," Henderson said. "They're just not. That's not the group of personalities that we have and I'm not saying there won't be a bump in the road or stubbing a toe or anything like that moving forward, but our guys, to this point 21 games into it, they're very respectful of what it takes to be successful.
"Maybe the joke will be on me on a week, but I'm not concerned."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Mar. 18:
Gymnastics: Caitlyn Ciokajlo
Won her fourth uneven bars title of the season and her third straight with a 9.85 score on Saturday against Centenary. The native of Brooklyn, Mich., has now led UK on bars in six meets this season, scoring a 9.825 or higher in five consecutive meets.
Men's basketball: Anthony Davis
Averaged double-double in UK's two NCAA Tournament wins (15.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 4.5 bpg, 4.0 apg)
Track and field: Raymond Dykstra
Set a career-best mark in the javelin
Won the javelin competition by over 22 feet
Set the program record in his first ever collegiate competition in the javelin
Set the freshman record in the javelin
Track and field: Andrew Evans
Had career-best marks in the discus and in the hammer throw
Won the Discus, defeating all other competitors by over 11 feet
Recorded the seventh best mark in program history in the discus and in the hammer throw
Baseball: Trevor Gott
UK sophomore right-hander Trevor Gott solidified his role as one of the top closers in college baseball during Kentucky's 5-0 week, picking up three saves - including two against the two-time NCAA Champions, No. 2 South Carolina ... Appeared in three games with three saves, tossing three shutout frames, with one hit and no walks allowed, striking out six ... Made first appearance in the ninth inning of UK's 2-1 midweek win on Wednesday, locking down the save ... Came on in the ninth inning with UK nursing a 4-3 lead and a runner at second base and no outs in the series-clinching win over USC on Saturday ... After getting a sacrifice bunt to move the runner to third base, Gott struck out the next two hitters to end the game and leave the game-tying and inherited runner stranded at third base ... In the series finale, after UK allowed a leadoff runner to reach base on an error in the ninth inning with UK looking for the sweep, came out of the pen to get three consecutive outs to finish off the game and sweep the Gamecocks ... On the year, Gott - the 2011 Cape Cod League Reliever of the Year - has a 1-0 record and a 2.08 ERA, saving five games in 10 relief outings, striking out 16 and walking two in 8.2 innings.
Men's basketball: Terrence Jones
Averaged double-double in UK's two NCAA Tournament wins (15.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg)
Baseball: Luke Maile
Kentucky junior catcher Luke Maile continued to provide the vocal and physical leadership to a school-record 21-0 start to the season, launching a pair of homers during a 5-0 week, pacing UK to a series sweep over No. 2 South Carolina, the two-time defending NCAA Champions ... Maile hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in the series opener, a blast to dead centerfield with UK trailing by a run, part of a three-RBI game ... In the second game of the series, Maile delivered another clutch RBI single in UK's 4-3 win over the Cocks ... In the finale, Maile set the tone by launching his fifth homer of the year in the first inning off USC's Colby Holmes, leading UK to the sweep-clinching win ... Maile's walk-off homer was his staggering seventh game-winning RBI of the season, leading the team and tying the team leader Thomas McCarthy's seven game-winning RBI from the entire 2011 season ... On the year, Maile has hit .360 (27-for-75) with five doubles, five homers, 27 RBI, a 13-4 walk-strikeout ratio and six stolen bases.
Men's golf: Cody Martin
Opened with back-to-back rounds of 2-under-par 70 at the Bulls Invitational
Led Kentucky with a final score of 1-under-par
Finished in a tie for 21st
Track and field: Kayla Parker
Won the 100m hurdles
Set a career-best time in the 100m hurdles, breaking her previous career-best by .27 seconds
Recorded the seventh fastest time in program history
Baseball: A.J. Reed
Freshman A.J. Reed turned in one of the more prolific weeks in the history of UK baseball, leading UK to five wins as the No. 4 hitter, midweek starter and weekend late-inning reliever ... Picked up two wins on the mound, one coming in a midweek start on Tuesday and the second coming in relief of UK's series-clinching win over No. 2 South Carolina on Saturday ... In both of his wins on the mound, Reed - who owns a 12-game hitting streak - delivered the game-winning RBI at the plate ... In his start, tossed six innings, allowing only one run and striking out six, with first-pitch strikes hurled to the first 21 hitters he faced ... Reed became the first UK player in program history (modern era: 1979-present) to start on the mound and as the No. 4 hitter in the order in the midweek win ... On Saturday, Reed was summoned out of the bullpen on short rest working two shutout innings to set up the game for UK closer Trevor Gott in the ninth inning, picking up his fourth win of the year ... At the plate, Reed led UK in hitting all week batting .526 (10-for-19) with two doubles, one homer and five RBI ... Totaled a 2-0 record with a 1.12 ERA on the mound, striking out eight in eight innings ... In his midweek starting pitching assignment, collected a career-high three hits, batting 3-for-4 with three RBI ... Delivered two hits in a 2-1 midweek win over Murray State on Wednesday ... In his SEC debut on Friday, Reed went 2-for-4 with an RBI, adding the game-winning double in the seventh inning in the series-clinching win on Saturday ... Finished with two hits in the series finale, helping UK to its first series sweep of USC since 2006 ... On the year, has hit .386 (27-for-70) with seven doubles, two homers and 28 RBI, with a 4-0 record and a 1.83 ERA on the mound in 19.2 innings with 18 strikeouts.
Men's basketball: Marquis Teague
Career-high 24 points in win over Iowa State along with seven assists.
Joker Phillips held a press conference on the eve of spring practice. (UK Athletics)
It's officially spring, and while baseball season is in full tilt and the basketball teams are making late season runs in the NCAA Tournament, football is getting ready to ramp up.
Spring football practice starts Wednesday for the Kentucky football team, with the returning players looking to make their moves up the depth charts. Preparations for the 2012 football season have already begun in the weight room and other off-field activities, but Wednesday marks the day that the real work begins as this team looks to make strides to improve themselves for the fall.
Kentucky football head coach Joker Phillips spoke Tuesday on what he hopes to see from his team in the coming weeks. Here are a few highlights from Phillips' comments to the media:
Kentucky will be without some of their elder statesmen during the spring session due to some bumps and bruises. Senior quarterback Morgan Newton will participate in spring practices, but will be held out of throwing drills while rehabbing after an injury to his throwing arm last season. This will leave Maxwell Smith as the starter on the depth chart with Jacob Russell taking second-team repetitions. Senior defensive end Collins Ukwu will be held out due to a labrum injury. Another fellow senior in wide receiver Gene McCaskill will be day-to-day as they continue to monitor his knee. McCaskill missed the entire 2010 season due to reconstructive knee surgery. And sophomore running back Josh Clemons is a guy that the UK staff will keep an eye on and could be day-to-day. Clemons season ended early in his rookie campaign due to a torn meniscus in his knee that required surgery. Punter Joe Mansour will miss the first day or two with strep throat.
Improvements in the weight room
Joker was very high on the improved fitness and size that some of his players made in the off season so far. He commended strength coach Rock Oliver for the hard work he has put in to get these guys bigger and stronger to look and play like SEC-caliber players in order to contend with their competition in conference.
"Also excited about what Coach Oliver has been doing in the weight room with some of these guys, weight gains and weight losses we've had since January when they returned back. But they've done a really good job. I think a lot of that had to do with the way we finished in the last couple games," said Phillips.
Phillips talked about his offensive line getting into better shape, commenting that Zach West and Darrian Miller put on some weight while Larry Warford shed 16 "much needed" pounds, and is looking "really, really good, moving really well." He also mentioned Shaquille Love a young offensive guard coming in at 301, who could see some time this season. Ronnie Shields added 14 pounds to get up to 245, leading Joker to believe they could use some three tight end packages if need be. Running back CoShik Williams put on an additional 10 pounds, Mister Cobble is down to 332 pounds at the defensive tackle position, and fellow tackle Donte Rumph is "in the best shape ever" according to Phillips, all the way down to 303 pounds.
Incoming freshman class an exciting one
The incoming crop of freshmen have a chance to contribute next season. With six defensive starters no longer on the roster, underclassmen will have to fill the roles, and Joker thinks the incoming class, a deeper class than last season, can make an impact. Joker singled out tailback, defensive back, and special teams as areas where he expects freshmen to contribute immediately, but also said a freshman has a chance to compete for time at quarterback. Patrick Towles is an impressive prospect with big-time tools and credentials. Joker said that he thinks "he can handle it" when it comes to playing the quarterback in the SEC as a freshman, but it will be important to familiarize him with the "verbiage" of the offense. "He has to understand how to say it and sell it to the huddle," said Phillips. Towles will have to adjust to the speed of the college game, especially in the SEC, in order to see time this year.
Seniors need replacing
Replacing players like Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy and Stuart Hines is not going to be easy, but it is necessary. Phillips said that while Trevathan was a great player and made great strides after his first two seasons, they have to replace him. "Everybody is replaceable," according to Phillips, and the plan to do just that.
Junior linebacker Avery Williams hopes to be that guy. Williams has seen a lot of action, more so than Trevathan at this time in his career. West will be looked upon to fill the void left by Hines on the offensive line. Hines was a vocal leader on the unit, and a beefed up West will need to assert himself early. Miles Simpson, Cartier Rice and Martavius Neloms will be guys that defensive coordinator Rick Minter looks to fill the roles left behind by Guy, Randall Burden, and Anthony Mosely in the defensive backfield.
Joker is really excited about what some of these young players can do for this team going forward.
"The thing that makes you really excited is seeing those young guys out there
flying around. When you look out there, there was a ton of young true freshmen making plays on both sides of the football, majority of defense," said Phillips.
Tennessee win still paying dividends
Phillips spoke to the sense of accomplishment that this team felt as they finally got over the hump of a 26-year streak that Tennessee had held over UK. The win carries a lot of momentum going into this spring season and into the fall, especially for what it meant for the younger guys. The win itself was not only a big lift for the program, but Joker said the way that this team rallied around Matt Roark who filled in as emergency quarterback "brought us closer."
"I think there was a sense of understanding how we have to win here," said Phillips. "Yeah, there's going to be times we have to win and score 40 points, but sometimes you got to win that a way. I think that's what helped us going into this off season."
Doron Lamb led UK with 19 points against Indiana on Dec. 10. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For the second season in a row, the Kentucky Wildcats will face the team that handed them their first loss of the season in the NCAA Tournament.
In 2011, UK lost in the Maui Invitational to Connecticut before falling again at the hands of the Huskies in the Final Four. In this season's Sweet 16, Kentucky will look to exact revenge on the Indiana Hoosiers, who won a December showdown on a Christian Watford buzzer beater of which the Wildcats need no reminder.
In that game, UK trailed by as many as 10 points in the second half before Darius Miller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb scored their team's final 37 points to grab the lead with under a minute left. The Cats showed the "will to win" that John Calipari has raved about all season, but the Hoosiers would of course prevail.
The raucous crowd in Assembly Hall that December Saturday has been assigned some credit for IU's victory, and I can attest from being there that it's difficult to imagine a more intense environment for a college basketball game. Friday's matchup at 9:45 p.m. will be played in the Georgia Dome, where UK fans figure to once again prove the "Catlanta" moniker to be true, so the Hoosiers don't figure to have that kind of advantage again.
However, I'm interested in more tangible factors as I take a look at this matchup. First off, let's analyze a few of the key statistical reasons why UK lost the first time around:
1. Frontcourt production - The first UK-IU game this season is an unpleasant memory for every Wildcat on the roster, but it's a particularly salty one for Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis. The pair combined for 10 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, and seven turnovers on Dec. 10. Their combined averages the rest of the season in those same categories are 26.9 points, 17.3 rebounds, 6.4 blocks and 2.6 turnovers.
Jones was a mysterious no-show in that game, so much so that Coach Cal opted to leave him on the bench as UK made its comeback bid. Davis, on the other hand, was productive, but limited due to foul trouble. He played just 24 minutes - eight fewer than his season average - and, since picking up four fouls against IU, Davis hasn't had more than three in any game.
Yes, Cody Zeller is among the most talented big men UK has faced all season and Watford presents matchup problems with his versatility, but it's difficult to imagine Jones and Davis contributing as little to the cause as they did the first time around.
2. 3-point shooting - IU is the second-best 3-point shooting team in the country, hitting 43.7 percent on the season, but the Hoosiers were hot even by their own lofty standards against Kentucky. They nailed 9-of-15 attempts (60 percent) from beyond the arc, some of which were contested, but many were open looks. UK showed how good it can be defending the 3 this season in games against dead-eye opponents like Vanderbilt, Florida and Iowa State, but statistics show that 3-point defense is subject to a great deal of randomness. Nonetheless, Kentucky will need to do a much better job contesting shots from deep in the Sweet 16.
3. Offensive rebounding - A bunch of IU's 3-point looks came as a result of second chances. UK gave up 14 offensive rebounds to Indiana, five of which were grabbed by Zeller. The Hoosiers are an above average rebounding team, but Kentucky has been better on the season. The battle on the boards was even at 30 last time around, but UK will look to grab an advantage this time.
4. Turnovers - Jones was the primary offender here. The sophomore forward has seen double teams for much of the season, but he did not respond well to the ones IU threw at him, committing six of his team's 17 turnovers. As a team, UK has committed that many turnovers just once since the beginning of conference play. Those turnovers led to 23 Indiana points.
With that out of the way, we turn our attention to how these two teams matchup three months later. The personnel remains the same - other than guard Verdell Jones III, who is out for the season with a knee injury - but these two squads are different from the ones that faced off in Bloomington, Ind. Kentucky offense vs. Indiana defense
This end of the floor is where UK should expect to have an advantage. The Cats are elite offensively, ranking second nationally in offensive efficiency according to kenpom.com. The Hoosiers are solid defensively, but not overwhelming, ranking No. 46 in defensive efficiency.
Indiana is sound across the board, but not spectacular. In effective field-goal percentage defense, turnover percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and free-throw rate, IU ranks between 110th and 155th nationally, while Kentucky ranks 14th, 20th, 19th and 73rd in those four corresponding categories.
In the first matchup, UK was effective on offense when not turning the ball over, shooting 55.6 percent for the game and a ridiculous 68 percent in the second half. The Wildcats have a quickness advantage at nearly every position, especially in the backcourt. Teague, after struggling in the first half, was a perfect 6 for 6 from the field in the second, driving to the basket at will. Expect Kentucky to attack on the dribble from the opening tip.
Indiana, recognizing the matchup, could adjust by clogging the lane in an effort to close down drives more than it did in December. UK attempted just seven 3-pointers in the first matchup, hitting two, but don't be surprised if IU tries to force Kentucky to attempt more shots from deep even though the Cats are fresh off a 10-for-20 3-point effort against Iowa State. On the season, Indiana is 188th nationally in 3-point defense at 34.6 percent.
Kentucky defense vs. Indiana offense
This will be a matchup between two exceptional units. IU ranks fourth in the NCAA in offensive efficiency, while UK checks in at ninth in defensive efficiency.
The Hoosiers' excellence in two areas is what drives their success. First, and most simply, they know how to get good looks at the basket and make them. Indiana is seventh nationally in effective field-goal percentage at 55.1, driven largely by its aforementioned 3-point shooting. Though IU can knock down outside shots with the best, the Hoosiers are not over-reliant on the 3. Just 27.6 percent of their field-goal attempts come from beyond the arc, the 53rd-lowest rate among 345 Division I teams.
Second, Indiana gets to the free-throw line frequently and, more often than not, converts. IU is 12th in the nation in both free-throw rate (45.2) and free-throw percentage (76.3). Consequently, the Hoosiers score 23.8 percent of their points from the line, 25th-most in the country.
Indiana is also above average in terms of offensive rebounding, ranking 60th, but towards the middle of the pack when it comes to turnovers, committing miscues on nearly a fifth of its possessions. UK took advantage of that relative weakness in the first matchup, forcing 18 turnovers. Kentucky has not forced more than 15 in any game since.
On defense, UK's goal will likely be to make things as difficult as possible on the Hoosiers, not shut them down altogether, simply because Indiana is that good on offense.
Style of play
The first UK-IU game featured 70 possessions, well above the season average for both squads. Kentucky has played an average of 66.2 possessions per game on the season, while Indiana averages 66.9.
At least for Kentucky, those season averages are somewhat misleading though. In Southeastern Conference play (including both the regular season and tournament), UK played an average of just 62.6 possessions per game. However, Coach Cal has turned up the tempo in the NCAA Tournament. In spite of grinding it out the final 10 minutes of wins over Western Kentucky and Iowa State, an unleashed UK team has averaged 68.5 possessions per game.
In other words, expect Kentucky to push the ball when opportunities are there and, unless the Wildcats begin to do too much damage, the Hoosiers will likely do the same.
Friday night's Kentucky-Indiana matchup in the NCAA South Regional in Atlanta will mark the 55th all-time meeting between these border state rivals with the richest of roundball traditions. So this is as good a time as any to take a look at my top 10 most memorable games from the rivalry:
10. January, 1993. A top-ranked Kentucky team rained down 16 three's on Indiana and held on for an 81-78 victory at Rupp Arena.
Jamal Mashburn and Travis Ford led the way for UK, each scoring 29 points and combining for 13 of those three-point baskets. 9. December, 1987. 43,000 fans packed the Hoosier Dome to see the first installment of the short-lived Big Four event. No.2 Kentucky defeated No. 5 Indiana 82-76 in overtime as the guard combo of Ed Davender and Rex Chapman led UK with 22 and 20 points, respectively. 8. December, 1991. This one is notable because it marked the final Kentucky-Indiana game called by legendary UK radio voice Cawood Ledford. IU coach Bob Knight presented Ledford with a gift before the game and it's a good thing because he probably wasn't in a giving mood afterward.
Fourteenth-ranked Kentucky knocked off the ninth-ranked Hoosiers 76-74 in front of 34,000 fans at the Hoosier Dome. Jamal Mashburn led the Cats with 21 and Deron Feldhaus added 19 as UK ended a three-game losing streak to Indiana. 7. December, 2002. Keith Bogans led the way with 17 points as Kentucky knocked off sixth-ranked Indiana 70-64 at Freedom Hall, but it wasn't a player that did the most memorable thing on the court.
It was IU coach Mike Davis, who leaped off the bench and stormed to the free-throw line, protesting a non-call on a Bracey Wright shot. Official Bert Smith did his best to keep from having to call a game-altering technical foul on Davis but the Hoosier coach wouldn't back down and he was ejected from the game. 6. December, 1969. This marked the start of the annual meetings between the Cats and the Hoosiers and the Dan Issel-Mike Pratt combo powered the top-ranked Wildcats to a 109-92 win at Memorial Coliseum.
Issel poured in 32 points and grabbed 19 rebounds and Pratt contributed 21 to the UK victory.
5. December, 1965. Kentucky and Indiana met for the first time in 21 years in the title game of the annual UK Invitational Tournament at Memorial Coliseum.
Neither team was ranked, although the UK team that came to be known as "Rupp's Runts" would eventually work its way to the top of the national polls. Indianapolis native Louie Dampier paced the Cats with 28 points while Pat Riley added 21 points and 15 rebounds. Also, another native Hoosier, Tommy Kron, had a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards. 4. December, 1979. Indiana brought a No. 1 ranking into Rupp Arena but left with a 69-58 loss to Joe Hall's Wildcats.
Kyle Macy led a balanced UK attack with 12 points. Jay Shidler and Lavon Williams added 11 each as the Kentucky defense forced IU into 17-for-49 shooting.
3. December, 1996. The "Air Pair" took flight, handing Bob Knight his worst loss ever in the series against Kentucky (perhaps one of the reasons he can't seem to find his way to mention the name "Kentucky" in his ESPN analysis of the tournament).
Derek Anderson erupted for 30 points, including a thunderous baseline dunk, and Ron Mercer added 26 as the Wildcats routed the Hoosiers 99-65 at Freedom Hall.
2. March, 1983. This is the last time UK and Indiana met on the NCAA Tournament trail and the No. 12 Cats punched their tickets into the "Dream Game" matchup with Louisville by beating the fifth-ranked Hoosiers 65-59 at the old Stokely Athletic Center in Knoxville, TN.
Melvin Turpin had 16 to lead the Cats and Indiana native Jim Master added 12.
1. March, 1975. Was there any doubt what my most memorable game in this series would be?
Kentucky had lost to the undefeated Hoosiers by 24 in December in Bloomington but legend has it that Coach Hall used his pregame talk in the locker room to explain details of the celebration that would come AFTER his team had upset the top-ranked Hoosiers. And they went out and did it - by a score of 92-90 - with Indiana native Mike Flynn scoring a team-high 22 points. Fellow guard Jimmy Dan Conner added 17, as did Kevin Grevey, and both Conner and Flynn each notched five assists.
It is worth nothing that both of UK's NCAA wins over Indiana came after the Hoosiers had won the regular season matchup in Bloomington.
UK Hoops advances to its second Sweet 16 in three years after a 65-62 win over Green Bay (UK Athletics, Britney McIntosh).
AMES, Iowa - Like a scene from a movie, the Kentucky women's basketball team left the bus and walked toward the arena hand-in-hand. It showed togetherness, it showed camaraderie and it showed Kentucky women's basketball head coach Matthew Mitchell that his squad was in for a fight. It's a good thing.
After losing a 17-point halftime lead, and trailing for the first time with less than a minute to play, the Wildcats dug deep and got clutch play after clutch play by senior guard Keyla Snowden. The end result was a gritty 65-62 victory that pushes the Wildcats to their second Sweet 16 appearance in the last three years, and their third all-time.
"I'm proud of my players and the way the ladies played tonight," Mitchell said. "They played incredibly tough. It was an incredible game and Green Bay is an outstanding team. I congratulate them on an amazing fight."
At halftime, it didn't look like a huge fight was going to be necessary. The Wildcats played one of their best halves of the season to open Monday's game, shooting 55.6 percent from the field, outrebounding the Phoenix by seven and displaying the type of energy that won them the Southeastern Conference regular season championship.
But in the second half, like its mascot, Green Bay rose from the ashes, forcing Kentucky into 20 turnovers and 19 fewer points in the final stanza. What began as a 17-point deficit turned into a one-point lead for the Horizon League champions.
With its collective back against the wall, Snowden and the Wildcats rose to the occasion and made the crucial plays necessary to advance to the Sweet 16. Snowden scored the final six points of the game, including the game-winning jumper with 16 seconds remaining, and two free throws with 5.4 seconds on the clock.
"I don't like to take credit at any time, but sometimes a coach can draw up a play and get an execution and you can say, 'Well, I'm glad I called that play,' and 'That was the right play,' but this was not about that tonight," Mitchell said. "Players just had to play. I can't explain it to you. They just wanted to win and they did it."
Another factor down the stretch was the play of sophomore forward Samarie Walker. Coming to Kentucky as a highly regarded transfer from UConn, Walker was expected to be a star for the Wildcats from day one. She's had her moments, but she has also struggled at times.
In the biggest game of the season for Kentucky, Walker shined.
Finishing with a team-high 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go along with her second consecutive game of 13 rebounds, tying the most by a Wildcat in an NCAA Tournament game, Walker was virtually unstoppable. It wasn't just her impressive double-double stat line though; it was the crucial buckets she made to help slow down Green Bay scoring runs and rebounds she grabbed to keep UK possessions alive.
"I thought Samarie Walker's offensive rebounds were the difference maker," Green Bay head coach Matt Bollant said. "She was amazing, and I think a big key for us was not being able to keep her off the offensive glass."
Coming to Kentucky during the spring of 2007, Mitchell instilled what he calls UK Hoops' three winning tools: honesty, hard work and discipline. Each were on full display at Hilton Coliseum.
Mitchell says each time they go out on the court they want to give an honest effort and be able to look each other in the eye after the game knowing and believing they gave their all.
He says they want to work hard in everything they do, especially in tough situations.
And finally, Mitchell says they want to remain disciplined, and not lose hope in the face of adversity but to instead stand tall.
"An undisciplined team doesn't lose a 17-point lead and find a way to come back and believe," Mitchell said.
There were many things shown by the Cats in the tight victory, but perhaps the most inspiring is the fight. After their own initial flurry of haymakers, the Wildcats absorbed many blows themselves in the second half. In the end, when the buzzer sounded -- ending a night that began with a movie-like introduction -- it's the Wildcats that are left to see what the next scene has in store.
Men's basketball - On the heels of an 87-71 win over Iowa State in the third round, top-seeded Kentucky earned a rematch against the Indiana Hoosiers, the lone blemish on the Cats' regular-season record. - In a win over Iowa State, UK got a double-double from freshman Anthony Davis (15 points, 12 rebounds). It was his 18th double-double of the season. Three other Wildcats scored in double-figures, including a career-high 24 points from Marquis Teague. Teague also dished out seven assists and Davis added a career-high five assists. - Darius Miller (19) and Doron Lamb (16) also scored in double-digits, while Terrence Jones grabbed 11 rebounds. - Kentucky finished the game shooting 50 percent from 3-point range, hitting 10-of-20. Women's basketball - A balanced scoring effort and a dominating performance on the boards helped No. 12/11 Kentucky defeat McNeese State on Saturday 68-62 and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. - Eight players scored at least six points, led by reserves Keyla Snowden and Azia Bishop who posted double-figure scoring efforts. Snowden, the Southeastern Conference Co-6th Woman of the Year, led the Wildcats in scoring with 11 points, while Bishop came off the bench for 10 points and three blocks in just 16 minutes. Sophomore reserve forward Samarie Walker pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds which tied for the most rebounds by a UK player in the NCAA Tournament. - The Wildcats grabbed a season-high 58 rebounds in the win, the most for UK in the Big Dance and the most since charting a school-record 62 boards vs. Murray State on Nov. 26, 2010.
Baseball - The No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats completed a stellar five-game week with five wins, including a weekend series sweep over No. 2 South Carolina, the two-time defending NCAA Champions. - Kentucky opened up conference play in historic fashion, sweeping the high-octane Gamecocks for the first time since 2006. UK extended its school-record winning streak to 21 games to open the season with the sweep, eclipsing the previous record of 19-0 set to open the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Wildcats now own the third-longest winning streak in the storied history of the SEC. - Kentucky posted a pair of midweek wins before facing the two-time defending NCAA Champion, the league leader in ERA and the No. 2 ranked team in the nation. Kentucky exploded out of the SEC gate with a walk-off win on Friday, 4-3 with Luke Maile launching a home run to centerfield with the Wildcats trailing 3-2. On Saturday, UK again rallied for a 4-3 win, using a heroic pitching performance from freshman A.J. Reed and sophomore Trevor Gott. Sunday, UK completed the sweep with a first-inning homer from Maile and clutch hitting from senior catcher Michael Williams, with Gott locking down his fifth save of the year. Gymnastics - The gymnastics team continued its recent success by scoring yet another impressive team score defeating Centenary on Saturday with a score of 195.875. The win over Centenary gave the Wildcats its first winning regular season since 2008. - UK defeated Centenary on every event, posting a 48.875 or higher on all four apparatuses. Individually, a UK gymnast took home event honors on each event, including sophomore Audrey Harrison, who won her fourth all-around title of the season. Senior Storey Morris and freshman Kenzie Hedges finished tied for first on vault, while sophomore Caitlyn Ciokajlo won bars, sophomore Kayla Sienkowski and freshman Shannon Mitchell won beam, and sophomore Kayla Hartley won floor. - UK has scored a 195 or higher in five of its last six meets, including a 195.875 or higher in three straight meets. UK's high score Saturday marked the first time in school history the Wildcats have posted three-consecutive team scores of 195.875 or higher.
Softball - Senior Brittany Cervantes hit a game-winning home run to top NC State and lift UK into the championship game of the UK Invitational to highlight the week for the Wildcats. The blast marked the 36th home run of her career and is the new career record for the Wildcats. Cervantes also hit three doubles on the week to aid the Wildcat offensive cause. - Senior Chanda Bell earned a pair of victories for the Wildcats this weekend. In the two wins she tossed 9.2 innings without giving up a run and striking out 21. In a win over UMKC she worked a complete game shutout and struck out 13. It marked the 33rd time in her career she has struck out 10 or more batters in a game.
Track and field - The UK men's and women's track and field teams opened their outdoor seasons at the Bulls Invitational on Saturday. - Sophomore Andrew Evans and freshman Raymond Dykstra won the men's discus and javelin, respectively. Dykstra threw a school-record mark of 69.09m/226-08 en route to his victory. - Kayla Parker had a career-best mark in the long jump and later won the women's 100-meter hurdles with a career-best time. - Sophomore Allison Peare won the women's 1,500m run with a career-best time of 4:28.97, while freshman Keffri Neal finished second in the men's 1,500m.
Women's tennis - The women's tennis team engaged in strong doubles play in its road match against No. 2 Florida but could not overcome the Gators, who grabbed the win, 7-0. - The Wildcats traveled to Coral Gables, Fla., to take on the University of Miami but, due to inclement weather, the match was canceled with no plans of rescheduling due to Kentucky's travel plans. Men's golf - The men's golf team finished ninth at the Schenkel Invitational, carding back-to-back opening rounds of 286 before closing with a 298 for a total of 6-over-par. - Sophomore Cody Martin led UK, finishing in a tie for 21st at 1-under. Martin carded back-to-back opening rounds of 2-under-par before shooting a 3-over-par during Sunday's final round. - Junior Chase Parker remained consistent throughout, shooting 73, 72, 72 to finish tied for 31st at 1-over-par. - Parker has carded seven straight rounds of 74 or better. The Augusta, Ga., native is 7-under-par during that span.
Women's golf - Kentucky finished 11th at the SunTrust Gator Women's Invitational in Gainesville, Fla. - Junior Betsie Johnson led the Wildcats with an 11th place finish at 8-over-par 218. - Sophomore Liz Breed sunk six birdies on the weekend.
Monday, March 19 Men's tennis hosts Baylor - Noon Men's tennis hosts Murray State - 6:00 p.m. Women's basketball vs. Green Bay - 9:45 p.m. (Ames, Iowa)
Wednesday, March 21 Baseball at Cincinnati - 4:00 p.m. Softball at Western Kentucky - 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, March 22 Men's swimming and diving at NCAA Championships (Federal Way, Wash.)
Friday, March 23 Women's tennis at Auburn - Noon Men's tennis hosts Auburn - 4:00 p.m. Baseball at Tennessee - 6:00 p.m. Softball at Auburn - 7:00 p.m. Men's basketball vs. Indiana - 9:45 p.m. (Atlanta) Men's swimming and diving at NCAA Championships (Federal Way, Wash.) Saturday, March 24 Softball at Auburn - 2:00 p.m. Baseball at Tennessee - 4:00 p.m. Men's swimming and diving at NCAA Championships (Federal Way, Wash.) Gymnastics at SEC Championships (Duluth, Ga.) Sunday, March 25 Women's tennis hosts Alabama - Noon Softball at Auburn - 2:00 p.m. Men's tennis at Alabama - 2:00 p.m. Baseball at Tennessee - 2:00 p.m. Women's basketball vs. TBD (Kingston, R.I. ) Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C.) Men's basketball vs. Baylor/Xavier (Atlanta)
Kentucky captured six consecutive victories to close out Tim Garrison's first regular season as head coach. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The University of Kentucky gymnastics team was in a state of rebuilding. A new head coach, Tim Garrison, had been hired after a successful assistant coaching tenure at Nebraska. The Wildcats were looking to turn a new page in the story of its gymnastics program.
They just did not think they would get to the good part so early in the book.
With some familiar faces mixed in with a new cast of characters, in just one season, Kentucky has seen a program turnaround much quicker than they expected with fascinating sub plots based all around one underlying theme: Winning.
On the road in their season finale this past weekend, the No. 23 Wildcats went down to Centenary in Shreveport, La., and defeated the Ladies in every event including, tying a season-best team score on vault with a 49.125, as they went on to claim their sixth straight victory.
"(Saturday) was another step forward for the Kentucky gymnastics program," said Garrison, "We didn't set a record team score or even a season high. What we did was, once again, show consistency in our performance. We hit 24 of 24 routines and that has been our goal all season."
It took awhile to get this team to that point.
When Garrison was named head coach after the conclusion of last season, he decided that he needed to change two things. The first was the team's fitness. In order to be successful, the Wildcats' fitness level had to improve in order to have a better overall appearance due to the subjective nature of the sport, but also to prevent injury. The second thing he wanted to change, after talking to assistant coach Chuck Dickerson before the season, was this team's attitude.
"After meets they would apologize to (the staff)," said Garrison. "They would feel like that had something to apologize for. I don't like that. I don't think that's a positive thing. I want them to leave a competition, if they don't do well, I want them to be mad. I want them to have a sick feeling, that, 'Dang it, we left it out there on the floor.' Not apologize and say, 'Sorry, Coach, we let you down.' No, no, be mad, be upset."
That trend seemed to continue early on in the season for this bunch. They dropped five of their first six competitions, with all five of those losses coming in conference. To their defense, all five of those teams are perennial forces on the national scene, but at times, they did not even seem competitive. They were dealing with a brand new program and were competing with a few walk-ons.
In their first competition, UK met their conflict head on at Arkansas as the Razorbacks dominated, 196.650-191.975.
"After Arkansas," said Garrison, "I felt like I was kind of pushing a rope. I thought as a staff we needed to do something to make them understand that that wasn't going to happen. That can't happen."
Garrison called the loss an early season "setback," one of two important setbacks for UK this season. The second came in a loss at Georgia.
Kentucky did not perform particularly well, losing 197.225-193.125 with Georgia reeling off a ridiculous score. However, in the face of that setback, this group pulled together to decide they had finally had enough. The feeling was different. While this story could have taken a turn for the worst, it was just reaching its climax.
"I think it was the turning point," said Garrison. "I think setbacks are great teachers. And it's always been that way and it will always be that way. They bring things into focus, and a lot of times it's negative things. Well, we had two setbacks that are significant this season.
"After Georgia, all they needed was a nudge. That was it. Here's what just happened: you're mad, you're disgusted with yourself, because you know that you left a lot on the floor that you know you could have corrected. And it's been a turning point."
The players agree.
Do-it-all freshman Alexis Gross, who came in second Saturday to teammate Audrey Harrison in all-around competition posting a score of 38.875, has emerged as a vocal presence this year. The outspoken rookie noticed that even though her team did not perform to their best abilities in Georgia, there was no quit in this team.
"Everyone fought over and over again," said Gross. "No one gave up. We started on bars and it was rough, but each event we would fight to come back. Things would not go our way, but no one would give up. And at the end of the meet, we all looked around and were like, 'We're a better team than what we just did.' "
And they have proven it since.
The seniors (Storey Morris and Whitney Rose) have led the way, the freshmen have weaved themselves into the fiber of the team and those walk-ons are performing at a high level.
After Georgia, Kentucky (7-5, 1-5) has gone on to win six consecutive meets, including Saturday's win over Centenary. Their recent surge has seen UK compile team scores of 195 of higher in five of their last six meets, including a 195.875 or higher in three straight meets for the first time in school history. Kentucky scored a 195.95 two weeks ago at Illinois before last week's historic 196.025 against Ball State and George Washington, which was good for Kentucky's best consecutive scores ever.
Gross, who says she's been afforded the opportunity to step up and be a leader on this team with just two seniors, loves the way this team competes for each other. She says that is why UK has pulled things together.
"The team, you know, everyone is so into each other," said Gross. "When (Caitlyn Ciokajlo) sticks a dismount, I feel like I stuck a dismount, that's how into the meet I am. And they fact that we've all become like that has just fueled our fire."
This season, this story, is unfinished. After completing their regular season, they will head to Duluth, Ga., to compete in SEC Championships this Saturday. And while the team is focused on success this weekend, the authors of the book are still looking to come up with a storybook ending.
"Obviously Nationals is what we want to do," said Gross. "If we keep rolling, I have so much confidence in this team, I think we could actually do it. And I'm pretty sure that would be the first time, so that would be really awesome."
Davis came to Lexington as the consensus top overall player in the class of 2011, and has only exceeded the high expectations that accompanied his arrival. Helping Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament's No. 1 overall seed and, most recently, a berth in the Sweet 16, Davis leads the Wildcats in scoring (14.3 points per game), rebounding (10.1 per game), blocks (4.6 per game), steals (48) and minutes played (31.9 per game).
His scoring is behind the pace of most historical player of the year winners, but his overall impact on both ends of the floor has been lauded by nearly every one of UK's opponents this season. His 166 blocks lead the nation and are a single-season school record. He is closing in on the Southeastern Conference record for blocks in a season and anchors a Kentucky defense that is just three swats shy of the all-time NCAA team record of 315 set by Connecticut in 2003-04.
"Anthony Davis made an immediate and dramatic impact on college basketball," said USBWA President Lenox Rawlings of the Winston-Salem Journal. "He has many skills, most obvious among them his ability to block and alter shots. Davis' dominance inside solidified Kentucky as a national title contender and brought Bill Russell back into the dialogue, shining light on the vital half of the game that people often ignore."
With Davis and his 7-foot-4 wingspan terrorizing opponents, UK leads the nation in both effective field goal defense (41.7 percent) and 2-point field goal defense (39.3 percent). Exceptionally, Davis has exerted his defensive impact while fouling rarely. Only once has Davis fouled out this season and he has committed an average of just 1.9 fouls per game, second-fewest among Wildcats playing at least 15 minutes per game.
Offensively, Davis has improved markedly throughout the season, evolving from a player that scored primarily on put-backs and alley-oops to UK's top offensive option. He averaged 15.9 points in regular-season SEC play and has scored double figures in all but one of his last 15 games.
His points have come in an ever-expanding variety of ways, ranging from hook shots with both hands, drives to the basket and even 3-pointers. Even with his growing offensive workload, Davis still ranks second in the nation in field-goal percentage at 63.6.
Davis becomes just the second player in SEC history to win the award named after Oscar Robertson. Pete Maravich of LSU won it in back-to-back seasons in 1968-69 and 1969-70. He is also just the second freshman to win the award, joining Kevin Durant of Texas in 2006-07, a player Davis has professed to admire and model his game after.
The USBWA's National Player of the Year award is oldest of the six major player of the year awards, as it was first given to Robertson after the 1958-59 season. Davis will receive the trophy, as well as the Wayman Tisdale Award, the USBWA's freshman of the year award at the annual College Basketball Awards Breakfast on Friday, March 30 at 8 a.m. at the New Orleans Marriott in conjunction with the NCAA Men's Final Four.
All is well in the world of Kentucky sports after a weekend that saw the men's and women's basketball teams keep their tournament runs alive, baseball pull off a sweep of the two-time defending national champions and gymnastics finish off the regular season on a high note.
A big thanks to Metz Camfield and Ryan Suckow who stepped in and provided some great coverage of UK Hoops and baseball as I follow the men throughout March Madness. We're going to keep the content coming over the next few weeks, so stay with us.
Anyway, there's never a dull moment in March, so let's get to a few odds and ends on another nice morning in Lexington:
The big story on this Monday is Matthew Mitchell and his Wildcats taking the floor for a second-round matchup with seventh-seeded and 10th-ranked - yes, you read that right - Green Bay (31-1). It's not often that a No. 2 seed like Kentucky faces a more highly ranked team in the second round, but that's the unique circumstance that will take place on Monday at 9:45 p.m. in Ames, Iowa. Metz wrote about that exact topic on Sunday afternoon, so check it out if you haven't already. We'll be live blogging the game beginning around 9:30 p.m., so come join us.
The only other UK team in action today is No. 7 men's tennis, which takes the court for the first time in over a week with a doubleheader against Baylor at noon and Murray State at 6:45 p.m. It's a beautiful day, so head over to the Boone Tennis Center.
After a pair of impressive performances in Louisville, the men get a few days off before they have a Sweet 16 rematch with fourth-seeded Indiana. Late last night, it was announced UK-IU would tip off at 9:45 p.m. on Friday in Atlanta. Based on the fact that Georgia Dome officials tweeted last night that tickets in the upper level are now available due to demand from fans, it should be quite an atmosphere. Additionally, UK will hold an open practice at the Georgia Dome on Thursday from 3:10 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Anthony Davis is among four finalists for the Naismith Award, given annually to the national player of the year. Now that the field has been narrowed, fans can submit their votes on behalf of Davis. Fan votes will comprise 25 percent of the final tally, so you can really make a difference in Davis' candidacy. The other three finalists are Thomas Robinson of Kansas, Draymond Green of Michigan State and Doug McDermott of Creighton. Text VOTE to 34763 or head to this link to cast your ballot.
It got lost in the shuffle a bit with the NCAA Tournament's first weekend going on, but the No. 23 gymnastics team had yet another strong showing this weekend, defeating Centenary in its final meet of the regular season. Tim Garrison has carried the team to new heights in his first season as head coach and Ryan Suckow will have a story on that topic later this afternoon. Next up is a trip to Duluth, Ga., for the SEC Championships. Conveniently, Duluth is less than 30 miles from Atlanta, so fans can stop over on Saturday, the day between basketball games.
Overall Record: 21-0, 3-0 SEC Record Last Week: 5-0, 3-0 SEC
Recent Results Tuesday, March 13 - defeated Wright State, 9-1 Wednesday, March 14 - defeated Murray State, 2-1 Friday, March 16 - defeated No. 2 South Carolina, 4-3 Saturday, March 17 - defeated No. 2 South Carolina, 4-3 Sunday, March 18 - defeated No. 2 South Carolina, 6-3
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Wednesday, March 21 - at Cincinnati - 4 p.m. Friday, March 23 - at Tennessee - 6 p.m. Saturday, March 24 - at Tennessee - 4 p.m. Sunday, March 25 - at Tennessee - 2 p.m.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Luke Maile 6-3 - Jr. - C/1B - Crestview Hills, Ky. Week Stats: .278 (5-for-18), 2 HR, 6 RBI, .611 SLG%, 3 BB, HBP, .409 OB%, 41 PO, 3 A, 1.000 FLD%
Notes: Kentucky junior catcher Luke Maile continued to provide the vocal and physical leadership to a school-record 21-0 start to the season, launching a pair of homers during a 5-0 week, pacing UK to a series sweep over No. 2 South Carolina, the two-time defending NCAA Champions ... Maile hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in the series opener, a blast to dead centerfield with UK trailing by a run, part of a three-RBI game ... In the second game of the series, Maile delivered another clutch RBI single in UK's 4-3 win over the Cocks ... In the finale, Maile set the tone by launching his fifth homer of the year in the first inning off USC's Colby Holmes, leading UK to the sweep-clinching win ... Maile's walk-off homer was his staggering seventh game-winning RBI of the season, leading the team and tying the team leader Thomas McCarthy's seven game-winning RBI from the entire 2011 season ... On the year, Maile has hit .360 (27-for-75) with five doubles, five homers, 27 RBI, a 13-4 walk-strikeout ratio and six stolen bases.
Notes: Freshman A.J. Reed turned in one of the more prolific weeks in the history of UK baseball, leading UK to five wins as the No. 4 hitter, midweek starter and weekend late-inning reliever ... Picked up two wins on the mound, one coming in a midweek start on Tuesday and the second coming in relief of UK's series-clinching win over No. 2 South Carolina on Saturday ... In both of his wins on the mound, Reed - who owns a 12-game hitting streak - delivered the game-winning RBI at the plate ... In his start, tossed six innings, allowing only one run and striking out six, with first-pitch strikes hurled to the first 21 hitters he faced ... Reed became the first UK player in program history (modern era: 1979-present) to start on the mound and as the No. 4 hitter in the order in the midweek win ... On Saturday, Reed was summoned out of the bullpen on short rest working two shutout innings to set up the game for UK closer Trevor Gott in the ninth inning, picking up his fourth win of the year ... At the plate, Reed led UK in hitting all week batting .526 (10-for-19) with two doubles, one homer and five RBI ... Totaled a 2-0 record with a 1.12 ERA on the mound, striking out eight in eight innings ... In his midweek starting pitching assignment, collected a career-high three hits, batting 3-for-4 with three RBI ... Delivered two hits in a 2-1 midweek win over Murray State on Wednesday ... In his SEC debut on Friday, Reed went 2-for-4 with an RBI, adding the game-winning double in the seventh inning in the series-clinching win on Saturday ... Finished with two hits in the series finale, helping UK to its first series sweep of USC since 2006 ... On the year, has hit .386 (27-for-70) with seven doubles, two homers and 28 RBI, with a 4-0 record and a 1.83 ERA on the mound in 19.2 innings with 18 strikeouts.
Notes: UK sophomore right-hander Trevor Gott solidified his role as one of the top closers in college baseball during Kentucky's 5-0 week, picking up three saves - including two against the two-time NCAA Champions, No. 2 South Carolina ... Appeared in three games with three saves, tossing three shutout frames, with one hit and no walks allowed, striking out six ... Made first appearance in the ninth inning of UK's 2-1 midweek win on Wednesday, locking down the save ... Came on in the ninth inning with UK nursing a 4-3 lead and a runner at second base and no outs in the series-clinching win over USC on Saturday ... After getting a sacrifice bunt to move the runner to third base, Gott struck out the next two hitters to end the game and leave the game-tying and inherited runner stranded at third base ... In the series finale, after UK allowed a leadoff runner to reach base on an error in the ninth inning with UK looking for the sweep, came out of the pen to get three consecutive outs to finish off the game and sweep the Gamecocks ... On the year, Gott - the 2011 Cape Cod League Reliever of the Year - has a 1-0 record and a 2.08 ERA, saving five games in 10 relief outings, striking out 16 and walking two in 8.2 innings.
TEAM NOTES The No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats completed a stellar five-game week with five wins, including a weekend series sweep over No. 2 South Carolina, the two-time defending NCAA Champions. Kentucky returns to action on Wednesday, starting a four-game road swing at Cincinnati, before resuming conference play at Tennessee.
Kentucky (21-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) opened up conference play in historic fashion, sweeping the high-octane Gamecocks for the first time since 2006. UK extended its school-record winning streak to 21 games to open the season with the sweep, eclipsing the previous record of 19-0 set to open the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
The Wildcats now own the third-longest winning streak in the storied history of the SEC, behind only the 23-game streak from the 2010 NCAA Champion LSU Tigers and the 22-game streak from the 2000 South Carolina Gamecocks. UK passed the 20-game winning streak from the 2007 Vanderbilt Commodores - led by David Price - with the win on Sunday. UK is the only undefeated team in college baseball, owning the longest winning streak and the most wins in the NCAA.
Kentucky posted a pair of midweek wins on Tuesday and Wednesday, riding a 9-1 win on Tuesday over Wright State and a 2-1 win over Murray State on Wednesday into the SEC opener on Friday night. Facing the two-time defending NCAA Champion, the league leader in ERA and the No. 2 ranked team in the nation, Kentucky exploded out of the SEC gate with a walk-off win on Friday, 4-3 with Luke Maile launching a home run to centerfield with the Wildcats trailing 3-2. On Saturday, UK again rallied for a 4-3 win, using a heroic pitching performance from freshman A.J. Reed and sophomore Trevor Gott. Sunday, UK completed the sweep with a first-inning homer from Maile and clutch hitting from senior catcher Michael Williams, with Gott locking down his fifth save of the year.
Throughout the weekend, UK's bullpen was perfect, winning all three games without allowing a run. The Wildcats pen worked 10.2 innings, allowing seven hits and two walks, with 12 strikeouts and two saves.
The Wildcats have been paced by one of the top offensive units in college baseball, entering the weekend leading the SEC in nearly every offensive category. UK has hit .333 as a team with 21 homers in 21 games, stealing 24 bases and fielding .978. On the mound, UK head coach Gary Henderson's pitching staff owns a 2.95 ERA, entering the weekend leading the NCAA in strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
Offensively, UK has been led by outfielder Zac Zellers, who has hit .393 with six doubles, one triple, three homers and 11 RBI, with three steals. Reed has hit .386 with seven doubles, two homers and a team-best 28 RBI, while freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino has a .382 mark with nine doubles, one triple, one homer and 14 RBI. Cameron Flynn leads the club with six homers, adding a .380 average with 17 RBI, while Maile has hit .360 with five doubles, five homers and 27 RBI, swiping six bases.
On the mound, Reed and Taylor Rogers (4-0, 4.03 ERA) lead the club in wins. Gott (1-0, 2.08 ERA) owns five saves with 16 strikeouts in 8.2 innings. Tim Peterson (2-0, 0.87 ERA), Walter Wijas (2-0, 4.97 ERA), freshman Sam Mahar (0-0, 1.93 ERA) and Alex Philllips (2-0, 2.40 ERA) have each appeared in at least eight games in relief for the UK bullpen.
UK baseball completed a three-game sweep of second-ranked South Carolina on Sunday in front of a sell-out crowd in Cliff Hagan Stadium. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Before the Kentucky baseball team started Southeastern Conference play on Friday, it was understandable to look at the Wildcat's perfect 18-0 record with some skepticism.
After sweeping a three-game home stand against the two-time defending national champions South Carolina - capped by a 6-3 win on Sunday - one thing is for sure: This team is for real.
Kentucky (21-0, 3-0) has extended its nation-leading winning streak to 21 games to open the season, which is also good for the longest winning streak in school history. After the first weekend of conference play, the Wildcats sit atop the SEC with a perfect 3-0 record.
For Kentucky head coach Gary Henderson, the winning streak does not carry much significance.
"We enjoy winning," said Henderson. "The bigger picture is that there are 30 of them. And you need to win as many as you can to get to Birmingham (for the SEC Tournament), and once you've done that, you need to win as many as you can so you can host. And then once you do that, you need to win as many as you can so that you can get a Super Regional. And that's kind of the order of things."
After surprising everyone - besides themselves - by taking the first two games of the series, the Wildcats looked to make a statement with a sweep of the Gamecocks for the first time since 2006.
It did not take long for UK to get on the board, as junior catcher Luke Maile stroked a first-inning two-run home run to provide an early 2-0 edge. Maile has anchored Kentucky with clutch hitting and late game heroics all season. He owns a team-leading six game-winning RBIs.
Sunday, he was the offensive spark.
"I think it was big," said Maile of his first inning blast. "Anytime you can deliver the first punch it gives you a little bit of momentum and a little bit of breathing room."
Corey Littrell was the happy recipient of the two-run lead, but he gave one back in the second inning. The sophomore southpaw limited the damage, however, getting out of a jam with a pick-off. He pitched two scoreless frames and held a 2-1 lead until the fifth inning.
South Carolina was not ready to go down without a fight, and they used an unorthodox top of the fifth to grab a lead. After two infield singles, USC got back on the board when Christian Walker hit a soft ground ball to the second baseman to tie the game at 2. Grayson Greiner followed with a single to left to pull USC ahead for the first time in the game at 3-2. Once again, Littrell limited the damage and got out of the inning getting L.B. Dantzler to line out to the left fielder.
"Corey didn't have his best stuff," said Henderson. "And I thought he kept his poise. He didn't give himself enough credit, and we talked about it twice, I think after the second and after the fourth, we talked about giving yourself credit and what that means for himself at that point and time.
"The quality of his pitches was not near his best, and surely wasn't near as efficient, and that's a big outing for him. He will handle those better as he moves forward."
The Louisville, Ky. native was lifted after 5.1 innings with the game tied at 3. Littrell allowed 3 runs, 9 hits and walked 2 batters while striking out 3.
Walter Wijas came in to relive Littrell in the 6th and got a pop-up and a strikeout to end the inning.
Wijas and the rest of the bullpen were huge all weekend, and Sunday was no different. During the three-game series, the bullpen pitched 10 innings and did not allow a single run, walked only two batters, and struck out 10. They also recorded all three wins in the series (Peterson, Reed, Wijas).
Maile's fellow catcher Michael Williams found himself in the lineup Sunday in the eight-hole as the designated hitter despite a .260 batting average. It was Williams, however, who drove in the game-winning run with his lone hit of the day. After two pitching changes in the inning, Williams came up with bases loaded and an opportunity to give his team the lead.
Williams came through in a big way with a two-run single past a diving first baseman. He then advanced to second on the throw home from the right fielder. After Williams slid in just under the tag to second base, he got up and gave an enthusiastic fist pump with his teammates going wild in the dug out.
It has been a bit of a struggle for the senior out of Knoxville, Tenn. Williams is just getting back from a broken finger on his catching hand that kept him out of the lineup for five games. For Williams, it was a big day on his way back from the injury.
"It's honoring. God's truly blessed me with the ability to come back," said Williams. "My teammates keep me upbeat, they keep me going, and it's just awesome to help the team out, so that's all that matters."
Kentucky tacked on one more insurance run in the on a wild pitch scoring J.T. Riddle from third, and UK led 6-3.
South Carolina tried to mount a late comeback in the ninth inning. Joey Pankake reached base via an error to start the ninth. Two batters later, Greiner sent a blast deep to left field, but Zac Zellers settled under it a few steps onto the warning track. With two outs, Trevor Gott struck out Erik Payne to close out the game and help complete one of the biggest weekends in program history.
"Certainly it's the biggest weekend since I've been head coach," said Henderson after the 6-3 victory. "We had some good teams in (2006) and (2008) with those kids, and we've had some sweeps here in my time. But certainly nothing like this at this time in the year. To make a statement like this with what these kids have done, that's been great for us."
Kentucky will face an eerily similar team as themselves on Monday night when they go against Green Bay (UK Athletics, Britney McIntosh)
AMES, Iowa - The philosophy behind seeding in the NCAA Tournament - men's or women's - is that the higher the number next to your name, the easier the path to the Final Four. For UK Hoops, that philosophy seems to be a bit misguided.
The second-seeded Kentucky Wildcats (26-6) advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday after defeating McNeese State 68-62. UK's reward? A matchup against seventh-seeded Green Bay, the No. 10 ranked team in the country and losers of just a single game all season.
"They're clearly, in my mind, the best seven seed," UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I think that this possibly slipped through the committee here. This is an incredible team to be a seven seed in this tournament. They're 31-1."
Green Bay is in the second round of the tournament for the third consecutive season after jumping all over Iowa State on Saturday in the Cyclones' home arena. The Phoenix held Iowa State to just 23 points in the first half and forced 30 turnovers.
For followers of the UK Hoops program, those types of numbers should look similar. The Phoenix and Wildcats play eerily similar styles of ball and each find themselves ranked nationally in many of the same statistical categories.
Green Bay is in the top-15 nationally in eight statistical categories, including scoring offense, scoring margin, field-goal percentage, won-lost percentage, assists per game, steals per game, turnover margin and assist-turnover ratio.
Meanwhile, Kentucky is ranked in the top-20 nationally in scoring offense, scoring margin, won-lost percentage, steals per game and turnover margin.
"Their ability to create turnovers is impressive," Mitchell said. "I just think the tougher team tomorrow night is going to win. It's going to come down to which team can make the tougher plays over the course of the game."
Just as Kentucky is led by its conference player of the year, Green Bay too has a conference player of the year on its roster and a national player of the year candidate. Julie Wotja, a senior guard/forward from Francis Creek, Wis., averages a double-double with 19.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Wojta also leads the Phoenix offense with a team-high 3.6 assists per game, and on defense swipes 3.7 steals per game. Wojta ranks in the top-25 nationally in five statistical categories, including points per game, rebounds per game, steals per game, field-goal percentage and double-doubles.
"Wotja is just an amazing kid to watch," Mitchell said. "She has a lot of game, she can make the 3, she took it off the bounce last night, she just is an impressive player. I think you need to do a good job on her but they just strike me as being so balanced and so capable across the board that I don't think we can take her out of the game and that means we win. I think it has to be a focused approach, playing team basketball and trying to do a good job on her. I think she means a ton to Green Bay. ... She looks like an All-American to me."
One big difference between the two schools is depth. While Green Bay has four players who play more than 30 minutes per game, Kentucky does not have one, and has just three players who log more than 20 minutes per game.
Some of that depth comes from Kentucky's forwards. On Saturday, sophomore Samarie Walker tied a UK NCAA Tournament record with 13 rebounds, while sophomore Samantha Drake set a UK NCAA Tournament record with four blocks. It's not about just having those players at your disposal though, Mitchell said, they need to perform.
"We would like for depth to be a factor," Mitchell said. "It's difficult to know what Green Bay is going to do because we don't have any frame of reference on people playing them the way we're going to try and play them. I hope that depth can be a factor. Depth is not merely players on the roster but also performance. You need quality plays from the clearly capable players we have. If our girls play hard then I think depth can be a factor."
With Eric Lindsey, CoachCal.com In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.
LOUISVILLE - Darius Miller contested the shot, so he didn't actually see Christian Watford's dagger tickle the twine as the buzzer sounded.
"I just heard the reaction and knew," Miller said.
After that, the only thing he was concerned about was his safety as thousands of emotionally crazed Indiana fans stormed the court.
"They pretty much swarmed me and Marquis (Teague) and we were trying to get out," Miller said.
"That's all I can remember."
That and the pain.
Thirty minutes after Kentucky beat Iowa State in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, Miller talked about the anger and disappointment UK felt in Bloomington, Ind., after Indiana knocked the Cats from atop the polls and from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Now, with Indiana's victory over VCU on Saturday, Kentucky will get a shot at a shot at redemption with a bid to the Elite Eight on the line next week in Atlanta. And while the Cats downplayed the storyline that will define the next week - revenge - they didn't dismiss the joy of getting another shot at the Hoosiers.
"That was a rough day for us," said freshman point guard Marquis Teague, an Indianapolis native. "We hate to lose any game, but the way we lost, that just made it that much worse."
Kentucky's national player of the year candidate Anthony Davis was saddled with foul trouble for much of that game and is looking forward to another chance at the Hoosiers on a neutral floor.
"Their whole crowd got into it," Davis said. "That was our first road game as freshmen, the first time we were in someone else's gym. Actually, I was kind of nervous the first time."
Watford's game-winning jumper, the climax of one of the best games of the college basketball season, has since been replayed over and over again as a part of an ESPN commercial to promote its mobile app.
Following their regular-season-ending win at Florida, the Wildcats admitted to their frustration with the ad, crediting its constant replays with motivation to never lose again. Now that they actually get another shot, Terrence Jones is encouraging ESPN to play it some more.
"They can show the commercial every break from now until the game for me and the whole team," Jones said. "Hopefully they keep showing the commercial and give us motivation."
As if the rivalry between Kentucky and Indiana fans wasn't fierce enough, the two fan bases seethed venom after the game, exchanging shots of emotion in the weeks after. When the brackets were released Sunday and the opportunity to play IU in the Sweet 16 was presented, UK fans were chomping at the bit for another shot.
Now they've got it.
"I knew we were going to be playing (Indiana)," John Calipari said. "No question. Has nothing to do with matchups or storylines or any of that. I knew we would be playing them."
The players, however, downplayed looking ahead to a possible rematch, noting that it's important that they treat it as "just another game."
"It's a crazy tournament," Jones said. "I wasn't looking for anything. I know every team is playing for its season. I don't expect anybody to win until they do it. Now that's it's here it's going to be a good game."
Said Miller: "I know we're a different team and so are they. We'll see who the better team is." In defending White, Cats give an inch to take a mile
Heading into a matchup against the Kentucky team he very nearly joined, Iowa State's Royce White was the single biggest story.
Headline after headline was written about the 6-foot-8, 270-pound point forward, and for large portions of Saturday night's third-round game in the KFC Yum! Center, White appeared to be worth every word written about him. He almost single-handedly kept his Cyclone team in a game against the tournament's No. 1 overall seed until a back-breaking 34-10 in the second half.
Even so, none of the Wildcats batted an eye at his 23-point, nine-rebound effort.
It was all part of the plan.
"It was pretty much me one on one and let him do whatever he wants to do, just don't leave shooters and let him do any passes out for 3s and just stay out with high hands," said Jones, who was the primary defender on White. "I think we did a good job on that."
A good job indeed.
With Jones isolated on the dangerous White, UK's perimeter players focused their attention on limiting the Cyclones' dead-eye shooters, who rank among the nation's best from 3-point range.
"We knew that was one of their strong points, so we were trying to take that away from them," Miller said. "We didn't want them getting any open looks or be comfortable with what they wanted to do. We wanted to come out and contest every shot and make every shot a tough one."
Chris Allen and Scott Christopherson, who had made a combined 141 3s coming into the game against UK, hit just 2-of-14 shots from deep against dogged Wildcat defense. As a team, Iowa State made a season-low three 3-pointers in 22 attempts.
"They weren't getting the shots off they normally get off," Teague said. "We weren't giving them as many clean looks at the basket like they probably were used to getting so I think they were a little bothered by (Kentucky's length)."
Crazy Friday grabs UK's attention
With a day in between games, the Wildcats - like much of America - were enthralled by an unprecedented day of action in the NCAA Tournament on Friday. Missouri and Duke, both two seeds, fell to Norfolk State and Lehigh, respectively, while double-digit seeds Ohio, South Florida, North Carolina State and Purdue also notched upset wins.
Seeing those games and how quickly the hard work put in over a long season can be laid to waste certainly had the Wildcats ready to go against Iowa State.
"Just watching the tournament, seeing all these other teams go down when they're not supposed to, that really opened up our eyes, I think," Miller said. "That really opened up our eyes, I think. We knew we had to come out with high intensity because we know anybody can be beat any night. This is one and done so you've got to play like it's your last.
"We knew that had to be a terrible feeling for those teams so we had to come out and survive - survive and advance."
Marquis Teague had 24 points and seven assists against just two turnovers against Iowa State. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE - Playing point guard on a team full of future lottery picks, there isn't a role Marquis Teague hasn't been asked to fill this season.
At times, he's been solely focused on facilitating. Others, he's been a scorer first and foremost. There have even been games in which Teague retreated into the background on offense only to thrive as - in John Calipari's words - a "pitbull" on defense.
As Kentucky defeated Iowa State 87-71 to advance to the Wildcats' third consecutive Sweet 16, Teague didn't limit himself to just one area.
"This one was my best overall game," Teague said. "I was able to score points for myself, but also get my teammates involved. I feel like I played a good floor game tonight and just helped my team win."
Teague led all scorers with a career-high 24 points. He knocked down 10 of his 14 shots, the most field goals he's attempted in his 36-game collegiate career. Although he carried more of the scoring load for the Wildcats than he has all season, he did it while still effectively directing a UK attack that scored more points than it had in any game since December. The freshman had seven assists against just two turnovers.
"I feel like he's gotten better every game, especially at being a floor general," senior guard Darius Miller said. "He's really ran our team. There might be stuff that everybody else doesn't see that we do, whether it's him talking, getting us into spots, just the way that he gets everybody involved. He's a great point guard and he does a great job of running the team when we're on the court."
Continuing Kentucky's postseason trend of picking up the pace and exploiting open-floor opportunities, the top-seeded Wildcats (34-2) outscored the Cyclones (23-11) in transition 11-2.
"I thought Teague was the difference maker with his ability to get through us in transition," Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg said. "That really hurt us."
Not to be lost in Teague's offensive brilliance was the role Teague played in holding Iowa State to a season low in made 3-point field goals. Opting to leave Terrence Jones in one-on-one situations with star forward Royce White, the onus was on Teague and company to hang with the Cyclones' shooters.
"It was pretty much me one on one and let him do whatever he wants to do, just don't leave shooters and let him do any passes out for 3s and just stay out with high hands," Jones said. "I think we did a good job on that."
Teague drew the primary assignment of chasing Scott Christopherson, who was shooting better than 46 percent from long range coming into Saturday's game.
"We knew he was one of their main shooters," Teague said. "He knocked down a lot of big shots against UConn, so I just wanted to make it as hard on him as possible, just chase him off screens and fight over the top and just contest all his shots with high hands as much as possible."
The senior guard drained half of Iowa State's six 3s in a first-round win over Connecticut, but he managed to hit just 1 of 4 from 3 with Teague tirelessly hounding him. As a team, the Cyclones - who were shooting 38 percent from 3 coming into the game - were 3 for 22 from deep.
That defensive effort helped set up a rematch with fourth-seeded Indiana in Atlanta. Christian Watford's game-winning 3 is the lasting image from that game, but Teague also remembers well his scoreless first half against his home-state school.
In that first half, Indiana repeatedly sent double teams at Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones into the post with the player guarding Teague. The scouting report dictated that Teague sprint to the basket upon seeing such double teams, but Teague was unable to capitalize on the ensuing opportunities. Coach Cal has repeatedly called Teague the nation's "best layup shooter," but he certainly didn't look it in Kentucky's first of two losses on the season.
Ironically, Iowa State employed the same strategy, but UK's original scouting report didn't call for Teague to run to the rim again. In perhaps the clearest sign of his evolution from the much-maligned "weak link" on Kentucky's otherwise flawless team into an unquestioned strength of the team, it was Teague that recognized the opportunity.
"He knew they were double-teaming them off of him," Calipari said. "So he said, 'Guys, I'm cutting to the rim. I'm cutting to the rim. My man is the guy that's leaving.' And we all looked, and I said, 'Do you guys understand what he's saying?' And they did."
There were would be no missed layups this time.
On two such occasions when he fed Davis in the post, then cut to the basket, Teague finished authoritatively, first with a dunk late in the first half, then with an "and-one" layup in the middle of a decisive 34-10 run that turned a tie game into a blowout.
For a player who was rated among the top five in his class coming out of high school, seeing a team willfully use the man defending him to double team elsewhere could be perceived as somewhat of a slight.
"The way (to) not feel insulted is have a night like he had," Jones said.
With the way he punished the Cyclones for placing defensive emphasis on his teammates, future opponents are less likely to see Teague as anything less than another star on a team full of them.
Darius Miller scored 19 points to help UK advance to the Sweet 16 for the third straight season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In an effort to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the Kentucky basketball team's postseason run, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be teaming up throughout UK's journey in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. You can find stories on the team at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog.
LOUISVILLE - Seconds after pinning Anthony Booker's shot on the glass and getting fouled midway through the first half, Darius Miller laid on his back in front of the Kentucky bench clapping his hands emphatically, almost violently.
He wanted this one - and he wanted it badly.
Mr. Big Shot - who would have thought anyone would say that a year ago? - once again came up with the crucial shots when Kentucky needed them the most Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Hitting clutch jumpers in pivotal, momentum-changing situations, Miller scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead top overall seed Kentucky to an 87-71 victory over Iowa State in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Looking like a player that didn't want to take off his Kentucky jersey for a final time, Miller led the Cats back to the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row under John Calipari. Marquis Teague was just as big, scoring a career-high 24 points to go along with seven assists, four rebounds and just two turnovers.
"All of us know when this is over we're done together," Miller said. "We were trying to play extremely hard, especially myself with this being my senior year. We're just not ready for it to end yet."
Miller was in it from the start, playing perhaps the most emotional game of his career. He hit 7-of-11 shots, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
It seemed like all of them came in key situations, but for Miller, a senior who has struggled with slow starts, the first make was the most important. After he hit his first trey seven minutes into the game, he followed with the big block on the other end and then another long 2.
"I think that's very important for a lot of people on our team, to get going early, to kind of establish ourselves early," Miller said. "I feel like when we do that, especially when a lot of people do that, knock down shots early, that really gets us going, especially on the defensive end."
The senior from Maysville, Ky., wouldn't let up the rest of the night, and his teammates said they fed off his energy.
"Making big shots, celebrating, telling us what to do, being a leader on the team, basically acting like the senior on the team - that's his job and that's what he was doing," said Anthony Davis, who posted his 18th double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds. "That really helps us when he's making plays and making shots."
Miller, in veteran form, gave all the credit to Teague, and rightfully so. The player who many have tabbed as UK's potential weakness played the best game of his career, killing the Cyclones with a midrange jumper and speedy transition game.
"He was the main part of us winning," Miller said. "Not only did he score a lot, he had a really good floor game. He got the other guys involved, myself included. Most of my shots that I had came from him. He hit us all in the right spots."
Almost daring Teague to shoot the ball, the Cyclones backed off Teague and allowed him to take the midrange jumper. He happily accepted the challenge and drained 10 of his 14 shots.
"Today they really left him," Coach Cal said. "They left him on the perimeter, and I told him, 'Look, you've got to keep people honest. Score the ball. I know you can score.' "
And score the freshman did.
After Iowa State erased an 11-point halftime deficit and tied it at 42-42, Teague and Miller combined for 22 points during a devastating 34-10 run.
"I'm just running the team a lot better," Teague said. "(I am) more comfortable out there. I know what Coach wants me to do. I don't really have to look to the sideline as much. ... (Earlier this season) I just was thinking too much, trying to force shots up sometimes instead of making the easy play because coming out of high school I scored a lot of points and that's what I was used to doing. But playing with guys like I'm playing with, I don't need to do that."
The 34-10 run put the game out of reach for Royce White, who, despite a Herculean effort, couldn't take down the team he nearly transferred to two seasons ago.
"I think we did a great job of playing defense throughout that time," Miller said. "We did a great job of knocking down shots. Marquis did a great job of attacking the rim, getting everybody looks or getting his own self shots. He did a great job of running the team throughout that time. Terrence (Jones) did a really good job and so did (Anthony Davis). We had a lot of people playing on high cylinders tonight."
Knowing full well they couldn't shut down White, a 6-foot-8, 270-pound point forward, Coach Cal decided to take the rest of Iowa State's team out of the game and make who he called the second coming of Charles Barkley beat them one on five.
"Coach kind of made an example of last year when we played Ohio State, when we played (Jared) Sullinger," Miller said. "We did kind of a similar thing. He was saying we were just going to make him have to beat us. We were going to try to take everybody else out of it."
The strategy worked as UK limited one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country to 3 for 22 from 3-point land.
Meanwhile, Kentucky showed once again that it can hit 3-pointers when given the opportunity. Iowa State appeared to back off the Cats around the perimeter, almost daring them to shoot it. Coach Cal said it was more a matter of the Cyclones collapsing, but either way, UK capitalized, hitting 10 for 20 from behind the arc, including a season high five 3-pointers from Doron Lamb.
"That's what Vandy did," Jones said. "I'm assuming a lot of teams are going to try to go at that, but we have a lot of great shooters on our team that we believe in. We're OK with them playing like that because we think they're going to go in."
Said Coach Cal: "They want to talk about our 3-point shooting - we're one of the best in the country. We just don't shoot a lot."
The Cats also won the battle of the boards 40-31.
"When we got guys to get tough rebounds, that's what gives you possessions to win the games," said Jones, who put in a yeoman's effort with eight points and 11 rebounds while guarding White for most of the night."Rebounds (are) physical play to me, gaining possessions, and I think we do a lot of that."
The victory set up a highly anticipated rematch with Indiana next week in Atlanta. The Hoosiers delivered Kentucky its only regular-season loss of the year in December on a Christian Watford buzzer beater in Bloomington, Ind.
Now, Kentucky will have its chance at redemption with much bigger stakes at hand.
"We've got to come out ready to go with high intensity," Miller said. "I know we're a different team and so are they. We'll see who the better team is."
Azia Bishop and the Wildcats used a team effort to knock off McNeese St. in the NCAA Tournament (UK Athletics, Britney McIntosh).
AMES, Iowa - It wasn't pretty, but for the third straight year, the Kentucky women's basketball team (26-6) has advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Led by a balanced scoring effort that saw six Wildcats score more than eight points but none more than 11, second-seeded Kentucky topped the never-say-quit McNeese State Cowgirls at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.
"Forget the seeding, that was an awfully good team right there," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I don't think it has anything to do with the seeding, it's all about the opponent. They were tough. We won and we're through (to the next round). McNeese State played well. They are a well-coached team and well prepared."
The Wildcats couldn't force 15th-seeded McNeese State into turnovers, star junior guard A'dia Mathies played a season-low 18 minutes due to foul trouble, Kentucky was 2-17 from deep and shot just a smidge over 57 percent from the charity stripe. But thanks to a season-high rebounding effort that included 22 offensive boards, as well as a balanced scoring attack, Kentucky will play again Monday against the winner of seventh-seeded Green Bay and 10th-seeded Iowa State.
Known for its "40 minutes of dread" defense which has forced a nation-leading 874 turnovers (28.2 per game), Kentucky couldn't rattle the Cowgirls' star guards Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett. The twin sisters kept their dribble alive throughout the game and McNeese turned it over just 13 times, a season-low by a UK opponent.
Without the extra possessions normally earned by forcing those turnovers, Kentucky limited the Cowgirls' possessions by dominating on the glass.
"Hopefully they (UK's forwards) leave the gym with some more confidence because I thought they just battled the way they needed to," Mitchell said. "They made their hard work pay off today so I was happy with that."
Sophomore forward Samarie Walker grabbed 13 rebounds and Samantha Drake grabbed six while earning her first start since Dec. 28. It wasn't just the bigs though, as guards Kastine Evans, Bria Goss and Amber Smith each grabbed seven.
"I think it's crucial to our team any night where one of our players can step up, and tonight the whole team did," Mathies said. "I think that really showed tonight in the scoring. No one person really shined. We all did it collectively, so I'm proud of my teammates for what they did tonight."
One such player who did rise to the occasion was Smith. The senior guard who came to Kentucky along with Mitchell in 2007, shined in an eight-point, seven-rebound, four-assist performance. Smith, who hadn't started for UK since Senior Night against South Carolina on Feb. 23, came out and gave the spark for which she is known.
The performance, Mitchell said, was due in part to Smith being able to rest and get her body healthy again with the two-week time off between the Southeastern Conference Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
"She just plays with so much more pop right now and so much more explosiveness," Mitchell said. "A couple weeks ago going into that last week of the regular season, we went with Maegan (Conwright) just because Amber couldn't give us any explosiveness and I thought (Smith) did a good job with that today."
Similar to Kentucky's win over the Florida Gators in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, in which the Wildcats didn't play their best game but found a way to win and advance, Saturday's performance against McNeese State gives the Wildcats a lot of confidence moving forward.
Kentucky's season isn't still alive because of one great individual performance. Instead, the Cats will play another game because of what they did together as a team. After all, it is always harder to beat a team rather than a single player.
"I was happy that the other kids stepped up and played big for us," Mitchell said. "I think that bodes well for us for Monday night's game. If our usual top scorers come out firing on Monday, we'll be tough to stop. We'll be clicking on all cylinders."
On Friday night, the Kentucky baseball team tied a school record with a 19-0 start to the 2012 in a dramatic win over the two-time defending national champions. Luke Maile, with his team trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning, launched a two-run home run to the deepest part of Cliff Hagan Stadium to give UK the victory.
The Wildcats will look to clinch a series win over the No. 2 South Carolina Gamecocks at 2 p.m. on Saturday. UK will send Jerad Grundy (2-0, 2.25 ERA) to the hill to face off against Matt Price (2-0, 3.10 ERA).
Doron Lamb is shooting 45.7 percent from 3-point range this season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE - Kentucky has had so few weaknesses this season that's become a weekly routine to dissect, break down and attempt to uncover a potential chink in the armor.
It's been like playing a game a pin the tail on the donkey, if you will.
But for all the overhyped, overplayed and beaten-down story lines about Kentucky's potential pitfalls, Western Kentucky head coach Ron Harper wondered out loud Thursday night if the criticism of the Cats' 3-point shooting had merit and said it could prevent them a run at their eighth national title.
"If they want to advance and win a national championship, they're going to have to shoot it better from the perimeter," Harper said. "They're going to have to find somebody else that can make a shot from the perimeter."
Kentucky hit just three 3-point shots in its 81-66 victory over Western Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and outside of Doron Lamb, the Cats were 1 for 6 from behind the arc.
As UK prepares to play eighth-seeded Iowa State on Saturday in the third round, it's once again raised concerns about Kentucky's ability to knock down the perimeter shot with consistency. Since hitting a season-high 15 3-pointers against Georgia, Kentucky has made just 20-of-75 3-point attempts since postseason play began. That registers at 26.7 percent over the last four games.
Is it a cause for concern or rather a recent outlier in what has otherwise been a pretty good shooting season?
"We can hit 3s," freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. "We've had games where we've hit 15 3s. We've got Darius Miller. He's a 40-percent shooter from the 3 (actually 36.8). Doron, he's a 40-percent shooter (actually 45.8). And we've got Kyle (Wiltjer), who can knock down shots, too. We don't get as much credit from the 3-point line as people think. We can shoot better than people think."
The Cats have actually been one of the better teams in the Southeastern Conference and in the country at making 3-point field goals. For all the credit Florida and Vanderbilt received this season within the league for making treys, UK ranks just behind them at 37.0 percent, which also ranks 57th in the country.
So why again do people feel like Kentucky's 3-point shooting is a weakness?
"I feel like it's something they hope happens," Teague said. "They're hoping we don't hit 3s so we lose."
The difference between Kentucky and those other teams that can shoot the 3 is UK doesn't take nearly as many shots from the perimeter as them, attempting 238 fewer 3-point shots than Vandy and 306 less than Florida. That's created a perception that the Cats can't hit the outside shot, which they say just isn't true.
"Shooting is important, but we don't want to rely too heavily on it," said freshman Kyle Wiltjer, who has made 19-of-39 3-point shots since SEC play began in early January.
During Kentucky's five-minute, 3-point shooting drill in practice Friday at the KFC Yum! Center - a drill in which Wiltjer hit 76 3-pointers in a few days ago - Lamb said all of the Cats hit 50 or more treys, which John Calipari considers to be a pretty good mark.
"I think we're going to make a lot of shots from the 3-point tomorrow," Lamb said.
If the Cats do, it shouldn't come as a total surprise. Twelve times this season they've hit seven or more 3-pointers.
The Cyclones have sounded like they are going to take their chances with Kentucky from the perimeter. Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg has talked about slowing the game down because of UK's ability to score inside, and ISU guard Scott Christopherson noted UK's athleticism and skill in the paint.
"You really don't want to let them beat you at the basket," Christopherson said. "You prefer to try to let them take contested jump shots on the perimeter."
Even if the Cats don't live and die by the 3 Saturday evening, their fate could be determined by it one way or another. For all the talk about Iowa State "point forward" Royce White, the Cyclones' offense functions largely from the 3-point line.
Iowa State has hit 290 treys this season, hitting 38.0 percent of its attempts, 35th in the nation. Four Cyclones have hit 50 or more 3s, led by Chris Allen's 75 3-point field goals.
In the surprisingly comfortable win over Connecticut, Iowa State hit six from long range, and twice this season the Cyclones have hit 15 or more treys.
"We can't let them be comfortable or they're definitely going to knock down shots," senior guard Darius Miller said. "Their one through four can knock down shots. They do a great job of getting open looks and executing what they need to do. We got to come out and try to take that away from them. We feel like if we take something away from them, it will give us a better chance of winning the game."
Because the Cats have played Florida and Vanderbilt so often this season - six times total - they feel confident in their ability to limit another perimeter shooting team and force them into their shot blockers inside.
In UK's six matchups with the Gators and Commodores, Kentucky held the teams to a combined 44 of 128 from behind the 3-point line.
"They shoot it just like them from outside, really well," Teague said. "We did a good job on those teams so I feel like we'll do the same thing with them."
The key, the Cats say, are high hands and long rebounds.
"Most team we play try to beat us from the 3 since we have Anthony (Davis) and Terrence (Jones) back there blocking shots," Teague said. "I feel like we've done a great job because not many teams have beat us this year. We just pressure them and try to send them into their bigs and then they'll take care of the rest."
While Iowa State doesn't pose the sexy matchup that a Final Four rematch with Connecticut would have presented, Calipari and the Cats are well aware Iowa State is a worthy team. The Cyclones have already beaten Kansas and Baylor this year.
"Folks, we have our hands full," Coach Cal said. "I can go on and on if you want, but we've got our hands full. This is going to be one of the toughest games we've played in a while."
AMES, Iowa - During the season, coaches typically don't worry about their ranking. The belief is that rankings will all sort themselves out by the end of the year. In the postseason, that number preceding their team's name is a whole different issue.
For Kentucky, the No. 2 seed, which ties the highest seed in UK Hoops history earned in 1982, is a source of pride and honor. As UK head coach Matthew Mitchell says, the higher the seeding, theoretically, the smoother the path in the tournament.
"That's why you work so hard throughout the whole season," Mitchell said. "I'm really proud of our seed and what it stands for. It means we've been excellent over the course of the season. Now the challenge is to make it mean something."
Mitchell said two years ago the Wildcats were just happy to get into the tournament, much less be worried about what seed they earned. And you can't blame him.
In Mitchell's first two years at Kentucky, the Wildcats went a combined 33-32 and 13-15 in conference play. It all changed during Mitchell's third year though. With a small roster at his disposal during the 2009-10 season, Mitchell had to switch things up and implement his now well-known "40 minutes of dread" defense. Over the last three years, the change has seen Kentucky go 78-23 and 35-13 in Southeastern Conference play.
"It was that 2010 team that really just decided they were going to work extremely hard and they set a standard of work ethic that last year's team got close to and this year's team really worked extremely hard," Mitchell said.
On Saturday, that hard work will be put to the test in a win-or-go-home matchup against 15th-seeded McNeese State (4:20 p.m. ET - ESPN2).
In the SEC Tournament two weeks ago, the top-seeded Wildcats struggled in a hard fought, come-from-behind victory over Florida before falling to LSU in the semifinals. In Friday's pre-tournament media availability, Kentucky spoke about regrouping from that loss and preparing for a run in the NCAA Tournament.
"Going into the SEC tournament as the number one seed, we didn't handle the pressure that well," sophomore guard Kastine Evans said. "We played a bit on our heels in that tournament. Having the opportunity to mentally reflect on what went well and what didn't go so well in the SEC tournament was important for our team."
While Evans says the Cats didn't handle the pressure of being the top seed well in the SEC Tournament, she's hoping the NCAA Tournament produces new fruits for their labor.
"Being a two seed is great for any team," Evans said. "It puts us in a great position for the tournament. It gives us the confidence that others recognize our abilities and our talent. You don't just earn a one, two, three or four seed from playing a couple of solid games. You earn a two seed based on your performance throughout the season."
UK is certainly well-tested. The Wildcats went 12-5 against opponents that made the tournament field, including a pair of wins over fellow No. 2 seeds Duke and Tennessee. Pair that along with its impressive seed, and Kentucky isn't just entering Saturday's game as a two seed, but as a confident two seed.
"I think (the two seed has) given us a lot of confidence going into (Saturday's) game and coming into the tournament," Evans said. "Coach hasn't put any pressure on us. He just encourages us to come out and play our game. Come out and play Kentucky basketball."
If they can do that, the Wildcats may just prove what a two seed is capable of.
Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones are expected to share the responsibility of guarding Iowa State's Royce White. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE - In another world, Royce White might be in a Kentucky uniform this weekend.
Instead, he'll be doing everything in his power to put an end to his would-be teammates' season when his Iowa State Cyclones take the floor in the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Two seasons ago, the former Jordan Brand All-American was all set to resume his basketball as a Kentucky Wildcat. Following his departure from hometown Minnesota before even playing a collegiate game, UK head coach John Calipari got in touch, first to establish a relationship.
"Someone there called me to say, 'Cal, you can help this young man, and he would be a terrific player for you," Calipari said. "And I said, 'Tell me about him.' "
Following some legwork, a series of phone calls and an in-home visit, Calipari was sold. Even though White's time as a Golden Gopher ended somewhat ignominiously, Calipari saw potential in the 6-foot-8, 270 pounder, both as a person and a player.
"When I met him and his mom, I was blown away, like I really want to coach this kid," Calipari said. "I knew he had some issues, but it wasn't anything of the heart. I've done this a long time, and if a young man has a good heart, I can deal with everything else, and I think he has a good heart."
The next step was a trip to Lexington to seal the deal that, in Calipari's mind, was already done. It would prove to be the fateful flight that wasn't that has become one of the stories of this college basketball season.
"He couldn't get on the plane," Calipari said. "And I'm like, 'If you don't come here now, if you can't show up in the summer, you're not going to be able to do this here, and he just couldn't do it."
White has battled an anxiety disorder since high school that has caused a fear of flying. That, along with the impending birth of his son, wouldn't allow him to board that plane.
"It was pretty much a call one night, and I was going to need to get on a plane the next day," White said. "That was kind of uncomfortable for me. I had met with Coach before via phone and there were some things going on, such as my son being born, and we needed to be in a close proximity to Minnesota anyway.
White still looks back with some level of fondness on when he nearly came to play for Coach Cal, recalling being courted by "an icon for college basketball."
"We had good talks about a lot of things," White said. "It was good enough where I wanted to go to Lexington, and it just didn't work out the way we planned it, and Iowa State was a better fit."
It's funny the way things work out.
White opted to play for Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State, sitting out the 2010-11 before bursting on the scene this year as a versatile point forward for the eighth-seeded Cyclones (23-10). Fresh off an impressive 77-64 win over Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament's second round, White has helped lead a team that didn't even make the NIT a season ago back to relevance.
He is the team's leading scorer (13.1 points per game) and rebounder (9.3 per game) and has more than twice as many assists (166) as his closest teammate.
Without White in the fold, UK (33-2) is doing just fine too, sitting atop both major polls the final eight weeks of the season en route to the tournament's No. 1 overall seed. An 81-66 victory over Western Kentucky on Thursday night set up a matchup between the Wildcats and the player who came oh-so-close to playing with them.
Unsurprisingly, Coach Cal is happy for the way things have worked out for White, who made an eight-and-a-half hour car ride to Louisville with his grandfather to avoid the plane trek, but he doesn't want White's season lasting past this weekend.
"What Iowa State and the State of Iowa has done for that young man, he's on the path that I would want him on if he played for me," Calipari said. "So I just hope he's not on the path for one more game."
The challenge UK has in coping with White is one the Cats have not seen. There simply aren't many basketball players with the size of an NFL defensive end capable of bringing the ball up the floor, but that's precisely what White is.
"I got to see a little bit of yesterday's game and he's a very talented player, a very skilled player so he's going to be a tough matchup for us," senior guard Darius Miller said. "We got to come out looking to try to contain him and hopefully he doesn't go wild."
With White leading the way, Iowa State finished third in the rugged Big 12, posting victories over top-10 teams Kansas and Baylor along the way. In two games against Thomas Robinson, Anthony Davis' primary competition for national player of the year, White averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds, so going toe-to-toe with top competition has not been an issue.
Working in UK's favor is the fact that White is the lone Cyclone over 6-6 to play more than 11.7 minutes. The Wildcats, on the other hand, have multiple players with the size, athleticism and versatility to hang with White - or at least attempt to.
"He's a difficult player to guard since he's so big," freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. "He brings it down since he's probably a little quicker than most big men so it (puts) the other big men (at) a disadvantage, but we have Terrence and Anthony who also play that way, so I think we'll be able to match up with him pretty well."
With so much of his team's offensive burden falling on his shoulders, White has also been prone to turnovers at times. On the year, he's averaging 3.9 giveaways per game, so expect the Wildcats to put pressure on him.
"We think we can," Teague said. "We're going to try to pressure him and make him play a little crazy if we can."
Nonetheless, White is a tough matchup, even on his own. The fact is, he's far from alone. Surrounded by four players who have hit at least 50 3-pointers on the season, the Hoiberg's Cyclones make for "one of the toughest games we've played in a while," according to Calipari.
"They have both," Calipari said. "One, you've got to figure out how you're going to guard (White). We have yet to do that, and we may never figure it out. Not many people have. Then the other thing is you're got to guard the 3-point line."
Miller wasn't exactly sure how UK will attack Iowa State defensively, but he does have a pretty good idea the Cats won't rely on just one look. He also knows that defending the player with whom they almost shared a locker room is going to demand one of their best efforts.
"I think we'll probably switch it up and give him different looks," Miller said. "I feel like this game is going to have to be one of our best defensive performances because of how good they are on offense."
There's no science to getting a college basketball team to peak at the right time but there's definitely a strategy.
History shows John Calipari understands it as well as anyone.
"That doesn't guarantee success, but it gives you your best opportunity," Calipari said on a recent UK radio network pregame show. "Let's have fresh minds and fresh legs. Let's not overwhelm them with tape, let's not overwhelm them with practice. Let's get them together so they're family and get them to rely on each other. Right now, it's March and we're playing pretty well.
"You got to stay in the moment. You can't be watching things going on around you because that takes the focus off the game you're playing. It's important you're in a great frame on mind and this team is," he added.
Rabid college basketball fans embrace this time of year for all of the games available on TV but Calipari is not one to pay that much attention to what is going on elsewhere in the tournament.
"I was hard on them down there because I didn't like what I saw but at this point, they are what they are. We've got to go play. My message is 'just worry about playing a basketball game.' Forget about the rest of the tournament. I may turn it on here and there but that's about it," said Calipari. "I'm off trying to continue to think of things, one, to get these guys in the right frame of mind and two, trying to think what an opponent is going to try to do against us."
Calipari says it's important to tweak things his team does, because other teams are spending hours breaking down tapes on UK games.
"You want to add some things on out of bounds, you want to add a few wrinkles. A little bit (more) dribble-drive stuff, we can do a little more of that," he said.
Calipari says the emphasis in recent practices has been on three words--"harder, faster, sharper," he said.
And Calipari hopes his team learned a good lesson from the first-round test it got from LSU in last week's Southeastern Conference Tournament.
"Teams are going to play desperate. The season's over (if they lose). Yes, we're everybody's Super Bowl (during the season) but they also know they have more games left if they don't win--so sometimes they'll give up on a game with a couple of minutes to go. No one will now," noted Calipari. (Western Kentucky displayed that same mindset with the 16-1 run on UK to finish Thursday night's game).
"They're going to play physically because their life depends on it," Calipari said of UK opponents. "You have to negate physical play." Experience only means so much
Calipari has a more tournament-tested team than he's ever had at UK. In 2010, the Cats were loaded with talent but didn't have anybody with experience in March Madness. Last year, it was pretty much the same, with Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins having played only a limited role that first year.
This team, UK features three players in Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb who were part of a Final Four run. Last year's Kentucky team got 61 percent of its points from freshmen. This year, going into the tournament, only 46 percent was coming from rookies.
Still, Calipari is not putting all of the leadership burden on the veterans.
"It doesn't really matter. Whoever is leading, just out there. We fly like geese--we're not buffalo, following one. One of the things we try to do is we're teaching all of these kids to lead," he explained. "When they leave us, I hope they have leadership skills."
Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist demonstrated that leadership in New Orleans, when he went to the coach and volunteered to start the bench on the bench for the first time this season, so that Miller could start and hopefully snap out of a scoring slump.
"It takes a really unique player and a really confident player who is comfortable in his own skin," Calipari said of MKG's move.
Winning on the road is a characteristic some pundits like to cite when analyzing which teams can succeed in March. But CBS college basketball writer Gary Parrish thinks that stat is overrated.
"Last year's Final Four teams, all of them combined, had a losing record in road games," Parrish said on "The Leach Report" radio show. "Yes, winning on the road, says something about a team but just because you can't win on the road doesn't mean you can't win in the NCAA Tournament."
With a win Friday over No. 2 South Carolina, No. 16 UK would tie for the best start in school history with a 19-0 record. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
The old adage of "one game at a time" is something that coaches often use when asked about their upcoming schedule. They emphasize focus on the game at hand so that today's game is not overlooked for the sake of tomorrow's.
While it may seem cliche and played out, when you are sitting at 18-0 on the season and on the cusp of the longest winning streak in program history, the old adage proves true.
"I think it's really fair to say that there's not a coach in the country expects to start a season winning 18 straight," said Kentucky head coach Gary Henderson. "And the reason I think that is because what you're really focused on is a game at a time. I don't think anybody is looking at the schedule going, 'Let's just go do this,' because you're so focused on one game at a time, one weekend at a time, and to see if you can build off of that."
For the No. 16 Kentucky baseball team, one game at a time has turned into 18 straight victories at a time. On the surface, the non-conference schedule looks weak, and a 100+ strength of schedule will back that up. Henderson called it "a very basic non-league schedule."
But for those criticizing the early slate, there is something to be said for taking care of business and not dropping one of those games, especially when there were times where it appeared they would do just that.
Kentucky has won games this year a variety ways, displaying it can outslug the opponent, shut teams down with its pitching staff, play great defense and can even play comeback if they find themselves in a hole.
Junior catcher Luke Maile has been the hero for a few of those comeback victories, including a team-leading six game-winning RBI and a walk-off single last week against Canisius. Maile and fellow catcher Michael Williams have provided leadership at the dish and behind it for this streaking baseball squad.
"I think Luke has done a nice job of doing that," said Henderson. "I think we are getting some help from Michael Williams as well. He's done a great job from the catching standpoint obviously, but I think those two guys have done a very good job."
Henderson was also quick to point out Matt Reida and J.T. Riddle as mainstays up the middle of the infield, All-SEC performer Thomas McCarthy returning over at third base, and pitchers Alex Phillips and Walter Wijas out of the bullpen, who have done "a good job of communicating expectations and work habits to our players."
Not only has the leadership been there from the onset, but things in the Kentucky program just have a different feel compared to years past.
"I think this group has got a confidence and a fight, a spirit about them that is a little bit different and it's been fun to be around," Henderson said. "You get honest people that work really hard and communicate at a high level and like being around each other, you get a chance to enjoy your environment."
That environment has the Wildcats confident and looking sharp in all facets of the game. Offensively Kentucky leads the SEC, batting .343 as a team with 19 homers in 18 games, led by Maile and Zac Zellers as well as newcomers A.J. Reed, Austin Cousino and Cameron Flynn. They have also flashed the leather, recording .978 fielding mark that ranks among the top-three in the SEC, with shortstop Matt Reida the proud owner of the second-most assists in the conference.
This weekend, they will put those statistics and unblemished record to the test with two-time defending National Champions South Carolina in town to start the SEC schedule beginning with a 7 p.m. tilt Friday night under the lights at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The Gamecocks (15-1) are the second-ranked team in the nation and are looking to make another run to Omaha. For Kentucky to get to that level, they are going to have to start beating the better teams in the league. This series will be very telling in where this team stands.
"Well what I hope is that we play well," said Henderson. "I think that what our guys are going to learn is that we're good enough to play at a high level in conference. I think that's what we're going to learn. But having said that, you've got to go do it."
Henderson believes that by the time Sunday evening rolls around, his team will know that they can compete with anyone in their conference. The key to doing that is to continue to do what they have been doing in the first 18 games of the season.
Maintain a solid defense. Attack the strike zone. Stay competitive at the plate.
"I know that sounds pretty simplistic," said Henderson. "But boy you put those three things together... A group of kids that doesn't give away free bases, we play good defense, we pound the strike zone, you reduce the number of walks, and then you're really competitive."
On the hill, UK has a 3.00 ERA, leading the NCAA in strikeouts per nine innings pitched with 178 in 162 frames. This weekend they send their regular weekend rotation to the mound against the Gamecocks, with junior southpaw Taylor Rogers (4-0, 4.24 ERA) set to face off with South Carolina All-America and College World Series hero, senior southpaw Michael Roth (2-0, 0.93). Saturday, UK junior lefthander Jerad Grundy (3-0, 2.25 ERA) will make his SEC debut against USC junior righthander Matt Price (2-0, 3.10 ERA), a preseason All-America selection. On Sunday, UK sophomore southpaw Corey Littrell (2-0, 1.88 ERA) will face off with South Carolina's junior righthander Colby Holmes (3-0, 0.93 ERA).
South Carolina has pitched very well themselves in the non-league portion of their schedule to the tune of a 1.73 team ERA, striking out 162 in 145.1 innings pitched, with 10 saves. But Kentucky could make some strides against an at times quiet South Carolina offense that is batting .280 compared to Kentucky's .343 average.
In their final meeting last year, a late-season weekend in Lexington, Kentucky sent the eventual National Champions home with just a single win as Kentucky took the series 2-1. The Wildcats would be thrilled with a similar result this weekend to continue their momentum heading into the SEC schedule.